June 8, 2014, marks the 25th anniversary of the formation of The Churchmen, a bluegrass Gospel band based in Collinsville, Virginia.
The original members of The Churchmen were Freddy Rakes (banjo), Keith Clark (guitar), Jeff Mills (bass) and FD Black (mandolin). The group, in varying guises, has been touring and recording since 1989.
Keith Clark provides a comprehensive look at The Churchmen’s history ….
“We started playing at a local church men’s day. I found out that fellow church member Freddy Rakes could not only play the banjo but could sing tenor. Also I found out that fellow church member and my cousin, Jeff Mills, could not only play bass but also knew the harmony vocal parts. Fellow church member FD Black was a mandolin player so we had a band. Soon after we played at the Lynchburg, Virginia, Church of God of Prophecy and the Appomattox Church of God of Prophecy and the Churchmen was born.
Very soon after that Freddy contacted a guy who he knew through Jeff and Sherry Easter named Gerald Harbour to join the group on mandolin. The first concert that configuration played was at the Sanville, Virginia, elementary school along with the Easter Brothers in 1989. In 1990 we purchased a bus and we did three cassette recordings at Warehouse Recording in Galax, Virginia, in the early 1990s.
After the three cassettes with Warehouse Recording, Steve Stone joined the group in 1992. Soon after he came on board, he and I (Keith) switched instruments with Steve going to the guitar and me going to the electric bass. In 1995 I changed to the upright bass. Also in 1995-1998 we recorded our first CDs for the Mountain Home label of the Horizon Music group. In 1995 the first of those projects Follow Me received a lot of radio attention. The title cut was written by Steve Stone and made the Top 100 in Southern Gospel Music, pretty cool considering it was a straight up bluegrass gospel song. Also in 1997 we traded (upgraded) to our second bus. Steve Stone decided to leave so in 1999 Steven Martin took over the guitar and most of the lead singing duties. Steven is also a gifted song writer.
After Steven Martin came on board we recorded three projects for Pinecastle Records and Col. Tom Riggs. The song Get On Board penned by Steven Martin stayed in the Gospel Truths Top 20 chart in Bluegrass Now magazine for an incredible 3 1/2 years. Those albums also garnered one Dove Award nomination for album of the year and another Dove Award nod for song of the year. Some other people who contributed to the band during the 1990’s and 2000’s were fiddlers Chris Gillikin and Shannon Wheeler.
In 2004 we purchased the Statler Brothers’ bus.
Steven Martin left the band in 2007 and Charlie Oakley took over guitar for a year. David Guthrie took over guitar and lead singing duties in 2008 and is still here now. Glenn Waller filled in some for David in 2011. A couple of contributors to the band from 2004 til 2011 were Dobro® player Rick Keene and fiddler Tim Smith.
Original member Freddy Rakes decided to retire at the end of 2012 and Carroll Arnn took over the banjo duties. Carroll is also a great vocalist and song writer and plays the banjo, guitar and fiddle on stage. In 2013 we changed record labels and teamed with Mark Hodges and Mountain Fever Records. The CD Mercy Road has original songs from David, Carroll, Becky Buller and others and has received stellar reviews and incredible radio play.
In my opinion this is the best Churchmen band ever and Gerald and I are looking forward to much more success and many more years serving The Lord and keeping the music going.
The band has had 20 plus nominations from SPBGMA and our primary sponsor is the Nelson Automotive group, providing transportation for the band.”
Other awards about which The Churchmen can be proud are the PowerGrass Radio Bluegrass Gospel Group of the Year award and Bluegrass Gospel Album of the Year award for Mercy Road.
In May The Churchmen had four recordings from their Mercy Road album in the PowerGrassRadio.com Bluegrass Gospel Chart, two of the songs were penned by band members.
The have earned multiple nominations for Gospel Group of the Year by The Society of Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America (SPBGMA) spanning 15 years.
Notable appearances for the band include a performance at the Ryman Theater for the Bluegrass Now Fan’s Choice Awards and several show cases at the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) WoB and at the IBMA Bluegrass Fan Fest.
The Churchmen will be celebrating their anniversary with a special performance at Stone Memorial Christian Church, Collinsville, Virginia, this evening June 8 at 6:00 p.m.
A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe.
He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.
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