The Happy Goodman Family – The Very Best of the Happy Goodmans…Live! (1977)

by | May 4, 2022 | LP Review, Reviews

We have finally come to the album that is my all-time favorite album. From the very first time I heard it, I fell in love with this record. I literally have it so engrained on my brain that I can just about quote all the monologue of the entire album from beginning to end. In my opinion, it’s a perfect record…the band, the songs, the vocals, the interactions, etc., is just perfect. This is a completely different live album from their “Wanted Live” record, as this is a wonderful walk through time as the Goodmans bring back many of their popular songs from the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Some of these songs haven’t been sung by the group in probably 8-10 years, and they did a marvelous job reviving these classic tunes.

Marvin Norcross steps up to the microphone and gives the group an extended heartfelt introduction. Most introductions for live albums are pretty standard and relatively brief, but here Marvin speaks for over a minute and a half, and you can tell their friendship is genuine and he has a deep admiration and appreciation for the Happy Goodmans, who have been on the Canaan label for a dozen years at this point.

After Marvin’s intro, the group hits the stage with one of Vestal’s signature tunes, “What a Lovely Name”, before the tempo picks up for the classic, “Thank God I’m Free”, and it never sounded better! If you listen closely to the 2nd verse, there is a lot of echo in the mix, and it sounds like they may have tried to go back and overdub Rusty’s solo on that verse. Nonetheless, I am glad they were able to capture a wonderful live rendition of this great song.

The tempo gets kicked into high gear as they tear into the convention classic, “Hallelujah”. The band is totally in the groove on this song and it’s an electrifying performance by the group before Sam slows things down as he shares a moving story behind the song, “Who am I”. Rusty then steps up and gives a heartfelt performance on the song, before leading the audience in a couple of choruses of his classic tune.

Rusty then gives Vestal a wonderful intro before she delivers the goods on 2 classic signature songs, “I’m Nearer Home” and “What Heaven Means to Me”. Vestal never sounded better than on these 2 songs before she testifies for a few minutes and then introduces Howard during a lighthearted moment. Howard then proceeds to play and sing his own signature song, “The Sweetest Song I Know”.

Howard then takes a minute and introduces Tanya to the stage before they tear into a killer performance of “The Old Gospel Ship”. With Howard, Sam, Rusty and then Tanya each taking a verse, it’s about as exciting as they come. But for an encore, Vestal steps up and sings a verse, and again, the band is totally in the groove. Johnny Minick on piano and Lloyd Green on the steel guitar are playing in tangent with one another and it just sounds amazing; and before you know it, it’s over and we’re halfway through the recording!

The second half starts with an easy going feel as Howard sings his own composition, “Give Up”. Then things slow down even more as Rusty delivers a poignant performance on his classic tune, “Had it Not Been”. After the song, Rusty takes a moment to set up the recitation, “The Happy Goodman Family Story”, before Sam steps up to deliver a very genuine and heartfelt dive into the beginnings of the Happy Goodman Family.

It doesn’t take long for Sam to turn precious, sentimental memories into hilarious tales, and for the next 4-5 minutes, he has everyone in stitches as he reminisces about mom and dad and growing up poor in the hills of Alabama. Towards the end though, Sam brings it all together and perfectly sets up the next song, “Poor, Rich Man”, and before you know it, the group is off and running on this fun and energetic song, which features an excellent banjo break by a young Steve “Rabbit” Easter.

The tempo stays in high gear as the group tears into one of their first big hits, “When Morning Sweeps the Eastern Sky”, and they do a fantastic job bringing the house down with this wonderful convention tune. When they come to that trademark ending, it’s literally every man for himself…just epic! As a kid, I just couldn’t get enough of this song and it’s still one of my “go to” songs for a good pick me up!

Howard then steps up and takes a more serious tone as he renders my favorite performance of his classic tune, “I Don’t Regret a Mile”. With he and Vestal performing the song as a duet, Howard does such a perfect job delivering the lines of this great recitation, it doesn’t even sound like a contrived poem, but rather as if he’s just sitting next to you, talking to you about life. It’s a perfect moment captured on tape, made even more perfect, as Rusty leads off on the final song, “The Eastern Gate”. Featuring Tanya and then Vestal, it’s the perfect closing to a perfect live concert.

There are some songs I would have loved to have heard on this album…”I Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now”, “Living in Canaan Now”, or bringing Bobby in to sing “I Want to Stroll Over Heaven”…and I know it was a new song at the time, but I would have given anything for “Wait’ll You See My Brand New Home” to be on here. Most of the songs on this album are songs they originally recording during the 60’s, with only 2 that were originally recorded during the 70’s. It’s obvious the group took great strides to ensure the arrangements were spot on and the band…they were on fire on this album! The musicians performing on the album appear to be a mix between the Goodmans’ band along with a couple of studio musicians. Those musicians, Johnny Minick, Rick Goodman, Steve (Rabbit) Easter, Larry Strezelecki, Roger Price, Lloyd Green and Buddy Spicher came together and created the perfect musical bed for these songs and a wall of sound that could not be beat! Sometimes I listen to some of these songs just to drink in the sounds from the band…the steel guitar, the banjo, fiddle, piano fills…all came together perfectly.

As I mentioned earlier, this is an excellent walk down memory lane, as the Goodmans revive many of their older popular songs. The recording has a genuine feel to it and doesn’t feel contrived at all. The group sounds wonderful and the band is absolutely splendid. While very unassuming, the cover is pretty cool and the inside and back pictures are excellent, showing you not just concert shots, but also shots of them preparing for the concert that afternoon. The Q & A included on the inside cover was a nice inclusion as well for those (like me) who are interested in those things. All these elements came together to create a truly wonderful live concert experience that was perfectly crafted into the final product, which truly is…The Very Best of the Happy Goodmans…Live!

James Hales

James Hales

James is a lifelong fan of Southern Gospel Music. Being exposed to the music through his dad's record collection as a 7 or 8 year old boy in the late 70's, James grew to love the music of the Happy Goodmans, Kingsmen, Inspirations, Rambos, Florida Boys and others. James has been a staff writer for Absolutely Gospel since 2000 writing music reviews and various articles, and he has contributed to Musicscribe and for several years as well. James also writes for his own music page on Facebook as well, via James' Music Page (


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