Bill Gaither is having more fun than ever as the Gaither Vocal Band embraces change, releases “We Have This Moment”
By Craig Harris
Bill Gaither seems to be loosening the reigns … and at the same time, he’s smelling the roses. The 81-year-old gospel music icon admits that he’s currently having more fun than he’s ever had.
“I’m having the most fun I’ve ever had in my whole life, not only on stage, but coming home and eating with the sweet lady (his wife Gloria) I’ve lived with for more than 54 years,” Gaither shares. “I’m singing with some of the greatest guys I’ve ever sung with. I love life.
“I encourage young artists all the time … I say, ‘if the lights shine brighter on stage than they do at home, you’re in bad trouble’ … but these are great days.”
Oct. 13 was one of those days as the Gaither Vocal Band unveiled its latest CD, “We Have This Moment.” Former Gaither Homecoming Tour pianist Gordon Mote produced the project.
“We 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,” Gaither points out. “He’s been around a long time with us. I’ve said this 100 times … you don’t replace anybody. We’ve had some of the best singers in our industry I feel … Marshall Hall, David Phelps, Michael English, Russ Taff, Mark Lowry, Larnelle Harris … those are incredible singers. But this is one of the best blends we’ve ever had.
“I’m a pretty locked-down, control person as far as what it’s going to sound like. With this (CD), I went to Gordon (Mote), and I said, ‘maybe we’ve had too many cooks in the kitchen in the past. We’re going to put this in your hands.’”
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 Band’s albums. Gaither, Phelps and Ben Isaacs handled the production work on the group’s 2016 release, “Better Together.”
“I think the songs are pretty smashing and have some pretty heavy messages,” Gaither explains. “‘I’ll Worship Only at the Feet of Jesus’ has a very heavy message. To sing that message nightly … ‘I’ll worship only at the feet of Jesus; His cup alone; my holy grail; there’ll be no other gods before Him; just Jesus only will never fail’ …. it’s great to see that message totally sinking in to people. So, the messages are very special.
“The ‘Chain Breaker’ song, we got it from the contemporary field. With the addition of (lead singer) Adam Crabb – who is fantastic – we said, ‘you know what, we have to sing that song.’ 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, ‘thanks for handing all of those vocalists to me to do whatever I want to with.’ I think he’s done a pretty outstanding job with it.”
While Gaither is unconcerned about his impact on the gospel music landscape, he’s admittedly still driven to maintain a high quality of music.
“I don’t know how much of an impact I have,” Gaither says. “All I can do is the keep the quality of what we’re doing as high as we can keep it. I feel like we’ve done that with this latest production.
“‘Hallelujah Band’ … 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, ‘Chain Breaker’ … we got two and a half million on that (video). My job is just to keep the quality up.”
Phelps – who was a Dove Award nominee as a soloist in between stints with the Vocal Band – announced that he was leaving the group earlier this year.
“I had somebody come say to me, ‘I thought I was going to be disappointed, because I love David,’” Gaither recalls. “They said, ‘you know I love David, but I love what I heard tonight. I’ll go see David next time (he’s in concert).’
“I’m a coach. All I do is put the talent together. If the point guard isn’t hitting real well tonight, we’ll have to go to the power forward or to the center or the shooting guard.”
“We Have This Moment” is the group’s first project since the addition of Smith.
“Reggie enhances things tremendously,” Gaither emphasizes. “If there’s ever been a team player, it’s Reggie … and (baritone) Todd Suttles is the energizer bunny. Wes (Hampton, the group’s tenor) is great, and then, you add Adam’s soul. It’s a great bunch of guys.
“I’ve sung with the best (over the years). They’re all my kids. I love all of them. I’ve had a great time with them all, but I’ve never had a group I’ve had more fun with than right now.”
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.
“We had a wonderful time,” Gaither points out. “We had a blast. The people in charge were very kind to us, and they’ve done a great job with the production. The sound was good.
“I 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 didn’t buy a ticket to come hear heavy production. I just want to hear the singers sing. It’s great voices.”
The Gaither tour hopes to maintain approximately the same number of dates it has been performing in recent years.
“When were young and first married, we didn’t go out that much,” Gaither explains. “We did about 65 days per year. I wanted to make sure I didn’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.
“I’m grateful to maintain what I have always had, and the internet and all of the television outlets are pretty amazing. We’re trying to be wise and smart in what we do to advance the kingdom (of God).”
Feature and photography by Craig Harris
First published by SGNScoops Magazine in November 2017
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