With a fall wedding planned, an Envoys, “Just Returned from Europe” tour was the thing to do for the summer. We were a dynamic group, changing piano players and hiring singers as necessary, but now we seemed to have hit a magic combination and hoped the group would be stabilized, at least for a few years to come. For most of my adult musical career I had hoped to take on enough talent to make up a quartet, as a trio seemed a bit weak to me in stage sound. Now, with the right personnel in place we were able to add an anchored, macho sound that could fill any auditorium with a spectrum of vocal gymnastics from tenor to bass. Our sound system never sounded so good. The group stood across the stage, approaching microphones on stands to sing while dressed in matching tailored suits and ties. Our piano player smiled at the keys, intermittently turning his face to the crowd to dazzle them with keyboard show biz. Every bit of our music came from vocals and piano; there were no sidemen, no back-up tapes, no extras. We were it, the whole show! It must have sounded good as our record sales continued to grow. Fortunately for us, our fans wanted to take our music home on L.P.’s to play. What they might do with our autographed group photo was left up to our curious imaginations and better left unstated.
It was a bright new day when we were able to buy a vehicle to sleep the four of us. We proceeded to carve out sleeping areas in our newly purchased former Greyhound bus then converted it into a four bunk, three-compartment vehicle for riding, sleeping and “show-prep.” We had now become a roving advertisement on every highway we travelled with our 20-foot side sign that read proudly, “The Envoys.” Travel habits were forced to change as we often showed up to concerts with the smell of diesel fumes and blackened grease on our bodies and stage wear. No matter. We forged ahead in our bus eventually learning the nuances of caring for a fifth mouth on the road. Our bus needed constant fuel and moderate attention. But we were riding in style and declaring to the world that we were here to stay. Well, maybe for a few more tours…
You would think the hours between gigs presented themselves as opportunities to challenge our minds. But exhausted as we were it seemed that little kept our attention beyond sleep. There were the lazy days of mindless chatter, dreaming of home and friends and far-away places. My brother, Rich, who later became a medical doctor, tried his best to keep his ample mind stimulated by reading Dostoevsky, Jung and Kierkegaard. There were days when all we did was watch the curtains sway then unfurl in a spasmodic power puff from the highway wind spraying the chasm of our metal monster. Except for Hawaii and Alaska, we inched our way across a well-worn map of most states in the Union crisscrossing familiar travel routes with regularity. Some of our fans lived on frequent routes we used giving us opportunity to make unscheduled stops for casual conversation. The bus always drew neighborly attention. On occasion, even police attention. When the police came we did our best to buy off the law officer with a bit of sweet talk, a tour of the bus and a collection of Envoy LP’s. Some took the bait, others looked grim and wrote the requisite ticket that stated our bus was not parked appropriately in suburbia.
Piling out of a bus to sing after skimming the road on tall tires, hovering over a non-powered steering wheel, plotting the route to the next predictably constructed church in some town of least resistance to our musical charms, was the sum-total of what we did day in and day out. We yearned for a day to recoup.
We liked the ocean. Returning to the sea one late night after a concert we thought it a great idea to park on a road adjacent to the ocean, as the breeze was intoxicating and the temperature a balmy bounce of freshness on our flesh. We slept contentedly with the sound of surf in our ears. But the light of a dawn sun attached itself to our vehicle in attack mode. It was not about to let go and we weren’t aware of our situation, sleeping soundly as we were. Like a lobster in an ever-warming pot we found ourselves near to baked before we awakened to the sound of surf closer than we wanted and an inside “hot tin roof” temperature. Our morning swim had to be delayed as we were forced to find a tree full of mature leaves to shade our metallic hell. In due time we cooled ourselves but lost vinyl recordings and an “RCA 44” vintage ribbon microphone to the oppressive heat.
On occasion, The Envoys and The Singing Kolendas staged appearances together. The Kolendas were a family group made up of Mom and Dad, three teen-age daughters and a son. Their “shtick” was emotional. Their music was a mix of old-time gospel and youth driven contemporary. The Gospel music went well, the contemporary stuff, not so well. Dad played bass guitar and his eldest daughter played piano and sang. The son was out front and center, the remaining two daughters sang their hearts out while pumping the audience for tears. There were moments when all music came to a stop as the emotion of the moment overcame one or the other. No one dared speak about it as it was like the AA “elephant in the room.” These young people were friendly and sexy, even a bit bawdy in dress, but the church people lapped it up like they were the personification of heaven itself. I can’t say that the Envoys, all single men, didn’t find it enchanting in its own way. Frankly, I think they may have been playing to our sensual side. We looked forward to these occasions when the two groups would perform on stage together. But, many good things come to a quick end. They exited our stage and we went on as before.
There weren’t many days left for the Envoys as a group. Rich was talking more and more about medical school; David and Chuck were thinking marriage, as I was. We kept it together for a couple years while each graduated and married. The final Envoys concert was in a church comprised of people we hardly knew in a town who knew us. Dismantling the equipment and shoving it in the bus one last time brought a kind of anger, disappointment, and melancholia to me. The memories flooded my mind while thinking of what could have been, about relocating the group to Indianapolis where the highway system seemed to suit our travel needs and the people receptive to our presentation.
That didn’t occur. The bus keys were turned over to another Gospel singer, the sound equipment, to a rival of ours. I was now married and needed to tend to the business of making a home and marriage, while still convinced the Gospel message would be my main source of inspiration. And it was, for many years to come. In fact, for most of my life. It was deeply buried in my psyche. I always believed I was destined to die with a Bible in my hand. So, off to seminary Margaret and I went. It was a major turn in my life as I planned to enter the Air Force as Chaplain and needed a seminary education for that to be possible. This was to be a new venture but this time would be with my wife, Margaret, at my side.
Seminary offered new challenges, the least of which were opportunities to hone my preaching skills on rural churches of minimal numbers. I was used to undeserved adulation of crowds who attended Envoy concerts. Now, no more adoring crowds. I was now a “nobody.” That was hard to take as I was no longer sought for an autograph or photo with the locals. It was now going to be hard work as guest preacher and pastor for the day.
While attending seminary we initially lived in a trailer just off a buzzing highway north of Boston. Several months later we ended up as live-in custodians to an apartment house in Lynn, MA, a few miles north of Boston. We learned a lot there as we dealt with people who had little means to support themselves and were, in some cases, social misfits looking for a good fit. It was there that I was expected to clean a porch on the 2nd floor full of bird droppings as it had now become part of my job as custodian. I don’t know for certain if there was a direct connection but a few months later I was in a hospital in Braintree treated for “pulmonary sarcoid”, a disease of the lungs that showed up in a physical exam x-ray when I tried to enter the Air Force as a Chaplain Candidate. My x-ray looked like I had been shot through with BB’s. I was disappointed as I believed that was the reason I went to Seminary in the first place. I desired to become a Chaplain in the Air Force. I never made it to the military but continued to do my work as a student in an evangelical institution of great reputation. I was duly impressed by the faculty who helped me gain yet another degree. While a student, I pastored a small church a few miles from the seminary that offered housing for Margaret and myself. I was deep into the ministry as profession.
As graduation approached and my M.Div. degree was now becoming a reality, I began to look at another seminary offering a doctorate in pastoral counseling and psychology. This degree established the direction of my professional career. I would later become a licensed psychologist and would practice under that rubric for years while keeping my ministry credentialing intact. As I neared completing my doctoral degree, the pastor of a city church in Boston, whom I had met at a small gathering where Billy Graham was speaker, asked me to join his staff and begin a counseling center in the heart of Boston. It was a church of great historicity and self-importance as it lived off its past reputation having hosted the likes of Presidents Roosevelt and Lincoln, to name a few who had occupied its pulpit. It had been a center for political conventions permitted by the church with a makeover for Sunday morning worship. I was told that lit cigars of a Saturday afternoon on the convention floor left their lingering smoke among the two balconies for the next-day worshippers to be reminded that this was a multi-function auditorium. In my day, the building was about one-third full with worshippers, the organ antiquated, its sounds majestic but seemed to come from a calliope out of the last century. The balconies echoed with memories of glories past and the burgundy tones of carpet against mahogany wooden panels set the tone for a lustrous worship experience.
Preaching from Tremont Temple’s pulpit with its heavy brass horizontal rail on four brass pillars, leaning on it to catch my breath while supporting my thoughts, and thinking about the esteemed men of the past who had preached from this spot, was a singular thrill for me. And I, I was supposed to preach sermons radiating confidence and assurance. I did my best.
I was told about the past glories of this place of worship and gave some thought as to how we might experience the crowds once again. Months later, taking my experience with musical performances of years past, I began a musical series called, “The Gospel Musical” later expanded to include “The Saturday Night Special.” One was traditional gospel music the other contemporary gospel music. You can easily guess which one was which. In any case, we packed the place over and over. So much so that we were forced to move a few of the concerts to Boston’s Symphony Hall. Packing out their place of worship on a Saturday night and sometimes, afternoon, was greeted with skepticism by the diaconate of the church who were suspicious of my motives. For most of the concerts, Margaret and I would open with several songs then I would take up the emceeing for the event. I was identified as the leader of this burgeoning ministry that drew people from all corners of New England. I was in my element.
During the time I spent in Boston I met a couple young men who introduced me to a couple other young men who eventually we called, The Brotherhood. All musicians, they were seeking a degree at Boston’s prestigious Berklee School of Music and were all Christian. As a self-taught musician, I was humbled by the musicianship of each of these young men. They effortlessly played circles around me but humbly took up their instruments to support me in my music. If I stumbled on my guitar, Mark, an outstanding guitarist and currently a leading studio musician in Nashville, would bail me out with stuff I never, ever thought of. I could only sit back in awe of what had just happened. And there were the vocals too. Some of them were aspiring songwriters who desired an audience. We attempted to make that a possibility within each concert.
The Brotherhood began to take the place of Ed and Margaret, my wife and I, doing the warm-up before each of our sponsored concerts. I remember two concerts in particular in Boston that had been sold out for weeks, as we had a current headliner drawing in the crowd. We knew this was going to be big. The Brotherhood had prepared for many weeks for this very special occasion.
Even though the counseling center grew moderately and the concerts gained momentum, it was time to leave. The Senior Pastor had announced his resignation. While trying to figure out what to do next, a call from the Midwest from an old roommate of mine moved us on to the next ministry opportunity.
Meanwhile, two children came along to bless our household. Ed and Mathias. Margaret became a stay-at-home mother while I explored these new opportunities. We left for the Midwest with certainty that this was to be a good move.