Revival tents on The Glory Road.

We evangelists’ kids were curiosities even back then.  I still get the most questions about 1) The tents 2) The music 3) The tents.

Our family’s revivals started with tents seating a few hundred people, and eventually held about 3,000. That was as big as Daddy was willing to get.

This tent resembles some of our earlier ones. Most evangelists didn’t own their tents. They were rented and arrived in a truck for local assembly.

By the mid-50’s, a different kind of tent revival appeared. Brother Oral Roberts was out there on the same path we followed, with a huge difference. Instead of the two and three-pole tents most of us rented, he owned his own,  billed as “The world’s largest fireproof tent.” It seated close to 20,000.

 We visited his tent the night a storm in Amarillo lifted up the heavy metal center poles and set them swinging, the biggest fear of evangelists in the Deep South.

Here are excerpts from The Glory Road (both the book and stage play) about getting ready for a tent revival.  This was repeated countless times by The Joneses in many states all over the South.

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Our gospel caravan was fueled by Hershey bars and snow cones, Co-Cola and Dr. Pepper, Moon Pies from every gas station, Royal Crown Cola on the road to Oklahoma, Peanut Patties in Georgia, Orange Crush in Mississippi, biscuits and grits in Arkansas, tamales in El Paso, Po’ boys in Louisiana and baloney sandwiches all over the place.

Daddy went off to meet with the ministers of the region and the construction crew and the electricians and the people who rented us folding chairs, and a couple of roustabouts, strong men who earned their keep as soon as trucks carrying the tent and equipment rolled up to the edge of the field.

He supervised every detail of our tent going up. Leslie Ray and I could go along with him all day if we wanted to, over to a church office, to a midday dinner in a cafe with local backers and then out to the field, where sponsoring ministers floated around the site watching Reverend Raymond Jones, the charismatic evangelist, swinging a mallet and driving tent stakes into the ground alongside the crew.  We’d seen and heard all these details many times, but we went along to remove ourselves from the case of nerves that struck Sister Fern Jones before just about every revival.

That first day while Mother unpacked at the motor court, the field where the tent would be was already buzzing.  Trucks arrived filled with people who drove out to watch the tent go up. Children stayed home from school to see it. A circle of onlookers surrounded the proceedings all day.

Workers would lay the tent sections flat on the ground, push them up with big tent poles and stretch the guy-wires tight.  Before departing , roustabouts taught volunteers how to work the flaps every night, some flaps up, some down, employing a specific choreography intended to outsmart the weather.

Daddy and Mother always conferred about how everything would look, the sign out in front, the cross behind the podium, the altar, and Daddy had specific measurements he was comfortable with for the platform.  Several steps were needed and a ramp was built for loading sound equipment and a piano. A generator was concealed behind a tent flap. Our car became our own backstage area. Every night, Leslie and I carried music and instruments and helped set up.

Another truck would roll up and unload a piano. Daddy would direct them to place it at a specific angle so the crowd could see Sister Fern  and also so the music-makers could see the congregation.

A bunch of kids, including us, sprinkled sawdust on the ground under the tent.  When we heard the putt-putt-putt of a small crop duster, we looked up as handbills about the revival floated down from the sky. The pilot swooped away, going on to drop the brightly colored fliers all around the area.

Rain or shine, by late afternoon long before the service began, parking fields filled with carloads and truckloads of families eating the food they packed for their trip.  Crowds were already milling about even before Daddy made his last stop on the platform to check the sound. No matter how many times the sound system was checked in the afternoon, he always made one last check as the seats filled. He asked a sponsoring pastor,

“You got us some people working the flaps tonight?  Sky’s mighty dark.”

“Got volunteers standing by.  They’ll open every other flap if they need to.  Keep it cool in there ’til we have to close ’em.”

Daddy looked up, gauging the clouds.

“I reckon we’ll just have to let the mosquitoes and lightnin’ bugs in with the sinners.”

“That’s right.  If we close those flaps and a good wind comes up, y’all will all be lifted up to heaven way ahead of schedule!”

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Church Ladies cook their way into heaven on The Glory Road

Bogalusa, Louisiana 1955, a church under construction.

On the left, back row, are Brother Ray and Sister Fern Jones, Daddy and Mother.  In the front row are deacons and farmers in their Sunday clothes, but it was the women in the back row holding everything together. Church Ladies helped raise my brother and me

Pioneer pastoring is what Daddy was good at. He conducted tent revivals, found followers, raised funds, built churches, grew congregations and then we moved along, back to the revival circuit where Mother sang for large audiences.  Whether we were criss-crossing the Deep South or settling in one town for a while, church ladies were the constant.

At any gathering, an All-Day Singing or a regular Church Supper, the food was magnificent.  Giant pots of soup and covered dishes with treasured family recipes, biscuits and risin’ rolls and cornbread and Jello molds and tables of baked goods and washtubs full of sweet tea at the end of each table.

Daddy’s sermons mentioned how we need to work down here to gain our rewards up in heaven.  He told churchwomen they were earning extra stars in their crowns with their fine cooking.  I gave an extra star to the ambrosia. Leslie Ray picked the platter of crispy chicken wings and deviled eggs on the side. Daddy hugged a woman over a pot of pintos with ham hocks. Mother, owner of the family’s most ardent sweet tooth, always started with dessert first.

Our Church Ladies didn’t have  Costco or Crock pots, but they turned out food that fed multitudes of believers  with plenty to share with backsliders.

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Here’s Mother with a song that surely has some Church Ladies in it.

Fern Jones/The Glory Road
When I Meet You

Saturday Night Versus Sunday Morning on The Glory Road.

See those rhinestone clips on Mother’s dress in the picture? She snuck them into the studio for this 1940’s publicity photo of “The Joneses” and they weren’t seen again.  She  promised Daddy she’d give up makeup and jewelry when they took a church to pastor but her love of all things shiny remained undiminished.

Gramma K told Leslie Ray and me Mother’s necklines were a lot lower before she found Jesus.  Gramma never forgave her daughter for leaving a promising music career to follow a country preacher around the South.

Here’s a rhinestone excerpt from my  book, The Glory Road.

– – – – –

Glendale, California 1955

When we set out on this trip it was with a dual purpose. First, because Gramma K lived in California, we visited when we could, and second (or first, depending on who was making the list) Mother would be performing . She was booked on the bill with several Country and Southern Gospel stars at El Monte Legion Stadium, where Cliffie Stone broadcast his Hometown Jamboree.

Daddy said yes to the show, even though it was on television because his wife was using her music to testify.  And also because he was crazy about her.  Since they’d found Jesus, their agreement was that no matter where she sang she would carry forth the banner, witnessing by singing only gospel. She’d already stepped in front of cameras when she sang over at Brother Daly’s Tabernacle in New Orleans.

Raising his wife required all the reassurances Daddy could muster and so far it was taking up a good deal of his time on this trip.  Gramma was thrilled her daughter would be singing on television in California but no amount of church music was going to be enough for her. Gramma said gospel would never make Mother famous.

Mother was wound up tight about the TV show and that was no small problem. She was high-strung during the best of times.  Added pressure sent her spinning off. Her latest concern on this trip seemed to be what to wear.

Since becoming a preacher’s wife, Mother’s sweetheart necklines were raised a bit higher.  She brought out one of the dresses under consideration to show Gramma and hung it on the back of the door.  Too plain for television,  said Gramma, who plunged into a jewelry box on her vanity table and pulled out rhinestone clips.

The two of them continued picking through all the sparkle. Mother grabbed an especially large piece and attached it to her dress, using the clip to gather the fabric downward to a greater dip. She looked in the mirror and said,

“Could you just D-I-E!”

Gramma held out matching earrings.  Big earrings with so many stones they would tax the earlobes of a timid woman. As soon as she saw the earrings in Gramma’s hand, Mother snapped,

“Mother! You know I can’t wear jewelry.  I gave Raymond my word.”

“You’re not dressing for church right now. You’re singing on a program where a lot of stars wear custom outfits. I guaran-damn-teeya every woman there will have on something like this.”

There was no denying how much Mother wanted to wear them. Here was my thinking.  What I’d have done in her place.  I’d have taken that jewelry with me and clipped them on just before singing.  Then anybody who wanted to say something about it could just go ahead.  It’d be too late.  Mother didn’t do that.

– – – – –

Mother often sang this with gospel quartets backing her.

‘I Am A Pilgrim And A Stranger”

Fern Jones with the Sunshine Boys from the album
Fern Jones/The Glory Road (Numero Group)

This version was recently featured on NBC‘s new show, AP Bio.

 

 

 

 

The Glory Road – Let’s put on a show!

Here’s how The Glory Road book became a play first. I began writing the book years ago, put it aside and turned to short stories. A Los Angeles broadcast buddy, Don Barrett, introduced me to estimable literary agent, Carol Schild, who suggested I make the stories into a play.  Entertaining friends got together and we put on a show.

Multiple talents made up the casts, offering suggestions all along. There were revisions and more revisions, all valuable lessons for a first-time playwright.  I was new to it.  They weren’t.

Both directors, David Atkinson and Greg (North) Zerkle, (accomplished actors and directors – and boy can they sing!) are friends I met at church in Los Angeles.  The casts for each show started in our congregation and kept extending out to performing friends of friends.   The church we had in common was Little Brown Church in Studio City which grew into Church Of The Valley, Van Nuys.  These two congregations were (and still are) populated with singers and musicians and dancers and writers and actors and radio and television and movie and Broadway babies.

I keep rewrite notes attached to each of these script versions in the picture above. Once the new book is launched, I hope to see The Glory  Road onstage again, full throttle, lots of music and our show’s Southern Gospel quartet in matching jackets, beautiful harmony, Ray and Fern and their big love story and big conflicts.

Here’s a version of the song we opened with onstage. Our quartets rocked! Written in the 1950’s by Lee Roy Abernathy, this version of “He’s A Personal Savior” is performed by the Gaither Vocal Band.

https://youtu.be/rxm5T4glGPg

Bonus – another Lee Roy Abernathy song he’s most famous for.  Performed here by The Blackwood Brothers. Originally titled “A Wonderful Time Up There,” it quickly became known as “Gospel Boogie.” This one’s made for a bass singer.  This version is by Brian Free & Assurance.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jb0PDbCT3TY

 

 

 

 

On The Glory Road

The Glory Road is where I spend most of my time these days, immersed in the book manuscript. Interested parties ask, why aren’t you blogging about that?   Starting with this week’s post, I’ll share some of the process while putting together this multi-media project about the life of my family.

We traveled the Deep South in the 1950’s, carrying songs from then to now.  Today the music Mother and Daddy recorded, much of it written by Mother, Sister Fern Jones, is heard everywhere.  Brother Ray Jones (Daddy) added harmony and rhythm guitar.

I’ll add photos and music from time to time and if you want a reminder about each week’s post, you can sign up on this page where it says “Subscribe to blog via email.”

Here are a couple of paragraphs from The Glory Road book manuscript:

Daddy was the sheriff of Mayberry with a deep Southern drawl and a Bible in his hand. Tall and good looking and enormously likable, he was in possession of both the strength and the patience of a natural leader. Mother was a pretty and provocative teenaged honky-tonk queen turned into a preacher’s wife and gospel singer. 

We were gospel gypsies, short on money, heavy in equipment, stopping to perform at Singings, at churches, under revival tents and at radio stations. We spent much of the 1950’s in our old sedan, traveling the Deep South wherever his calling to preach and her calling to sing took us. The front seat made the decisions while the back seat waited to see where we’d be living for the next few weeks….

Here’s gospel-to-rockabilly in one song, “Keeps Me Busy”  from the album “Fern Jones, The Glory Road.”  Re-mastered by Jeff Lipton at Peerless Mastering in Boston and released by Numero Group out of Chicago.  The original was recorded in the 1950’s at the Bradley Brothers’ famous Quonset Hut in Nashville. Guitar licks from legendary Hank Garland. While recording this album, all the studio musicians were also working with Elvis over at RCA.

More about projects at http://www.thegloryroad.com/