There is little doubt
that HELLO SUNSHINE remains the most unusual and, perhaps,
least known album in the three-decade history of CTI Records.
By early 1972, Creed
Taylor had built CTI Records into the premiere independent jazz label,
attracting the art’s greatest practioners (Freddie Hubbard, Stanley
Turrentine and George Benson) and producing some of the era’s most
His Kudu Records
label, launched only months before in July 1971, also issued a steady
stream of catchy soul jazz records with solid sales that helped build
the whole company (and the renown of Grover Washington, Jr.).
Here, producer Creed
Taylor had come up with the unique idea of combining a jazz soloist
and a gospel choir. Hank Crawford was to be the soloist and Creed
Taylor had selected Nashville’s B. C. & M. Choir as the
saxophonist’s accompaniment. It was unusual for the producer to
locate talent outside of New York City. But the B. C. & M. Choir
Formed in the late
1960s, the B. C. & M. Choir was originally founded as a community
choir that reflected the diversity in the South Nashville community.
Even the group’s name, though never spelled out, stood for the
joining of many churches from the “Baptist, Catholic &
producer Shannon Williams recalls, “was started as an activity for
the youth and church oriented ‘young at heart’ citizens of
the South Nashville community. Many members came from the housing
projects of South Nashville. It was really something to get involved
in since there was not much recreation available to the Black Youths
in those days.”
The Choir became
popular in Nashville’s churches and a local promoter and radio
personality by the name of Brother Henry Edwards brought the Choir to
the attention of Shannon Williams’s Nashboro Records in 1968.
Williams produced the Choir’s first record in June 1968 and recorded
the Choir – and smaller portions of the Choir on many other
recordings. Their most popular recording, “I Made A Vow,” featured
lead singer Regina McCrary, daughter of the late Rev. Samuel McCrary
(lead singer of the famed Fairfield Four), who was 13 at the time and
went on to sing background with such greats as Bob Dylan and Stevie
The B. C. & M.
Choir quickly found itself in demand as a first-call studio group too.
“I was constantly being contacted by other labels and producers,”
Williams relates, “to provide gospel voices for sessions.”
The Choir can be
heard on Ray Stevens’s million seller, "Everything Is
Beautiful," as well as sessions by singer Johnny Cash (Columbia),
pianist Floyd Cramer (RCA) and several other Country music acts.
Numerous television appearances followed, including appearances on
Dinah Shore’s "Going Home" (featuring Jack Benny and Burt
Reynolds) and backing Dolly Parton on a special that included Lucille
Ball and the Fisk University Black Mass Choir, and an appearance in
Robert Altman’s film NASHVILLE.
The choir also
recorded prolifically for the small Nashville-based Creed label (which
has nothing to do with Creed Taylor, including LOOK HOW FAR WE HAVE
COME, GOD’S WILL, DRAW ME CLOSER, LIVE, MY
SWEET LORD) and in May 1972 was invited by producer Creed Taylor
to make the trek from Nashville (by bus!) to Rudy Van Gelder’s
Cathedral-like recording studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, to
participate in an intriguing fusion of Black Gospel and Jazz music.
Don Sebesky, CTI’s house arranger at the time, was invited to bring
the two worlds together.
However, the Gospel
pull was too strong to be overcome by Jazz. Indeed no real jazz
content or jazz soloist is featured anywhere on HELLO SUNSHINE.
The most prominent player outside of the choir and its soloists is the
organist – the choir’s own Gerry Waddell Jones, who passed away in
early 2001 – and received absolutely no credit for his prominent
role on the original LP’s jacket.
The rhythm section
features first-call New York session men including bassist Gordon
Edwards (who bumps and thumps in signature style through “He
Abides”) and guitarist Cornell Dupree (who, with Edwards, went on
shortly after to form half of the super group, Stuff) along with funky
drummer Bernard Purdie.
Don Sebesky laid over
some sparse and soulful horn parts that featured such CTI all-stars as
Joe Farrell on tenor sax, Hank Crawford on baritone sax (not alto
sax!) and Hubert Laws on alto sax (not flute!) – all sounding far
less than their usual distinctive selves here.
The music on HELLO
SUNSHINE was all chosen by the choir – one of the reasons so
many artists have always liked working with Creed Taylor. Some of the
material had been performed by the group on previous recordings
(“Hello Sunshine”) and some of it was all new. It’s a cohesive
testament to the spiritual and sanctifying power of Gospel music.
Jazz fans, however,
may find little here to connect with. Even Shannon Williams was
surprised with the lack of jazz heard on these sides. However, certain
passages stand out for jazz fans. Note Bernard Purdie’s signature
funk-isms on “Hello Sunshine.” Or Gordon Edwards’s bumping bass
work – and Don Sebesky’s wicked horn breaks – on both “He
Abides” and “Climbing Up The Mountain.” And odds are you’ve
never heard “Amazing Grace” rock this hard – or this funky
(something that looks back on the Staple Singers as much as it
prefigures the Pointer Sisters).
Salvation experiment didn’t fare too well for CTI or the B.C. &
M. Choir. CTI collectors didn’t know what to make of it and Gospel
fans outside of New York City probably never even knew the record
existed. Chances are, all 10 copies of this record are difficult –
if not impossible – to find. That’s what makes the return of HELLO
SUNSHINE such a revelation.
Creed Taylor opted to
discontinue the Salvation label until 1974 – never offering a
contract to the B. C. & M. Choir – when he chose the imprint as
a secular way to feature records by CTI artists that were produced
outside of Creed Taylor’s purview (Airto’s VIRGIN LAND,
Johnny Hammond’s GAMBLER’S LIFE, New York Jazz Quartet’s IN
CONCERT IN JAPAN and Gabor Szabo’s MACHO).
resurrected the Salvation label to issue THE POWER THE GLORY AND
THE MUSIC (1982), a collection of previously-issued CTI music
alluding to gospel themes featuring Stanley Turrnetine, Nina Simone
and Hubert Laws, and once more to issue Faith Howard and Visions'
strong, but little known gospel CD, HE’S GOT EVERYTHING
The B. C. & M.
Choir –also known as the B. C. & M. Mass Choir – continued to
record for the Creed label well into the early 1980s, later finding a
hit in "I Made A Vow." The Choir eventually disbanded,
unfortunately reuniting only upon the death of a Choir member.