Vinyl Record Review

The Rex Nelon Singers – Live! (1978)

In a unique move, the Rex Nelon Singers’ second major release is a live album.  The exact timeline of this release is a bit vague, but it was recorded live at the old City Auditorium in Atlanta, GA one Sunday afternoon in 1977, possibly right around the time “The Sun’s Coming Up” came out, maybe even right before it was released.  Rex Foster (who was the pianist that is pictured on the cover of “The Sun’s Coming Up”) had already exited the group and Lamar Newton was the pianist on this album.  The release of the live album was held for a bit and was finally released sometime in 1978.  Teddy Huffam & the Gems recorded their classic live album, “Soul’d Out” that same afternoon, and it was released in 1977, soon after “The Sun’s Coming Up” came out.  From what I have heard from people that attended the event, the concert had a low turnout, but fake applause was added throughout the live album to give it a better “live” feel, but both groups (Teddy Huffam & the Gems and the Rex Nelon Singers) sang their hearts out and gave their all for those few who attended.

Produced by Ken Harding, the album is sort of a “greatest hits” live recording of popular songs recorded by the LeFevres during the 70’s, performed by the newly minted Rex Nelon Singers.  With a couple of new songs thrown in (along with the group’s first single release), it’s an exciting live performance by the group.  I actually bought the album from the Canaan Record & Tape Club during the mid-80’s.  For those vinyl geeks like myself, the album was originally released on the old “black” Canaan label, but my copy was obviously a later pressing as it bears the bright orange “oasis” label, which tells me that by 1982 (when they started using the updated “oasis” label), the album was still selling well enough to warrant another pressing…4 years after it was originally released.

Also worth mentioning is the cover shot.  I have heard the cover shot was not taken from the concert in Atlanta, Georgia, but rather, was taken from a concert in Huntsville, Alabama.  I cannot confirm this as fact, but if anyone has actual details, I would love to know.  Nonetheless, I have always loved the cover, and thought it was a very cool shot for a live album.

After a very brief and enthusiastic intro, the recording starts out with one of the LeFevres biggest songs during the 70’s, “Stepping on the Clouds”, and it’s the perfect opening song.  I always loved Rex going down for the low note at the end and it’s an exciting performance of this classic tune before the tempo slows down as Rodney takes the lead on the Easter Brother’s penned, “Thank You Lord For Your Blessings On Me”, a song the LeFevres originally recorded back in 1975, and published through LeFevre Sing Publishing Company.  Though Rodney isn’t the one who originally recorded the song with the LeFevres back in 1975, he began singing the song when he joined the group, and it has been forever identified with Rodney ever since.

Featuring Rex and Janet, the Nelons do a great job on the Nancy Harmon penned, “I’ll Go”, which the LeFevres originally recorded back in 1974.  The LeFevres had been recording songs written by Nancy Harmon throughout the early and mid-70’s, and for the remainder of the 70’s and into 80’s and 90’s, the Nelons continued to find gold in her songs.  This was one of my favorite LeFevre/Nelons tunes, and it recalls the excitement and fervor of those live performances from back in the day.

Eva Mae did all the talking back in the days of the LeFevres, so after Eva Mae retired, someone had to be the emcee, and Rex took the baton from Eva Mae and ran with it.  Rex wasn’t a commanding emcee like Hovie Lister, Jim Hamill or Ronny Hinson, but he was quite capable of carrying the emcee responsibilities, and I appreciate his dry sense of humor, which is very evident during this portion of the program.  Before Rex introduces each member of the group, Rex, brilliantly and rather comically, shares why the group changed the name from the LeFevres to the Rex Nelon Singers, as they had “run out of LeFevres”.    After the group introductions, Rex takes a moment to introduce “The Seeker”, a song written by Dolly Parton, originally recorded by the LeFevres in 1976.  As he sets up the song, true to form, he rather dryly quips, “I realize I don’t look much like Dolly Parton…but she can’t sing bass!”  This was my initial introduction to this marvelous song, and I fell in love with it from day one, and it remains one of my favorite Rex Nelon features.

Side 2 starts off with another Nancy Harmon song, “I’ve Come Too Far to Look Back”, which features Rex on the first verse, with Kelly taking the lead on the chorus and second verse, and then Janet taking bringing it home on the final chorus, and the group does an excellent job on the song.  In fact, this live version was my initial introduction to this tremendous song, as I’d never heard of it until I bought this record back in the mid-80’s.  Originally recorded by the LeFevres in 1972, the song was one of the most popular songs in their repertoire during the 70’s.  It has been recorded numerous times over the years by many groups, most notably by the Hoppers, who took the song all the way to #1 in July 2006, and the song has since become a signature song for Connie Hopper.

As the program moves along, Rex takes a moment to introduce “The Sun’s Coming Up”, which features Kelly.  As he introduces the song, you can hear in his voice how proud he is to have his daughter standing next to him on stage.  The group turns in a powerful performance on the song and by the time the encore comes around, you can tell they are all emotionally involved in the faith-filled lyric of the song.  It’s truly an impactful performance and a highlight of the album.

Janet then steps up for a moment to testify before singing one of 2 new songs on the album, “Heaven’s Sounding Sweeter”, before the tempo picks up for the Dewey Williams’ penned, “Fight the Good Fight”, which features Rex.  The Hoppers (who published the song) also recorded it…twice in fact, first in 1977 and then again in 1992.

The album concludes with an exciting performance of Rex’s self-penned classic, “That’s Why I Love to Call His Name”, which the LeFevres recorded about 15 years earlier.  My favorite rendition of the song, I always found this to be an extremely exciting performance.  The song found renewed success when the Dove Brothers recorded it on their 2000 recording, “Flying High”.  Around the same time, the Kingdom Heirs recorded it and the song went to #1 for the group in September 2001.

This album was a perfect tribute to the legacy of the LeFevres, while also setting the groundwork for the newly formed Rex Nelon Singers.  It was an excellent representation of the group at the time, and it proved they had what it took to carry the torch.  They also proved they commanded the stage they sang on and could tote the mail with any other group out there.  They had the wisdom of Rex to guide them and provide a solid foundation, but also had the youthfulness of Rodney, Janet and Kelly to give them the vibrancy and appeal of a younger crowd, and it worked like a charm!  As great as this live album was, the group never did another live recording until their 1994 with, “A Promised Reunion”.  I would have loved to have heard another live recording by the group at some point during the 80’s, but alas there was none.

When naming great albums by this group, this live album is often overlooked.  It truly is a wonderful piece of Southern Gospel history, as it showcases this group during its infancy and during a very unique transitional period history.  I am glad the record company took a gamble and made the unique decision to record the group live and release it, despite being such a “young” group; and yet, here we are, 45 years after it was released, still talking about it and still marveling at the gem that it truly is!

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James Hales

James Hales, from Durham, North Carolina, has been a writer for since 2000. James is our featured reviewer and also contributes to monthly features periodically.
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