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Oct 02

Now Featuring…Mike Holcomb

HolcombThe announcement yesterday that Mike Holcomb and the Inspirations were parting ways after 42 years resonated strongly in the tightly-knit southern gospel community.  Holcomb is widely admired for his skill at the bass-singing craft, but also for his exemplary spiritual and personal example.  Singing for over forty years in a group one doesn’t own or manage is extremely rare in gospel music, and it is bittersweet to see that end.  The loss of Holcomb is significant for the Inspirations, but many lives will surely be helped by his move into full-time evangelism.

Mike Holcomb holds a special place in gospel music for me on a personal level.  As I’ve said before, I didn’t grow up listening to the major gospel groups, with one exception.  Until I was in college, the only southern gospel group I had ever seen live, and the only one for whom I had a recording, was the Inspirations.  So certainly for me as a kid and teenager, Holcomb was the definition of a quartet bass singer.  I didn’t have anyone else to go by!  But as I’ve learned in the last several years more about this genre of music and about all of the other great bass singers who have come down the line, I still believe I can say that “6’4, 94” fits the bill as a model bass.

Holcomb is a little different from George Younce or Pat Barker, very melodic basses who are lead-singing experts in a bass range.  And he’s not quite like a Tim Riley or Jeff Chapman, who make a living in the basement, hammering low note after low note.  That’s not to say Holcomb isn’t skilled in those aspects.  But Mike is one of the best there ever was at providing a rock-solid rhythmic foundation for traditional quartet singing.

When I think about songs featuring Holcomb, the first songs that come to mind are not songs for which he has an extended solo.  In his most celebrated features, he is stepping out in call-and-response formats, going down octaves or up octaves to provide excitement.  Examples of this are signature songs for him: “When I Wake Up (To Sleep No More),” “When I Walk on Streets of Gold,” “Is That Footsteps That I Hear,” and “Roll On Jordan”.  There are other perhaps less remembered songs that are similar showcases for this ability: “Soul Savin’ Meeting,” “He Made a Way,” “When Reveille Blows From Heaven,” and “In the Twinkle of an Eye” are some of my favorites.

And while I don’t remember him first for solo features, Holcomb has provided plenty of memorable examples of those: “In God’s Hands,” “If You Only Knew,” and “God Makes No Mistakes” are the finest that come to mind for me.

Though he doesn’t hang out at the bottom of the keyboard during most of their songs, Holcomb is widely regarded as one of the lowest bass singers in gospel music history.  If you’ve gone to enough Inspirations concerts, you’ve probably seen that ultra-low range showcased at some point.  “Bend Away Down Low,” from the late 80s, is a good example of this on a studio recording, but there’s something about him hearing him and feeling him rattle the building in person that is exciting.

How did I do covering some of Mike Holcomb’s best work?  What are some of your favorites?  Do you have any special memories or thoughts on this legend of gospel basses?  I’d love to hear from you!

6 comments

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  1. Sabrina

    Thank you for this article. Mike has been a spiritual hero for me. I first met him when I was eight years old….that was 21 years ago. He is like a second dad to me and is a great mentor. You did a great job in this article. I put together a slide show of his solos and random things. It is posted on the Inspirations’ facebook page as well as youtube. It is entitled “a Tribute to Mike Holcomb”. Please continue to be in prayer for him and his sweet family as change is never easy.

  2. Jon

    I must respectfully disagree about mike holcomb not singing on the low end of the piano in most of his songs. One of the most remarkable aspects of his voice, one I’ve gained respect for even more re-listening to inspirations recordings, is how easily he sings that low. His low C is so natural and easy that you forget just how low it is. He regularly sings notes a full step or more under the low C in background harmony on songs he doesn’t have a lead part. That’s a talent few bass singers have, seems to me most basses save their sub low C notes (if they have any) for big moments. I’m going to miss that rumbling bass harmony on future inspiration recordings. 🙂

  3. Quaid

    One of Mike’s last concerts with the group was on Saturday, September 28th, at People’s Baptist Church in Mansfield, Ohio. It was the following Tuesday that the press release came out that mentioned he was leaving. I wasn’t able to attend due to being involved in another concert, but I have an uncle and aunt who attend that church. I saw them earlier this week, and he had with him a video recording of the concert that the church had made and duplicated. He has a copy, and got one to give to us.
    I have to agree with Jon about Mike singing low. I can think of several songs where Mike hits bottom….. the deep bottom, not the octave above. Tim has a limit to where he doesn’t like to sing below. Mike routinely goes below that. Jeff hits bottom in choruses, but how often does he carry a whole chorus’s lead part in a low octave?
    As for verse leads, look at “Good News From The Graveyard”. Jeff sings the verses up, then drops at the end of each. Mike could sing the a whole verse low.

    He, more consistently than other bass singers, will sing a low lead. “He Made A Way”, “Overwhelming Joy”, “In The Twinkling Of An Eye”. He’d alternate between the low chorus, and the high chorus. Like you’ve mentioned, “…going down octaves or up octaves to provide excitement.”
    42 consecutive years on the road is something rare in the music industry, let alone 42 years of deep singing in gospel music . If they decide to hire someone else and Jon Epley goes back to baritone, there are candidates who’d fill the spot. The idea has entered my head to try out myself, but I have other comittments that would prohibit a move to North Carolina. Yet, it’d be nice to live the dream. Admittedly, there are better singers out there, if they decide to go the route of hiring.
    I’ll end of getting ahold of some Inspirations product with Mike ( don’t have any whole CD’s at this point) before too long. In fact, after I post this, I’m heading to Crossroads to listen to some.

  4. Harold Loyed

    I first saw and heard Mike singing with the Inspritions in the early 70’s.in winter Haven, Fl..
    Mike was of course singing Bass, but on the last song they sang that night, which was
    Jesus Is Coming soon, Mike took the microphone and started singing the lead on the verse.
    Just an example of how versatile Mike was then, and even more so now.I have followed the
    Inspritions for more than fourty years,and I truly hate to see Mike leave. But I am thankful for
    All the joy I have recieved from having been blessed by Mike amd all of the Inspriations.

    I feel that Mike has excepted a higher calling. I have also heard him preach a revival at the
    Church that I was a member where they had done a concert.God bless you Mike for all of the
    Blessings you have brought to thousands of people through te years.

    In Christ’s Service
    Harold :Loyed

  5. Quaid

    I meant to say “I’ll end UP getting ahold of some Inspirations product with Mike…”

  6. Jessie Mullis

    Mr. Mike,Do you sell sound tracks.I would love to have a sound track of Hope Is At The Altar.I have been doing nursing home ministry for over 10 years.I bought your cd at Landis,N.C.. I didn’t get a chance to talk with you,we had to get back in the church.I love the cd A New Season.

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