Gaither Trio Discography Chaos

So this conference I’ll be presenting at shortly has required me to (re)immerse myself in All Things Bill Gaither. Partly, this has involved rereading Gaither’s books, I Almost Missed the Sunset (1992), and It’s More Than Music (2003). Fortunately, they’re even easier to read the second time through.

Aside from the fact that the writing in the first is far superior to the second, the books are interesting, when read side-by-side, for what they suggest about the way Gaither has quite consciously set about reinventing himself since 1992, when the first Homecoming video was shot. In Sunset (which comparatively makes very little mention of his southern gospel roots or interests), he pretty clearly sees himself winding down his career, and he seems to be using the book to make the Gaither brand synonymous with “elder statesmen of Christian music,” sensu lato. In More than Music, Gaither finds himself in the strange position of having had his career rejuvenated by southern gospel - after an adult lifetime of success as more or less a contemporary or inspirational artist - and needing to create a backstory of his life to accommodate the changed circumstances of newfound southern gospel success.

I’m not suggesting either book is a misrepresentation of reality as he experienced it. We all do this - modify and adjust and tweak the running autobiography of ourselves that’s constantly being (re)composed in our minds as our vision of ourselves shifts to meet the reality of lived experience. It’s just that few of us do so as publicly as someone like Gaither.

But I digress. In rereading these books, I found myself having trouble following the discographical history of the Gaither Trio. And so I started trying to plot out the trio’s early years project by project … and found it nearly impossible.

All the discographies I’ve found for the BG Trio are vexingly vague about the group’s recordings before the second Alleluia album (Alleluia: Praise Continues, from 1973, which is often mistaken for the first). The first Alleluia album was actually Alleluia: A Praise Gathering for Believers (circa 1971? Gaither’s books are persistently dodgy when it comes to specific dates, and there is, maddeningly, no complete or even partial discography of Gaither recordings in either book, perhaps because the long list of awards takes up the space that might have been used for a far less sexy but far more practical list of albums released under the Gaither name). But because Alleluia: Praise Gathering was technically a demo tape for the church musical of the same name, discographers appear to feel under no obligation to count it, for whatever reason, even though it sold well in its own right. Or is there a Master Discography In the Sky I’m missing?

Most disocgraphies (see for example, here, here and here) make vague but chronologically hedged references to Happiness (sans label, from “the 1960s,” which may or may not be a custom recording). But most begin to mark time for the group with At Home In Indiana, the 1970-71 project that put the trio on the map (ftr, Gaither refers to the project in both books, without fail, as “Back Home In Indiana”). But Gaither’s books mention at least three Benson projects in the early 1970s prior to Back/At Home that I haven’t seen listed in any of online discography: Sincerely, When God Seems So Near, and I Am Free. These projects were, if I understand the history correctly (and I may not; like I say, it’s all very muddled), after Bob Benson signed the trio and introduced them to producer Bob McKenzie, but before “Mac” and Gaither formed Paragon in the mid-70s.

But wait. It gets more interesting/complicated. Even though most discographies list At/Back Home in Indiana (circa “1970s” is as specific as they get), most don’t begin to specify exact years of release for albums until the 1972 Live recording (2 LPs). The consistency of the vagueness suggests something more substantive than neglect or lack of interest. Maybe the master file is just irrecoverably vague or obtuse. At any rate, I assume there’s a fairly reasonable explanation why several different discographies manifest similar kinds of inexactitudes surrounding the pre-1972 Live album.

But still … surely there are people out there (besides BG himself, who doesn’t seem terribly interested in discographical specificity in his books) who own the complete works of BG Trio before 1972 and who could pretty easily clear up what exactly is the chronological order of their releases and whether or not those releases were custom or label. Right? Surely?

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  1. Norm Graham wrote:

    Gaither loves SGM recordings does not seem to have a collector’s mind when it comes to records. When he re-released those disks of RCA recordings by the Statesmen, Blackwoods and Speers there were no discographies. I’ve tried without fail to find the recording dates of Gaither videos but can only find the release dates. Sounds like there is a similar problem with the Gaither Trio recordings.

    Some folks love discographies, like me, but others could care less as long as they can listen to the music.

  2. Kyle wrote:

    It’s not just Bill’s stuff. A lot of the Heartwarming/Benson material was released without a specific date on it. When doing an ORB discography from 1966 forward, you’ve got so many records, labels, and dates that even the Oaks themselves can barely keep track.

    Duane Allen tells of when he first joined, he finished one album that was partially completed for Skylite, then went and did a record for United Artists, and finally signed with Heartwarming and did two more albums, all within the first year with the group. Many list his first album with the Oaks as “With Duane Allen Out Front,” but going by serial numbers, they actually had AT LEAST 3 albums prior released with him before that. From there, the best way to take a stab at the year is by taking note of the serial number, group members, and the length of their hair….it wasn’t until 1972/73 that dates were actually put on their records.

    Now, I challenge you to find a Dottie Rambo discography that makes any sense!!

  3. Grigs wrote:

    Here are the early Gaither albums I have and the info listed on each:

    Live(1972 Heartwarming, produced by MacKenzie)

    Singing To Share(1972 Vista, no producer listed) It’s been my experience that many Vista albums are compilations of songs from previous albums.

    I’m Free(1973 Heartwarming, produced by MacKenzie) They’re billed as The Bill Gaither Trio With Gloria on this album. Betty Fair is listed as a group member and appears on the album cover.

    Happiness(1974 Heartwarming, MacKenzie) They are back to being The Bill Gaither Trio. On the back cover, the welcome Sherry Slattery to the group, but she doesn’t make the cover picture.

  4. James Hales wrote:

    I have seen where the record companies re-released some of those albums with different covers. I know this to be true because I have 2 “Because He Lives” albums and they both have different covers with the same songs.

    Also, I think when they left Heartwarming and signed on at Word Records, they may have re-released some records thru them as well, which makes it all the more difficult to nail down an exact date.

  5. Mark Fuller wrote:

    Just one correction for all the trivia buffs. The first Homecoming videos were taped in 1991. The first video which was released named “Homecoming” was taped in early February 1991 which the extra artists (legends) were only supposed to record the one song “Where Could I Go”. Then the second video “Reunion” was taped in September/October 1991 during the day on the Thursday of the National Quartet Convention in Nashville, TN at the Benson Studios. I actually had the priviledge of driving Eva Mae LeFevre and Rex Nelon to the studio and watch the taping. It was GREAT!!

  6. CVH wrote:

    It’s interesting and a bit maddening that someone with as auspicious a career as BG has had doesn’t seem to be concerned with having an accurate discography.

    I can add a couple pieces to the puzzle. First, Kyle is correct. Record companies did not being to include copyright and publishing date information on album labels until 1971. And re-releases or derivative compilations only have a copyright date for that product’s release, not the original date of release for the songs in question (unless you can determine it by reading liner notes or song lyric copyright information, the latter being the year of copyright in the song, not necessarily the year the recording of the song was released.)

    As Grigs noted, there were two other releases, “I’m Free” and “Happiness” that also occured prior to 1971. The 1973 and ‘74 copyrights are the re-release dates. By ‘73 and ‘74, the Trio was releasing “Let’s Just Praise The Lord”, their first children’s album and “Thanks For Sunshine”.

    The 1972 double-live album was something Benson did with most of their artists in that period. The ORB had released “Performance” and J.D. Sumner and The Stamps Quartet released “Live in Nashville” the year before. The Downings had a single-disc live album they did in Muncie, Indiana. Henry and Hazel Slaughter, who were traveling with Gaithers at that time, did a single-disc live project. But The Speers, The Orrells, Doug Oldham, The Imperials, The Rambos and others had “double-live” albums in that time period too.

    James mentions the two different covers for the same album. At a couple of points, both Benson and Word (when they later re-released some of the older Benson catalog BGT product) switched cover photos, usually for the worse. Some of them were truly horrendous. In fact years later, Provident I think it was, re-released some of the early BGT albums on CD and they had the cover shot that was originally on “Let’s Just Praise The Lord” on the re-release of “Because He Lives”. That original cover photo was on the re-release of “He Touched Me”. Not that I suppose it matters 30+ years later, but for the purist it seems like careless oversight to not be faithful to the original.

    Vista was Benson’s venture into discount pricing on older catalog product. They pulled song masters that were two to six years old from most of the top groups they had at the time, The Imperials, The Downings, The Speers, The Rambos, Doug Oldham, the ORB, etc., and packaged them with different graphics and previously-unused shots from older photo shoots. Again, some of the shots used on these projects should never have seen the light of day.

    Whereas a new line album at that time probably retailed for $5.98 or $6.98, the Vista line priced at $2.99 or $3.99. They did not re-release entire albums, but rather compilations of songs from various older releases, sometimes with different group members. The mastering on these was pretty bad too…hard cuts before the reverb ringoff at the end of a track or different levels throughout a side.

    As our esteemed host has already noted, the “Alleluia! A Praise Gathering For Believers” was released as a vehicle for marketing Gaither copyrights to the church in a non-seasonal fashion. It was mostly a collaboration between Ronn Huff and BG which Benson released on Impact in 1971. My recollection may be fuzzy on this but I believe it was one of the first Christian recordings to go gold. Also, I believe the track for “God Gave The Song” from that project was the same one used by The Speers when they recorded the tune (and made it the title track) of a 1974 release on Heartwarming.

    Benson experienced a huge growth spurt in the early 1970s and broadened both the number of artists it signed and increased the number of releases by those artists. They trimmed their back catalog at the same time which is why “At Home or Back Home in Indiana” is often listed as the first BGT album. The others noted above, “Sincerely”,
    “When God Seems So Near” and “I Am Free” were released between 1967 and 1969. Although there may have been custom albums the trio recorded prior to signing with Benson, I’m not aware of any and none ever seem to surface on collector websites or eBay. They were released, as Avery notes, post-Benson-signing, but prior to the creation of Paragon which was circa 1973-75.

    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.

  7. David Stuart wrote:

    I read yesterday, on one of the SG message boards , that the GVB is planning a reunion with all the former members.

  8. cdguy wrote:

    Betty Fair & Sherry Slatterly sang with Bill & Danny only in the studio. After Maryann (their sister) retired from singing, and Gloria began singing, she stated she didn’t feel comfortable with her singing ability (some would say rightly so), so they hired other women to fill in for her. Then MacKenzie pushed Gloria to sing, so the albums would sound more what like people heard in concert. He felt that was what the audience wanted, not some fill-in. That would have been in the late 60’s.

    It was about this same time Mac added Bill’s name to the front of the trio’s name. Up until this time, they were known simply as “The Gaither Trio”. I heard Mac really wanted to book the act as “An Evening With Bill Gaither” or “Bill Gaither and Friends”, but that Bill wanted to keep the trio name. Supposedly, Mac thought Bill was the drawing card, but as Bill says, “people came to hear Danny sing Bill’s songs, hear Bill stutter, and see Gloria cry.”

    One website I found states the trio signed with Benson in 1964, with “Sincerely, “When God Seems So Near”, and “I Am Free”, being their first 3 releases, respectively.

    As for Vista records, some of those were re-released cuts, and others were done as custom albums. I don’t think they were intended to be anything more than table projects.

  9. cynical one wrote:

    A “Dottie Rambo discography that makes sense”? That might be the first thing about her that made sense.

    Ouch! that wasn’t nice. My wife says she loves Dottie’s songs, but there’s just something about Dottie she doesn’t like.

    I say it’s Reba. Anybody who could spit that out. . .

    There I go again.

  10. Grigs wrote:

    Thanks for all of the information Mark, CVH, and CDguy.

  11. Angie M wrote:

    The federal government did not grant copyright protection to sound recordings until 1971, which could be why there are no years on these earlier albums.

  12. joe wrote:

    #9: Regardless of one’s likes and dislikes, that is one of the most uncalled-for postings I’ve ever read. How proud you must be of yourself.

  13. cynical one wrote:

    Joe — Thanks. Uncalled-for what what I was going for.

  14. quartet-man wrote:

    I wish that even there were better records (no pun intended) of the Gaither videos (artist selection, song selection, order of release, catalog numbers etc.)

    I hope the GVB reunion is true. It has been talked about for years and the first time I saw it presented to Bill was in an interview in Gospel Voice several years back. Bill thought it was an interesting idea. I even mentioned wanting it on the other Gaither thread here before I saw this. I also mentioned there about the GVB’s date of being formed is often declared as a year late (even by Gaither himself.)

    Kyle is right about the Oaks discography. He also probably remembers my asking Duane for confirmation a while back. Their book intimated that Duane Allen Out Front was first, but it made more sense to me that the Skylite was first (Smitty was on part of it), then United Artists (since I doubt they signed with HeartWarming and immediately went out and did one there too. Plus, in “Our Story” Duane talked about writing songs after he first joined because there were only a few in the Oaks publishing company. The fact that Duane wrote or cowrote several on this lp backs up the fact that it would be first.) Also, as Kyle said the HeartWarming ID numbers intimate that Songs We Wish would come first. Also, that would make it easier for the group to do so many albums quickly as the songs were familiar songs and I believe one of the songs on there was one Duane had the lead on and was known for during his time with the Prophets.

  15. John C wrote:

    There was also a time in the career of the Gaither Trio when the trio consisted of Mary Ann, Gloria, and Bill. I know this group released one LP (Songs of Praise and Devotion), and I think there may have been a couple of others.

    I would guess that Danny had left the Gaither Trio to sing with the Golden Keys Quartet during this time frame.

  16. quartet-man wrote:

    Vista was the budget label. They mostly did compilations of songs from various previously released HeartWarming projects. Sometimes they reissued full HeartWarming lps and twice that I know of they released mostly unreleased material. One of these, the LightHouse and Other Gospel Hits by the Oak Ridge Boys was stuff in the can, but not used and I think one (or so) previously released songs to make a full album (Since Jesus Came In as I recall.) The other was Gospel Classics by the Stamps.

  17. Gaither Trio #1 Fan wrote:

    Wow! It was great to find this posting! I also have been very curious to find a “complete” Discography for the Bill Gaither Trio! I even went as far as to contact Mr Gaither’s Personal Assistant for any info she might have about this possible list. Sad to say even she did not have a “complete” list of their recordings.

    One thing I have found out though, is that they did, in fact, have at least THREE custom recordings BEFORE signing with Benson in the early-1960s. (The earlier post stating that “Sincerely,” “When God Seems So Near,” & “I’m Free” were the 1st three while under the Benson name IS correct info–ALL 1st came out before 1970!)

    Their very 1st LP ever was entitled PRESENT; their 2nd was PRESENTING THE GAITHER TRIO OF INDIANA, Vol 1; & their 3rd HE TOUCHED ME. All of these came out prior to the Benson SINCERELY and ALL came out on custom labels. I especially know info about these THREE since I do OWN all three of these LPs–I’m happy to say.

    As far as I can tell, the only way to put their LPs in chronological order since no dates printed on most prior to 1973 or so would be to use the Benson SPEC numbers located on the front and back of all of them. Not only do these numbers/letters help to identify if the recording was in Stereo or Mono, they also help to place LPs in order oldest to newest since Benson would issue these SPEC numbers from a lowest to highest number.

    Please check my page on My Space sometime soon for I hope to post a BLOG soon for what I think might be as close as possible “complete” Gaither Trio Discography. Most of the LPs CDs that I will list there, I’m happy to say are part of my Gaither LP/CD Collection!

    I certainly welcome any questions anyone reading this might have about their earlier recordings or their later ones…

  18. Leon Stump wrote:

    I have the lp “O How I Love Him; The Gaither Trio Of Indiana” (n.d.) on the Crusade label, with Bill, Danny, and Mary Ann (who had an undoubtedly powerful voice). At this earlier time, the trio sounded more Southern Gospel. Danny unmistakably immitates Jake Hess and Bill unmistakably immitates Jim Big Chief Wetherington!
    Song list: A Christian’s Testimony, If God Didn’t Care, The Greatest of These Is Love (Gaither), Noah Found Grace, The Joy Of Serving The Lord (Gaither), If You’ve Never Learned To Pray, Oh How I Love Him! (Gaither), Wings Of A Dove, Then I Met The Master, I Can’t Help Talkin’ About Him; Medley: No One Ever Cared For Me Like Jesus, I’ll Be True, Jesus Is The Sweetest Name I Know, Standing Somewhere In The Shadows, Jesus Is The One; I Bow’d On My Knees; Medley: After, Face To Face, Nearer Home.

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