One of the early influences that impacted my musical and spiritual life were those emanating from the legacy of the Sullivan Family of Alabama.
When my career in bluegrass was beginning I often found myself appearing on shows with Jerry (1933-2014) and Tammy Sullivan, carrying on that legacy but forging a new path of their own in the gospel and bluegrass music scenes.
The news of Jerry’s passing on May 31, yielded in my mind many wonderful hours of sitting and listening to he, his daughter Tammy and their band as they shared their talents in front of the many fans that gathered at the festivals and shows we frequented. Jerry sang and played guitar while his daughter Tammy sang lead and played upright bass.
Jerry was a prolific songwriter creating gospel songs such as “God’s Mighty Power,” “From the Manger to the Garden,” with words that could reach right down into your soul and pull you to your knees with a desire to know Jesus, and nostalgic titles such as “Old Brush Arbor Meetings,” whose sentiments leaves you longing to be there.
We both hit a good stride in our careers in the early 1990s and I was so pleased to see the great opportunities coming their way.
Jerry and Tammy recorded “A Joyful Noise” for Country Music Foundation Records produced by our friend — country artist Marty Stuart. Marty worked with Jerry early in his life and returned to do some shows in the late 80s. This collaboration became one of the top ten albums of 1991 by many sources and included songs co-written by them: “Get Up John,” “He Called My Name,” “Soldiers of the Cross,” “The Gates of Zion,” “Think About that Promise,” “When Jesus Passed By,” “Brand New Church,” and the “Gospel Plow.”
Another Sullivan-Stuart collaboration “At the Feet of God” in 1996 yielded the duo a Grammy ® nomination. Amy Grant even shared harmony vocals on that project.
Jerry became a special part of the Silent Witness Video series both appearing musically and co-hosting volume 4 with Marty Raybon.
Through the 1990s, the duo became a regular feature on major television shows highlighting the traditional sounds of country music including ABC-TV’s In Concert and People’s 20th Anniversary, CBS-TV’s Roots of Country Music – The Ryman and Opryland Country Christmas, TNN’s Music City Tonight and Legends of Country Music with Waylon Jennings. They often appeared on the Grand Ole Opry.
I encourage you to seek out some of their great music or visit their Facebook page.
In a way, as I think fondly of those days gone by while praying for Tammy and all their family, I almost feel like writing a song. Thank you Jerry for all those you wrote and all the souls you touched on your journey.