The Rambos – Live! (1971)

by | Jan 4, 2023 | LP Review, Reviews

During 1971, the Rambos were busy crisscrossing the country with the Oak Ridge Boys and JD Sumner & the Stamps on the Gospel Festival USA tour performing the play, “The Three Nails”. The cast not only recorded a live recording of the play, but all 3 groups recorded individual live albums during the Nashville, TN tour stop. What sets the Rambo’s live recording apart from the ones JD Sumner & the Stamps and the Oak Ridge Boys recorded, was that this live album was recorded only partially in Nashville, and includes performances from tour stops in Cincinnati, OH and Louisville, KY as well. The album flows like one continuous live album and there are references to Nashville and Kentucky contained within the recording, but outside of those specific instances, you don’t really know which tour stop each song came from, or if each side represents each of the cities and if that is true, my hunch is side 1 is from Nashville, side 2 is probably Louisville and side 3 is probably Cincinnati.

Produced by Bob MacKenzie, joining the Rambos on stage were musicians from the Oak Ridge Boys’ and JD Sumner & the Stamps’ bands. With Kenny Parker on piano, they are joined by Mark Ellerbe on drums and Greg Gordon on bass from the Oaks band, and Jim “Duke” Dumas on guitar from the Stamps band. The Rambos hadn’t acquired a full band at this point, and aside from Kenny playing piano, Buck and Dottie played guitar and Reba played bass, and that was their band. So, adding the extra musicians was a nice addition for this live album. Eventually, the Rambos would hire a full band backing them up, but that wouldn’t come to fruition for another year or so. By the time they recorded their next live album, 3 years later in 1974, they had a full 6-piece band backing them up.

After a glowing introduction by JD Sumner, the Rambos hit the stage with the concert favorite, “One More River”. As Kenny Parker tickles the ivories with his unique piano style, the Rambos do a great job with their lively rendition of this Bud Chambers classic.

After a brief intro by Buck, the group jumps into their hit song, “Build my Mansion Next Door to Jesus”. After a passionate performance by Dottie, she takes a moment to testify about how her dad was recently saved and then turns it over to Reba to give an outstanding solo performance of the second verse and chorus, before the group chimes back in for a chorus and then invites the audience to sing along for a couple more choruses. Even without a video of the concert, you can tell Dottie is involving herself in the song and the audience is going right along with her as Reba is belting out the chorus. It’s one of my all-time favorite live performances and is a highlight of the album.

Closing out this side, the Rambos deliver a deeply passionate performance on the classic, “The Holy Hills of Heaven”, which features Kenny’s slip-note style playing.

Side 2 barrels out of the gate with the highly invigorating, “No Lock on My Mansion Door”. You can tell Dottie is really getting into the song, much to the delight of the crowd. The excitement created by the song demands an encore, which the Rambos gladly obliged. When listening to this song live, I can just envision Dottie going to town on her guitar and just having a good time on the song.

After Buck spends a few minutes testifying, he goes right into, “Too Much to Gain to Lose”. Afterwards, he gives a rather comical intro as he is setting up for a new Dottie Rambo song entitled, “When Is He Coming Again”. Buck had a knack for spinning home spun tales, and this is a good example of such. For the song, Buck, Dottie and Reba each take a verse before rallying together for the final chorus and encore. The song is a highlight of the recording, and it was an exciting part of the program, before Buck slows it down slightly as he introduces another new song, “The Grass is Greener on the Other Side”, where Dottie gives a fervent performance. The group soon heads into the studio to record both new songs on their upcoming studio album, “Rambo Reflections”, where both songs take on a little bit of a different feel than what is presented here on this live album, especially on the latter song.

Side 3 starts with the favorite, “Sheltered in the Arms of God” before Buck introduces one of my personal favorite songs, “In the Valley He Restoreth my Soul”. Featuring that unique Rambo harmony, the group gives a stunning and emotionally riveting performance of the song, and it is a true highlight of the album. I love how the song builds with intensity at the end and Mark Ellerbe does a fantastic job on the drums with this song.

Next, Buck comically shares what life was like growing up poor as he sets up the popular, “Mama Always Had a Song”. Before the song is over, Dottie is really working a sweat before she tears into the grand finale, “Oh What a Happy Day”. With an almost unbridled fury, both songs feature Dottie in all her glory, fervently going to town on songs she could sink her teeth into. As a kid, I would rabidly listen to these 2 songs, basking in the excitement and joy you could feel in these exuberant performances. This is the kind of stuff that made these live albums that were done in the 70s and 80s so exciting to me!

The last side of this double album features 6 classic Rambo tunes, “If That Isn’t Love”, “When I Lift Up My Head”, “He Looked Beyond My Fault and Saw My Need”, “Don’t Take My Cross Away”, “Come Spring” and “One More Valley”, all re-releases from their original Heartwarming recordings just a few short years before. Shortly after this album came out, Heartwarming released a “Best of” compilation recording that included several of these songs. Instead of filling up the last side of this double album with re-releases, I would have loved to have heard a few more songs in a live setting such as “I’m Gonna Leave Here Shoutin’”, “Exactly What I Need”, “When I Lift Up My Head”, “Somebody Stepped on Board” or even “He Looked Beyond my Fault”. But I digress…

I always thought the cover shot was one of the coolest shots ever, and it was a brilliant idea for a live album. I never got to see the Rambos perform, so hearing them live on this album helped make me a fan of their music when I was a kid. The Rambos were a different type of group than most groups at that time, and for many who never saw the Rambos in concert up until this point, this album allowed them to hear what the group was like in concert. The Rambos gave emotionally charged performances, coupled with a robust sound that was fresh and exciting. Promotors found that adding the Rambos to their events gave their concerts a unique flare and spiritual excitement that Southern Gospel audiences were hungry for at the time. Along with the Goodmans, the Rambos were leading the charge at creating a spiritual impact at concerts where other groups may have been more geared towards the entertainment aspect.

This was one of the albums I grew up with, so it’s engrained into my very soul. As an impressionable kid of 7 years old, this album made its mark on my life and is part of the soundtrack of my youth. It was live albums like this where I grew to love groups who may not have been the best technical singers but were maybe slightly imperfect and gave emotion-filled performances. These were the groups and singers who were most impactful to me as a kid, and they are still making an impact on me and others today, as their music continues to live on!

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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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