2013 in Review: Southern Gospel’s Biggest News Stories

Site Statistics

In 2013, SouthernGospelBlog.com reached a significant milestone: It was our first year with more than 1 million unique visits (1,070,730). We’ve come close several previous years, but this was our first to actually pass that mark. Thank you for reading! For anyone interested, here a report with other interesting site statistics.

Top Posts of 2013

The top posts of 2013 included several from previous years, and several that were not news stories.

  1. Michael English and Mark Lowry to Leave the Gaither Vocal Band (October 29, 2013; 13,509 views)
  2. Updates on Tracy Stuffle [Update 5] (May 21, 2013; 8,982 views)
  3. Tim Duncan Joins Canton Junction (October 7, 2011; 5,886 views during 2013)
  4. Joseph Habedank Leaves The Perrys (May 22, 2013; 4,619 views)
  5. Tim Duncan leaves Ernie Haase & Signature Sound; Ian Owens Joins (January 19, 2011; 4,609 views during 2013)
  6. Where is Glenn Dustin Now? (April 25, 2013; 4,461 views)
  7. National Quartet Convention posts 2013 Schedule (January 18, 2013; 4,380 views)
  8. An Interview with Tim Duncan (October 27, 2011; 4,302 views during 2013)
  9. Tracy Stuffle Suffers Stroke [Update 1] (January 22, 2013; 4,004 views)
  10. Gaither Vocal Band to perform 2014 tour with Phelps/Hampton/English/Gaither Lineup (October 24, 2013; 3,606 views)

Due to the mixture of posts and topics, this list doesn’t really answer the question of what were the year’s top stories.

Top News Stories of 2013

The two biggest stories of 2013 unfolded over multiple days and were covered in multiple posts. To determine the top stories, we combined the view counts on all posts in the unfolding story.

  1. Tracy Stuffle’s stroke (1 2 3 4 5) (18,653 total views)
  2. Michael English and Mark Lowry leave the Gaither Vocal Band (1 2) (17,115 total views)
  3. Joseph Habedank leaves The Perrys (4,619 views)
  4. Where is Glenn Dustin Now? (4,461 views)
  5. National Quartet Convention posts 2013 Schedule (4,380 views)
  6. Mike Holcomb Leaves The Inspirations (2,407 views)
  7. Dan Keeton Leaves Gold City (2,189 views)
  8. Shane McConnell Joins Canton Junction (2,157 views)
  9. David Ragan leaves The Inspirations (1,959 views)
  10. Debra Talley injured in fall (1,825 views)

Incidentally, these view counts do not count readers reading the post on the home page, via RSS, or via email. So they don’t measure a story’s full reach; however, home page, RSS, and email views stay steady enough that the numbers provide a valid apples-to-apples comparison, even if the numbers are similarly incomplete for each post.

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Saturday News Roundup #165

Worth Knowing

  • Greater Vision is doing a going-out-of-print sale for FacesQuartets, and Live at First Baptist Atlanta here. The titles will undoubtedly remain in print digitally.
  • An Oklahoma newspaper has an article on Lily Fern Weatherford’s retirement.
  • NQC has updated their 2013 mainstage schedule, adding The Sneed Family on Monday, Ernie Haase & Signature Sound on Tuesday, The Bowlings and The Nelons on Friday, and the Down East Boys on Saturday.
  • Former Jordanaires tenor Gordon Stoker has passed away.
  • Former LeFevres soprano Teresa McNeill Burrell passed away on Thursday.
  • Canton Junction is discontinuing their debut recording, which we reviewed here, and replacing it with Show Me Your Way, releasing May 21. Eleven tracks will be from the discontinued debut, and will apparently be re-cut with new vocalist Shane McConnell. There will be three new tracks, live renditions of “Just a Little Talk with Jesus/Jesus on the Main Line Medley” and “In God We Still Trust,” and a new studio track, “Back On My Feet Again.”
  • Worth Reading: John Mathis’s column Southern Gospel Music – the 10% and the 90%

Worth Watching

Here’s a video of Gerald Williams’ Melody Boys Quartet in their prime:

Worth Discussing

It’s open thread Saturday—you decide!

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Shane McConnell replaces Michael Sykes in Canton Junction

Canton Junction: Shane McConnell, Aaron Crabb, Matthew Hagee, Tim Duncan

Left to right: Shane McConnell, Aaron Crabb, Matthew Hagee, Tim Duncan

Canton Junction announced this afternoon that acclaimed studio vocalist Shane McConnell will be replacing founding baritone Michael Sykes. McConnell has been a studio vocalist in Nashville for fifteen years, and has made frequent appearances on Gaither Homecoming recordings and concerts since 2006.

Canton Junction is based out of Cornerstone Church in Texas; Sykes, who had been on staff at Cornerstone, recently relocated from Texas back to Nashville.

Matthew Hagee, tenor for Canton Junction and Executive Pastor of Cornerstone Church, commented: “Shane is a remarkably talented and incredibly gracious individual, who greatly complements the idea that Canton Junction is where good things come together We are extremely blessed to have him and look forward to what the future holds for Canton Junction.”

McConnell added: “I’ve enjoyed all the opportunities I’ve had in the studio through the years, but now as a member of Canton Junction, I’m especially looking forward to being able to interact with live audiences. I’ve always loved quartet harmonies, but I also have a heart for praise & worship, so Canton Junction seems like a great home for me. I believe it’s going to be a fun journey!”

For many groups, the first personnel change can be a hurdle. This doesn’t seem to be the case here. Canton Junction has had to answer questions of whether they’re just a church quartet—albeit perhaps the most talented church quartet in the country! That they would carry on through a lineup change—especially with the loss of such an acclaimed producer and vocalist as Sykes, and finding a similarly acclaimed replacement—speaks to a certain level of seriousness about the quartet that promises well for their future.

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3:1 CD Review: Canton Junction (Canton Junction)

Canton Junction - Canton Junction3:1 Reviews offer three highlights of an album and one area that could have been improved.

1: Production Quality: This two-disc, twenty-song set sounds incredible. Perhaps it stands to reason that baritone Michael Sykes, who has produced many of the Gaither Vocal Band’s most-acclaimed releases, would bring top-tier production quality to his own group’s album. He does; track and production quality is every bit as strong as you would find on a Gaither Vocal Band release.

What might be surprising is that the vocal performances are actually stronger. Tenor Matt Hagee and lead singer Aaron Crabb both come from family group backgrounds (the John Hagee Family and the Crabb Family, respectively), but both adapt amazingly well to the male quartet setting. Bass Tim Duncan has an almost unrivaled quartet resumé for someone his age; after spending three years as Poet Voices’ final bass singer (1999-2002), he spent eight years with Ernie Haase & Signature Sound (2002-January 2011). When it comes to ensemble sound, Canton Junction is easily in the top five in Southern Gospel (perhaps top three), and also easily the strongest on the progressive end of the spectrum.

In other words, in every aspect except song selection—an area where Gaither has an indisputable advantage by being the most prestigious Southern Gospel artist on the road today—Canton Junction is on par with or even stronger than the Gaither Vocal Band. That is no small feat for a brand-new group on its debut project.

2: Rusty Goodman remakes: Since Michael Sykes is Rusty Goodmans’ son-in-law (he’s married to Rusty’s daughter Tanya Goodman Sykes), it might not be terribly surprising that the album includes two Rusty Goodman songs, “I Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now” and “Who Am I.”

What might be more surprising is what he’s done with them. He has transformed both songs into straight-ahead, in-the-groove, driving quartet harmony songs. They sound like the versions he’s been waiting for a chance to make. He’s honed his skills producing the likes of the Gaither Vocal Band and the Oak Ridge Boys, and he uses those skills to reinterpret these songs for a new generation of fans.

3: Sweeter As The Days Go By: This live version of the song that got it all started for Canton Junction is a sonic delight. Canton Junction’s first (public, released) appearance was with this video—a performance so strong that it earned more than 80,000 views in a matter of months, practically unheard-of numbers in Southern Gospel. It was a pleasant surprise to hear the live version included here.

:1: You can have too much of a good thing: It is entirely understandable why the group recorded twenty tracks. Most groups need that many in their repertoire for live concerts. They probably figured that if they were going to record that many tracks anyhow, they may as well put them all into a two-CD set. Songs like “Dig a Little Deeper,” “Softly and Tenderly,” and “Go, Tell it on the Mountain” will certainly have their place in the live concert setting, but seem out of place here. But had Canton Junction selected the strongest ten or twelve tracks, this would have easily been a five-star recording.

In fact, SouthernGospelBlog.com has only handed out one five-star rating this year so far—to this album of Stamps classics. Had Canton Junction whittled the list down to the ten or twelve strongest songs, this album would have easily been the strongest recording of the year, to date.

Traditional or Progressive: Middle-of-the-road to progressive.

Album rating: 4.5 stars.

Credits: Group members: Matthew Hagee (tenor), Aaron Crabb (lead), Michael Sykes (baritone), Tim Duncan (bass). Produced by Michael Sykes and Aaron Crabb. Mixed by: Pete Greene, Ronnie Brookshire, Steve Allen, and Nathan Zwald. Mastered by: Glenn Meadows. Engineers: David Young, Steve Allen, Robert Smith, Ron Fairchild, Brandon Shattuck, Mark Drury, Mark Capps, Nathan Zwald, Pete Greene, Grayson Rogers, Kendall Ryan, Marshall Young, Cary Smith, Jake Burns, Bob Clark. Assistant Engineers: Taylor Pollert, John Furr, Josh Papp. Digital Editing: Robert Smith, David Young, David Ponder. Recorded at: Difference Media, San Antonio, TX; Cornerstone Church, San Antonio, TX; Square One Studio, Franklin, TN; Sony Tree, Nashville, TN; Beech Creek Studios, Nashville, TN; The Tracking Room, Nashville, TN; Loud Recording, Nashville, TN; SoundShop Recording, Nashville, TN; Classic Recording, Franklin, TN; Sound Emporium, Nashville, TN. Piano, Keyboards: Gary Prim, Gordon Mote. B3 Organ: Gordon Mote, Justin Ellis. Drums: Steve Brewster, Scott Williamson, John Hammond. Bass: Duncan Mullins, Mark Hill. Acoustic Guitar: Joel Key, John Willis. Electric Guitar: James Mitchell, Kelly Back, Jeff King. Steel Guitar and Dobro: Steve Hinson. Harmonica: Randy Miller. Fiddle, Mandolin, Banjo: Bruce Watkins. Violins: Pam Sixfin, Conni Ellisor, Alan Umstead, David Davidson, Kathy Umstead, Karen Winkelman. Violas: Jim Grosjean, Elizabeth Lamb. Cellos: Carol Rabinowitz, Julie Tanner. Strings Arranged and Conducted by: Steve W. Mauldin. Strings Performed by: The Nashville String Machine, Carl Gorodetzky (Contractor).

Song List: DISC 1: I Wouldn’t Take Nothin’ For My Journey Now; Show Me Your Way; Heaven Is; The Son Shines Down on Me; Who Am I; Go Tell it on the Mountain; Coming Home; Softly and Tenderly; The Inviting Christ; My Savior’s Love. Disc 2: Sweeter as the Days Go By; You Are So Beautiful; What a Wonderful World; Glorify; Dig a Little Deeper in God’s Love; Going Home; Since Jesus Came Into My heart; In the Valley He Restoreth My Soul; Hold On; Smile.

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Saturday News Roundup #131

Worth Knowing

  • Inspirations bass player Myron Cook and his wife Jennifer welcomed their fourth child, daughter Abigail (Abby) Elizabeth Cook, on July 17th. She joins brothers Caleb and Josiah and sister Hannah Grace.
  • Canton Junction’s self-titled debut will be available in September.

Worth Reading

Worth Discussing

It’s open thread Saturday—you decide!

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Saturday News Roundup #124

Worth Knowing

  • Canton Junction bass singer Tim Duncan posted an update on his son Breck’s recovery: “He is doing great!! His recovery is amazing. He is able to get around the house with a walker and has even been able to ride into town a few times. He is going stir crazy not being able to get out and go- especially to work! He continues to get cards in the mail. He has read and kept every one of them. He wanted us to say thank you again for all the cards and prayers!”
  • Gordon Mote, who recently launched a solo career, signed with New Haven Records.

Worth Watching

One of the best Kingsmen songs nobody remembers is “Behold the Master Cometh”; it featured Eldridge Fox, and appeared on the 1995 Georgia Live project:

Worth Discussing

It’s open thread Saturday—you decide!

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Saturday News Roundup #121

Worth Knowing

  • Tim Duncan’s son Breck, who was injured in a head-on collision last week, continues to recover. Tim posted a surgery update on Facebook yesterday evening: “Brecks surgery went well. He had broken every bone in is face plus his eye orbits. They were able to repair everything. The surgeons said everything fit back perfectly and they even took pictures of what they are calling thier masterpiece! They said they were shocked at how easy the surgery was! He does have his jaws wired shut. He isn’t happy but he said he is trying to keep a good attitude! I know it is God hearing all the prayers on his behalf! We can’t say thank you enough!!”
  • Former Melody Boys baritone Steven Hickinbotham has joined Spoken 4 Quartet. Former baritone Jeremy Wilkerson, a founding member of Spoken 4, left at the end of 2011. J.D. Miller had filled in in the interim. (Hat tip, Lauren.)
  • Blackwood Legacy has hired Paul Secord as their new tenor.
  • Departing Dixie Echoes pianist Stewart Varnado is doing a clearance sale on his instrumental CDs at his website. [EDIT, 2/22/13: Broken link removed.] He is also selling quite a few Southern Gospel CDs and LPs he’s collected through the years (though you would have to contact him through Facebook or his website’s contact form for details.)

Worth Reading

Worth Watching

Here’s a video of the Collingsworth Family singing “That’s the Place I’m Longing to Go” last weekend:

(Here’s a video from the same event, “At Calvary.”)

Worth Discussing

It’s open thread Saturday—you decide!

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Tim Duncan’s son seriously injured

Bass singer Tim Duncan’s oldest son was in a serious accident; he requested prayer via his Facebook page:

We are asking for everyone to please pray for our oldest son Breck. He had a head on collision this evening and was life flighted to Vanderbilt Trauma Center. He is currently in ICU with multiple facial fractures, fractured foot and fractured L5 vertebrae. We are now waiting to see what time he will be going to surgery. We are praying but we are also THANKING God for having his hands on him today!

Duncan sings bass for Canton Junction and sang in the past for Poet Voices and Ernie Haase & Signature Sound.

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An Interview with Tim Duncan

Tim Duncan

Tim Duncan

Tim Duncan recently launched a solo career. He also recently started performing with a new group, Canton Junction; a recently posted video of the group circulated so quickly that it picked up over 9,000 views in two or three weeks’ time.

Daniel: It has been four years since the last time I interviewed you for this site (September 2007: http://www.southerngospeljournal.com/archives/543). Since that interview, your eight years on the Signature Sound bus have come to an end. Looking back, if you had to pick one moment that most made you say “I can’t believe this is actually happening to me,” what would be that highlight moment?

Tim: Looking over to Bill Gaither patting me on my back saying, “You’re good, you’re good.” I just could not believe I was actually on stage and singing alongside THE Bill Gaither and the Vocal Band!

Daniel: One of the first questions which will be on readers’ minds: How is your health? Due to the mini-stroke a little over a year before you came off the road, there had been some concern over your health back in January.

Tim: I’m so glad you asked me this question. I have heard and read the rumors that circulated after my departure from Signature Sound as being health related. Now, once and for all, I want to say that in NO way was my health an issue. I did have a TIA in June 2009. I was in the hospital for several days, where they ran every medical test they could to see if something was wrong with me. But, there was nothing wrong! It was an isolated incident that the doctor believes came from my recent overseas flight. I was then and still am in great physical health!

Daniel: Your first solo recording comes out next week. Could you shed some light on how you picked songs, and which bass-singing heroes you were honoring with the songs you picked?

Tim: The bass singers I tried to honor on this project are Tim Riley, J.D. Sumner, London Parris, Rusty Goodman, and George Younce. The songs I picked are songs that go back to my childhood, that I sang in church and listened to for many many hours on my dad’s record player. That is where I formed the desire for good southern gospel music. These particular songs were ones that stood out from all the other more popular songs these great men sang.

Daniel: Of any vocal part in a quartet, bass singers typically have the biggest challenge carrying a solo recording and doing solo concerts. How do you plan to compensate for that? Does your past experience singing lead come in handy?

Tim: I started out singing lead, so my focus was on becoming a good singer, not a “bass” singer. When I started singing bass, my voice teacher, London Parris said “Son, you have to be a good singer first. Being able to hit a low note is nothing if you don’t know how to sing.” And that is the most truthful statement I’ve ever heard! My CD isn’t a typical “bass” solo CD. I chose songs that varied in vocal range—I didn’t want to do your typical dragging the bottom notes on every song.

I never even considered doing any solo dates, because I thought bass singers just couldn’t do it. But I’ve realized, after recording this CD, it can be done!

As far as my “solo career”: I am not looking to be a full-time solo singer. I am a quartet man to the bone, so, my main focus is Canton Junction, but I will be doing some solo appearances at concerts from time to time.

Daniel: On “I Will Be Here”—is that really you, in a lead register, or is it a guest vocalist?

Tim: It is really ME! It is a song I have always loved lyrically, and my wife and I had it played at our wedding. We celebrated our 20th anniversary this year, and I wanted to do that song because it says what I feel about her. Before tracking, I was singing at the piano with my producer. He picked the key and I said, “Let’s see how it would sound a whole step lower.”

He said, “No, let’s keep it in this key.”

I said, “Well, how about a half step lower.”

And he still said, “No, keep it in this key!”

And I said, “Ron, I don’t think I can physically do this.”

And he said, “Oh, yes you can, and you will.”

And sure enough, when the day came to record it, I did it and I was shocked that I had that kind of range! I am very proud of this song; I’m glad I did it!

Daniel: Video clips have started circulating of a new group called Canton Junction, with Matt Hagee singing tenor, Aaron Crabb on lead, Michael Sykes on baritone, and you singing bass. How did the group come about?

Tim: I was at the Gaither video taping of the Tent Revival. Michael Sykes came to me and was asking me what I was doing these days; I said, “I’m not sure, I’m just praying for God’s direction.”

He began to tell me about his work in San Antonio with Cornerstone Church and Difference Media and that they had a trio that consisted of Matt Hagee, Aaron Crabb and himself; he asked me if I would like to come down to Texas and just sing at church one Sunday. I did, and it was a hit!

After several phone calls, prayer, and discussion with my wife I accepted the postion and that’s when Canton Junction was born!

I am so thrilled to be a part of this group. You couldn’t ask for better people to be associated with and I look forward to an awesome time!

Daniel: Michael Sykes recently posted on Facebook that a recording and concert dates are in the works. Will the recording feature hymns and classics or new songs?

Tim: Both—hymns and classics and new songs.

We will be touring a limited schedule due to other obligations of the group members. Aaron is the Worship Director at the church, Michael is running the studio at Difference Media, and, of course, Matt is assistant pastor at Cornerstone Church. So, that leaves me open to doing some select solo appearances from time to time. But my main focus is Canton Junction.

Daniel: Will the group only be available for a small handful of dates each year, or will you do a more active touring schedule?

Tim: We will be doing as many dates as we can possibly fit in, but, overall, it will be a limited schedule.

Daniel: What are the best ways for your fans to keep up with your solo touring, and your concerts with Canton Junction?

Tim: For the time being, they can go to my website, www.timduncanonline.com, and sign up for my mailing list so they can keep up with updates about me and Canton Junction!

Thanks for your time interviewing me and I look forward to talking to you again!

Daniel: And, likewise, thank you!

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Canton Junction to record album

Videos have recently surfaced of a group featuring Matt Hagee (tenor), Aaron Crabb (lead), Michael Sykes (baritone), and Tim Duncan (bass.) When I posted one last week, the question on everyone’s mind was whether this group would be a recording group. Via Michael Sykes’ Facebook page, the answer is yes:

Thanks for all the kind words and support concerning Canton Junction. We’re in the process of recording and looking forward to a Spring release.

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