CCM Classic Blog

Give Me Some "Candy," from Southern Gospel to CCM: By Philip Mayaab

There was a time when Contemporary Christian music as we know it today did not exist.  Until the last couple of years of the 1960s, there was no Christian music that sounded like its top 40 counterparts, so there was nothing else for Christians to listen to but traditional Southern Gospel music.  There will ALWAYS be a debate about the origins of Contemporary Christian Music, and you will ALWAYS have differing opinions on who recorded the first CCM album, but that is not what we are going to discuss right now, that's for another time.  The fact that cannot be debated is this, before the Jesus Music era began, Southern Gospel was the only Christian music available to listen to, and once the CCM explosion came along, most Southern Gospel fans did not (and still do not) like it a bit...traditional church denominations preached against integrating "worldly" music with Christ centered lyrics.  In my very strict Pentecostal Holiness upbringing, our ministers liked to quote 2nd Corinthians 6:17, in which the Apostle Paul writes "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord..." (KJV), using that as a talking point against any form of "Christian" music that was not traditional Southern Gospel.  

So there has always (and still does) existed this chasm between the two factions of Christian music.  Now over the last 20 or so years, the gap has gotten smaller, with both sides recognizing the other's legitimacy, and in some cases, palm branches have been waved...for instance, we've had Clay Crosse cover Gold City's monster classic "Midnight Cry," and on the other side of the coin, The Kingsmen scored a huge hit on the Southern Gospel charts not long ago with a cover of Benny Hester's "When God Ran."  Now I've said all that to say this...before CCM existed, we all listened to Southern Gospel music, and from the late 60s to the late 80s, one of the best SG groups in the business was The Hemphills.  In the mid 70s, the Hemphill children began traveling with their parents in the group, and the most popular of the three kids was baby of the family, and her name was Candy.  Blessed with a beautiful voice and personality to go with it, Candy became one of the 

biggest female vocalists in Southern Gospel through her teenage years in the late 70s.  By 1982, she had became enough of a household name, that the Benson Company decided to send her into the studio without her family, to record a solo album.  Simply titled "Candy," the album was released in 1982, to a HeartWarming (the Hemphills' record label) reception, but Benson decided to try a little experiment, and they released the album's leadoff track, called "In A Different Light" to CCM radio, and lo and behold, the song went to number 28 on the CCM Magazine singles chart - the girl from a Southern Gospel family had crossed over to CCM, just as Reba Rambo had done a few years earlier.

The success of her debut single on the CCM charts had not only secured the young singer a follow up album, but had also forced the A&R department at the Benson Company to rethink their strategy for that album.  True, it was mostly SG fans that had bought Candy's album, but the possibility existed that she could reach a broader audience, and sell more product in the process, so for her follow up, the label decided to try a more contemporary approach for her sophomore LP, and for that,  they called in White Heart guitarist/keyboardist/songwriter Billy Smiley in to produce Candy's second album.  Not a bad call on Benson's part, because Smiley was not only a top notch record producer, but he had previous experience working with a Southern Gospel sound - he had produced the Gaither Vocal Band's sophomore album "Passin' The Faith Along" in 1983, which is the most SG sounding album from the quartet's first 12 years.  So with Billy at the helm, Southern Gospel's sweetheart went into the studio for her second solo record, this time with a more contemporary direction.

The results of those sessions became the album we are featuring this week on CCM Classic's Vinyl Revival...it was titled "Heart Of Fire," it was released in 1984, and this time, the record company sank more resources into promoting the album to the contemporary audience.  Of course, the Southern Gospel audiences that Candy sang for with her family bought the album too, but as a result of Smiley's production work, as well as the music being promoted to contemporary radio, "Heart Of Fire" was a successful follow up, this time racking up a pair of CCM Magazine chart singles, namely "Can't Stop Reachin'" which went to number 40, and the praise and worship infused "Take Us Inside Your Love," which peaked at number 27.  Those numbers don't sound that impressive on the surface, but when you consider that this is a singer who made her name on the opposite end of the Christian music spectrum, those numbers are actually a lot better than they appear to be.  Despite the fact that Billy Smiley's own band White Heart had just finished recording their second album (Vital Signs) when these sessions started, he was able to balance Candy's traditional Southern Gospel vocal style with the contemporary music tracks recorded for the album, and the result was a very solid, adult contemporary recording, one that fans of both genres could enjoy, although I'm sure some of Candy's long time fans might have been shocked by the photo of her on the front of the album...some felt it to be a bit "too sexy" for Candy's wholesome image.  That notwithstanding, the music contained on "Heart Of Fire" is quite good, and I would dare say it is even a bit better than a lot of CCM albums that came out in 1984.  

There are tracks on this album that are undeniably contemporary, and there are tracks on the album that are straight up Southern Gospel, but the way the two contrasting styles blend are what makes this record so good, and it's part of the reason I chose it to share with you this week.  I wish I could have seen The Hemphills live while this album was current, because it would've been very interesting to see which songs Candy performed live.  My guess would be "If The Lord Is On My Side," "Stranger," and "Others Were, But Jesus Is" would have been the ones, because they are the most Southern Gospel friendly songs on the album.  For the CCM fans, the other seven songs on the album were right up their alley.  "Can't Stop Reachin'" was very radio friendly, and quite frankly, I sometimes think that Candy's country type voice might have been what prevented the song from being a bigger hit than the number 40 it garnered, but when you hear it this week, I think you'll like what you hear.  Other standout tracks on the album include side two's leadoff song "Look To The Light," which Lenny LeBlanc not only helped Candy write, but he sings a duet on as well.  It is by far the most undeniably contemporary song on this record, and it's also one of my three personal favorites from the album.  I don't know if it was ever released as a single, but if not, it should have been.  The title song, which opens the album is another song that could have been a radio single, and another outstanding song, which I believe everyone will enjoy listening to as well.

In short, there really isn't a bad song on this album, especially when you consider that the artist was not a full time contemporary singer.  She was able to get a lot of mileage out of having Billy Smiley as her producer, because he co-wrote 6 of the album's ten songs, in fact "Going To The New Jerusalem" was actually written with Smiley's partner in crime and fellow White Heart member Mark Gersmehl.  In fact, a look at the credits reveal the White Heart connections on this album are very prevalent...four of the band's original six members, Smiley, Gersmehl, guitarist Dann Huff and bassist Gary Lunn all contributed in some way to the credits on "Heart Of Fire."  The musician credits are actually very interesting, and balanced to boot, because there are musicians on this album who primarily played on contemporary albums, and others who had worked with Candy previously on sessions with The Hemphills, so kudos to the producer for balancing the musicians the way he did.  I believe everyone will really be impressed with how well Candy Hemphill pulled this off...even though her experience was in the world of Southern Gospel music, she was able to create an album that had enough Southern in it to keep her family's fans happy, and enough contemporary to draw in the CCM fanbase, albeit in a small way.

After this album, Candy would wait two more years before releasing her third, and final solo recording during her career with The Hemphills.  In 1986, the album "Arms Of Love" was released, this time to far less fanfare as her first two, and it yielded one minor hit on the CCM charts.  In early 1990 The Hemphills retired from the road after a long and distinguished 23 years on the SG touring circuit.  However, Candy would be heard from one final time on the CCM charts in 1989, this time with her second cousin, Tanya Goodman Sykes, and with Sheri Easter in the female trio Heirloom. Their single "Prayer Warrior" would hit the top 30 on the CCM Magazine charts.  After The Hemphills retired, Candy went into full time ministry and she currently runs the Bridge Ministry in Nashville that ministers to homeless individuals, by holding services under the Jefferson Street Bridge every Tuesday evening...a far different gig than what she was doing in 1984, but still ministering to those in need.  With a story like that, we here at CCM Classic are pleased to present her second solo album to you this week as our Vinyl Revival LP of the week, so we invite you to listen in, and ask yourself a question..."is your heart a "Heart Of Fire?"

TRACKLIST

Side One - 

1. Heart Of Fire

2. He Knew Everything About Me

3. Can't Stop Reachin' (#40 hit, CCM Magazine Adult Contemporary Chart)

4. You Still Believe In Me

5. If The Lord Is On My Side (Who Can Be Against Me)

Side Two - 

1. Look To The Light (duet with Lenny LeBlanc)

2. Stranger

3. Take Us Inside Your Love (#27 hit, CCM Magazine Adult Contemporary Chart)

4. Going To The New Jerusalem

5. Others Were, But Jesus Is

1984, Impact Records, a division of the Benson Company



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