Sunday, September 01, 2019

Favorite gospel tracks, Part 3--Life's Railway to Heaven, Higher Ground

1890's Life's Railway to Heaven, by M.E. Abbey (words) and Charles D. Tillman (music) is possibly the longest sustained metaphor in gospel song history.  The journey of life, and the spiritual journey, all told in terms of a train ride.  Ingenious number, and worth hearing in multiple versions, I think--I've provided eight, starting with the 78 shown above--Smith's Sacred Singers, from 1927.  It wasn't until I printed out the tracklist that I discovered I'd duplicated the Blue Ridge Quartet version.  Not hard to do when you're working with this many tracks--I'm constantly checking to make sure I'm not repeating any numbers from my previous "favorite" posts, but this is my first time duplicating within a single post. An historic occasion.  Sure to cause large ripples in the fabric of space, time, and Newsweek. I replaced the dupe with the Monroe Quartette's 1927 Whispering Hope--a very famous oldie penned in 1868 by Septimus Winner under the pseudonym Alice Hawthorne.  Being more inspirational or sentimental than sacred, it tends not to show up in hymnals.

The Railway version titled"The Railroad Song" features, but for some reason doesn't credit, George Beverly Shea.  Ripped from my 78 copy.

Railway is preceded by five helpings of Johnson Oatman, Jr. and Charles H. Gabriel's famous Higher Ground, and I guess I have to pick the superb Old Fashioned Revival Hour Quartet's straight-from-the-page rendition as my favorite.  My favorite among my favorites, or whatever.  My favoritest favorite of this favorite.  (I think I'm losing it.)  I ripped the King's Trio and Stepp Family versions from the CD-R on which I'd saved them, and I told you about the MAGIX problem in which only two information fields show up when I import tracks from a MAGIX-ripped CD.  A major pain.  At least I noted the group locations along with the titles on the first information line.  That could date the rips back to my Musicmatch days.

The 1926 Peerless Quartet sides, ripped straight from the original Victor label 78s, sound fabulous, which I attribute to uncommonly good early-electric-era engineering.  The Homer Rodeheaver-Henry Burr Where the Gates Swing Outward Never (a Charles Gabriel masterpiece that deserved to be a much bigger hit) is a 1927 Victor that sounds... interesting, with the singers placed a good distance from the microphone(s) in an obviously large setting.  Kind of a neat effect, but the results can't compete with the Peerless Quartet audio.

Cleavant Derricks' When God Dips His Love in My Heart, sung here by the LeFevres, is also known as When God Dips His Pen of Love in My Heart.  I don't know which is the official title.

Enjoy today's favorites.  Many more to come!

All ripped and edited by me from vinyl and shellac in my collection.

DOWNLOAD: Favorite Gospel Tracks, Part 3

In the Sweet Bye-and-Bye (Bennett--Webster)--Peerless Quartet w. Orch., 1926
We Shall Rise (J.E. Thomas)--Smith's Sacred Singers, 1927
Higher Ground (Oatman, Jr.-Gabriel)--Old Fashioned Revival Hour Quartet, 1965
Same--The Blue Ridge Quartet, 1972
Same--The King's Trio (Akron, Ohio)
Same--The Stepp Family (Greenville SC)
Whispering Hope (S. Winner)--The Monroe Quartet, 1927
Where the Gates Swing Outward Never (Gabriel)--Homer Rodeheaver-Henry Burr, 1927
Same--Old Southern Sacred Singers, 1929
God Is Working His Purpose Out (Ainger-Kingham)--St. Paul's Cathedral Choir, c. Lance Hardy, 1961
Angel Band (Hascall-Bradbury)--Bill Williams
The Home Over There (Huntington-O'Kane)--Peerless Quartet w. Orch., 1926
Don't You Hear Jerusalem Moan--Gid Tanner and His Skillet-Lickers w. Riley Puckett, 1926
Life's Railway to Heaven (Abbey-Tillman)--Smith's Sacred Singers, 1927
Same--The Goodman Family, 1963
"The Railroad Song" (Life's Railway to Heaven)--Billy Graham Crusade, Dir. Cliff Barrows
Same--The LeFevres
Same--The Blue Ridge Quartet
Same--Jimmy Dean, 1957
Same--Wendy Bagwell and the Sunliters, 1974
Same--Charles Harrison-Clifford Cairns, 1922
When God Dips His Love in My Heart (Derricks)--The LeFevres, 1965
The Old Time Religion--Tuskegee Institute Singers, 1915
Old Time Religion (Tillman)--Criterion Quartet, 1910
You Go to Your Church (Phillips H. Lord)--Tommy Wilson



Jim said...

Very glad to see - and hear - that you're still open for business. I've been following you for several years and THOROUGHLY enjoy all your posts and shares.

Your irreverent humor - and very reverent Sunday Gospel posts - are enjoyed and appreciated.

Having read your last weeks' worth of posts, I will make more of an effort to leave comments letting you know.

Keep up the Good Work!

Buster said...

Lee - I'm so happy to see another collection of this type!

Larry said...

I have limited experience in the area of country gospel, but I did sing the lead vocal on Angel Band when I played bass for a bluegrass outfit in 1987. We were traveling regionally with a local evangelist who was previously the pastor of the first church I attended. I got along with all of them fine, but they found my bass playing to be too interesting for bluegrass. I tried to be "boring" as the mandolin player suggested, but I found myself improvising without realizing it. Oh well, I still have some fond memories of the time. I've played Higher Ground as well. My favorite hymn of all time is The Solid Rock. Generally the Church circles I worked in featured more contemporary music.
I have very select tastes in country music on the secular side, nevertheless I consider Too Old to Cut The Mustard by Ernest Tubb and Red Foley to be one of the best records ever made.

Thanks for sharing the 78s.

Lee Hartsfeld said...


Many thanks! The nice words are appreciated. My MAGIX is mostly cooperating when put in Windows 7 compatibility mode--the key word being "mostly." It's blinked out on me a couple times, but that beats 40 or 50 times! I hope to keep this blog going for some time. I've reached the (let me see) thirteen year mark, and luckily I'm not superstitious. Well, I am, a little. And, come to think of it, the MAGIX issues started in my thirteenth blogging year. (Uh-oh.) I must let my rational brain "modules" prevail.


Hope you like it! And hope you give me a report--I love your reviews.


In bluegrass, doesn't the mandolin traditionally keep time, with its occasional two-bar improvs? The Solid Rock is a terrific hymn, and one of my late foster mother's favorites--the words are genius. Written in 1834! While elegant, they have a strong gospel feel, which I think goes with my feeling that "gospel" as a genre predates the 1840 starting date often given it. But these years are always approximations, anyway. And earlier examples of any and every genre are always revealing themselves. To me, gospel is an offshoot of campmeeting spirituals (a standard take, I believe)--verse/chorus form, lyrical hooks, "low rate" of chord change. Which is a fancy way of saying that gospel songs are considerably less contrapuntal than the more traditional fare (like the magnificent "God Is Working His Purpose Out" in today's list. I was going to note, but forgot to, that its melody is possibly my all-time favorite hymn tune.) You'll notice I feature almost nothing of the "praise" type, and there's a good reason for that. I didn't know Ernest Tubb and Red Foley did "Too Old to Cut the Mustard"--I'll have to check that out! I first heard it years ago in its pop cover by Rosemary Clooney and Marlene Dietrich, of all people. I have a Tops label fake in country mode, and the Tops country stuff was often very good. You probably know that the original title for "Angel Band" was "The Land of Beulah." That's a bit of gospel trivia I use to show off. It's also known, of course, by its great first line ("My latest sun...."). Thanks for sharing your church experiences. Mine have all been at the organ or piano....

Lee Hartsfeld said...

Btw, having knocked "praise" music, I do find its history interesting. I think it was an African American tradition made white, like the pop-folk music of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. I haven't collected enough evidence to support or sink my theory, but I hope to encounter enough. I keep wanting to find and feature some "newer" (relative term in this case) gospel, but I'm so busy with the traditional stuff. I want to do my part to help keep it alive.

Larry said...

This is just my opinion, so no one need be offended. I believe at some point church leaders began to realize that most people didn't understand what they were singing in church. They concluded that the music was too complicated to be accessible, so they deliberately "dumb down" the songs. The problem is the complexity of the words and music has nothing to do with it. A lot of people just go to church to be accepted in a group and that's it. In the seventies when I was a bar room musician I generally wasn't aware of the meaning of the words I sang since that really wasn't important to me. I just liked the idea of people enjoying what I was doing. Some people find words important in both cases, but most don't. Anyway, I'd come across a hymn I wanted to play in church and would be told that the chorus was alright, but to leave out the verses, and maybe change a few words so it wouldn't be confusing. I figured what was the point.
I could write a 100,000 word book on my understanding of music and the reader would probably conclude that I hate everything. Actually I appreciate and enjoy the best of everything, but my idea of the best usually doesn't line up with popular opinion.
Sometimes it does. I'm quite fond of Bea Wain singing Heart and Soul with the Larry Clinton Orchestra!

I notice we seem to be awake at different times of the day.

Lee Hartsfeld said...

Well, in the small country churches I've played for, hardly anyone sings! Luckily, the minister has an excellent voice, so she functions as the song leader. I'd be in a fix, otherwise. Exceptions are the more rousing numbers whose choruses are familiar to the congregation--When We All Get to Heaven, for instance. And a lot of people know the more famous Fanny Crosby hymns. Her words were brilliant, but she knew how to write to the masses. Presbyterian and Methodist hymnals are packed with quality hymns--memorable tunes and meaningful lyrics, so the compilers obviously believe church members are paying attention to the music. But I go with your take--I think most people enjoy the church experience--the company, the celebration of family, the sharing of joys and concerns, etc. They're not terribly content-aware. And allergies have had me sleeping in way too late, so I'm up too late. And I feel dopey during the day. Ragweed season is always like this.

Lee Hartsfeld said...

I was going to add that my experience is with traditional churches--the mainline Protestant type.

Larry said...

I personally prefer instrumental music for worship, but for a group it doesn't work as some people simply don't relate to pure music and wouldn't know what to do. No church I've attended on a regular basis has had an organ. Much better live than on a recording.
In 1998 I fell from a ladder at work and banged my head off the concrete floor. I tried going back to work several times but it never worked out and I ended up on long term workers comp. After a while I started getting afternoon headaches that persist to this day. I can't do any writing during those times so once it passes, around 8pm or so, I try to get in a little work on my current story. If it's going good I can keep going until 1:30 or 2, but I still wake up at 7am no matter how late I'm up. Usually I'm in bed by 11. Morning is the best time to write for me.

Anonymous said...

Love these Sunday gospel posts!

Larry said...

I was having trouble with my browser so I'm not sure if this went through or not so I'll try again. I found "You go to Your Church and I'll Go to Mine" in an old song book back in the late eighties, and even played it a few times. This is the first time I've heard it recorded. Very Nice! Thank You!

David Federman said...

Lee, like no one ever said, "If it ain't broke, don't break it." I say this because I am asking you to find what I find impossible to find: a version of "We Are Soldiers in the Army" that stays true to the original words and tune and feels no need to "update" them or make them more relevant and powerful than they were when first sung. The "gospel plough" has now become "freedom's plough" and bent to every conceivable context and purpose but its first and most comprehensive. Look, I'm no evangelical. I have real issues with religion. But it is songs like these that come from a place so deep and maybe even desperate that make me love gospel music. Someone somewhere sometime--probably in the 1920s or 30s--must have recorded this song with the reverence it deserves. Do you know of such a version? I just listened to Marc Ribot's and had to get out one of those paper bags you used to find on airplanes to help with sky sickness. Thanks for letting me moan!

Lee Hartsfeld said...

Hi, David. Forgive my later reply. I don't think I have a recording of "Soldiers," but I'll keep an eye out (for a faithful version, so to speak). I do have an excellent version of "Banner of the Cross" I recently thrifted. Done in a very straightforward fashion--not the over-arranged choral treatment traditional numbers sometimes suffer.