On live introductions
An interesting rhetorical history could be written about the spoken-word introductions to live recordings in southern gospel. This first occurred to me listening to the introduction of Legacy 5 on their latest live project, Live in Music City. I don’t know who’s doing the introducing but it’s not very good – lacks gravitas and polish, and ends with a pregnant pause (“LEGACY ……………”) and a big fizzle (“five”). The Cathedrals Alive: Deep in the Heart of Texas has a memorable introduction, if only because the speaker sounds like he’s kicking off a NASCAR event, the way he bears down on and growls out the word “heart” in the closing phrase “deep in the HARDUH Texas!” There’s an old Goodmans live album recorded on New Year’s eve in the 50s that has an endearingly clumsy introduction that always makes me smile: the introducer’s voice sounds like someone who’s in a tuxedo for the first time and hasn’t quite figured out how people in coat tails speak. So earnest is he that the introduction ends with the carefully enunciated name of the song the Goodmans will now sing for you all here tonight: Thank God. I’m In. His. Care. One half expects him to conclude with, “Now please turn in your hymnals to page 324.”
My memory is not phonographic when it comes to live albums, so I’ll trust you all will fill in the gaps around me here, but I can still recall liking the introduction to the Hoppers Live in Greenville album. The mix has the right amount of reverb on the introducer to create a nice magnification of the group’s name … it lingers out in the air as “Steppin’ on the Clouds” strikes up and the crowd’s delighted response builds up behind the music.
And then there’s the Cats Live in Atlanta, I think it is, which records a response akin to a cult-following’s from the audience as the Cathedrals’ take the stage. I don’t remember a word of what was said in this intro nor in some of the old Blackwoods and Stamps live recordings with which I was enraptured in my youth. But how could I ever forget the undiluted euphoria these groups were able to extract seemingly effortelessly from their audiences just by walking on stage to the sound of a blocked chord or four trilling, thrilling bars of piano?
Someone said to me the other day that we are often left marked for life by the music that captivates us in our youth, and whatever it was that those crowds of enthralled Cats and Stamps and Blackwoods fans were clapping for and hooting at and whistling about, that experience of rapture and anticipation seeped into my growing bones and leeched into my spiritual DNA. Every piece of music I heard then and thenceforward seemed to matter only insofar as it succeeded or failed in rousing the fickle fan in me to a renewed encounter with “the sound of light” (though I wouldn’t know to call it by that name, which Don Cusic coined, for many years). If you own the right albums or have the right friends, you can still hear those long-ago crowds basking in that light, all these years later. And now I have joined them there.
The spoken introduction of live recording, then, (and who says it and how) really ought to be a matter of some considerable thought and practice, since it essentially serves as one main portal through which we gain access to (and preserve for posterity) the basic unit of the gospel music experience: the live performance of a song. And yet, it is possible to think and rehearse too much for these things, as this robs the live moment of its momentousness, and comes off sounding like our awkwardly tuxedoed friend on that new year’s eve in the 50s. The best introductions are those that recede into the background of what comes (in the best instances) gloriously and wonderfully next.Email this Post