Bible & Tire Recording Co. spotlights rich history, contemporary spiritual singers in Memphis – The Commercial Appeal

The Sensational Barnes Brothers lead the launch of the new Memphis gospel label Bible & Tire Recording Co.(Photo: Bill Reynolds)

Bruce Watson has always been drawn to the sacred and profane, spiritual sounds and the music of the devil.

As a longtime executive with Mississippis Fat Possum Records label, hes been a pivotal force in the discovery and rediscovery of a generation of HillCountry blues arts. With his own Big Legal Mess label, hes done the same with a group of veteran soul and R&B artists from Memphis and the region. But Watson has always had a deep, abiding passion for gospel music as well specifically the soulful classic gospel of the '60s and '70s.

When you listen to contemporary gospel, I dont hear too many things that sound like gospel used to. And a lot of that is down to the technology, Watson said. When synthesizers and drum machines, synthesized horns, all came into the picture in the 80s, gospel music changed all music changed but that aspect has definitely lingered in gospel. And so I wanted to start a label that put out music that had the feel of the older gospel stuff, but with contemporary artists.

To that end, Watson will launch a new spiritual music label called Bible & Tire Recording Co. This week, the Memphis-based company will put out The Sensational Barnes Brothers LP, Nobodys Fault But My Own, and a compilation of classic 70s sides by Elizabeth King & The Gospel Souls. The Barnes Brothers and King will also be among the acts performing as part of the A Night of Memphis Deep Soul Gospel Concert at Crosstown Arts on Friday night, an event that will help christen Bible & Tire.

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The Sensational Barnes Brothers will release their LP, "Nobody's Fault But My Own" on Sept 20.(Photo: Handout)

Watson previously explored Memphis rich, if somewhat forgotten, gospel label past. In 2014, he released The Soul of Designer Records, a multi-disc box set focusing on the local gospel label run by producer Style Wooten from 1968 to 1978.

Watsons decision to ultimately start a new throwback gospel label in Bible & Tire was two-fold. Hed already been working with a new act, the Barnes Brothers, at his Delta-Sonic Sound studio, using the sibling singers as background vocalists on various R&B and soul projects for Robert Finleyand Don Bryant, among others.

Theyve been performing in church since they were kids, Watson said. I proposed to them that we do a gospel record, using some of the songs from the Designer Records catalog.

At the same time, Watson also struck a deal to acquire the little-known, but voluminous, catalog of another old Memphis gospel label:D-Vine Spirituals.

Launched by Pastor Juan Shipp in 1971, and operating for most of that decade, the D-Vine Spirituals' catalog was only known to a few hardcore record collectors, including musician and music historian Mike Hurtt, whod worked with Watson on the Designer box set. Several years back, Hurtt initiated talks with Shipp to do something with the many hours of recordings he had sitting in storage. Last year, Watson finalized a deal with Shipp.

Gospel artist Elizabeth King will perform at Crosstown Arts on Friday.(Photo: Handout)

We got like 150 tapes, something like 13 hours of gospel music and 90% of it is amazing, said Watson, who spent six months transferring the tapes. Pastor Shipp, who is still around, he was a gospel deejay back in the day. Actually, Style Wooten would bring in his Designer records for him to play. And I think after a while Pastor Shipp started to think, Well, these recordings dont sound as good as they could. So he started his D-Vine Spirituals label almost as a reaction against Designer.

In getting to know Shipp, Watson also realized many of the original D-Vine artists, including Elizabeth King and the D-Vine Spiritualettes, were still alive, active and performing locally. That cemented Watson's decision to formally launch a dedicated gospel label in Bible & Tire, which he will do this week with the company's first two releases: The Sensational Barnes Brothers debut, and a reissue of Kings '70s recordings mostly previously unreleased on D-Vine.

The King reissue will serve as teaser for several other projects. Watson is currently putting together an expansive D-Vine box set to be released in 2020. Hes also working on a new album with King and is set to record a D-Vine Spiritualettes LP later this month. Watson has recently branched out from the Mid-South, signing a North Carolina group, Dedicated Men of Zion. He will record them this fall.

All of the Bible & Tire Recording Co. releases will be held at Watsons Uptown studio, Delta-Sonic Sound, mostly with a house band consisting of Memphis all-stars including multi-instrumentalist Jimbo Mathis, guitarist Will Sexton, bassist Mark Edgar Stuart and drummer George Sluppick.

Watson hopes the projects will shine a much-needed light on a golden bygone era of gospel musicand, hopefully, usher in a new one as well.

The truth is people have done so much with soul and blues singers (in the South),but theres more untapped or unheard gospel talent to be discovered here than probably anything. Feels like its time the world at large got a chance to hear some of that music and those artists.

Memphis vocal duo The Sensational Barnes Brothers.(Photo: Bill Reynolds)

Featuring performances by The Sensational Barnes Brothers, Elizabeth King, D-Vine Spiritualettes, The Vaughn Sisters, the Rev. John Wilkins, Elder Ward, Liz Brasherand Gary Lucky Smith.

Friday, at the Crosstown Theatre at Crosstown Arts, 1350 Concourse Ave.

Doors at 6:30 p.m., music starts at 7 p.m.

Tickets: $15. Available at crosstownarts.org or at the door.

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Bible & Tire Recording Co. spotlights rich history, contemporary spiritual singers in Memphis - The Commercial Appeal

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