Bill Nelson of The Swanee River Boys

SRBoys_3Pic_op_462x600By Philip Foster of SGM Radio Website 

“When a young man from Kentucky looked me up after several years, to thank me for the songs that touched his heart were instrumental in him receiving Christ as His personal Saviour… to God be the glory, it’s worth it all!”

In my continuing effort to pay tribute to some of our long time Gospel singers, I’d like to introduce you to Bill Nelson. Some of our younger readers may not be familiar with that name, but they may be familiar with the Swanee River Boys. Bill Nelson was a member of that famous group. Bill has one of the smoothest baritone voices I’ve ever heard. I will attach a video link at the end of this article. Please take time to listen to it and be blessed as I was.

In 1945, a 12-year-old Bill Nelson accepted Jesus into his life and he knew what he wanted to do with his life. Sitting in the first row of his father’s church, listening to groups like the Rangers, the Blackwoods, the Stamps and many more, he asked God to please let him sing Gospel Music.

God heard his prayer and within a few years Asbury Adkins, Homer Fry, Jim Terry and Bill Nelson formed the Dixie Melody Boys of West Virginia.

Image-6-239x300During these early years, the group developed their own radio show on LPLH Huntington. Harold Lane, who many will remember from the famous Speer Family, formed the Harmony Boys Quartet. After Harold left the group to sing with the Speers, Bill joined Horace Floyd who was a former tenor of the Swanee River Boys, and together they formed the Monitors Quartet. Bill states, “This was my very first professional singing group.” After three years, Horace went into the ministry as a preacher and Bill kept the group going for another three years.

Buford Abner of the Swanee River Boys had told Bill many years earlier, “If we ever need a singer, we will call you.” Well, at this time they did need a singer, and true to his word, Buford called Bill Nelson, and as Bill states, “I joined my dream quartet at age 28 as baritone.”

After just a two-day rehearsal, Bill recalls, “We went on live television and later cable television in Cincinnati, Ohio. Then our show was televised throughout Columbus, Akron Dayton, and Indianapolis.” Bill says, “We stayed with this endeavor for a while, staying busy on television.   After a while, we were booked to play at the war memorial auditorium in Nashville.”   Bill says, “The boys were not too excited about this, but I managed to talk them in to it. To our great surprise, it was standing room only.”

“The next great surprise for us,” Bill exclaims, “was to open up for the Happy Goodmans! We walked on stage with Buford on bass and Bill Carver on electric guitar.” He continued, “A hush fell on the crowd and I recall praying silently for the Lord to help get us through this, so we could get back to Indianapolis where folks love us. To our great surprise and amazement, we played for five encores and standing ovations. We fell in love with Nashville.”

The Nelsons
The Nelsons

They returned to their television shows, but once again, to their great amazement, three different recording companies offered the Swanee River Boys a recording contract. Bill states, “We signed with Skylite Records and they moved us to Nashville.” The group realized that everything that was happening was returning the group back to their Gospel roots.

The group became very busy with television shows, gospel concerts and even overseas tours. The groups were even featured in a movie called, Sing a Song for Heaven’s Sakes.

All this eventually took its toll on Buford. He had to retire. Bill recalls, “My sons, Michael, Chris and Marc, along with Gary Timms, filled in tour dates and called themselves the young Swanees.” During this time, tragedy struck the Nelson family. Bill’s son Chris passed away suddenly.   Bill sadly recalls, “I was ready to give up. I was bitter, and I recall asking God, ‘Why? Why not me? Why take a handsome young son who was soon to become a dad?’” He continued, “I said that I would never sing again. Many times during this tragedy, God reminded me of my calling to sing gospel and to bless folks.” Bill continues, “Our God never leaves us in the valley.” With some time to heal, Bill and his singing friends reformed the Monitors Quartet. They recorded for Zondervan records and Stamps Baxter’s records.

During the next few years, the group went through many personal changes. Bill exclaims, “Once again, I felt it was time to give it up.” For the next three years, Bill didn’t sing. He remembers, “The burning desire to sing was still there.” Bill knew that his friend David Reece had retired the Rangers Trio. Bill recalls many years before when the Swanee River Boys, the Rangers Trio, and the Chuck Wagon gang all toured together, “I recalled saying to David Reece, ‘When we both get old and ugly, lets sing together.’” One day, Bill recalls, “I phoned David Reece and said, “Its time.” After joking with one another about being old and ugly, they reformed the Rangers Trio with Greg Harrleson. “During this time, we signed with Morning Star Records. We recorded a special project, Moments to Remember. Shortly after this endeavor, David Reece went home to be with the Lord.   Once again, Bill recalls thinking, “it’s time to hang it all up.”

Bills son Michael continued with the Rangers.

new-rangers-trioGod was still not finished with Bill Nelson. After a while, the Jordan River Boys reorganized and were paying tribute to the Swanee River Boys with some of their songs. Bill Nelson was honored by the Governor of Tennessee with the Ambassador of Goodwill award.   “We are working on a project now,” Bill explains, “But because of illness of one of the member’s wife, we are putting the project on hold until after the New Year.”

Bill stated to me, “Phil, it is not an easy road. There were many miles during the part time years. You wear out tires and there are so many costs, like fuel and food, and you receive very little offerings.” He ended his email to me, by stating this, “As of January 2014, I will have been in Gospel Music for 60 years and I have no plan to retire. A young man from Kentucky looked me up after several years to thank me for the songs that touched his heart and were instrumental in him receiving Christ as His personal Savior. When incidents like that happen, why would I want to retire? To God be the glory. It’s worth it all! Thanks to my best friend, best fan and love of my life of 40 years, my wife Jeanie for her prayers, encouragement and sacrifices.”

Bill had one final word of advice: “Watch what you pray for!” (John 6:39, 40).

Please contact Bill through one of the links below! Tell him how much you appreciated his dedicated years! I know he would appreciate it. Bill Nelson: “Touch Me”

Bill Nelson on Facebook:

Contact Bill Nelson by email:

Written by Philip Foster and first published by SGM Radio website on January 2014.

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