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VINYL RECORD REVIEW: The Paynes – Fire on Stage – Live! (1985)

The Paynes – Fire on Stage – Live! (1985)

The 1980’s brought us some stellar live albums…“Lift the Roof Off” (Hinsons), “Live and Alive” (Singing Americans), “Live in Atlanta” and “Travelin’ Live” (Cathedrals), “Louisiana Live” (Hemphills), “Double Take” (Gold City) and let’s not forget those exciting live albums by the “Kings” of live albums, the Kingsmen!  But with all those amazing live albums released during the 80’s, none were as exciting or as electrifying as the Paynes’ 1985 live album, “Fire on Stage”!

If there was ever a live album that lived up to its title, this is the one!  Produced by Ronald Drake along with Mike, Keith, and Mark Payne (thus allowing the Paynes more creative freedom), this would be the final album released on Windchime, as the Paynes soon signed with Eagle One Records, which was based out of Cincinnati, Ohio.  By 1985, Windchime had experienced a lot of changes and their original flagship artist, HeavenBound, had left and signed with Heartwarming Records in 1984.  After the Paynes signed with Eagle One, the label re-released, “Fire on Stage” with a new cover (you can see both versions of the cover in the picture below).  If I remember my facts correctly, the album was recorded in March 1985 at the Dayton Memorial Hall in Dayton, Ohio, and released in July 1985.  Along with the Paynes band which consisted of Bobby Prater on piano, Greg Johnson picking the bass, Mark Payne on drums, Wynn Henry on rhythm guitar and Bill Sizemore playing the electric guitar, additional support was also provided by former Hemphills’ band member Bruce Watkins playing guitars, banjo and fiddle, Mark Morris on percussion and George Sipl playing the Kurzweil.

I saw the Paynes for the second time in Raleigh, NC in July 1985 at one of the big concerts there.  I don’t recall every group on the program at that event, but I do remember the Hoppers, Dixie Melody Boys and Kingsmen being on the concert.  I was so excited to see the Paynes that night (as well as the Kingsmen, as this was my first time to see the Kingsmen in person), and as the Paynes were feverishly trying to set up their record rack, I was an excitable 13-year-old and could not wait and literally bought “Fire on Stage” right out of the record box as they hadn’t even got them into the racks yet!  I couldn’t wait to get it home to listen to it and it did not disappoint!

After an iconic and enthusiastic intro by the legendary Norm Livingston that has all the fervor of an old-time fiery campmeeting, the Paynes hit the stage with the song, “The Race”.  I absolutely love the band on this song (the count off at the end by Mark Payne on the drums was awesome as well) and it’s one of my all-time favorite lead off songs for a live album.  Ironically, this was an older song that Mike Payne had written several years prior, and they originally recorded it back in 1980 on their “Oh What a City” album.  Also, Mike Payne recorded the song on his 2nd solo recording, “Workin’”, which came out in 1994.  The song was revived once again in 1999 when the Southern Brothers recorded it on their recording, “The Race”.

Reviving another older Mike Payne tune, the band kicks off an outstanding performance on the song, “If God Before Us”, which features Bill on the first verse and Mike on the second verse, and it’s a slightly sped up arrangement from their original version from 1979.  After Mike takes a second to welcome everyone, he introduces the next song as the group tackles an excellent performance on their former #1 tune, “It’s Out of This World”.  With the tempo sped up just a bit as well, it’s a highlight of the album.  This particular performance was actually my introduction to this song, as I did not have the original album it appeared on at the time, and I don’t recall them singing it when I saw them the first time in 1984 (they may have sung it, I just don’t remember it).

As the program moves along, Mike, never being one who is afraid of making a statement with his songs, takes a moment to introduce one that he co-wrote with Milton Ostrander (aka-Big MO) called, “I’ve Got a Right to Pray”.  The song was a popular one and while it wasn’t a hit for the Paynes, Big MO’s group, Chosen, did enjoy success with the song.  The Crabb Family, who were fans of the Paynes growing up, eventually recorded the song on their iconic 1999 recording, “Pray”.  Also, Adam Crabb recorded a nice blues version of the song just a few years ago on his solo recording, “Surrender”, which was released in 2013.

Taking a few moments, Mike introduces everyone in the group before he and Keith provide some brief comedic banter, and I wish there had been a bit more of that on this album, as Keith was a perfect funny guy with Mike playing the straight man.  Keith then takes a moment to set up the next song, “Who But God”, which Mike co-wrote with Ronny Hinson.  Gold City eventually recorded the song later in the year on their “Sing with the Angels” album and took it to #2 in the Singing News chart in 1986.  As much as I love Gold City’s version, I absolutely adore what the Paynes did with the song, as they start off singing the chorus acapella, and then the band kicks in and the song is off and running with its driving black gospel feel.  Also worth mentioning, the Talley’s did a great job as well when they recorded it on their 2015 recording, “After All This Time”.

As they finally slow the pace down, Mike takes a moment to introduce “Once and For All”, which is another song he co-wrote with Milton Ostrander, which finishes out the first side.  Loreen turns in an exceptional performance on the song, and it ranks as one of my personal favorite Loreen features.

Side 2 kicks off with the fiddle and electric guitar driven, “Angels Step Back”.  Featuring an exciting performance, the song went all the way to the #1 position in the Singing News chart for February, March, April and May of 1986.  Once they finish the song, Mike jumps into preacher mode for a couple of minutes and you feel like you’re in the middle of an old-fashioned Pentecostal campmeeting before he slows the pace down as he delivers an exciting, emotion-ridden performance on the second verse, before the band ramps it back up for the encore of the chorus.  It’s an exhilarating performance and a highlight of the album!

As Mike begins to set up the next song, you can sense the anticipation in the room as the group kicks off an amazing performance of the hugely popular, “The Conversation”.  It’s a powerful and dynamic performance, especially as Mike slows down his last verse and the crowd just erupts in thunderous applause when they get to climax of the song; you cannot help but be taken in by the excitement of it all!  As the group finishes the song to enthusiastic applause, without missing a beat, the band kicks off “I’m a Jesus Fan”.  Once again after they finish the song, Mike starts preaching and testifying, and soon the band kicks in with some “preaching music”, which just adds to the excitement of the moment.  The thumping bass, the guitar riffs, piano fills, and drum beat all just adds to the campmeeting atmosphere and as they jump back into the chorus for the encore, the crowd is in utter pandemonium.  As the song ends, the band kicks in an exciting outro as the Paynes exit the stage and the applause fades to silence.  Those 3 songs, “Angels Step Back, “The Conversation” and “I’m a Jesus Fan”, is 15+ minutes of pure gold and one of the greatest live segments ever recorded, much like the Kingsmen’s side 3 of their “Live…Naturally” album along with side 3 of the Hinson’s “On the Road” live album and the 1-2-3 punch of “He Gave Me Joy, “Oh I Want to See Him” and “Gettin’ Ready Today” from the Downing’s “Praising Him” live album.  Moments like these are truly legendary!

Part of me wishes the album ends here, but as the applause fades back in, we’re apparently fast-forwarded to end of the concert where the Paynes are handling the altar call as Mike is testifying and the group then sings the chorus of the song, “The King of Glory”.  In my opinion, it’s an awkward end to a phenomenal live album.  My hunch is they had some time left and edited in part of the invitational song to finish out the album.  Personally, I would have loved to have heard them tear into “That Same Spirit” or “Rise and Walk” (which incidentally, a live version of this song appears on an upcoming release, which I suspect was recorded the same night as this album, but have never been able to confirm).

The entire vibe of this live album was very upbeat and exciting, and it’s perfectly paced providing the listener an amazing live experience…and that is exactly what “Fire on Stage” is…a truly exciting and remarkable experience!  It’s about as near a perfect set-list as anyone could ever give!  If there was ever a live recording that I wish I was in attendance for, this is it!  The crowd was electric, and they were definitely a Payne crowd, and they drank in every ounce of what the Paynes were serving.  The Paynes were literally on fire that night, and this live album truly captured the essence of the Paynes live and in concert!  As the title suggests…there truly was “Fire on Stage”!!

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James Hales

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