The Speers

Responding to my query about the late Speers in the post below, reader CVH offers some insightful thoughts on the great group, well worth promoting to the main page:

Actually I’d venture the thought that the Speers always had a sense of (what would become known as) the “inspo” sound even back in the 70’s. Between Ben and Harold Lane, they anticipated and pursued musical trends that were outside the traditional southern gospel style yet gave those songs a distinctly ‘Speer Family’ finish that enabled them to work in the broader context of the songs they were doing at the time.

It might have been in part because of the period of time when the children Steve, Marc and [Hottie Alert!] Susan were with the group, although that was relatively short-lived. It may have been the vocal ability of Dianne Mays, whose voice had a wonderful character that lent itself to other genres of song. It wasn’t just doing Gaither songs - they were singing songs by writers not associated with Southern Gospel, like Phil Johnson’s “I Wish You All Could Know Him” and Carolyn Gillman’s “And He’s Ever Interceding”. Whether this mix of inspo and southern gospel worked or not (sales, concert revenue, etc.) in the long run I don’t know, but they were one of the few groups of that era that seemed to reach outside the traditional boundaries of southern gospel to bring something fresh and different to the scene.

Listen to some of the songs from the Heartwarming albums like ‘A Family Affair’, ‘Between The Cross and Heaven’, ‘Cornerstone’, ‘Interceding’ and ‘Something Good Is About To Happen’ and you’ll find a rich variety of styles that were a precursor for what was to follow in the years to follow.

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Comments

  1. Joe wrote:

    I couldn’t agree more with your comments about the Speers. The albums you mentioned are among my all-time favorites by any group. Sue Chenault Dodge deservedly won the best female vocalist Dove Award for several years immediately preceding most of those albums, and her leaving the group definitely left a big void. But what Dianne Mays brought to the group when she took Sue’s place, IMHO, was vastly under-rated. What a delightful sound they had in those years!

  2. Dean Adkins wrote:

    CVH made some great points regarding the Speers. I strongly believe that the Harold Lane’s arrangements were a big part of their success.
    “Harold was so good with music. He set us apart in the industry. We would come on with a lot of wild harmony and chords and arrangements. He made us different from everybody else.” - Brock Speer

    I hope that this will be the year that Harold Lane is selected to SGMA Hal of Fame.

  3. Paul Jackson wrote:

    A huge part of that innovation and broadening of style was a factor..a person, previously blogged about at this site.

    Mr. Lari Goss, wrote and arranged the “HIT” ,out of this group of afore mentioned tunes, that brought me to a place to investigate “groups” further. It transcended SG and was sung in virtually every evangelistic SBC (my denom) church from Bellevue to 3rd BC Malvern…in fact I recorded it in 1975 and was singing it in Crusades all over the USA, I think before it was even recorded by The Speers…

    I remember the first time I heard “Cornerstone” on the radio. I was leading a Crusade in Tulsa in 1976 (might have been ‘77) and heard it on the Big christian station there at that time (KCFO I believe)…anyway, it was well after I had recorded it and sung it in dozens of churches. When I heard it on the air, The Speer/Goss version was being played right along with The Archers, Danny Lee, Dallas Holm and all the other “contemporary” artist of that day.

    Yes, The Speers were innovators on the stage and in the studio and LG was the vehicle, musically speaking, that helped facilitate their willingness to ride!

    Some will say that this is a reach, but I believe that “Cornerstone” impacted, to this day, the entire genre we call SG. It established a new standard for the “ballad” that we have all come to expect as an obligatory part of every serious, top tier SG recording…and Goss would have a hand in a long stream of those ballads that have “marked” SG forever…and changed it…enlarged it’s appeal to a greater, or at least different part of “the church” market…He brought a new sophistication that was genuine not contrived. Simply stated: “real class” suitable to hold it’s own with any genre’s best.

    Well, sorry to droan on…but I am not embarrased to sing the praises of a man…a friend…a mentor, that has brought such inspiration to my life…and the lives of thousands that I have sung to and “had church” with….oh, and some of those songs in that ballad “stream”…

    “Midnight Cry”, “Statue of Liberty”, “When He Was On the Cross”, “Whe Shall See Jesus”, “A Few Good Men”, “I Bowed On My Knees” and “High And Lifted Up”, to name a few (as they say).

    Avery, I felt like talkin’ a little witch’ ya tonight.

    Paul Jackson / The Prophets
    www.pauljacksongroup.com/blog/

  4. CVH wrote:

    To dovetail on Paul’s comments about Lari Goss’ influence, I agree that ‘Cornerstone’ was a cut that had a tremendous impact on multiple levels. I’d love to know the circumstances that surrounded the process. Did Goss write it for the Speers or was it something he’d already written that he pitched to them? It was a very atypical piece - the opening verse with just rhythm and Dianne’s voice; adding low strings on the second verse; moving into the long B-section, starting with unison voices that built into full harmony, working with the orchestration not simply riding on top of it; then the feel changes, going from the long whole-note feel to the synchopated rhythm and building again into the chorus. Despite its slow tempo the rhythmic feel and orchestration made it seem to move faster than it did. The chorus (voices and orchestra) make a strong declarative statement as the piece moves toward the tag; allowing the orchestra to flourish and take a couple measures on the turnaround was unheard of at that time but it provided the perfect moments of anticipation before the vocals came back in for those final suspended chords of the last line. In a typical “just right” Goss finishing touch, the orchestra syncopates the second and third notes on the last measure. While the recording sounds a bit dated by today’s standards (32 years later), the chart still stands as do the Speer’s vocals.

    Paul also mentioned ‘Statue of Liberty’. When The Couriers originally recorded that classic on Tempo in 1974 the budget only allowed for so much orchestration. Jesse Peterson produced and I think Otis Forrest arranged it. It was ok but I always felt the song deserved more. Two years ago when Dave, Duane and Neil (the former Couriers) re-recorded the song for their indie release “One Country Over God”, they hired Lari to do the chart. Finally, thirty years later, I heard the song the way I felt it deserved to be heard all along. It is signature Goss and the guys sound better than ever.

  5. Tom wrote:

    Another thing to remember about the Speers and genre expansion: The Speers were featured performers at one of the premier Jesus Music events–the Explo 72 festival, which drew about 150,000 Jesus freaks to Dallas, TX, for a nine hour concert, and has been called the “Woodstock of the Jesus Movement.” The Speers performed alongside Larry Norman, Love Song, Randy Matthews, Danny Taylor, Andrae Crouch & The Disciples, Johnny Cash, Armageddon Experience, Danny Lee & the Children of Truth, the Forerunners, and Kris Kristofferson. An LP called “Jesus Sound Explosion” was released after the event, featuring ten live performance highlights from the festival–including the Speers’ “The King is Coming.” Since the album was distributed for free to anyone who requested it, it was one of the most widely distributed early Jesus Music recordings.

  6. Paul Jackson wrote:

    Thanks CVH for the detail on the “Cornerstone” cut. Brought back some great memories…I made the mistake of buying the cassette back then instead of the LP…I have no idea where it is…my mistake on “Statue of Liberty”, I was thinking “Champion of Love” and typed the other. Lari did do an arrangement of Statue that I recorded in 1977…also don’t forget the great ballads on all those Lanny Wolfe Trio LP’s….some amazing stuff!
    Thanks again for your comments.

    Paul Jackson

  7. chuck stevens wrote:

    Paul..

    I began my radio career there at KCFO am970 playing Southern Gospel back in 1984. We were sister station to the FM, Love 98.

  8. CVH wrote:

    Paul, great point. Right on on the Lanny Wolfe Trio albums. His songs lent themselves to Lari’s production style. Marietta had a great voice - strong when it needed to be, full of that Pentecostal/black gospel richness, or soft and expressive when the phrase required it. Dave was pretty good, Lanny was…well, he was a songwriter. Together the sound was kind of quirky at times but killer at others. Much of Lanny’s writing was deceptively simple but Lari’s charts gave the uptempo songs the sass they needed and the big ballads the power and fullness to make you cry.

  9. Trent wrote:

    The one constant in the sound of the Speers over the years was the distinct voice of Ben Speer. It’s hard to put your finger on that unique “something” in Ben’s voice, as in any great singer’s voice, but it was always there, nonetheless. It’s just simply a God thing. The sound that Ben brought to the table always took the Speers to a higher level vocally.

  10. Paul Jackson wrote:

    Trent you are right about Ben’s one of a kind sound…a sound you could hear in Brock at times as well…just the Speer sound I think.

    CVH…How about that killer Lani Wolfe Trio Christmas album with gigantic Goss charts?
    …”Wise Men Still Seek Him” among others.
    I do have my old LWT LP’s and listen to them a lot…”Stirred But Not Changed” is a classic…and “My House is Full”?…Goss made it sound like the tears of heaven raining down. I still sing those in church and “The wind is Blowing Again” and “Let Them Know”…wow the list is endless.

    Chuck, thanks for confirming those call letters…this 53 year old brain can play tricks at time. They must of had a great PD back then because the station playlist was awesome. I loved to get near Tulsa to dial it in. Do we still have stations like that today?

    Thanks for the yak men.

    PJ / The Prophets

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