In the late 1940’s and early 50’s, the great black vocal gospel groups such as the Soul Stirrers and the Fairfield Four traveled a performance circuit through the southern United States that was a parallel alternative to the R&B chitlin’ circuit. It became known informally as the Gospel Highway. Mostly made up of churches, it was a proven touring route that provided housing and venues in a land that was not particularly hospitable to black musicians on the road. The local folk would flock to these performances, which were renowned for the fervent atmosphere and virtuoso command of the highly charged gospel music by the various ensembles. The concerts were the center of the communities’ social calendar and would sometimes be all day events with the whole family participating in food, music and worship.
In 1956, at the birth of rock ’n roll, Sam Cooke of the Soul Stirrers, who was perhaps the most popular gospel lead singer of the day, decided to leave gospel music and enter the world of secular music. His success with “You Send Me,” was almost instantaneous and was the start of a tremendous career that was only halted by his tragic death in 1964. This opened the doors for many more gospel artists like Bobby Womack and Solomon Burke to follow the same path. The fact that gospel music had a profound effect on early rock n’ roll is beyond doubt. Of course, Elvis was also influenced by gospel music in a major way and brought the spirit into his own highly influential sound.
Burning, Bad & Cool, a trio from San Luis Obispo, have been following their own version of the Gospel Highway. When they first formed five years ago, they discovered a common love of black gospel groups such as the Staple Singers and the Blind Boys of Alabama. They decided to make that genre a part of their repertoire despite not being especially church goers or black. They do other music, which has a New Orleans R&B type style, but the black gospel sound makes up a good part of their performances. The new six-song Ep “On the Gospel Highway,” brings that sound to the listening public for the first time. The new release is comprised of covers of works by; The Staple Singers, Paul Simon, The O’Jays, a couple of traditional gospel numbers and one original. They have augmented their normal three pieces with drums and keyboards for a fuller recorded sound.
At the beginning of live performances leader and lead guitarist ‘Burning’ James Scoolis steps to the microphone and tells the audience “We bring you songs of faith, hope and community dipped in sweet harmonies.“ With that a night of celebration begins with their enthusiastic followers partaking in dance and a warm feeling of fellowship. “We’re not about any specific system of belief,” says acoustic rhythm guitarist Jimmy ‘Cool’ Conroy, “but simply uplifting spirit, and the gospel music works as a universal joy enabler.” Bassist ‘Bad’ Billy Baxmeyer adds, “We sing & play a positive musical message, sharing sisterhood & brotherhood with you all.” It doesn’t matter what religion, race or creed you belong to, Burning, Bad & Cool seem to be on the Gospel Highway to make this a better world for everyone.
released April 3, 2019
'Burning' James Scoolis - Electric guitar & vocals, 'Bad' Billy Baxmeyer - Bass guitar & vocals, Jimmy 'Cool' Conroy - Acoustic guitar & vocals, Daryl Vandruff - drums, Wayne Walcoff - keyboards, Scott Sansby -cover photos and graphics, Recorded at Painted Sky Studio, Cambria, CA. Jan. 2019, Steve Crimmel - recording engineer.