Arden, North Carolina (March 24, 2023) — One can hardly begin to count the ways in which the world has changed since 1959, yet at least two things have been constant from then until now: the already timeless message of the Christian Gospel, and its powerful delivery through the music of Southern Gospel greats, The Kingsmen. Now, as their newest lineup prepares for its full-length debut release later this year, the legendary quartet and their label of some 30 years, Horizon Records, offer Decades, a stunning 2-disc retrospective full of highlights from that storied career, some neglected treasures — and the reappearance of some of the group’s very first recordings, unheard for over 60 years. The album is out now.
“For the last couple years, we have been trying to get into the studio and re-record some of our favorites,” says baritone singer Alan Kendall. “Yet due to timing never quite being just right, we came to the decision that we would rather focus our recording efforts toward recording more new material.
“However, when Drew Laney, Thomas Nalley, and Cole Watson joined us, we began looking for some Kingsmen material from years past that we felt would fit them stylistically — and wound up thinking that re-releasing some of these old favorites in their original form would be something that the fans would enjoy. We have not only selected some of the greatest hits of the Kingsmen, but also some of those ‘forgotten gems’ that we felt needed to be heard once again.”
“We also came across a 1959 EP on 45RPM, while visiting at the home of original baritone Raymond McKinney, with music that hasn’t been heard in over 60 years: Reece McKinney, bass; Raymond, baritone; Frank Cutshall, lead; Jack Henderson, tenor; and Eldridge Fox at the piano. This early quartet, even under such primitive recording conditions, was an outstanding singing group, and we are thrilled to add all four of these largely-unheard performances to the collection.”
“In 1959, the Kingsmen were appearing regularly on WHBK Radio in Marshall, NC, and performing whenever we were given the opportunity,” recalls Raymond McKinney. “We would rehearse at my house weekly, and one night, we recorded four songs during one of these very rehearsal sessions. We had no idea what lay in store for the Kingsmen in the years ahead, but I am fully convinced that God has had His hand on the Kingsmen ministry from the very beginning. I hope you enjoy this collection of music by the Kingsmen Quartet down through the years, including the four songs from 1959 which have not been heard in more than six decades.”
Opening with one of those precious historical recordings, Decades winds through the years, sampling the group’s supremely rich catalog of long-retired and still active songs and lineups, right up to the current decade’s previously-unreleased “Shaking Off The Clay,” recorded during the session for 2021’s More To The Story. Mixing studio performances with spirit-filled live recordings that range from the homespun classic quartet sound to elaborate arrangements, it’s both a reminder of The Kingsmen’s unique legacy and contribution to Southern Gospel, and a token of contributions still to come.
Listen to Decades HERE.
About The Kingsmen
For more than half a century, no other group has secured such a far-reaching legacy as that of The Kingsmen Quartet. Since 1956, this group has risen from humble beginnings in the mountains of western North Carolina to become one of the most beloved and innovative groups in Christian music. Countless renowned artists have been a part of this great lineage, such as Eldridge Fox, “Big” Jim Hamill, Ray Dean Reese, Squire Parsons, Johnny Parrack, Anthony Burger, Ernie Phillips, Gary Sheppard, and a host of others. The momentum has not stopped as this group continues to help define the Southern Gospel genre for a whole new generation of music lovers, perhaps more so than any other group.
In the mid-fifties, brothers Raymond, Reese, and Louis McKinney formed a gospel group, traveling locally throughout the western part of the Carolinas and completing dozens of recordings by the late 60’s. By the early 70’s, area natives Eldridge Fox and Ray Dean Reese joined this emerging quartet and in 1974 released their first live recording, “Big & Live” consisting of Fox, Reese, Jim Hamill, and Johnny Parrack. This Dove award winning album brought to gospel music, fresh arrangements and catchy melodies that would later become southern gospel classics, such as “Glory Road,” “Look for Me At Jesus Feet,” and “Love Lifted Me.” This would be the start of many legendary live albums for the Kingsmen. Traveling with a live band, the Kingsmen became one of few groups during this era to be able to perform with three to five musicians, granting them individuality and innovation in the industry.
Always seeking to have a creative edge, they began introducing themselves as, “The Ton of Fun.” Through the late 1970’s and 80’s, more hits were churning from albums such as “Chattanooga Live,” “Live Naturally,” & “Live at The University of Alabama.” These albums combined with high energy and up-tempo music brought music lovers an exciting brand of showmanship. Songs like, “Old Ship of Zion,” “Shake Hands with a Poor Boy,” “Beautiful Home,” “Saints Will Rise,” and “Child, Child” became gospel music staples. In 1981, “Excuses” became the Kingsmen’s biggest hit of that era; it was steady at number one for 18 months, making it the longest running number one song in Southern Gospel Music history.
The successes of The Kingsmen have led to many prestigious opportunities. In 1977, The Kingsmen performed on the south lawn of the White House for President Jimmy Carter and in 1982 they performed at the opening ceremony of the World’s Fair in Knoxville, TN which was broadcast on local and regional TV, with President Ronald Reagan present to open the fair. The Kingsmen was also the first group to film and record a live performance at the famous Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and in 2000 they were inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame followed by the Christian Music Hall of Fame in 2008. They’ve garnered multiple dove awards and numerous Singing News Fan awards including favorite bass vocalist, tenor, baritone, lead, instrumentalist, video, the 1992 favorite song “Wish You Were Here” as well as favorite album by the same name, male quartet of the year, and group of the year. The Kingsmen band was voted favorite band a record 17 times making this quartet one of the most awarded groups in Southern Gospel Music.