by James Hales | November 9, 2022 10:48 AM
After 2 moderately successful albums with Warner Brothers, the group signed a recording and publishing agreement with the Benson Company and Heartwarming Records. 1965 was an exciting and unique year for the Gospel Echoes, as within the span of a year, Heartwarming released 5 new albums…2 by Dottie (as a soloist) and 3 by the group. Each of the group albums had a different configuration, as well as a marked shift in their sound. Since it was a time of tremendous growth and change for the group, I’ll be reviewing these first 3 Heartwarming albums in one review.
After signing with Heartwarming, work immediately began on 2 new records…one was a solo album featuring Dottie titled, “Sunshine, Shine On”, and one with the Gospel Echoes titled, “Cross Country Concert”. Initially when they signed with Heartwarming, focus was put on Dottie and her singing and songwriting. Also, there was definitely a higher production value placed on Dottie’s first solo albums as opposed to the group’s first albums for the label, as her solo album had strings and more instrumentation than on the group albums. Contrary to the title, “Cross Country Concert” is not a live album. Another interesting tidbit is that while Dottie was a fledging songwriter, there are only 2 songs on this album written by her, “Before You Die” and “Dad’s Grave”. There were several on her debut solo album, so it seems that the record company felt it would be best to introduce some of her latest offerings on her solo album, which, based on the catalog numbers, was released immediately after “Cross Country Concert”. They did, however, include several song by a couple of the other writers for the Benson company such as Joe Hatfield and Elmo Mercer. The Rambos would continue recording tunes by these 2 writers for the remainder of the 60s and into the early 70s, before they exclusively recorded all their own music, with a few exceptions here and there.
“Cross Country Concert” was a very laid-back album and featured a good amount of medium to slower tempo songs. I don’t think it captured the true essence of the group’s sound and I thought their 2 albums on Warner Brothers better exemplified the Rambos/Gospel Echoes style and sound. Starting off with the slow/medium tempo, “I Will Never Turn Back”, the song pretty much sets the tone for the record, as most songs were around the same tempo. Many may remember “Keep Your Eyes on Jesus” and “Reunion in Heaven” (aka, “What a Wonderful Time”), as they both became immensely popular songs for the Inspirations during the latter part of the 60s. The group does a really good job with their renditions of both songs, as well as on the Jean Bradford classic, “Lord, I Need You Again Today” and the up-tempo numbers, “Jubilee”, “Sweet Peace” and “When We All Shall Gather There”. Also, worth mentioning is the Joe Hatfield tune, “God, Our Maker”, which showcases that imitable style the group was known for.
Their second album with Heartwarming, “Dottie, Buck & Joe”, introduced a change in the line-up of the group, as Shirley Bivins had gotten married and had departed the group to join her husband in ministry; enter Joe Hatfield. Joe had been associated with the group for a number of years as he played piano on their very first album, “Draw Me Near”. Like Dottie, Joe was also a songwriter and the group had already recorded one his songs on their “Cross Country Concert” album, and they included 5 more of his songs on this album, titled, ”My Pilot”, “Darkness Comes Before the Dawn”, “New Jerusalem”, “My Mother Prayed for Me” and “Amazing Love”.
Contrary to their last album, Dottie has several new songs on this album; 5 songs in fact. Two songs, “On the Sunny Banks” and “Full Up, No Vacancy” were probably the most popular songs from this album. “On the Sunny Banks”, with its wailing harmonica in the background, was one of the first songs that Dottie wrote that was recorded by multiple artists, including the Speers, Downings, Inspirations, Sego Brothers & Naomi, Bill Gaither Trio, Doug Oldham, Weatherfords and Oak Ridge Boys. The delightful, “Full Up, No Vacancy” is country gospel at its finest, and was a popular tune for Hal Kennedy, who recorded the song on his first solo album on Canaan Records called, “The Little Man with the Big Voice”, and the song fit him like a glove! Other songs written by Dottie on this album are, “In the Beginning”, “Lord, Do it Again” (a song she originally recorded on her first solo album) and “I’m Only Gonna Be Here Long Enough”.
Joe, much like Buck, had a country texture to his voice, and I felt they had a very different, but yet a good blend with him. Joe is featured on the second verse of “They Tore the Old Country Church Down”, which was a popular quartet song during this time, as well as on his own song, “New Jerusalem”.
This album proved to be much more upbeat than their first Heartwarming album, and it has a nice feel to it. Because of the vocal structure of the group at the time with two men and one female, you don’t hear a lot of that inverted harmony that they were known for. The album doesn’t have that “Rambo” feel to it and I think some of their identity was lost here. Like I said, it’s a really good album, it just doesn’t “feel” like a Rambo album. Dottie released her second solo album, “The Good Ole Days” at the same time that “Dottie, Buck and Joe” was released, and again, the production and overall quality on the solo album, was much better than on the group album.
With their next record, “Those Singing Rambos”, we are introduced to the newest member of the group, Buck and Dottie’s teenaged daughter Reba, and the iconic sound of the Rambos is finally complete! Reba is featured prominently throughout this album and does a fabulous job for being so young! Since Joe Hatfield had left the group, Pat Jones joined to play piano and accordion. With these changes in place, the group officially changed their name from the Gospel Echoes to the Rambos, and they collectively released a very bright and highly enjoyable album that features a very rich and meaty sound, both vocally and musically.
The recording starts off with Reba tackling the up-tempo, “Wait for an Answer”, written by Dottie. It’s a gem of a song and was the perfect opening song for the album. Dottie had already recorded the song on her second solo album, “The Good Ole’ Days”, but I think the version with the group has an extra sparkle to it and is a highlight of the recording. This record also introduces 2 new Dottie Rambo tunes that would go on to become classics, “Remind Me, Dear Lord” and “Prisoner of Love”, both of which were subsequently recorded by multiple artists such as the Dixie Echoes, Happy Goodmans, Hal Kennedy, Speers, Jimmy Swaggart, Florida Boys, Inspirations, Sego Brothers & Naomi and a host of others. Along with the 3 aforementioned songs, the other songs on this album that were written by Dottie are the sentimental “Sunday is Father’s Day” along with the up-tempo, “We Don’t Have as Far to Go” (which sounds like some of Dottie’s high energy up-tempo songs from the early 70s) and the plaintive, “Cast Away”.
The group also did splendid arrangements on 2 of Rusty Goodman’s classic tunes, “It’ll All Be Over But the Shoutin’” and “I Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now”. Darius Spurgeon, who would later join the Rambos as pianist, penned the beautiful tune, “I Have the Lord”. The song was covered by the Hayes Family several years ago and did a tremendous job with the song. The spiritual, “I Want Two Wings” is a delightful and fun inclusion as well, before the album closes with a nice rendition of the classic, “Welcome Home”, written by Les Beasley of the Florida Boys.
When comparing these 3 albums, which were all recorded over the course of about a year, it’s neat hearing their sound evolve and how things started coming together musically and lyrically for the group. Dottie was maturing as a songwriter and had become a powerful vocalist and communicator, and Reba was just getting started in her long career as a singer (and soon to be songwriter herself!). As progressive and sophisticated as their sound would eventually evolve to, there’s just something special about hearing them during this time frame, while still in their youthfulness and still a little green, but before other influences began creeping in such as life, musical influences, professional pressures, etc. Here, still rather unadulterated, are the Rambos in their purest form; and it’s absolutely delightful!
In the last 2 weeks, we’ve talked through 5 of their early albums, but next week, we’ll dive into my single album reviews, and we still have 22 albums left to plow through! That’s A LOT of great music…but it’s going to be a fantastic journey!
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