The worlds of country and gospel music historically overlap. As the country music business first took shape, songs about faith and God appeared on seemingly every radio star's program -- a trend that survived the rise of television.
As Southern gospel became more of a separate entity, its stars mirrored many of the same lyrical themes as their secular counterparts. This led to a sharing of values that's made it normal for someone like Randy Travis to branch out into Christian music and wow fans with "Three Wooden Crosses."
In the studio, country folks have been cutting soul-stirring songs for decades, such as Elvis Presley's definitive interpretation of "Peace in the Valley," Ferlin Husky's signature song "Wings of a Dove," Johnny Cash's multiple versions of "The Old Rugged Cross," Alan Jackson's revival-sparking take on "Precious Memories" and Vince Gill co-write "Go Rest High on That Mountain."
Because of this cross-genre exchange, these eight songs penned by songwriters with country music ties sound at home in churches that still sing old-time hymns like "Amazing Grace" and "How Great Thou Art."
1. The Bailes Brothers - "Dust on the Bible"
Over time, this country gospel song has been a go-to. For example, Hank Williams sang it back in the day, Kitty Wells made it the title track of one of her great albums and Wanda Jackson revisited it this century while collaborating with Jack White. It's a Bailes Brothers original, recorded by the West Virginia-based family band in the 1940s.
2. Alfred E. Brumley - "Turn Your Radio On" and "Victory in Jesus"
Alfred E. Brumley brought more than gospel classics into the world. He's also the father of Tom Brumley, a steel guitarist for Buck Owens' Buckaroos and a prime mover in the Bakersfield Sound's birth. The elder Brumley's family would've impacted country music regardless, considering how often "Turn Your Radio On" popped up on albums by Ray Stevens, John Hartford and others.
3. Grady and Hazel Cole - "Tramp on the Street"
Although this song is closely associated with Hank Williams, whose version probably informed covers by Joan Baez and other folk revivalists, it was first written and recorded by North Georgia songwriting duo Grady and Hazel Cole. Although Grady Cole helped write hundreds of songs, including Louvin Brothers deep cut "What A Change One Day Can Make," only this gospel favorite transcends the days of rural singing stars and 15-minute radio spots.
4. Dallas Frazier - "The Baptism of Jesse Taylor"
Frazier is best-known for writing "Elvira," a song that helped bring crossover appeal for former gospel quartet the Oak Ridge Boys. He also co-wrote "The Baptism of Jesse Taylor" with Sanger D. Shafer, creator of George Strait hits "Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind" and "All My Ex's Live in Texas." While it's not too odd that this story-song came from Nashville, it's just as easy to assume that it's yet another Bill Gaither original.
5. Kris Kristofferson - "One Day at a Time"
In 1973, Kristofferson helped his mentor Marijohn Wilkin -- the co-writer behind Stonewall Jackson's "Waterloo" and Lefty Frizzell's "The Long Black Veil" -- compose one of the best songs of Christian faith written in the past 50 years. Marilyn Sellars first recorded it in 1974, with as many as 200 other versions cut in the following years. Few singers from any genre have captured the song's child-like faith as effectively as Merle Haggard.
Kristofferson also wrote another Christian country touchstone, "Why Me Lord."
6. Carl Perkins - "Daddy Sang Bass"
Known for the now-tame rebellion of "Blue Suede Shoes," Perkins went from rockabilly pioneer to an unlikely modern hymnist during his time on the road with one of this song's best-known singers, Johnny Cash. Like a lot of modern gospel standards, it points back to earlier songs. Perkins borrows lines from "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," an old song given new life by Cash's in-laws, the Carter Family.
7. Carl Story - "Gloryland Way" and "The Unclouded Day"
Dubbed the "Father of Gospel Bluegrass," Story solidified the relationship between sacred and secular picking that lives on through The Isaacs and other acts. In the process, he introduced a couple of upbeat originals that suited gospel-minded country artists, his bluegrass peers and the musical needs of old-time church services.
8. Hank Williams - "I Saw The Light"
Hank Williams added statements of faith to the then-familiar tune of Scottish folk song "Bonnie Charlie." Old tunes getting rehashed with new lyrics was common at the time -- see the evolution from "The Great Rhode Island Route" to the "Wabash Cannonball." Williams' song became so standard at tent revivals and on gospel radio that it's odd to think that it wasn't already in the hymnal before its 1948 release.
This story previously ran on Nov. 23, 2019.
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