The Happy Goodman Family – Goin’ Higher (1981)

The Happy Goodman Family – Goin’ Higher (1981)

Upon Howard and Vestal’s departure in 1980, Rusty and Sam re-grouped utilizing Rusty’s daughter, Tanya (who was already a part of the group, at least on a part time basis) and bringing back a familiar face and voice, Johnny Cook. No new music was released by the group in 1980, so once the new line-up was solidified, work began on a new recording and 1981 brought us, “Goin’ Higher”. I remember the first time I saw this record, I was like “where is Howard and Vestal?” I did not subscribe to the Singing News at the time, nor had access to a radio station or any way to receive the latest news in Southern Gospel music, so I was totally unaware and was completely caught off guard when I saw this record. I was a part of the Canaan Record and Tape Club, so my introduction to this new era of the Goodmans was the monthly mailing the club had sent out, and this was the “Album of the Month”. It was quite traumatic on this (then) 9-year-old boy! I will admit, when I got the album and put it on my record player, I was not impressed with much of what I heard. Just as “Better Hurry Up” had a different sound, “Goin’ Higher” was very different from “Better Hurry Up”, both vocally and musically. But over time, the “new” Happy Goodman Family grew on me, and I have truly come to appreciate the “post-Howard and Vestal” era of the group and the tremendous mark they made on this industry. Though their sound had changed, they remained true trailblazers and offered a more youthful sound and appeal that wasn’t previously there. The Goodmans, along with other like-minded trailblazers at the time like the Rex Nelon Singers, laid the foundation for future mixed groups, who are still reaping the benefits of their labor today.

The recording starts out with the very contemporary sounding, “Only the Sound of His Trumpet”, which features an excellent duet by Tanya and Johnny. I remember that I literally snubbed my nose at this song when I first heard it; but again, over the course of time, I’ve come to really enjoy this song very much.

The tempo slows down for the country feel of the classic, “Green Pastures”, which features an excellent performance by Tanya. Featuring an acoustically driven music track, I loved this song the very first time I heard this album. I found out later that Country star, Emmylou Harris recorded it in 1980 and had a hit with it, which is probably where the Goodmans heard it. The Goodmans did enjoy some chart action with the song as well, with the song peaking at #8 in July 1982 in the Singing News Top 40 chart.

Keeping things in slow mode and a similar theme, Rusty steps up to sing what has become one of my favorites of his entitled, “Headin’ Home”. As a youngster, I don’t think the message in this song really hit home until I’d gotten a little older. This is a wonderful anthem for the church encouraging everyone to press on and to continue to lift up one another as we travel together through a weary land, headed home to a better place.

The tempo picks up for my favorite song from this album, “He Walked Upon the Water”, which shows the group could still tote the mail with that old Goodman sound. I loved this song since day one, and I have to wonder though, if this song was already chosen prior to Howard and Vestal leaving, and if the arrangement was worked up with them in mind, because I can hear them singing this song and feel it would have fit them like a glove. Either way, it’s a great song and I wish someone would bring this song back again.

“The Joy of Jesus” closes out side one, and it is a tremendous song featuring the powerhouse vocals of Johnny Cook. I fell in love with this song the first time I heard it; I love the dynamics of the song, and when you get to the final crescendo of “He is my sunshine upon the mountain, He turns the darkest valley into brightest day”, your heart can’t help but leap with joy. This is another song I wish someone would bring back and record it.

Side 2 starts out with another big hit for the group, “I’ve Already Won the War”, written by Tommy Alexander. Written as an encouragement to the church, Johnny reminds us that though “we may lose a battle now then, we’ve already won the war”! The song was a big hit for the group, spending a year in the charts, peaking at #4 in March 1982.

Rusty, along with Aaron Wilburn, penned the up-tempo, “I’m Gonna Go Higher”, which has that old Goodman feel to it, and is followed by a wonderful interpretation of the Bill Anderson classic, “Mama Sang a Song”. As if it was written especially for Sam, you can’t help but get a little misty-eyed listening to him deliver this recitation. It’s definitely one of Sam’s finest recitations and is one of the highlights of the record.

Rusty steps up once again to sing the classic, “The Great Reward”. Using one of the Goodmans’ old tricks, they slowed down the last verse, giving Rusty the liberty to take his time before picking up the tempo for the final chorus. It’s a great delivery and is my favorite rendition of this grand song.

Tanya closes things out with a wonderful rendition of the David Binion masterpiece, “Lord, Feed Your Children”. As far as I know, this is the original cut of the song, and it’s been recorded numerous times since then, and was also an emotional highlight from the “Good News” Homecoming video, as sung by Michael English.

In 1980, their devoted friend, colleague and mentor, Marvin Norcross, passed away suddenly, and this is the first album the Goodmans recorded without him since they joined the label over 15 years prior. Taking on producer duties for this album was veteran producer, Joe Huffman. The band, around this time, consisted of Eddie Crook at the piano, James Gordon Freeze playing bass, Bruce Droit on drums and Steve “Rabbit” Easter playing steel guitar. Prior to their “Better Hurry Up” album in 1979 (which had no Goodman musicians playing on it), it had become customary for the Goodmans’ musicians to play on their recordings, but Crook is the only band member who is listed as playing on this album.

On another note, me being a Steelers fan, I must give a shout out to Terry Bradshaw who wrote the liner notes, praising the Goodmans for the excellent work they did on their new album. As many of you may know, by 1981, Bradshaw was a household name across America as he had taken the Steelers to the Super Bowl and winning them the championship in 1974, 1975, 1978 and 1979. So, it’s kinda cool seeing his name on the back of a Goodman album!

As I mentioned earlier, this album was a hard pill for me to swallow, and I eventually learned to fall in love with this album; and it really didn’t take that long either. Based on its own merit, “Goin’ Higher” definitely can stand on its own and it’s an excellent recording. It definitely lumped the Goodmans into a more progressive style and mindset, as several mixed groups at this time were venturing out and trying new things. Along with the Goodmans, groups like the Rex Nelon Singers, Hinsons, Hemphills and others were blazing new trails with their music, and like the Goodmans, we’re “Goin’ Higher”!


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