I don’t know if they knew it at the time, but 1977 was the start of something truly glorious! The LeFevres had been singing for over 50 years, but with Urias retiring in 1975, Uncle Alf in 1976 and Eva Mae in 1977, there were no more LeFevres, and with the remaining group in tow, Rex (as current owner and manager of the group) made the landmark decision to change the name of the group to the Rex Nelon Singers, and a new legacy was born.
The time leading up to this change, the identifiable sound and style of the LeFevre’s began to change, as new sounds and styles began infiltrating gospel music during the late 60’s and early 70’s. With Urias and Eva Mae’s son, Pierce, retiring from the group in 1972 and the addition of a soprano female vocalist along with various new male lead singers, the original sound of the LeFevres was lost. The group still enjoyed great success during the 70’s with such songs as “I’ve Come Too Far”, “Wonderful Day”, “He’ll Hold My Hand”, “Stepping on the Clouds”, and others, but with the successive retirement of the original 3 members, the end of the LeFevres appeared inevitable. The LeFevres released their last album, “Singing ‘Til He Comes” at the very beginning of 1977, and it was a forerunner of what was coming, as aside from Eva Mae (who only had one feature on that album), it was essentially the Rex Nelon Singers with Rex, Kelly, Janet and Rodney. That album featured some great songs such as “’Til He Comes”, “Ocean of Praise”, “Don’t Be Left Behind” and “Victory Shall Be Mine” that truly showed the magic that was to come! Musically, both “Singing ‘Til He Comes” and “The Sun’s Coming Up” had a very similar feel to them, with a slight edge given to “The Sun’s Coming Up”, as it did incorporate a bit more variety.
Produced by Herman Harper and Wayne Hilton, and with strings arranged by Otis Forrest, the group released “The Sun’s Coming Up” toward the latter half of 1977, as the Rex Nelon Singers, and it was an excellent first effort as a new group. Worth noting here…a unique connection with the last group I reviewed, the Downings…the liner notes on the back of the album credits the Downings’ former drummer Fred Satterfield as the designer of the cover for this album! Speaking of the cover, this is only label album that features the entire group (singers and musicians) on the front cover. Some of their independent albums had the entire group on the front cover, but this is the only label album that shows the whole group. Some of their later recordings in the 9’s did feature the group along with the piano player on the front cover though. Throughout the 70s and 80s, on every label album, the band is pictured on the back cover, which is something I always appreciated about the group, as they always had a top-notch band. Recordings released after the vinyl era still included shots of the entire group inside or on the back cover.
The recording starts out on a happy note with the classic Hank Williams tune, “Jesus Remembered Me”. With its honky-tonk piano intro and distinct country feel, it’s a highly enjoyable number featuring a young Janet Paschal. It’s interesting hearing her voice take on a very twangy texture for this song, but over time her voice became much more refined and less “country-fied” (not that it’s a bad thing!). The Hayes Family did a really great cover of this song on one of their final recordings, “Come Eat Bread”, released in 2007.
With its wailing harmonica and steel guitar intro, Kelly steps up next to sing one of the group’s early signature songs, “The Sun’s Coming Up”, written by Dee Gaskin (to my knowledge, her first song recorded by a nationally known group) and published by Rex Nelon Music. Spending almost 2 years in the Singing News Top 20, peaking at #5 in September and November 1978, the song endeared Kelly in the hearts of gospel music fans everywhere! I have distinct memories of loving this song every time they sang it on the Gospel Singing Jubilee, and the song became an instant classic for the group. In fact, the Nelons re-recorded it back in 2012 on their “Come on Home” recording, and Kelly sounded as great as ever on it!
Picking the pace back up, the group does a great job on the Andrae Crouch tune, “Soon and Very Soon”, before the tempo slows back down for the worshipful, “Holy is Thy Name”. Written by Bill Henry and published through Rex Nelon Music, this wonderful song has been recorded numerous times over the years by such groups as the Cathedrals, Guardians and Ruppes (my personal favorite rendition). The group would bring this song back nearly 20 years later when they recorded it on their 1995 live recording, “Hallelujah Live”.
Side one concludes with what is probably my favorite song from this album, “This Could Be the Day”. I had forgotten about this song, but when I obtained this album sometime in the late 90’s and heard this song, I immediately remembered hearing them sing it on the Gospel Singing Jubilee numerous times. Written by Vickie Holley and published through Rex Nelon Music, it’s an infectious number filled with banjos and harmonica’s (I love the turn-around with the drums and the glissando on the piano). The song was, no doubt, a concert favorite for the group during this time and a fun song to listen to and sing along with. This would be a great song for someone to bring back…maybe even the Nelons!
The sentimental, “Mama’s Angels”, featuring a tender performance by Rex and really nice strings and steel guitar accents, kicks off the second side before Kelly steps up to sing the up-tempo, “Ready to Go”, another song written by Vickie Holley. Featuring some nice low notes by Rex, it’s an enjoyable number that is Southern Gospel to the core.
Rodney is featured next on the classic Gordon Jensen tune, “I’d Never Miss Heaven”, and it’s one of my personal favorites from this album and one of my favorite songs written by Jensen. I love the steel guitar on the song and the depth of the vocals, as I feel that it’s one of the group’s best vocal performances. The Hayes Family brought this song back in the early 2000’s and enjoyed excellent chart success with their version of the song.
Nicely accented with strings, Janet, Rodney and Rex sing the Lanny Wolfe penned classic, “Whatever it Takes”, before the recording closes out with the country feel of the up-tempo, “Make a New Me”, which features Kelly. The song was actually a new contemporary tune written, and originally recorded by the Cruse Family, but the Nelons’ version is a bit more country with the steel guitar and fiddles. It’s a nice version of the song and Kelly does a really great job.
Sometime after this record came out, the group released an independent album called, “I’ve Never Been This Homesick Before”, which came out in early 1978. The album was a mix of popular songs from the 70’s including “I’ve Never Been This Homesick Before”, “Jesus Will Outshine Them All” and the Andrae Crouch penned, “My Tribute”, as well a few time honored favorites such as “He Whispers Sweet Peace to Me”, “Way Up on the Mountain” and “Everything Will Be Just Right”. The Rex Nelon Singers, much like the Cathedrals, Kingsmen, Hoppers and others, released several independent recordings (aka as “Budget” recordings) during the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s, and while I won’t be reviewing those releases in this series, I do want to make a point in mentioning those throughout my reviews, as the group recorded some really great music that was apart from their label albums.
For their first album as the Rex Nelon Singers, “The Sun’s Coming Up” was a truly great album that showcased the versatility and true class that this group had to offer to the industry. The album exhibited the fact that their sound was a perfect blend of the old, traditional style, but they also had youth on their side blending some light contemporary sounds in their music. This would prove to be one of their best assets, as no other group has been able to blend the old and the new with as much finesse and success as the Rex Nelon Singers could. This album barely scratched the surface, as their future albums would really showcase that there was nothing they couldn’t sing! With this album, the sun was truly just coming up for the group and bright sunny days were just ahead!
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