David Bruce Murray has posted what he calls “three generations” of “What A Savior.” First up is Ernie Haase a few weeks after he joined the Cathedrals. Then there’s Charles Billingsley at Thomas Road Baptist Church. And finally Rosie Rozell with the Masters V. They’re worth checking out (especially the Masters V, if for nothing else than Jim Bakker’s intro in all its PTLness).
DBM is curious about which is the best of the three, which is as fun as it is unanswerable in any definitive way. Of course that won’t stop me from weighing in, and I’ll get to that, but first, some quibbling.
To some extent, DBM has put his thumb on the scale a little by posting one of the earliest clips of Haase before he had really trademarked the song and solidified his performance of it. He’s vocally still very tender and underwhelming in this clip and far less charismatic as a showman than he would become. On top of that, the quality of the instrumentation, arrangement, and recording is suboptimal at best, especially compared with the Cathedrals late work.
So even though it would have screwed with his three generations theme (Haase represents the twentysomethings in DBM’s geneology), the fairer representation of Haase’s performance of the song would have been from Alive: Deep In the Heart of Texas album.
Conversely, the Masters V in the 80s had a certain kitschy old-guy mystique to them ( honestly: check out those smokey lenses Hovie and Rosie are wearing!), and the trio from the voices beneath Rozell is still in fine form. But Rozell himself, not so much. By this time, and no matter how great he had been, his pitch placement was pretty sketchy, his voice was quavery, and the once sparkling, piercing tone had gone flabby, settling into something like a warble. Nostalgia helps Rozell pull it off, even now (as one commenter over at musicscribe put it: “Rozie with the Original Statesmen will always *own* that song to me”). But it’s still sort of a mess.
Which leaves Billingsley, in his vocal prime, being digitally recorded and backed up by a full orchestra and choir. You see where this is going.
So anyway, back to the original issue: which one is “best.” Well, if I had to choose on musicality and performance without any substitutions of the provided clips, I’d have to go with Billingsley, who (in addition to singing the song in the wiser keys of D-flat/D) outsings both Rozell (he really had no business at his age, in that shape, trying to sing this song in F) and Haase, and Billingsley has a better sounding voice to boot.
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