Recently, I had the chance to interview Cody Boyer, baritone singer for the Weatherfords. Lily Weatherford, who has been with the group for decades, still sings alto for the group, and her son Steve sings the lead. More about Cody and the group can be found at www.theweatherfords.com.
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DJM: How did you get interested in Southern Gospel?
Cody: I came from a musical family. My dad was a musician for 40+ years. He performed with Marty Robbins, Conway Twitty, Jerry Lee Lewis and a bunch of folks.
DJM: What instrument did he play?
Cody: He was a lead guitarist. He was an opening act for some people with his own band, and played in the band for some of the others.
When I was ten years old, my pastor invited me to his house to watch the Cathedrals Reunion video. I had gotten saved in church when I was eight years old, two years before that.
The pastor had given me a cassette of the reunion. When we met Dad at the airport, I sang “Movin’ Up to Gloryland” for him. Before that, I was so shy I wouldn’t talk to my aunt or uncle, or some of my five older sisters. But literally the next day, I knew I wanted to be a singer. It was an overnight thing.
Then on to a couple of years later, my dad, uncle, and I started singing in Oklahoma, in churches and music festivals.
DJM: Then you became a minister of music for a couple of months?
Cody: Yes. At age 19, I became a music director at a church for eight months, and had a great time with that.
Then I found out that the Weatherfords were looking for someone. With my interest in the Cathedrals, I knew that six Cathedrals were Weatherford members first.
DJM: First? Each before they joined the Weatherfords?
Cody: Yes, each of them were members of the Weatherfords before joining the Cathedrals. Roy Tremble, Haskell Cooley, Glen Payne, Bobby Clark, Danny Koker, and George Younce. I had the Cathedrals book and saw the pictures of the Weatherfords in that.
Anyhow, when I saw they were looking, I sent Steve a demo and a resume. I got a call back from him asking if I wanted to meet them somewhere and audition with the group.
We met, then they left on a trip for Quartet Convention. I figured with all the singers they’d be auditioning there, I didn’t have a chance. They came back from their trip and two days later, I got a call and got the job. They tried out over 100 people, and noone else felt right.
DJM: Most Southern Gospel fans know the history of the Weatherfords through the 70s or so. What have the Weatherfords been doing in recent years?
Cody: The Weatherfords were based in Indiana, Ohio, and California, before moving to Paoli, Oklahoma 35 years ago. They have been there ever since.
Earl Weatherford passed away in California, while they were on a trip, in June 1992. Steve and Lily Weatherford had a meeting and decided that God wasn’t through with them yet. That would have been sixteen years ago.
The best word to describe the Weatherfords is “consistency.” That has been a main thing with the group. This January, the Weatherfords will celebrate their 65th anniversary.
DJM: How many years have you been with them now?
Cody: I’m 22—I’ve been with them two years, and I’m just celebrating my second anniversary with the group.
I commented I was also 22, and we traded birthdays. (He’s older by a few months.)
DJM: Where do the Weatherfords travel these days?
Cody: We travel from Southern California to New York and Ontario, Canada, and from Washington to Florida and everywhere in between. The Weatherfords have been in every state in the Union. In fact, Steven had been to forty-nine states at least twice by the time he was twelve.
We come out to the West twice a year—late April and early May for a few weeks, then we take a trip all the way up to the Pacific Northwest (Oregon, Washington), every November, singing in Arizona and New Mexico on the way back. We also do a two-month trip in Florida every year.
DJM: Who are your greatest influences as a baritone singer?
Cody: Glen Payne was considered a lead singer, but he was really a baritone. So him. I’d also have to say Gerald Wolfe, who is also considered a lead singer, has a great influence.
I love the greats of the past, Doy Ott and the great smooth singers. I’ve come to appreciate the singers from the Statesmen, Blackwood Brothers, and others. I’ve learned so much more about them since I’ve been with the group. Lily was with them in their heyday, starting in the 40s with those groups.
Glen Payne would be my greatest; he was my intro as a kid. Like all kids, I wanted to be a tenor or a bass, but that never happened—most grow up to be baritones!
DJM: So did singing the baritone part come naturally to you? Or was it a challenge?
Cody: No, it came naturally.
The Weatherfords have so many tricks of how they keep the blend, and I’ve had to learn some of that. We work hard to keep the tight blend and harmonies we’ve been known for all these years. At first it was kind of challenging—a fun challenge—to learn how to do things the Weatherford way. But after two years with the group, things have really jelled, the blend is there.
DJM: Does the current group spend a lot of time rehearsing?
Cody: No, not that much now. We work on a few little things here and there, but we sing so many times a year that we don’t have to work on it that much.
When the Weatherfords were rehearsing for the In the Garden album, they rehearsed for eight hours a day for a couple of months, thus the record came out perfect. They were in the studio for three hours and it came out just right.
DJM: And this was in the days before pitch correction!
Cody: Yes. They did the whole recording with four channels—four microphones, two for the vocalists, two for the band.
Today, we normally just set our mikes evenly and control our voices. We don’t use stacks or anything like that. We have background vocals on some tracks, but nothing with our voices.
DJM: What can we expect from an average concert? What percentage of new songs to classics?
Cody: We’ll do a mix of songs from the most recent albums to songs the Weatherfords recorded fifty years ago. We’ll still do “Eastern Gate,” “Tell My Friends,” and “What a Precious Friend is He” most every night.
Our latest album is a live Western album—in fact, the first live album the Weatherfords ever recorded—and we’ll do songs from that every night. We’ll do songs from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and today every night, a big mix of new and old.
On every album, we’ll go back and record some of the classics. That has been a lot of fun—growing up in church, I knew a lot of the hymns, and we’ll do hymns and convention style singing every night.
Every album has a common thread, a sound. We’ll arrange for that sound, and when you hear it, you know it’s the Weatherfords.
DJM: If you could put together a dream-team quartet, who would you pick?
Cody: Current or past?
DJM: Either or both.
Cody: OK. Of the past:
Big Chief on bass. I’ve seen a lot of videos, and he was so cool.
Glen Payne, of course, on lead.
Baritone—who would be a good baritone? Maybe Doy Ott. It might be kinda fun to hear Glen and Doy; Doy really had a smooth voice.
Tenor: I think I’ll go with Lily. She could sing anything. When Weatherfords were on radio back in 50s and 60s, Earl had the group and they would hire male tenor singers. But after Lily had been with them, people would call into the radio station and say, “Bring that one guy back.” They didn’t know it was Lily, didn’t know it was a woman.
Go ahead and put Hovie on the piano, that would be kinda fun. Part of the Statesmen and part of the Classic Weatherfords
Now for my dream quartet of today. Archie Watkins on tenor, Ronnie Hinson on lead, Bill Gaither on baritone, and Reuben Bean on bass!
More seriously, even though he’s not in Southern Gospel anymore, David Phelps is my favorite singer today. So put him on tenor.
Doug Anderson is a baritone, but I think he’d make a good lead.
For a baritone singer, I’ve always liked Marshall Hall’s voice.
I like Glenn Dustin real well as far as today’s bass singers go.
This is kinda interesting—I thought about this several years ago, but hadn’t thought about it since.
As to my favorite groups of today, I love the Booth Brothers. I’ve got everything since Jim Brady’s been with them.
My first Gospel Concert would’ve been Gold City with Mark Trammell, Jay Parrack, Jonathan Wilburn, the McKameys, and the Kingsmen, and the Arnolds. (They were the group of Frank Arnold, the promoter.) The Kingsmen and Gold City had come out together and done KingsGold. This concert would’ve been in early 1997.
I saw the Cathedrals twice; I saw them in Oklahoma City on their Farewell Tour. My first Legacy Five concert had Greater Vision and Ernie Haase. They did Cathedrals songs on their second set—they were doing “He Made a Change,” and the tenor walked off stage and grabbed Ernie.
DJM: What do you want people to take away from a Weatherfords concert?
Cody: The main focus of this group is Jesus Christ, and getting people to know Him, or encourage someone who is down in the dumps that day. Through everything else, the humor and whatever—we try to make it clear that they go away with the message in the songs. It sounds cliché, but it really is the focal point of this entire group—whatever people are facing in their lives, that we could’ve been some encouragement to them, and if they’re not saved, we give them a chance through an invitation.
That’s the main thing.
DJM: What do you think Southern Gospel will look like 25 years from now?
Cody: Being 22, I’ve thought about that lot . Some say it’s dying—I want to be one of those to keep it alive for the next 25-30 years. Right now, it’s real industry minded, and that’s a great thing. But everything changes. Gospel Music has changed many times in the past 100 years and will change again.
As far as the sound goes, I’m not sure whether it will be more progressive in style. I know I want to do my part to keep the old songs alive.
It’s encouraging me to see other young singers, like Joseph Habedank and Nick Trammell in the Perrys. Hopefully they’ll keep with it, and twenty-five or thirty years from now still be going strong.
I think Southern Gospel has a bright future if us young’uns will do our part to keep it alive, carry on the torch. It’s our responsibility to keep things going.
DJM: Any other thoughts or comments?
Cody: The Weatherfords of the past were a large part of the industry in early years, but we’re still going strong, looking for songs and just about to start a new album.
Lily will be eighty years old in a couple of weeks. We’re still going strong, keeping it alive, doing what God wants us to do. Keep looking for the Weatherfords for years to come—bright things are in the future!
Since you like trivia—Bill Gaither was actually hired to play piano for the Weatherfords. He went home and told his father. His father said no, I’ve just paid your college tuition, so you’re going to college.
Dallas Holm, author of “Rise Again,” was with the Weatherfords for a few weeks before he got drafted.
Tracy Dartt, author of “Last Sunday,” “God on the Mountain,” and “Your Blesser Ain’t Never Been Blessed,” was with us.
It’s so cool. George Younce and Glen Payne got their start with the same lady I get to sing with. That goes through my mind every night when I’m stepping on stage.
As far as the Gospel Music family tree goes, Legacy Five, Greater Vision, and Signature Sound would be the Weatherfords’ grandkids. It’s quite a legacy.
DJM: And only in Southern Gospel would the grandparent still be around!
Cody: The Weatherfords have been around to see the Blackwood Brothers and the Statesmen, then see Cathedrals, Hinsons, and Crabb Family come and go. Any group that has started after 1944 and ended before now, the Weatherfords have seen come and go.
Lily is one of only three legends of that era still going. Eva Mae LeFevre and Ben Speer don’t keep a full schedule—I think Lily holds a record for that. We normally do 125-150 concerts per year. That’s pretty good for an eighty-year-old woman, and she shows no signs of slowing down!
Consistency is the big thing with this group. We’re kinda like the Energizer Bunny of Gospel Music.
To be able to sing with such legendary people, it’s just been a dream. I’ve gotten to sing with Henry Slaughter doing piano. I’ve gotten to sing with Bobby Clark. I sang at NQC with Armond Morales last year; he came up on mainstage and did “What a Precious Friend is He” with us. There’s no way you could ever measure up to someone like that, but it’s been a lot of fun and really a dream come true.