Since the name of this feature is the "615" Artist Spotlight, let's shine the spotlight on a style of music that is very much Nashville, but doesn't get the same amount of attention as other genres. Southern Gospel music has long been a tradition throughout the United States. Solo artists and groups alike log thousands of miles each year to perform at churches, benefits, events celebrating everything from banana pudding to catfish. They've done it for years, and the quartet In His Image is no different.
The group has only been together for the past three years, but is starting to make an impact in the Southern Gospel community. They are in the studio working on a third album, and are hoping to release a single to radio in the not too distant future.
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Lead vocalist Gary Fewell admits to having been influenced by the sounds of Southern Gospel all his life.
"I grew up on the old quartet singing," he tells Billboard. "I've really always enjoyed that. I like the four-part harmony in groups. Today, it's a little different than it used to be, it seems like. I think in the old days they sang with a lot more spirit and a lot more feeling than a lot of them do today."
One thing that hasn't changed, according to tenor singer Jerry Wayne "Bubba" Wise, is the fact that the view from the stage inside a Church can sometimes be interesting.
"You see a lot of interesting things depending on which denomination of Church you are at - a lot of shouting, running in the aisles," he says. "We've seen people running and jumping and screaming. I think the most intriguing thing as an artist is seeing the happy smiles or the tears on certain songs -- to know that you're getting to them and that they understand what you're talking about. Some songs that we might think will make people cry, they will sit there and laugh, or they will shout. It's different with every person."
In His Image -- originally a quartet -- had become a trio when their first bass singer left the group. After a lengthy span, veteran bassist Tommy Vest joined the act. As is the case with any newcomer to a group, it's not the easiest task to step into an already-formed act.
"It's not easy," he admits. "When you come in and try out, you're nervous. You think, 'They've had a bass singer,' and you want to do your best. They broke the ice pretty good in making you feel welcome. After the first song, they tell you that you did a good job whether you did or not, but if you feel like God brought you to this point, he'll work it out."
Vest points out that the timing of his joining the group may have worked in his favor. "Luckily for me, they had been without a bass singer for a while, and had recorded a CD as a trio. So, people had seen them, and it was easier for me to come in, as opposed to whether a bass singer had just quit and I came in. Some people might think 'I don't like him as much as the other one.' We want them to like us, but we also want them to get a blessing with our music."
Baritone Bill Reitmeyer says each member gets a blessing from being around the other. "In all honesty, it's easy," he says of their relationship on stage. "These guys are brothers. This is my first experience with a Southern Gospel group. I've performed solo and with choirs, and a jazz group while in college. I've had a rock band, a lot of experience with music, and this is the best experience that I've ever had."
Fewell says their crowds love the time-honored classics, but also have been receptive to some newer material from time to time. "I can say that on our originals, we have gotten good response. I think a lot of times you're compared to the original artist of a song once you do it. It's like when you have a group come out with four members, if you ever change members, most of the time, nobody ever looks at that group the same. We were really fortunate that our bass singer only stayed with us less than a year. We really weren't known as much as a quartet as we were a trio. Now that Tommy's with us, it's like he's an original."
In His Image routinely plays close to a hundred dates a year, and Fewell said 2012 is already lining up to be a busy year. They hope to have their new music on the market sometime later this year.