The Happy Goodman Family – The Happy Goodman Famiy Hour (1974)

The Happy Goodman Family – The Happy Goodman Famiy Hour (1974)

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. 1974 was a very exciting, yet uncertain time for the Goodmans. The Happy Goodman Family left the Gospel Singing Jubilee television show by early 1973. By 1974, they had begun work on their own TV show, “The Happy Goodman Family Hour”. Unlike the Gospel Singing Jubilee, this show incorporated various sets, lighting and props, wardrobe changes and highlighted solo performances by each individual in the group, as well as other artists within the Goodman entourage such as Aaron Wilburn and a young family group the Goodmans discovered from West Virginia called Voices Triumphant, which consisted of 2 sisters, Dreama and Rhonda and their brother, Mitchell. As the title of the album implies, “The Happy Goodman Family Hour” was basically a variety album and did a tremendous job highlighting the various artists and music you heard on their show. During all this excitement, Vestal was off the road due to heart problems, which eventually resulted in major heart surgery. She also dealt with other recurring health issues that continued to keep her from being able to travel and sing. Because of this, though she is pictured on the cover, Vestal did not sing on this album and the group had brought on a young man named Johnny Cook, who was perfectly suited for the Happy Goodmans, and this album was his introduction to the national stage.

As mentioned in my article on “The Legendary Goodmans”, the group had already started to make subtle changes in their musical direction, and this record continues to push the envelope a bit more with more diverse arrangements, more extensive use of background vocals, etc. Marvin and Rusty are both co-producing this time, and with a mix of studio and stage musicians, there’s a total of 12 musicians credited on this album, more than any previous album. Also, there is definitely a step up in the overall production quality of the album as a whole. At the time, Southern Gospel was competing heavily with the skyrocketing popularity of the contemporary movement within gospel music, and the Goodmans were at the forefront of keeping Southern Gospel on the cutting edge of production, and this record really showcased that in a profound way. In fact, Eddie Crook mentioned to me that this was his favorite recording to work on and that it was a fun record to do. It is indeed a wonderful collaborative effort of all parties involved and resulted in one of the Goodmans most popular and diverse albums in their repertoire, and it’s one of my all-time favorite albums.

The recording starts off with one of the most iconic songs in our genre, “What a Beautiful Day for the Lord to Come Again”. Written by the late Aaron Wilburn and Eddie Crook, the song quickly rose to #1 in the Singing News chart and stayed there for 11 months straight, from March 1975 through January 1976, and at the time held the record for the longest running #1 song. With its iconic steel guitar intro, this song was a huge boost for the Goodmans, as they were dealing with Vestal’s absence and too, their popularity (as far as hit songs and awards) had waned a bit over the last year or so. Fans took to the song and its message (which also won Song of the Year honors for the 1975 Singing News Fan Awards), and the fans also took to Johnny Cook, as he took home the Singing News Favorite Tenor award in 1974 and 1975. The song itself was electrifying in concert…check out a live version of this song from this time period on You Tube, recorded in Little Rock, Arkansas; it’s one exciting performance!

Next, Eddie Crook’s lilting piano intro for “I’ll Go Over Jordan Someday” sets the stage for a fantastic convention type song, before the waning fiddle and steel guitar intro signals the next song, “Over the Next Hill”. Penned by the late, great Johnny Cash, Johnny Cook does a tremendous job with the song and is a highlight of the recording.

The tempo picks back up as Voices Triumphant sing the lively, “Everything’s Alright”. As I mentioned earlier, the Goodmans discovered this family group during their many travels and brought them on tour with them and utilized them on their newly formed television show. This is a fun song and is a delightful inclusion on this album.

The pace slows back down as Rusty delivers a powerful performance on my favorite rendition of the Kris Kristofferson classic, “Why Me, Lord”, before Aaron Wilburn steps up to sing the country/contemporary flavored, “No More Time”. This fantastic song was written by Johnny Minick, who would later come aboard as the Goodmans piano player while Eddie Crook took about a 2-year hiatus from the group to focus on studio work. Johnny would resurface again years later, when Howard and Vestal re-organized the group in the mid-1990s, where he would sing and play piano.

Side 2 starts off with the hauntingly beautiful Larry Gatlin masterpiece, “It Must Have Rained in Heaven on Crucifixion Day”. Featuring a stunning and emotional delivery by Rusty, it’s a true musical work of art and one of my all-time favorite performances by Rusty. It features the full width and depth of Rusty’s tremendous range as a singer, and the song is just absolutely phenomenal!

The tempo picks up as Sam sings the soulful classic, “The Wicked Shall Cease”. With a little help by Johnny Cook on the chorus, it’s one of Sam’s best vocal performances ever, before fiddles are set a-blazing for the classic, “Looking for a City”. The song, taken straight out of the Redback Hymnal, was a huge hit and spent 13 months in the Top 20, peaking at #2 in July and October 1975. Though Johnny is featured on the song, he and Vestal spent the better part of the next 2 years battling it out on stage every night with this song, much to the delight of fans everywhere! For the last 40+ years, tenors and female singers have been battling it out in concerts across the nation…most notably Sharon Watts and Greg Bentley from the Hoppers back in the mid-80’s and for the last several years, Brian Free and Karen Peck have been duking it out on in concert, which is quite a comical fiasco to experience. Even Jimmy Swaggart got in on the fun and released his own arrangement of the song in the late 70’s with John Starnes helping him out on the chorus. It’s just a fun song and the Goodmans created an exciting arrangement that groups and singers have had a blast with for many, many years…much to the expense of male tenors and female sopranos everywhere!

Fiddles keep the tempo going with another classic from the Redback Hymnal, “Hallelujah, I’m Going Home”. This is my favorite rendition of the song and is a highlight of the album, and I’m sure it was a highlight in concert too, as the Goodmans always seemed to excel at these types of songs.

Voices Triumphant step back up for a soulful delivery on another classic tune, “Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down”. This was the first version of the song I heard growing up and it’s always been one of my favorite “get on your mule and ride” type of songs. Of course, many other artists have done a phenomenal job recording and staging this fun song through the years such as the Singing Cookes and the Nelons. It’s always been a great song getting the crowd on its feet.

The recording closes out as Johnny steps back up to sing the reflective, “I Was Nothing”, written by Janice Brashear, and is a nice finish to a great recording.

From my understanding, the album was originally released with the entire cast on the cover of the album (Vestal is wearing the purple dress) and later pressings of the album has the cover with just the group singing (Vestal is wearing the white dress), with the added banner “Featuring What a Beautiful Day” at the top. I understand they did the updated cover to highlight the song, “What a Beautiful Day”, since it had become such a huge hit. Personally, I liked the latter cover better as it is less busy to the eyes, and I just liked seeing them singing on stage together. I wonder what they’re singing?

As I had mentioned at the beginning, this album was basically a “variety” album, highlighting the talents you heard on their television show. It was an ingenious idea and it became one of their most popular albums. Featuring several solos by Rusty, Sam and Johnny (with BGVs providing support) as well as highlighting the talents of Aaron Wilburn and Voices Triumphant, there were actually very few “group” songs on this album. There are only 3 group songs on this album…and ironically, they’re performed by the Happy Goodman “Male” Quartet, since Vestal doesn’t appear on the album; but all 3 exude that wonderful Goodman magic and appeal.

This was one of the albums I grew up with and each song is engrained deep within every fiber of my being. It ranks as one of my all-time favorite albums, which is kind of ironic since my all-time favorite singer doesn’t even sing on it! I feel that this album really showcased the unique diversity of the Goodmans at the time and how this entourage could put on a full concert filled with different combinations and integrations that would keep an audience member an active listener throughout the entire program. I know many Goodman fans missed Vestal immensely, but she would return soon enough and provide, yet another dynamic to their already exciting program!


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Category LP Review, Reviews

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2 Comments

  1. Reply April 13, 11:32 #1 Michael McIlwain

    Thanks for writing this review, James! I’ve got to add this album to my collection.

    • Reply April 13, 12:59 James Hales Author

      It’s a great album. Lots of variety on this one.

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