We continue with Bob Eagle’s Top Ten list of favorite Gospel Classics….
#5: “I Am Bound For The Promised Land”
Before we leave male instrumentalists, let’s wander into black-sounding white territory. King of this genre is Rev. Alfred G. Karnes, from Bedford, Virginia and later in Kentucky, who was a revelation of the 2-record LP set, “In The Spirit.” Karnes’ bass lines remind me irresistibly of Richard “Rabbit” Brown’s “James Alley.”
#4: “I’ll Be Satisfied Then”
The ladies have been neglected so far, but let’s move to Oklahoma’s answer to Mahalia: Sister Jessie Mae Renfro. I always think of this song as one long, incredibly ornamented, sentence. Jessie Mae also made a great version of “Can’t No Grave Hold My Body Down,” with sanctified piano accompaniment.
#3: “Sleep On, Mother”
Back to prewar male groups briefly. Here’s the origin of the ‘clanka lanka’ (link, oh link) refrain, by the Silver Leaf Quartette of Norfolk (1928, William Thatch, lead):
#2: Ain’t No Grave Can Hold My Body Down”
Mississippi not only produced blues singers, but also impressive gospel. Here’s a spell-binding song by Bozie Sturdivant, recorded not far from the crossroads (!) in Clarksdale:
#1: “Father I Stretch My Arm To Thee”
From unaccompanied to supremely well-accompanied, we reach, at last, Rev. Killens, a singing preacher, with his congregation as choir. These were fragments of unauthorized recordings, but we’re lucky to hear them – he sought legal advice and was told not to waste his time and money. Originally from Louisiana, he had moved to the Bay Area at the end of the Second War, and many of his constituents ultimately moved with him. I was privileged to meet him at his church in 1972. He was then an old, but impressive man, in failing health and was clearly respected by all who surrounded him.