The Hemphills – “One Live Family” (1975)

by | Jan 31, 2024 | LP Review, Reviews

2 years after the Hemphills released their first live recording, the group recorded another double live album entitled, “One Live Family”. By this time, Bob MacKenzie had moved on to other endeavors, and Phil Johnson was tapped to produce this album for the Hemphills. Johnson was very different from MacKenzie, as he was more laid back and low key. As Joel stated to me, Johnson was great to work with and was loaded with talent. In fact, Johnson is a wonderfully talented songwriter in his own right, penning such songs as “Give Them All to Jesus” and “The Day He Wore My Crown”. Johnson continues to work in the music industry today as a musician, singer, songwriter, and producer, whose repertoire includes working with such artists as Dallas Holm, Jimmy Swaggart, Rambos, Gordon Mote, Henry & Hazel Slaughter, Lanny Wolfe, Janet Paschal, Ruppes, Martins, Karen Peck & New River, Oak Ridge Boys and many others.

“One Live Family” was recorded live during a Sunday morning service in late Spring 1975 at Huguley Congregational Christian Church in Lanett, Alabama, which is right on the border of Alabama and Georgia, a few miles north of Columbus, GA. At this time, the band consisted of Harold Timmons on piano, Trent and Joey playing bass and drums respectively, and music extraordinaire, Bruce Watkins on guitars, fiddle and banjo. Bruce would remain with the Hemphills for a few years before striking out into the busy world of studio work, where he would remain in high demand as a producer and studio musician and whose credits include working with artists that span multiple genres including gospel, country, bluegrass, etc. Bruce brought a unique dimension to the Hemphills sound as he moved from guitar to fiddle to banjo and gave their sound a bit more diversity. I do miss the steel guitar though on this album, which was such a prominent instrument in their sound for the previous 4 or 5 years. The Hemphills would eventually employ others to play steel guitar, but for a few years, they went without a steel guitar player after David Robbins left in 1974.

Some interesting tidbits about this live recording…they recorded the whole set the night before at the church (without an audience) as a “safety”, in the event of any technical issues during the actual live recording the following Sunday morning. Also, after the service, it was determined that the piano was not in standard tune, so some of the piano work had to be re-cut in the studio.

The album begins with the congregation singing together before the Hemphills are introduced and bought to the platform to enthusiastic applause. They kick things off with the bouncy convention classic, “Jesus Opened Up the Way” before they jump right into another favorite, “It’ll Be Worth Every Mile of the Trip”. It’s almost comical to me hearing Joel fall off his note on the last word of almost each line on this song, but it gives it a unique character. Nonetheless, both songs set the tone for the recording, giving it the feel of an old fashioned campmeeting.

Keeping things in a happy groove, they move right into the popular and exciting, “Ready to Leave”. As they finish the song, the band kicks back in as they play quietly in the background as Joel take a moment to share his heart before they ramp things back up for an encore filled with renewed vigor. It’s an exciting performance and a highlight of the recording.

After Joel takes a few minutes to introduce everyone in the group, he then takes a moment to set up LaBreeska’s testimony song, “Jesus Held on to My Hand”. As LaBreeska sings, Bruce’s mournful fiddle in the background just adds to the musicality of the song. The version here is a little different than what they recorded on their “Ready to Leave” album, as they slowed the tempo way down. It doesn’t have quite the same intensity as their original version, plus I miss the steel guitar from that original recording as well, but the emotion in the lyric is still there, and LaBreeska does a great job on the song.

As the second side starts, LaBreeska shares her heart for a moment before she sings a new song Joel wrote specifically for her entitled, “I Learned About Jesus in Grandma’s Rocking Chair”. The song is another part of LaBreeska’s testimony, and as Joey plays the harmonica in the background, she sings the genuine, heartfelt lyric as you’re taken back to simpler times. I love the rustic feel of the song and it’s a highlight of the recording, before the tempo is kicked back up for the enjoyable, “The Sweetest Words He Ever Said”. As they turn the song around for an encore, Joel takes a moment to testify before they kick things back into high gear. You can tell the crowd is enjoying the song (as well as the Hemphills) and it’s a highlight of the recording.

Up until this point in the concert, the group had sung as a trio with Joel, LaBreeska and Tim. Joel takes a moment to introduce the newest member of the Hemphills, as a young 14-year-old Candy Hemphill makes her debut performance and steps up to the mic to sing the powerful proclamation, “I Came On Business for the King”. Something unique happens here…as she sings the opening line, the crowd bursts into spontaneous applause. Joel comically makes mention of Candy’s voice being more country than she wants it to be when he introduces her, but Candy does sound very country on this album and it’s so funny hearing her here and comparing her to the singer she grew to become. Nothing wrong with her singing at all here, but as one who enjoys studying the evolution of a group or singer, it’s interesting hearing her grow as a singer over the upcoming years, which is one of the things that makes these articles so fun for me. Interestingly, Joel did not write the song specifically for Candy, but she found the song and wanted to sing it, thus it became her introduction to the gospel music world! The song was a hit, spending several months on the Singing News chart, peaking at #10 in May 1976. As I alluded to earlier in this article, this was one of the songs where the piano part had to be re-cut in the studio. Also, legend has it that there is a recording of Johnny Cash singing the song that has never been released and is sitting somewhere in the can. Maybe at some point, it will be released, as I would love to hear that!

Before this side concludes, the group tears into the classic, “I’ll Soon Be Gone”, which features Candy and LaBreeska swapping the lead on the final choruses, much to the delight of the crowd.

Side 3 kicks off with a spirited instrumental of the Albert E. Brumley classic, “I’ll Fly Away”, as Bruce Watkins shows us how it’s done on the 5-string banjo, along with featuring a brief break with Harold Timmons on the piano. It’s a fun and enjoyable part of the program before we are introduced to 3 more brand new Joel Hemphill tunes. The first song, “There’s a New World Coming” is an up-tempo number that features both Joel and Tim and has that identifiable Hemphill sound.

Keeping things upbeat, the group tackles, “I’ll Be Glad When Everybody’s Singing Jesus Songs” next. Typical for some of Joel’s writings, he emphasizes the joy found in a gospel song, before slowing things down as Candy sings the testimonial, “Lord, To Sing About You”, which feature the beautiful strains of the fiddle.

As this side comes to an end, Joel shares memories of growing up in church and taking part in those old brush arbor meetings, as he appropriately sets up the song, “Sing the Glory Down”. The group gives an exciting and spirited performance of the song, and they appear to really enjoy singing the song, and the crowd is right in there with them!

As we come to the last side, the atmosphere changes to a more somber mood as Tim gives a very heartfelt and emotional performance on his signature song, “We’ll Shake Hands”. After singing the song, Tim gives a very personal and moving testimony of losing his mother to cancer before giving an encore. As one who personally lost both my mom and dad to cancer, the song, and Tim’s extended testimony, resonates with me on a very personal level, and it’s a highlight of the recording.

Before closing things out, Joel leads the congregation in the wonderful song, “Oh How I Love Jesus”, before the group closes out with a new chorus Joel had written called, “The Tomb is Empty”. As the singing fades to silence, we’ve reached the end of an exciting and uplifting service by the Hemphills, as they conclude with a strong spirit of worship, which was very different than most live recordings from the 60’s and 70’s.

The only other live recording during this era recorded in a church (that I am immediately aware of), was the Rambos 1974 live recording, “Alive & Live at Soul’s Harbor”, and both albums have a certain genuineness and warmth to them. I don’t know if it’s the fact that they were recorded in a church service or not, but there is a certain intimacy with both albums. What makes “One Live Family” slightly different than the Rambos live recording is that the Hemphills recording has a distinct campmeeting feel to it.

As with any live album from back in the day, there are always songs I would have loved to have heard live, but I am pretty satisfied with the overall set list for the album (though I would have loved to have heard “I Found a City” live). Listening to this live album, I find that the Hemphills style is kind of a cross between the Sego Brothers & Naomi and the Hinsons. As with most groups, as they grew as artists, their sound became a bit more refined and you definitely can hear the growth between their last live album and this one. Also, much like some of their peers of similar mindset such as the Goodmans, Hinsons and Rambos who had a strong Pentecostal following, the Hemphills weren’t a rowdy crew (they had their moments, I’m sure), though they had moments on this recording; but the Hemphills weren’t as “in your face” with their Pentecostal beliefs and outward expressions as maybe the Hinsons could be. I think this helped the Hemphills gain a broader appeal for those who may not fully appreciate the Pentecostal way, and with the addition of Candy (and eventually Joey) on the frontlines, they grew to enjoy an even wider appeal as their music evolved through the remainder of the 70’s and into the 80’s.

Please check out my music page on Facebook for more content related to Southern Gospel Music including more discography reviews on other groups, we well as other thoughts and discussions related to Southern Gospel Music.  Please like and follow my page at https://www.facebook.com/James-Music-Page-102612571620560.

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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 SGHistory.com for several years as well. James also writes for his own music page on Facebook as well, via James' Music Page (https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100063484056683).

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