Front Porch Interview: Melissa Kemper

rsz_mkemper rsz_vince_and_melissa

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:

 

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