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VINYL RECORD REVIEW: The Kingsmen – May Day / Turn Your Radio On / It’s Time to Ring the Bell / Johnny Parrack Out Front / Sing A Lot of Gospel / What the Folks Want to Hear / Just Plain Singin’ / Rev Everett Beverly & Sister Anna Laura (1972/1973)

The Kingsmen – May Day / Turn Your Radio On / It’s Time to Ring the Bell / Johnny Parrack Out Front / Sing A Lot of Gospel / What the Folks Want to Hear / Just Plain Singin’ / Rev Everett Beverly & Sister Anna Laura (1972/1973)

As I mentioned in my last article, I labored over where and how to start this series on the Kingsmen.  Since I don’t feel qualified to properly examine their music from the 60’s, I knew I wouldn’t begin there.  I also knew that I did not want to start with the obvious (“Big & Live”), as I wanted to lay some groundwork before diving into that iconic and historic record.  Did you know that between 1970 and prior to signing with Canaan Records in 1973, the Kingsmen released 13 albums (not including re-issues)?  That is A LOT of records, but instead of going through every single one of those albums, I did want to highlight a few of them in this article, as there are a lot of important songs and early Kingsmen classics found on some of these albums, especially those released between 1972 and 1973.

Before we dive specifically into those albums, without rehashing the brief history lesson from my first article, let me catch you up to how we got to this point…

Since the formation of the Kingsmen in the mid-50’s, and throughout the 60’s, they had gained popularity as one of the foremost male quartets in the industry, but they continued to remain a part-time group.  Recording for various labels including Skylite, Piedmont, Mark V, Songs of Faith and even Heartwarming Records, the Kingsmen enjoyed a solid following and despite the success, they were content with being part-time.  By late 1970 and into 1971, the group went through a major overhaul and in the process, Eldridge Fox (aka “Foxie”) retained ownership of the group, and thus began the long and arduous task of re-building the Kingsmen.  Despite the task at hand, Foxie had a dream, and it wouldn’t take long for him to see that dream realized!

Ray Dean Reese sang bass with the Kingsmen for a couple of years in the late 60’s and bringing him back was the first piece of the puzzle.  When Ray re-joined in 1971, the other members of the Kingsmen were Jerry Redd on tenor, Frank Cutshall singing lead, along with Eldridge Fox pulling double duty singing baritone and playing piano.  Within a couple of months, Jim Hamill, who’s resume included singing with the Oak Ridge Boys, Rebels and Blue Ridge Quartet, would be an integral piece of the puzzle, singing lead and handling the emcee work.  Lastly, Johnny Parrack would join as their tenor singer by the fall of 1971, and the vocal combination of Parrack, Hamill, Fox, and Reese would be the group that would take the industry by storm a couple of years later.  Also, by the end of 1971, the band had been solidified with Charles Abee on piano, Jim McCauley playing bass guitar, John Broome on drums and Leonard Hollifield playing guitar.  Later, Eddie Trent (who was already a highly sought-after studio musician) would join for a short time to play steel guitar.  It was during this time that the Kingsmen band was dubbed, “The Men of Music”, a moniker that Charles Abee created.

The Kingsmen recorded several studio albums in 1972, and the exact order these albums were released is a bit unclear, but one of the first albums released early in the year was “May Day”.  This album didn’t produce any major hits for the Kingsmen, but a couple of songs worth mentioning include Eldridge Fox’s excellent delivery of the title song, “May Day” and Hamill’s outstanding performance of Duane Allen’s classic tune, “No More”, which remains one of my all-time favorite Hamill features.  Also worth mentioning, the album closes out with a bit of a sing along/instrumental with the Kingsmen and the band (Kingsmen band and studio musicians) on the Albert E. Brumley classic, “I’ll Fly Away”.

“Turn Your Radio On” was another album that was released in 1972.  Like “May Day”, this album didn’t produce any major hits for the Kingsmen, but it did feature a couple of their early concert favorites, “Just As the Sun Went Down” and “The Eastern Gate”.  Though “The Eastern Gate” was a huge Goodman hit at the time, the Kingsmen nonetheless, tore it up with this song many nights in the early 70’s and it quickly became a sugar stick for them. The Kingsmen would go on to re-record both songs several times through the years, and in fact, we’ll mention them both again in just a bit!  Another song worth mentioning from this album is, “He’ll Go With You”, which was written by Eldridge Fox.  This is another song that the Kingsmen recorded a few times, and in fact, they originally recorded it a year earlier on their 1971 album, “Suddenly, There’s a Valley”, and they would record the song once again in short order…so hang on!  Let me add that the Kingsmen re-recorded a good number of songs during this time period, and these weren’t simply re-issues of the same performances, but these were each new versions of said songs, and in my opinion, each subsequent version was a little better than the previous.

The next 2 albums, “It’s Time to Ring the Bell” and “Johnny Parrack Out Front” would also feature a few early classics for the Kingsmen.  The exciting stage song, “So High” is the lead off song for “It’s Time to Ring the Bell”, but it’s not the first time the Kingsmen recorded that song either!  They originally recorded it in the late 60’s on their “Daddy Sang Bass” album.  Of course, the Kingsmen took the song up a few notches when they recorded it again on their 1973 live album, “Big and Live”.  From the album, “Johnny Parrack Out Front”, we find 2 more Kingsmen classics…“When They Call My Name”, which eventually made its way on their 1977 live album, “Chattanooga Live” and the Jim Hamill concert staple, “Love Lifted Me”, which remained a huge part of the Kingsmen’s set list for many years.  When Hamill took on this song, it took on a new life and became one of the many songs identified with him and the Kingsmen.  That song would also eventually make its way onto 2 future iconic Kingsmen live albums!

The next 2 albums, “Sing A Lot of Gospel” and “What the Folks Want to Hear”, are quite unique pieces of Kingsmen history.  There is some discrepancy on the year “Sing A Lot of Gospel” came out, either late 1972 or very early 1973, but the album featured the very first big hit for the Kingsmen, “The Apple Tree Song”.  This emotional story of forgiveness and reconciliation charted for nearly 2 years, peaking at an astonishing #3 in the August 1973 Singing News chart and is one of very few recitations to make that kind of showing in the charts.  (As a side note, the only other songs that were primarily a recitation that charted that high are the Goodmans’, “Guilty of Love” and the Bill Gaither Trio’s, “There’s Something About That Name”).  The album also featured the Albert E. Brumley classic, “I’d Rather Be an Old Time Christian”, which remained a staple on their concert set list for many years.  Now here’s where it gets interesting…sometime after this album came out, possibly spurred by the popularity of “The Apple Tree”, the Kingsmen went into the Goodmans’ recording studio in Madisonville, Kentucky and basically re-cut the entire album with fresh arrangements, backed by the Goodman band, and renamed the album, “What the Folks Want to Hear”.  I always felt the updated version of “The Apple Tree” on this album sounded a bit rushed, but the album definitely had a bit more polish to it compared to “Sing A Lot of Gospel”.  They also dropped 2 songs that originally appeared on the “Sing A Lot of Gospel” album, and added 2 new tunes, one of them being the classic, “Love Will Roll the Clouds Away”, which is a song the Kingsmen still stage today!  Though it’s a blurry action shot of the Kingsmen on the front cover, I always thought it was a cool shot of the group.

Released later in 1973, “Just Plain Singin’” has become my favorite pre-“Big & Live” album by the Kingsmen.  I love the raw energy of the recording and I think it’s the first album that truly captured the energy and excitement of the Kingsmen at the time.  “Just Plain Singin’” features a few Kingsmen standards and concert favorites from the day including “Walking the Sea”, “When the Redeemed Are Gathering In” and “Someday We’ll Know” (a song the Kingsmen brought back nearly 30 years later).  The album also featured 2 of Foxie’s best-known penned songs; the first, “What Love”, was a song Foxie wrote several years prior.  The Kingsmen originally recorded it on their 1960 album, “What Love” and again on their 1963 album, “That Kingsmen Sound”.  In fact, Hovie Lister & the Statesmen recorded it on their 1963 album, “The Mystery of His Way”.  (Interesting side note, the first time I ever heard the song was on the Harvesters’ “Take 5” album from the early 80’s).  The second song, “Gone”, the Kingsmen originally recorded a couple of years earlier on their 1971 album, “Suddenly, There’s a Valley”.  The Florida Boys eventually picked up the song and recorded it on their 1973 album, “Better Than Ever” and were enjoying success with the song, as their version peaked at #7 in August 1973.  Eventually the song would become a mega hit for Teddy Huffam & the Gems in the late 70’s, charting for an amazing 30 months, peaking at #6 in June 1980.  Lastly, two other very important songs are included on this album that had become identified with the Kingsmen during this time…“The Eastern Gate” and “Just as the Sun Went Down”.  Both songs originally appeared on their 1972 album, “Turn Your Radio On”, but had become such popular songs for the Kingsmen, they recorded updated vocal and music arrangements for this particular album, and in fact, “Just as the Sun Went Down” charted briefly for the Kingsmen in the summer of 1974.  Due to the popularity of the song, this album was eventually re-released as “Just as the Sun Went Down” on Supreme Records with a totally different cover.  I also have to add, the Kingsmen’s version of the “The Eastern Gate” rivals any other rendition I have ever heard, including the Goodmans’! (And that says a lot coming from a Goodman fanatic!)

Lastly, the album “Reverend Everette Beverley and Sister Annie Laura”, is another one of my favorite pre-“Big & Live” albums by the Kingsmen.  Interestingly, this specific album was re-issued multiple times, in whole and in part (some re-issues included some songs along with earlier Skylite songs recorded during the 60’s) under various titles such as “King Jesus”, “Gospel Dynamite”, “Ten Thousand Years”, “The Walls Came Tumbling Down”, “A Visit with the Kingsmen”, “Release Me (From My Sin)” and “Because of Him”.  I initially heard this album through the “King Jesus” re-issue, which my sister, knowing I was a big Kingsmen fan, gave to me as a birthday present in 1982.  I listened to this album incessantly and fell in love with many of these songs, as this album was my initial introduction to many of these tunes.  The album featured mostly popular songs of the day, with a few new songs, including the title song, which the Kingsmen and the Inspirations both enjoyed chart success with.  The Inspirations version peaked at #9 in the Singing News Chart in December 1973 and January 1974, and the Kingsmen’s version peaked at #10 in October 1973; and this won’t be the last time the Kingsmen and Inspirations would be competing in the charts with the same song!  The Kingsmen also re-recorded updated versions of 2 songs they originally recorded on their 1971 album, “Suddenly, There’s a Valley”…the Eldridge Fox penned tune, “He’ll Go With You” as well as the song, “Alone You’ll Face Eternity”.  Interesting fact about the latter song…it’s written to the tune of “All I Have to Offer You Is Me”, which was a #1 hit for Charlie Pride in 1969.  One other song I’d like to mention that still remains one of my personal favorite tunes is the song, “Some Good of Me”, which was one of Ronny Hinson’s early penned tunes.  I always loved the humbling and unassuming message, as well as Ray, Johnny, and Eldridge’s performance on the song.

I know this was a long read, but we went through a lot of records in this article!  These were important albums, filled with monumental songs that laid the foundation of who the Kingsmen were.  Though by this point, the Kingsmen had been singing for about 15 years and had enjoyed success on many levels, these albums and songs released in 1972 and 1973 were the cornerstones of the Kingsmen legacy and Foxie’s dream.  By mid/late 1973, the Kingsmen caught the eyes and ears of Marvin Norcross at Canaan Records, and subsequently signed the Kingsmen to the label.  In short order, plans were underway to capture the raw excitement of the “new” Kingsmen with a live album, which would go on to become one of the most iconic live albums in our genre…and we’ll talk all about THAT album, next week!

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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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