CCM Classic Blog

Is Lanny Wolf a songwriter Legend? Yes Says Philip Mayabb and Explains Why.


Former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once said "Change is inevitable. Change is constant," and truer words have seldom been spoken.  No matter what subject you want to talk about, change is something that always come with the territory, and music is no exception.  Musical tastes change, what is popular one day is little more than passé the next, subjects of lyrics change with the times, for example that most popular war protest songs of the late 1960s are little more than historical snapshots now.  In so many ways, professional music, and the artists who make it, are in a constant state of change, and our featured album on Vinyl Revival this week is a perfect example of what I'm talking about...a transitional album by a very successful CCM act, that featured a MAJOR change in group personnel, but somehow managed to continue the musical legacy that had been built upon for many years.  The album is so appropriately titled "Can't Stop The Music," and it is performed by The Lanny Wolfe Trio.

Last year when we spotlighted the LWT's classic LP "Have A Nice Day," I went over how important Lanny Wolfe is, in regard to his place in CCM history.  To recap, Lanny has written a boatload of songs over his career, and some of them are legendary - let me rephrase that...ICONIC!  Songs like "Surely The Presence Of The Lord Is In This Place, Greater Is He That Is In Me, I Keep Falling In Love With Him, and others have made their mark in the annuls of Christian music.  Lanny was also a seven time nominee for the Gospel Music Association award as Songwriter Of The Year, and actually won it in 1984, for a little ditty called "More Than Wonderful."  So there is no debate that Lanny Wolfe is a songwriting legend.  The trio that bore his name in the 1970s and 80s, however is a horse of a different color, for several reasons.  Their music, like another popular trio of the same era, The Gaithers, bridged a gulf between the two original factions of Christian music, Southern Gospel and CCM.  That in itself is quite a feat, because back in the day, hardcore fans of each style of music simply DID NOT care for the other, and many traditional church denominations initially condemned CCM, with some  ministers going so far as to refer to it as "a tool of the enemy."  That brings me to the second mystery of the Lanny Wolfe Trio...while their music was not straight Southern Gospel, the contemporary aspect of the group's sound was somehow embraced  by the United Pentecostal Church, the denomination that the group was a part of.  It is no secret that the UPC has a reputation for taking one of the hardest lines against certain "worldy" things (television, women cutting their hair, apparel, etc.), which makes their acceptance of the Lanny Wolfe Trio's music all the more puzzling.

Be that as it may, by the late 70s, the Lanny Wolfe Trio was still a fairly formidable name in the emerging CCM industry, due largely to the quality and strength of their songwriting, as well as their tight three part harmony.  To this day, it is my belief that the group would have been even bigger had it not been for their church affiliation, which hurt them with radio.  Their denomination was very much maligned back then, and because of that, some CCM stations simply did not play the Wolfe's music as much as it should have been played (editorial opinion on my part).  For most of the decade, the group had enjoyed a degree of success on both Southern Gospel and (to a lesser degree) CCM radio, and their name was fairly well known.  Lanny Wolfe, his wife Marietta, and tenor Dave Petersen created a sound that was acceptable to fans of both subgenres, a rare commodity in those days.  The original trio released their final album together in 1979, a double live album called "Make A Joyful Noise," (their third live album of the decade), and not long after, Marietta Wolfe decided to leave the road to devote the necessary time required to raise the couple's daughters.  Dave Petersen became a husband, and left the group as well, leaving Lanny to decide whether or not continue the group.  In the end, he decided to soldier on, so his next move was to hire not one, but two new singers to continue the group's musical journey, and he could not have had a larger pool of candidates to pick from.  Being an administrator at Jackson College of Ministry in Jackson, Mississippi, gave Lanny access to a large number of potential replacements for the group, and in the end, he decided to change the layout of the group a little.  Instead of two males and one female to create the group's sound, he chose two female students from the college to complete the "new" Lanny Wolfe Trio.  The three part group now consisted of Lanny, Lori Lewis, and Gail George, and their first mission was to record the group's eleventh album, in 1980.  As always they had a fresh supply of Lanny Wolfe songs to record, 9 total, with one penned by an outside writer. 

The result of their time in the studio is our album this week, called "Can't Stop The Music," and as I said earlier, it was a most fitting title.  A look at the cover reveals two big changes, the most obvious being two new members in the group photo, the other being that the group was now being billed as "Lanny Wolfe And The Lanny Wolfe Trio," giving the group's namesake a bigger piece of the marquee.  While most singing groups often change personnel, when you lose two members in a three person group, that's a major shift to sell to the fans, but this album did a pretty good job of achieving that goal.  Produced by Benson Company super producer Phil Johnson, "Can't Stop" continued the tradition of strong songwriting, solid vocal work, and a musical blend that could be enjoyed by Christian music fans of both main styles at the time.  The change in vocalists did not hurt the Lanny Wolfe Trio, as their sound remained fairly similar to that of the group's original lineup.  With Gail George taking the parts sang by Marietta, and Lori Lewis taking Dave Petersen's parts, the new edition of this classic group turned out an album that may not have broken new barriers, but reinforced the ones put in place by its predecessors.  Starting with the title song in the leadoff position, this album starts and finishes strong, and actually has one of the most beautiful Lanny Wolfe songs I've ever heard, that being "Precious Blood."  

In regards to styles of the songs, most of the bases are covered here...for the contemporary fans, the album's titles track, "Jesus Made Me An Offer," and "I'm Gonna Rise To Be With Jesus," will ring the bell to perfection (it's worth noting that "I'm Gonna Rise" is the lone track on this album that was not written by Lanny Wolfe, and it was the only track that the group had ever recorded on a studio album not penned by the writing legend).  Being the Dean Of Music at Jackson College Of Ministries, Lanny recruited the school's amazing choir to sing on "Fresh Touch Of Desire" and the aforementioned "Precious Blood," and this album abounds with beautiful orchestral arrangements on the slower numbers, courtesy of legendary keyboardist and producer Lari Goss.  There is a perfect Sunday School song for children called "I Have A Friend" on this album, and for those who are drawn to praise and worship oriented numbers, both "The Beauty Of His Name" and "More Than Ever Before" will be tracks that they will thoroughly enjoy.  "Just Because" is a song that will challenge you with its lyrics, asserting the fact that we should love the Lord not for the blessings He gives, or the hope that He is, but simply to love Him just because, it's a very potent lyric and thought.

But the album's masterpiece is still the final track on side one called "Precious Blood."  With the help of the JCM chorale, this beautiful song is one that still touches my soul, and brings tears to my eyes even now, 40 years after I heard it for the first time.  Now I could spend all kind of time hyping the song up to you, but I want you to hear for yourself this week why this song is one of Lanny Wolfe's finest.  The lyrics alone are dynamic...

So many years

So many lambs were offered up

But all the blood that was spilled

Could never fill that bitter cup

'Til one spotless lamb, in the form of man

Gave His life on Calvary

His was the only blood

That could ever set me free.

That is just the first verse, but I won't give too much away in that department.  By the time you add the rest of the song, the choir, and a masterpiece of a string arrangement, you have a timeless classic, that deals with a subject that sadly has been taken out of many songbooks and hymnals.  We live in a day when folks and churches no longer want to sing or hear about the blood of Jesus, but in reality, the bible tells us that "the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:7, KJV).  There simply is no substance known to man that is more powerful than the blood of Jesus, without it, there is no forgiveness of sin, and this song will stir something in heart and soul when you listen to it, I promise you.  It is my all time favorite Lanny Wolfe song, and even though this was a new lineup of the group, they pulled off an amazing performance with this one!

It had been several years since the last time that I had listened to this record, but when I put in on the turntable, to prepare for this blog, I began to remember just how good this album really was.  It was such a shame that the music on this album was largely ignored by CCM radio, because several of these songs should have been solid chart hits.  My theory about the group's denominational association could be the cause, or it might not be, but I do know this...in its years of existence, The Lanny Wolfe Trio released some very good albums, and due to fact that several of the group's songs have found a second life in hymnals and worship services, they are still remembered fondly by some CCM fans, but this group was FAR better than their chart history (or lack thereof) would suggest, and what amazes me even more is that with this album, and two new members, they were able to keep that continuity in place, and turn in yet another solid group of songs, with the same tight harmony, the same great lyrics, and the same great musical arrangements...all proof positive that when it when it comes to ministering in song you just "Can't Stop The Music."  I hope you will enjoy this gem of an album this week on CCM Classic's Vinyl Revival as much as I do, and make sure to keep His music flowing in your heart and soul.

TRACKLIST

Side 1 - 

1. Can't Stop The Music

2. The Beauty Of His Name

3. I Have A Friend

4. Just Because

5. Precious Blood

Side 2 - 

1. Jesus Made Me An Offer

2. More Than Ever Before

3. Fresh Touch Of Desire

4. Stirred But Not Changed

5. I'm Gonna Rise To Be With Jesus



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