Interview with Rance Allen
"It's a known fact that nobody wants to follow him on stage", says Marvin Sapp, when asked to comment on the unique vocal and live presence of Rance Allen, one of Gospel's most respected innovators.Rance Allen Group Discography:
"He has the most awesome stage presence; he simply demands the attention of the crowd."
Rance Allen has been out front since the ripe old age of 5, singing and preaching, and generally astounding everyone in earshot, from congregation regular to seasoned Gospel artist and everyone in between.
Mainstays such as John P. Kee and Kirk Franklin have made it a point to include Allen on their projects. Several in the mainstream music circuit credit Allen with 'blowing them away'.
Newly signed to Tyscot Records and with a brand new project slated for August 2002, Allen and his two brothers, collectively known as The Rance Allen Group, are continuing in their calling to deliver God's word to those who will hear it.
Gospelflava.com spoke at length with Rance Allen about his life's work and his God-given gift.
Born in Monroe, Michigan, about thirty miles outside of Detroit, and raised in the musically-rich Church of God in Christ, Allen told his grandmother at the age of four that he wanted to be a preacher and a Gospel singer. From there to the legendary Stax studios and far beyond, Rance Allen indeed became both.
"My grandmother took me seriously, and had me before the public at age of five. I was ministering and singing in Ohio by the time I was seven."
"I had monumental influences in the church. I wanted to preach like Elder Barksdale, our District Superintendent. As a little boy, I used to love to just watch this man preach, he had an ability to not only mesmerize with his words, but also with the way that the presented his words. It was a treat even at the age of five."
"We were raised in a family where you went to church every single night. To keep our interest, my grandmother went to pawn shop and bought instruments, drums, guitars and amplifiers."
Rance soon devloped a serious interest in the guitar, performing on the instrument by time he was 12, piano before that, by the age of nine.
With all that music surround him, and as rich as his COGIC church legacy was, he quickly credits his greatest his mother as being his greatest influence.
"She was a singer, a musician , she played the piano and the guitar. Her name was Emmapearl and we have a song on our new album on Tyscot that honors her."
Rance's older brother Tom developed an interest in piano, then later in drums, with his younger brother Steve focussing on singing and the bass guitar. Another brother, Esau, put his energy into drums.
"We would play in church every night, and we soon noticed that there were some young kids who although they would not come into the church, would always be outside dancing to the music. Our Gospel always did have an R&B influence.
That was the seed for the Rance Allen Group's entry into the professional music industry. You could say that the rest is history, and yet, there is not much written about that time. Rance elaborated.
"Out of high school, I got a job at a local music store, and the assistant manager, Larry Giles, he took an interest in our music. Also, about that time, Edwin Hawkins had his hit, "Oh Happy Day" all over the radio. One day I was playing along with the radio, singing, in the music store, and I kind of got carried away with it. I was doing a little number on the lead."
"Larry, he came up and said, 'Man if you ever decide to do something with that talent, I would be more than willing spend my money to take you to the next level.'"
"So I talked to my brothers about it and we decided to go for it. Larry Giles became our manager, we signed to Reflect, which was his own label."
And so there was the first recorded music from The Rance Allen Group, a rarity and a treasure to cherish if you should ever stumble across it. Rance describes the first record:
"We were only able to record a single. In those days, our Gospel was as much inspirational as it was about Jesus. The song was called, "Let's Get Together and Love". On the B side, we had a remake of a song from a country Gospel group, The Blackwood Brothers, called "First Day in Heaven.'"
"With Larry being a white gentleman, he clued me in as to how to do things, since we really wanted to appeal to the masses, not to any specific group. And so we modeled ourselves after The Beatles."
It was 1971, and Larry Giles proceeded to pour all his efforts into his prize find, The Rance Allen Group. Among many opportunites he sniffed out was one in Detroit where there was a contest sponsored by a local radio station. First prize was $500 and a possible recording contract.
It turned out that one of judges was the legendary promotions giant Dave Clark (of Peacock Records and also Chess Records renown two of the most prestigious Gospel labels in the country at the time.)
Rance and his brothers took home first prize for their sizzling soulful version of "Up Above My Head".
Catching the famous ear of Dave Clark, Rance and his brothers were soon introduced to producer Toby Jackson, who convinced his father (Dr. Clifford Jackson) to finance a studio effort for the group.
"Jackson took us into studio and we cut 8 songs all at once. It took just four and half hours. Then he and Clark shopped that album around to several labels."
"Motown liked us, but they weren't doing any Gospel. So we went to Memphis to talk to Stax Records. Al Bell who was VP there at the time, heard the music and said there's got to be some kind of way for Stax to have this group."
As one of the nation's pioneer powerhouse labels in Black music, Stax was known for its fantastic caliber of soul artists, among them Isaac Hayes and Johnnie Taylor.
Bell had also just recently brought The Staple Singers into their heyday, planting them in the middle of cross-over Gospel message music with church roots and socially-conscious lyrics.
"Al Bell came up with a new label just for us. It was specifically because of The Rance Allen Group that he established his Gospel Truth imprint."
And so the three brothers had landed themselves a recording contract with Stax Records. What followed is Gospel music lore. With the marketing genius of Bell behind them, The Rance Allen Group became the unbelievable highlight of anyone and everyone who was into soul music during the early 70's.
They recorded four albums for Stax and recorded numerous Gospel covers of famous hits from artists such as Archie Bell, The Temptations and Stevie Wonder.
Stax promoted The Rance Allen Group alongside mainstream counterparts such as Isaac Hayes, including co-appearances at major soul music festivals such as WattStax.
Financial difficulties started to plague the label a few years after their signing, and The Rance Allen Group left to sign a recording contract elsewhere. Rance continues with the story:
"We then went to Capitol, because Toby Jackson knew the producer there. The album with Capitol was called Say My Friend. And from there, we moved to Myrrh Records (with James Bullard heading things up) to record two albums."
Fashioned after the famed Woodstock music festival in the late 60's, but with a marked soul focus, the Wattstax annual concert series beginning in 1972 with an all-day festival at the Los Angeles Coliseum.|
It was a defining music moment for Black America, and also an opportunity for Stax Records to showcase their artist roster. Amidst the sounds of Isaac Hayes, Johnnie Taylor, The Staples Singers, The Bar-Kays, The Dramatics, Rufus Thomas and others, was the Gospel message from The Rance Allen Group.
The festival became renowned, and was filmed and released as a full length movie and a double-album. You can hear (and see) The Rance Allen Group on there with songs that included: "Someone Greater Than You And I" and "Lying on the Truth".
Later we moved back to Stax because they had been bought out by Fantasy Records, and a guy there by the name of Hank Crosby (who had produced Stevie Wonder and Martha and the Vandellas) wanted to do Gospel as much for spiritual reasons as for business."
At that point, around 1990, the group was back in touch with Al Bell, and proceeded to record two albums for his new Gospel label, Bellmark, those being Phenomenon, and You Make Me Wanna Dance (recorded in November 1995).
"And then we came in touch with Bryant Scott and Dr. Leonard Scott. We had recently we went back into the studio ourselves and starting cutting a record on our own. We shopped it around and Tyscot Records responded to that."
(special thanks to Bill and Linda Ford)
- "Let's Get Together and Love" (Reflect 1969)
- "Rance Allen Group"
(Gospel Truth 1970)
- "Truth Is Where It's At"
(Gospel Truth 1972)
- "Straight From The Heart"
- "A Soulful Experience"
- "Say My Friend" (Capitol, 1978)
- "Straight From The Heart"
- "Rance Allen Group"
- "The Way It Is"
- "I Feel Like Going On"
- "Hear My Voice"
- "I Give Myself To You"
- "He Is The Light"
(Myrrh / Word)
- "Ain't No Need Of Crying"
- "Hear My Voice"
(A & M 1990)
- "You Make Me Wanna Dance"
- "All The Way" (Tyscot 2002)
- "The Live Experience" (Tyscot 2004)
— interview by Stan North —
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