Bill Gaither in History
Apropos our discussion of the Gaither Trio discographical madness, the ever insightful CVH writes:
What I’d like to see, aside from all the Gaither/Homecoming product released today, would be an extensive compilation, like a boxed set, of all the earlier recordings, with outtakes, alternate versions, etc. and extensive liner notes. Bill would have to write them since MacKenzie and Bob Benson are gone but additional comments by Bill Grine (photographer), Bob McConnell (graphic designer), some of the engineers or players could be insightful. I doubt there would be a market for it, but as a collector who was influenced by BG’s music and a fan of that era of recording and publishing gospel music in general, it would help fill in some of the gaps and provide a comprehensive overview of the earliest years of one of the most significant groups in the genre.
I heartily second all this (read his whole comment; it’s worth it).
Judging by some of your comments, I’m more surprised than most of you that Gaither is no more actively involved in curating the history of his own career than he is. Perhaps a Gaither partisan would argue that this disinterest in certain parts of his own personal history reflects Gaither’s selfless concern with just being a blessing and letting the rest of the chips fall where they may. But I think that’s pretty clearly naïve, and wrong.
Both of his autobiographies are in some ways extensive attempts to carefully manage the relationship between history and his professional image (and like I said, it’s not like he’s averse to copiously annotated lists, as evidenced by the fairly exhaustive recitations of awards that cap off each book). The few times I’ve talked to him, he has spoken at length about Christian music history. Again, this may be Bill Gaither playing the part of Bill Gaither, but even so, that would only seem to deepen the puzzle. Wouldn’t a commitment to music history include carefully preserving your own if the early part of that work helped bring about a sea change in Christian music and entertainment?
My own sense is that Gaither is intellectually and imaginatively restless, that his eye is constantly darting hither and yon, trying to look for and alight upon whatever is just on the horizon, whatever the next thing is for him and his musical career. Partly this is good bidness, but reading his books, I get the sense this restlessness may also be a symptom of a deep-set anxiety Gaither has about losing his edge – or, perhaps more important, about being perceived to have lost his edge, gone soft creatively, or sold out ethically or spiritually.
Both books go on at some length about a “attack” in the early 70s on his integrity and authenticity from a close friend. The assault devastates Gaither, as he tells it, and sends him into a year-long depression and creative dry spell that he doesn’t reemerge from until the arrival of his third child, whose birth inspired “Because He Lives.” When I first read the books, the amount of attention and energy Gaither expends on this episode seemed strange to me: what his friend says is indeed mean, but I originally had a hard time imagining that what really amounts to an outburst of rudeness from a jealous friend could have surprised Gaither that much.
But on rereading the books this time, I got the feeling that Gaither is deeply concerned that his motives be perceived as pure and that his success be understood as a testament to his purity of heart. I don’t mean that Gaither is insecure. Just the opposite, in fact. If anything, he often comes across in the books as put-out that he has to explain how or why he and his wife made the business decisions they did. It’s as if to him, the patent proof of their business wisdom and ministerial acumen invalidates all need for explanation, that his story matters not for its explanatory value but because it provides a glimpse into the origins of their current success and contextualizes his reflective insights on life and Christian art.
In this light, history would seem to matter to Gaither only insofar as it affects the present. This would explain why he spends so much time constructing and reconstructing autobiographical narratives about the past, while evincing little interest in creating a coherent discographical record of his early years. Those old albums matter because they succeeded, individually and collectively. Why care about anything else?
There’s a bit of the historical fallacy in this kind of thinking. Moreover, it results in a pretty astounding gap in our understanding of American Protestant Christian music and cultural history. But aside from all that, as a practical matter, I find it difficult to believe a collector’s edition release of The Gaither Trio: the Early Years (from the earliest custom stuff to, say, 1975 or so) wouldn’t sell quite well, and not just among old timers like CVH.
The Homecoming phenomenon has (d)evolved to a point now where Gaither has nothing to risk by reminding people of his contemporary and inspo roots. In fact, many of his Homecoming fans would probably relish the chance to invest in the nostalgic prehistory of their favorite gospel music impresario. Everybody wins, especially BG: rereleasing the old stuff puts money in the bank, and reinforces his image as a trans-stylistic master of Christian music.Email this Post