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Historic Proportions – Definitive Cuts: Ed O’Neal and the Dixie Melody Boys

img_4685Ed O’Neal and the Dixie Melody Boys have cemented their reputation in gospel music as a standard for top-notch singing, and as a place for monumental beginnings.  One can not help but wonder if gospel music would have been exposed to the talents of Rodney Griffin, McCray Dove, Ernie Haase, Harold Reed, Dan Keeton, Dustin Sweatman, Devin McGlamery, Jerry Kelso, or Larry DeLawder had these men not attended and graduated Ed O’Neal University.

Ushering in such talent has tended to overshadow the fact that Ed and the boys have introduced numerous great songs to the gospel music world.  This article highlights just a small portion of the best of Ed O’Neal and the Dixie Melody Boys.


img_4684“Antioch Church Choir”


Oh What a Feeling [later retitled Antioch Church Choir (Uncle Jesse)] / Lifeline Records / 1982
Personnel: Ed O’Neal, Frank Sutton, Kent Humphries, Phil Barker, Je
rry Kelso, Allen O’Neal, Olan Witt
100% Pure Southern Gospel / MorningStar Records / 1998 Personnel: Ed O’Neal, Craig Singletary, McCray Dove, Harold Reed, Eric Ollis
Let’s get the signature song out of the way here.  I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s just hard not to love the song about Uncle Jesse.  Nothing really deep here, yet it is a great story song that so many identified with.  The Dixie Melody Boys took it to number one on the Singing News Charts in 1982, and they have sung it every night since.  There are two excellent recorded versions of the song, and each version is so different from the other to the point that it is like comparing apples to oranges.  The 1982 version featuring Kent Humphries is a good bit more driving and country, while the 1998 recording featuring McCray Dove is much more slick.  Each arrangement is equally memorable.

“Beautiful Heaven”

Masterpiece / MorningStar Records / 1994
Personnel: Ed O’Neal, Jamie Bramlett, McCray Dove, Harold Reed, Eric Ollis, Larry DeLawder
Most know that I’m a sucker for the “classic quartet” style, and McCray Dove penned one of the finest “classic quartet” songs of the 1990s with “Beautiful Heaven”.  A bouncy, mid-tempo, fun song, but also a beautiful melody.  This is the Dixie Melody Boys at their finest.

img_4681“Double Dose”

Back Home / Harvest Records / 1987
Personnel: Ed O’Neal, Nathan Widener, McCray Dove, Derrick Boyd, Bobby Ledford, Larry DeLawder
Another McCray Dove tune, the Dixie Melody Boys of this era brought a lot of energy to gospel music.  Having just returned to southern gospel following their DMB Band era, the Dixie Melody Boys of this period had a great knack for recording country-styled quartet tunes that didn’t sound overtly country, a problem many quartets of the 70s and 80s had.  McCray was a teenager here, and this song reflected everything about him….his voice, his energy, his stage presence…everything.

“Good Ole Boys”

More Than Just Good Ole Boys / Lifeline Records / 1983
Personnel: Ed O’Neal, Allen O’Neal, Kent Humphries, Frank Sutton, Jerry Kelso, Olan Witt
The DMBs recorded this song a few times, but I always gravitate back to the original.  The original 1983 version had the fast-driving final chorus, where later interpretations of the song were missing this part.  Of course the group was entering into the DMB Band era in 1983, and already had a full group of musicians on stage.  Without a live band to pick up speed, I can understand why the group didn’t include it on later recordings.  There is a video of their performance of this song somewhere on YouTube, and it is a lot of fun to watch this bunch in action.


“He Shall Reign Forever”

Back Home / Harvest Records / 1987
Personnel: Ed O’Neal, Nathan Widener, McCray Dove, Derrick Boyd, Bobby Ledford, Larry DeLawder
Written by Vern Sullivan, this song was originally introduced to gospel music by The Southmen, which featured Sullivan, Tim Riley, Buddy Burton, and Jim Hefner on vocals.  Yet the song thrived with Ed O’Neal’s warm delivery.  Nothing fancy here, just good, pure, flat-footed quartet harmony.

img_4682“I Won’t Compromise”

No Compromise / MorningStar Records / 1993
Personnel: Ed O’Neal, Rodney Griffin, McCray Dove, Derrick Boyd, Eric Ollis, Larry DeLawder
One of my favorite Rodney Griffin tunes (both as songwriter and singer), this is a strong, driving, declaratory tune.  It would not hurt DMB and/or Greater Vision to resurrect this one, especially in the midst of what we are seeing in the news these days.  The lyric has only grown more relevant.  Gospel music fans were just beginning to get a glimpse at Griffin’s potential with this song.

img_4686“I’ve Got Family There”

The Call Is Still the Same / Song Garden Records / 2011
Personnel: Ed O’Neal, Steven Cooper, Donald Morris, Matt Felts (with special guest Ben Speer)
A special moment that remains etched in my mind was at the 2011 Grand Ole Gospel Reunion, as a teary-eyed Ed O’Neal debuted this song while being honored with Charlie Waller’s This Is Your Life presentation.  There were few dry eyes in the audience as this gospel music hero sang about his friends and family in Heaven.  While several hard-driving energy tunes and alumni performances fill DMB’s 50th anniversary album, “I’ve Got Family There” unquestionably remains the album’s brightest spot.

“My Anchor of Hope”

A Seat in the Heavenly Choir / Seraphim Records / 2004
Personnel: Ed O’Neal, Dustin Sweatman, Devin McGlamery, Harold Reed, Eric Ollis
Personnel on Re-Issue: Ed O’Neal, Andrew King, Dustin Sweatman, Dan Keeton
The Kingdom Heirs had a pretty large hit with this song in 2005, yet this 2004 cut by Ed and the boys remains one of my very favorites the DMBs ever recorded.  When their album, A Seat in the Heavenly Choir, was first released, Harold Reed and Devin McGlamery graduated from Ed O’Neal University almost immediately afterwards.  Therefore, there are two different versions of this song.  The first-recorded version featured baritone Dustin Sweatman and lead Devin McGlamery, and the second version featured baritone Andrew King.  The lineup of Ed O’Neal, Andrew King, Dustin Sweatman, and Dan Keeton was one of Ed’s finest.  They recorded two studio albums, including the outstanding Like Never Before album, then before you knew it, graduation ceremony commenced again for King, Sweatman, and Keeton.

“No Back Door to Heaven”
Masterpiece / MorningStar Records / 1994
Personnel: Ed O’Neal, Jamie Bramlett, McCray Dove, Harold Reed, Eric Ollis, Larry DeLawder
Once again another song from the pen of McCray Dove, this song is ninety seconds of quartet fun.  Around that same time frame, Palmetto State Quartet also recorded the song for their landmark Rock Solid album, but once again, I gravitate toward the Dixie version.

img_4680“Ridin’ High”
Ridin’ High / MorningStar Records / 1989
Personnel: Ed O’Neal, Nathan Widener, McCray Dove, Derrick Boyd, Steve Wood, Larry DeLawder
Watch for the flying tambourine!  I think everybody has a “Glory Cloud” memory, whether it was of Larry DeLawder running across the very edge of the stage, McCray jumping over things that were taller than he was, or at NQC when Larry threw the tambourine high in the air and hit Derrick Boyd in the face with it.  “Glory Cloud” in its heyday was one of the most high-octane, intense, knock-em-out (no pun intended) stage moments I have ever witnessed.

“Too Much Thunder”

Too Much Thunder / Lifeline Records / 1984
Personnel: Ed O’Neal, Allen O’Neal, Kent Humphries, Frank Sutton, Jerry Kelso, Olan Witt
Ed’s son, Allen O’Neal, traveled with the Dixie Melody Boys in some capacity for 15 years, from 1972 through the DMB Band’s disbandment in 1987.  Fans loved the father-son dynamic between the two, and Allen was featured on several popular numbers through the years with the Dixie Melody Boys.  “Too Much Thunder” features his smooth country baritone at its finest.

img_4683“When I Cross to the Other Side of Jordan”

Alive! / Hymntone Records / 1974
Vocal Personnel: Ed O’Neal, Delmar Tillman, John Jarman, Bobby Craft
Written by the boss man himself, “When I Cross” is almost as synonymous with the Dixie Melody Boys as “Antioch Church Choir”.  Even Ed O’Neal has accomplished something that many of his songwriting contemporaries including Bill Gaither, JD Sumner, and Mosie Lister have all done, a hit song written to the tune of something else!  I do not know whether Ed realized at the time that he had written the song almost completely to the tune of Eugene Whitt’s convention song “Cross Over to the Other Side of Jordan” (try it sometime), but it doesn’t matter anyway.  Ed’s song is far more memorable and enduring.  It became a standard not only for the Dixie Melody Boys, but numerous other groups as well.  The Inspirations, Blackwood Brothers, JD Sumner and the Stamps, The Nelons, and The Hoppers have all benefited from this classic.  Eugene Whitt may have penned the melody, but Ed O’Neal penned the hit.

“Wonderful Change”

Heading Home / Some Dawning Records / 1999
Personnel: Ed O’Neal, Derrick Selph, Jamie Caldwell, Harold Reed, Eric Ollis
The Dixie Melody Boys of 1999 recorded what is, in my opinion, one of their very best albums with Heading Home.  Some DMB albums do not seem to have as long of a shelf life as others due to some short-lived record labels, as must have been the case here.  I could be wrong, but I don’t remember this album being in circulation very long.  It’s a shame, because there is some great music on this album.  Jamie Caldwell brought so much to the quartet during the two years he was their lead singer.  “Giver of Amazing Grace”, “Arise”, “I Wanna Go to Heaven”, “I’m Not Weeping”, and “I’m One of Them” are some of the highlights, but “Wonderful Change” is my favorite.  Great harmonies.

As always, I appreciate your comments and questions!  You may email me at alan@alankendallmusic.com.  I would also encourage you to visit the Dixie Melody Boys’ website at www.dixiemelodyboys.com.  There are many great pictures, album covers, and biographies of past members in the “Hall of Fame” section of their website.  Not forgetting their heritage, they always have several compilations available that highlight their hits and their prestigious alumni. Not only that, but Ed, Josh, and Doug are doing some GREAT singing these days!

See you next month!

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Alan Kendall
Contributing Writer at Absolutely Gospel
Alan is a Christian music artist, but performs a wide range of musical styles. He can easily present a clean, family-oriented variety program for all ages. Alan has been blessed to perform on some major stages, including the National Quartet Convention, Dollywood, Grand Ole Gospel Reunion, Memphis Quartet Show, Gospel Jubilee Cruise, and the Georgia Mountain Fair. Alan has performed in large churches, small churches, concert halls, at banquets, picnics, Senior events, youth rallies....anywhere that invites him to present his music. One can be assured that when attending a performance by Alan, you will certainly be entertained, and Alan will work to stir your hearts with the message in the songs!

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