The Hinsons – …Sing About the Lighthouse (1971)

by James Hales | June 22, 2022 10:00 AM

The Hinsons started singing together in 1967 and came from humble beginnings out in California. Forming out of necessity to provide the music at the little “storefront” church where they were raised, they eventually would start traveling to area churches and honing their craft. In 1970, they would record 2 albums for the California based record company, Calvary Records. Those 2 albums, “Here Come the Hinsons” and “A Gospel Sound Spectacular”, were filled with cover songs (mostly Goodman stuff) and only contained a couple of tunes written by Ronny and Kenny. On the first album, Ronny did most of the lead vocals, followed by a few featuring Yvonne and even less features for Kenny and Larry. By the second album, Kenny was beginning to come into his own a little and was featured a bit more. It’s intriguing listening to those earliest works and how young and inexperienced the Hinsons were. At the time, they were just like every other weekend group, struggling to make dates and trying to get on the “big” programs with the professional groups. Luckily, they had a record company that seemed committed to the group and their success. By the time 1971 rolled around, something miraculous was about to take place!

I don’t know when they recorded this album, if they had any idea the profound mark that this record would make on gospel music; but with this one significant album, their lives (and the lives of untold numbers) were forever changed. Produced by Rusty Goodman and Nelson Parkerson, recorded at Goodman Sound Studios and backed by the Goodman band along with a couple other professional musicians, a monumental record was made. Not that the record itself was the greatest album they ever made, quite the contrary; but it held within its grooves, a momentous culmination of young, raw talent, genuine spirit and unadulterated energy that would burst on the gospel music scene and forever alter the course of history. They took what some of their predecessors had already accomplished, and blazed new trails, forging their way to new heights that they never could have imagined! Before this record, the Hinsons were just “another” group trying to make a name for themselves and make their mark for the Kingdom. By the time 1971 came to a close and 1972 dawned, people were beginning to take notice of the Hinsons!

Naturally, the recording starts out with “The Lighthouse”. The Hinson’s version of their iconic song is rather unassuming and is starkly different than the Goodmans rendition. The Hinson’s version is a bit more laid back and Yvonne doesn’t quite have the same punch as Vestal did when coming into the chorus, but it’s a memorable performance and the song forever solidified the Hinson’s place in gospel music history. Kenny hadn’t quite developed his trademark vocal style yet, but you do hear glimpses of what a phenomenal vocalist he would eventually become. While the Goodmans took the song to #1 and kept it there for 8 months, the Hinsons were actually the first group to chart it. The Hinsons hit the Singing News Top 20 in October 1971 (5 months before the Goodmans hit the Top 20) and their version of the song peaked at #7 in October 1972. Not a bad showing for a new group at that time with their first hit song! Of course, the song would go down in history as one of the greatest songs of all time and the song can still bring a crowd to its feet today!

The up-tempo, “One More River to Cross” follows. With Ronny taking the first verse and Kenny tackling the second (a combination that worked very well for the Hinsons), you can really hear some true glimpses of the singer Kenny would eventually become on this song. Age and experience would eventually mold Kenny into one of the most dynamic and most popular singers to grace a Southern Gospel stage. The guitar work at the beginning also features the sound that would be a hallmark for some of the Hinsons early popular upbeat songs like “Hallelujah Meetin’” and “Sea Walker”. I also like how the Hinsons ended the song, it’s different; it’s a little all over the place, but I really like it!

Yvonne slows the tempo back down with the classic, “Clinging to a Saving Hand”, and with what sounds like Larry taking the melody on the last part of the chorus, is one of the highlights of the recording. Yvonne has a very sweet texture to her voice during this era and this is one of my favorite features by her.

“He’s Not a Stranger to Me” starts out slow, but quickly becomes an enjoyable ¾ time song that features an enthusiastic performance by Kenny, before side one closes out with Yvonne slowing the tempo down again as she sings, “I Will Trade the Old Cross for a Crown”, a song the Goodmans would eventually go on to record on their next album the following year.

Side two starts out with the medium tempo, “He Never Changes”, which was a pretty popular song around this time and was recorded by numerous groups in the late 60s and very early 70s. I don’t think it truly fit the “Hinson” mold, but at the time they didn’t have a deep well of songs to pull from and were still finding their niche, so they pulled songs from wherever they could find them.

The tempo picks up for the enjoyable, “I’ll Carry the Load”, which features Ronny, Kenny and Yvonne. It has a campmeeting feel to it and the Hinsons do a really good job on the song. It’s one of my personal favorites from the recording.

Next, the group tackles “Oh Happy Day”, mixing the Walter Hawkins classic with the hymn from the Red Back Hymnal. I was drawn to this tune the first time I heard it. At the time I first heard this album, it was 1986 and I was 14 years old and hadn’t become familiar with the Walter Hawkins version of the song, so this song was a musical treat to me. I love how the music stops and the drums kick in with a flourish and they pick up the tempo, and then later in the song they kick it into high gear as they transition to the Red Back Hymnal rendition. It’s a memorable moment on the album and it’s probably my favorite song on the album, even if it doesn’t quite fit the “Hinson” mold.

With its haunting steel guitar intro, the tempo slows down for the Joel Hemphill penned, “The Courage to Try Again” before the recording closes out with a ramped-up rendition of the old convention favorite, “Dwelling in Beulah Land”, which I just adore. It has all the elements of that youthful energy the Hinsons were known for and made them such a hit with audiences everywhere. It closes out the album leaving you wanting more…more!

This was the record that basically introduced the Hinsons to the world. The overall production quality, musicianship, vocals, song choice and arrangements were all well above what they were doing just a year earlier. Though there was only 1 song written by Ronny included here, he was growing as a songwriter and we’d soon see a river of songs flood from his pen, as many would go down as classics in our genre. Kenny was growing as a songwriter as well, and while he would not produce the quantity of songs his older brother would churn out, they were just as good, if not better in some cases. Kenny was also growing as a singer and as a musician, and he also had an ear for music and producing, as in a few years he would have a hand in the production aspects of their records; and while he hadn’t quite polished off his trademark vocal style, it was developing and within just 4-5 years from this point, everybody wanted to sing like Kenny Hinson!

This album was in the middle of their formative years and they were all very young and ambitious, and still a little rough around the edges, when compared to the other groups at this time like the Goodmans, Blackwood Brothers, Statesmen, Speers and such. But in spite of their inexperience, the Hinsons offered something quite a bit different than what was on the Southern Gospel musical pallet at the time, and the audiences around the country were starting to pick up on it. It would still be a few more years before they became a major force in the industry, but no doubt about it, their day was coming!

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