Bible & Tire Brings D-Vine Spirituals’ Memphis Gospel Back to Life

When Elizabeth King and the Gospel Souls recorded their 1972 single “I heard a voice” They spent hours at the tiny Tempo Studio in downtown Memphis, Reverend Huang D. Shipp demanding that they repeat songs until they got it right.

Shipp, a local DJ who had just founded the label D-Vine Spirituals and had no previous experience as a producer, knew what he wanted and was able to give it to artists. I urged you to do it. But King finally had enough. “He was harsh with us and made me so angry that he had to go out and pray,” she recalled in her recent interview. “Otherwise I would have hit him!”

King and Shipp were together at the Earth Temple Holiness Church in North Memphis. The church was until recently pastored by another D-Vine artist named Elder Jack Ward. Shipp’s rich radio voice and sly sense of humor made him look much younger than his 84-year-old insistence on perfectionism in the studio.

D-Vine’s aesthetic was special, he explained, because the group sang from the heart. “That’s what I wanted to shoot and what I pushed them to get,” he said. “They might have been mad at me, but they were happy when the record came out,” he said, throwing a glance at King, who agreed and laughed.

“I Hear the Voice” became a regional hit, and at a time when Memphis was better known for its worldly soul than its divine soul, the King’s Group was recognized as one of Memphis’ finest acts. established a position. This single made D-Vine the top gospel label in town. The record “was a completely different sound,” Shipp said. “It was a professional like Stax. So I started having groups coming from all over the place to record with me.”

A local success in the 1970s, D-Vine was largely forgotten in the 1980s. However, the label and its artists have experienced a resurgence in recent years, with several archival releases and new albums not only filling an important chapter in Memphis’ music history, but also D-Vine. have revived the careers of two of them. The greatest artist, King, 79 years old, Warddied last month.

Shipp started the label because he was disappointed with the flat, languid-sounding assembly-line gospel records of the early 70s. “He didn’t come in for the money,” he said. “I joined to give the group a better sound.”

Working with white studio owner Clyde Leppard, Shipp recorded on old commercial tapes obtained from radio stations, focusing on performance above all else. The D-Vine sound is characterized by urgency and joy, as well as its tight rhythm section and hypnotic, psychedelic wah played by a local teenager named Wendell Moore on his guitar.

When he signed to D-Vine, Ward was already a local celebrity thanks to his powerful voice and almost acrobatic performances. In 1964, he and his group, The Christian Harmonizers, recorded a song called “Don’t Need No Doctor” featuring a young Isaac Hayes on piano.

“My father was well known and recognized in Memphis,” said Ward’s son, a singer and guitarist known as Fantastic Johnny Ward. “Even in his later years, people started coming to him and singing, ‘We don’t need a doctor!'”

Ward stood out for writing his own songs, including “God’s Gonna Blow Out the Sun,” which he recorded for D-Vine with a new group called the Gospel Four. “He could write a song in a day,” said his daughter Carla Ward, a minister. “If he went through something that day, he would go home and write about it. rice field.”

As the gospel scene became more lucrative in the mid-1970s, so did competition, effectively breaking up friendships between groups. Ward eventually quit recording, singing with his family while working as a mechanic and serving as a pastor. Similarly tempted by the secular market, Dr. King retired to raise his 15 children. “She had all those things when she was younger, so she had to put aside what she wanted to do,” she said. “I didn’t want my family to go astray and be useless to the world.”

For decades, Mr. Shipp believed D-Vine’s old masters had gone missing, but they eventually turned up in Leopard’s backyard shed. He described the situation as miraculous, saying, “The tapes were all in one place and somehow the weather didn’t affect them.” In the early 2010s, he moved them to a studio in downtown Memphis, where they bible and tiresI bought a label, catalog focused on gospel and soul.

Bruce Watson, a music industry veteran who founded Bible & Tire, had the bones of organizing and digitizing tapes, researching the lesser-known musicians who made them, and putting them together into a series of reissues. The folding process has begun. “Sacred Soul: D-Vine Spirituals Records Story” These compilations, including a third, due out on streaming platforms in June, bring the local scene to life with a vibrant bluesy sound that is typical of Memphis. Groups like Spiritual Stars from Kansas City, Missouri, and preteen brotherhood Stepter Four may have spent long hours in the studio with Ship, but every single is a spirited spontaneity. conveys the feeling of

Watson found out that both King and Ward were alive and still singing, and signed them to Bible and Tire as new artists to make their debut album. To support them, he created a Sacred Single, led by guitarist Will Sexton, featuring guitarist Matt Ross-Span (who has produced albums for Margo Price and Lucero), and Mark Edgar. formed a loose group of local musicians that became known as the Soul Sound Section. Stewart on bass and Will McCurry on drums.

“A lot of what we do today is inspired by the record that Reverend Shipp made 50 years ago,” Watson said. “We’re trying to capture that spirit. You can’t hear that spirit in a lot of modern gospel.”

Shipp called Watson’s arrival “a truly sacred event.” “He put the wah wah back there,” he added. “It feels good to me because this is what I did years ago that no one else has done in gospel.”

Balancing the old with the new, the solo albums Ward and King recorded for Bible & Tire helped re-establish the Memphis gospel scene.King continues to perform regularly, she often harmonizes on stage with her daughters, and her repertoire has proven to be ambitious and imaginative, especially her recent the cover song “God is the answer (Pushkin)” Originally by Bonnie “Prince” Billy. With a rich vocal cadence, she sings with the perspective and authority her age brings. Her on-stage demeanor is dignified, like her grandma, and young musicians call her Queen Elizabeth, or simply Queen.

Health problems prevented Ward from touring or performing, but the studio and sanctuary were more important to him than the stage. He saw recording as a way to leave a legacy for his family and congregation. “That was his ambition in his youth,” said Johnny Ward, who plays guitar on his father’s new album The Storm. “He was telling us, ‘We have to stop doing something.’ I asked him what it was like after he had done a few singles. He said, ‘Rockstar’s You’ll feel like!” “storm.”

Shipp and Watson aim to discover and record more D-Vine artists and hope to find an even wider audience well beyond city limits. “It took 50 years for the music we recorded back then to come to fruition at this time in our lives,” Shipp said. “And at my age, it’s so much fun to see artists from that era get the recognition they deserve. To me, that’s the beautiful part.”

King likened D-Vine to a foundational text. “Fifty years ago we were back in the Old Testament, and now we are in the New Testament,” she said.

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