SG History 101 - Rangers Trio
The early sounds of gospel music were dominated by the harmonies of male
quartets. High tenors and low basses filled the sacred airways. Few were the groups that broke this mold until the late 1950s when a male trio
bearing the name of a classic gospel quartet hit the gospel music stage. This group was the Rangers Trio.
The roots of the Rangers Trio ran deep in gospel music history. The Rangers Quartet was one of the most popular groups in the field of gospel entertainment. The Hyles brothers, Arnold and Vernon, were pioneers in the gospel music industry with their famous Rangers Quartet. In the late 1940s, they hired a pianist from Lincolnton, N.C. named David Reece. Formerly a member of the Blue Ridge Quartet, David's piano technique soon became an integral part of the sound of the Rangers Quartet. David did many of the arrangements for the quartet. Soon, his vocal skills became an important part of the Rangers Quartet for he became the baritone singer after a tragic automobile accident took the life of Erman Slater.
David remained an active member of the Rangers Quartet for several years before he moved to Dallas, Texas to play for the Imperial Quartet. His time there was short, and he soon moved back east to Atlanta, Georgia. After a short stay with the Deep South Quartet, David moved to Charlotte, North Carolina to become an original member of the Harvesters Quartet. The Harvesters Quartet was formed from the remnants of the Crusaders Quartet, and worked for radio station WBT.
Reece remained with the Harvesters Quartet for several years. The effects of age finally took its toll on the remaining members of the Rangers Quartet, so they decided to retire from the road. It appeared that the grand name "RANGERS" would also be retired.
David Reece was always a Ranger at heart.
He left the Harvesters Quartet in
the late 1950s with the desire to reform the Rangers Quartet. After obtaining permission from the Hyles brothers, Reece
began to reform the Rangers Quartet. Original members included Bobby Clark, Roy McNeil, David
Ingles, Warren Holmes, with David Reece at the piano. This quartet wasn't together for long before disbanding.
I had a conversation with David
shortly before his passing, and he couldn't even remember that this quartet ever existed, but this writer has a recording from that very group.
Although the new quartet didn't last, David had other ideas for his new group. David joined two members from the disbanded Rangers Quartet and formed the Rangers Trio. Tenor singer Roy McNeil and lead singer David Ingles joined David Reece in this outstanding trio. The Rangers Trio had interesting arrangements and a song selection unlike any other group in gospel music during that time. The sound was far different from the sound of the Rangers Quartet. They were soon affiliated with WBT radio in Charlotte much like their quartet predecessor many years before.
In addition to the standard gospel songs of the day, the Rangers Trio also did some novelty songs that became standards for the group. One such song was a song first popularized by the Four Lads, "The Mockingbird." It became a crowd favorite and remained so for as long as the Rangers performed.
David Ingles didn't stay with the group for very long. He left the trio abruptly to join the Rebels Quartet (which he also left just as abruptly). Arthur Smith, the great country musician and gospel song writer, was on the staff at WBT. Arthur persuaded Clark Thompson, a minister and wonderful vocalist, to join the trio. Clark agreed to join them, and what a fortunate day that was for the trio. The Rangers were leaving that day for a series of concerts in Florida. Clark learned their entire repertoire in the car on the way to their first engagement.
The classic trio of Roy McNeil, Clark Thompson, and David Reece quickly became one of the smoothest and most energetic groups in gospel music in the early 60s. Their programs were full of great music and David Reece's classic humor. The close harmonies of the Rangers Trio had no equal during those years.
David Reece was the consummate entertainer. He was an excellent musician and one of the funniest people in gospel music. Later in his career, he became a comedy writer for Minnie Pearl. Clark Thompson once said that you never knew what to expect with David, so he and Roy were always on their toes in anticipation. Clark also explained that he didn't really have a "part" to sing. He just figured out what David was going to sing and he sang something different!
The recordings by the Rangers Trio are among the finest that gospel music had to offer during those years. The Rangers Trio had a unique sound, and their recordings were state of the art. When most groups were using only piano as accompaniment, the Rangers Trio used other instrumentation including drums. They also employed the use of an echo chamber on several recordings. They recorded "When the Saints Go Marching In" with an introduction that resembled a live performance. Their recordings employed cutting edge technology of that era.
"I Believe," their only project on the Skylite label, is often mentioned as one of the top gospel albums of all time. Roy, Clark, and David had a sound that played out as well on the stage as in the recording studio. Their full rich harmonies were the prototypical trio sound that many groups following them attempted to embrace. They also did some interesting arrangements of standard hymns, breathing fresh life into them as no other group could accomplish. The Goss Brothers obviously appreciated and adapted many of the harmonies of the Rangers Trio.
Many of their classic performances were from the pen of David Reece. In addition to his charming wit, he was a very underrated pianist, writer, and vocalist. His recording, "Musical Meditations," was one of the first instrumental albums by a gospel music artist.
After a few years, Clark left the trio and was replaced by Mack Evans. Roy left soon thereafter to become the lead singer of the Prophets Quartet. Eventually, the Rangers Trio left Charlotte and moved to Nashville where they became active on television and in the studio.
The group reformed with former Oak Ridge Quartet baritone Ron Page and gospel music newcomer Darrell Johnson. The trio joined with the Chuck Wagon Gang on a popular television program called "Gospel Roundup." This version of the Rangers Trio went back to its musical roots and performed western songs in addition to their gospel standards.
This new version of the Rangers Trio was sent overseas by the US Department
of Defense as goodwill ambassadors for the United States. They brought gospel music to Spain, North Africa,
Germany, France, and Italy. Their efforts were recorded on a live album on the Scripture label.
The Rangers Trio reformed at the first Grand Ole Gospel Reunion in 1988. The harmonies were still impeccable after twenty-five years. Roy, Clark, and David owned the stage and the audience loved them. The humor and the arrangements were still there even after all those years. Different versions of the Rangers Trio graced the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion stage for many years.
Several other aggregations have embraced the classic Rangers sound through the years. Clark Thompson joined forces with Wallace Nelms and Larry Shipman. They became known as the Clark Thompson Trio. They recorded a project of Rangers classics. David Reece later formed the "New Rangers Trio" with Bill Nelson and Greg Harrelson. They also recorded many classic Rangers Trio standards.
David Reece passed away several years ago, leaving a great void in the world of gospel music. His humor and wit are missed. However, the sound he perfected with the Rangers Trio remains today as one of the finest trios ever to grace a gospel concert stage.
(Comment box deleted due to spam material, Email additional comments to firstname.lastname@example.org)
Many years ago Mack Evans and I were friends, but I have lost touch with him in recent years. I would like very much to contact him or ask him to contact me. If someone can let Mack know what my e-mail address is, I would certainly appreciate it.
Are any recordings of the early Rangers available?
After leaving the Rangers Trio, Clark Thompson finally listened to the Lord and answered the call to preach. He started Shopton Rd Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC . He pastored there for about 39 years before retiring completely in 2002. Many men were called to preach while in that church - and they went out and started their own churches all over the country. Clark Thompson is now at home, living a typical retired person's life, and always looking forward to the next Grand Ole Gospel Reunion.
John, We enjoyed your article very much. It was well covered as always..Clark and Jean Thompson
John, thank you so much for yet another excellent article! I am a "Quartet Idiot"; however I have always been impressed by the Rangers Trio recordings! I cherish the times I was able to see and hear David at the GOGR's (once again due completely to the vision of Charlie Waller). I also had the incredible privilege of sitting in the atrium of the Hyatt one day for several hours listening to he and "Tiny" Jack Taylor trying to "one up" one another with old Quartet stories! He was truly an incredibly talented legend!
Thank you all for your comments. Mr. Klaudt, I was just listening to the album you mentioned as I prepared this article. I knew it was on your label, but didn't realize the Klaudts produced it. I don't know the whereabouts of Darrell Johnson, but Ron Page is once again singing with the Chuck Wagon Gang. He lives in Branson. This version of the CWG is one of the best I've ever heard. Ron is a superb emcee, and their singing is very good, too.
David was one of the funniest to ever grace the stage of Southern Gospel. Our family tours out to the west were always with anticipation of seeing and meeting with the Rangers. Our family had the priviledge of producing one of the Ranger Trio Albums and is a collector item in our library. This particular album has The Mockingbird song on it. Let us break bread together, is a classic. Another great article that brings back so many memories. Thanks! Does anyone know the where abouts of Ronnie Page and Darrell Johnson?
John, those of us who knew David really miss his piano, voice and his humor. thanks for the reminder!
the sound he perfected with the Rangers Trio remains today as one of the finest trios ever to grace a gospel concert stage. All I can say is Amen........... Thanks John ,
John, Thanks for a great article on an unique group. I thought the group composed, of Roy McNeil, Mack Evans and David Reece, was superb during the time they were together.
I am happy about your websight.I appreciate everything ,you have ever done for me in my singing career.I love what you do.You have shaded the Homecoming show.......Bobby Clark
John, Really enjoyed the Rangers Trio history lesson. David was an exceptonal person whom I was pleased to call my friend. Many memories of days gone by. Thanks again for a job well done.
I never saw or heard them in their prime but fortunately did see them at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion. David Reece also did a lot of comedy at those early reunions. Thank you, Charlie. While I'm quartet fan, I enjoyed their trio sound. Thank you John for your detailed portrait of them.
John, Great article with information that many of us did not know. Even as a quartet fan I loved the Rangers Trio renditions. Dean
Indeed, David Reece was one of gospel's greatest entertainers...and it was quitte commendable of him to keep one of the great names in gospel music alive! Thanks for the recollections on one of the more interesting and distinctive groups in the always interesting history of gospel music!
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