One of the most popular trios during the late 90s through around 2010 was Paid in Full. Based out of the New Albany area in Northern Mississippi, they were known for cranking out such hits as “I Could Sing About Heaven”, “New Shoes”, “Sailing Towards Home”, “What the Storm Doesn’t Know” and “I Go to Jesus”. The guys even won the Singing News’ Horizon Group of the Year award in 2007. After around 2010, the group started slowing things down a bit and sticking a little closer to home. This year, they are celebrating 30 years of singing, and to commemorate that accomplishment, they released a new recording, appropriately titled, “30th Anniversary”. Released through StowTown Records, the 2-disc collection features 4 brand new songs as well as a comprehensive compilation of 26 of their best loved songs from the last 30 years. Recently I was able to catch up with Jeff Crews, Lance Moore and Bradley Littlejohn to talk about their 30th anniversary and catch us up on the latest happenings with the group…
James Hales (JH): The last few years you guys have been laying pretty low, so let’s catch up on what has been going on with each of you.
Jeff Crews (JC): I am a schoolteacher in North Mississippi, where I teach British and American Literature to high schoolers. I serve as Minister of Music at Flat Rock Baptist Church in Blue Mountain and raise two sons. That has kept me busy the last few years. When an opportunity to rejoin Paid In Full arose, I was excited to step back in to the tenor spot for a relatively limited number of concert dates per year.
Lance is a web-designer and does great graphic design and web hosting work for schools, corporations, and lots of Gospel music personalities you would know. He and his wife, Alison have three children, and they keep him hopping from sports events to band competitions to church activities. Lance also serves as chairman of deacons at Hillcrest Baptist Church in New Albany.
Bradley is a certified public accountant in New Albany, where he lives with his wife, Morgan, and their three children. He is a deacon at New Albany Presbyterian Church. He can always be found at his children’s events or at work with a fresh brewed cup of coffee!
JH: For people who maybe unfamiliar with Paid in Full, give us a brief history of the group.
JC: The group began in 1991, when we were all members of the First Baptist New Albany youth choir. The three of us were more inspired by the Southern Gospel concerts we had attended with our parents than the more Contemporary Christian music our youth choir performed. So, we would sing special music with the youth choir two Sunday nights a month, and the other two Sunday nights, Paid in Full would sing.
We began to receive invitations to area churches, and we took every opportunity to go sing for whoever wanted to hear us. In 1994, when we were in college, our circle of influence increased, and we were doing significant regional travel during that time.
A friend of ours was a friend of Jake Hess, and one day when she took him to the doctor, she played our album for Jake. He called us and lined up concerts for us to do together. Jake really took us under his wing and introduced us to concert promoters, record label people, record producers Michael Sykes and Woody Wright, and Bill Gaither. We began to make appearances on regional Gaither Homecoming concerts and made appearances on a few Gaither Homecoming videos.
We utilized those connections and recorded a series of albums with Woody Wright and/or Michael Sykes producing. Those guys were incredibly creative and talented, and worked to bring out the very best performances. We had a good string of radio successes in the late 90s and early 2000s.
We had a long-standing relationship with the Southern Baptist Convention, singing for countless Senior Adult conferences and events all over the United States. We won Horizon group of the Year in 2007, the same year I left the group to spend more time at home and at my day job.
The group hired a young tenor from the area named Brock White, and they continued to perform and record. In 2019, Brock White left the group, and I returned. The limited touring the group was doing prior to my rejoining was much more manageable for me than the touring schedule we had been doing when I left. We are having the best time we’ve ever had singing together. Everyone is singing better than ever, and everything just fell right back in place, almost like we had never been apart.
JH: So, speaking of you being back, you guys have gone 30 years with only 1 personnel change, what do you think has contributed to that?
JC: In many ways, we always were a family group. We grew up in the same church, the same boy scout troop, the same school, and the same social circle. We learned how to sing harmony singing with each other. In that way, it is very similar to family harmony. There have been other factors that I think helped the group with the personnel issues that most other groups face. For one, we never moved to Nashville, like everyone told us to do. We stayed home-town boys, connected to our hometown churches and community, and to each other. We never bought a bus, as we chose to travel in a custom van. We were able to keep overhead down and make a decent living. There wasn’t any “keeping up with the Joneses,” because in North Mississippi, there weren’t any “Joneses.”
JH: Earlier this year, you guys released your “30th Anniversary” recording. Tell us about that recording.
JC: In 2020, we began working on a 30th Anniversary EP (4 songs) with genius producer Wayne Haun. We were so pleased with the new tracks and Wayne’s work, and apparently Wayne was pleased as well, because he said StowTown would be interested in distributing and promoting the album. We were so thrilled that we decided to do a two-disc, career spanning recording called “30th Anniversary Special Edition.” The team at StowTown is incredible. Those guys and gals are the most professional group we’ve ever been associated with in Gospel music.
We wanted to do music that could fit in two worlds. We imagined that Southern Gospel music and modern Christian K-Love type music got married and had a baby, and that was what we wanted to do. We wanted to please the older Southern Gospel crowd and stay true to our roots, but also try to minister to the Millennial and Gen Z generation who are leaving the church in massive numbers.
My teenage sons and the high school students that I teach tell me they have bought our album on iTunes and love it, and our long time, traditional SG listeners love it too, so I guess we were successful.
JH: Any special memories from the last 30 years?
LM: How long do you want this interview to go? Ha! My brain was just hit with about a dozen, all at once. I could go through so many great times, but really, it’s the culmination of all of them that are so special. 3 guys who didn’t know how to make harmony gave it a shot. It was rough, unpolished and unrefined, but there was something there. A big dose of faith and, well, blissful unawares made it into something special. I will say this – a year or so ago, my teenagers (yes, time has marched on!) were riding with us in the car on a road trip. I suddenly hear “Dad, can you play some of your songs” from the back. Now, that gets my attention, for while they knew our music, they had heard it enough, if you know what I’m saying. For the next hour, they picked favorites from across the years and I think that was the sweetest memory of all. I realized then that the power of the Gospel in music wasn’t just something we were “putting out there” . . . it was something being engrained in the very souls of our families, even when we didn’t see it.
JH: Lance, you’re a songwriter, what is your personal favorite song that you have written and recorded over the years and why?
Lance Moore (LM): My very first foray into songwriting came at the most unexpected moment (as many do). I still remember the moment it came to me in my kitchen, as the sun shone through the window on an absolutely beautiful morning; and, there it was . . . I had been waiting for a morning like that for a few weeks. I quickly grabbed my laptop and the song, “Waiting for the Morning” just flowed out. I created a very rough demo and sent it down to Andrew Ishee to let him hammer out some chords and a quick arrangement, then the Nashville musicians sculpted it into a really cool sound! It was one of those moments where I just took what God inspired me with and let him do the rest through all the talented people around me. I think that was a big moment for me, as an artist.
JH: Who were some of your musical influences?
LM: With the group, it was the Kingsmen, Cathedrals, Masters V and more. For me, the group that really made it all “click” was Greater Vision. I grew up with quartets, but this was different. I think when GV hit the airwaves, my ears perked up like never before. It was a sort of raw, yet very focused harmony that just had the right things going for it . . . and that set me in motion for a love of singing Southern Gospel. It was groundbreaking for me back then, as a teenager.
JH: You guys seem to be heavily influenced by the classic quartet music from the 60s and 70s and have always recorded fresh arrangements of classic tunes such as “When My Master Walks with Me”, “New Shoes”, “I’ll Be in the Rapture”, “That’s Just Like Jesus” and others. What are some songs you guys would like to tackle but haven’t recorded yet?
Bradley Littlejohn (BL): My first Southern Gospel experiences were with the Kingsmen and Inspirations of the 1980s. Quartet music is dear to my heart as well as Jeff and Lance. We’ve all been influenced by the Statesmen, Blackwood Brothers, Cathedrals, Oak Ridge Boys, as well as family groups like the Goodmans and Rambos. Some tunes I’d love for us to tackle would be the Rambo’s tune “The Unseen Hand,” the Kingsmen Quartet’s “When My Feet Touch the Streets of Gold,” and “We Are So Blessed” by the Cathedrals.
JH: In 30 years of traveling and singing, what are the greatest lessons you have learned?
BL: I’ve learned – against my stubborn will – about how to be patient and trust God’s timing during the past 30 years of singing. When we wait on Him, it is so much more peaceful and fulfilling than thinking we can rush Him up or do things ourselves.
JH: What is God teaching you right now?
BL: We have had some big plans for 2020 and 2021 that haven’t worked out yet mainly due to the pandemic. However, in all of that, God allowed us to record new music with StowTown and release this latest project which is a major praise. Hopefully, when the time is right, we will be able to be back in churches singing these songs and others about Jesus!
Find out more about Paid in Full via their website: www.paidinfull.net