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VINYL RECORD REVIEW: The Kingsmen – From Out of the Past (1979)

The Kingsmen – From Out of the Past (1979)

One of the most unique and versatile albums in the Kingsmen’s discography is this dandy gem from 1979 called, “From Out of the Past”.  1979 seemed to be the year groups released trailblazing albums, as “Feelings” by the Rex Nelon Singers, “Prime” by the Hinsons, “Crossin’ Over” by the Rambos, and “Better Hurry Up” by the Happy Goodmans, were all released that year, and they all were very progressive albums.  While “From Out of the Past” isn’t what I would call progressive, it wasn’t entirely traditional either, as it had a very different feel from any of the Kingsmen’s previous albums.  The Kingsmen had used strings on past albums, but horns weren’t something they had ever used, but the use of brass was an added delight for this album, providing a bright enhancement to these wonderfully arranged, classic tunes.

Though he is not on the cover, this would be Squire’s last album with the Kingsmen.  Squire had already turned in his resignation prior to recording this album, but they decided to continue with recording the album.  Squire had felt a strong desire to move into a more evangelistic ministry, and he knew it was time to embark on that journey.  When word got out that he was leaving the Kingsmen, Hovie Lister sought Squire out to join the newly reorganized Statesmen Quartet, but as much as Squire loved the Statesmen, Squire knew God was leading him down a different path and he ultimately turned Hovie down.  Initially, Squire was unsure where this path would take him, but before 1979 was over, Squire joined forces with former Kingsmen pianist, Nick Bruno, and recorded his first solo album, “Sweet Beulah Land”.  Of course, the title song went on to become Squire’s signature song and one of Southern Gospel Music’s best-loved classics.  Squire would remain an integral part of the Kingsmen, as they would consistently record Squire’s songs on just about every single album going forward.  In fact, the Kingsmen recorded one of his songs on their latest album, “Unstoppable God”, called, “When the Saints Go Marching In”.

A few months prior to Squire’s departure, bass guitarist, Jim McCauley had left the group; enter a young Mark Trammell, with whom Jim Hamill traveled with when he sang with the Senators during his 6-month hiatus from the Kingsmen back in 1976.  With Squire’s departure, Eldridge would once again step into the baritone position, but when he wasn’t able to make a trip, Mark would step up and handle the baritone part in Foxie’s absence.  Mark would remain with the Kingsmen for about a year and a half, before moving on to the Cathedrals in 1980, where he would make his legendary mark as one of the greatest and most loved baritones in Southern Gospel Music.  Also, a few months before Squire left, a young piano prodigy named Anthony Burger had joined the Kingsmen as their piano player, and he would play a major role in the Kingsmen for the next 14 years, as much like Nick Bruno, he would assist with musical arrangements as well as with the production aspects of the Kingsmen’s recordings.

“From Out of the Past” was produced by Joe Huffman and Eldridge Fox, along with Nick Bruno handling both string and brass arrangements.  Also, this is the first album in 6 years with Nick not playing piano, and they enlisted keyboard extraordinaire, Ron Oates to play piano for this album.  There are also a few other new faces playing behind the Kingsmen for this record, including Steve Schaeffer, Mike Leech, Robert Thompson and former Downings’ drummer, Fred Satterfield.  Though many of these songs were classic tunes originally recorded years earlier by such groups as the Statesmen, Blackwood Brothers, Speers, LeFevres, Goodmans and others, I was still unfamiliar with many of them at the time (I was only around 9 years old or so), and this album was my introduction to many of these songs.  Just like they breathed life back into that old tractor on the cover, they breathed new life into these timeless classics and gave many of them an uptown feel.  I loved the updated arrangements to these songs, and I as became more aware of the history of many of these songs and heard their original arrangements, the more I came to love and appreciate this album and what it had to offer.

“From Out of the Past” boasts one of the coolest album covers, and I love the vintage look and feel of it.  The concept for the cover came from photographers Dill Beaty and Jim Bricker, and I feel it perfectly captured the vintage spirit of the album.  They originally wanted to do the cover with an old locomotive, but they found an old tractor instead, and Gary Dillard’s dad, “Bud” Dillard worked to get the smoke billowing up from the old engine of the tractor.  It was obviously a fun photo shoot, as the back cover shots are delightful as well and included some downright hilarious shots that truly captured the vintage vibe of the album.  Also worth mentioning are the excellent liner notes written by Harold Reid of the Statler Brothers, recalling the days these songs (and the groups that made them famous) made the rafters ring in those old-fashioned all-night sings.

With one of the coolest piano intros, the album kicks off with a jazzed-up version of the Martha Carson classic, “Satisfied”.  Featuring an outstanding performance by Jim Hamill, he is backed by the Kingsmen along with some female background singers which included members of the Sound 70 Singers, Sweet Inspirations and Kathy Westmoreland.  This was the only song from this album that charted, peaking at #4 for three months, in February, April and May of 1980.  The Speers had recorded a delightful rendition of the song a few years prior on their 1974 album, “God Gave the Song”, but the Kingsmen’s version is my absolute favorite.  In fact, the Kingsmen would bring this song back 8 years later, on their “Mississippi Live” album, so we’ll be revisiting this song again soon.

With a bit of a blues feel, Ernie is featured on the Statesmen classic, “I Have a Desire”, which has always been one of my all-time favorite Ernie features.  Written by Buford Abner, the song was a popular tune for the Swanee River Boys, as well as the Statesmen back in the 50’s when they recorded it with Denver Crumpler.  The Statesmen eventually recorded the song again with Rosie Rozell, on their “Statesmen Encores” album, which was released on Skylite Records in 1960.

Starting off slow, “He’ll Pilot Me” is another fantastic Ernie feature, which also features Ray on the second verse.  This was a Speer Family sugar stick back in the 1960’s and I love the Kingsmen’s arrangement of this classic tune, before Squire slows it down, turning in a masterful performance on the Mylon LeFevre penned classic, “Without Him”.  With Squire tackling the verses (I love the modulation going into the second verse) and Hamill taking the lead on the choruses, this particular version still remains my all-time favorite rendition of this song.

With horns blazing and a rollicking banjo, the Kingsmen tear into the Goodman classic, “I Wouldn’t Take Nothing for my Journey Now”, which wraps up the first side.  Featuring Hamill on the verses and Ernie kicking it up a notch on the final chorus, I always thought it was funny how much Ernie matches Willie Wynn’s vocal lick on the Oak Ridge Boys’ version of this song from their 1965 album, “I Wouldn’t Take Nothing for my Journey Now”.

Side 2 kicks off with the Kingsmen’s version of the Blackwood Brothers’ classic, “Wonderful Time Up There”, which features outstanding performances by Ray and Ernie.  I love the exciting brass arrangement on this song and the piano break by Ron Oates on the final chorus is simply outstanding.  I can’t recall if I was familiar with this song prior to hearing this album, but this ranks as one of my all-time favorite versions of this LeeRoy Abernathy penned classic.

Featuring nice string and steel guitar highlights, Foxie sings the verses on the Wally Fowler penned classic, “Wasted Years”, which also has Squire taking the melody on the chorus.  The song was originally recorded by the Oak Ridge Quartet (as they were known back then) in 1959, but during the early 60’s, it was a sugar stick for the Sons of Song, and just about everyone recorded the song after that point including the Statesmen, Blue Ridge Quartet, Florida Boys, Rebels, Plainsmen, Jimmie Davis, and others.  Despite all the versions out there, I’ve always been quite fond of Foxie’s rendition of the song.  Additionally, Foxie does an amazing job singing the Ruby Moody classic, “Walking My Lord Up Calvary’s Hill”.  The song was originally a huge country gospel hit popularized by Wilma Lee Cooper in the 60’s, but other groups recorded it over the years including the Dixie Echoes, Inspirations and Lewis Family.  In fact, the Spencers did a really great job with their version when they recorded it on their 1993 recording, “Up Calvary’s Hill”, as did Walt Mills on his 1997 recording, “This Joy I Feel”.  The Kingsmen’s rendition of the song was my introduction to this wonderful song, and it still remains my all-time favorite version of the song as well as one of my personal favorite performances by Foxie.

Picking up the pace with a lively steel guitar track, Ernie is featured on the popular Speer Family classic from the 50’s entitled, “Wait a Little Longer, Please Jesus”, before we’re treated to a wonderful rendition of the Statesmen classic, “Lord, I Want to Go to Heaven”.  Featuring a popping brass section, I love Ernie and Ray’s performance on the song, but the crowning moment of the song is when Hamill takes it up a few notches on the final chorus.  I really wish they had singled this tune, as it’s a fantastic arrangement.  Funny personal story…I was raised that you don’t say certain words, and “hell” was one of those words as it was usually used as a cuss word…so as a kid, every time I would sing along with this song, and get to the part, “hell’s an awful place”, I’d whisper the word “hell”!  Nonetheless, I absolutely adored this song and the Kingsmen’s unique arrangement.

This was such a fun and cool album featuring a bright and crisp feel.  I listened to “From Out of the Past” incessantly as a kid, and it ranks as one of my absolute favorite studio albums by the Kingsmen (maybe even my #1 favorite…it’s so hard to narrow it down to just one!).  With its jazzed-up arrangements, “From Out of the Past” was a trailblazing album and was very different from anything the Kingsmen had ever done.  Along with those amazing arrangements, another thing that made this album such a gem is that they didn’t drag out a bunch of tunes that people were tired of hearing, and they chose mostly songs that hadn’t really been sung consistently in quartet circles in the last 20 years or so.  Obviously, the GMA agreed this was one of the finest releases for the year, as the album won the Kingsmen’s third Dove Award, taking home “Southern Gospel Album of the Year” honors at the 1980 Dove Awards.  Along with the aforementioned Dove Award, Ray Dean Reese won “Favorite Bass” during the 1979 Singing News Fan Awards.

Several more awards were on the horizon for the Kingsmen, as they were a dominating force in gospel music.  Fueled by exciting and lively stage performances, outstanding studio and live albums, chart songs and radio airplay, it was an exciting time for the group, and despite some personnel changes, the Kingsmen just couldn’t be stopped!

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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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