Few gospel music news items have hit me harder in the last few years than the announcement that Pat Barker would be resigning his position with the Mark Trammell Quartet and leaving the road as a gospel singer. Though I certainly understand and fully support the move, Barker leaves a void not only for me, but for gospel music fans everywhere, that simply cannot be filled. His vocal talent is undeniable; he is one of the best bass singers in gospel music, and unrivaled today as a melody singer in the bass range. But more importantly than that, he has brought joy to this genre of music. In a day when many are attempting to write the epitaph on the tombstone of southern gospel, Pat Barker has helped make me want to listen to it and support it more than ever. I know that just because Pat won’t be on a stage every weekend doesn’t mean that he will cease to be an ambassador for gospel music in this way. Going forward, I hope that many, starting with myself, follow his example and show the world that there is unsurpassed joy in the gospel, and in gospel music!
We have been blessed with Pat Barker’s contributions as a singer for only a relatively short time, but he still leaves a great mark. Below are my top ten songs from my music collection that feature him. I’d love to hear from all of you with any songs that are special to you, or with any memories of the impact he may have made on you.
10. “Not in a Million Years,” Dixie Echoes, So Many Reasons (2008) – This was Barker’s first chance with the Echoes to shine on a fun, fast song, and it is an infectious delight.
9. “Calvary Medley,” Mark Trammell Quartet, Testimony (2010) – I still count this as a “feature,” though Barker only sings a verse of “At Calvary” as a solo. But that solo is the shining climactic moment of this moving medley.
8. “I’d Rather Have Jesus,” Dixie Echoes, I’d Rather Have Jesus (2009) – Pat’s delivery of this classic doesn’t contain any thrills or standout moments. It is just simple magnificence throughout.
7. “Wonderful Time Up There,” Mark Trammell Quartet, Lifetime (2012) – Much like another song later in the countdown, Barker helped bring fresh excitement to an old song recorded countless times. I would almost go so far as to say I could not stand this song before hearing the MTQ version, yet it was still my favorite track on Lifetime.
6. “I’ll Take It to the Grave,” Mark Trammell Quartet, Your Walk Talks (2014) – For me, one sad aspect about Barker leaving the road is that he did not get many opportunities to showcase his talent on new songs, that could someday be covered by another young bass singer paying tribute to him. Of the few new songs Pat was featured on, this barnburner is my favorite.
5. “I Thirst,” Mark Trammell Quartet, Treasures (2011) – This all-timer from the pen of Bev Lowry sounds like it was created to be sung by a melodic bass. No one has done it better than the genre’s all-time greatest such bass, George Younce, and the greatest of this generation, Pat Barker.
4. “Wedding Music,” Cathedrals Family Reunion, Cathedrals Family Reunion (2013) – Only three lines and twenty-three words were sung solo by George Younce in the original version of this song, and by most all others in covers since, but it has still become one of gospel music’s most celebrated bass features. I can pay no greater compliment to Pat Barker’s performance of this song than to say he did George justice.
3. “Thanks to Calvary,” Mark Trammell Quartet, Your Walk Talks (2014) – Of all the pages taken from Younce’s playbook, this is tops on my list. The performance is typical brilliance from Barker, but what sets it apart is hearing how much of a personal testimony it is for him. And that’s what it’s all about.
2. “I Want to Know,” Mark Trammell Quartet, Testimony (2010) – The exciting arrangement from Lari Goss helped, but Barker’s enthusiasm and style made this track the Mark Trammell Quartet’s biggest song yet. It was the quartet’s first #1 hit, and the only one who had more fun with it than gospel music fans was Pat Barker himself. This is the definition of breathing new life into an old song.
1. “How Big Is God,” Dixie Echoes, Pensacola Live (2008) – There is no doubt that the Stuart Hamblen classic is Barker’s signature performance. Not since Big John Hall himself have gospel music fans been treated to so great a delivery of this song. Barker recorded it with both the Dixie Echoes and the Mark Trammell Quartet, but I chose to highlight the live version from the Echoes, which well encapsulates the energy his performance brought into the room most every time “How Big Is God” was done.
Godspeed, Pat Barker, and thank you!