Ron Gibbs has a rich musical heritage that goes all the way back to his great, great grandfather, John Wesley King. The King family were well known gospel singers in the area. Their humble farm was located in Pinetucky, Georgia, an area south of Augusta that the federal government bought in July 1941 in order to build Ft. Gordon.
From their farm, the King family traveled by horse and buggy to teach singing schools within a hundred mile radius of Pinetucky and boarded with families from the churches. The schools lasted one week or longer. King's granddaughter held classes for the children.
The singing tradition was passed on to later generations. Ron Gibbs fondly remembers those Sundays at Marvin Methodist Church where Grandmother played and sang. His aunts Bee, Violet, Edelle, Alma, and Nita joined her in beautiful harmony. Their singing was in the old Methodist camp meeting and singing convention style. One of their most popular renditions that sent chills down the congregation every time they sang was "Out of the Ivory Palaces."
The singing continued at his grandmother's house after school. Ron claims, "If you did not sing or play something, the rest of the family would run you off!"
All of the Gibbs liked for Ron's cousin, Terri, to play the piano. She played by "ear," could change key, and had perfect pitch. She had the gift of being able to hear a note and know what the note was. Plus, she could transpose a song from the key that it was written in so that the accompaniment matched the voice range of the family singers.
Ron's dad, Harold and his uncle, Iniard, became celebrated Southern Gospel singers. They were part of the Masterworkers Quartet and often traveled with the famous Blackwood Brothers Quartet who sang at the funeral of Elvis Presley's mother.
The Masterworkers were briefly considered to become the back-up singers for Elvis. Elvis eventually decided on the Jordanaires whose smooth harmony backed up over a hundred Elvis songs over a fifteen year period and singing with him in concerts and television shows.
The Masterworkers Quartet, based in Atlanta, sang and traveled professionally throughout the South in the 1950's and 1960's. The men were especially popular in Augusta, Georgia, not far from the Gibbs home town of Grovetown. They often appeared live on the Sunday morning gospel music television show broadcast on WJBF television station in Augusta which at one time featured Brenda Lee and Jim Nabors, who later co-starred on the long running Andy Griffith Show.
The Quartet often sang with a little five year old girl. She stole the show and the hearts of their fans. The little girl, Brenda Lee, first graced the stage with the Masterworkers Quartet in 1950. "Little Miss Dynamite" was discovered in Augusta, Georgia.
The Masterworkers Quartet was Brenda Lee's back-up group for an audition that Peanut Faircloth, an Augusta radio DJ and promoter, arranged for Red Foley. Faircloth knew Red Foley, the famous country singer who did shows at Augusta's William B. Bell Auditorium which opened in 1940.
Foley signed the 11 year old gospel singer to appear on his Ozark Jubilee Show which was broadcast on both ABC television and radio. Brenda Lee became a super star selling over 100 million records. She was the best selling female recording artist in the world by age 21. She has been inducted into both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Music Hall of Fame. Her recording of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" continues as a seasonal classic.
On April 10, 2007, Ms. Lee released her "Gospel Duets with Treasured Friends" album which was a Dove Award nominee. She spoke about those days of her childhood singing gospel music. "Few people realize I actually started the very earliest days of my musical career as a child back in Georgia singing locally on weekends with the Masterworkers Quartet based out of Atlanta.
For this gospel album, Brenda Lee turned her attention back to the music that helped build the foundation of her life. It is a music that glorifies the God of her childhood and brings back memories for her long before stardom when she sang regularly as a child with the Masterworkers Quartet in churches and spirited all night sings throughout the South.
Ron's dad and uncle were on the verge of going full time into gospel music in the late 1960's but decided against it because of the fear of not being able to support their families as full time musicians. They eventually faded out. But, another Gibbs, Ron's cousin, Terri, from Grovetown, was in the wings and would sweep the music world off of its feet with her haunting alto voice. She was nominated for two Grammy Awards and won numerous awards in the field of country music with her hit single, "Somebody's Knockin'.
Ron Gibbs made a name for himself in Augusta too. From 1965-1967, he played in several of Augusta's dance clubs including the popular Big Marine Room which was a part of three conjoining clubs on Broad Street. Barbara Mandrell and Grand Ole Opry star, Little Jimmy Dickens, had played there. After an extensive remodeling project, the newly remodeled club never opened again. With the opening of Augusta Mall in 1970, all of downtown Augusta went into mothballs.
In the fall of 1967, Ron was playing at the Marine Room when a group from Michigan came to town. Their guitar player was leaving the group, and they needed a replacement and needed one fast. They had a gig coming up in Paducah, Kentucky. They asked Ron to join them.
The Parliaments was a husband and wife band with three other guys. They were well known in the Midwest and other circuits such as in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Florida, Missouri, and Arkansas. They were climbing the ladder toward even greater success, and it looked like another member of the singing Gibbs family was about to burst on to the musical scene like the Masterworkers Quartet had done.
The Parliaments engagement calendar was full for 1968. Ron was performing with the Parliaments in Indiana in March of that year when Ron got a phone call from his mother.
"Ron," she said, "you've been drafted into the Army and have three days to report."
Ron flew back to Augusta the next day and joined the Army rather than be drafted. Ron went on to serve valiantly in the Vietnam War piloting a Cobra Gun Helicopter. He was shot down five times and received the Purple Heart. Ron says, "I had a lot of friends who didn't make it home. I don't know why I survived and they didn't. I can only say that the hand of the Lord protected me for some reason I can't explain."
But even in war, Ron found some place to sing. He put together a Vietnamese band and they played at officers' clubs, and other venues. He couldn't speak their language, but together, they made music.
After serving five years in the Army, Ron was discharged on August 15, 1972. Ron came home to Augusta to put together his post-Army life. In the meantime, the Parliaments had landed in Las Vegas where they performed as a popular casino house band for many years.
Four months after leaving the Army, Ron and Terri teamed up with other musicians to form a band in October 1972 at the suggestion of Ron's dad, Harold, and Terri's dad, Donald. They played and sang together for several company Christmas parties and dances including Columbia Nitrogen and Walker Ford at the Bull Room at the historic Bon Aire Hotel. Ron remembers Terri singing the wheels off the Carpenter's "Merry Christmas Darling."
Ron and Terri caught a big break at one of the Christmas parties held at the Bull Room. The manager for the Charcoal Room, a popular dining and dancing night spot located in the now razed Continental Airport Hotel across from the Augusta's Bush Field Airport, was in attendance at one of the Bon Aire's Christmas parties where Ron and Terri entertained guests. After their show, he signed them to be the house band. They began in February 1973 and were the first band to play there.
Ron put together a five-piece band called "The Sound Dimensions." Ron played the guitar and sang the lead part. Terri played the keyboard and was a back-up singer. They worked four nights a week and performed Top 40 pop tunes with a little country thrown in. Ron said, "We did 'uptown country' doing George Jones, Eddy Arnold, and the smooth ballads of Ray Price. They became quite a draw for the club with their intricate chords and complex harmony learned at their Grandmother's house during their youth.
Other band members included Bruce Mattson on the drums, Tillman Ezernack on the saxophone, and Pete Parker on bass. Members of this talented band would continue on with a musical career. For example, Ezernack, who started performing as a sax player at the age of sixteen with Johnny Hinsley & The Red Hots from Augusta, would spend about five years on the road with The Celestials, a Southern Gospel group. He went on to backup recording artists for about twenty years working with the likes of James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Jay Butler, The Platters, The Drifters, Fats Domino, Wilson Pickett, Brenda Lee and many more.
Ron believes in giving back to his community. In April 1982, Ron's famous cousin, Terri Gibbs was in town. Terri was riding the crest of her smash Top Ten crossover hit. "Somebody's Knockin'" which won her the Top New Female Vocalist of the Year at the April 27, 1981, Academy of Country Music Awards and the very first Horizon Award from the Country Music Association (CMA).
Ron and Terri teamed up at the Cedar Creek Music Park for a successful fund raising concert for Marvin United Methodist Church's new family life center. Even though it rained, their fans turned out and enjoyed the music along with southern barbeque.
Ron and Terri teamed up again for another successful benefit concert for the Good Friends Shelter Group in Grovetown held at Evans High School on May 4, 1986. The shelter was a large to help troubled teens who needed a sanctuary and help because of severe family problems. Construction professionals donated skills to refurbishing the house and civic groups helped furnish it. Other musicians appearing in the concert were Judy Roberts and her husband Bill. Plus, Ron's dad, Harold Gibbs who sang with the Master Workers Quartet, also sang.
Four years after that benefit concert, Harold told him from his death bed, "Son, you are not singing the right type of music. Jesus is the only reason for the music in our hearts."
On a dark and dreary Thanksgiving night at his mother's house, his brother-in-law, Pastor Jimmy Napier, came out to the porch to talk with Ron. Ron's wife had just separated from him and left for Florida with the children. Ron was as low as low can be.
Pastor Jimmy told him, "Sometimes a person doesn't look up until they finally hit bottom."
Ron came to Christ that night and pledged that if the Lord opened a door to sing gospel music, he would.
Today, Ron Gibbs sings the music of heaven with the Gabriel's Call Quartet and wrote his autobiography in a song titled," If I Could Call Back the Years."
"If I could only call back the years I threw away; If I could live them over again, I'd give them all to Jesus - the laughter and the tears if I could call back the years."
To hear Ron's song, "If I Could Call Back the Years," visit the Gabriel's Call website http://www.gabrielscall.com/Music.html You can also sign up for a weekly email from Gabriel's Call to keep up with Ron's appearances in Gabriel's Call.
Sometimes it's out of brokenness like Ron's broken marriage that God uses to bring us to Himself through Christ. His life is a testimony to the power of God to heal broken lives and make them useful for His kingdom's service. His music ministers to all of those who need the uplifting message of the grace, love, and hope of Christ.
And, wouldn't it be great if Ron and Terri Gibbs teamed up one more time for a concert of Gospel Music, the music of their faith and heritage? I pray that they will!
Rev. Dan White is pastor of North Columbia Church, Appling, GA Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org