Bill Gaither is having more fun than ever as the Gaither Vocal Band embraces change, releases â€œWe Have This Momentâ€Â
By Craig Harris
Bill Gaither seems to be loosening the reigns â€¦ and at the same time, heâ€™s smelling the roses. The 81-year-old gospel music icon admits that heâ€™s currently having more fun than heâ€™s ever had.
â€œIâ€™m having the most fun Iâ€™ve ever had in my whole life, not only on stage, but coming home and eating with the sweet lady (his wife Gloria) Iâ€™ve lived with for more than 54 years,â€ Gaither shares. â€œIâ€™m singing with some of the greatest guys Iâ€™ve ever sung with. I love life.
â€œI encourage young artists all the time â€¦ I say, â€˜if the lights shine brighter on stage than they do at home, youâ€™re in bad troubleâ€™ â€¦ but these are great days.â€
Oct. 13 was one of those days as the Gaither Vocal Band unveiled its latest CD, â€œWe Have This Moment.â€ Former Gaither Homecoming Tour pianist Gordon Mote produced the project.
â€œWe had another change in personnel last spring with Reggie Smith (joining the group after the departure of tenor David Phelps), who is no stranger to our field,â€ Gaither points out. â€œHeâ€™s been around a long time with us. Iâ€™ve said this 100 times â€¦ you donâ€™t replace anybody. Weâ€™ve had some of the best singers in our industry I feel â€¦ Marshall Hall, David Phelps, Michael English, Russ Taff, Mark Lowry, Larnelle Harris â€¦ those are incredible singers. But this is one of the best blends weâ€™ve ever had.
â€œIâ€™m a pretty locked-down, control person as far as what itâ€™s going to sound like. With this (CD), I went to Gordon (Mote), and I said, â€˜maybe weâ€™ve had too many cooks in the kitchen in the past. Weâ€™re going to put this in your hands.â€™â€
Though he has served as a studio musician on previous projects, it was the first time that Mote had produced one of the Gaither Vocal Bandâ€™s albums. Gaither, Phelps and Ben Isaacs handled the production work on the groupâ€™s 2016 release, â€œBetter Together.â€
â€œI think the songs are pretty smashing and have some pretty heavy messages,â€ Gaither explains. â€œâ€˜Iâ€™ll Worship Only at the Feet of Jesusâ€™ has a very heavy message. To sing that message nightly â€¦ â€˜Iâ€™ll worship only at the feet of Jesus; His cup alone; my holy grail; thereâ€™ll be no other gods before Him; just Jesus only will never failâ€™ â€¦. itâ€™s great to see that message totally sinking in to people. So, the messages are very special.
â€œThe â€˜Chain Breakerâ€™ song, we got it from the contemporary field. With the addition of (lead singer) Adam Crabb â€“ who is fantastic â€“ we said, â€˜you know what, we have to sing that song.â€™ You add those kind of power songs with the production expertise of Gordon Mote, and you have a pretty explosive piece of equipment. Gordon said, â€˜thanks for handing all of those vocalists to me to do whatever I want to with.â€™ I think heâ€™s done a pretty outstanding job with it.â€
While Gaither is unconcerned about his impact on the gospel music landscape, heâ€™s admittedly still driven to maintain a high quality of music.
â€œI donâ€™t know how much of an impact I have,â€ Gaither says. â€œAll I can do is the keep the quality of what weâ€™re doing as high as we can keep it. I feel like weâ€™ve done that with this latest production.
â€œâ€˜Hallelujah Bandâ€™ â€¦ we released the video on that, and we got a million and a half views on that (on the Friends of Gaither Music page on Facebook). Then, â€˜Chain Breakerâ€™ â€¦ we got two and a half million on that (video). My job is just to keep the quality up.â€
Phelps â€“ who was a Dove Award nominee as a soloist in between stints with the Vocal Band â€“ announced that he was leaving the group earlier this year.
â€œI had somebody come say to me, â€˜I thought I was going to be disappointed, because I love David,â€™â€ Gaither recalls. â€œThey said, â€˜you know I love David, but I love what I heard tonight. Iâ€™ll go see David next time (heâ€™s in concert).â€™
â€œIâ€™m a coach. All I do is put the talent together. If the point guard isnâ€™t hitting real well tonight, weâ€™ll have to go to the power forward or to the center or the shooting guard.â€
â€œWe Have This Momentâ€ is the groupâ€™s first project since the addition of Smith.
â€œReggie enhances things tremendously,â€ Gaither emphasizes. â€œIf thereâ€™s ever been a team player, itâ€™s Reggie â€¦ and (baritone) Todd Suttles is the energizer bunny. Wes (Hampton, the groupâ€™s tenor) is great, and then, you add Adamâ€™s soul. Itâ€™s a great bunch of guys.
â€œIâ€™ve sung with the best (over the years). Theyâ€™re all my kids. I love all of them. Iâ€™ve had a great time with them all, but Iâ€™ve never had a group Iâ€™ve had more fun with than right now.â€
Most of the Gaither Homecoming contingent recently appeared at the 2017 National Quartet Convention after a three-year absence from the week-long event, performing the Gaither Sing-A-Long on Thursday afternoon and with the Vocal Band appearing on the program later that evening.
â€œWe had a wonderful time,â€ Gaither points out. â€œWe had a blast. The people in charge were very kind to us, and theyâ€™ve done a great job with the production. The sound was good.
â€œI was only there on Thursday afternoon and Thursday night. The Isaacs are always wonderful. The Nelons are a wonderful group. Of course, those are our friends. The things that I have encouraged the artists I talk to in that field is do not overproduce. I didnâ€™t buy a ticket to come hear heavy production. I just want to hear the singers sing. Itâ€™s great voices.â€
The Gaither tour hopes to maintain approximately the same number of dates it has been performing in recent years.
â€œWhen were young and first married, we didnâ€™t go out that much,â€ Gaither explains. â€œWe did about 65 days per year. I wanted to make sure I didnâ€™t lose my family. This year, we will have done 60 or 65 days. (We have to make sure) doing a good thing and spreading the gospel does not destroy our personal life.
â€œIâ€™m grateful to maintain what I have always had, and the internet and all of the television outlets are pretty amazing. Weâ€™re trying to be wise and smart in what we do to advance the kingdom (of God).â€
Feature and photography by Craig Harris
First published by SGNScoops Magazine in November 2017
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