Halo: The One-Derful! Collection
Secret Stash Records
(release date of CD: April 15, 2016; LP available since February 2016)
By Bob Marovich
During the 1950s and 1960s, Chicago record men and brothers George and Ernie Leaner helped transform South Michigan Avenue’s famed “Motor Row” (of auto dealerships) into Record Row. In addition to helping Ernie with their record distribution company on Boul Mich, George Leaner organized One-Derful! Records and several subsidiaries, including one exclusively designated for a gospel music series: Halo.
With meticulous detail and in concert with the Leaner Family, Minnesota’s Secret Stash Records has been releasing samples of the prodigious One-Derful! catalog in installments. The most recent, which focuses on Halo, is the first commercially-available offering of this short-lived but significant subsidiary. The collection illustrates how One-Derful’s studio musicians, artists steeped in R&B and led by influential producer Monk Higgins, made the hard, soulful sound of gospel quartet and group singing even harder and more soulful.
The Salem Travelers are well represented on the set because the label introduced the quartet to a national audience and the group became Halo’s top seller. Selections include released tracks, such as “Wade in the Water,” which is said to have inspired Ramsey Lewis Trio’s hit instrumental version, and several unreleased issues. The first 500 who purchase the vinyl LP version of the Halo collection get two additional unreleased Salem Travelers sides pressed as a 45 rpm record.
Those familiar with live gospel performance know that songs take time to brew, and three-and-a-half-minutes sometimes just doesn’t do. Another benefit of the collection is the chance to hear long form gospel selections without having to flip the disc over. The listener can enjoy “Man in the City,” the Lucy Rodgers Singers’ two-part cover of Dorothy Love Coates’ “Stranger in the City,” as it would have been heard in live performance: without a break. The same goes for the Gospel Souls’ “The Fire Keeps On Burning in My Heart,” featuring incendiary former Lux Singer Ida Mae Davis. On “I’ve Been Saved,” the Gospel Souls sound like sanctified Supremes.
The unreleased tracks are just as good as the released ones. An example is the Redemption Harmonizers’ “Modern Messiah,” which laments the loss of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy who, like Moses, worked to rescue a captive people.
Full disclosure: the extended essay that comprises the album notes was written by yours truly. The narrative places the Halo sessions in the context of changes taking place in gospel music, musically and lyrically, during the Civil Rights and Black Power eras. Songs such as the Salem Travelers’ hit, “The Children Goin’ Astray,” and the Golden Tones’ “Why Can’t We Love our Fellowman” contain social messages not often articulated on record by gospel artists prior to the early 1960s.
Images of vintage gospel program posters, from the collection of Holy Travelers’ member Leroy Witherspoon, are alone worth the price.
Since the Halo sides were recorded from the original tapes, not only is the audio quality stellar—the music jumps off the disc and out the speakers—but the work of the musicians can be heard more clearly than on the mono singles.
Halo: the One-Derful! Collection offers a survey of group-based gospel music as it transcended the sanctuary toward a more progressive worldview.
Five of Five Stars
Picks: “Modern Messiah,” “Wade in the Water.”