Another Hidden Gem...You Tell Phillip! Spurr & McNeil
I'm sure that most anyone who is a serious music fan can think of at least one artist who was not given a sufficient chance to show how good they really were. You know, those artists that are often referred to as one hit wonders, who are generally remembered for a single song. Music of all genres have these artists, and Christian music is no exception. A few weeks ago, we featured the only album ever recorded by a band called North Bound...GREAT band who were dealt a terrible hand, and disappeared after that one album. This week, we're featuring a pair of young ladies from Southern California, who sadly followed the same path after recording a FANTASTIC debut LP. The album was titled A Taste Of Eternity, and the two ladies names were Cathy Spurr and Debbie McNeil.
If you think you've heard those names before, you probably have, especially if you listened to a lot of CCM radio in 1984. Spurr & McNeil, as they were known by, scored a hit with their single called Wounded Healer from their only album. Yep, THAT'S where I heard those names you might say, but the story of Spurr & McNeil is a very interesting one that actually starts a few years earlier, with a jazz-rock fusion band called Tamarack. After competing in and winning a Christian music contest, the band began making plans to record their debut album, and they were really good musicians...in fact, maybe too good. Being associated with the musical scene in Southern Cailfornia, Tamarack would often play live for crowds that would include such established musicians as the late Roby Duke, Phil Keaggy, and members of Daniel Amos, and these artists would invite the members of the young Christian fusion band to join their touring bands, and that would eventually spell the end of Tamarack.
However, there were two pieces of the puzzle that remained intact, and they were vocalist and guitarist Cathy Spurr, and vocalist and keyboardist Debbie McNeil. The two young women decided to continue as a duo, and together they began performing and writing their own material. They instituted a west coast pop sound with their writing, and one of their first gigs was a performance at a men's prison in their home state of California, which Cathy described to me in this manner... Debbie and I weren't sure if the men would like our music, but at least we had a captive audience! As it turned out, their music was a hit, and afterward, the two friends began singing and ministering full time, which would lead to the duo being signed by Maranatha's off shoot label, A&S Records. Producer and keyboardist Jeff Lams was hired to produce the sessions, and the ladies were able to recruit some of their friends who had been members of Tamarack to come in, and play on the album.
One of the most impressive facets of the album A Taste Of Eternity is that the two ladies not only possessed dynamite voices, they were also very good writers...every track on this album was written by Cathy, Debbie, or both of them, and there isn't a dud anywhere on this entire recording. As for the music itself, the performances by the studio musicians hired for the album are grade-A top notch. Guys like Cathy's husband, Dave Spurr on drums, Wayne Brasel on guitar, and legendary jazz bassist John Patituci, had all been members of Tamarack, and so they knew the singers very well. In addition, some guest appearances added extra pizzazz to the proceedings...the guitar solo on the album's title track was played by none other than Phil Keaggy himself, who had hired Dave Spurr as his touring drummer. So when all was said and done, the performances, both vocally and musically, as well as the material written by Cathy and Debbie were enough to make A Taste Of Eternity a fantastic album, that should have been treated and handled with a lot more respect by Word Records, the distributors of the project, and you notice I said SHOULD HAVE, because this is great album, that sadly went largely unnoticed, except for the one song...
Wounded Healer sounded great on the radio, it's just that simple. It has a great message, that deals with the fact that Jesus knows each and every situation and trial that His children go through, and when we need to talk about our problems, His ear is always open. It also says that we too can be a wounded healer for those who face the same situations that God has brought us through. Cathy recently told me that the song took over five years to write. She said she started the song, but couldn't finish it the way she wanted it to sound. So she brought it into the studio with her, and sat down with her singing partner, and producer Jeff Lams, and between the three of them were able to finish the song for the ladies to record. One of the most marketable aspects of a hit song is the hook in the chorus, and this song had a good one...
My wounded healer,
Knows what it like to be in my shoes.
My wounded healer,
Somebody, somebody who can understand me...
The song was a solid hit on CCM radio when it was released as the pair's debut single, and seemed to point to good things ahead for the ladies, but for some reason, the promotion of the album, and its subsequent singles was not handled well by their label, or by Word Incorporated, the album's distributer, and after releasing just this one album, Spurr & McNeil just sort of faded into CCM history. A sad ending to what should have been a fruitful career as writers and singers. As you listen to the album, I believe you will see that this album certainly deserved a better fate. Each of the ten songs on the LP are outstanding, and are written, played and sang incredibly well.
In talking with Cathy Spurr, I learned the story of one of the album's most powerful song, titled For Susan. I wish I could tell it to you as well as Cathy told me, but since I can't, I will let Cathy's words tell you the story of this beautiful song...My husband Dave was on tour and as usual I was singing away. Suddenly, God placed such a burden on my heart that I began to cry. I sat down on the couch to pray for whoever it was in such a dire situation. I realized it was no one I could think of -- so it was a stranger that God wanted me to pray for. I prayed for the Lord to be the lifter of this person's head and the shield about him or her. I prayed that this person would choose to look up --and choose to live. My guitar was beside me on the couch. I stopped crying- picked it up and Just For Susan tumbled out. One time at a woman's prison, I told the story of the song and began to sing it. Debbie and I heard a low murmur that was growing and growing. We realized that one by one the women were crying and then sobbing as the Holy Spirit ministered to each woman. Eventually, Debbie and I believe we met Susan at a small Calvary Chapel in Paradise, California while we were touring. Susan's teenage sister asked when the song was written and claimed it had to be for her older sister who was planning to commit suicide. The girl asked us to wait and a few minutes later she came walking down the aisle with Susan. Debbie and I looked at each other and we knew- it was her-- Susan.
What a thought, that we serve a God who can ask us to intercede on behalf of someone that we have never met, or may never meet, for that matter. Cathy also told me the story behind the album's closing song, which just happens to be my favorite track on the entire LP, called Heaven On My Mind. Cathy tells me that she had spent 17 long years praying that her dad would find Christ, and accept Him as his personal savior. After becoming impatient with the Lord at one point, and asking why she had not seen changes in her dad, the Lord spoke and said it will be on his death bed. Three years after hearing the voice of the Lord, Cathy's dad was hospitalized, and armed with the knowledge that God had given her, she began to try to minister to him. The problem was that every time she would try, she would start blubbering (her words). After confiding to her mom that she was frustrated at the fact that she couldn't witness to her dad properly, Cathy told her mother that losing her dad in this life was bad enough, but the thought of losing him eternally was unbearable. She then asked her mom to talk to her dad about the state of his soul, which touched her mom. The following morning at 5:00 A.M., the Holy Spirit woke Cathy's mom up, and instructed her to get to the hospital immediately, and ask her husband about where he stood with God. Upon arriving, she found that her husband did not have much time left, but she asked him if he believed that Jesus died and rose again for his sins, to which he nodded his head. Cathy told me, That was good enough for me. I'll take it. God is faithful. Afterwards, she wrote the song for her dad, and it was included on the album.
It's stories such as these which only deepen my love and appreciation for this album. I have been looking forward to sharing the music of Spurr & McNeil with you ever since I started doing Vinyl Revival for CCM Classic, because I truly believe that this is one of the most underrated albums of the Eighties. As I said previously, there isn't a bad song on the album, the harmonies are as tight as they get, the musical performances are fantastic, and even though I sound like a broken record (no pun intended), it is such a shame that these two young women could not have went on to have long careers in Contemporary Christian Music, but at the same time, maybe that was what the Lord had in mind for them. No matter what, this is one of my top 10 favorite albums of the Eighties, and very high on my list of all time favorites. So I hope you will enjoy the music of Cathy Spurr & Debbie McNeil on Vinyl Revival this week, and as you listen, I hope that you too will experience A Taste Of Eternity.
1. Glory To Glory
2. Wounded Healer
3. A Taste Of Eternity
4. I'll Be Your Fool
5. Hide And Seek
6. The World Is Watching
7. Last Night
8. Just For Susan
9. One Picture
10. Heaven On My Mind
One final note...THANK YOU SO MUCH to Cathy Spurr, for taking time from her busy schedule, to tell me some of the inside scoop on this fantastic album!! If you and Debbie ever decide to do this again, please let me know!!!
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