Three years ago, I did a post on the all-time most distinctive Southern Gospel song intros. The list hasn’t required much revision since then, though Lari Goss’s iconic trumpet crescendo introduction to the Booth Brothers’ “A Higher Throne” has earned itself a spot on that list (though whether it bumps #3 or #5 is anyone’s call).
The other day, I was pondering a more esoteric top 5. What are the five most instantly recognizable drum tracks in Southern Gospel?
- “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” Gold City (20th Anniversary Celebration, Vol. 1, 2000). When I was new to Southern Gospel, I wasn’t that keen on Jonathan Wilburn’s bluesy style or Jay Parrack’s voice tone. This was the project that changed my mind, and this opening track played no small role. The late drummer Doug Riley improved on the drum track of original studio version, singlehandedly turning the song from a straightforward Couriers remake to an invigorating concert opener—all without getting in the way of the singers or the lyric.
- “Boundless Love,” Ernie Haase and Signature Sound (A Tribute to the Cathedral Quartet, 2010). As if it wasn’t audacious enough to place a yet-to-be-released track on the list at all, I’m placing it at #2. Why? Well, you thought you knew this song. It’s perhaps Dianne Wilkinson’s most recognizable song ever, yet virtually every rendition recorded has used a note-for-note remake of the original Cathedrals intro. It required an incredible level of daring to reinvent a song this beloved with a drum-only four-measure intro.
- “Jerusalem,” Hoppers. A case could be made for this song being #1. In this case, though, it’s not just the drums—it’s the perfect match of drum track and orchestra that make this song the only one to make both this list and the most distinctive song intros list discussed above.
- (tie with #5) “Onward Christian Soldiers,” Florida Boys (Up in the Sky, 1964). While this marching band treatment is not uncommon in marching bands, it is far less common in Southern Gospel.
- (tie with #4) “The Journey,” Liberty Quartet (The Journey, 2009). The drums alone kick off the track for two measures. Then, for the next two, a piano plays a single-note-at-a-time riff. At measure five, the orchestration. This drum track is more distinctive than the Florida Boys track, but the song was never singled and is rarely staged live. So this had to be a tie between the more uniquely distinctive and the more recognizable contenders.
Honorable mention goes to the three percussion sounds at the beginning of the Happy Goodmans’ 1971 Wanted Live recording, followed by the emcee’s remark, “We’re reinforcing the stage!” It doesn’t make the list since it’s not part of a song, and the percussion sound more likely comes from a hammer than a drum. But it’s one of Southern Gospel’s most recognizable and beloved moments nonetheless.
Admittedly, the competition is far less active for best drum track than for most distinctive intro. But surely there are a few I didn’t think of, a few that should have made the list, or at least earned an honorable mention. Nominations?