Mark Trammell is a legendary figure in this field and has one of the most recognizable baritone voices with a clear and smooth tone. Trammell, an artist many consider one of the greatest quartet men of his time, has graced the Southern Gospel stage for over forty years as of 2016 and shows no sign of slowing down.
Trammell has sung with many great groups including: The Senators, The Kingsmen, The Cathedrals, Greater Vision, Gold City, and now his own group, Mark Trammell Quartet. After leaving Gold City in 2002, Trammell decided to form his own group, The Mark Trammell Trio.
Trammell’s son Nick has a unique perspective of the early days of the group. “I could write a book on the formation of this ministry from my perspective,” Nick explains. “To keep it short, every single detail that needed to be in place, every door that needed to be opened, and every sign that needed to be given, took place with only the willingness of my father to take the step of faith away from what was comfortable, into what he felt like God was calling him to do.
“I can remember standing in our driveway the week after he left Gold City. He said look around you and remember this moment. There was literally nothing there to start a group with. No other singers, no sound system, no mode of transportation, not even a microphone. Within three months, most of that was provided with little more than prayer and patience. I still to this day stand in the driveway and look around every once in a while to remind myself of what we have seen God orchestrate.”
It was all in God’s plan for the group to form. Trammell says, “When I sang with Greater Vision in the early ‘90’s, we went on our first Journeys of Paul cruise with Dr. Charles Stanley in October of 1993. On the isle of Patmos, God began to deal with me about something He wanted me to do: Preach as well as sing.
He said, ‘I have something special for you to do. You can do it and be at peace, or you can fight it. What do you want to do?’ In order to do that, I needed to be off on Sundays to be at services and revivals. This led to my joining Gold City, who at the time, didn’t sing much on the Sunday. As GC’s popularity grew, so did their schedule and I found that I did not have time to preach as I knew God wanted. I needed to be able to set my own schedule. God worked everything out and here we are!” God had a plan and thus the Mark Trammell ministry was born.
The original lineup consisted of Trammell at baritone, Joseph Smith singing lead and playing piano, and Eric Phillips, son of the great Kingsmen tenor Ernie Phillips, on tenor. The group cites many influences on their unique sound. Bass singer Randy Byrd says, “We each have different influences and some of us have some common ones. Probably the Cathedrals would be the single biggest influence.”
The trio was hugely successful and recorded several well received CDs. In 2005, Dustin Sweatman joined the group as the new lead/pianist. Sweatman blended well with group and brought an energetic lead voice as well as piano style. This lineup continued to churn out quality hit songs such as “Loving The Lamb.” The group experienced another change in 2009 when original tenor Phillips departed and was replaced by Joel Wood. Wood brought a clear and sweet sounding tenor voice to the trio.
In 2010, however, the group went through a bigger transformation: bass singer Pat Barker, formerly of the Dixie Echoes, joined the group making the trio a quartet. Mark Trammell had felt God lead him back to the quartet format. Barker made a memorable impression and has since risen to prominence as one of Southern Gospel’s favorite bass singers.
The new quartet was a hit. Their quartet debut CD was well received and included songs such as “I Want To Know,” and “It’s Almost Over.” In 2012, Sweatman was replaced by Mark’s son Nick Trammell. Bass singer Randy Byrd praises the young Trammell saying: “Nick Trammell has really come into his own! He has inherited his dad’s tones and is really doing great delivering the songs!”
Most recently, Blake Buffin, cousin to Matt Fouch (bass singer of Legacy Five), joined the group at the tenor position. Buffin brings a unique and resonant voice to the quartet. Nick Trammell had this to say of the newest member: “Blake Buffin has been here a little over a year now. He is the type of guy who has no clue just how good he is. I have never seen someone take their vocal training as seriously as he does, and it is paying off for him in a big way. Audiences everywhere we go fall in love with his incredible voice, but they also fall in love with the humble, kind-hearted guy they meet after they hear him sing.”
In January 2014, Trammell formed his own record label, Crimson Road Productions. The first release was Your Walk Talks. Also in 2014, Randy Byrd, formerly of the Blackwood Brothers, The LeFevre Quartet, and The Anchormen, joined as the new bass singer. Byrd brings a deep and rich bass to the quartet as well as his sense of humor.
“Randy Byrd joined a little over two years ago,” the younger Trammell explains. “He came to the group at a time when I think we needed him and he needed us. It’s funny how God works those things out. Besides being a first class bass singer, he is a strong right arm in helping this machine function.
“People everywhere we go instantly become friends with Randy. He is the type of person who has never met a stranger, and would give you the shirt off of his back if he knew you needed it. That shirt would be clean and neatly pressed, as well.”
Mark adds, “We actually grew up within thirty miles of each other and never met until we were both grandfathers! After Randy joined MTQ, we were sitting on the bus talking about the concerts we went growing up and came to the conclusion that we had attended the same concerts in the Little Rock, Arkansas area. Even fell in love with Gospel Music the same night, same auditorium; never ran into each other. You can’t make that kind of thing up! Now, we sing together every night.” It is amazing how God works things out!
The MTQ’s 2015 Daywind release Rewind was a trip down memory lane featuring many hit songs from the group’s discography. Now in 2016, their first mainline record with Buffin and Byrd entitled Full Sail is sure to be another hit for the quartet. “We have been looking at songs for two years for this project, the title of it is Full Sail,” says Mark Trammell.
“Picking the right songs is a process I don’t rush through. We record songs that are musically fun for us to sing and the audience to hear, but more importantly, they have a message that will stay with the people after they leave one of our concerts.”
The term “full sail” refers to the command given by the captain when the waters are still. There is no danger and all is calm. This is true for Christians as well. God has everything under control and can calm stormy waters of life.
“Each song leads us to the same mindset, the same concept. Whether you are nearing the end of a journey or feel that you are ready to live for Christ in a way you never have before, we pray these songs will lift you up along the way,” Mark adds.
MTQ has travelled all over the country spreading the Gospel through song and therefore has had many incredible experiences. “My personal favorite experience since joining the group was just being able to be a part of the Gospel Music Hymn Sing in Conroe, TX at Mims Baptist Church. It was an experience that is honestly hard to explain. 2000-plus people, one of the best choirs in the country singing to the top of their lungs for two hours, and masterful leadership by Gerald Wolfe, made the night seem like a little bit of Heaven on Earth,” Nick Trammell recalls.
The future is looking bright for this blessed quartet. Mark Trammell explains, “Our media team is working on a series of videos that will highlight each of the songs from our new CD, Full Sail, to be released on our Facebook page, one per week. I am glad that we get to share the meaning behind the songs and encourage folks with the Word of God through these videos, if only just for a few seconds out of their day.”
The group is also currently recording a new Christmas project with the Whisnants and planning a joint Christmas tour for this December. Nick adds, “We have talked about some different ideas for another recording in 2017 that we may share details on at a later date. Beyond that, we are going to try to remain consistent in sharing the message of the gospel in song, and to the best of our ability, show love to the hurting, discouraged people we sing to.”
Mark is also excited to join Dr. Rodney Kelley on a tour of the Holy Land. Trammell exclaims, “I have never been to Israel and this trip will fulfill a lifelong dream of mine. I can’t wait!”
This quartet under Mark’s direction has become a fan favorite and truly takes their ministry seriously. “Our mission is to encourage the church and evangelize the lost through the medium of Gospel music and the message of Christ and Him crucified,” adds tenor Blake Buffin. Exciting things are ahead for this blessed and talented group as they continue to sail with Christ. Full Sail!
By Justin Gilmore
First published by SGNScoops Magazine in the November 2016 issue.
Photographs courtesy of Mark Trammell Quartet and Craig Harris.
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