4 Jul 2021

Austin, Texas

The real thing ... don't miss it

'Hypnotic rhythm and complex background harmonies showcase some amazing lead tenors here ... if you loved the Golden Age of Gospel, do not pass this one by. You will find yourself whistling "Talk About Jesus" (their 1952 hit that sold 26,000 copies) or "Jesus Changed This Heart of Mine" more than you realize. The plaintive "No More Sorrow" is my favorite, but there is all good music here, original songs sung in the heartfelt way that makes 1950s Gospel music so compelling. Music is fantastic all the way; sound quality is acceptable but not good; take it 'cause it is the real thing.' -Lynn Walker

'This album showcases gospel music in the '40s and early '50s and features one of the great quartets of them all - The Bells of Joy. The group enjoyed great standing on the gospel circuits of America, but without the commercial success of some of their contemporaries. It was not until 1980s and a reissue of this material in Japan that they became acknowledged as one of the most exciting gospel groups of all time.'

'Although today not remembered as often as other groups, like the Soul Stirrers, the Swan Silvertones and the various Blind Boys that travelled the Gospel Highway in the late 40s and 50s the Bells Of Joy, based in Austin, Texas, had a huge hit and were once big enough to grace the front cover of Cashbox magazine. The sound of quartet singing was changing, with less emphasis on harmony, more on up-tempo, call and response pyrotechnics and with songs accompanied by drums and guitars. The Bells were one of the first to move in this modern direction. The biggest hit that The Bells Of Joy had was with "Let's Talk About Jesus", recorded at the first of the sessions covered here, in October 1951, and it was followed up by "Stop Right Now, It's Praying Time", cut in April 1952, and "Leak In This Old Building" from January 1953. As can be expected, the recording quality is decidedly lo-fi, but the passion and the grit of the material transcends the occasional dips in audio quality. If music from the Golden Age of gospel is your scene, this lovingly, and expertly, compiled set is worth investigating.' -Reviewed by Trevor Kirk

'Rough around the edges, surely, but the original lineup of The Bells of Joy had talent and an immense amount of potential. They were semi-pros, holding down regular jobs and choosing not to travel the country on the “gospel highway”. Touring probably would have done them a lot of good, polishing off some of the rough edges heard on some of these early recordings for the Peacock label. It was actually just one of the original members, A.C. Littlefield, who went on a national tour, taking with him the group The Southern Tones, who performed as The Bells of Joy while the rest of the original Bells of Joy waited back home in Austin, Texas. The group was reformed numerous times in later years, mixing new and original members.

The group’s sole hit of the 1951-1954 period was “Let’s Talk About Jesus”. Many people only know them through that one song. But the group had more good music in them. Indeed, this particular album closes with eight songs that were originally unreleased–released much later on Let’s Talk About Jesus. Some of those unreleased songs, like the very syncopated “Fare Ye Well” and the super smooth “The Lord and I”, are superior to many of the tracks that saw proper release, including some particularly weak B-sides, proving yet again that gospel labels of the 1950s often did not do a very good job recognizing what they had on their hands.

In their early days, The Bells of Joy sometimes aped the styles of other groups. “Since Jesus Changed This Heart of Mine” sounds a lot like The Soul Stirrers with Sam Cooke. Yet The Bells of Joy had a somewhat warmer, down-home appeal. They did not have singers of quite the caliber of the very top gospel groups of the day. But songs like 1953’s “Leak in This Old Building”, with a style similar to The Blind Boys of Mississippi with the great Archie Brownlee, are superb anyway. There is a vulnerability in the early Bells of Joy material that is quite unique, and something that would become a staple of R&B, doo-wop and soul more so than gospel. Those new to gospel might not immediately appreciate this sometimes uneven set, but fans of the genre may be pleasantly surprised by what this relatively obscure group had to offer.

A final note: this set has good sound quality, something not always found on these Acrobat gospel collections.' -Syd Fablo


'While the Bells of Joy did not possess superstar lead vocalists as did Peacock labelmates the Sensational Nightingales (June Cheeks), Spirit of Memphis (“Little Axe” Broadnax) and the Dixie Hummingbirds (Ira Tucker), leads A.C. Littlefield and Robert Dawkins were more than capable shouters. And like the Radio Four, the Bells of Joy stayed true to its country quartet roots – despite personnel changes – producing hand-clapping, muscle-twitching, steering wheel-pounding quartet gospel for four different record labels.

On Acrobat Records’ reissue of the quartet’s 1951-54 sessions for Peacock Records, you’ll find six of their seven original Peacock releases (including the monster gospel hit of 1952, “Let’s Talk About Jesus”) and a handful of unissued Peacock sides that first saw the light of day some years ago on the Japanese P-Vine label.

For a taste of the Bells’ best early work, check out “Let’s Talk About Jesus,” “Stop Right Now, It’s Praying Time,” “How Sweet it Is,” “Since Jesus Changed this Heart of Mine,” and “Leak in this Old Building.” These sides, with their infectious beat and rhythmic call and response singing, have a power that leaps right off the grooves and into your nervous system. “Never Let it be Said Too Late,” with its ruminations on the Flood of 1953, has a renewed poignancy, given all the wreckage caused by the recent hurricanes.

From the unissued tracks, the standouts are “Do Lord Remember Me” – arguably the best version of that song ever captured on wax – and “Every Day and Every Hour.” The Southern Tones’ recording of “Every Day and Every Hour” for the Philadelphia-based Grand label borrows heavily from the Peacock arrangement. Not surprising: as Opal Nations’ liner notes point out, for a period of time, the Southern Tones were the Bells of Joy on tour and record.

While the Bells of Joy’s output might sound dated to devotees of the late 60s and 70s quartet sound, it is a great example of quartet singing emerging from the a cappella jubilee days and embracing the Big Beat to stay relevant in the RnB era.' -Posted by: Bob Marovich in Gospel Music October 30, 2005

IF YOU LIKE WHAT THE ACROBAT LABEL DID WITH THE FIVE BLIND BOYS OF MISSISSIPPI, YOU'RE GONNA LOVE THIS COMPILATION!!!

Very rough sounding on almost all of the tracks!, But try finding ANY these cuts on VINYL!!!...As in 78's or 45's RPM Records! ALL of the recordings found on this collection are the Bells Of Joy's recordings for the Peacock Label dating from 1951 to 1954! There are some other Peacock Recordings (Unreleased) from a 1955 recording session that only seen the light of day on a SUPER RARE Compact Disc released on P-Vine (Out of Japan) released in 1988! This Compact Disc contains those 8 (Eight) songs, along with some of the Group's other Peacock Recordings! TRY FINDING THIS COMPACT DISC! There was NEVER a Bells Of Joy original album (On Vinyl) released on Peacock Records! WHY?...We'll never know. As I said earlier there was a Compact Disc released on the P-Vine label that's been long Out Of Print! This collection features most of the recordings from the P-Vine Compact Disc including the Group's Biggest Hit: "Let's Talk About Jesus" This cut was just a hair-shy of making Billboard's Singles Chart! (Which was almost unheard of for a Gospel Record!!!), along with "Stop right Now It's Praying Time", "There's A Leak In The Building", and "Since Jesus Changed This Heart Of Mine". ALL of these Singles are Super Rare and Very Hard To Find! Here's what you get ALL 6 (Six) of they're Singles dating from 1951 to 1954! Thus giving you a Total of 12 (Twelve) Track! PLUS 8 (Eight) UNRELEASED JEWELS from the vaults of Peacock Records! This Compact Disc on Acrobat covers almost ALL of the group's early recordings! (Except for the 1955 Sessions). People post war Gospel don't get no better than this!!!

Who knows maybe if we send enough Cards, Letters, Phone Calls to the good folks at Acrobat Records maybe they can dig through the vaults of Peacock Records (The Masters are owned by Universal Music Group), and maybe we'll get treated to another delightful collection of The Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi! In fact, If you (Acrobat) are reading this while you diggin' in the vaults of Peacock Records you might want to consider doing Collections (Compilations) on: Cleophus Robinson, Sister Josephine James, Sensational Nightingales, Dixie Hummingbirds, Jessie Mae Renfro, Victoria & Thelma Hawkins, Just to name a few. There is MORE THAN ENOUGH material to release a Compact Disc (Even Double Discs!) on EACH of the above named Artists that the world needs to hear, Especially lovers of good Gospel music! -Mr. Nightshift

The Bells of Joy began as the Starlight Gospel Singers and changed their name when they began recording. (L-R) Beuford Johnson, A.D. Watson, Eddie Watson, Booker Hicks, Wilmer Reird, and A.C. Littlefield


The Bells of Joy

'The Austin-based male gospel quartet, the original Bells of Joy, who were initially called the Starlight Gospel Singers, were founded in 1943. The group changed its name to the Bells of Joy in 1950. The name of the group was inspired by the words in Psalms 5:11 – “Let them also that love thy name be joyful in Thee: Bells of Joy sing His praise.”

The original members of the group included Namon Brown (bass), A.C. Littlefield (lead), Ester Littlefield (tenor), Rev. Vernon Manor (lead), Clem Reed (lead), and A.D. Watson (baritone). In 1952, the Bells of Joy became very popular with their release on Peacock Records, Let’s Talk About Jesus, written by Lavada Durst. The special style of the “Bells of Joy” made the hymn a national hit. In 1953, Clem Reed left the group, due to injuries he received in an automobile accident while touring with the group. Robert Dalkins joined the group at that time.

In the mid-seventies, Alton “Red” Cyphers also joined the group. The “Bells of Joy” have enjoyed success with their recordings, including an album on Big Tex records. The “Bells of Joy” continue to put joy into the inspiring words of old and new songs done in praise of the giver of real joy.'

1. I'll Work Lord 2:39
2. Let's Talk About Jesus 2:48
3. He's My Friend 2:55
4. Stop Right Now It's Praying Time 2:52
5. Echoes From Heaven 2:42
6. Leak In This Old Building 2:38
7. How Sweet It Is 2:53
8. I'm Gonna Press On 2:45
9. Never Let It Be Said Too Late 2:56
10. Well Well No No No 2:37
11. It Will Soon Be Over 2:44
12. Since Jesus Changed This Heart Of Mine 2:47
13. Do Lord Remember Me 2:58
14. Every Day And Every Hour 3:00
15. Fare Ye Well 2:45
16. Glory Be To God 2:49
17. No More Sorrow 2:51
18. The Lord And I 2:37
19. There's A Hand Leading Me 2:53
20. When My Savior Comes 2:43

Notes
Incl. Pdf