The Paynes – Ready or Not (1982)
1982 was a pivotal year for the Paynes. By this point, the Paynes had been singing for about 9 or 10 years, mostly centered around the upper mid-west part of the country. Early in their singing career, inspired by Ronny Hinson, Mike Payne started writing songs, but it wasn’t until the very late 70’s and into the early 80’s that people began taking notice and the group’s reach began to expand. For many years, they went by the name of the Glorious Gospel Heirs and had recorded several independent albums under that name, but due to Mike’s songwriting and to help people better associate Mike with the group, they changed their name to the Payne Family (later shortened to just “The Paynes”). At that point, the group began recording for Trail Records and released 2 albums, “Oh What a City” and “A Song in the Midnight Hour”, which featured a few songs with marginal success, such as “My Last Battle”, “What a Savior”, “How Great It Is” (which actually ended up being recorded by the Inspirations several years later), “God Delivers Again”, “Oh What a City” and others.
The catapult for the Paynes’ success was that magical moment where talent was met with opportunity, and that opportunity came in 1982 when the group signed with Windchime Records, which was one of the first Southern Gospel labels that was geared toward artist development. At the time, Canaan and Heartwarming were the big labels, followed by Calvary Records, and then a few independent labels were hit or miss in the charts such as Supreme, Trail, and Skylite Records. Windchime came on the scene with virtually unknown groups and those groups (such as the Paynes) enjoyed immense success that other labels quickly jumped on the bandwagon and followed Windchime’s formula, namely Eddie Crook’s Morningstar label, which burst on the scene a couple of years later. Created in 1980 by Wayne Gaskin, essentially, Windchime was an offshoot of Calvary Records, and immediately signed the group HeavenBound (who came over from Calvary Records) as their flagship group and enjoyed amazing success with the song, “Canaanland is Just in Sight”. The label went on to enjoy further success with the Paynes as well as with the Singing Cookes, Singing Echoes, Sego Brothers & Naomi, Anchormen, Liberty, McKeithens, and others.
Released in early 1982, “Ready or Not” was produced by Ronald Drake and enlisted the help of former Hinsons’ piano player, Gary Prim who handled all the music arrangements and directed the band that played on the album. Unfortunately, the liner notes on the back cover do not give credit to the musicians who played on the album, but I am assuming Prim did play the piano. Also, a hallmark of those Windchime albums was the addition of background vocals (which are also uncredited), which really seemed to enhance the Paynes’ sound. Back in the day, background vocalists were mostly used for soloists, and once in a while for a group to give a song a bigger sound, but the Paynes utilized them pretty extensively on these early Windchime records.
The recording kicks off with the title song, “Ready or Not”. This was their first major radio song as a group, and the song did extremely well, peaking at #5 in October 1982. With its happy, upbeat feel, the song was a stark reminder to the sinner that “ready or not, the Lord is coming, ready or not, He’s coming again!”.
Southern Gospel Music is known for its fair share of sappy “mama songs”, and I have never been a huge fan of them, but I have to say I have always been drawn to “Welcome Home”. The song creatively paints a beautiful picture of what it may have been like when Mama landed on the shores of Heaven, and when they get to the chorus, “Here she comes, angels are cheering, saints are all shouting as her ship is nearing, here she comes, Heaven is waiting, Jesus is saying, welcome home!”, it’s the emotional climax to the song and a true highlight of the recording.
Picking up the tempo, “I’ve Got Jesus” is an enjoyable testimony song with a nice Southern Gospel feel, before the pace slows down as Loreen takes the lead on “What More Can I Ask For”. Featuring warm electric piano and steel guitar highlights, Loreen’s rich alto tones and the addition of some background vocalists make this song a highlight of the album. From the first time I heard the song, I fell in love with it and its comforting message…“what more can I ask for than Jesus, what more can I hope for than Him, He’s my shelter when everything all around me is falling in, what more can I ask for than Him”. It’s a tremendous song of faith and one of my all-time favorite Loreen features, before the tempo picks back up as this side closes out with the peppy, “I’ll Go With Him”, which features both Mike and Loreen.
The second side kicks off with one of my all-time favorite Payne songs, “Rise and Walk”. Originally recorded by the group a couple of years earlier on their 1980 album, “Oh What a City”, the original version was slower-paced and took on a bit more of a dramatic feel. For this updated version, the song was sped up slightly and given a more polished feel with some really great work from the string section. When performing the song in concert, Mike would play the part of the main character, as they basically acted out the song as a mini-drama. I remember the first time I saw the Paynes in the summer of 1984, that auditorium came alive as Mike Payne leaped off the stage and started joyously walking down the aisles singing, “I can walk, I can walk, all the glory I give unto the Lord!”. This story song was such a unique song for gospel music at the time, and seeing the Paynes perform this song live was truly an experience! Interestingly, Wendy Bagwell & the Sunliters did their own unique arrangement of the song on their 1984 album, “Above it All”, which is highly enjoyable as well!
The Payne’s first albums on Windchime featured new arrangements for some of Mike’s early songs, and just like “Rise and Walk”, the next song “God Delivers Again” was originally recorded on their 1980 album, “A Song in the Midnight Hour”. Published through the Cathedrals publishing company, Homeward Bound Music, the Cathedrals recorded the song on their 1981 album, “Colors of His Love”, but the Singing Cookes recorded it a year earlier on their 1980 album titled, “God Delivers Again”. This song was Mike’s big introduction to the Southern Gospel community as a songwriter, so it made sense to re-record it on their first national release.
Slowing the tempo ever so slightly, we come to the inviting, “Come Go With Me”, which has a distinct camp meeting feel to it, before the tempo picks back up for the highly enjoyable, banjo-infested tune, “Standing in the Presence”, which features Loreen. This is another older Mike Payne song that they had recorded a couple of years prior, and it has always been one of my personal favorites from this album and it’s Southern Gospel to the core. The group eventually re-recorded it once again on their 1989 recording, “God Wants You”, which is probably my favorite version of the song. I’ve always been surprised no one has ever picked up this song, as it’s a great camp meeting-style song that would go over very well in concert.
The album closes out with another great Loreen feature on the song, “It’s No Wonder”. With nice steel guitar, fiddle, and electric piano accents, this country-sounding tune rounds out the recording with a nice, easy going feel.
All 10 songs for this album were written by Mike, but as I mentioned above, 3 of the songs were new arrangements of previously recorded tunes that he had written a few years earlier. “Ready or Not” was a good mix of fresh material, while also introducing new fans to some of their earlier songs. When I saw the Paynes in the summer of 1984, this was one of the cassettes my dad bought, and I listened to this tape constantly, eventually wearing it out completely. Sometime later, I got the LP and was thrilled to add it to my collection. Though they had been singing for close to 10 years by this point, this was their big introduction to the gospel music world, and I thought it represented the Paynes exceptionally well.
The Paynes became known for thinking outside of the box, but this album was pretty tame overall from a musical standpoint, and leaned more towards the traditional side, but with some country undertones to it. With each successive album though, the group would branch out musically and coupled with Mike’s unique songwriting, the Paynes would become one of the most progressive groups on the Southern Gospel circuit. Truly exciting days were ahead as the Paynes’ music was catching the attention of fans all across the country. “Ready or Not”, they were quickly becoming a force in the industry, as their music was “Out of This World”, and they were lighting a “Fire on Stage” everywhere they went!
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