Song Snapshots #22: We’ll Meet Again (Palmetto State Quartet)

Song Snapshots is a column featuring the stories behind new and classic Southern Gospel songs.

In the 1990s, Ray Scarbrough was a member of the Southern Gospel group The Supernals. He left the group at one point; when he returned, they had nearly completed a new album, but were still one or two songs short. He brought “We’ll Meet Again” to the group, and they recorded it.

“We ended up having some minor charting success,” he recalls. But the song’s biggest success was yet to come; the Palmetto State Quartet recorded it on their 2004 album It’s Settled.

Palmetto State’s version featured the group’s baritone singer, Tony Peace. “Tony’s rendition of it knocked it out of the park for me. I’m humbled by it.”

Incidentally, “We’ll Meet Again” wasn’t Scarbrough’s only cut on It’s Settled; the group also cut “I’m On My Way.” “I’m not the song factory yet that other people are,” he notes, “but when I get my cuts, usually I get multiple cuts on an album somewhere. I’m honored to say, if there’s one Ray Scarbrough cut on there, there’s usually another one on there!”

It’s Settled came out during a period in Scarbrough’s life when he had walked away from any active involvement during Southern Gospel songwriting. One day, a lady showed him a polaroid picture of a tombstone. “The headstone read, ‘We’ll Meet Again,’” Ray recalls. “She said, ‘My daughter passed of leukemia, and that was her favorite song ever.’”

“If I never got a trophy, but if I had that polaroid picture, what I wouldn’t give…that means as much to me as anything.”

“It’s strange,” he adds; “it’s one of those little lures that God uses to bring you back. That happened to be one of those things that God was using to bring me back to the music that I love.”

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Song Snapshots #17: Face to Face With Grace (Dove Brothers)

Song Snapshots is a column featuring the stories behind new and classic Southern Gospel songs.

Chris and Kim (Ryan) White are both respected leaders in the Southern Gospel industry; Chris leads Sonlite Records, a division of Crossroads, while Kim is a noted video producer.

Several years ago, after Kim’s father passed away, someone asked her how she was doing. She said, “Oh, I’m just face to face with grace.” The line stuck with her, and she mentioned it to her husband. Chris, in turn, mentioned it to Ray Scarbrough—a long-time friend, and one of the songwriters with his publishing company, Chris White Music Publishing.

“People call me and say, “Hey, I’ve got a song idea,” Ray recalls. “I can’t shake it out of my head when they do that!”

“I could sympathize totally with Kim, he continues, “because shortly before that, I had buried my dad. There’s that period of time shortly following the death of a loved one, we know what sustains us. We identify with grace.

“When we have gone through one of those situations, we can put our arms around somebody and say, ‘I know exactly how you feel.’”

Several years later, the song’s story would come full circle in an unexpected way. Two years before he married his wife, Candy Muncey Scarbrough, she had lost her three-year-old son. “Face to Face with Grace” ended up ministering deeply to her in her grieving process.

“It’s funny how God used it, in His foreknowledge,” Ray recalls. “He had Kim tell Chris, Chris tell me. God inspired me to write the song that was going to be a huge difference-maker in the life of my wife, when I didn’t even know she was going to be my wife.”

“We didn’t meet because of the song, either,” he continues. “That’s what’s so strange.” Today, Candy sings the song with Beautiful, a female Southern Gospel trio she performs with.

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Song Snapshots #8: Glory to God (The Talleys)

Song Snapshots is a column featuring the stories behind new and classic Southern Gospel songs.

In the late 1990s, Southern Gospel songwriter Ray Scarbrough hosted Holy Land tours. He wrote “Glory to God in the Highest” on a hotel room balcony on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Eastern Gate of the Old City.

“One morning,” he recalls, “I woke up on the Mount of Olives in the hotel that I was staying in, going out on my balcony before dawn. Later that day, we were actually supposed to be visiting the shepherds’ field in Bethlehem. I was pondering what actually happened at that place.”

His songs have a recognizable fingerprint. “The way that I learned how to write is to have a Biblical message in the first verse and a practical message in the second verse. The chorus always has this nice little bow that ties everything together.”

But he had an idea that would make the song unique: “While I was there in Jerusalem, my intent was to actually find somebody to actually translate a chorus of it into Aramaic. The problem is, given the fact that it’s an ancient language, if you can find somebody who actually speaks Aramaic, they likely as not couldn’t write it or translate it for you. So the easiest thing for me to do was have someone translate a chorus of it into Hebrew.”

The Talleys recorded it on their 2000 It’s Christmas album. Roger Talley discovered the song when he produced an album for a group Scarbrough ran, Lion Heart. “I knew I had Roger coming in to produce,” Scarbrough recalls. “I was trying to draw from his strength as a producer in writing the songs. I was aiming for material that that more progressive Southern type material like the Talleys would do.” It worked; the Talleys ended up cutting two other songs from that Lion Heart album, “Pray” and “There’s Not a Cry.”

Scarbrough recalls that the Talleys recorded the track with the specific purpose of including it on a Gaither Christmas video taping (Christmas: A Time For Joy, released in 2001). Bill Gaither, as he recalls, prompted a change in the song’s title. “The original title was actually ‘What I Had Been.’ I think it was Gaither’s idea to title it ‘Glory to God’ and make it sound more Christmasy.’” (“What I Had Been” is the chorus’s closing line; “Glory to God” is its opening line.)

Mike Speck also released the song as a Christmas choral arrangement.

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Song Snapshots #7: I’m Saved (The Wilburns, The Old Paths)

Song Snapshots is a column featuring the stories behind new and classic Southern Gospel songs.

Ray Scarbrough began writing songs when he was singing with a Tennessee-based quartet, The Supernals. The group competed in the 1989 National Quartet Convention talent show, singing “I’m Saved,” and placed second.

Winning that competition spurred Ray to become an active songwriter. “Up to that point,” he recalls, “we sang top 40 hits. That provided us with a little more national exposure, so that we were going to need some original material. I felt like I could do that, and I started to write from there.”

After placing second, they also signed with Sonlite Records. Ray recalls that he had already been friends with Sonlite Preisdent Chris White for years: “He actually produced my very first album when I was nine years old. I was singing with my mom and sister at the time. He owned a little recording studio, Angel Recording Studio, in a double-wide trailer in Maryville, Tennessee. He’s been family ever since.”

“I’m Saved” was Ray’s first cut by a major group. The Wilburns cut it on their 1994 album Some Things Never Change. (It was one of the last recordings Jonathan Wilburn would make with the Wilburns before leaving for Gold City.)

At the time the Wilburns recorded the song, they were still with MorningStar. Ray recalls that MorningStar executive Davie Wilcox “was making a strong push for my publishing. And I’ve been like, ‘No, I’m loyal to Chris.’ My career relationship is on a handshake; there are no contracts.” He is a Chris White Music Publishing writer to this day; dozens of his songs can be heard here.

The song was recently brought back by The Old Paths, who recorded it on their 2012 album Right Now.

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Song Snapshots #6: I Want To Be That Man (Brian Free & Assurance)

Song Snapshots is a column featuring the stories behind new and classic Southern Gospel songs.

Brian Free & Assurance’s current radio single, “I Want to Be That Man,” was co-written by Ricky Free and Lee Black. Neither are newcomers to the group’s music; Free is tenor/manager Brian Free’s son, while Black co-wrote a song that was on the group’s debut project. In fact, that song, “Flood the Altar,” was Lee Black’s first professional cut. He co-wrote the song with Sue Smith and David Moffit—both of whom remain good friends and co-writing partners to this day.

Lee Black co-wrote “I Want to Be That Man” with Brian’s son, Ricky Free, last summer. Brian’s father (Ricky’s grandfather) had passed away several months ago. Black and Free started talking about that loss and about their own families. Ricky and Kelly Free were expecting their own first child in a month or two. “I was just thinking about my own kids,” Black adds,” wanting to pass on to them things that had been handed down to me. We were thinking about these things, talking about heritage and leaving a legacy. I don’t remember how it happened or how that title even popped out, but it started from that standpoint.”

When Brian Free first heard the song demo, he didn’t know who wrote the song. The song’s message of faithful fatherhood stirred his heart, and he knew he had to record it. As he says when introducing the song live:

When I first heard this song, I immediately thought of my father. My father passed away almost two years ago. My mom passed away a few months after that. But Dad was a great example for me, growing up, and my brothers—a wonderful Christian man that I’ll never forget, and I know I’ll see again. In this day and time, men, fathers, and husbands—more than ever, it’s so important that we understand the legacy we leave behind, and what we do on a daily basis with our children—the things they see, the things they hear. The things that we do, how we respond. I’m far from perfect; I make many mistakes. I’m a work under progress. But tonight I can truly stand here and tell you that I want to be a man that would be an example to my sons.

When he checked the lyric and found out that one of the co-writers was his own son, he was even more deeply moved.

Brian Free & Assurance picked the song as the debut radio single from their current record, Nothing But Love. “It really surprised me,” Black recalls, “because it feels so much like a Father’s Day or Promise Keepers kind of song.”

Cross and Heaven songs are always safe picks for Southern Gospel radio singles, Black observes. “My wife kids me that I’ve written ‘Settled at the Cross,’ ‘Beneath the Cross,’ ‘At the Cross’—you name the preposition and I’ve written it! There’ll never be enough cross songs.”

A song about faithful fatherhood is an unusual pick for Southern Gospel radio, but early feedback indicates the song is resonating with listeners and reviewers as deeply as it did with Brian Free. It has only been on the chart for two months, and is already at #13 (December 2012 chart).

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Song Snapshots #4: He’s My Song

Song Snapshots is a column featuring the stories behind new and classic Southern Gospel songs.

The Old Paths recorded “He’s My Song” on their latest recording (Right Now, 2012). The song dates back to the mid-1990s, when its writer, Ray Scarbrough, recorded it with his group, The Supernals.

The Supernals sent the song to radio stations in their region of Tennessee. (Scarbrough recalls, “It didn’t do a lot of good to send it out to Seattle, Washington, when we’re not working out there.”)

One night, the Supernals were singing at a little country church in Tennessee, and sang the song. After the service was over, the church pianist approached Scarbrough, saying, “I want to talk to you about that song you all did tonight, ‘He’s My Song.’ My husband was the pastor at this church. Here a couple of months ago, he takes off with another woman. He left me here with these kids.”

“As I pulled in the parking lot, I could just feel every eye looking at me. I’d slide in on the piano bench, and I’d just feel everyone staring. It was just tough.

On Saturday nights, she would dread going to church the following morning, and would contemplate ending her life. One Saturday night, she recalled, “I got myself a pistol, and I loaded it, and I put it on the nightstand. I told myself, ‘I’ll put this pistol on the nightstand. And when I wake up in the morning, I’ll reach over before I have a chance to talk myself out of it, get the barrel to my head, pull the trigger, and it’ll all be over with.’”

The following morning, her alarm clock radio woke her up. The song the station was playing was “He’s My Song.” After hearing it, she decided against committing suicide.

“In the end,” Ray Scarbrough comments, “I just want to reach as many hearts and lives for Christ as possible. The songs filter through me first; if they help others like they help me, I’m grateful to have the opportunity to be able to do it.”

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