Cruse With The Cruse Family; By Philip Mayabb

The music industry is constantly evolving, sounds that were popular many years ago are considered passé in today's society.  That means that for the artists themselves, re-invention is a necessary component if you plan on a long, successful career.  That's what we're going to explore with this week's Vinyl Revival blog, because it plays a very important role in the group whose name is listed on our featured LP, I report, you decide.

This week's album is the 1982 release from the Cruse Family, simply titled Cruse.  There are a couple of storylines I want to cover in this week's blog, because to fully appreciate this album and group, we need to cover them both, so let's get started on the first.  The Cruse Family themselves were considered a veteran group by 1982, but not completely in the CCM market.  The earliest release I have found has been an album from around 1970, called The Singing Joe Cruse Family,* and it appears to be an unassuming, independent release to help the family promote their singing ministry.  Back in the day, 99.5% of family gospel singing groups were southern gospel, and the Singing Joe Cruse Family was no exception, and my research suggests that they released a total of three indie albums under that name, until about 1973 (small side note here...knowing as much about southern gospel as I do, it is my guess that several MCs must have suggested a shorter name for the group - The Singing Joe Cruse Family HAD to be a mouthful!).  Around that time, they did change their name, to a much simpler, easier to utter moniker The Cruse Family, and that was a good career move, because more of the Cruse children were now getting old enough to join the family ministry.  The Cruse Family recorded four more indie albums until they got their big break.

Around 1976, the family was signed to their first national recording contract, with one of the biggest labels in southern gospel music, Canaan Records.  The home of artists such as the Rex Nelon Singers, The Happy Goodman Family, The Florida Boys, and many others were happy to add the Cruse Family to what was the most impressive roster in southern gospel, but the group was beginning to start an evolution musically, because the Cruse kids were getting even older, and now writing songs for the family to sing.  As many of the younger generation were doing at the time, the Cruse young'uns (as their called in the south) were writing songs that were not necessarily traditional southern gospel in nature...they featured more youth oriented rhythms, and in some cases, strings and horns, things that most SG groups had not fully embraced yet.  The Cruse Family would record a total of three albums for the titanic southern gospel label (longevity on one particular label was never their strong suit), and the best from those three LPs would be reissued on the 1981 compilation The Best Of The Cruse Family which was not released on Canaan, but instead on DaySpring Records, the home of The Imperials and Gaither Vocal Band.  

During their stint at Canaan, The Cruse Family did manage one rather impressive feat...they were nominated for a Dove award in the 1979 Song Of The Year category for their recording of Gary S. Paxton's He Was There All The Time. so they were not a bush league singing group, they were the real deal.  The family's tight harmonies had won them a steady stream of fans, and they drew rather well on the southern gospel quartet circuit, but since their sound was more youth driven, a lot of the older, more traditional SG fans were not showing as much allegiance to the group as the younger folks were, which in turn hurt record sales (older folks have the money remember).  After Word Inc. dropped The Cruse Family from Canaan's roster, they were picked up by the other major Christian music conglomerate, The Benson Company.  Benson was in the process of rebuilding their Impact Records label, after losing major acts such as the Bill Gaither Trio and The Imperials, and the label was in need of some new blood.  In 1980, The Cruse Family released their 11th album, called Harmony, and collected their first CCM chart single, called Power, which went to a peak position of #13.  The following year, the album For Every Heart was issued, and with it came another top 15 smash, called I Can Laugh Again.  

That's when a string of bad luck involving a record label would begin, and would victimize The Cruse Family an amazing four times in less than five years.  Benson put Impact Records on ice essentially in late 1981, leaving this up and coming CCM act without a home yet again.  The success of their two Impact recordings did not go unnoticed, and as a result, the powers that be at CBS Priority Records signed The Cruse Family to a new record deal.  Now known as Sony Music, CBS was then the home of some of the biggest names in mainstream (or secular, as it was known then) music, from all genres.  After having made a name for themselves with artists like Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Chicago, Toto, Johnny Cash, so on and so forth, CBS was wanting to get in to the now profitable world of Christian music, and so in 1981, they created Priority Records.  For a short three years, Priority assembled a rather impressive roster of artists, including names such as Cynthia Clawson, Carman, Bob Bennett, B.J. Thomas, and David & The Giants.  The Cruse Family fit right in at the upstart label, and in 1982, they released their 14 album, titled Cruse (that's our album this week, remember).  The album turned out to be the most successful album in the group's history, landing three hit singles on the CCM Magazine Adult Contemporary chart.  Bless Your Name was first, landing at #10, I Am The Mighty One, which is my personal favorite track from the album, became their biggest chart single ever, reaching #4, and the final hit from the record was called Sing, and it went to #12.  I can tell you from reading the credits of this album that CBS dropped a lot of money on the production of Cruse, because some of the biggest names on the L.A. studio scene were brought in to play on the record.  The cast of amazing studio cats made a world of difference in the finished product, as you will hear on Vinyl Revival this week, and the fact that CBS had an almost infinite amount of cash to sink into the promotion of the album made Cruse one of the label's most successful releases, in regard to hit singles.

But as the old saying goes all good things must come to an end... before the Cruse's could start on the follow up, the financial department at CBS had some bad news.  Even though the Christian music industry was flourishing, the bottom line was not there, and company execs axed the label in 1983 (Carman's Sunday's On The Way was one of the label's final releases), and yet again, The Cruse Family had no home.  The process would happen twice more...after signing with Sparrow Records' Nissi label in 1983, and releasing that follow up album (Cruse 2), the label went out of business, with the family having but one chart hit, a #13 track called A Sign Of The Times.  The process was repeated one final time, this round back at the Benson Company, as they tried to reboot their once successful Greentree Records in 1986.  Dropping The Family off the name, Cruse was now down to three members, but they released an amazing album called Long Journey Home, and hit the CCM Magazine charts a final time with Tim Miner's All The Lonely People, which peaked at #5.  Four labels in 6 years - each had gone out of business after The Cruse Family had released albums for them, luck and timing does not get any worse than that.

These days, the Cruse children have all made their ways in the world, several as pastors, some as worship leaders, and even some of the family grandchildren have followed in their parents footsteps.  The Cruse family did suffer a tremendous loss in June of this year, when patriarch Joe Cruse Jr. passed away at the age of 90 years old.  He had been the head of The Singing Joe Cruse Family 50 years ago, and he and his children have left a very impressive musical legacy that we celebrate this week, as we enjoy their biggest release Cruse.  A few quick notes in closing...if you enjoy the CCM sound of the 80s, this album is definitely for you, the music is dated, but this is a really good record.  As I mentioned earlier, the use of the some of the best studio musicians from Los Angeles, and some very good songwriting and production from producer John Rosasco (who also produced Cruse 2) made this an album that still holds up well today, almost 40 years later.  I encourage you to give this underrated family group a listen, and hear just how good The Cruse Family really were, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.



Side 1 - 

1. First Love

2. How Did God Know

3. Everyday Life

4. I Am The Mighty One

5. Sing

Side 2 -

1. You Are That Man

2. Understanding Heart

3. Bless Your Name

4. One Day Closer Home

5. Me And My House

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