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Bourbon and Rattlesnake – The Attractions of Southern Gospel Music
Am I the only person in Australia who loves Southern Gospel music?
Presumably not. The catalogues of local Christian bookstores carry full selections of all the Gaither Homecoming recordings. Someone must be buying them.
Yet I don’t think I’ve met anyone else here who’s even heard of Southern Gospel music, let alone is a fan. My church, like numerous Australian Baptist churches, is pretty heavy on the praise and worship songs that come out of Hillsong Church in Sydney (particularly since ours used to be the home church of one of their top songwriters, Reuben Morgan). Mention Southern Gospel and they think you mean When the Saints Go Marching In.
It was through Gaither Gospel Hour programmes on local cable TV that I discovered Southern Gospel. The first time I watched I assumed I was viewing a church service. “That’s the church I want to join,” I told my wife. Later I realised the programmes were made in theatres or studios.
A part of the travelling Gaither extravaganza hits Australia in November. But they’re stopping over for one night only at the Sydney Opera House – a concert and video recording – ignoring their fans here in Melbourne and elsewhere in the country. Maybe there aren’t that many of us, after all.
What’s the appeal of Southern Gospel?
At first it was the music: bouncy New Orleans jazz fused with country, often spiced with Barbershop Quartet-style harmonies.
But then it was the lyrics. None of the warm-milk, koala-like fluffiness of contemporary praise and worship. This is bourbon and rattlesnake – songs from the gut that stab our hearts with messages of sin and fall and redemption and of crossing over to our eternal reward. Rockers like Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis were weaned on these lyrics. They’re songs about the difference that Jesus makes in our lives. Does anything else matter?
After I discovered Southern Gospel I began listening via streaming audio on the web. I bookmarked two sites, Solid Gospel radio and the Gospel Lighters radio programme. The latter is a real find. It’s a 30-minute weekly show from Duane Smith of the Clinton Free Will Baptist Church in Indiana. I’ve no idea what Free Will Baptists are, but if they have Duane Smith as their pastor they have to be on fire. He confesses that sometimes the spirit takes him over, and you can hear it on some of his shows - impassioned, hellfire preaching mixed with raw and gutsy music.
Duane hadn’t updated his website for quite a while. Then last month he added a new show, and some bad news. His mother had died – the show was dedicated to her. And he was running out of money to maintain his programme. He might have to close it down.
For all I know he has closed it already. I hope not. He needs prayer and donations. Please support him.
September 24th, 2002