“Excuse me, sir, are these seats taken?” I asked a gentlemen sitting on the front row Thursday afternoon at the Memphis Quartet Show. After shaking his head no, I turned to Melissa (my dear friend who drove up from Mississippi) having a pretty good idea of what her answer would be when I asked if she wanted to sit there. For two Booth Brother Fans, finding front row seats in the center section of a general admission matinee was absolute heaven!
For those curious, I first met Melissa in 2010 at the Mark Trammell Quartet Homecoming. The Booth Brothers were singing that night and my sister and I “just happened” to find two open seats in a completely full auditorium next to Melissa in a pew towards the front – that night, a friendship began that turned into a strong bond; and even though we live a wee ways from each other, we find plenty of excuses to see one another throughout the year – Gospel Sings, being chief among them! Melissa is a big Booth Brother fan and drove up for the matinee where the BB’s would transform into a traditional quartet for the afternoon. For the last year, whenever the Memphis Quartet Show was promoted, we heard about the special matinee where Gene McDonald would sing with the Booth Brothers and a live band for this very special afternoon. Looking back, I now know that no one (but the artists themselves perhaps) could have imagined the success of that concert! It was history in the making! And here’s what happened…
A few minutes before the matinee was scheduled to begin, Danny Jones walked out on stage and made some announcements. Getting the crowd to interact, he began to find out who traveled the farthest by asking how many miles folks came. There were fans from Arizona, a couple people even came 2000 miles, but when he asked if anyone came 3000 miles, there was one voice that answered. The audience became very still and silent to hear what country was represented. With all ears listening, a lady called out, “Sweden!” Danny went on to say how they really, really wanted to make the afternoon extra special for her…so they were going to let her come up and sing the first song! Her quick wit answered, “Then I’m from El Paso!” LOL “It doesn’t matter where you’re from,” Danny said, “We’re glad you’re here.” Then he brought board member Jimmy Blackwood up on stage to open with a word of prayer.
“As many times as I have introduced this group, I never thought I’d introduce them this way,” explained Danny Jones, emcee of the afternoon matinee on Thursday, “Ladies and gentlemen, for the very first time in Memphis, Tennessee make welcome the Booth Brothers Quartet!” A cheer rose across the crowd as the Booth Brothers took the stage with Gene McDonald singing bass, Nick Bruno playing the piano, Cory Pearson playing bass guitar and Randy “Scoot” Shelnut tapping the drums. The first song they sang was His Hand In Mine – Jim was featured on the second verse. A good bass solo, Roll On Jordan, followed. “Hello Memphis!” Michael shouted in greeting. After a few words to the audience, Michael wanted to give Gene the opportunity to share some thoughts with the crowd. He did, then turned to the other guys and mentioned that in all the quartets he sang in, everyone wore the same tie. “I thought you would have bought me a matching tie,” said Gene to the others in disappointment, then added, “and then I see ya’ll don’t even match!” LOL But Gene had a remedy for that…he began to pull out red ties from the pocket of his suit jacket and hand them to the guys. Michael, Jim and Ronnie mumbled something about what was wrong with the ties they had on. Finally, Jim burst out, “We don’t buy our ties in bulk!” LOL As they slipped their own ties off and put on the ones that matched Gene, Michael warned the audience that it might take a minute because they usually don’t do something like this in the middle of a concert. (Not to mention that they weren’t “clip-on’s” *wink*) Anyway, their next song was upbeat and featured Jim, if I’m not mistaken; it was The Lovely Name Of Jesus. It was originally a Kingsmen song, one that Squire Parsons wrote. Michael took a moment to describe what it was like to see Squire sing it live and how the Lord showed up and filled the room with a sweet presence. He really wanted to replicate that in Memphis and asked Jim to sing it again. A good fast quartet song that I know we’re all familiar with, Feeling Fine, came next. (In case of confusion, this was not the regular “Still Feeling Fine” we are so accustomed to hearing the Booth’s sing, but the classic that you’ve heard from Legacy Five and other groups.) Regardless of the number’s similar title, the crowd loved it! Before you knew it folks were standing and bouncing along with the beat – they had no problem encoring it! “And we got a live band!” Michael exclaimed. Moving over to the piano and laying his hand on the gentlemen’s shoulder, Michael shared with the audience that this man was, “Not just a friend, but a hero – Nick Bruno.” Turning to the bass guitar player, Michael told everyone that Cory is a real “quartet man” – he also went on to say a special word about Scoot also before introducing the following song. He said that he felt “off” because the program they were singing was so different. Yet, the change in style gave them a different way to present the same message. For example, the next song was an Imperials arrangement that really put the vocals out front. Before they began singing, Michael explained what it would sound like, “Let the voices carry the message, sit back and enjoy the voices God has made.” That old Imperials song was His Name Is Wonderful; afterwards they sang I’m Free. “I was trying to resist this,” said Michael biting his lower lip, “This thing called ‘tags’ – when you go back and sing a line again.” He went on to say that sometimes, there are moments you don’t want to let go of and that’s way they go back and sing verses and choruses a second time. I’m Free was one of those moments…Jim brought the melody of the verse before us once again and some folks in the crowd began to stand. After the applause, a low, long note from Gene signaled the start of a new song…and from the sound of it, a bass solo! After Gene held that note for a good 60 seconds he began singing I Want To Know. “Is that a bass singer or what?!” asked Michael, “We are going to be bored to death the next time we sing!!!” Then he muttered something about having the best “unemployed” bass singer on stage with them. Well, the crowd caught on to that real quick and shouted, “Hire him!” Michael answered, “It’s supposed to be a one-time thing,” and the honestly admitted, “but it’s too good not to be done again.” As Gene began to sing Thanks To Calvary the crowd applauded immediately. The older songs really “hit the spot” when it came to the crowd. Another one, Look For Me At Jesus’ Feet came back to back. “Isn’t this great?” asked Michael. One particular tune meant a lot to Ronnie and Michael. Mosie Lister wrote it and to their knowledge no other group has recorded it since it first appeared on an album when their dad and Cory’s dad sang with a group called “The Americans,” the song was called Good Ole’ Gospel Singing and featured Ronnie. One of my favorites, I Am the Man, was done in honor of the Rebel’s. (Ron Sr. and their Uncle Charles sang with the Rebels also and this song was dedicated to them.) They even brought up a picture of that old group on the screens to show everyone.
Afterwards, Jim took a moment and talked about what it was like for him to grow up watching people like Mark Trammell and Gerald Wolfe sing. He reminisced about the times as a kid when he would dress up in a little suit and go to Gospel singings with his parents. Not too long ago, he saw a little boy at one of their concerts that reminded him of himself at that age. Michael continued to speak of the hero’s they grew up with, people like George Younce and Glen Payne. “They weren’t perfect men,” he said, “but they showed us how to try and walk like Jesus and talk like Jesus.” With a story to tell, Michael told about one time when Jake Hess had his bus in the shop and had to lease a different one until his was finished. Apparently, the inside was decked out in hot pink and leopard skin! (Michael was convinced it was a Rock Band bus in its previous life! LOL) Yet, on a serious note, said, “How blessed am I to witness that. We have no excuse – we have been given an example by all of those guys.” The next song was dedicated to those heroes, especially Jimmy – it was Dear Jesus Abide With Me. (This one was encored.) Back to back, were While Ages Roll and the Sweetest Song I Know. That last one ended the concert and was encored too many times to count! On one of them, Cory came up to sing a chorus. You can watch the video below and see it all!
Conclusion: Wow! Wow!! WOW!!! It is no exaggeration to say that this matinee was the highlight and crowning moment of the whole week of MQS (the Memphis Quartet Show). A lot of thought was put into this “one time only” concert. Not only did they pick an excellent bass singer in Gene McDonald, but the fact that they selected 13 songs they’ve never done before and learned them for this one afternoon shows me how dedicated and excited they are about what they do. They didn’t just sing “The Booth Brothers nightly program” – they took time to select songs that would pay tribute to the quartets that have gone before and as Michael stated, set them an example. It was just a wonderful concert! I hope you’ll watch all the videos (especially His Name Is Wonderful – my friend Melissa’s video from the front row!) Also, the Booth Brothers now have a CD with Gene called “Quartet Style.” Next time you see the BB’s, pick one up! You won’t be disappointed!
P.S. And for those of you who attend the Winter Gospel Music Convention in Palmetto, FL – you are in for a treat – Pastor Bill Bailey has booked the Booth Brothers Quartet to appear in the 2014 lineup!