Thursday, April 16, 2015

Celebrating the Life and Legacy of BILLY RAY HEARN


A Giant has crossed over. 

Billy Ray Hearn passed from this life at 6 p.m. on April 15th surrounded by his family. He died of complications from heart disease. Billy Ray Hearn was 85.
 
Billy Ray Hearn

You know the music of Petra, Randy Matthews, Pat Terry, Nancy Honeytree, Barry McGuire, the 2nd Chapter of Acts, Keith Green, and so many more, due in part to the pioneering vision of Billy Ray Hearn. In fact, Frank Breeden, a past president of the Gospel Music Association said, “If Christian music—of any style or genre—has touched your life in the last forty years, you can thank Billy Ray Hearn.” Hearn spent his life building a far-reaching legacy by marrying message with music...a legacy that will continue to last for generations to come.
 
Billy Ray Hearn with Steve Taylor,
NFL Head Coach Jeff Fisher, and U2's The Edge 
 

Mr. Hearn helped launch modern-day Christian music labels in the 1970s, eventually becoming the founder of Capitol Christian Music Group, the world's largest Christian label. He helped guide the ministries and careers of dozens of artists during his career.

"He was the first true label A&R (artist and repertoire) guy who started the very first professional Christian record company, Myrrh, in 1971," his son Bill Hearn said. “He was a giant of a person; he had so much impact and influence on people in his life and his work. His legacy is going to continue to inspire people for years and years to come."

A Navy veteran and a graduate of Baylor University, Mr. Hearn became a music minister in a handful of local churches before getting a job with Word Records. He was intstrumental in getting Word to release a contemporary “youth musical” called Tell It Like It Is, with its featured song, Pass It On. At that point he felt with certainty that his life's mission was to spread God's Word through music. In 1972, Hearn started Myrrh Records, one of the first labels devoted to contemporary Christian music. In 1976, he formed his own label, Sparrow Records. Myrrh and Sparrow were without question the two most important and influential CCM record labels in the history of the genre.
 
Hearn is a member of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and in 1999 received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Gospel Music Association.


Hearn in the 1970s
 

When asked about the secret to his success, Hearn said, "I've always been led by the importance of doing what God says to do, the importance of the family, and the importance of always doing the right thing, whether it's good business or not." 

 
Billy Ray Hearn accepting an award from BMI

 


Billy Ray Hearn's journey led him to be a leader, a teacher, an artist, a producer, a visionary, and a philanthropist, along with the roles of loving father and grandfather.


 

Here’s what others have had to say:

 
The thing I remember about Billy is that he knew drums and percussion. He was kind enough to give this young drummer advice on how to improve my percussion abilities by coaching me through the entire recording session. I'm very grateful because I think of Billy every time I play Latin percussion. RIP my friend.

Bill Glover
Petra


 
 
 
I am mourning the loss of the wise and gracious mentor who gave me my start in music. Billy Ray Hearn was a man of faith, a visionary enthusiast, and a true American original. 

Steve Taylor

 

 
 
 
 
I credit much of my early days in Contemporary Christian Music radio to the late Billy Ray Hearn, who pioneered Sparrow Records and was Founder of Capitol Christian Music Group. He introduced me to Keith Green and the rest is history, as I eventually moved to Southern California to join Last Days Community. Billy graciously let me use his warehouse to ship out the early Jesus Solid Rock radio show to over 100 radio stations…at no charge. That is the way Billy Ray was, a generous man who loved Jesus Music, loved people, and who encouraged countless young music artists to follow their heart and helped make hearing their music a reality. Blessed to have walked with you, my friend…you will be missed. Rest in peace.

Jerry Bryant
Host and Producer, Jesus Solid Rock and Full Circle

 

 
 
God bless you, Billy Ray Hearn, for hearing my songs and believing in me!

Nancy Honeytree

 
 





I am saddened by the death of my dear friend, and one of the greatest record company owners ever, Billy Ray Hearn. Billy Ray called me on January 9th to console me over the passing of Andrae´ Crouch. He told me that he was gravely ill. I am so thankful that the Bible says "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord."

I love Billy Ray Hearn.

Bill Maxwell
Andrae Crouch & the Disciples, Koinonia, Producer for Keith Green

 

 
 

My mentor and spiritual father in Christian music, Billy Ray Hearn, went to Jesus today. We knew this was coming. Words cannot express my feelings. Joy and sorrow all at once. A treasure chest of memories from the beginning to the end. Recordings in the early CCM days at Sparrow Records, to orchestras in London, LA, and Nashville. He is a dear friend, though now from the lofty perch of heaven.  

Though a lover of the young generation and one of the fathers of Christian Contemporary Music, he was a hymn scholar and lover of classical music as well. He loved great music, melodies, and songs that artistically glorified Jesus. Such men are rare indeed in Christian music today. 

Earth is sad for now, but Heaven is already dancing.
 
John Michael Talbot


I don't think there's a single person who's more responsible for the existence of the form of gospel music I'm a part of. He was, to the end, a guy who loved music, loved the artists and loved the message like nobody else.
Steven Curtis Chapman




Billy Ray was a great friend and had an incredible impact on me and so many others.

Michael W. Smith






 Now with the Lord - Billy Ray Hearn. If you've all ever been blessed by, or even just listened to CCM - you've been touched by Billy Ray. Heaven's choir is a bit brighter today!! I'll miss you my friend. See you by and by.
Terry Talbot





  

I am so saddened by the death of my friend, mentor, and one of the most intuitive and bright music men on the planet, Billy Ray Hearn. Thankfully I got to talk to him in January about what he meant to me and how he believed in me, and all that he had done for me. He gave me a chance as a songwriter, a producer, and as an artist - and his word was his word, which is so uncommon in this industry. So thankful for his life...

Billy Smiley
White Heart




Saying goodbye to a key business pioneer of Christian music. Many good memories with Billy Ray and family. Prayer for them all today from Nelly and I.
Steve & Nelly Greisen
[The 2nd Chapter of Acts]







 Mourning the loss of Billy Ray Hearn, legend and pioneer in Christian music. Billy Ray was the one who believed in me and brought me to the US.
Sheila Walsh






In the 70s, when Billy Ray Hearn launched his visionary label, Sparrow Records, he opened the door for me and every other Christian artist to record contemporary faith music. Even though I spent the first 30 years of my career signed to his biggest competitor, since 2008 it has been my great honor to record for Sparrow Records. Over the 35+ years I have known Billy Ray he has taught me many things. Giving back was the foundation of his very large and beautiful life. What I remember most about a person is the way I feel in their presence. Billy Ray always made me feel like the belle of the ball. I miss him already...
Amy Grant




 

Printed below is a short "autobiography," an edited version of an interview by Robert Darden, Associate Professor of Journalism at Baylor University for a book that he is writing. It is Billy Ray's story and is well worth the read.
 
Enjoy.   
 
 
I was raised in a Southern Baptist family. Mother played piano and organ for church services in Calvary Baptist Church, Beaumont, Texas. One uncle was a Minister of Music and Education and two other uncles were Baptist Pastors.
 
The Hearn family in the 1960s
 

Even though I lived in a Christian home and my life style was what you would say was Christian, my faith was not important to me until I was in the Navy, age 17-19, stationed in Pensacola, Florida. Dr. Wallace Rogers, Pastor of the First Baptist Church, influenced me greatly and under his mentoring I dedicated my life to Music Ministry. After discharge from Navy in 1948 I entered Baylor University, Waco, TX to earn a Bachelor of Music degree in Church Music. My faith was very important to me while a student at Baylor. I was very active in the Christian community of the campus: A member of the original BRH Choir, first student to lead the hymn singing in the Baylor Chapel services, active in the Baptist Student Union.
 
 
 

My first “jobs” were directing music in churches (FBC Hearne, TX) and leading music for Youth Revivals sponsored by the Texas Baptist Convention Youth Dept. in the summers of 1949 and 1950. US Navy called me back to service for Korean Conflict (Jan 1952) and stationed me in San Diego, CA. While there for 16 months I served as Min. of Music at the Highland Ave. Baptist Church, National City, CA. As a Minister of Music I expressed my faith and beliefs regularly hoping to influence other people to give their life to Jesus Christ. After being a Minister of Music in several large churches for 15 years, 1954-1968 (Trinity Baptist, San Antonio, North Ft. Worth Baptist while doing graduate studies at the Southwestern Baptist Seminary Ft. Worth, Baptist Tabernacle, Atlanta, GA, and First Baptist Church, Thomasville, GA) I was hired by Word Records, Waco to be Director of Music Promotion in 1968.
 
 

For the first 4 years at Word I helped establish Contemporary music in the church helping Ralph Carmichael, Kurt Kaiser by promoting their Youth Musicals Tell It Like It Is, Natural High, and the Jimmy Owens musical Come Together to the evangelical churches. I began producing children and youth musicals for Word which developed into me founding the Myrrh Records label for Word (1972). The motivation and mission of these endeavors was evangelistic, especially to young people.
 
These works were very successful both commercially and spiritually. The Myrrh label introduced an entirely different style of Christian music to the world. The artists were mainly part of the Jesus Movement taking place in the whole country but especially on the West Coast. This movement was evangelistic in nature. It was born out of the "Peace, Flower Child and Hippie" movements. Jesus was the answer to their search for the meaning of life so they wrote music to express their newfound faith. It spread nation wide during 1970 to 1972 causing the establishment of huge Jesus Music festivals similar to Woodstock in the secular world. Many of these festivals are still annual events attracting as many as 35,000 young people.
 
As a leader in the commercialization of this music I was able to work with many artists and youth leaders of the churches trying to make this music and movement effective in winning young people to Christ. We were taking the gospel message to the current culture in their style of music. Throughout history, music has been a viable and effective tool to win people to Christ and teach the gospel truths. The first hymns were radical in the church but Martin Luther used them very effectively to teach his doctrine to the masses.
 
My own faith and commitment to minister was the motivation in all these developments. I felt God had "called" me to do this, however many times I felt like Elijah crying in the wilderness. The "establishment" or the traditional church was slow to accept us. I would have quit and gone back to being a Minister of Music in a local church had I not thought that God wanted this to happen. Being a choir director was a lot easier but not nearly as rewarding.
 
During the four years as head of the Myrrh label at Word I made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot of things not to do if I was to stay true to my spiritual mission. I was in a leadership position with no models. The label and I both slipped into a more commercial attitude and sometimes began producing product for the wrong reasons. This caused me to want to "start over" and do it on my own and do it right.
 
In January, 1976 I left Word and founded Sparrow Records in Canoga Park, CA. with the financial backing of a publishing company called CHC Corporation. The motto or mission for the new record company was "Quality Contemporary Christian Music by artists who lived the life they were singing about." My goal was to have a label of artists who were very ministry minded. That is born out by the list of our first few artists: Second Chapter of Acts, John Michael Talbot, Terry Talbot, Barry McGuire, Janny Grein, Keith Green and the Agape Force who produced the history making children’s album "The Music Machine".
 
My religious belief or God’s will for my life had come to fruition. I was confident I was put in that place to do exactly what I was doing. The days as a Minister of Music and Word had prepared me for this day.
 
As to the "business" side of Sparrow Records, I was totally unprepared. I was a "musician." I had no knowledge of balance sheets, P&Ls, debt ratios, cash flow, etc…Fortunately the investors, the CHC corporation, had a very good staff of "back room" people. They began teaching me the business side. God gave me a good brain for logic and math. I learned very quickly but was still an amateur. There was never a question in establishing company policies in regard to paying royalties and other bills. We would be totally honest and Christian in all our dealings and contracts.. We were determined to build integrity and we did.
 
When I became 100% in control of the company I hired a wonderful Christian businessman, Gene Holloway of Newport Beach, as my consultant and teacher in the ways of running a business. We met regularly.
 
I used a dedicated Christian man, Bentley Mooney, as my corporate lawyer. The accounting firm was also a group of fine Christian men, especially Marlin Summers. My business affairs lawyer, the one who wrote my contracts, Richard Green, was a newly converted Christian with years of great experience in the secular record business. He became one of my most trusted spiritual advisors and still is to this day. We established a fairness in our artist contracts that set a new standard. In other words I surrounded myself with like-minded business people. We were always striving to "do what is right" no matter whether it was good for the business or not.
 
One instance was when our largest selling artist, Keith Green, came to me and asked out of his contract which had two years commitment remaining. He said to me that God had called him to move to Texas and establish the "Last Days Ministry" and that he wanted to give his albums away for donation instead of selling them at a price. He did not believe we should "sell the gospel." Of course I could not "give" albums away and keep a business running. But I believed that if God was truly calling him to establish such a ministry I could not stand in the way. I released him believing that if God was in this, He would take care of me and He did. He sent me Steve Green and others to make up the lost sales very soon after.
 
My concept of Sparrow Records was that it was NOT a "ministry" to the people. Our place was to minister to the artist and they in turn ministered to the people. We provided a good record company as the platform from which the artists could launch their ministry. We were not a church. We strived to be a good business run by Christians based on Christian principles and ethics.
 
Some of our artists and employees thought that we should be like a church. I was not a pastor. On some occasions employees and artists thought I should excuse poor performance because we were a "Christian" company and that I should be more compassionate and forgiving. Dropping an artist after they were no longer contributing to the success of the company, even though they were still effective as a ministry, was difficult for me to explain. I could not jeopardize the solid base of the company for one artist because we were committed to supporting all the other artists. Most of the time the artist in question had come to a place in their career or ministry where they could do as well or better some other place or they needed to reevaluate their situation. Sometimes what they needed to do was produce their own records and become independent of a record company. Sometimes I advised them to start their own record company or label. Looking back, almost every one of the artists I gave this advice to became more successful and happier that way. It was always a painful and disappointing time for them and me but in the end they saw that it was best.
 
As to ineffective employees, the old saying comes to mind. "Too heavenly minded to be earthly good." This may sound harsh or unchristian but poor work cannot be excused because they are a dedicated Christian or work in a company run by Christians. We are competing against "the world." We cannot be anything but the highest of quality in our work or product.
 
In January 1991 we moved the company to Nashville. In 1992 EMI, the large music company out of London, came calling wanting to buy the Sparrow Corporation. After a lot of counsel and prayer I sold the company in October 1992. In 1996 I had to have double by-pass heart surgery and I almost never went back to full time work. My son became the CEO and President and is carrying on the spirit of the company as it was in the beginning and doing a wonderful job. I am now called "Chairman" of EMI Christian Music Group which is really an honorary title but I do special project for the company from time to time. The most successful being "50 Most Loved Hymns." It was marketed by Capitol Records through Television sales.
 
My first advice to young people entering the business world is that you need to follow the "passion" that God put in you. What you are passionate about is probably what you do best and that is where you will probably succeed. And, the term "success" should not be judged in monetary terms. Happiness and the sense of doing what God put you here for is most important. God does not give you talent and not expect you to use it. But, God does expect you to get the best education possible and develop your talent.
 
Always try to recognize your shortcomings or weaknesses and align yourself with people who can cover you. Do not be afraid of admitting your weaknesses. People are always willing to help when they know you are open to help. One of my legacies is that I hired the best people possible to surround me in my company. I hired very qualified people and then let them do their job. I am not a micro manager. The executives of EMICMG are still young thinkers and great professionals. They have built the best company in the industry. It was never about MY ability or ME.
 
For the young person at the "entry" or junior executive level, I say do not get impatient or anxious to move ahead of yourself. You always need time to develop your skill and create your network. You must be good at what you do at your present level before you can move to the next. Time is on your side. I was 46 years old when I founded Sparrow Records. The track record and the relationships I built were my greatest assets. I constantly hear and see young executives that want to do what I did and do it now and they are still in their 20s. Patience is a great virtue.
 
Love God, life, family, work hard, do good work and be enthusiastic. It is contagious. And He honors it.
 
- Billy Ray Hearn
 
Billy Ray Hearn. 1930-2015.
 
 
 

 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

#59 ONE MORE SONG FOR YOU by The Imperials (1979)

ONE MORE SONG FOR YOU by The Imperials (1979)
Dayspring - DST-4015
How much difference can a producer make? 

Well, suppose I told you that the producer in question cut his teeth as a session player for Steely Dan. What if I told you that he has produced critically acclaimed albums for Clint Black, Michael Bolton, Debby Boone, Steve Camp, Peter Cetera, Christopher Cross, Amy Grant, Benny Hester, Whitney Houston, The Jacksons, Cliff Richard, Rod Stewart, Donna Summer, and Trisha Yearwood? What if I told you that he produced number one records in three consecutive decades and has won multiple Grammy and Dove Awards? 

Back to the original question: Can a producer really make a substantial difference in an album? When the producer’s name is Michael Omartian, the answer is an emphatic ‘yes.’ 

As groups go, The Imperials had already lived several lifetimes before they crossed paths with Omartian. They began as an all-star Southern Gospel quartet, the brainchild of the legendary Jake Hess. When Hess retired due to health concerns, the group continued and over a period of several years morphed into a trend-setting modern Gospel group, forsaking old traditions and attracting new listeners along the way. The hair grew longer and the stage clothes began to reflect the styles of the times (yikes!). They started covering Jesus Music standards and spiritually aware pop songs, and eventually ended up backing Elvis Presley in Las Vegas. Then in 1972, Sherman Andrus smashed the color barrier when he was hired as the group’s baritone singer.  
L-R: Joe Moscheo, Jim Murray, Sherman Andrus,
Terry Blackwood, Armond Morales

The “Andrus-Blackwood years” were very good to the group, resulting in award-winning albums produced by the likes of Bob MacKenzie, Gary S. Paxton, and Phil Johnson. But all good things eventually seem to come to an end. Terry Blackwood needed to leave the road following the death of his father; Andrus left the group shortly thereafter. Benson Records later talked the two into forming a group of their own, hoping to keep some of the audience that was so loyal to The Imperials…because The Imperials were headed to Word Records.  

Enter two new singers and a new producer. Chris Christian was a fellow with a growing reputation as an excellent producer. He would produce or co-produce the group’s next 3 albums.  

The Imperials hired David Will as their new baritone. Originally from Benton Harbor, Michigan, Will looked and sounded a bit like Kenny Rogers. He would remain a fixture with The Imperials for the next 24 years, singing signature songs for the group such as Bread Upon the Water, Pieces, and You’re the Only Jesus.  

Meanwhile, the group decided to take a gamble by hiring as their new lead singer an unproven young man from rural Arkansas. His name? Russ Taff. 
L-R: Jim Murray, Russ Taff, Armond Morales, David Will
The son of a Pentecostal, alcoholic preacher man and a Gospel music-loving mom, Russ Taff was encouraged early on to honor God with his voice. And he became aware as a small child that when he sang, people responded.  

“God put something in me when I was a kid,” Taff recalls. “He gave me a gift and a talent, and I feel like it’s my job to protect it and watch over it and let Him lead and guide it.” 

As a teenager, he formed a group called Sounds of Joy, and started experimenting with Christian music that didn’t sound at all like his mother’s Blackwood Brothers and Statesmen records. In what had to be a divine appointment, Taff’s group was booked one night to serve as the opening act for a concert by The Imperials. Two years later, he was offered the opportunity to become the Imps’ new lead singer.  

“I was so green,” Taff remembers. “But the Imperials handed me the opportunity of a lifetime, and I was thrilled to be able to do what I loved to do.”  

With Taff and Will in place, the stage was set for The Imperials to enjoy the most successful era of their storied history. Armond, Jim, Russ & Dave finally completed the group’s lengthy transition from a Gospel quartet to a pop/rock vocal band that would set records in terms of radio airplay, concert attendance, music industry awards, album sales and critical acclaim.  

It all started with a misstep, however. 

The Imps went into the studio with Gary S. Paxton behind the console, and delivered an album that left the studio executives scratching their heads. Now known as The Lost Album, it has been immortalized as one of “The 101 Strangest Records on Spotify.” Described as deep-space-blues-meets-lightweight-supper-club-funk, it was considered less than Imperials-worthy. Studio heads knew that the first post-Andrus & Blackwood album had better be good...and this thing was downright weird in places. Legend has it that the master tapes were intentionally “lost” and the Imps were ordered back into the studio to make an entirely different album, this time with the aforementioned Chris Christian turning the knobs and calling the shots. The result was Sail On, a record that one reviewer described as “a notch above The Lost Album in just about every way that counts.” [By the way, The Lost Album was finally “found,” packaged, and released 30 years after it went “missing.”] 



In ’77, ’78 and ‘79, the Imperials worked with Chris Christian to release Sail On, Imperials Live (1978) and Heed the Call. Songs like Sail On, Bread Upon the Water, Water Grave, Praise the Lord, and Oh Buddha became huge hits, and Russ Taff became a Christian music star. But it was the group’s next two albums that would forever solidify Taff as one of the best white, male blues singers alive. 


Michael Omartian
Michael Omartian was tapped to produce and arrange what would become the breakthrough album for The Imperials, 1979’s One More Song For You. Omartian employed a stellar lineup of A-list session players, but made Russ Taff’s voice the most important instrument on the album. He also brought a really strong group of songs to the table (many of them written by himself and his wife Stormie). John Styll has said that Omartian’s production skills gave the Imps “unprecedented credibility” and a “sound that kicked in the afterburners at the peak of their popularity.”  

The Imperials seemed to realize that they had been given a tremendous advantage with the skills of Omartian, his musicians and writers, and they took advantage of the situation. The result was what David Lowman has described as “a classic” and “a monster album.” Styll called the album “a turning point.”  

It’s been said that One More Song For You and its successor, Priority, were recorded in Omartian’s “basement studio” on “tight budgets.” If that’s true, it makes the end result that much more impressive. 



The record opens with the bright, sparkling, slightly disco-influenced What I Can Do For You, a song penned by Team Omartian. Taff takes the lead on the verses, while Jim Murray sings the bridge. They were able to add some bass lines toward the end of the song for Armond Morales. 

I’m Forgiven, with lyrics written by Bruce Hibbard, immediately follows and contains a contagious groove that’ll stay in your heart and head for hours at a time. Russ sang lead on this one as well, and it became a #1 hit on CCM charts. Jim Murray again shines on a line or two. 

The tempo slows with the beautiful and stirring All My Life. A piano-and-strings ballad, it was tailor-made for tenor Jim Murray. The lyrics were vintage Stormie Omartian: 

All my life
Never knowing what I was reaching for
Never could I find any reason for
Always feeling somehow there must be more  

Then there came a light
Searching out my heart in the blackest night
Touching me with love that I knew was right
Lord of all, filling all my life
All my life

Looking back 
Jesus through my life You were everywhere
Picking up the pieces I'd scattered there
Holding them for me ‘till my heart could care
You gave me life
You made my spirit new
Now I give all my life to You

Yes, my Lord 
You were everything I was searching for
You were every dream I have dreamed before
Now everyday of life is worth so much more
You gave me life
You made my spirit new 
Now I give all my life to you 





Smooth, 70s pop was back with Living Without Your Love, another song that featured Jim Murray. This song was penned by Tom Hemby (not to be confused with Ron Hemby, who would later be a member of The Imperials). Living Without Your Love could have easily been a hit song for the Bee Gees. 

Side One concludes with a song written by Russ Taff and his wife Tori. The ethereal Eagle Song, with its deep lyrical theme, was one of the record’s highlights: 

I stood and watched an eagle fly
Spread his wings and soar across the sky
So gracefully he flew
Rising effortlessly
I wanted to know just how to be free

Tiny fingers curled 'round mine
Perfectly formed; newborn
The image of two
Infinite mystery
I wanted to know where life comes from

What human intellect can't sway
Must be explained away
Earth wisdom, religions of men
Search without end to fill the spirit house within
Simplicity of God somehow escapes man

I reach for the Eternal One
Creation He was waiting to reveal
His purpose in me
He said this is where life begins
I made your spirit to glide on the wind

Come, let's fly on the wind
Come on, let's fly on the wind
On the wind
 

The close vocal harmonies on Eagle Song brought to mind some of the group’s earlier offerings. The vocals on that particular song were arranged by Russ Taff, Bill George and Charles Davis. 

There are no jaw-dropping instrumental performances on One More Song For You – which is as it should be. The focus is on the singers, and the music serves the vocal performances. But that is not to disparage the studio players in any way. It really was a ‘who’s who’ group of session players, including Abraham Laboriel, Paul Leim, Kim Hutchcroft, Victor Feldman, Marty Walsh, and Michael Omartian himself. John Guess, Jack Lees and John Banuelos engineered the record; Guess also mixed it.  

Side Two kicks off with another Omartian-esque pop song titled Closer Than Ever. Taff sings lead, while the choruses seem to feature Jim Murray and one or two female backup singers. 

The title track was an anthemic, piano-based ballad that featured David Will. It was one of the record’s more memorable tracks – and contained a melody with a higher-than-average degree of difficulty.   

You were there with Your songs of laughter
Words of hope for my fears
But what are songs when no one will sing them
What are words when no one hears
There were times life became a question

When I asked, no one knew
‘Till I found the answer in You

Love is in the air around me
Hope abounds everywhere
Living life in the arms of Jesus
Learning how to really care
Every day is filled with purpose
All the old is made new
And I know I owe it all to You
  

As long as there is time
And one breath left in me
There will always be one more song for You
As long as there is room
For one more voice in praise
And a need for a word of love and truth
To help my brother through
There'll be one more song for You

Well, the record had to have at least one rock and roll track, right? Why not a Denny Correll/Darrell Mansfield cover! Taff rips and burns through Higher Power, and the electric guitars are freed a bit. This is another one of those tracks that’s retro-fitted with some bass vocal lines so that Armond Morales isn’t left to twiddle his thumbs over in the corner.  




A cover of Michael & Stormie Omartian’s More Like You wraps up the album all too quickly. This is more vintage, radio-friendly, 70s pop. It’s what Omartian knew how to do better than anything else. Laboriel’s bass parts stand out on this cut. 




Russ Taff truly became the dynamic, distinctive voice of the group on this record, and Michael Omartian gave him room to do just that. As David Lowman wrote, Omartian’s production and arrangements gave the album “an authenticity that kept them from sounding like a Southern Gospel Quartet trying to be cool.” Taff took his role seriously and really took things to a new level.


The Imperials would continue in this vein a year later, again with Omartian producing, on an album titled Priority. Taff would soon be called “the single most electrifying voice in Christian music” by Billboard Magazine.

"Russ truly puts his soul into his music," writes Robert Oermann, contributing editor at Music Row magazine. "I know everybody throws that word around loosely, but in his case, it really is the truth. He is just head and shoulders above anybody else as a vocalist."


Russ Taff today
Crosswalk.com wrote in 1999 that Taff was deserving of every scrap of acclaim heaped on him.

“There’s a real fire in his belly," adds Marcus Hummon, a Taff friend and songwriting collaborator. "I don’t know anyone who lights up a microphone with the kind of authenticity Russ has. You can feel it."

During Taff’s tenure with The Imps, the group recorded seven albums, broke down barriers, and had a tremendous impact on Christendom. By 1981, it was time for Taff to go solo, and time for The Imperials to turn another page and keep right on ticking.
The Imps were more than a group, they were a dynasty…one of the most successful franchises in the history of CCM. Like a lot of great sports dynasties, such as the New York Yankees, New England Patriots or Alabama Crimson Tide, The Imperials didn’t fold or go into a “rebuilding” mode; they simply reloaded!
Paul Smith was welcomed aboard and they really didn’t miss a beat for the next several years. They got back to a more direct approach to group vocal harmony and a renewed emphasis on ministry. Meanwhile, Russ Taff recorded a string of amazing albums throughout the 1980s and beyond. 

Michael Omartian
Over the years, the numbers for The Imperials are impressive: 

• More than 40 albums

• Fourteen #1 songs

• 4 Grammy Awards

• 13 Dove Awards

All of which makes them one of the most popular Christian music groups ever. 

They received an assist in 1979 from a gifted and creative producer who understood them well and helped them flourish.