Deep South Singers
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Deep South Singers
Lived in Huntsville, AL
Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame
Through the years, there have been many groups in gospel music that never received the recognition that they so rightly deserved. A group that fits this mold is the Deep South Quartet. Although they were one of the finest groups from the 1950s, few are the fans that remember this fine group. The alumni of the Deep South Quartet features many famous singers in the history of gospel music, but the group itself has never received much critical acclaim.
Jimmy Jones was the leader of the Deep South Quartet. Jimmy had a storied career in gospel music prior to forming the Deep South Quartet. He was the bass singer and stand-up bass guitarist with the Melody Ranch Boys. Doy Ott was another member of this group. The group performed western swing music in addition to their gospel fare. Jimmy was also a member of the Swanee River Boys for a short time.
In early 1951, several members of the Rangers Quartet were involved in a tragic automobile accident. Shortly after the accident Jimmy was contacted and asked to fill the slot of legendary "basso profundo" Arnold Hyles while he recovered from his injuries. Jimmy remained with the Rangers for several years until Arnold Hyles recovered and returned to the quartet. When Arnold returned, Jimmy sang baritone for the Rangers for a short time before departing the group to form the Deep South Quartet.
Atlanta had become the central location for gospel music in the 50s. Jimmy moved to the Atlanta area and hired several seasoned quartet veterans to sing with him in the Deep South Quartet. The baritone slot was filled by Jimmy's brother, Brownie Jones. Jimmy and Brownie gave a strong foundation to this new quartet.
Cat Freeman had previously sung with several groups including the Statesmen Quartet and the Blackwood Brothers. He had a unique tenor voice, and fit the group quite well. After his tenure with the Deep South Quartet, he continued to sing many other groups including the Revelaires and the Oak Ridge Quartet. He later returned to the Statesmen to fill the tenor position at the passing of Denver Crumpler. Cat was an excellent choice for the Deep South Quartet.
Bob Crews, another quartet veteran, was the first lead singer for the Deep South Quartet. He had previously spent time with the All-American Quartet and had spent the last few years prior to joining the Deep South Quartet as lead singer with the Harmoneers Quartet.
The group hired another quartet veteran, Wally Varner, to play piano. Wally may be best known for his time with the Blackwood Brothers, but he was already famous in gospel music circles for his skills demonstrated with the Melody Masters Quartet and the Homeland Harmony Quartet.
This group became quite popular on the quartet circuit. Freeman, Crews, Varner and the Jones brothers formed a very solid entity. However, their recording output was limited to six songs released on the Deep South Quartet label.
Soon, changes in the group personnel began to take place. Bob Crews left the group to sing with other Atlanta-based groups before he returned to the Harmoneers. Wally Varner and Cat Freeman both joined another Atlanta-based group, the Revelaires. Cat Freeman, always a versatile singer, joined the Revelaires as the baritone singer.
Jimmy then hired two men to replace the three that had departed. Kermit Jamerson joined the group as tenor. He later spent several years with the Kingsmen Quartet from Asheville, North Carolina. Jimmy had previously spent time in the Rangers Quartet with David Reece, and knew of David's versatility as both pianist and vocalist. Thus, the Deep South Quartet became a four-man group with David doing double duty as pianist and lead vocalist. This group consisting of Kermit Jamerson, David Reece, Brownie Jones, and Jimmy Jones also recorded six songs on the Deep South label. Jimmy and David were both comfortable with the four-man group, as they had quite a bit of experience with this aggregation in the Rangers Quartet.
When David Reece left the group, he returned to his home state of North Carolina where he joined the newly formed Harvesters Quartet. The Harvesters were made up of several members of the now defunct Crusaders Quartet: Bill Hefner, Buddy Parker, and Hershel Wooten along with David Reece and Pat Patterson. The pianist of the Crusaders Quartet, Dickie Matthews, moved to Atlanta and became a member of the Deep South Quartet, filling the position vacated by David Reece.
The group hired Lewis McKinney to sing lead for a short time. He was replaced by Tommy Rainer. Tommy formerly sang baritone with the Revelaires Quartet. Several of the Deep South Quartet's most popular songs featured Tommy's unique vocals. He was known as having one of the finest lead voices in gospel music at the time. When Tommy left the Deep South Quartet, he sang with the Homeland Harmony Quartet, another group from the Atlanta area, until they retired from the road.
When Dickie Matthews left the quartet, he was replaced by Bob Robinson. Bob had a very unique piano technique, and was also a talented vocalist. Before joining the Deep South Quartet, he was pianist and vocalist with the LeFevres. Bob was also an original member of the Sons of Song.
When Kermit Jamerson left the group, Jimmy Jones offered Bobby Clark his first professional job in gospel music. Bobby is a veteran of several gospel quartets including the Oak Ridge Quartet, Weatherford Quartet, and Dixie Echoes. He is probably best known as the original first tenor for the Cathedral Quartet. Unfortunately, the group of Clark, Rainer, Jones, Jones, and Robinson never made any recordings.
The Deep South Quartet was offered an opportunity to move to the Washington, D.C. area where they worked for a few months before disbanding. I've been told that Jay Davis and Frank York were members of the quartet when they disbanded, but this writer is not familiar with them or any of their work with the group.
When the group disbanded, Jimmy joined the LeFevres as bass singer. Shortly thereafter, Rex Nelon joined the group and Jimmy moved to baritone. He remained with the LeFevres for more than ten years. Jimmy still maintains a wonderful voice as evidenced by his work with the current Sunshine Boys. He joined the Palmetto State Quartet on the stage this year at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion, and sounded as good as any bass singer on the program.
Several years ago, the master tape for a Deep South Quartet album was discovered. The quality was pristine. When Jimmy Jones found out about the discovery, he said that he remembered recording it, but thought it had long been destroyed. Although the music itself was superb, there were no funds available to release the recording, so the project was shelved. Shortly thereafter, the group disbanded, much to the disappointment of its loyal fan base.
Such is the life of many wonderful groups from the early years in gospel music. Without a major recording contract to support them, and without strong promotional and financial help from within, excellent groups from this era simply disbanded. Such was the case of one of my favorite "forgotten groups" of all time, the Deep South Quartet.