Safe from the storm that rages

As you probably already know by now, Harold Lane died yesterday.

Lane was of course both a songwriter and performer.  Here he is, featured on “Palms of Victory” with the Speers in what looks like the late 60s:

Lane also composed several now-standard songs in the sg canon - most notably, “Touring that City” (which really would reward more attention from contemporary arrangers and performers than it gets), “Well Done My Child” (to which, oddly enough, I just linked to the day before Lane’s death), and “Standing on the Solid Rock,” from whose lyrics this post’s title is taken.

But more than as either a songwriter or singer, Lane made perhaps his most meaningful contribution as a major innovating force of the Speer family sound in the 70s and 80s, innovations that in turn naturalized a new set of sounds and suggested a range of stylistic possibilities in southern gospel more broadly that had largely gone unexplored in a systematic way up until that time. Here’s part of a reader comment elevated to a main-page discussion we had on this site years ago regarding the Speers during the Lane years:

 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.

One of my favorite illustrations of Lane’s legacy converges nicely in this Mercy’s Mark cover of “Standing On the Solid Rock,” which owes an obvious debt to Lane’s songwriting skills but also reflects Lane’s more subtle influence on the southern gospel style. Here, the arrangement is inflected with a mix of stylistic features that the Lane/Ben Speer sound in the Speer years was pivotal in naturalizing in sg, particularly the unself-conscious blending of tradition and innovation:

By way of closing, it makes sense to let Lane’s music have more or less the final say, since that is what will live on after him. This is “The Next Time He Comes,” performed at the Stamps Baxter school of music several years ago (it’s worth watching through to the end):

Harold Lane was 82. May he rest in peace.

Update: Harold Lane’s obituary, which includes information on visitation and funeral arrangements (h/t, SS).

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  1. quartet-man wrote:

    Nice tribute to Harold. Although I don’t necessarily put the Speers’ contemporary leanings with the Oaks and Imperials, they certainly did do some M.O.R. songs that were unusual for SG groups to do. Harold helped them immensely with his musical knowledge. He might have been the “Mosie Lister” of the Speers IMHO.

    The song you referenced is called “Palms of Victory” not “Palms of Glory” (a later line from the song.)

  2. Friday Night Revival wrote:

    Speers did have a bit of an Inspo influence for that ime period. In many ways, they were ahead of the curve in southern gospel. Harold Lane knew how to stare a camera down (as the video displays). I know some of his music and influence will be hanging around for maybe another half-century, at least.
    I’ll keep the family in prayers.

  3. cdguy wrote:

    I have little recollection of the Speers pre-Lane, other than on record and an occaisional film clip. A few of us older folks may recall the Speers were supposedly the first SG group invited to perform at a “Jesus festival” in the late 60’s - early 70’s. There was a live album done from that performance — in Dallas, I think.

    They were probably the first SG artist to record “Cornerstone” (w/Diane Hooper-Mays), a song more associated with “contemporary” (for the day).

    Yes, that era was HUGE for the Speers. Their presence is missed, but the legacy will continue for decades to come.

    Thanks for the nice tribute.

  4. Oldtimer wrote:

    The Stamps Baxter clip that you link to at the end, where Ben comes out and sings the verse, I think is a nerly perfect tribute to Harold Lane. He was not on the platform - not even near the front row. He was instead seted near the back perfectly content to yield the spotlight to others and instead to simply bask in the contentment that comes from knowing that you have been a good steward of your talents and that others have benefitted from it. The professor nver got his due from fans or the industry. But he was a musician, a gentleman, and his death perhaps marks yet another landmark in the passing of an era.

  5. JTH wrote:

    The event was Explo ‘72, a huge youth Christian rally that took place outside of Dallas. I remember hearing several accounts of their performance of “The King Is Coming”, which evidently won them over with the more rock-oriented crowd.

  6. Alan wrote:

    Thank you for a nice tribute to Harold Lane, Doug. I checked today after hearing of his promotion to Heaven, hoping that you had written about him. You did, and your words were lovely and true.

    Between he and Ben, I’ve always believed that it was Harold who was a bit more to be lauded for defining that era of the Speers sound, and that’s not to take from Ben. Mr. Lane was a master arranger, and one who never needed the limelight. There were more pleasant voices around, but he disappeared into their mix, giving a blend that was fantastic. What I remember most was that talent aside, he was a very nice, kind, gracious, and entirely unassuming man. Heaven is a richer place today.

  7. weber wrote:

    Yes, dose of reality, like the rest of the Speers, he coudnt carry a tune in a bucket but obviously made the best of his gifts

  8. Judi wrote:

    That last clip…wow.

  9. rr wrote:

    Word has it that he also wrote the “See the USA in your Chevrolet” tune.

  10. NG wrote:

    #9 Wikipedia says: “The song “See The U.S.A. In Your Chevrolet” (title as filed for 1950 copyright) is a commercial jingle from circa 1949, with lyrics and music by Leo Corday (ASCAP) and Leon Carr (ASCAP), written for the Chevrolet Division of General Motors Corp.”

  11. cynical one wrote:

    Thanks for clearing that up. I thought for years that jingle was written by Bill Gaither. ;-)

  12. Jim wrote:

    #7–I beg to differ. If none of the Speers could ‘carry a tune in a bucket’, they certainly would not have achieved the sound appreciated by so many for so many years. If Brock were still here, he would continue to give Harold Lane the credit he deserves for those masterful arranging skills.

    I believe it was on the Speers early 1980’s ‘Hallelujah!’ recording they did a beautiful song, ‘Long and Narrow Road’ that essentially defined their vocals during that period. My tape is shot from playing that song so much…it gave me much inspiration during difficult times, along with other Speers ‘ballads’ like ‘In The Midst of it All’ and ‘The Next Time He Comes’. Those songs were strong evidence of Harold’s arrangements.

    Gospel music is richer for Harold Lane’s accomplishments…can you imagine how the music sounds in Heaven with so many of our gospel ‘pioneers’ singing up a storm? THAT is ‘reality’!

  13. cdguy wrote:

    The Speers did an acapella version of the song “I Sure Do Love The Lord”, back in the 70’s. Great close harmonies, arranged by H. That recording proved they could all sing and blend quite well, thank you very much. Still one of my all-time favorites.

    Did they always prove that? Maybe not, but I agree with Jim’s assertion. I know Dad Speer always instilled in his children the importance of singing correctly. I also know Brock took voice lessons for many years, even as an adult, just to keep himself from falling into back singing habits. There are probably some current singers who should do that.

    And whether you liked his tone quality or not, nobody could SELL a song better than Ben Speer. Still that way.

    H knew how to make the songs work for the group, and for the audience.

  14. Bones wrote:

    There are alot of current singers who need vocal lessons. Now you can drown it out with loud tracks.

  15. Bill Bailey wrote:

    Unfortunate comment about the Speers. The Speers did sing their way out of a paper sack into the heart of America’s churches, back in a day and era when most churches did not book southern gospel. They sang the songs of the church. This is probably their inspo connection. Songs like “Scars are a Sign of Healing”, “The Next Time He Comes”, and “He Still Reigns”.

    As for them personally, they were some of the finest people I have ever worked with. Brock Speer’s professionalism and integrity was impeccable. His pitch was perfect almost every night, and we worked many nights with them.

    I recall one night in particular. I was priviledged to have them on their second to last road date. Brock’s health was declining, and his speech was slurred. I believe Ben did all of the mc work that night. You could tell the group was trying to just get thru the date. However, even though he didn’t talk much at all, Brock still hit and sang every note that night. He may not could have communicated thru his speech, but he could still communicate thru his songs.

    One other thing about Brock Speer, personally. It has been said that during the time that Faye Speer was off the road and raising their children, Brock would shower at their office and make himself presentable before going home to Faye after returning from a road trip. In other words, he felt Faye deserved for him to look his best when coming home. Brock Speer was a professional and a gentlemen in every sense of the word. Maybe that’s why the gospel music community honored him and the Speer Family at his final NQC, like they have no other. It was a moving night and a great tribute that was well deserved.

    The Speer Family left their mark in southern gospel music. They were great singers and people, had a gift to surround themselves with other good singers, and were innovative for their time. They should be remembered as such, and not the uncomely aforementioned comment.

  16. weber wrote:

    Im always amazed at how many gospel music fans do not have an ear for vocal talent… now I know that good music is subjective but quality tones and sounds produced by ones vocal chords is not..Would any of the speers make it to Hollywood today (American Idol) based upon vocal talent? Simon would say NO, stop drinking the cool aid before SGM passes away…

  17. cdguy wrote:

    Weber — #16 — I’m not sure there are more than 5 or 6 current sgm artist who could make it into the finals of Idol.

    Also not sure WHY any of the current sgm artists would want to try. Unless they’re not really committed to the “g” part of sgm.

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