Here’s the fourth contribution of a periodical feature, where we ask bluegrass personalities to choose their top five Gospel songs. This week we hear from Bob Webster, who has been very thoughtful in making his choices, which are ……..
- Wicked Path of Sin – Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys: Columbia single 20503, 1948
- God Loves His Children – Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys: Mercury single 6161, 1949
- I Pressed Through the Crowd – South Central Bluegrass: We Can’t Return To the Homeplace (Webco, 1989)
- What a Friend We Have in Jesus – Stony Point Quartet: (Cracker Barrel/Heritage, 2003)
- Look For Me (For I Will Be There) – Marty Raybon & Full Circle: The Back Forty (Rural Rhythm, 2013)
“Choosing five bluegrass gospel favorites from the large inventory of recordings that we enjoy is a difficult task. Having worked an all Gospel broadcast for ten plus years provided exposure to a wide variety of old hymns, new compositions, vocal and instrumental arrangements, and inspirational lyrics that bring tears to the eyes. This list could evolve from week to week and is only a starting point, but will illustrate not only a few of my favorites, but also some of the most requested songs I received from listeners.
The list also risks leaving out some of my favorite artists and songs, such as The Isaacs (who have so many wonderful songs), Larry Sparks, Doyle Lawson, Paul Williams, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, Carl Jackson, Jerry Salley, Joe Mullins and New Found Road as just a start. So, with that disclaimer, here are five to ponder.
Wicked Path of Sin, a Bill Monroe composition recorded September 17, 1946, the first gospel recording with the template for bluegrass bands that included Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and Birch Monroe. The recording is still in print and available in several box sets and features sparse mandolin and guitar runs for the music. The quartet is in fine shape to deliver the song’s message of joining friends inside the pearly gates after departing this wicked world.
God Loves His Children, one of the first four recordings by the newly formed Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys in fall of 1948, with Mac Wiseman, who is the only surviving 1948 Foggy Mountain Boy. This is one of the first recordings by the band whereby we get to enjoy Earl playing the guitar with finger picks in the style we became used to on their gospel songs. The lyrics are uplifting in telling of God’s love in all circumstances.
I Pressed Through the Crowd, written by Joe Isaacs, became popular in the Pennsylvania, Baltimore, Virginia and Washington, DC area from the recording by South Central Bluegrass, We Can’t Return To The Homeplace, which is long out of print. It has been recorded by Dale Ann Bradley, Paul Williams, John Bowman, New Coon Creek Girls and, of course, The Isaacs. Joe tells of the power of the robe of Christ.
What a Friend We Have in Jesus was written in 1855 by Joseph M. Scriven in an attempt to comfort his mother who was living in Ireland. Originally published anonymously, Scriven did not receive full credit for almost 30 years. There are many bluegrass recordings of this old hymn, both vocally and as an instrumental, but I like this version by the Stony Point Quartet (David McLaughlin, Dudley Connell, Linda Lay, Billy Lux) on the Cracker Barrel label since it contains the often deleted fourth verse. You might find one of the out of print CDs from some of the vendors on the Web.
Look For Me (For I Will Be There) is given wonderful treatment by Marty Raybon on his The Back Forty CD. Written by Rusty Goodman, Marty will make you weep with joy and hope in his version with minimal instrumentation, which makes the impact even more deep and meaningful.”
Bob Webster is host of the newly launched Bluegrass for Lunch radio program on Rockingham County Radio in North Carolina every Wednesday from noon to three.
He was also recently elected to the IBMA Board of Directors to fill the Broadcast Media seat. He is a 2011 graduate of the IBMA Leadership Bluegrass program.