Tuesday, June 6, 2017

#40 TAKE ME BACK by Andrae Crouch and the Disciples (1975)

TAKE ME BACK by Andrae Crouch and the Disciples (1975)
Light Records - LS 7025
"When I turned it in to the record company, they thought it was a mishmash, that it had no continuity. Which was true, in a way. There was a lot of discussion that it was not going to be successful. The actual feeling I got from the record company was that I had kind of taken Andrae, who had a niche and was starting to sell records, and I had ruined him. The blame was placed on me."

-Bill Maxwell,
co-producer of
Take Me Back

Uh-oh. This doesn't sound good at all. (Spoiler Alert: the story does have a happy ending.)

AndraĆ© Edward Crouch was born on July 1, 1942 and went Home on January 8, 2015. Referred to as "the father of modern gospel music," he was a singer, songwriter, arranger, record producer and pastor who made a mark and left a legacy unlike that of any other Christian artist. He was, perhaps more than anything, a bridge-builder...connecting diverse people groups through the anointing of the Holy Spirit and God-given gifts and talents. The worlds of Black Gospel, Jesus Rock, Southern Gospel, CCM and multiple musical genres in the secular arena were all bridged and brought closer together as a result of the efforts of this one man. 

In a previous post we've explored Andrae's upbringing in the Church and the miraculous story of how he initially discovered his ability to play the piano. We also took a look at the formation of a singing group called the COGICs. Enter Jesus Music visionary Ralph Carmichael. The COGICs gave way to the Disciples, and the rest is history. 

Andrae's smile was engaging and his personality appealing...but most of all, it was the songs that made the impact. Those powerful, hook-laden, anointed songs. Songs like The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power...Through It All...I've Got Confidence...I'm Gonna Keep On Singin'...It Won't Be Long...I Don't Know Why...You Don't Know What You're Missing...If Heaven Was Never Promised To Me...Bless His Holy Name...Jesus is the Answer...and My Tribute (To God Be The Glory). 

Recently, I had the privilege of speaking with two of Andrae's longtime friends and musical mates, drummer and producer Bill Maxwell and Fletch Wiley, who played horns for Andrae and helped arrange the music on Take Me Back.

Bill Maxwell and Fletch Wiley today

Bill and Fletch played in a band together in the early 70s; Andrae heard them and decided that maybe it was time to add some white guys to the Disciples. 

"I had dedicated my life to the Lord in 1971 and we had a band called SonlightHarlan Rogers, Hadley Hockensmith, Fletch Wiley and myself," Bill Maxwell said. "Andrae talked us into coming out and being his backing band while still doing music on our own. 1972 is when he finished Soulfully. We did Just Andrae in '72 also. So those three records were very close together - Just Andrae, Soulfully and Live at Carnegie Hall. Everything was happening so fast."

"When we first joined Andrae," Fletch Wiley recalls, "he was telling people all about us, what a fantastic group we were and how they needed to book us, and all that. We stayed at his home one time when we were playing Magic Mountain (a Disney-type place outside of LA). He gave us his master bedroom and he slept in the living room on the couch. That's the kind of guy he was." 

An invitation was extended for Bill and Fletch to actually become part of Andrae Crouch & the Disciples. 

Fletch Wiley said that traveling with the Disciples was exciting, but challenging. "I was married with a one-year-old son," he said, "so it was very hard being gone that long. After 9 months we moved back to the Dallas area where my wife was from, so that she had some support. I would fly out and meet the bus and travel with the group, then fly back home." 

Although "contemporary Christian music" was still very new, Fletch Wiley said people were always enthusiastic about Andrae and his music: "He had a great sense of humor and really put people at ease. And he was constantly writing songs. He just loved people and would never say no to a request for his time. I ended up being with him from 1972 to 1976." 

L-R: Perry Morgan, Fletch Wiley, Bill Maxwell, Andrae Crouch, Bili Thedford,
Sandra Crouch & Danniebelle Hall

Maxwell and Wiley soon discovered that being on the road in a full-time touring ministry left little time for recording.

"We started working on Take Me Back in 1974," Maxwell recalls. "Because Andrae toured so much - you know, we were on the road maybe 250 days a year - so it was just whenever we could get back in the studio and work on it some more."

Bill Maxwell had a growing network of musician friends in Oklahoma, Texas and California. He was tasked with putting a good team of players together for the Take Me Back project.  

"Before I was a Christian I played a lot in Texas," said Bill, "and I had friends that were from Texas and attended North Texas State University. One of my friends at NTSU was a saxophone player and guitarist named Dean Parks. Dean and I were very close. When I became a Christian I moved to Los Angeles but I still stayed close with Dean. One of Dean's good friends who came out to play with him for Sonny & Cher was David Hungate. He was a friend of Dean's and Fletch Wiley had known him, too. So I hired Dean and Dave, and then I had always liked Joe Sample, so I hired Joe Sample and got Wilton Felder to play bass. Billy Preston was Andrae's friend, and he played organ on the song Take Me Back. So that was my job, to hire the musicians. I picked who was going to play on the album."

Bill Maxwell

Having never produced an album before, Maxwell was not initially listed as a producer on the project. But Andrae Crouch saw something in his young drummer and encouraged him in a way that opened up new opportunities for him from that time forward.

"I thought, initially, Andrae just wanted me to hire the band," Bill said. "Then after I hired the band, on days that they were going to work on background vocals or something, he'd say, 'Well, aren't you gonna come to the session?' And I'd say, 'Well, you know, you're producing it.' And it was a fight to let him produce it. The record company did not want Andrae to produce this record. Andrae was supposed to be the producer, and they didn't want to let him. But because Live at Carnegie Hall had become successful - and the record company had no involvement in that whatsoever - they had to let him do it. And then Andrae turned to me and he said, 'Man, you're producing this record more than me, so I'll split the credit with you.' And so he split the credit, that's what gave me credit as producer. And that's what got me started."

[Bill Maxwell went on to produce records for Danniebelle Hall, Phil Driscoll, The Winans, Helen Baylor, Denny Correll, and Jessy Dixon. Oh, yeah...he also produced a handful of albums for a singer-songwriter by the name of Keith Green.]

Fletch Wiley

I asked Fletch Wiley how he ended up arranging several of the songs on Take Me Back

"I think Andrae was impressed that I had a degree in music," Wiley said with a smile, "so he asked me if I could arrange music. Of course I said, 'Yes!' The truth was I had never done a recording like that, on that level. When I flew out to do the session, I was so nervous I left all the music in Dallas. My wife had to drive to the airport, go to the counter and send the music on the next flight. And it made it!"

Eventually, Wiley calmed down a bit. "It's always helpful if you get the best musicians in the world to play your arrangements," he explained. 

"I think I arranged about half the record and Larry Muhoberac did the other half," Fletch recalls. "Larry was an amazing piano player, arranger, and writer, and very seasoned -- he had played with Elvis' band, and was a first call session player in LA. But none of us had ever done a record like this: using the best players in LA, and recording in layers -- first the basic tracks, later the horns, strings and overdubs, then the vocals, and finally the mixing and mastering. Ralph Carmichael had always done Andrae's records with the entire orchestra in the room at the same time -- very old school, a la 40's to 60's. Which was great fun, but this was the new era of recording -- better isolation of instruments and making sure everything was as perfect as we could get it. Seems like now everybody records only one instrument at a time!"

L-R: Bili Thedford, Mike Escalante, Sandra Crouch, Danniebelle Hall, Andrae Crouch,
Perry Morgan, Bill Maxwell, Jimmie Davis and Fletch Wiley

After a few decades now in the producer's chair, Bill Maxwell listens to Take Me Back and hears a few things that he doesn't particularly care for.

"The Take Me Back album is really overproduced for me," he acknowledges. "I don't like everything with big strings and horns, because Andrae's music was very intimate in a live setting. We didn't always have horns and we didn't have strings, it was much smaller. So Take Me Back was a little bit over-arranged in some ways for my tastes, but the basic sounds were really good." 

"I totally over-arranged the basic tracks," admits Fletch Wiley. "I even went so far as to write out bass lines for Wilton Felder, who was also an incredible tenor sax player with the Crusaders. He was very kind when I apologized. I said, 'Just play the changes; you know what to do.'" 

Take Me Back opens with a musical statement of faith titled I'll Still Love You. Featuring Bili Thedford, this one takes a few unexpected musical twists and turns along the way. It's basically a musical re-telling of Romans 8:39.

Even when the cold winds blow
Dear Lord, I want You to know
I'll still love You, Lord
Oh, I'll still love You (love You)
Even if I stumble and fall
My friends don't answer my call
I'll still love You, Lord
Oh, I'll still love You

Nothing shall separate me from Your love
Nothing on earth below or nothing above

That's followed by Praises, a worship song way before worship was cool. This one featured Andrae directing traffic (much like a modern worship leader) and a solo by his twin sister Sandra. 

Fletch Wiley playing with Andrae Crouch & the Disciples

The third track was a bona fide hit (if there was any such thing in 1975). The Second Coming of Christ was a central theme during the Jesus Movement, and this song joyfully proclaims that Jesus is coming back for us...just like He said He would! 

Just like He said He would
He's comin' back for me
In the twinklin' of
In the twinklin' of an eye
Just like He said He would
He's comin' back for me
He's gonna take me to my mansion
Take me to my mansion in the sky

He said, If I go away
I'm comin' again someday
To receive you unto Myself
But while I'm gone away
I'll be buildin' you a place
And I'm comin' back
To take you there, oh
Take you there
Oh, I'm gonna take you there
Oh, but when you hear the trumpet sound
That's when the dead in Christ, they're gonna rise
We shall see Him in all of His glory
In the twinklin' of an eye
We shall meet Him in the sky
(Hallelujah, glory, hallelujah)...

"Just Like He Said He Would gives a little bit of the feeling of Andrae live," said Bill Maxwell. "We put horns on it, but it was still a bit more like hearing the band live." 

The indomitable spirit and crystal clear voice of Danniebelle Hall also shine on this track. In his autobiography, Andrae called Danniebelle "a real prayer warrior." 

"Having somebody that can hit those high notes I write reminds me of the good memories when the COGICs sang together," he wrote. "Danniebelle is always an encouragement to everyone else in the group."

A very nice string section leads into All I Can Say (I Really Love You), a song that gives veteran Disciple Perry Morgan a chance to solo, along with Danniebelle. It's what I call a "testimony song" and sounds for all the world every bit as good as anything on the mainstream R&B radio airwaves in 1975.

Closing out Side One was a shuffle titled You Can Depend On Me. This one picks up the tempo a good bit; it features Andrae on lead vocal and contains a very tasteful piano break. 

Take Me Back was recorded at Mama Jo's in North Hollywood; it was engineered by Bill Taylor, Chuck Johnson and Tom Trefethen (Taylor served as the mix down engineer). 

A small army of established session players helped shape the sound of Take Me Back. In addition to the excellent musicians already mentioned were guitarists David T. Walker, Fred Tackett, Mike O'Neil and Larry Carlton; keyboardists Larry Muhoberac and Tom Hensley; and percussionists Burleigh Drummond and Gary Denton. Phyllis St. James and the Christ Memorial COGIC Radio Choir added some extra background vocals. The horn section consisted of Ernie Watts on sax and english horn; Fred Jackson, Jr. on saxophone; Charles Loper and George Bohanon on Trombone; and trumpet players Chuck Findley, Dalton Smith, and Mark Underwood. Mike Granger handled synthesizer programming. What a lineup.

Of course, The Disciples played on the album, too. Andrae played piano, organ and synthesizers, with sister Sandra on tambourine, Fletch Wiley on trumpet, Bill Maxwell on drums and Bili Thedford adding some percussion. Andrae, Sandra and Bill Maxwell played some additional percussion instruments as well. 

Andrae Crouch arranged the vocals, while most of the musical arrangements were handled by Andrae, Fletch WileyLarry Muhoberac, and Clark Gassman.

Thel Eichmann designed the gatefold album cover, while the late Bill Grein (husband of Janny) took the iconic cover picture. The sepia-toned photo of Andrae and crew standing in front of an old country church made for one of the better album covers in 70s Jesus Music. I asked Bill if he remembered anything about the photo shoot, and about that church in particular.

"I remember everything about it," he answered, wistfully. "That was my grandfather's church. I'm from Oklahoma but my grandfather was from Tennessee. My grandmother was from Alabama and they lived in Athens, Tennessee for a time. And when the depression hit, the steel mill closed and they had to look for work and they moved west. He went west until he could find a job, and that was to Oklahoma City. But we always went back to visit. In the summer we'd go to Tennessee and we'd stay in Athens and we would go to this church, Union Chapel Methodist Church in Athens, Tennessee. And so, when we were playing in Nashville we had a few days off and we decided to get Bill Grein to do the album cover. I had met Bill and we started talking. Andrae said, 'We're gonna call it Take Me Back, so it'd be great if we had some old country church.' And I said, 'I think I know a place.' And so Bill Grein and I went out and scouted it and we found the church. And it was a gatefold album cover, so it opened up where you could see the cemetery beside the church, and a lot of my family's relatives were buried in that cemetery. So that was my grandfather's church and his parents' church."

Thanks to google maps, I can report that the church still stands today. If you're ever out in the country, a little northwest of Athens, Tennessee, you might want to drive by and visit a place that's part of Jesus Music history...maybe stop and take a selfie.  

Side Two begins with Billy Preston's organ and the album's title track. It's a classic that has stood the test of time.

"We tend to get secure and stop depending upon God for future things," Andrae wrote in his autobiography, Through It All. "We can start coasting because He has blessed us. The sensitivity and motivation for the Lord are lost. When a person reaches a height where he is out of the hustle and feels secure in God, it tends to make him let down his defenses and forget the Scripture that says 'in all Thy ways direct my path.' Then Satan can attack. So we constantly need to keep reviving that freshness of that first love for Him. That's why I write songs like Take Me Back, because I do not want the Lord to ever let me get to a place where I'll forget that everything depends on Him. Everything."

I feel that I'm so far from you, Lord
But still I hear You calling me
Those simple things that I once knew
The memories are drawing me
I must confess, Lord, I've been blessed
But yet my soul's not satisfied
Renew my faith, restore my joy
And dry my weeping eyes

I tried so hard
To make it all alone
I need Your help
Just to make it home

Take me back
Take me back, dear Lord
To the place where I first received You
Take me back
Take me back, dear Lord 
Where I first believed

A 12-member choir from Andrae's denomination - the Church of God in Christ - provide backing vocals on this song, and Danniebelle Hall delivers one of her most powerful performances on lead vocal. "I think the song Take Me Back stands up really well," Bill Maxwell said. "It stands up with what it says, and it stands up harmonically and melodically." 

Next up was a song about love. The Sweet Love of Jesus was led vocally by Andrae and featured the great Larry Carlton on guitar.

It Ain't No New Thing had a little sass and swagger; it was an answer to critics of Spirit-led worship and spiritual gifts. These were topics that were controversial in some circles, even in 1975, but Andrae seemed happy to address them head-on. 

"I kind of liked It Ain't No New Thing because it had that Dixieland sound," Bill Maxwell told me. "We took a song called It Ain't No New Thing and turned it into an old thing! I hired Dean Parks to play clarinet (he was a guitar player) and David Hungate, the bass player, played trombone. We kind of created a Dixieland horn section." 

You may think the Jesus Movement 
and the Jesus revolution
Is a new thing
But Jesus started moving
A long time ago

The healing of a man just by
the laying on of hands
That ain't no new thing
No, that's the way Jesus did it
A long time ago

Oh, hallelujah, hallelujah...

The charismatic, charismatic, 
Charismatic experience
That sure ain't no new thing
'Cause it started in the Upper Room
A long time ago

He can open the blinded eyes
He can raise the folks who've died
That ain't no new thing
'Cause Jesus started movin' a long time ago
I said Jesus started movin' a long time ago

Maybe somebody should send an mp3 of It Ain't No New Thing to Pastor John MacArthur. Just for fun. 

I asked Bill if It Aint' No New Thing was the first song to ever use the term 'charismatic experience' in the lyrics. "Yeah, maybe so," he replied, "But Andrae was not ashamed of that. And neither am I."

The group went from New Orleans jazz to Memphis blues with They Shall Be Mine. Andrae sang lead on this one, while Mike O'Neil turned in an understated, bluesy guitar solo. "I did like the sound of They Shall Be Mine because Andrae had never done anything like that before," Maxwell said. "It was definitely blues, and he had never even ventured into that realm." 

A really cool analog synthesizer reminds us that it's 1975 and kicks off the uptempo Oh Savior. This one tells the story of a healing from the Gospels, and how we can still depend on God to touch us today. Danniebelle shows out a bit toward the end of the song.

Take Me Back concludes with one of the record's standout tracks, and one of the most powerful and memorable songs on evangelism ever recorded. "Tell Them was a great song," Bill Maxwell said. "A little overdone with the mandolins, but it was a really good song and I thought Danniebelle sounded great on it. Take Me Back was the first Andrae record that featured her. She had been touring with Andrae, though.The first time I heard Andrae was right after we had come to the Lord in late 1971, and Danniebelle was traveling with Andrae then. He would bring her out to play a few songs on piano and then she would join him and sing with him."

L-R: Carol Owens, Tramaine Davis, Andrae Crouch & Danniebelle Hall

The entirety of Andrae's work made it clear that he cared very much about witnessing to the lost; this song placed that theme front and center. In his 1974 autobiography, written with Nina Ball, Andrae penned these words:

I remember the words of Jack Hayford, my teacher at Bible college: "If you don't get down and weep for souls two to three times a week, you are going to get cold. Get on your knees and let God break you and let those tears stream for souls -- souls that are lost, and things that you have yet to accomplish for the Lord."

"By the end of our concerts the Gospel was always presented," said Fletch Wiley. "Every song was a testimony about the Kingdom of God."  

Danniebelle Hall delivered another anointed performance on this song.

Tell them
Even if they don't believe you
Just tell them
Even if they don't receive you
Tell them for me
Please tell them for me
That I love them
And I came to let them know

Tell them
When it seems you are forsaken
Just tell them
Though it seems your earth is shaken
Tell them for me
Please tell them for me
That I love them
And I came to let them know

Tell that lonely man who walks the cold streets all alone
Tell that crying child who doesn't have a home
Tell those hungry people, dying, lost and in despair
They don't even know that I care

Oh, won't you tell them on the streets and on the highways
Compel them, and even on the bi-ways
Tell them I can mend the broken hearted
Restore the ones who have parted
And I came to let them know
(I came to let them know)
And I came to let them know

Bill Maxwell told me that an album like Take Me Back would never even get made today.

"No. Nobody would let you do an album like that today," he stated, emphatically. "Because every song was totally different. It had no center. You know, you might have Dixieland; you might have something that sounds Hawaiian; you might have something with mandolins or something with steel guitar; then you'd have big horns and strings, and then you have basic blues like They Shall be Mine. And it was extremely broad musically. But Andrae's feeling - and my feeling - was 'wouldn't it be great if we could do any kind of music as long as the message is driven straight out of the Word?' There was no barrier in style of music. So we did a very eclectic album. There was a lot of different styles." 

And that's when the trouble began.

"When I turned it in to the record company, they thought it was a mishmash, that it had no continuity," Maxwell said. "Which was, in a way, kind of true. And I said, 'But I think people will like it because there's a lot of styles of music on it and the words are good - people can relate to the words.' And so there was a lot of discussion that it was not going to be successful. The actual feeling I got from the record company was that I had kind of taken Andrae, who had a niche and was starting to sell records, and I had ruined him. And the blame was placed on me. I was taking this personally and I was hurt." 

"But Andrae said, 'I don't care what they think, I like the record. It's my record and I'll do whatever I want.' 

"And that was generally his feeling, and he was right," Maxwell said.

"I had to admire Andrae," he continued. "At the point, I started working in television with Andrae, we started getting some of the same pressures and Andrae just said, 'I don't care what they think. We're gonna do our best and just let it go.' I still try to have the attitude that I have to trust what I'm doing is right. I have to pray about it and just do it. You know, the record's company's job is to tell you what's wrong with whatever you're doing. They always want to point out what's wrong so that it justifies their position over you. Very rarely do you turn in anything and everyone gives you all positives. If you go to a meeting, they don't sit down and tell you what you did right, they tell you what you did wrong. And that doesn't work for music. It doesn't work because it kills your spark, it kills your joy. And Andrae really had the ability to just separate that and say, 'I don't care. We'll just do it.' 

Bill Maxwell was a young man of 22 or 23 at that point, just getting started in music ministry and in the music industry; suddenly he was dealing with 50-year old suits and ties at the record label challenging him on everything. 

"It was a battle," he acknowledged, "but it was rewarding because it paid off. People were touched and that music became a part of their life and it's still around. And so, for that part of it, I just give it to the Holy Spirit because He's the One who guides, He's the One who touches it, and He's the One who makes the music live. We can't do anything like that. And there was a lot of prayer and dedication, saying, "Lord, take it. Use it."  

"We were just trying to do something good - as good as we could within the amount of money they would give us to do it," he said. 

Imagine what the guys at the record company must've thought when Take Me Back won a Grammy Award - a first for Andrae Crouch & the Disciples

"Yeah, we were in Des Moines, Iowa the night it won," Maxwell remembers. "We didn't think we were going to win, so we didn't go to the Grammy's. We were on tour." 

"It certainly was an honor," Fletch Wiley said, "but back in those days only the leader got the actual Grammy Award. We just got a nice plaque!" He smiled and added, "If we ever got too big headed, God was always quick to burst that bubble."  

"It was just a very special time in Christian music," Wiley continued. "I don't think we knew that Take Me Back would be such a ground-breaking record. We just wanted to make the music as great as we could. It seems to be one of those timeless records that still has an impact today. Andrae's music will live on; just hearing all his old songs in 2015 at the memorial concert and home-going that we did for him was so inspiring." 

Indeed, Andrae Crouch went Home on January 8, 2015, but not before touching untold millions of people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He is remembered as so much more than a recording artist. He's remembered as one who bridged the gap between black and white Christian music and one who revolutionized the sound of urban Gospel music...more than a piano player, a minister who always pointed people to Jesus...with a joy and an enthusiasm that was infectious and contagious. His songs have become staples in churches, in hymnals, and in the hearts of people around the world. 

Speaking of the reach and influence of Andrae's music, Bill Maxwell had one more story to share...

"I'm producing a Norwegian artist right now," Bill said. "She's a big star in Norway, has been for a long time. She also sings some Christian music, but she's more of a Barbara Streisand type singer. Incredible singer. But she flew me to Norway to meet and go over ideas for the album, and we went to her farm which is about a couple of hours north of Oslo, out in the country. And she said, 'There's this little church here that was built in the 1600s and the vicar, the pastor of this church, knows your music and he'd like to meet you.' And I went into this church, and it was a real old church and where the pastor stood, it was like something up above where he looked down on you and spoke. It was very beautiful, traditional wood. And he goes to the piano and he starts playing all Koinonia songs. So he's playing Koinonia songs and then he starts playing Andrae Crouch songs. So there I was, in this little tiny town in the middle of nowhere, and that music has traveled all the way over there."

"That's the Lord," Bill said. "That was just the Lord showing me that He takes things and uses them in ways that cause them to stay alive."


  1. Just like the guys in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, skin color has nothing to do with talent. Pastor Crouch is to be thanked for recognizing that so many years ago.

  2. I was 13 years old when "Take Me Back" was released. By this time, I was "on board" with AC&D since I 10 and heard "Take The Message, Everywhere."

    This was music that not only encouraged and inspired me as a teenager, but made me discriminating in my musical tastes with the position of, "I don't need 'the World's Music', 'cause Christian music sounded JUST as good!

    It also gave me the desire to go into Christian radio. THAT wasn't such a good idea, because of the dynamics of the times and how Contemporary Music in the Black Church was still held in contempt. So I'm making up for it now, 40 years later, by producing my own internet radio show - The Take Me Back Music Show" - of course!

    1. Awesome! I'm an old radio guy, myself. I kind of miss it every now and then.

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