The Paynes – I’m a Jesus Fan (1984)
With “It’s Out of This World” being released so late in 1982, the Paynes did not release a mainline album in 1983, but rather released an independent recording filled with hymns and favorites called, “A Payne Family Tradition”. The album was produced by the group and featured such songs as “Never Grow Old”, “Green Pastures”, “Wayfaring Stranger” and others, and it was an album the group held very close to their heart.
In 1984, the group went back into the studio and recorded one of their most popular albums, “I’m a Jesus Fan”. Produced by Ronald Drake, this recording was very different than their first two Windchime albums, and you can tell the budget was a bit heftier as the overall production value was quite a bit higher as well. I didn’t realize it earlier on, but as I look over the Paynes’ entire body of work, this was an extremely progressive and diverse recording that stretched them musically, as well as vocally. Their last few albums only featured Mike and Loreen handling all the lead vocals, and for this album, we get to hear Bill Sizemore quite a bit and Keith Payne gets a few step-out lines on a couple of songs, as well as his big feature on “The Conversation”. Credit is also given to musicians who played on this album, and you see lots of familiar names such as Gary Prim, Greg Galbreath, Bruce Watkins, Gene Chrisman, Jerry Kroon, Terry McMillan, and others. Background vocals are used pretty extensively for this album and credit is given to a vocal group called Tennessee Express, based out of the Nashville area. This group enjoyed some radio success in country music during the early 80s, and were formerly known as the Sound Seventy Singers who provided background vocals for musical acts across multiple genres, which included the Happy Goodmans’ 1974 album, “The Happy Goodman Family Hour”.
The cover for this album is also one of the most unique and memorable covers in our genre. Some may think it’s a bit corny, but I think for its time, it was ingenious with its 1950s retro feel. In fact, Mark Payne (Mike’s brother and drummer for the Paynes) is credited with Art Direction/Design for the album. The back cover is quite clever as well, resembling a playbill or program for a concert or sporting event with everything themed as such with a first and second half, intermission, coaching staff and team players. When we saw the Paynes for the first time in the summer of 1984, my dad bought this cassette along with their “Ready of Not” cassette. Of note, the cassette cartridge for this recording was red, which was something very different, as during this time, most cassettes were either white or a light beige color, so it was pretty out of the box releasing the cassette cartridge in red, but it really fit with the overall vibe of the recording. Honestly, the record company pulled out all the stops for this album, and I think the group reaped some amazing benefits as well!
With its heavy electric guitar track, the album kicks off with the title song, “I’m a Jesus Fan”, which became one of the Paynes best loved songs. The song resonated with many Southern Gospel fans and during its year plus run in the charts, the song crested at the #2 position in February and March of 1985. The song perfectly captures Mike’s charismatic delivery, and you hear this song come alive on their “Fire on Stage” album, which came out in 1985. The song was inspired by a fan letter that was sent to the Paynes and was signed “A Payne Family Fan”, and then the writer crossed it out and wrote, “A Jesus Fan”, and thus the idea was birthed in Mike’s spirit and the song shortly became a reality. The Paynes, being such progressive and forward thinkers, went on to create one of Southern Gospel’s first concept music videos using this song. Though there aren’t a lot of concept videos in Southern Gospel music from the 80’s, the Paynes set the precedent with concept videos in our genre, and the group (as well as Mike Payne as a soloist) eventually went on to film a few others throughout their career.
Next up, we come to one of the most unique songs in the Paynes repertoire, the dark and foreboding feel of “The Conversation”. Much like the song, “Rise and Walk”, the song is a musical mini-drama about a conversation between Satan and Death (performed by Keith and Mike, respectively) concerning whether or not Jesus would indeed rise from the grave, and the song joyously concludes with the obvious, “He has risen…He has risen…proclaim Him Lord of Lords!”. Though the song was never a chart song for the group, it still ranks as one of their greatest songs and was a hugely popular concert favorite for the group that completely electrified the room when they performed the song, as evidenced on their “Fire on Stage” live album that was released in 1985. Though the song features strings, brass and background vocalists, this studio version pales in comparison to hearing them perform it live, and I am so glad I was witness to seeing the Paynes stage this song, as well as “Rise and Walk”, as those performances are etched in my mind forever!
The tempo picks back up as Bill Sizemore and Loreen are featured on the enjoyable Southern Gospel feel of, “With Him By My Side”, before we come to the bluesy texture of one of my personal favorites, “He Broke the Chains”. With nice dobro and fiddle accents, featuring Mike and Loreen on the verses, the song features step-out lines by everyone in the group on the chorus, and it’s a highlight of the recording. I distinctly remember them singing this song when I heard them the first time in 1984 and I remember really enjoying the song that night. The Inspirations gave the song a little male quartet treatment and sped up the tempo when they recorded this song on their 2001 recording, “Pure Vintage”, and the Inspirations enjoyed great success with the song in the charts. In fact, the Inspirations continue to sing this song today as it still makes it on their set list from time to time.
I love Loreen’s soulful tones as she belts out the enjoyable, “We’re Going Through”. Backed by the Tennessee Express, and with step out lines by Keith on the chorus, the song is one of the more edgier tunes from this album. It’s a fun song of faith and determination and was a great tune to round out the first side of the album.
With electric and steel guitars, fiddles and banjos, Mike is featured on the up-tempo, “Headin’ for the Hills”, which has that trademark Paynes sound from their early days, before we come to the Latin vibe of “The King is Passing By”. With the feel of a Mariachi Band, featuring horns and background vocals, the song is a highlight of the recording. The song was a great inclusion for the album and offered something really different for the Paynes, showcasing their ability to be diverse in their musical creativity.
The medium tempo, “There Ain’t Nothin’ Left But Leavin’”, features Bill on the verses, and then Mike takes the lead on the chorus. Featuring background vocals and a nice steel guitar track, the song, and its prophetic message, is an excellent inclusion for the album with its country vibe, similar to something the Hinsons would have sung, before Loreen steps up once again, as she sings the classic, “When He Was on the Cross (I Was on His Mind)”. Compared to the classic version by the Florida Boys, the tempo of the Payne’s original version is slightly faster and follows a different format with verse, chorus, verse, chorus, as opposed to the Florida Boys dramatic arrangement with verse, verse, chorus. We all know the history of this classic tune, that the Florida Boys recorded the song and took it to #1 in the Singing News chart for 5 months from August 1985 through December 1985, taking home the Singing News Fan Award for “Song of the Year” for 2 years in a row in 1985 and 1986. But did you know the song was originally written as “When He Was on the Cross, He Was Thinking About Me”? Mike took the song to Ronny Hinson and as they began to collaborate together on the song, it became what is today…one of the Southern Gospel’s most cherished songs. Collaborations between Mike and Ronny were pure gold during the 80’s, as they brought us several great songs during this time including, “Meet Me at the Table” (Kingsmen), “Who But God” (Gold City) and “The Search is Over” (Gold City).
Closing out the recording, Mike and Loreen are featured on the fun, saxophone infused feel good song, “Under New Management”. Featuring strings and background vocalists, the song has a subtle “Manhattan Transfer” feel to it, and I have truly loved this song since the first time I heard it. Finishing out the recording on a fun and happy note, it’s a unique song and once again, proves the Paynes were a multi-dimensional group that could crank out various musical styles, making them one of the most versatile groups in Southern Gospel music.
This was such a fun album and really showcased the Paynes in a different light than any of their previous albums had done. Truthfully, “I’m a Jesus Fan” was a groundbreaking album and was a potpourri of musical styles and sounds that was very different than any album out there in the Southern Gospel marketplace at the time. This was a musical and vocal playground of sorts, and really highlighted what all the Paynes could do musically, vocally, and lyrically. While this album enjoyed a full year of publicity and radio success, I think that all the wonderful things this album had to offer was greatly overshadowed by their follow-up album, “Fire on Stage”. This album was a unique fusion of Southern Gospel, Country, Pop, Blues and Jazz, and I think if history would be fair and take a true assessment of this album, it would prove that “I’m a Jesus Fan” was indeed groundbreaking and that the Paynes were true trailblazers!
Please check out my music page on Facebook for more content related to Southern Gospel Music including more discography reviews on other groups, we well as other thoughts and discussions related to Southern Gospel Music. Please like and follow my page at https://www.facebook.com/James-Music-Page-102612571620560.