“The Voice” Remembered: A Tribute to Vern Gosdin

Paul W. Dennis | April 29th, 2009

Vern Gosdin The ability to convey the depths of despair, the heights of jubilation and the serenity of an abiding faith are all that is required to be known as “The Voice.” Unfortunately, very few possess the ability to do all that and what’s more unfortunate, we lost one of those few–possibly the best of those few–today with the death of Vern Gosdin at the age of 74.

Born in Woodland Alabama, Vern (1934-2009) and his brother Rex (1938-83) first surfaced in the American conscious during the late 1960s as a duo in Southern California. Despite their inclusion in the Byrds’ inner circle of musicians and friends, the Gosdin Brothers’ bluegrass/country/rock never achieved great success.

The Gosdin brothers grew up with their seven siblings on a farm. Since money was never in great supply, they, like many other poor rural children, turned to music to escape the drudgery of everyday life. Energized by their discovery of the Louvin Brothers, Rex and Vern (and a third brother) started singing together, mastering the art of vocal harmony, and performing regularly on local radio station WVOK as teenagers. In 1953 Vern moved to Atlanta and in 1956 he moved again to Chicago where he ran a country music nightclub. Meanwhile Rex had moved to California.

Vern moved to Los Angeles in 1961, where he joined up with Rex and they expanded their musical horizons as they found their way into a bluegrass group led by Chris Hillman called the Golden State Boys. The group later changed its name to the Hillmen. Their association with master musician Hillman led to their acceptance into the Los Angeles music scene from which later stars such as Poco, Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles emerged. During this period, the Gosdin Brothers picked up gigs when available, performed on recording sessions, and recorded a few songs as a duo. The duo expanded their musical repertoire, moving into an area somewhere between the folk-rock of the pre-Gram Parson Byrds and the Country-Rock that would emerge in the early 1970s.

In 1966 Vern and Rex contributed vocal harmonies to Gene Clark’s album Gene Clark and the Gosdin Brothers. In 1967 a single, “Hangin’ On,” cracked the charts, leading to the release of the duo’s only album, Sounds of Goodbye on Capitol in 1968. The title song, written by up and coming songwriter Eddie Rabbit was a hot commodity–so much so that three different acts recorded and released the song as a single, ensuring that no one would have a big hit with the record, although Opry veteran George Morgan came closest as his version was a big hit in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic areas. Tommy Cash’s record also made the national charts with the song. The Gosdin Brothers version did not chart nationally, but it did well on the left coast and prevented Morgan or Cash from having a major hit with the song.

Since country music was a singles-driven genre, the failure of “The Sounds of Goodbye,” the most radio-friendly cut on the album, spelled finis to their recording career on Capitol. This was truly a pity as the album contains many great harmonies and otherwise worthwhile moments including original material in “For Us To Find” and “The Victim.” While the Gosdin Brothers sounded good collectively, Vern’s sparkling vocals were the highlight of the album. Discouraged, the Gosdin Brothers split up with Vern largely dropping out of the entertainment business for a while when he returned to Atlanta, where he ran a glass and mirror shop. Rex continued to perform.

The Voice Returns

Vern Gosdin never completely stopped performing. In 1976, he returned to recording for the Elektra label, charting a solo version of “Hangin’ On” and enjoying Top 10 hits with “Yesterday’s Gone (both featuring harmony vocals by Emmylou Harris, a friend from his California days) and “Till The End.” By that time he was past forty years old. He left his sons to run the glass and mirror business and rejoined Rex for touring. Unfortunately, Rex died in May 1983 at the age of 45, some two weeks before his own solo recording of “That Old Time Feelin’” entered the charts.

Elektra’s country division folded in 1980 and Gosdin landed on small labels AMI (which folded) and Compleat where he enjoyed continued success. After landing with Compleat, Gosdin joined forces with songwriter Max D. Barnes (whose son Max T. Barnes also was a successful songwriter) to write some truly classic honky tonk laments. In 1983 Gosdin had two top five hits (“If You’re Gonna Do Me Wrong” and “Way Down Deep”) and in 1984 he had his first #1 single with “I Can Tell by the Way You Dance (You’re Gonna Love Me Tonight)” and had two additional top 10 hits.

After 1984, his career hit a temporary lull, but the “New Traditionalist” movement lured Columbia into signing him in 1987 where he justified Columbia’s faith in signing him with a top 10 hit in the tormented “Do You Believe Me Now.” In 1988 Gosdin returned to the top of the charts with his Ernest Tubb tribute “Set ‘Em Up Joe.” The next year “Chiseled In Stone,” co-written with Barnes, won the Country Music Association’s Song of the Year and cemented his reputation as one of the all-time great song stylists. His 1989 album, Alone, chronicled the breakup of his own marriage.

Between 1978 and 1988, Gosdin would chart 27 more U.S. country chart hits, including chart toppers in “I Can Tell By The Way You Dance (You’re Gonna Love Me Tonight)” and “Set ‘Em Up Joe.” He was hospitalized in 1995 with a stroke and subsequently dropped by Columbia. He continued to record sporadically after that. In 2005, Gosdin was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. Perhaps the Country Music Hall of Fame will see fit to do likewise.

“The Voice” is now silenced but he left behind an incredible legacy of recorded performances. Other than George Jones and Roy Orbison, the world has never known a performer as expressive and capable of conveying the emotions of loneliness, despair, desolation and heartbreak as Vern Gosdin.

2 Pings

  1. [...] couple of obituaries are already up at The Tennessean and CMT. Edit: The 9513 just posted a wonderful article by the encyclopedic and remarkably speedy Paul W. [...]
  2. [...] This album is not formally available, but cheap used copies are easy to get hold of. And if you want a taster of Vern, Country California is offering a giveaway of his Super Hits here: www.countrycalifornia.com/the-last-vern-gosdin-giveaway/ [...]
  1. Rick
    April 29, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Paul, thank you for putting together this wonderful article on Vern. It’s a fitting tribute to an extremely talented performer. Its sad that a voice like Vern’s wouldn’t go anywhere in today’s American Idol oriented Top 40 mainstream country radio environment where what really matters is youth, beauty, and pop-rock vocal bling….

  2. merlefan46
    April 29, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    He had a fabulous song “The Other Side Of Life” What meaning that must have to his family now.

  3. Razor X
    April 29, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    Very nice tribute. Thanks, Paul.

  4. JD
    April 29, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    “That Just About Does It, Don’t It”

  5. J.R. Journey
    April 29, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    RIP, Vern.

  6. CMW
    April 29, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    Thanks for the nice tribute, Paul.

  7. Alex
    April 30, 2009 at 5:38 am

    A sad loss for country music. We’ve created an online tribute for fans to pay their respects at http://www.lastingtribute.co.uk/tribute/gosdin/3070305

  8. Jordan Stacey
    April 30, 2009 at 7:51 am

    I was so sad to hear the news yesterday, I can’t believe he’s gone…We’re losing too many of the greats…I wish I was older so I could’ve been around when they were topping the charts. Nice tribute, thanks for writing it.

  9. Mike K
    April 30, 2009 at 8:00 am

    Well done, Paul. I’m not old enough to remember the early stuff, but when I was a kid and “Set ‘em Up Joe” first came out I figured the guy singing it must have been one of the big stars of country music because his voice was out of this worlds. “Is It Rainin’ at Your House” was always my favorite.

  10. robert morton
    April 30, 2009 at 8:33 am

    vern will be missed” he has got me through alot.

  11. Betty Gosdin
    April 30, 2009 at 11:04 am

    Vern will be missed by the whole family.

  12. pat
    April 30, 2009 at 11:26 am

    Yes Vern, ” It IS raining at my house” today..and I do miss you.
    What a gift he gave to us with the simple but powerful voice. If there was ever an artist that sang with his heart, it was Vern….

  13. Guy
    April 30, 2009 at 11:38 am

    What a voice … what great records he made.

    He may have been a “late bloomer” but he sure left his mark on Country Music.

    We could sure use an artist like him now.

  14. idlewildsouth
    April 30, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    Great Tribute.

    I was writing with a guy last night and said “So, I guess you heard Vern Gosdin died.” Ane he said “Who?”. I almost walked out right then.

  15. david
    April 30, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    vern-RIP

  16. Cathy
    April 30, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    I hate to hear another GREAT has been taken from us,how beautiful HEAVEN must sound.Besides Conway Twitty,Vern was my favorite singer,He will be MISSED.Wish I could have seen him in person at least 1 time.

  17. Jon
    April 30, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    Writing at night?!

  18. idlewildsouth
    April 30, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    What can I say Jon, Im a bit of a rebel.

  19. RUBY HORNE
    April 30, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    He will be well miss . He had the best voice I ever heard. We Loved Him. He is with owe father in heaven now. God Bless his soul, Amen!

  20. David B
    April 30, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    He truly was “The Voice”. So many of today’s stars credit Vern as an influence. Maybe that and his impressive career during the 1980′s will earn him a well deserved place in the Country Music Hall of Fame someday. I would vote for him in a heartbeat.

  21. Terry
    April 30, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    Vern was one of the best singers of all time. There will never be another like him. R.I.P. my friend…You will be missed but your music will live forever…………

  22. Glenn
    May 3, 2009 at 9:27 am

    Vern you are one of the best, I grew up listening to you and George Jones.My mom played you guys for days on end, I have within the last four years I started singing and have won several awards here in Maine.So Vern you go up to heaven and sing with the other greats and tell Conway Twitty I said hi.
    GOD BLESS YOU

  23. desmond(country dez)
    May 3, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    iam acountry and western disjockie from anguilla in the caribbean. the death of vern has hit me real hard i play him constantly on my radio show that is twice weekly eight hours of music my show would never be complete without a couple of tunes from vern he always sing it from the heart whethere it was a sad or happy one every sunday morning i play his gospel album for insperation i thank him sincerely for the contribution he has made to country musichis songs will be played more on my show sympathy to his family and fans rest in piece vern your music will speak for you .

  24. Janett Williamson
    May 4, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    We Loved Vern Gosdin`s music. We went to Woodland , AL yesterday saw his mother`s tombstone where he got the inspiration for Chiseled in Stone one of the greatest songs of all time. He will be missed.Hope he is in The Country Music Hall of Fame Soon. Janett Williamson

  25. BallerCraig
    May 15, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    Pure soul, a rarity in music. No one will ever have a voice like his. He’ll live forever.

  26. David S
    May 29, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    We have lost one of the all time great country singers.Vern was the only singer who could bring a tear to my eye.He sang his pain,and you felt it.Rest easy old friend,”The Voice” will live on forever.

  27. Helen
    August 27, 2009 at 8:29 am

    I had the pleasure of meeting Vern one time. My nephew, brought him to see me at my home.He sang me a song that he was writing. I wish I remembered the name of it but I don’t.

    Vern was and is my favorite singer. His voice is so smooth and clear, it’s no wonder he was called “the Voice.” Just listen to “The Garden” and tell me he didn’t put his heart and soul into that song……
    I will vote for him to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He deserves to be.
    RIP Vern.I will miss you…..Helen

  28. VG TEAM
    November 12, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    Thank you so much to the fans and the owner of this page. Your review was well thought out.

    We’re still hard at work getting The Voice of Country Music into the Hall of Fame where he belongs and we need your support.

    Please stop by and Vote for Vern Gosdin at http://thevoiceofcountrymusic.com

    Stay Country!

  29. chad smith
    April 7, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    you have been a insperation in my life, your voice will always be with us

  30. Carol Miller and Family
    April 7, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    you will be missed here in Quinton and Jasper Alabama, may god keep you in peace

  31. Dan Searle
    January 5, 2011 at 11:14 am

    I had the honor of meeting Vern in Nashville, and we sat in Shoney’s near Music Row and talked about songwriting and country music in general. He was very down-to-earth, and I developed a special admiration and respect for the man. By the time I left Shoney’s that day, I felt that Vern was not only an acquaintance, but a friend.
    God bless you, Vern. You’re one of a kind.

  32. ellen
    July 31, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    WE SURE DO MISS YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!! ONE OF THE ALL TIME GREATEST GOSPEL SINGERS ALIVE OR NOT. WE GOT TO MEET YOU ONCE IN OWENSBORO, KY., AND YOU WILL ALWAYS BE REMEMBERED. WE LOVE YOUR SONG THE OTHER SIDE OF LIFE NOW. WE KNOW THAT IS WERE U R NOW. SINGING THE PRAISES OF GOD, IN HEAVEN YOUR HOME SWEET HOME. WE WILL SEE YOU ONE DAY AND GET TO SING FOREVER AND FOREVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!. WE LOVE YOU TONY AND ELLEN

  33. Rose
    September 1, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    Sept. 1, 2012

    We lost a great voice and human being. Vern will never be forgotten. Our radio station still plays Vern’s music and it’s enjoyed by all. Wish I had a chance to enjoy his show and meet this fine man. Vern, you will live in our hearts forever. You are one of a kind. Vern must be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. This is long over due.

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