When Music Maker heads to the legendary Telluride Blues & Brews festival in September, we will bring along our own beloved Music Maker Blues Revue — a group filled with old friends like Albert White, Ardie Dean, Fred Thomas and Robert Lee Coleman.
We’re taking along some new friends, too — partner artists with whom we’ve just begun relationships. There’s Hermon Hitson, a singer and guitarist who’s played with the likes of Bobby Womack, Wilson Pickett, Major Lance, Jackie Wilson, the Drifters, the Shirelles, Joe Tex, the Midnighters and others. There’s Sugar Harp, a talented harmonica player who’s part of Birmingham, Alabama’s burgeoning blues scene.
And then, there is the Gospel Comforters, an act we knew little about until recently, but one with deep roots among the pioneers of African American gospel.
A pair of brothers leads the group — bassist Tony Grady and guitarist Michael Grady Sr. For many years, Tony was part of the legendary Staples Singers’ band and played bass on Roebuck “Pops” Staples triumphal final album, “Don’t Lose This.” Michael remains a member of the pioneering Soul Stirrers, a gospel group that produced stars such as Sam Cooke, Johnnie Taylor and Lou Rawls. Other members include Patrick Stanton on vocals and organ, Michael Grady Jr. on vocals and drums and Rickey Jerrel Allen, a composer, keyboardist and vocalist. The group’s members are spread across three states. Tony Grady and Jerrel Allen live in Huntsville, Alabama, Michael Grady Sr. lives in Rochester, New York, and Patrick Stanton and Michael Grady Jr. lives in the Chicago area.
The Comforters’ journey has taken many twists and turns since 1968, when the group was first formed by the Grady brothers’ father and uncles. In the 1980s, the group split up and several members began performing under the name the Gospel Hurricanes, and during that time, the Grady brothers began their associations with the Staples and the Soul Stirrers.
Then, in the mid-2000s, the Grady brothers and Stanton felt a strong call to bring the Comforters back together.
“The whole thing of it is that God has been good to us,” Tony Grady says. “That’s why we’re able to sustain and do what we’re doing. Without Christ, we can’t do anything. And I’m not trying to preach, but I’m just telling actually what holds this group together.”
Stanton adds that their conviction to keep the Comforters performing and recording increased when one of the group’s longtime members passed away.
“We just lost one of the last original members about two years ago — James Greer,” Stanton says. “And we promised him that through hell or high water, sink or swim, we were going to hold this group together because he fought a good fight against cancer. And to the last day that he breathed, we promised him that we would not let this group die by any means. Even our children, our grandchildren, will have to be successors. This group is a staple, a foundation.”
“Anthony and I — even the way we met — it was just an act of God,” Stanton continues. “He and I are closer than we are to our biological siblings. So this is what we’re doing. It’s not for fame or fortune, it’s predestined. We were called to do this.”
And now — with their upcoming gig at Telluride and their newly established relationship with Music Maker — they believe they can continue to follow their calling.
“It’s really an honor to do that festival because that’s still one of the biggest festivals that’s going on,” Grady says.
Grady adds that he’s inspired by the way Music Maker works.
“Tim (Duffy) actually believed in the dream that we actually had,” Grady says. “The problem was that we were stagnated, because everybody wanted me and Mike to stay with outfits we were with. People that we would talk to kept saying, ‘Well, looks you all are doing fine. Why don’t you all just stay with that?’ But our thing was to keep this rolling. Like Patrick said, there was a promise to the people that were before us to actually keep this going.”
As Music Maker continues to work with the Gospel Comforters, we hope to help them keep their promises and follow their calling. They are a powerful group, and the world deserves to hear them.