For too long, backing singers have been the forgotten heroes of music. That’s been the case since the sixties. Mostly, they were largely anonymous figures. Their raison d’être was to make the stars sound good. Backing singers, like session musicians, were hired guns. Every day, the found themselves working with different artists. So they had to be versatile and able to adapt. After all, yesterday they could be singing soul, today jazz and tomorrow working on a rock album. Often, the same backing singers were called upon time and time again. 

This included The Sweethearts of Sigma and The Sweet Inspirations. They were among the creme de la creme of backing vocalists. That’s why top producers had their number on speed dial. However, often, the backing singers outshone the artist they were working with. Both The Sweethearts of Sigma and The Sweet Inspirations had experienced this. So had Merry Clayton, Gloria Jones, Sherlie Matthews, Ed Wallace and Fred Willis. During the sixties, they’d all worked with songwriter and producer Lou Adler. 

He’d established a reputation as one of Los Angeles’ top producers. Lou worked with the great and the good of music. Who he didn’t know, wasn’t worth knowing. When producing a session, Lou always called upon the same backing vocalists. Over the years, he’d formed a good relationship. So much so, that Lou had always wanted to make an album with the backing vocalists. Lou wanted the backing vocalists to play a starring role. The only problem was, by 1969, Lou Adler, songwriter, producer and manager was without a label. He needed a new challenge. So Lou decided now was the time to make the album with backing vocalists. 

The result was Dylan’s Gospel the debut album from Brothers and Sisters, which was released by Light In The Attic Records. Brothers and Sisters featured some of the L.A’s top session players. In total, twenty-seven session singers appeared on Dylan’s Gospel. Among them are Merry Clayton, Ruby Johnson, Shirley Matthews, Clydie King, Patrice Holloway, Julia Tillman. So too did Edna Wright of The Honeycones and Gloria Jones who recorded the original version of Tainted Love in 1965. It was an all-star lineup that gathered at Sound Recorders Studios.

When the recording sessions at Sound Recorders Studios in L.A, Lou had drafted Gene Page, who arranged Dylan’s Gospel. Ten of Bob Dylan’s finest songs were chosen to be recorded by Brothers and Sisters. Accompanying Brothers and Sisters were some of L.A’s best session players. The rhythm section included bassist Jerry Scheff and drummer Gene Pello. Evelyn Freeman played organ, Gene Page piano and percussionist Joe H. Vaerga. Producing Dylan’s Gospel was Lou Adler. The Dylan’s Gospel sessions weren’t like most other sessions Lou Adler had produced.

Looking back, many who were present at the recording sessions at Sound Recorders Studios in Hollywood, remember the sessions as akin to a four-day party. The great and the good of music swung by. Carole King came to hear the  Brothers and Sisters. So did Peggy Lipton and Papa John Phillips. Then there cousins, mothers, partners and friends of the Brothers and Sisters. They ate, drank and were merry. It was gospel rock ’n’ style. The sessions were like a four day party where the Brothers and Sisters transformed ten Bob Dylan tracks. 

Sadly, when Dylan’s Gospel was released on Ode Records in 1969, the album passed most people by. This unique album wasn’t a commercial success. For once, Lou Adler’s Midas touch failed him. Dylan’s Gospel joined the ranks of great albums never to be heard by a wider audience. That’s until Light In The Attic Records decided to rerelease Brothers and Sisters’ Dylan’s Gospel, which I’ll tell you about. 

The Times They Are A Changing opens Brothers and Sisters’ debut album Dylan’s Gospel. Just an organ and piano combine to create an authentic gospel backdrop for Merry Clayton’s vocal powerhouse. She unleashes a vocal that’s equal parts power, passion and emotion. She brings hope to the lyrics that “The Times They Are A Changing.” Meanwhile, harmonies, coo, sweep and soar while the drums add to the drama. Seamlessly, a Bob Dylan classic is transformed into a  hopeful stirring gospel track.

Just a lone piano opens I Shall Be Released. It’s joined by a rumbling bass and a heartfelt soaring vocal. Backing vocalists reply to the vocal. Meanwhile a wailing Hammond organ, piano and subtle drums provide the perfect backdrop. It never overpowers the vocal or harmonies. They’re at the heart of the track’s success. The vocal is a fusion of sincerity and emotion. So much so, that the lyrics take on a new meaning. Joyous describes the swaying, soaring harmonies. They’re just the finishing touch to this reinvention of I Shall Be Released.

Edna Wright takes charge of lead vocals on Lay Lady Lay. A bubbling bass, drums played with hands and harmonies accompany Edna’s tender vocal. Soon, a piano enters as the Brothers and Sisters kick loose.  Soulful and needy describes Edna’s vocal. She’s accompanied by cooing harmonies. They soar above the arrangement. Later, Edna combines gospel, soul and jazz. Kicking loose, her vocal becomes sultry and sensual, as she delivers a vocal masterclass.

Distant harmonies and a gospel tinged piano make their way towards you. Then a rousing, stirring version of Mr. Tambourine Man unfolds. The song is totally transformed. Partly that’s down to the lead vocal. It ensures the song swings. Then there’s the rousing harmonies and the tight talented band. Together, Mr. Tambourine Man becomes a stirring, rousing celebration.

All Along The Watchtower is right up there with the best songs Bob Dylan has written. Here, new life and meaning is breathed into a familiar song. Atmospheric and dramatic describes the arrangement. Just the rhythm section, stabs of piano and washes of Hammond organ accompany soaring, swaying harmonies and handclaps. The lead vocal is a combination of controlled power, emotion and passion. This inspires the rest of the Brothers and Sisters. They clap their hands, stomp their feet and unleash some of their finest harmonies as they reach new heights. 

Of all the songs on Dylan’s Gospel, The Mighty Quinn is the one that really takes on new life. It really suits the gospel treatment. The Brothers and Sisters really let themselves go. They throw themselves into the song. Their rousing harmonies and handclaps are joined by a wailing Hammond organ, rhythm  section and rasping horn. Then there’s Merry Clayton’s joyous and celebratory vocal, which later becomes a vamp. It takes the song to new places and results in the song Bob Dylan had always hoped for.

Ethereal harmonies open Chimes Of Freedom. They soar helpfully heavenwards. Then when they drop out, an impassioned lead vocal enters. It oozes emotion. So, does the female vocal that picks up the baton. When they join together, they’re accompanied by a gospel piano, probing bass and washes of Hammond organ. They add to the spiritual sound of a track Bob Dylan started and the Brothers and Sisters finished.

For many people, Gloria Jones’ name will be forever synonymous with Tainted Love. That’s until they’ve heard her vocal tour deb force on I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight. She kicks loose. Swaying, soaring and joyous harmonies and jangling piano accompany Gloria as she lays claim to the song, her vocal a mixture of sass and need.

Piano and drums combine as My Back Pages unfolds. A tender, wistful vocal is accompanied by rousing gospel harmonies. They coo above the arrangement, while the unmistakable sound of a Hammond organ is dropped in. Lou Adler’s timing is perfect. It adds to the emotion and is the perfect accompaniment to the Brothers and Sisters on this emotive opus.

Without doubt, Just Like A Woman is one of Bob Dylan’s finest hours. That’s why it’s a fitting way to close Dylan’s Gospel. Replacing the familiar harmonica in the introduction is a church organ. This sets the scene for the massed ranks of Brothers and Sisters. They throw themselves into the song. The twenty-seven Brothers and Sisters become one. It’s an impressive and powerful combination. I’d go as far as to say it’s emotionally overpowering. In the midst of Brothers and Sisters, someone hollers “Yes She Should” while spontaneous vamps are unleashed. It sounds as if the Brothers and Sisters are having the time of their lives while making some of the best covers of Bob Dylan songs you’ll ever hear.

That’s no exaggeration. Bob Dylan songs are some of the most covered in the history of popular music. However, Brothers and Sisters’ ten covers of Bob Dylan songs are some of the best you’ll ever hear. The ten tracks ooze emotion, meaning, joy, hope and happiness. That’s thanks to some of the finest backing vocalists of the sixties. They reinvent some of the tracks, especially The Mighty Quinn, Chimes Of Freedom and My Back Pages. These are tracks that Bob Dylan started and the Brothers and Sisters finished. They made this trio of tracks their own. Their unique brand of gospel is tailor made for these songs. That’s the case with the rest of the ten tracks on Dylan’s Gospel. The songs literally, take on new meaning in the hands of the Brothers and Sisters. As a result, the music is rousing, stirring, joyous, celebratory and emotive. It must have been some session.

Described as a four-day party, where the great and the good of music swung by. Carole King came to hear the Brothers and Sisters. So did Peggy Lipton and Papa John Phillips. So did cousins, mothers, partners and friends of the Brothers and Sisters. They ate, drank and were merry. It was gospel rock ’n’ style. The sessions were like a four day party where the Brothers and Sisters transformed ten Bob Dylan tracks. During the sessions, onlookers must have thought that Dylan’s Gospel was bound to be a commercial success.

Sadly, when Dylan’s Gospel was released on Ode Records, in 1969, it wasn’t a commercial success. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the music. It oozes quality. Maybe the problem was that Lou Adler signed the Brothers and Sisters to the wrong label. Ode Records was too small and didn’t have the funds and personnel to promote Dylan’s Gospel. A major label like Columbia Records or A&M would. If either of these labels had released Dylan’s Gospel, it would’ve been a huge commercial success and the album would’ve been hailed an innovative, modern classic. That wasn’t the case. Instead, Dylan’s Gospel hasn’t been released since 1969. Thankfully, Light Of The Attic Records released Dylan’s Gospel on 14th April 2014. Belatedly, Brothers and Sisters’ lost classic Dylan’s Gospel has been rereleased and hopefully, a new generation will hear some of the finest Bob Dylan covers ever recorded.




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