Reviewed by Tony Cummings
The last batch of recordings made by the Atlanta preacher/singer and Race Records star before he went to be with the Lord, probably in 1942. These 24 sides were recorded in sessions in 1934, two sessions in 1939 and one in 1940 and 1941. It might be said that these tracks showcased the slowly declining powers of a unique talent but these recordings, transferred from rare 78s, can often still grip listeners. "New Dead Cat On The Line", cut in 1934, was a belated followup to his hit sermon of 1929 and demonstrate the reverend's hostility to much of modern science struck a chord with this listener (if not Chris Smith, the writer of the finely researched sleevenote). By 1939 the old ragged congregation had been replaced by a slicker assemblage of vocalists influenced by the prevalent quartet sound and a fine bass singer, one Brother Wright, brought a new dimension to Rev Gates' sound. Also, several of the recordings here were two-part "sermons with singing" with the songs like "So Glad I'm Here In Jesus Name" and "This Heart Of Mine" taking up most of the space and with only brief sermonette interjections. "Hell Without Fire" is great stuff with Rev Gates regaling the shortcomings of the world in his usual terms - mannish women, women who stay in church all day but make hell out of their homes, racketeers and speeding drivers! Particularly fascinating is his reminiscence of the "Baptist World Alliance In Atlanta, Georgia" that had taken place a month before the recording session and was (radically for the time) fully integrated. Commented Gates, "I was converted again in that meeting! I didn't believe white folks could save, but let me tell you they sang! They can save. . . They sung, and you could hear their voices warblin', you know, in the air. . . And the coloured troupe - it's natural for our folks to sing - they did sing. That was a great meeting." There was still time for the good reverend to berate what he considered immodest female behaviour, "Smoking Women In The Street", and his final recording, in October 1941, when he preached "Hitler And Hell", a specific warning of the Fuhrer's impending judgment. I can do no better in concluding this review than by quoting from Chris Smith's sleevenote which sums up the value of all nine volumes of Document's epic reissues. "These recordings are an invaluable, if as yet scarcely tapped, resource for the study of African American responses to contemporary social issues, of black folk ways, of church organisation and procedures, and of the aesthetics and construction of sermons on disc. As a preacher, Rev Gates ranges from fervent straining to Biblical exposition, and from stern admonition to salty humour. He and his congregation were also responsible for many stirring and beautiful renditions of the old familiar hymns."
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
Interested in reviewing music? Find out