Victoria Bowlin: Tell us a little bit about you. Where are you from? Introduce us to your family.
Josh Garner: I am from Fairfield, IL. Raised in a singing family. I am married to Alison, an Occupational Therapist at a hospital in Kingsport, TN. Our oldest is Olivia, who will be 5 this May, and Caroline was born Oct. 29. We are currently homeless, as we are waiting to close on our new home in Chuckey, TN! I don’t know if you’ve bought a new home lately, but this has definitely been a lesson in patience for us. Lord willing, it will only be a couple more days. Thank God for understanding in-laws!
VB: You’re no stranger to Southern Gospel Music. How long have you been singing?
JG: Probably too long!!! Ed O’ Neal jokes that I stepped off a school bus and got onto a Quartet bus. He’s not completely wrong. I sang my first solo at 4, sang on stage with a group at 7, started singing with my family group around 9, and got my first paying job while still in high school. I went through two semesters of college while singing with Jeannie and Scot Cameron as Cameron & Co. (I was the Co.). I then joined the Mississippi based quartet, Master’s Voice (not the same group using the name today), in February of 1998. In September of ’99, I joined the Florida Boys Qt. I sang with them until the last note, when they retired in July of 2007. I spent the next year emceeing concerts and doing solo dates until I joined the Blackwood Qt. for a year. When that dissolved, John Rulapaugh and I started Freedom on April 1, 2010. In June of 2013, I received the call from Ed O’ Neal to join the Dixie Melody Boys and have enjoyed it ever since.
VB: What’s it like traveling with the Dixie Melody Boys?
JG: Traveling with Ed and the boys is a never ending adventure. When you travel with an octogenarian, you run into different problems that other groups don’t have. We are constantly stopping to pick up some Geritol and Ben Gay. You have to step very carefully on the bus for fear of crushing someone’s dentures. No, seriously, it’s a complete honor to help Ed O’ Neal finish out his legendary career. I hope he’s got 20 more years in him, but we know that’s probably not a reality. I have so much respect for Ed and his contributions to our business, but more importantly, I really appreciate the time I got to spend watching him care for his wife as she battled Alzheimer’s. Truly a picture of a Godly marriage.
VB: Do you do any solo dates?
JG: I will occasionally do some solo dates around Christmas time, when the quartet takes our break, but not too often.
VB: What is your ministry goal?
JG: We are commissioned to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, and I hope to do my part through Gospel music. Naturally, the majority of people we sing to are already Christians, so a big part of my ministry is encouraging folks to keep or renew their faith in Christ, so as to not get bogged down with the cares of the world.
VB: What is one of the most memorable things to ever happen to you on the road?
JG: My favorite story to tell is the night Jake Hess almost offered me a job. The Florida Boys were on the Gaither program at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville for a two day event, some years ago. This was back when Jake and George Younce had the Old Friends Qt. After the first night, George became ill and flew home to Ohio with Ernie Haase, his son-in-law and the Old Friends tenor. Well, Jake still wanted to sing the next day, so Mike Allen was going to sing bass, and David Phelps was to sing tenor. That night, I was sitting in the artist’s circle when Mr. Gaither brought Jake up on stage. They had a normal routine of doing some comedy before the group sang, so Mike and Wesley Pritchard, the group’s baritone, were standing on the arena floor at the stage steps. However, there was no Phelps. Nobody could find him, so Wesley asked Reggie Smith to sing in his place. Poor Reggie didn’t know the songs and didn’t want to embarrass anybody, including himself, so he was looking for a way out. I was enjoying Jake and Bill when Gene McDonald turned around, shoved a microphone in my face and said “go sing!” I asked, “sing what?” He said “TENOR!!!” Young and dumb, I just said ok and hopped on stage as Bill was introducing the Old Friends. Wesley had a look of horror on his face as I walked up, but I knew the song, Jake’s classic “Faith Unlocks the Door”, and I assured him it was fine. Jake sang his verses, we made it through the chorus, then Mike started the recitation. I was in heaven, just enjoying the moment when Wesley looked over and asked, “You got it?” Not thinking, I just nodded and then it hit me. The tenor has the solo and a big, high note at the end. Well, I prided myself in always being ready for anything, so I started the last chorus without any fear. As that last note approached, I knew I was going to have to basically holler it, so I rared back farther than Archie Watkins could ever lean, and I nailed it. The crowd explodes and you could almost hear the sigh of relief from all the other artists around the stage waiting anxiously to see if I could do it. It was all high fives and hugs on stage, then the next track started. It was “Glory to God in the Highest” a fast, energetic song that I knew would be encored multiple times, and I was spent. Thank God, Reggie knew that song and joined us onstage to relieve me. Later that night, Jake had a private conversation with me that I will never forget. Jake was exactly like he appeared, one of the most genuine, entertaining and gracious people I’ve ever met.
VB: Share a quick funny story of something that has happened while traveling.
JG: One of my favorite Florida Boys stories is the time Les Beasley called me and Gene McDonald to his house to check out a problem with one of the bus tires. One of the rear tires was bouncing, so Les wanted to ride behind the bus to see which one it was. Gene would drive the bus, and I would drive Les. Well, instead of driving Les’ Lincoln, we took my Jeep Cherokee. We got about two minutes down the highway when Les shouted, “Good grief!” He got on his cell phone and called Gene and said, “Turn around Gawky. We’ve got to get my car. This Jeep bounces worse than the bus does!”
VB: Do the Dixie Melody Boys have any new projects or exciting things coming up?
JG: We have been gathering songs over the last year for an upcoming project. We are still working out some details, but this may be one of the most memorable recordings the group has ever produced. I have written some songs for it, including one with McCray Dove, that will be our love letter to Ed O’ Neal. I’m very excited about it.
VB: How can people see where you’re going to be and learn more about you and the Dixie Melody Boys?
JG: We encourage folks to visit our website dixiemelodyboys.com for our schedule and extensive online store. We offer many of the group’s soundtracks from older projects, as well as our current merchandise. There’s also a lot of history on the site to enjoy. We are also very active on Facebook and invite everyone to visit and like our page there.