The Cats, their Kittens, and the strange case of Danny Funderburk

So ya’ll have had fun, I see, debating how well/bad Ernie Haase does/doesn’t cover “I Just Started Living,” and why this and other of Danny Funderburk’s signature songs weren’t on the EHSSQ Cathedrals tribute album. I guess it could be that those are “Danny’s” tunes and have somehow achieved sacred-cow status, but it’s not like EHSSQ has had any qualms about doing their own versions of George and Glen’s songs, so I’m not sure why they’d shy away from Funderburk’s songs out of deference or whatever. Which to say, I wonder if there isn’t a simpler answer. I’m just guessing here, but I bet you’ll find that most of the tunes on the Cats tribute recording are songs that the Cathedrals own the publishing too.

No matter, it’s hard to see the point of a Danny vs Ernie Cage Match given that Funderburk was at the peak of his career and Haase was just starting out. So let’s talk about something else: namely, why it is that after Funderburk left the Cathedrals, he never managed to capitalize on his George and Glen connection (and the overwhelming affection fans felt toward him) the way pretty much every other member of the Cathedral has since the 1980s, when the group really began to dominate?

As you no doubt recall, Funderburk quit the Cathedrals in 1989 to join the newly formed Perfect Heart, which had its moments (including at least one pretty decent live album) but ultimately dissolved (I seem to recall that it’s since been revived, though I’ve heard nothing from this more recent iteration). And of course, at the time he left the Cats, Funderburk was flying high in the late 80s on a string of hits with the George and Glen and a trademark tenor voice.

What was his appeal? Some commenters say it’s because he sounds like a man even in his upper ranges, which sounds kinda silly. Being generous, I assume this kind of thing is meant to refer to his ability to sing in full voice in ranges where most tenors lost depth or warmth in their voices (the “manly” thing might also have something to do with the fact that Haase tends to bring S sounds to the front of his mouth, which many people automatically and somewhat ignorantly construe as fey or less “straight acting“). At least this is the technical explanation, but it’s pretty dissatisfying, especially considering Kirk Talley, just to take the other obvious Cathedrals tenor example, sounded almost exactly opposite of Funderburk in terms of coloration and texture and tone and he had no trouble launching off on his own after the Cats.

No, I actually think Funderburk’s appeal was as much his astonishing ability to sculpt the line of a musical thought so carefully and bend the curve of his melodic phrases so skillfully that his voice interacted with audiences almost as if he were in a personal musical conversation with his fans (as opposed to the David Phelps virtuoso wall of sound model, for instance). Indeed, I think what most people are hearing in the difference between Haase and Funderburk in the “Living” clip is the way Haase sings his words mostly on the beat and Funderburk … well … he doesn’t.

Lots of singers get in front of the beat (esp in vocal jazz) or behind it (Willy Nelson, the Greenes). But Funderburk has a knack for singing all around the beat (and here for the sake of ease, I’m going to refer to his version of “Living” from the Cathedral Reunion), as in the way he sings the line “oh and it’s totally indwelling” – “ohhhh” gets strung out in a bit of tone painting to emphasize just how nearly beyond regular words the spirit’s indwellingness is, so that that the rest of the phrase gets pushed to the end of the line, except that he scrunches up “and it’s” (the most ancillary words of the phrase) in almost a single beat so that he can give “totally indwelling” just bit more space in the measure, communicating the musical thought with a finely calibrated sense of evocative phrasing.

In other words, he speeds up and slows down the rhythm of singing not unlike the human voice in ordinary speech, which provides a felt human presence that can be lost in metronomically regularized vocalization of lyrics where every word falls in perfect rhythmic positions.

It shouldn’t go without saying that Funderburk often sacrificed diction to his vocal style (if I didn’t know that the word was “gloom” in the second verse, for instance, I probably wouldn’t have a clue what he’s saying because he basically turns the word into a gaaaaaahhhhh, … that is, feeling comes at the expense of intelligibility … though I also get the sense on the Reunion video that he’s out of shape vocally and so attempting to let style cover where lack of stamina can’t take him). But sloppy or lazy though he could be, there was such confidence and brio to his style of delivery that it was hard not to be captivated by it – there was an urgency and immediacy there that a lot of people simply wanted a lot more of.

But clearly the key to his success (and decline) had as much to do with the context in which people encountered his voice – that is, as part of the Cathedrals – as it did with Funderburk himself as a performer. And unlike Talley, Trammell, Wolfe, Bennett, Fowler and especially Haase, Funderburk simply never figured out how to make it work without George and Glen. What is “it”? I think it varies from performer to performer, but it might have had something to do in Funderburk’s case with leaving to undertake an endeavor that wasn’t really “his,” the way it was (or seemed to be) with Wolfe and Trammell, or Bennett and Fowler, or Talley, or Haase. Each of these guys in their own ways launched enterprises that were either explicitly undertaken as continuations of George and Glen’s legacy or implicitly seen to be such.

But not Funderburk. Instead, he hooked up with what was, by any objective measure even at the time, a longshot proposition for someone to sign on to at the pinnacle of southern gospel success. Perfect Heart was bankrolled by someone else other than a former Cathedral, and Funderburk was pretty clearly joining up as the hired gun or the franchise star or whatever. In all this, and unlike the other former Kittens who left the mighty Cats, Funderburk never really positioned himself as a disciple or protégé or descendant of George and Glen. That doesn’t necessarily amount to an overweening view of his own ability, but it certainly was a strategic blunder. Operating out from the under the auspices of the Cathedrals, Funderburk seems to have been viewed as just another tenor we really used to like to hear when he was a Cathedral. Which is why Funderburk has spent the past two decades being a fringe figure beloved for stuff he sang a quarter century ago.

Compare that to Haase and it’s hard to see how a debate about who sings a few songs from the 80s better isn’t of the “angels on the head of a pin” variety. To be sure, Haase has a trump card – he’s family by marriage to the Younces – but still. Credit where it’s due and all that. Musically he has done a lot more with a lot less than Funderburk. Vocally, Haase is basically high and loud – and mostly the latter, which gives off the impression of being more of the former than he actually is, as some of you have noted. IOW, you wouldn’t necessarily have heard a young Ernie Haase twenty years ago and say, “that guy has the voice of someone who will wind up headlining his own enormously popular quartet someday.”

All smart entertainers have to figure how to minimize their weaknesses and maximize their strengths, but Haase has taken this maxim of showmanship to an altogether different level of branding genius in Christian entertainment. This probably shouldn’t go without saying, even or especially coming from someone who, as you know, is at best periodically pleased by EHSSQ’s music.

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Comments

  1. SGB wrote:

    Perhaps Danny didn’t want to ride G&G’s coattails? He knew he was a valuable property and counted on his popularity to make his own mark.

    I think the downside to the other members linking their own groups to the Cathedrals is the inevitable comparisons to the Cats. To be honest many of these groups cannot hold a candle to the Cathedrals. EH&SS is by far the most popular of the Kittens but they are not stylistically close to the Cathedrals. As good as they are I do not believe that people in the future will refer to EH&SS and the “greatest quartet to ever step on stage” as many people do of the Cathedrals.

    Based on the early success Perfect Heart had I don’t think Danny needed to pay homage to G&G.

  2. jonathan edwards wrote:

    I think there are a few things you might need to consider when talking about the success or lack of it for Danny after the Cats. First he left to join what was suppose to be an allstar qt, as we know that didnt happen so instead he sang with a qt no one new much about and yet while Danny was with Perfect Heart they were a top tier qt. When Danny left is when Perfect Heart started its decline. Having seen both tenors sing to almost the exact crowd in the last 2 months people still love Danny and people love Ernie I think its a prefrence I like Danny’s voice better others may like Ernie they were both Great with the Cats. I will say this take Fanny out of the reunion event having seen it first hand twice and you don’t have much. Please remember as well Danny is lucky to be alive health wise and I am just grateful he can still deliever the message in song that he does.

  3. quartet-man wrote:

    It isn’t hard, sounds like a man was meaning full, powerful and non falsetto. I suppose when it’s been said that Weatherford sounded like a male tenor, that must be because someone thinks she is really a lesbian/ Puhleaze. It has nothing to do with gay or not. I never even thought of it and I am not one of those people I know who thinks if a tenor sounds feminine or does the kiss a man and act girly schtick they must be gay.

    Funderburk sounds different than Phelps, Baize or Murray, but they all sound like men (unlike many SG tenors I could name or have named back then.)
    Yes, I realize there is no one sound that is a “man’s sound”, but to me sounding like a boy, castrato, chipmunk on helium, girl or woman isn’t it.

    As far as why they didn’t do tenor features, well would you want to have to sing songs your predecessor did and who is regarded by many as superior? Also, I think the Cats tribute is more in paying tribute to Glen and George than the other members.

    I didn’t get into Perfect Heart a whole lot even though Funderburk was in it and still probably in a decent amount of his prime. There were other talented people in it and they had some good songs, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

    You are correct that even though I prefer Funderburk over Hasse, that like him or not (and i do) Haase has done a good job of succeeding in SG.

    Yes, it is unfair to compare a green Ernie to Danny, but face it, today all these years later he still wouldn’t do these as well as Danny. By the same token, some of Ernie’s songs are hard to imagine Funderburk in his prime doing.

    Even though Talley was never a favorite tenor of mine (long before the gay thing), I think he had the best blend with them as long as he stayed around a G or maybe A. Once he got past there, the girly tenor sound starts to happen IMHO. However, this works to his advantage on songs like Movin’ Up To GloryLand (who is the best at that I think) and Rivers of Joy.

  4. Ed Butler wrote:

    Truth of the matter, Danny could trademark a song. By that I mean any song he really identified with became his song. Others could sing it, but Danny’s version was always the best and most recognized.

    Though not one of my favorite singers, I saw him many, many times with the Cats as well as solo (never with PH). It was and continues to be very meaningful concerts when he is there.

    There are others like Danny who owns the song once they sing it. Glenn Payne, George Younce, Kenny Hinson, Rusty Goodman, Jake Hess, Tim Riley…the list goes on. In fact, that might be an interesting topic.

    CATS will always be the very best, though the Kingdom Heirs sure do some mighty fine singing, top to bottom!

    JEB

  5. Eric wrote:

    Good post #3…I have nothing to add to that.

  6. Videoguy wrote:

    What’s sad is that after viewing clips of the Funderburk of the 80’s versus recent postings of Funderburk sightings, it’s pretty clear that vocally DF has been relegated to a shadow of what he could do in times past. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out that years of the explosive vocal abuse has pillaged his talent. (The only unknown here is the effects of his health issues.)

    I would love the opportunity to ask him: was it worth it?

  7. Shorty Bradford wrote:

    Danny’s singing always has been stellar. I still say for singing Danny, Mark, Glen and George were the best sounding group. I think Danny never was a natural mc which hurt his overall success post Cats. His communication style was good for a few sentences of testimony. I remember when George would get Danny to say a few words and Danny would almost always have a tear in what he was saying. This was fine when it was 90 seconds of talk during a 90 minute Cathedrals concert. However, when Danny had to carry the whole show his crying talking style did not really rise to the level of his singing. I am not belittling his tears. He is a very sincere person and I like him a lot. I just think Ernie, Roger, Gerald, Kirk, and Scott became much better mc’s than Danny.

  8. mark wrote:

    Danny was an awesome performer, who mastered the ability to blast a song and yet he could also sing “Whosoever Will”. No other Cathedral tenor could cover the dynamic range like Danny could. Everyone tried, but nobody can pull it off like he did.

  9. Quartet Fan wrote:

    #7 hit the nail on the head. Danny’s supposed “lack of success” post-Cathedrals is due mainly to his poor MC work and handling of audiences.

    Danny, when with Perfect Heart, would talk WAY too much and then on top of that Mike would tell a 15 minute story that was only partially funny the first time you heard it.

    The original Perfect Heart was a fantastic group of musicians/singers. They really could sing anything and sound great. Unfortunately their stage presence was lacking.

  10. Auke wrote:

    Danny Funderburke’s stage presence best described as a salesmen with ADD…was the reason for decline in his career. When on stage with The Cats George and Glen’s natural stage presence kinda neutralized the geeky over-enthousiastic ways of Danny. IMHO no tenor singer should ever be allowed to be an MC. I’ve heard Danny’s and his weeping act and Ernie’s i heard recently in concert…somehow the high pitched voice isn;t pleasant to listen to when they talk…let the baritone or bass talk…but in no way shape or form the tenor.
    Last night i watched all kinds of old Cats clips…my favorite tenor are Kirk and Danny. Kirk for the blend and Danny for his features. I wished Danny could get in a good quartet again…he’s a lovable guy…and the geek/add stuff i said is not what i think he is…but how it came across…i always thought when i saw him…boy settle down.

  11. Wade wrote:

    Auke… I agree about a tenor being mc. I don’t think the bass singer should either. Most of the time it is OVER KILL especially if the bass singer stays in a lower register. George was great because just talking to him he did not sound like a bass singer. IMO

  12. wanderer wrote:

    I know most will disagree with me, but my favourite Cathedrals tenor was and is Roy Tremble. It just too bad most of the records he was on were poorly produced…even for their time. Production wise the Cathedrals didn’t really do a good record until 1981’s Colors of His Love.

  13. Auke wrote:

    #12 I agree with you on Tremble being a excellent tenor, not my favorite tho..and that’s fine. With the bad production view i agree 99%…the exception prior to the Colors of His Love album are the Strings & Brass albums…those were excellently produced at that time. Colors of His Love is one of my favorite albums. One of the worst album production wise is even of a later vintage…and that’s the first album that featured Danny Funderburke..i forgot it’s titled…that’s an aweful album…the voices are the redeeming value for all the cats albums tho’.

  14. wanderer wrote:

    #13 Yes you’re right. I forgot about Strings and Brass. As far as Funderburke. That would be either Distinctively or Prestigious.

    I don’t know why so many have a hate on for Haase. To call that clip of Living terrible with Hasse just isn’t true. It would be terrible if I sang it. It may not be as good with Haase, but it’s far from terrible.

  15. oldtimer wrote:

    I agree with much of what has been said. For starters your premise is not valid - Danny did inded ride the Cats coattails to much success - their first single was the number one song in Southern Gospel for a long time ( Somebody touvhed the Lord). It was not a great song - not sung by great singers - but it was the Cats’ coattails that made it what it was. UNtil Danny and the others turned their concerts into 60% talk and 40% singing, they were sailing toward elite stauts. That was due to the cats’ coattails. They just did not know when to stop talking and people got tired of going to a singing and having a “talking” break out instead. The Cats’ coattails were present and effective - they just weren’t long enough to atone for the absence of an effective emcee.

  16. mark wrote:

    The album title, the first with Danny was Distinctively. Not a great sounding album, but it was still the Cathedrals, with some good songs on it…..Prestigious Cathedral Quartet was the best of that era for sure.

  17. Auke wrote:

    Distinctively was the album…poor production…singing was fine as always the case with the Cats.
    The Prestigious is a good album…good not great..but a step up from the other quite poorly produced albums.
    Still the Cats are one of my all time fav qt’s…meaning that bad production isn’t a big a deal when you have amazing singing talent in your group…i guess there;s no hope at all for the trio i sing in…lol

  18. Nashville Phil wrote:

    I remember Ed Hill introducing Danny as “One of the best Christians” he ever traveled with. One thing about Danny, he is humble.

    I liked Danny with all of the groups he worked with. IMO Mack Taunton was the best Tenor the Cats ever hired.

  19. Auke wrote:

    #18 i think no one questioned Danny’s intergrity as a Christian…Mack was great…but Bobby Clark was magnificent.

  20. Nashville Phil wrote:

    #19 I didn’t say or imply that.

  21. Oldie wrote:

    I just have a couple of comments. Danny was and is a great tenor and a great christian. Have any of you seen/heard him with Scott, Mark and Gerald when they do the Cathedrals remembered?? Danny still has the great voice, even after 4 strokes, and more than one surgery. He is several years older than Haase and in my opinion a much greater tenor. He still sings and witnesses to many audiences and does not capitalize on his days with the Cats!! Oh, and one other thing, it IS NOT all about money as it seems to be with some artists who will remain nameless.

  22. DMP wrote:

    Anyone have the new GVB album yet?

  23. N Lima Jay wrote:

    Once again Doug you are all wet.
    Danny was and is a great tenor. More importantly he is a good christian.
    I wanted to touch on another quick topic.
    I sing in a regional southern gospel group. I have grown up on southern gospel music.
    So to say I love gospel music is an understatement. However, there is this feeling among “pro groups” that they are a celebrity status. Our industry is VERY small in comparison to other genres of music.
    Imagine putting all the top acts in country music together for 1 week. You could not fit them all in a football stadium.
    Yet we cannot fill Freedom Hall a 18000 seat venue with our top acts.
    To further my point I live in NE Ohio about 45 from Akron. There are many people who have never heard of the Cathedrals. This was the biggest act we have had for 30 yrs. I work with a lady who is originally from Gadsen ,Al. She is a christian so I asked her if she had ever heard of Gold City she said “what is that”?
    We need to get back to the basics of keeping folks out of hell, and encouraging each other. We need to lose the celebrity attitudes and do what God “called” us to do.

  24. Nate Stainbrook wrote:

    22. I have the new GVB album, it is quite excellent…

  25. KC wrote:

    #23 - Picked up the new GVB CD this evening. “That Sounds Like Home To Me” is brilliant. Interesting that they recorded a Kirk Talley song, too - “He Is Here” - super produced and probably the best version I’ve ever heard. David Phelps is expectedly amazing on the recording - the main reason I bought it!

  26. DMP wrote:

    “He is Here” is one of the best cuts on the album. Hampton sounds better than I have ever heard him…

  27. LS wrote:

    I love the title of this post…I chuckle over “the cats, their kittens” every time I see it!

  28. DRL wrote:

    The main reason why Danny didn’t have the same post-Cathedral success that others did was simply that he wasn’t able to stick around very long after he left the Cathedrals. Gerald Wolfe as a solo act wasn’t breaking any attendance records. It wasn’t until Greater Vision gained some success with he and Trammell that Gerald’s stock took off.
    Perfect Heart was supposed to be the million dollar quartet, but ended up on the dollar store clearance table very quickly. The big bucks backing them up fell thru almost immediately and cash flow problems cause conflict in any relationship. The group never lived up to the original hype and Danny’s voice was giving way. After he left PH, he pretty much fell off the radar, so I don’t think many people think of Danny except as a former Cathedral’s tenor, much like Tremble or Mack Taunton.
    My favorite Cathedral tenor is still Kirk Talley. He has such a personality to his voice and complimented the Cathedrals style. Someone used the analogy of a Christmas dinner with Turkey, mashed potatos and green beans. Danny was like the stuffing … more of same. But Kirk was like a cranberry sauce … completely different but put the extra pizzazz into it. (Please refrain from the “fruity” comments) :-P

  29. pop wrote:

    It is the anointing that breaks the yoke !
    Even if Danny had just sang one song ,it would have been enough for God, it’s ALL about the anointing.
    Sing Danny, youv’e got the anointing!!
    Cats will stay because of their anointing !
    Bless the name of the Lord!

  30. Terri wrote:

    Best or Favorite Tenor, for me it is.. Ernie Haase!!

  31. Chris wrote:

    Well, one reason why Danny didn’t keep doing Cat stuff after he left, is Glen and George didn’t like it. Plain and simple. I’ve heard from many different people that they were both “furious” when two of Danny’s signature songs were on a Perfect Heart live album. There were many harsh feelings after Danny left. It was all later resovled, of course. Danny does carry on the Cat’s tradition. Just recently, my group did half a concert of just Cat songs. And Danny doesn’t care about the money and the fame. Yes, he has to make a living, but he would much rather sing for a local spirit filled church, then a big auditorium where the people just sit and stare. When he left P.H., Danny worked with his son in a group and did studio work. He didn’t want to do his own thing. He wanted to work in the studio or help his son with whatever he was doing. Bottom line is, Danny is one of the best singers and people i know. And he has his reasons for not

  32. tarheel music man wrote:

    I have a video of george younce telling funderburke to hit the high note on the next go round or he was gonna hit him.danny just looked at him weird. why b gaither never had danny doing some of his hits w the cats on the homecoming videos has always been a mystery to me. d phelps has a greatly trained contemporary tenor voice but he would never hold up singing in a real quartet.

  33. tarheel music man wrote:

    without d funderburke the cathedrals would have never gotten to the plateau they reached. i would have loved to hear danny sing o what a saviour like a real male tenor does and danny made the old convention song recording shape note male quarteting at its best.no other cathedral members imo had great solo voices but were good qt men but danny had it all.younce was nasal sounding and payne girgled and growled. trammell and fowler couldnt sing lead very well.

  34. Judy Rainer wrote:

    IMO there is no contest. Danny is by far the best tenor ever. Not just because of his sound or range, but because he sings with such personal conviction. Even after 4 strokes and open heart surgery he STILL uses is voice for God. He is a very humble man and considering the fact that he should not be able to swallow, talk, walk (much less sing) and should be paralyzed on his left side, the Great Physician has healed him to continue to serve Him.

  35. Willene Bryant wrote:

    Amen to #34. Danny has been gifted and healed of God to continue his ministry of song…he is the best and always will be for me….I loved him with the Cathedrals and also loved Perfect Heart…they were an excellent group…just needed the backing..and they could have reached the top group status…I just saw Danny and I think he stills gives a wonderful concert

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