Front Porch Interview: Randy Byrd

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SGM- You’ve sang with notable groups such as The Rebels, the legendary Blackwood Brothers quartet and now one of the premiere industry groups in the Mark Trammell quartet. Can you tell us how you got your start in southern gospel?

RB- I got hooked after hearing George Younce when I was 12. I was offered my first job at 17 by the Bob Wills Family but through a series of things in life it fell through. I was a preachers son and rebelled and left home a few weeks before I was to start. It just wasn’t meant to be. I didn’t start singing again until I was about 22 and started singing in church groups. I did the weekend warrior thing for many years. In 1997 I was offered a part time job with Majesty Qt from Des Moines Iowa. I was 34 and figured if I was ever gonna fulfill my dream I had better take it. I sang with them til 2003 when it temporarily disbanded. In early 2004 we put it back together and had been touring again for about 2 months when I got the call from the Blackwood Gospel Qt. A few months after joining them, Jimmy Blackwood joined us and we brought the Blackwood Brothers name out of retirement. The rest is history!

SGM- Most artists have an individual or group that inspired them to sing. Who were your influences?

RB- I kinda answered that in the first question!:) But I sang my first duet at age 5. I got my love of music from my moms side. I had heard quartets but had never been to an actual singing til age 12…. Robinson Auditorium in Little Rock Ar, mid 70’s…. I heard George Younce sing “There is a fountain” and I was hooked. I told my mom that night I wanted to be a bass singer…but at that age I sounded like a tenor!:)

I’ve been fortunate to have been around a lot of great singers that most people may not know but our church was blessed with some great singers. I mentioned Bob Wills earlier. He and his family are some of my biggest Heroes! His son Donnie is as fine a bass as has ever graced a stage. A few years after I couldn’t go with them they hired a young Jeff Chapman!!! Every time I saw them I told him he had my job! My biggest influence though was George. Still the greatest bass singer ever!

SGM- Your Walk Talks was the 2014 release for the group. When can fans expect the next project featuring the current lineup?

RB- We released “Rewind” with this lineup around NQC in 2015. It was a collection of hits from the MT Trio days which obviously didn’t have a bass part. We are getting ready to do a new recording of original songs asap. Hoping to have it by NQC 2016.

SGM-  What has it been like for you being with MTQ so far?

RB- So far it has exceeded my dreams! I always wanted to sing with Mark but honestly it never crossed my mind that I would get too. From day one Mark and Nick have made me feel welcome and wanted. They are very thoughtful and encouraging. Now that being said we torment each other a LOT! Dustin Black was fun to travel with and is missed. Blake Buffin has came in and just fitting in really well. We truly get along great and laugh a lot!!

SGM- What upcoming events are you guys excited about that fans should be aware of?

RB- We have a lot of great things we get to be a part of like the Cathedral Family Reunions and the Second Half Quartet but for me Gerald Wolfe’s Gospel Music Hymn Sing tour are my favorites. I love the fellowship with the other artists but getting to inner act with the fans is priceless!

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SGM-  Most artist cite traveling on the road as the biggest challenge to singing professionally. How do you balance family time and traveling?

RB- We have a lot of fun on the road. I can honestly say I’ve not had a bad road day since being here other than a couple days where we were sick. I’m grateful for that because being away from my precious wife is hard enough. I couldn’t/wouldn’t do it if I were miserable on the road. I couldn’t do the job God has called me to do without her love and support. As far as balancing the time, I just try to spend every moment I can with her when I’m home. My dream and goal is for her to be able to either quit work or go part time so that when I’m home we are together. I don’t deserve her but I’m sure grateful God brought her into my life. She is my biggest fan and supporter.

For more information on the Mark Trammell quartet:

For Booking Information:

Archie Watkins Doing Well At Home

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The following is an update from Archie’s wife Cindy:

We are finally going home!! Archie is doing so much better, and we want to thank the Lord first, and then thank our precious friends and family for all the prayers, love and support shown during this trial in our lives. God is so good, and everything is going to be just fine. Please keep us in your prayers daily, we love you all!

Front Porch Interview: Joe Armstrong

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Since 1947, fans have flocked to see The Florida Boys. They appeared on the first gospel quartet concert ever held in New York’s Carnegie Hall.

SGM- In all the years I have covered southern gospel music and just listened to it, rarely have I found a bass singer with your combination of range and power on the lower notes. Was being a bass singer in southern gospel music something you aspired too from an earlier age?

JA- Yes, I have loved southern gospel music all of my life. My father was an evangelist and my parents took me to singing’s and camp meetings from the time I was born.

SGM- The Florida Boys are one of the most storied and legendary groups in the industry. Can you tell us a little about what it has been like for you singing with them?

JA- Singing with The Florida Boys has been a dream come true for me. Charlie Waller , owner and lead singer for the group, is a true southern gentleman. It is an honor to work for and sing with him and all the members of The Florida Boys.

SGM- Most artists have an individual or group that inspired to sing. Who would that person or group be for you?

JA- The Florida Boys , Billy Todd and JD Sumner.

SGM- If you were to chose a memorable moment in your career to this point, what would it be?

JA- Singing with some of the original Florida Boys at Grand Ole Gospel Reunion in South Carolina . Les Beasley, Glen Allred, Derrell Stewart and Tommy Atwood .

SGM- Vocally you remind me of a combination of former Florida Boys bass singer Billy Todd and Stamps quartet bass singer JD Sumner. Do you get those comparisons a lot?

JA- Yes and that is a great honor to me .

SGM-  I think a lot of our readers would probably wonder at what age did your voice drop so low? I’m sure you’re asked that a lot!

JA-  I was born with a low voice . My Mom used to tell folks she fed me Bullfrogs when I was little . Bass is all I could ever sing. At age 9 I started singing bass in my church choir . My voice just got deeper the older I became . Singing with Awesome gospel Quartets over the years have helped me to improve my God given instrument.

SGM- What upcoming events do the fans need to know about involving the Florida Boys?

JA- We have several events coming up. Check out our website Florida Boys Website

For more information on the Florida Boys:

Archie Watkins Back Home

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Archie Watkins continues to recover and has been released and is back at home. Here’s a note on his release on March 26 from his wife Cindy on social media:

We are finally going home!! Archie is doing so much better, and we want to thank the Lord first, and then thank our precious friends and family for all the prayers, love and support shown during this trial in our lives. God is so good, and everything is going to be just fine. Please keep us in your prayers daily, we love you all!

 

Front Porch Interview: Gus Gaches

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From the Imperials, Lefevre quartet and Legacy 5, Gus Gaches has had quiet a career. We catch up with him to see what all hes been up too since Legacy 5!  

SGM- You have had quiet the career singing with premiere groups like Legacy 5, The Imperials and the Lefevre quartet. You currently work for Song Garden and serving as the interim baritone for the Jim Brady trio. What does the future hold for you? Any chances fans will see you return to singing full time or are your efforts focused more on the business side of the industry now with Song Garden?

GG-  I have been so incredibly blessed in so many aspects of my life. To have the opportunity to be involved with any one of those groups is incredible, but to have had the opportunity to be involved with all of them is more than I could have ever dreamed.

I try desperately not to think about “the path” as much as I try to concentrate on simply following where God leads. Now don’t get me wrong, I do not have that perfected, I’m very human, but I have found that life is the best when I am going where God leads. I have always been blessed to be active in both sides of the industry. I really enjoy getting to sing live, and I love being in the studio. I absolutely love this music and I’ve been given an incredible opportunity with Song Garden Music Group in that I get the chance to share some of the knowledge that has been shared with me thru the years.

I love being able to help artists both with their ministry and in the studio. I do love to get to use my voice, and I am so thankful for this opportunity with The Jim Brady Trio. They are dear friends, and when your friends need a favor you do your best to help, so I am honored to be able to help them in any way that I can.

SGM- Is singing southern gospel something you aspired to do from an early age?

GG- I started singing with my family at the ripe old age of 2 and my first experience in a recording studio was with my family at 5 years old. I guess that is why singing and the studio have played such a huge role in my life.

SGM- How has the experience been so far with Jim Brady trio? I know you havent gotten your feet wet yet with them just yet but I know fans are excited to see you return behind the microphone.

GG- As for traveling with Jim & Melissa, they are as real every day on the bus as they are onstage, so to say that it has been fun would be an understatement. I am so thankful for the wonderful friends I have been blessed with thru the years, and I have been touched by how many have contacted me in the last few days letting me know they are praying for me and many are trying to come see us over the next few weeks. It is incredibly humbling!

SGM-  Most artists have a group or individual who inspired them to sing. Who were your influences?

GG- My influences were The Hinsons and The Imperials. I loved both of those groups growing up, and they are both on my ipod today.

SGM- What is the biggest adjustment for artist to dealing with life on the road?

GG- I think for any artist it’s simply being away from home and family.

SGM- What are some upcoming industry events you are excited about that fans should be aware of?

GG- I love NQC! I really enjoy it being in Pigeon Forge. It is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places on earth, so to have great Gospel music combined with one of my favorite places on earth, well, it’s just incredible. We also have some wonderful things in the works at Song Garden Music Group, so folks can go to our Facebook page and “like” us to keep up with all of the happenings “in the Garden”!

Archie Watkins Improving

     Archie                                                                              From Archie Watkins & Smoky Mountain Reunion Facebook Page: Archie has been doing really well since his surgery, and thank you again so much to all of you for the prayers, calls and messages. He is being moved out of the CICU this evening for the remainder of his stay in the hospital. He is ready to get home and plant a garden and get back on the road, but his doctor says he must stay put for a day or two more and then take it easy for a bit. We will update you again once he is released from the hospital and headed home. We are so grateful for the excellent care he has received and for God’s hand in his surgery and recovery thus far. We love you all!

Front Porch Interview: Jeremie Hudson

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Three Bridges’ music is rooted in traditional ”southern gospel” and ”black gospel” music. This blended style has made Three Bridges is an internationally-acclaimed Gospel group — one that is known for tight harmonies, a unique vocal style, an exciting and energy packed stage presence and, most importantly, for spreading the joy of the Good News of Christ. They have entertained and ministered to millions through their recordings, TV appearances and live shows — which is why Three Bridges has quickly become one of the most prominent Gospel groups in Christian music today.

Tenor Jeremie Hudson is one of the industry’s premiere tenor singers. In this article, get to know a little more about him!

SGM- You’ve had an impressive career so far having sang with the legendary Imperials and now Three Bridges who is one of the premiere groups in the industry. Can you tell us a little about your journey to singing professionally?

JH- I started at 8 years old singing solos and such. I also sang in all my dad’s choirs as a teenager. My friends and I started a group called Fresh Anointing;  Jason Hallcox (former lead, The Imperials), Eric Hudson (brother) Bruce Taliaferro (former lead, Gold City), (Jimi Westbrook, Little Big Town). Then I went to be a Music Pastor. The Imperials came and asked me to join them that very day. I stayed with The Imperials for 10 years. Went back to being a Music Pastor and in Feb of 2010 and then Elliot McCoy called and asked me to join Three Bridges.

SGM- You sang with Shannon Smith in the Imperials and now again with Three Bridges. Did that relationship help your transition into the group?

JH- Oh yes. I probably would not have come back on the road at all if Shannon hadn’t decided to go with Three Bridges as well. Being “On Stage” is only about 10 percent of being in a SUCCESSFUL group. But I knew his heart and who he was and is, so I knew it would “work” AND it has.

SGM-  Jesus Saves was the 2014 release for you guys. When can fans look forward to the next CD release?

JH- We are currently working on a Hymns and Old Favorite’s album. It should be out this year. IT’S GOING TO BE GOOOOOD!!!

SGM- Was singing professionally something you aspired to do as a child?

JH- Yes. My dad sang professionally. I was on the road with him at 10 weeks old. Once you get that diesel smell in your lungs, you always want it!!! Lol

SGM- Most artists have an individual or group that inspired them to sing. Who were your influences?

JH- Harold Hudson (my Dad), Russ Taff, Michael English and Larnelle Harris.

SGM- What upcoming events are you guys excited about that fans need to be aware of?

JH- ALL OF THEM!!!

SGM- Being a family man, how do you balance life on the road and time with family? Many artists cite this as the biggest challenge to singing professionally.

JH- It is tough. But that’s exactly it, “balance”. But not just for me, or the group. But the “calling” must also be a part of the family for someone to travel and do what we do. They have to learn the balance of life with me home and with me gone. Again, it’s tough, but it can be done. I’m not saying that we’ve always done it well,  HOWEVER, we are still here and I think my family is VERY strong!!!

To bring Three Bridges to your church or venue contact: Beckie Simmons Agency – 615.595.7500 // dixie@bsaworld.com // Beckie Simmons Agency Website

For more information on Three Bridges:

 

 

Front Porch Interview: John Rulapaugh

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Freedom quartet was founded by John Rulapaugh in 2013 and has quickly carved its niche in the southern gospel industry and has become a fan favorite quartet.

SGM- You have had a nice career already with many more years to go. From the Dove Brothers to Palmetto State to now your own group in Freedom quartet where you guys were recently named Singing News fan awards Favorite Horizon group and favorite male quartet. Did you foresee having such success so quickly with Freedom?

JR- You may, or may not, remember that Freedom was started as a trio with my good friend Josh Garner (Formerly of The Florida Boys/now singing with The Dixie Melody Boys). We had a dream that, for reasons neither of us can explain, just never really got off the ground. After Josh left in pursuit of more frequent singing opportunities I really had no idea what to do…whether to pursue a new set of singers to join me or just fold it up and pursue other interests. I’d all but given up hope as everyone I had interest in working with were either already committed to another group or had made the decision to retire from this crazy life. So, I began to pray about the course of action to pursue. I heard from folks I never expected to be interested. Honestly, people I didn’t dare dream of trying to reach out to. The first was my old buddy Burman with whom I’d worked the road during the Dove Brothers and Palmetto State days. We actually met up at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion. He was having some health issues that needed to be resolved and the group he was with at the time were not really amenable to his being off the road for any extended period, so the timing was right for him to make a change and I’d just started trying to figure out where we’d go from there. Burman came on to help us in our cabin rental business and sing if the opportunity presented itself. Then came Dale telling me he’d be willing to fill in for Josh’s absence from the group. My first question was “would you be interested in doing more than a filling in?!” He was interested, if the opportunity was right.

During our days as a trio Josh and I had reached out to Preston about singing baritone for the group. The timing was not right then and he had to pass…so when he called I was quite surprised and pleased. He was the last link in the chain. I say all of that to say that once the group came together and we had the opportunity to sing together a bit I knew that there was a chance that we had something special here. Everyone’s intentions are the same – to see others drawn closer in their relationship with Christ – everything else is secondary. Of course we want to entertain and have a good time, but that’s not our main focus. So, to answer you question directly, no, I didn’t expect that we’d have the success in the fan awards that we have seen – especially this soon. We haven’t really campaigned for nominations and votes beyond just making folks aware that we would be eligible etc.

Awards are nice and we appreciate the thought that goes behind folks voting for us. I don’t see them as a goal to achieve, but rather a recognition of the effort we put into our life’s work…so to be recognized in that was is certainly rewarding brings a certain sense of confirmation that we’re on the right track to reach more and more folks with the Gospel.

SGM- When speaking to your peers in the industry you are often mentioned when discussions of best industry tenor comes up. When you review your career thus far, who have you been impressed with as far as artists you sang with?

JR-  It’s kind of you to say that. Of course I’d like to think that what you’ve said is true but I’ve had the privilege of sharing the stage with far too many incredibly talented singers to believe it. It’s hard to make a short list – in this field talent really presents itself on many different planes – Of our current group I have to say Burman really has such a smooth bass voice and friendly demeanor. He is loved by audiences everywhere because of his candor. Preston has a keen sense and ability to follow the leading of The Holy Spirit, aside from being a great singer he really has the knack for changing a concert into a worship service. Dale’s commanding lead voice is the “magic” that every quartet really needs in order to stand out. This group of men represent the best top to bottom lineup that I believe I’ve had the opportunity to travel and sing with on a consistent basis.

Of course, who can compare to the great Hovie Lister, Jack Toney, and Buddy Burton with whom I was privileged to sing in the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion Quartet…and Roy Pauley came as close to duplicating The Big Chief Jim Weatherington as anyone has ever done. Aaron McCune was the bass singer for the better part of my tenure with Palmetto State Quartet. He’s such a talented singer and all around great guy. Never fussy about sound reinforcement or microphones like most bass singers are…but always gave his all even when things were not optimal. He is still a great friend and one of the guys I miss most out of the groups I’ve traveled with in the past. Jonathan Sawrie of The Melody Boys is not only a great singer but also the type of pianist I dream of having along with Freedom Quartet. He has a feel for the rhythm and style of Hovie Lister like no one else I know and that is tops in my book.

During my shirt stint with The Blackwoods I had the privilege of sharing the stage with Harold Gilley who could command the attention of the audience like no one else and Steve Warren who is undoubtedly among the most talented musicians and singers ever in Gospel Music. Thanks for reminding me! I don’t think of all this very often as my mind is consumed with other things. Upon looking back, to say that I’ve been blessed would be a gross understatement.

SGM- Was singing gospel music something you aspired to do as a child?

JR- I don’t recall ever feeling as though I’d made a decision to pursue this as a career…its just always been what I was GOING to do…and then it was what I WAS doing… Never even really thought of doing anything else permanently or as a career vocation.

SGM- Most artists have that group or individual who really inspired them to want to sing. Who was that person for you?

JR- when I was a kid living in Maryland we didn’t get much southern gospel of any kind…but my family visited Gatlinburg, TN while on vacation and as we walked into “A Little Bit of Heaven” Christian Bookstore I heard something I’d never heard before…gospel quartet music. And my life was profoundly changed forever. Turns out it was the Gold City Quartet. My parents bought the cassette they were playing in the store and within a few days I’d learned every song. Before we left from our vacation we went back and purchased every title they had available! Soon after those days I started attending an annual Jubilee in Hillsville, VA that was hosted by the Mullins Family. At the time Paul Lancaster was singing tenor for them. He was kind to me as young kid (he would have barely been out of school himself) and encouraged me to pursue my passions. For both his singing abilities and his genuine love for people he became a great influence for me. Ben Speer may have had the biggest impact on me through his Stamps Baxter School of Music. My first two week session there was amazing. Bruce Northam was my voice teacher there and he most definitely had an impact on my vocal abilities. There are many people who are far more responsible than I am!

SGM- What are some of the upcoming events for Freedom quartet that you guys are excited about and want fans to know about?

JR-  As I type this Freedom Quartet is aboard United Flight 22 from Dublin, Ireland to Newark, NJ…returning from our latest trip “across the pond” where we’ve really established some great friendships. The next time we visit Northern Ireland we expect to take a tour group with us to experience some of what we’ve enjoyed there. We’re looking at a year or maybe two from now. The last weekend in May we are hosting our first two day homecoming event in Seymour, TN in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. We’ll have evening concerts at Grace Baptist Church on Friday and Saturday nights…but there will be events occurring all day Saturday. We start the day with a veterans appreciation breakfast. FREE TO VETS and their spouses, a small fee for everyone else and ALL are encouraged to attend and pay tribute to our heroes! Then we have a talent contest for groups and soloists with the opportunity to win some nice prizes. In the late morning/early afternoon we have carnival style games and bounce houses for the kids. It’s going to be a great time of Family, Fun, and Freedom! Details are posted on our website at: Freedom Quartet Website

Oh, we’re also about to embark on our first west cost trip. We’ll be leaving out on the 30th of this month headed to Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, Montana, Washington, and Oregon…should be a great trip and we are looking forward to seeing friends we made during tenures with our previous groups!
SGM- Our Debts Will Be Paid is the current release and with songs like My Child Well Done, Roll On Jordan and If That Isnt Love, it really establishes you guys as a force in the traditional market. When can fans expect a follow up to that recording?
JR- I’m glad that you recognize our love for the traditional music. That’s where we belong. We do, occasionally, branch out and grab some more currently popular music, put our twist on it, and sing them as a quartet…but we LOVE going back and grabbing some of that old classic quartet music to sing. It took a little longer than expected to get the final product completed on this last recording titled “Our Debts Will Be Paid.” By the way, that title is derived from the song by the same name, but the truth of the matter is that in the midst of the recording process our bus had to have a new transmission, then electrical issues plagued the bus for months (and we’re not resolved until just a couple of weeks ago!) in a short period of time we spent well over $10,000 in unexpected repairs. When I was tasked with coming up with a title for the recording that’s what spoke to me at the time! LOL!!
 So, to answer your question quite candidly, as soon as we are able to afford to get back in the studio we will be there. I hope it will happen sometime within the next 6 months, but all in His timing.
SGM- For those interested in bringing Freedom Quartet to their venue, who do they contact?
JR- For booking info please contact Beckie Simmons Agency by calling 615-595-7500 or online at Beckie Simmons Agency Website Of course we are happy to discuss booking directly as well if that makes folks more comfortable. Our office can be reached by calling 865-366-5155 or by email freedom@freedomquartet.com.
For more information on Freedom quartet visit the following sites:

Saving Southern Gospel

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Southern gospel music has been my favorite genre of music since I was a young boy. The genre officially originated around the year 1910 but general historical evidence shows it may have been around in some capacity in the late 1880’s. It came to be known as quartet music due to the original make up of the industry being all male groups.

In the early twentieth century, with such groups as the Blackwood Brothers quartet, the Statesmen, the Speer family, the Stamps quartet and the Lefevre Trio, the genre absolutely exploded in popularity.

During the 1980’s the genre begin to see a decline in popularity. In the early 1990’s the genre saw a tremendous surge in popularity thanks in part to the efforts of Bill and Gloria Gaither and the Gaither Homecoming tour where former older favorites of the industry saw their careers revived.

In 2005, The Radio Book, a broadcast yearbook published by M Street Publications, reported 285 radio stations in the U.S. with a primary format designation as “southern gospel,” including 175 AM stations and 110 FM stations. In fact, southern gospel was the 9th most popular format for AM stations and the 21st most popular for FM. Southern gospel radio promoters routinely service more than a thousand radio stations which play at least some southern gospel music each week. Recent years have also seen the advent of a number of internet-only southern gospel “radio” stations. These numbers have since declined.

Most groups report numbers of attendees at their venues have dropped over the last 10 years. As the current baby boomer generation ages, with them goes a lot of fans of the industry. For the longevity of the industry and for its survival, on some level the groups will have to find an appeal to the younger music fans.

The surge during the 1980’s where anyone with a few thousand dollars could record a song and release it to southern gospel radio did much damage to the industry from a quality standpoint. This lack of quality failed to appeal to the members of generation X . Gone were the high quality only releases by legendary industry groups and the genre suffered as a result.

Many church’s recently have incorporated praise & worship music and eliminated their choirs. Many educational institutions have eliminated choir from their curriculum due to funding issues. Children today are growing up having no concept of harmony or how to sing or hear parts.

Southern gospel now stands at a crossroads where it must decide what steps to take to start attracting younger fans. A first step would be to stop fighting the need to update arrangements to a more modern sound. Just as the secular country industry faced a crossroads years back and had to adapt to preserve the genre, so must southern gospel now if it is to survive.

There will always be a place for traditional sounding groups and artists. But the time has come for the industry as a whole to stop shunning the artists who sing a more progressive and modern style of country gospel because they represent the best hope for the industry we love having a future.

Editors Note: Editorial articles are based upon the personal opinions of the staff writer who creates the article in question. Nothing posted here in our editorial section is intended to reflect negatively on any group or individual.  

 

 

Front Porch Interview: Melissa Kemper

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The Chuck Wagon Gang is a name that’s synonymous with southern gospel music. For 80 years they have traveled coast to coast sharing their unique blend of harmonies.

Chuck Wagon Gang soprano Melissa Kemper is a native of Groveton, TX, and she still resides there today, with her husband, Jamie, and children Weston, Brandon, and Alysse. Melissa sang soprano with the Chuck Wagon Gang between 2001 and 2006, then left the group to be with her children during their formative years. She re-joined the quartet in 2015.

SGM- Was being a southern gospel artist something you aspired to do as a child?

MK- I never aspired to be in the gospel music industry. I started singing specials in church at the age of 4. I turned down a position with a local gospel group when I was 16 and later accepted their invitation at the age of 24. I sang with them only a few months before The Chuck Wagon Gang called. I’ve always loved singing, but never thought someone would pay me to do it!

SGM- Who were the biggest musical influences upon you growing up?

MK- The biggest musical influences on me growing up were my mother, Martha Mericle, her father, Ray Harrison, our preacher, Robbie Bailey and The Calvary Boys quartet from Teneha, TX. I was not familiar with the Southern Gospel industry & did not follow any of the big name groups. My church had monthly singings with regional gospel groups.

SGM- Can you give us a brief summary of how you were hired by the CWG?

MK- The Groveton Volunteer Fire Department had a benefit concert in my hometown of Groveton, TX in the spring of 2000 featuring The Chuck Wagon Gang. My father, Alton Mericle, was the fire chief and did the booking. During the intermission, my mother, Bro. Robbie Bailey, James Doyle and myself sang a couple of songs. Darrell Morris was the manager of the CWG at the time. He said he was headed into the lobby to work at the product table when he heard my voice, stopped and came back in to listen. He remarked to someone nearby that I sounded like Rose. That “someone” unbeknownst to Darrell, was my father. Over a year later on September 10, 2001, Darrell contacted the Groveton VFD’s fire chief to inquire about me. The Chuck Wagon Gang had an opening for the soprano part. The fire chief wasn’t home, but my mother answered the call and gave him my name and number. Darrell called me that night and a few weeks later I auditioned in Ft. Worth with Darrell and Shaye. They hired me that day.

SGM- When can we expect the next CD release?

MK- The Chuck Wagon Gang will celebrate our 80th anniversary this November. We hope to have a new CD to honor this accomplishment.

SGM- What current events are coming up for the CWG that you are most excited about?

MK- The 10th annual Chuck Wagon Gang Homecoming is coming up soon in Pigeon Forge, TN April 8-9, 2016. The Brumley Singing in Tulsa, OK August 5th. A riverboat luncheon cruise on The Star of Knoxville September 29th in Knoxville, And many more! See:
Chuck Wagon Gang Tour Schedule

SGM- You recently performed a song with legendary country music superstar Vince Gill. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience and how it happened?

MK- It was a wonderful experience! Vince Gill is part of a band called The Time Jumpers. “Ranger Doug” Green from Riders In The Sky is also in the band and is a friend of The Chuck Wagon Gang. We had several appointments and events to attend in Nashville the second week of March, so Shaye contacted Ranger Doug to let him know we’d be in town and would love to see their show. A few days before we left for Nashville, one of our meetings was canceled due to illness. The Time Jumpers were performing on Monday, but now we didn’t need to be in Nashville until Tuesday night. Shaye called to inform me of the change and said if you and Jamie (my husband) still want to come early, Ranger Doug says you could probably sing a song with them. I think I was literally jumping up and down when she finished that sentence! I contacted Ranger Doug and gave him the song and key. Bright and early Monday morning we left Texas and drove to Nashville. We arrived at the venue around 8 pm and went backstage to visit. Ranger Doug greeted us and introduced us to Kenny Sears, a fiddle player and the band leader of the Time Jumpers. While we were visiting, I recognized someone in the corner, it was another fiddle player, Joe Spivey. The first three recordings I did with The Chuck Wagon Gang were recorded at Joe’s studio in Nashville. It was great to see him and to meet his wife Darleen. I noticed Vince Gill backstage, but I was too shy to introduce myself. I decided to wait until after the show. Jamie and I were seated in the audience and I enjoyed their music with nervous anticipation. The second half came and Kenny Sears called me to the stage. I was very nervous, mostly because this was my first time to sing this song for an audience and the band had never played the song together before. They kicked it off and I made it through the entire song! I was so relieved when it was over and I hadn’t messed it up. After the show, we went backstage again and visited with several band members including Vince Gill. He was very nice and even took a picture with me. It was definitely a night I’ll never forget! The experience is documented in pics here: Melissa Kemper Facebook Page

SGM- Lastly, how do you balance life on the road and spending time with your family and would that be the biggest challenge to you of life on the road?

MK- I love traveling & I love singing, but being “gone” is the hardest part. I left the CWG 10 years ago because I needed to slow down, but their schedule was getting busier. It was a hard decision, but I knew I only had one chance to raise my kids. They were 7, 9 & 11 when I left the road. I’ve never regretted my decision, but I sure missed singing! Now my two oldest children are in college and my youngest is a Jr. in high school. When I had the opportunity to return to the CWG last summer, my family supported me 100%. I’m very thankful for the advances in technology over the last decade. We use FaceTime a lot! I’m usually gone 3-4 days at a time and my husband travels with me whenever his schedule allows. We’re making it work and I’m looking forward to see what wonderful things God has in store for The Chuck Wagon Gang!

For more information on Melissa Kemper and The Chuck Wagon Gang see the following: