Tony Cummings acknowledges the contribution vintage gospel team THE CONSOLERS
When, a few years back, Christian music buffs were directing their "are they, aren't they?" questioning at Scottish folk pop geeks The Proclaimers one pointer was the inclusion of the song "I Want To Be A Christian" on one of the duo's albums. In fact, the song came not from the songwriting pens of Craig & Charlie, but from a duo who, though never to enjoy gospel music's richer pickings, were tireless gospel troubadours for three decades. The Consolers were a husband and wife duo from Florida - consisting of Brother Sullivan Pugh on guitar and lead vocals and his devout wife Iola singing harmony and sometimes lead. It was in Florida that they met and married.
From their base in Miami, they toured the south eastern states and in 1952/ 3 made their first recordings for local operator Henry Stone, as the Miami Soul Stirrers for Glory and as the Spiritual Consolers on DeLuxe. Late in 1955 they were signed by Ernie Young's Nashboro label and a long and successful relationship began.
The Pugh's very first release on Nashboro, "Give Me My Flowers", was a hit with gospel audiences. The opening line is more familiar in blues than gospel, most notably in a '30s recording by Peetie Wheatstraw, and is very likely proverbial in black culture. Appropriately, it's Sullivan Pugh's bluesy reverb guitar that immediately strikes the ear, instantly recalling the much better known (to white ears) Roebuck 'Pops' Staples.
Over the years The Consolers recorded 10 or more albums for Nashboro of which 'Give Me My Flowers' (1961) and 'Heart Warming Spirituals' (1963) were released in the UK on a twofer by Ace in 1991. Their earthy, spiritually direct songs struck a chord particularly with the rural gospel audience. Wrote Tony Heilbut in his book The Gospel Sound, "Their simple country approach stresses such sturdy virtues as humility (" If I'm Too High, Lord Bring Me Down"); kindliness (" Give Me My Flowers While I'm Still Living"); and mother love (" I'm Waiting For My Child To Come Home", "Every Christian Mother Surely Prayed For Her Child"), and made them among the biggest gospel record sellers after James Cleveland."
Nashboro's gospel operation never paid much attention to the possibilities of crossover; for one thing it was scarcely there in the '50s, but even in later years, when the Staple Singers were playing the Newport Jazz Festival and being boosted by Bob Dylan, the label - and, it would seem, The Consolers - were happy to keep addressing their black audience. However, in 1972 The Consolers performed at the Newport Jazz Festival. They were apparently well received. But afterwards they returned to recording for Nashboro and to touring the less glamourous, but more faithful, churches and auditoriums of the black gospel circuit.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.