Their late mother would be proud of Rance Allen and his two brothers — the three oldest of her 12 children. Rance and his brothers Tom and Steve, the Rance Allen Group, are an example of how family togetherness, talent and purpose can create an enduring legacy.
“[Our mother] taught us more than anything…to be there for each [other] and to be together to accomplish our goals, especially in the area of gospel music,” recalls Allen in a recent MSR phone interview. “I am the leader of the group. My older brother Tom is the conduit — he keeps us all together —and Steve is the businessman. We put all those efforts together and we come out as the Rance Allen Group.”
The group’s 25th original album, along with a companion DVD — Live from San Francisco (Tyscot Records) was released last fall. The legendary gospel trio has been together since 1965 when they were formed in Monroe, Michigan. Their pioneering style of R&B-style rhythms fused with spiritual lyrics stood out early in their career “in the face of secular America,” remembers Allen.
Although they were signed to the legendary Stax Records, they initially had another record company in mind. “Motown would have been the ideal place for us. We grew up down the street from Motown,” explains Rance. “We went and knocked on their door, but we were told that they weren’t doing any gospel.
“We went south to Stax Records in Memphis, Tenn. They didn’t have a gospel label, either. [But] before we got home, there was a phone call waiting for us that [said] they liked what we did so well that they wanted to discuss coming up with a label,” continues Allen.
As the founding artists on Stax’s new Gospel Truth label, the artists recorded several “gritty gospel songs.”
“We will be forever grateful to Stax Records for how they marketed us at that time,” says Allen of the now-defunct company. “They did not market us as a gospel group but just a good music group.”
During their stint with Stax, the Rance Allen Group also toured with Isaac Hayes and Barry White. “When they slotted us to be on [with] Isaac Hayes, Isaac was happy about it, to my surprise,” says Rance, adding that the legendary soul singer strongly encouraged them as his opening act to do their gospel songs.
“But the time we got to Barry White, the record company put us on between [his] changing of clothes [during shows],” said Allen.
Along with Hayes and White, the Allen brothers have also performed with the likes of Fred Hammond, Kirk Franklin, Shirley Caesar and Vanessa Bell Armstrong: “All of these people I have been blessed and fortunate to record with,” says Rance. “Most of them did it out of respect for me and my brothers. It’s been a wonderful time working with all these very talented people.”
As for the group’s latest effort, performed live at San Francisco’s Richmond Memorial Auditorium, Rance says, “All these songs are geared to get you to the next level, to the place where you want to go,” said Allen.
“All Day Long” was the album’s first radio single with “a smooth and mellow R&B groove”—“You can accomplish…whatever situation you’re dealing with as long as you have…praise in your heart,” notes Allen.
Steve’s chops are distinctive as lead on the ballad-like
“My Delight,” and brother Tom is featured on “I’m Not Givin’ Up Givin’ Givin,’ In” in a funky style.
“Like A Good Neighbor” is an old-school riff inspired by a national insurance’s well-known slogan, says Rance. “Jesus is there like a good neighbor,” he said proudly.
It can be challenging to capture a live performance and transfer it on tape, but Allen says, “This is our third live album. You have to make a connection with your audience. They have to know that you’re not just performing, but you’re wanting them to take part in the performance.”
Finally, when he’s not performing and not tending to his duties as pastor of New Bethel COGIC in Toledo, Ohio, “I entertain myself by listening to gospel. I also love watching TV, black-and-white movies in particular — anywhere from the ‘30s to the ‘60s.”
He and his wife also love taking long drives: “I like to just get in the car and just ride. My wife is a great driver,” concludes Allen.
For more information on the Rance Allen Group, visit www.theranceallengroup.com or follow Rance Allen on Twitter at @RealRanceAllen. You can purchase a copy of their latest release on itunes.apple.com or amazon.com.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of the Rance Allen Group.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.