CCM Classic Blog

The Heart Beat At The Forefront of Classic CCM Music By Philip Mayabb

Great News: For the month  of May, on the Vinyl Revival side; we will be playing exclusively Christian rock.

In the year of our Lord 1981, the Bill Gaither Trio released a historically significant album...a double LP called "Live Across America".  The album was significant for two reasons...first, it included Bill Gaither and Gary McSpadden singing in a quartet with backup singers Steve Green and Lee Young.  They covered  the old Southern Gospel quartet standard "Your First Day In Heaven". That of course, was the genesis of the group we now know as the Gaither Vocal Band.  To find the second significant reason, you have to look closely at the musical credits.  Listed among  the band members backing the Gaithers were the names of Billy Smiley, Mark Gersmehl, Dann Huff, and Gary Lunn.  If those names sound familiar, they should.

 Smiley and Huff had already began writing some songs together, and during 1980 and 81, and they began recording some of them at Gaither's Pinebrook Studio in Indiana, and Soundstage Studio in Nashville.  After pitching their work around to some artists and labels without adequate success, they decide to record them on their own. After recording a track called "Go Down Ninevah", they recruited Steve Green to join them. Other musicians contributing to the early sessions were established members of Petra, as well as drummer Dennis Holt, who would later go on to play for Kerry Livgren AD.  While the guys were glad to be in the studio recording together, they wanted to form a band, and so they added Gaither bandmates Gersmehl and Lunn to the lineup.  Missing only a full time drummer, Huff suggested bringing in his younger brother David to fill out the band.

The newly finished six piece unit hit the studios in Nashville to complete their debut album. The musical tracks they had already recorded were  redone, with the new members putting their respective parts in.  So when all was said and done, the new band had an album's worth of material, and were now in the process of shopping for a record deal. Some of them were also getting busy individually as well, mostly working in studios backing up other artists. Steve Green was beginning what would be a very successful career as a solo artist, as well as continuing to sing with the Gaither Vocal Band.  Both Huff brothers and Gary Lunn played on pop artist Greg Guidry's first album for CBS called "Over The Line", and Smiley and Gersmehl were developing a friendship that would prove fruitful for the duration of the band's existance.

Enter Chris Christian...the producing mogul had signed a deal with Word, Inc. for his Home Sweet Home production company, and after hearing some of the band's work, he signed them to a record contract.  Myrrh records picked up the release of White Heart's first album, with Christian serving as executive producer, and Dann Huff and Billy Smiley producing the LP. An eclectic mix of song styles, from straight up pop to rock, began causing comparisons between White Heart and another band of six studio musicians, known as Toto.  The band's first single, the power pop ballad Carry On, began playing on CCM radio, and White Heart was on their way.  As they continued to release singles and tour in support of their debut album, the members were still splitting their time between playing studios, solo work, and the newly formed band, but eventually White Heart would see its first personnel change, when Steve Green decided that he was not cut out to be the lead singer of a Christian Rock band, and so he left not just White Heart, but the Gaither Vocal Band as well, to devote his full energy to his solo career, a move which I'm sure he does not regret to this day.

As we all know, White Heart did rock on, for another decade and a half.  Along the way, there were TONS of members who came and went, and many different back stories that have emerged over the years.   Most of the original six members are still around working in music:  Dann Huff has became a music industry LEGEND, becoming one of L.A.s biggest studio guitarists of all time, then progressing on to again work with his brother David in their own rock band called Giant (if you haven't heard them, you really should), and he is now the most sought after country record producer in Nashville.  Gary Lunn still plays sessions in Music City, and his sensational bass playing can be heard on albums coming out today.  David Huff is CEO of DLH Productions, and works in artist development.  Of course, any CCM fan knows who Steve Green is, due to  a long string of hit albums and singles throughout the 80s.  Mark Gersmehl and Billy Smiley would stay to become the core of White Heart, writing hit after hit for the band until it disbanded in 1998, guiding the band through the ups and downs of its professional life, however  the two of them are still active musically today.  Gersmehl and his wife Brynn (who was a member of Rachel Rachel, and met Mark when they opened for White Heart) now have their own musical act named Soulbreather, and Billy Smiley recently teamed up with former Petra frontman John Schlitt to create The Union Of Sinners And Saints, who have an excellent debut album out there.

As for White Heart's debut, it is an excellent LP.  Even though not as heavy as some of the albums the band would release for Sparrow records in the late 80s and 90s, the debut has some terrific songs on it, from the pure pop opener Hold On, to the heavier, rocky bend of songs like Go Down Nineveh and You're The One, this has something for everyone's particular taste in music.  It even includes a duet that featured Dann Huff singing with an up and coming female vocalist named Sandi Patti (yes, the one and only).  The singles Carry On and He's Returning were both played in solid rotation on CCM radio, giving the band a foundation on which to begin their long and successful career, and it all started from that little live album by the Bill Gaither Trio.  Thanks Bill, Christian Rock fans owe you a HUGE debt of gratitude!

P.S...a massive "THANK YOU" to Billy Smiley for filling in some of the details!

TRACK LIST:

1. Hold On

2. You're The One

3. Listen To The Lonely

4. He's Returning

5. Carry On

6. Guiding Light

7. Everyday (duet with Sandi Patti)

8. Nothing Can Take This Love

9. Black Is White

10. Go Down Nineveh



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