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VINYL RECORD REVIEW: The Kingsmen – Live at the University of Alabama (1983)

With 3 major live albums under their belt (4 if you count “Give the World a Smile” with Grady Nutt), the mighty Kingsmen were pros at creating historic and exciting live albums!  Their first live album, “Big and Live”, was recorded in Gadsden, Alabama 10 years prior, and for this latest live recording, they traveled back to the state of Alabama to the Memorial Coliseum on the campus of the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa.  Recorded live in April 1983 in front of 15,000 people, the atmosphere was electric, and you can feel the excitement in each and every groove of this album!  The Kingsmen weren’t the only group to record that night, as the Speers were also on the program as well, and they recorded an outstanding live album celebrating their wonderful legacy along with the Speer Sisters!

“Live at the University of Alabama” was produced by Eldridge Fox and Jim Hamill, along with Wayne Hilton who is credited as Executive Producer.  Wayne was a member of the Orrells back in the late 60’s and into the 70’s, and he eventually went into doing studio work at the Oak Ridge Boys’ recording studio during the mid to late 70’s, and by the 1980’s, he began working for the Benson Company.  When I spoke to Wayne about this album, he says that his job was easy, as the Kingsmen knew what they were doing and how to deliver what the fans wanted, and he just let them do their thing, as the Kingsmen created magic for the next 45+ minutes.  Wayne also recalls that at times it was so hard to hear during the Kingsmen’s stand because the crowd was so loud, as the atmosphere was pure electric that night!

From a personnel perspective, this album marked a slight change in the Kingsmen band as Sam Crowe had departed sometime in late 1982, and the Kingsmen were without a utility player for a few months until Gary Dillard returned.  For this recording, the Kingsmen are also joined on stage by former Hemphills’ band member, Bruce Watkins, as he lent his talents playing guitars, banjo, and fiddle for the live album.  There had been some minor musical overdubs on previous live albums, but this marked the first time an extra musician being credited with assisting the Kingsmen band for a live recording.

The atmosphere that night in Tuscaloosa was filled with tremendous anticipation.  Wayne Hilton described it best in his liner notes for the album…“When the Kingsmen were introduced, the crowd of over 15,000 was ecstatic.  But when the words to “Roll Tide” were sung, well…you’d just have to have been there.  It was at that moment that the Kingsmen really began to be the Kingsmen.  The low notes, the high notes, the harmony, the testimonies, the music, the interaction with the audience, the introduction of an unprecedented seven new songs, it all came together to make one exciting and blessed event.  The songs…the performance…the experience all memorable and you are about to witness for yourself…the Kingsmen Live at the University of Alabama.”

The album kicks off with an introduction by Bill Gaither, who was not actually at the concert.  At the time, the “New” Gaither Vocal Band was introducing Southern-style quartet music to their contemporary audiences, and a decision was made by the recording company to have Gaither record an intro for the album in the studio.  As the Kingsmen hit the stage, they do something quite unusual, and as a simple chord is given, the Kingsmen belt out “Roll Tide” (which Wayne Hilton mentioned above in his liner notes).  This is the rallying cry for all the University of Alabama athletic teams, and when the Kingsmen belt out that rallying cry, all 15,000 people go hog wild, and the energy level just goes through the roof!  I love it when Ray’s bass note comes in loud and strong, as it’s truly an iconic moment and proves that the Kingsmen (with Jim Hamill leading the charge), knew how to get that crowd excited and it worked like a charm!  In fact, the band wasn’t completely aware of exactly what was going on, as it was only rehearsed one time prior to start time of the concert.

Hamill then calls out “Shoutin’ Happy”, and the Kingsmen are off and running.  This was a song that the Kingsmen recorded 8 years earlier on their “Jubilation” album that was released in 1975.  I love this live version of the song, and as Ernie holds his note on the finial chorus, the crowd comes alive and it’s the perfect opening song for the album, setting the stage for another iconic live recording!

Slowing things down just a bit, we come to the traditional quartet feel of the Squire Parsons penned, “I’m So Glad”, which features a fun piano turnaround by Anthony Burger.  Featuring Ernie and Ray with step-out lines on the chorus, this was such a fun tune that went on to become a popular concert favorite for the Kingsmen.

Hamill then takes a second to introduce the sequel to their smash hit, “Excuses”, aptly titled, “More Excuses”, which was written by the same gentleman who wrote the original tune, Harold Leake.  The group wasn’t completely sold on recording the song, but due to the success of “Excuses”, the record company pushed for them to record the song.  In fact, the Kingsmen never staged the song outside of recording it for this live album.

Slowing the tempo down, Wayne Maynard steps up to sing what would become his signature song, “Child, Child”, which was written by Judy Morrison and published by Kingsmen Publishing.  The Kingsmen actually lost the original demo of the song and later found a cassette copy of it behind the couch on the bus, where it had fallen.  The original demo was very rough and had to be rearranged to fit the Kingsmen, and it was originally intended for Ernie to sing, but the arrangement wasn’t coming together, so after some rearranging of the vocals, the song became Wayne’s big feature for the album.  During the recording of the song for this live album, church breaks out and as they say, “it got out of the banks there for a few minutes”, and it’s the emotional high point of the album.  They did multiple encores that night, but due to time constraints, the song had to be edited down to just one encore.  The song was the second single released from the album, climbing all the way to #3 in June 1984.  Wayne totally owned this song, and I dare say that there are but a few Kingsmen songs that have had the spiritual impact that this song has had.  Also, one interesting side note…Russ Taff recorded this song in 1992 on a recording he did with the Johnson Sisters (which included his mom) titled, “Did You Think To Pray This Morning”.

Picking the pace back up, Ed Crawford steps up to sing the Albert E. Brumley classic, “I’m Bound for the Land of Canaan”, which packed quite a bit more punch than the original studio version from their 1982 album, “Your Ride’s on the Way”.  I always loved this live cut of the song, and it remains one of my favorite performances from this album.

Hamill then takes some time to introduce the Kingsmen, and though he doesn’t go into any long stories on Ernie Phillips, he does tell some funny zingers on each of the guys before he turns it over to Anthony Burger, as he and the band play through an “Instrumental Medley” featuring “The Meeting in the Air”, “Give the World a Smile”, “Church in the Wildwood” and “When They Ring Those Golden Bells”.  Worth mentioning at this point, is that in 1983, Anthony released his first instrumental album since joining the Kingsmen titled, “Piano Classics”, which was released on the newly formed RiverSong Records.  It’s a very simple album with mostly just Anthony at the piano, with keyboard extraordinaire, Shane Keister assisting with some extra keyboard work on a couple of songs.  I have to mention that the highlight of this album for me is Anthony’s hauntingly beautiful instrumental rendition of the Kingsmen classic, “The Old Ship of Zion”.

Next, Hamill brings Eldridge Fox to center stage as he takes the lead on the Conrad Cook penned, “Angels Camping All Around Me”.  Taking a que from one of Cook’s earlier songs, “Is That the Old Ship of Zion”, the song is done acapella with all the Kingsmen gathered around the microphones singing on it.  It doesn’t quite have the same effect as “Is That the Old Ship of Zion”, but it’s beautifully done, and Foxie does an outstanding job on it.

As Hamill continues in a serious vein, he slips into “preacher mode” for a moment as he introduces the next song, sharing the trials the Kingsmen had gone through over the previous year which included Ernie and his wife losing a child, Ray’s dad passing away and Grady Nutt’s untimely passing (whom they recorded an album with a year prior), before Ernie turns in a masterful and emotional performance on the song, “When Crossing Time Shall Come”, which was written by Lisa Payne.  The song was originally recorded by Lisa’s family group, the Singing Payne Family, which ironically, was a group that future Kingsmen member, Arthur Rice was a member of at the time.  As Ernie comes back around for the encore, he takes a moment to share his heart before taking his time to sing the second verse.  As they hit the chorus, you can feel the emotions running high within the group, especially as Ray sings, “together with my dad” on his part of the chorus, and it all culminates into a very raw and emotionally charged performance, leading perfectly into the final song, “Saints will Rise”, which is another song in a long list of popular Kingsmen tunes written by Conrad Cook.  This rousing song features step-out lines by Hamill, Ernie, and Ray, and had all the makings of a Kingsmen mega hit and was one of the most exciting and energetic songs the Kingsmen had ever recorded.  The crowd response is absolutely deafening…so much so that Jim Hamill struggles to speak over the massive wall of applause as he tries to thank the Tuscaloosa Fire Department, the University of Alabama and 15,000 fans for making the evening a huge success!  Obviously, fans everywhere agreed this was a great song, as the song shot up to #1 for February and March 1984, becoming the Kingsmen’s second #1 song!

I was 11 years old when this album came out, and I remember seeing it at the Record Bar at our local mall, and I was so excited as it was a new album by the Kingsmen AND it was another live album!  I loved the excited feel of the album and again, the crowd took in every note and sound that radiated from the stage that night, creating another exciting and electrifying live album.

The Kingsmen were still on top of the world, but by 1983, the Cathedrals were becoming a major force in the industry.  Nonetheless, during the 1983 Singing News Fan Awards, Jim Hamill took home “Favorite Lead Singer” (his 5th time winning) along with the Kingsmen band winning “Favorite Band” (their 4th time winning) and Anthony Burger took home “Favorite Musician” for the 4th year in a row as well.  Despite the continuing success, major change was coming to the Kingsmen as Ernie Phillips had decided it was time to slow down and he resigned from the Kingsmen by year’s end.  Just as they had done when Johnny Parrack left in January 1977, the Kingsmen would rebound and find the right man to carry on…and we’ll dive into all those changes and more in our next article, so stay tuned!

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James Hales

James Hales, from Durham, North Carolina, has been a writer for AbsolutelyGospel.com since 2000. James is our featured reviewer and also contributes to monthly features periodically.
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