By Bob Marovich
Mention the name Bobby Robinson to popular music historians, and you will hear how he founded a number of New York-based record labels, including Whirling Disc, Fury, Enjoy, and Red Robin, and released classic hits for Wilbert Harrison (“Kansas City”) and Gladys Knight and the Pips (“Every Beat of My Heart”). He even allegedly advised a young vocal harmony group called the 5 Satins on how to approach a record company with a song they had called “In the Still of the Nite.”
Like many indie record companies, Red Robin had a couple of gospel artists on its roster, namely the Robert Ross Singers and Blind Boys of Washington, DC. Robinson’s crowning achievement in religious recording, however, was establishing Revelation Records with an emerging John Bowden as producer.
Over the course of three years, Revelation produced dozens of fine singles and a couple of albums, mostly but not exclusively for East Coast groups. The singles and albums provided struggling independent gospel singers and groups the aural business card they needed to garner radio airplay and more bookings. In the process, the duo chronicled and preserved an exciting time in gospel music history.
For The Best of Revelation Records: 1959-1962, Per Notini’s Narro Way imprint out of Sweden has collected twenty-seven of Revelation’s highest-octane releases by gospel quartets, groups, soloists, and choirs. The selections range from the hard-charging quartet energy of the Echoes of Glory on “Journeying On,” the trained vocalizing of Christine Clark on “Sinner Like Me,” and the spirited singing of Bishop William O’Neal’s Christian Tabernacle Choir on their trademark “Down by the Riverside.”
Male quartets steal the show, with a team of alpha leads sounding especially hungry to be heard. The Sensational Canarians’ lead emulates Johnnie Taylor on the quartet’s performance of “Place Called Heaven.” The bass singer of the Gospel Harmanaires does an exceptional job on a swinging arrangement of Alex Bradford’s “Too Close.” Newark’s Holy Wonders provide intensity and urgency on “I’ve Got a Home.”
As usual, Notini, who also operates Gospel Friend with Jonas Bernholm, had the original vinyl re-mastered so well that the music almost sounds as if it comes straight from the master tapes. Uniformly, the selections on The Best of Revelation Records have an electricity that makes one wish for a time machine to go back and hear these groups in person.
After Revelation shuttered, John Bowden went on to produce gospel for HOB Records. Bobby Robinson produced some of the earliest rap and hip hop records. “In the Still of the Nite” went on to become one of the most beloved vocal harmony songs of all time.
Five of Five Stars