The line between classic country and classic gospel sometimes gets pretty fuzzy—witness the work of the Bailes Brothers, the Chuck Wagon Gang, James and Martha Carson, the Oak Ridge Boys, Jimmie Davis, and others. Until recently, many country listeners’ polls routinely selected as their “favorite gospel group” an act led by Grandpa Jones and called The Hee Haw Gospel Quartet. Though that venerable show has drifted into a state of permanent rerun, the quartet still remains a popular feature: four men and one guitar doing the classic gospel songs of Albert Brumley, Thomas Dorsay, Vep Ellis, and others. But what many younger fans may not recognize is that this quartet is itself a continuation of an earlier quartet, one that in the 1940s made country music history and set the style for a whole generation of groups to follow: the Brown’s Ferry Four.
The original Brown’s Ferry Four was formed during the turbulent days of World War II, and existed in various forms until the mid-1950s. It is best known for the forty-five songs it recorded for the King record label out of Cincinnati—songs that became best sellers, records that were played to death by radio stations and even worn out in jukeboxes. This original quartet was composed of four men who went on to become country music legends: Grandpa Jones, Merle Travis, and Alton and Rabon Delmore, who had pioneered close-harmony duet singing on the Grand Ole Opry in the 1930s. Later on, the quartet included, at various times, other greats like Red Foley, Clyde Moody, Zeke Turner, Red Turner (no relation), and Louis Innis. It was the work of these men that forged the Brown’s Ferry Four sound—and defined what many fans think of when they hear the term “country gospel.”
The story of the group starts in June 1943, when Grandpa, Merle, and the Delmores all found themselves working at station WLW in Cincinnati. The war was well under way, and young men were being