In defense of Roy

A regular reader (and quartet owner) writes:

Avery,
I find myself agreeing with you far more than I disagree, but on the subject of Roy Pauley. I must fervently disagree. I do not believe that slamming Roy for his personally held beliefs is quite fair, especially when you have likely never met the man.
In Pauley you will find a person totally dedicated to this business we call Southern Gospel. He is certainly a fan of traditional Southern Gospel, the style of music that represents and the delivery of that music. He knows more about the history of Gospel music than virtually all the newer artists combined, in my opinion. However, if you look closely you will find a man who has helped many struggling new groups to acquire some recognization for their music and work. We are one of those groups who have benefited from the pen of Roy Pauley. His column is in fact, titled, “In My Opinion”. Do you not have opinions that run contrary to many people’s widely held views? Of course you do, as do I. Why are Roy’s opinions so invalid when yours are not?
Of course Roy is a relic by today’s standards, but one only has to attend one Southern Gospel concert, anywhere, anytime, to come to the conclusion that most of the audience we sing to every week is also, collectively, a relic. If you were to meet Roy and discuss (Southern) Gospel with him, you might be surprised to learn how much you agree with his thinking. Should we explore those things he stands for?
1. Quality performance.
Can you disagree with his desire for quality. Can you argue that very few artists today can pull off the arrangements that made the Statesmen famous all those years ago. Do you know of any groups that can record those kind of arrangements as they did, many direct to vinyl without the possibility of overdubs? To sing the cluster chord style arrangements they did requires a huge amount of musical skill and discipline. I have recorded many of today’s Southern Gospel groups. I personally have found only one current performing artist capable of singing like that, and that is Gerald Williams of the Melody Boys. Now the style may or may not be your cup of tea, but we are not talking style at this juncture, we are talking sheer talent level, or the lack thereof.
2. Presentation
Can you find fault with anyone who thinks our genre of music needs a strong dose of professionalism? This is where Roy’s stand has always been, and his offering up examples from past artists that exhibited these traits may get old to some, even to you, but does that make it less valid?
3. Educated artists
His view in this regard is that very few singers and musicians in Southern Gospel have enough musical training to be showcasing their talents. I have heard him say time and time again that so very few learn music anymore, and that the vast majority sing without any music theory background at all. Can you fault that? Having the knowledge of working with many so called artists in the studio, I can tell you that very few have enough musical knowledge to know where the one in a bar is let alone musical theory. Just recently I worked with a well known artist who did not know the difference between 3/4 time and 4/4. When do we start requiring more of our name artists?
4. Giving credit where credit is due.
There is no doubt that the Statesmen and the Blackwood’s made (Southern) Gospel Music what it is today. Many youthful artists of today would rather forget the roots of the music they say they love, and in many cases tend to deny its existence or importance at all. Roy has long given credit to these great pioneers of our past for the very music we say we love today. Yes change can be good, but change that is so drastic that it makes the music all but unrecognizable for much of the audience is short sighted. And change which requires less and less musical expertise, is destroying our future.
The most successful group in recent years was the Cathedrals, and they made a great living on traditional quartet music, much of which was copied direct from the playbook of the Statesmen. In fact George Younce once said “Every time I think I have come up with something new, I learn that Hovie and Chief had already done that and far better”.
A good example of where the music was allowed to stray with consequences is: in 1964 the Goodman’s came on the scene with a new brand of Gospel Music, straight out of the Pentecostal Church. Now don’t get me wrong, much of my family is Pentecostal, and I love much of what it represents. It was country steel guitar, songs with a message sung in a Pentecostal/country style, and it took roots. The probable mistake was that it was accepted as (Southern) Gospel and not Country Gospel. There are many who would say that it was not, and still is not (Southern) Gospel. I am close to that belief but maybe not 100%. Rusty Goodman was a good friend for many years, and I have heard him laugh about how musically wanting the Goodman’s were, but that they were crying all the way to the bank. Rusty was once a member of the Plainsmen and I can guarantee you Roy Pauley loved the Plainsmen with Rusty, but did not care for Rusty with the family. Is that wrong? Of course not, it was his preference in music and Roy’s opinion.
I too loved Rusty’s great voice, but in regard to the Family, I need more. Is that wrong? Of course not, it is my preference in music and my desire for better arranged, better performed music. So, I know you disagree with Roy and find his comments ancient and out of touch. But I would say to you, look at 90% of the audience. I think you will find them pretty much in-line with what Roy believes. Oh yes, there are those who are very much into the charismatic, ministry minded music so frequently heard today. But I think overall they are in the minority. Ministry is a great thing, but calling something a “ministry” when in fact it is far closer to Christian entertainment, maybe doing both disciplines a disservice.
In closing, you have personal opinions that are far removed from the majority of Southern Gospel Music fans, and artists. Does that make your opinions less valid? Is Roy’s opinion less valid than yours? Avery, I respect what you have done with your blog and how you have made people stop and think, but on Roy Pauley, I think you are wrong. I am very glad to call Roy and Amy friends, for they have been super nice to me and our group. I respect his fervent desire for better singing, better presentation, and better education for our artists. He is correct, if we do not begin to do better musically we will never succeed in bringing our genre even back to where it was, let alone grow it beyond its current boundaries. I know his constant examples of “what to do” and “who to pattern from” get old, but his ideas are just as timely as they have always been. I think Roy’s thorn in the collective side of progressive minded folks is more akin to my
wife’s constant reminder to me that I must watch what I eat if I want to lose weight. Of course she is right, I just get tired of hearing it.
I still love you.

I’ll have to come back some other time to the interesting insight here about the effect of Pentecostalism on southern gospel music and culture. To the matter at hand though: Pauley should hire the writer to ghost-write for him. If Roy wrote as clearly and plainly as this writer does in this email, I’d have far less to write about (that bit about cluster chords and no overdubs, for example, is the kind of evidence that Pauley rarely provides).

But I fear my correspondent has mistaken my critique of Pauley’s arguments and ideas for a put-down of Pauley of himself. Not knowing him, I’m Switzerland on the matter of Roy Pauley the man. It seems perfectly possible for a really nice guy, a good friend, and faithful fan of gospel music to write the kind of column Pauley regularly produces. This reader also implies that I begrudge him his opinions. Not so. That’s why I said clearly that he has every right to his opinion. Having the opinion isn’t what I object to (that would, of course, make me chief among all hypocrites). It’s the sloppiness that tends (inadvertently?) toward intellectual dishonesty that’s troublesome.

Of course I’m for quality and appropriateness and class. And apple pie and old glory and I believe in love. I believe in babies. I believe in Mom and Dad. And I believe in you. Oh wait. That’s Don Williams. Anyway, that Pauley reveres the masters (and mistresses) of gospel music isn’t the point (on this, he and I and, as the reader notes, almost everyone else, agree). It’s that he suggests or implies over and over that because no one sings or dresses or acts like Mom Speer and Big Chief and Doye Ott and Hovie and Jake and Rosie and Rosa Nell, southern gospel today is largely crap. But since Pauley never tells us precisely who in today’s roster of gospel talent he has in mind when he makes these sweeping denunciations, he conveniently avoids having to actually defend his assertions. “I’m for quality and good music,” he says every month. Well, yeah. So what?

For instance, it’s all well and good to have firm beliefs about what “appropriate” hairstyles and “classy” dress ought to be for artists of “quality.” And it’s fine to believe, as Roy seems to, that artists today do some kind of irreparable harm to their music and integrity if they don’t dress like James Blackwood or Lily Fern Weatherford. But no one looks like that today, not even Lily Fern (or, for that matter, Roy Pauley). See the problem? No one disputes that James and Lily were paragons of respectability in their day or that the Statesmen or the Stamps of yore were great. At least I certainly don’t. But unless Roy’s argument is that no one is any good unless one sings and dresses and acts exactly like those old timers, then I’m not sure what his point is.

What, that is, does Roy’s opinion mean in practice? Is he saying that we must or ought to disregard the obvious talent of EHSSQ or First Love or the Crabb Family because of their hair and clothes? We don’t know and I can’t say, because in his column Roy refuses to translate his 1962 standards in 2007 reality.

That’s the weird thing about the reputation Roy has for being such a straight-shootin’, tell-it-like-it-is guy. He really only tells it like it was. As for today’s music, he doesn’t have much specific to say. Anything remotely critical is directed at a bunch of straw men and women – “some artists today,” or some such phrase – who never get named. This has the effect of making Roy sound tough and honest while distracting from the fact that he’s really tip toeing through the tulips of today’s artists and traveling talent.

Only Roy knows why he does this. Certainly the SN seems to make it a point of avoiding critical judgments of any kind about anyone who might ever be inclined to buy ads from the magazine. But whatever the reason, it’s a problem for the SN and, not least of all, for us as his readers, who would be much better served if he would speak up in a meaningful way about today’s talent. If Roy wants to complain about hairstyles, fine, but if he goes no further than saying in effect “some artists have bad hair,” why bother? The really interesting column would be the one in which Roy squares the circle of his absolutist notions about hair and hemlines with the reality that many of gospel music’s most talented people today – our own Blackwods and Speer Families – traduce Roy’s aesthetic standards.

All of this leaves untouched Pauley’s character, his goodness as a friend, colleague, or southern gospel booster. He may be first rate in all those roles. My only concern is with his column. If he is as smart and insightful as this correspondent suggests, and I have no reason to think he isn’t, then his column not only shortchanges the SN’s subscribes but shortsells himself – in my opinion, of course.

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Comments

  1. Dean Adkins wrote:

    [edit] great job of presenting your thoughts in logical fashion.
    WhenI grow up I want to write like you!

  2. Trent wrote:

    “…I’m for quality and appropriateness and class. And apple pie and old glory and I believe in love. I believe in babies. I believe in Mom and Dad. And I believe in you. Oh wait. That’s Don Williams.”

    You are killing me.

  3. RF wrote:

    Here’s the funny part. I’ve met Roy Pauley. He’s from just down the road from me and is a super guy. His attitudes are of the past, but like you say, that’s his business. I think if we were all to sit down with Roy Pauley, he’d confide he likes some of the stuff going on today, but his preference would be the Blackwoods and Statesmen. Funny how that doesn’t come out in his columns.

    I hate to read his stuff, and that bothers me. It’s kind of like how I really like Adam Dunn and Albert Puljos in today’s baseball, but I can’t forget Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. Since I’m not a sports reporter, that doesn’t mean much, but if I were…I’d be Roy Pauley.

  4. Jim E. Davis wrote:

    I always turned to Jd sumners page (before it was nixed) long before I got around to Pauley’s moaning about the good ole days. Personally, I love it when somebody rattles the cage and steps on a few tulips. One of the reasons I frequent this blog.

    Although I agree with Pauley’s assertion that overall quality has been lowered, we have to remember that 40-50 years ago there were fewer groups confined into the narrow slot of what was considered southern gospel. The style spectrum is much wider today with ten times as many groups but you can still find plenty of extremely talented artists who deserve to be applauded and appreciated.

    Perhaps Mr. Pauley finds their various styles too repugnant to earn his critique. His opinion on today’s cream of the crop would only create a greater respect for his opinion of yesterday. Now that would get me to his page in a flash and I would not be alone. In my opinion, of course.

  5. Dean Conklin wrote:

    Two comments about Pentecostals trigger some thoughts/comments. First was from the quartet owner: “A good example of where the music was allowed to stray with consequences is: in 1964 the Goodman’s (sic) came on the scene with a new brand of Gospel Music, straight out of the Pentecostal Church.” and Avery’s observation future thoughts about the interesting insight in “the effect of Pentecostalism on southern gospel music and culture.” For a starter, James Blackwood (and Cecil) were members of Memphis First Assembly of God, a pentecostal church pastored by the Rev James Hamill, father of Jim Hamill. Apparently “pentecostalism” had no negative effect on any of the three. And for a time, Hilton Griswold, who would serve as the group’s pianist and a vocalist, would finish his years as an AG minister. The old Couriers got started during their years at a pentecostal college, and at times the Crabbs have been cited as too pentecostal. I am unaware of any touring group that refuses to sing in AG churches (the challenge is to get invited). So why is there such antipathy to the pentecostal streak in SG? I think Avery has expressed some of this. Is SG just supposed to be Baptist, or some other denomination? What gives?

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