I am not religious, but I love Gospel music. It’s funny, I find religion interesting, I just don’t have any religious feeling. The only time I come close to understanding what people get out of religion is when I’m listening to Gospel. I’ve always wanted to attend a black church just to listen to the music. I never do it, though. I’m sure they would be friendly and welcoming. I just feel like I would be misleading them to go without any intention of listening to their message or believing in any of their doctrines. So, I get my Gospel fix through records.
My collection includes forty-three pieces. I feel like I’ve missed some, but forty-three is what I found. There’s not a bad one in the group. That has to be some combination of luck and conservatism in my choices. Luck is just because in most types of music, I run into established classics that I don’t like. That hasn’t happened with Gospel. Conservatism just comes down to the way I select my Gospel recordings. I always have a reason for my purchases. I’ve never picked a random title because I liked the cover or anything like that. It’s also the only part of my collection where I don’t have any freebies.
My Gospel collection can really be split in two. I have a group of classics and a group of Sacred Steel. The classics are things like Mahalia Jackson, Rosetta Tharpe, the Soul Stirrers and the Dixie Hummingbirds. I really don’t see how a human being with functional ears can not like these. They are that good.
Sacred Steel is almost as good as the classics. It’s something that Arhoolie Records started putting out in the late nineties. I read a review back then, I think in a blues magazine, of this new Gospel music. It came from a few churches that couldn’t afford organs or pianos for their music. So, they bought steel guitars instead. I like steel guitars, so I gave it a shot and fell in love with it. In a lot of ways, it is like traditional Gospel music. But the steel guitars don’t just act as accompaniment. They are lead voices, too, and often just as gritty and ecstatic as the singers. Robert Randolph is the most famous musician to come out of the Sacred Steel tradition. If you don’t know it, it is absolutely worth your time.
Gospel certainly isn’t one of the biggest parts of my collection, but I had a lot of fun going through it. It seems that most of the Gospel artists could have made it in more popular genres from Blues to R&B to Rock & Pop. They stayed in Gospel because, for them, it’s a calling. As a result, there’s just so much passion in the music. It’s truly wonderful.