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GOGR Music History -
The Dixie Echoes
By Alan Kendall

There is little doubt that one of the hardest setbacks any group in gospel music history has faced was when the Dixie Echoes lost Dale Shelnut in 1983. Randy Shelnut later shared, "Frankly, I believe a lot of people wrote the Dixie Echoes off when they found out Dad had died. And in a way, I understand why. He was such a key part of what we were - no, he was the key part - and there was no way anyone could take his place. But time had a surprise for those who had thought the Dixie Echoes' days were over. In my heart, I just knew that Dad would want me to keep the Dixie Echoes on the road singing Gospel Music. In fact, I believe he would have fully expected me to do that."

Randy Shelnut pressed forward with the Dixie Echoes, and the group continued as a trio for a couple years. Craig Pippin was hired as the groupís lead singer, and Keith Thornton became the groupís tenor singer. Rick Gibson was the drummer, and the groupís vocalists continued to rotate on various instruments, as the group had done in the past. The Dixie Echoes continued to be embraced by the gospel music community, and in 1984 and 1985, Randy Shelnut was recipient of Favorite Baritone by the Singing News Fan Awards. Doyle Harper joined the group in 1984 as tenor singer, and eventually, Randy switched to the lead role and Jimmy Fulbright joined as baritone.

The early years following Dale Shelnutís death were slim years for the group, yet the light at the end of the tunnel was beginning to appear. Dale Shelnut was simply irreplaceable, but one particular 

The Dixie Echoes - 1983
L-R: Eddie Broome, Randy Shelnut,
Craig Pippin, Rick Gibson

man gave the group the edge they needed, and his name was Paul Vinson, affectionately known as "Daddy Paul". Daddy Paul Vinson joined the Dixie Echoes in 1985, following a long tenure with The Bibletones. Daddy Paul, also father-in-law to Randy, captured many fans across the country with his great stage presence, comedy, vocals, recitations, and musicianship, and at this point the Dixie Echoes began to have resurgence in their career.

The Dixie Echoes - 1984
L-R: Randy Shelnut, Keith Thornton,
Craig Pippin

The group, eager to become a full quartet again, soon added bass singer Tony Cole and pianist Sammy Pipkins, and the excitement became greater. The group recorded two of their finest albums in 1987 and 1988, Walkiní On and Heís the Reason. The title track of the latter album, written by Randy, served as a great testimony in song of where the Lord had brought the Dixie Echoes within those recent slim years.

Within the next several years, many more great musicians performed with the quartet such as Ira Smith, Mike Bullock, Buddy Stokely, and Andrew Ishee. In 1990, the third generation of Shelnuts joined the Dixie Echoes Ö Randy Shelnut Jr., known by his many friends as "Scoot". Scoot played bass guitar for several years before finally assuming the baritone position, following the retirement of Daddy Paul Vinson. In the early 1990s, Scoot was sidelined by cancer, but within a few years, made a miraculous recovery.

The Dixie Echoes - 1987
L-R: Sammy Pipkins, Daddy Paul Vinson,
Randy Shelnut, Doyle Harper, Tony Cole

Kevin Ivey assumed the tenor role in early 1996, and it wasnít long before Randy convinced former longtime Florida Boys bass singer, Billy Todd, that retirement was not for him! Although Billy joined on a temporary basis, he soon accepted the full-time position, and remained with the group for eight years. Randy again relinquished his piano playing duties to a young and talented musician, Stewart Varnado, in 1998. The addition of Varnado again freed Randy to focus solely on singing, and the Dixie Echoes gained a great comedian and one of the finest gospel quartet pianists in over a quarter-century. Kevin Ivey returned home to Alabama in 2001, and Billy Hodges joined the group. In early 2004, David Robinson replaced Hodges.

The Dixie Echoes - 1990
Clockwise from Top: Ira Smith, Daddy Paul Vinson, Randy Shelnut, Doyle Harper

Billy Todd gave the quartet some of his finest singing in the latter years of his career, but by 2004, the road began to take a toll on his health, which necessitated his permanent retirement from gospel music. Billyís replacement was the young and very capable Tracy Crouch, who brought a great stage presence and a voice almost identical to that of Billy Todd. Tenor singer Dallas Rogers joined the group in 2005.

Todayís lineup of the Dixie Echoes is one of its finest. Pat Barker, formerly of the Diplomats, brought his magnificent bass voice to the group in late 2007. Wesley Smith, former tenor for the Palmetto State Quartet, joined the group in early 2008, following the departure of Dallas Rogers. Randy Shelnut, Scoot Shelnut, and Stewart Varnado continue to anchor the quartet as veterans and leaders of the group.

The Dixie Echoes - 1994
L-R: Mike Bullock, Randy Shelnut, Daddy Paul Vinson, Scoot Shelnut, Buddy Stokely

In recent years, the Dixie Echoes have taken a new musical direction that has captured the attention of many gospel music fans of ages young and old. While at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion in 2001, the Dixie Echoes chose to perform their set in a style that differed from the norm. When Charlie Waller introduced the Dixie Echoes, the group came to the stage with nothing more than two microphones and Stewart at the piano. This proved to be a breath of fresh air with gospel music fans, and this vintage style has since become the groupís trademark.

Since 1988, the Dixie Echoes have hosted one of gospel musicís premier concert events, the Suwannee River Jubilee, at Live Oak, Florida. In recent years, the event has grown tremendously and is easily one of the finest outdoor gospel concerts in the country.

Against all odds, the Dixie Echoes have always managed to remain a force to be reckoned with in gospel music. Whether they were featuring Dale Shelnut on spirituals, bringing smiles to thousands of faces with their comedy and antics, featuring multi-talented musicians, or amazing an audience with the musical simplicity of four men and a piano, the Dixie Echoes have always been, and will continue to be, a tough act to follow.

I would like to extend a special thanks to John Crenshaw for allowing me to substitute for him this month and to the Dixie Echoes for providing many of these pictures.  Visit their website at http://www.dixieechoes.com.



The Dixie Echoes - 1998
Clockwise from Left: Stewart Varnado, Billy Todd,
Scoot Shelnut, Randy Shelnut, Kevin Ivey

The Dixie Echoes - 2002
Clockwise from Left: Stewart Varnado, Randy Shelnut,
Billy Todd, Scoot Shelnut, Billy Hodges

 


The Dixie Echoes - 2007
L-R: Tracy Crouch, Dallas Rogers, Scoot Shelnut,
Randy Shelnut, Stewart Varnado

 


The Dixie Echoes - 2007
L-R: Dallas Rogers, Scoot Shelnut, Stewart Varnado,
Randy Shelnut, Pat Barker

2007 Suwannee River Jubilee

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