I Heard The Angels Singing: A Conversation With Mike McGonigal

Back in December of 2011, Mike McGonigal, publisher of the excellent cultural journal YETI and producer of two collections of blazing gospel music, Fire in My Bones and This May Be My Last Time Singing, told Aquarium Drunkard that his next project for the Tompkins Square label would be a collection of music from the Nashboro label.

“It will blow a lot of people away, just how truly solidly mind-blowing this music was,” McGonigal said.

True to his word, the resulting collection, I Heard the Angels Singing: Electrifying Black Gospel from the Nashboro Label 1951-1983, released in December 2013, indeed blew minds. Featuring recordings from former jukebox operator, record store owner, and producer Ernest L. Young’s Nashboro label, its four discs chart gospel’s incorporation of rock & roll and soul sounds, bathed in reverb and sanctified intent, featuring cuts from Swanee Quintet, Brother Joe May, the Consolers, the Fairfield Four, and many, many more. We again caught up with McGonigal, who took some time to explain how the project came about.

The Radio Four :: How Much I Owe You

Aquarium Drunkard: It seems like Ernie Young knew exactly what he was doing with Nashboro: He had a store to sell the records in, a radio station to broadcast the platters via, and a studio to record his acts.

Mike McGonigal: By all accounts, Ernie Young was an incredible mensch. He’d always pay his artists, never stole anyone’s publishing, would frequently advance money if people needed it. He got started as a jukebox operator who then began to sell record players and then records to a primarily black clientele.

I have a real affinity for the lightly-reverbed, clear sound of his recordings. He did have other producers work with him but apparently the majority of Nashboro recordings were manned by Young himself in a small, basic studio located in the same building as his record shop.

AD: How much was Young interested in fostering the "Nashboro/Excello" sound? Some things I’ve read suggest he recorded the acts with little fanfare — just sort of point the mics and hit “record.”

Mike McGonigal: Dude was no Sam Phillips. But like I said, the sound he got? I like it a lot. It’s more than just a straight field type recording — there’s a lot of reverb on those Radio Four and Hightower and Consoler sides! A lot, but not too much — not for me, anyway.

AD: You've assembled two other gospel collections for Tompkins Square, which have drawn from various labels. What about Nashboro specifically spoke to you?

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