Long a powerhouse in the Christian music market, Southern gospel singer, songwriter, performer and entrepreneur Bill Gaither is expanding his Gaither Music company beyond his successful Gaither Homecoming CDs and DVDs and related artists’ product (including his own Gaither Vocal Band) to include releases from such country music heritage artists as Alabama, the Oak Ridge Boys, Marty Stuart and Ray Stevens, as well as newcomers Joey + Rory.
“We’re definitely becoming more like a traditional label,” says Barry Jennings, Gaither Music Group president.
“We’re still doing our Homecoming videos, and have two or three shoots scheduled this summer,” says Jennings, “and at 78, Bill is pretty much on the same tour and events schedule. But we’re really focusing on new releases and trying to expand the catalog.”
The “hot one right now” is a forthcoming Alabama gospel collection, says Jennings. The disc will feature new recordings of classic songs, and will be an exclusive at Cracker Barrel at the end of summer.
“It’s a wonderful account for us,” notes Jennings of the restaurant/gift store chain. “We’ve worked with them for years, and our two audiences mesh wonderfully.”
He's referring to the “close relationship between country folks and gospel folks.”
“We’re like kissing cousins,” he says. “It just works well, and Alabama and the other country artists all love gospel music and started singing in churches.”
Among the others, the Oak Ridge Boys are working on an album of hymns for release through Gaither next year. Also coming out is a Ray Stevens gospel collection of new recordings, and a country classics set from Joey + Rory.
“They did an inspirational project for us that did so well at Cracker Barrel and TV outlets and retail—especially the general market,” says Jennings, who also points to the DVD The Gospel Music of and His Fabulous Superlatives with Marty Stuart & Bill Gaither.
“On each of his [RFD-TV] shows he does a gospel song, and we pulled from that and added an interview session with Marty and Bill on the set and made it into a video that we’re marketing on TV,” says Jennings. “For our label, TV is the main marketing method. We don’t have country radio, but a lot of TV exposure.”
These country artists “tie in great for us,” notes Jennings. “We find it’s a very similar market, and Cracker Barrel is a perfect example of taking a country artist and Gaither branding to really help draw attention for us.”
Cracker Barrel will be taking the forthcoming Alabama gospel collection as an exclusive with bonus tracks prior to its release at Christian bookstores and mainstream retail.
"We think it will do very well, and if it does, it could open the door for us with these kinds of artists,” says Jennings.
Due later this year is a Tennessee Ernie Ford DVD/CD package, from which a TV show will be produced. Jennings says that Loretta Lynn and Jimmy Fortune are both doing gospel albums for the company.
And speaking of ex-Statler Brother Fortune, because of the success of Gaither’s reissue of The Statler Brothers Farewell Concert DVD via its Gaither Gospel Series, a Statlers collection of classic country songs that was never released to retail will come out via Gaither next year.
Meanwhile, besides the upcoming Gaither Homecoming productions, Gaither roster artist Guy Penrod has a Christmas album, and new albums are in the works from David Phelps and the Gaither Vocal Band.
Jennings says that they’re also putting together a “bluegrass/country gospel favorites” compilation of recordings taken from artists who have appeared in Gaither videos and including the Statlers, Geroge Jones, Ronnie Milsap, Jimmy Dean, Randy Owen, Randy Travis, Brenda Lee and Marty Stuart.
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