Fast, fun, foot-tapping gospel-billy comes to Oak Bay’s St. Philip Church this Sunday.
Hank Angel and the Trounce Alley Quartet perform a benefit concert for Our Place Society May 15, with the rockabilly-influenced gospel music getting underway at 8 p.m.
“It’s up-tempo and up-beat and is specifically designed to get you dancing and tapping your feet,” Angel says. “But instead of singing about cars and girls, we’re singing about the Lord.”
Born in Indiana, Angel grew up in Edmonton, where he first began sharing his music. From his beginnings as a busker, Angel gained work in a variety of bands, making music, touring and eventually signing with Attic Records in Toronto. Bands included the “skiffle-billy” combo the Silver Bishops (with Jon Card of D.O.A./ SNFU / The SubHumans and Dove Brown of Jr. Gone Wild) and his hillbilly band, the Hoosier Daddies. He’s also performed on the Rockabilly Hall of Fame stage at the largest North American rockabilly festival, the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender.
Angel moved west to Victoria about 10 years ago.
While many refer to his genre of music as “rockabilly,” Angel prefers the term “junk blues,” reflecting the blues influence of the 1940s and ‘50s, he says.
The genre gained popularity after the Second World War, as young people returning from war continued feeding adrenaline experienced overseas through things like hotrodding and music.
When groups like the Stray Cats brought the style to a mass audience in the 1980s, it was completely different than popular music at the time and spoke to Angel’s sensibilities. Then, “the more I heard the old stuff from the 1950s, the more I got into it. I was in the choir and went to church but it never occurred to me to combine the two.”
Fast-forward a few decades, when unable to sleep one night, Angel got out of bed to write. Playing the newly inked song for his wife the next day, she liked it and asked when he was going to do a gospel album. The seed planted, Angel began compiling all the gospel songs he’d loved since his youth, and putting his own spin on them.
Then came the discovery of Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
“(She) completely changed my life,” Angel says of the southern U.S. singer credited with raising the profile of gospel music among mainstream, secular audiences in the 1940s.
“I completely dropped everything for 48 hours and I watched every YouTube video, every documentary, listened to every recording …I ’d never been that excited about somebody I had never heard before.”
The result is Angel’s first full-length “Gospel-billy” album, Sinner, You Better Get Ready. Three years in the making, it comes on the heels of his full-length album Rockabilly Til I Die released earlier this spring.
Described as “a high-speed, high-energy collection of traditional and original gospel songs, done in Angel’s trademark ‘fast ‘n’ frantic’ style,” Sinner features his band, the Island Devils, and the Trounce Alley Quartet on vocals.
He hopes to introduce gospel music to people who may not otherwise give it a listen. Like any genre, there’s good gospel music and bad, Angel notes.
“I wanted to make a record of exciting, uplifting, affirmative versions of my favourite songs,” he says, pointing again to Tharpe, who married blues and gospel, and Ray Charles, who combined gospel and R&B.
He encourages audience members to get into the spirit with him and the band.
“Gospel songs were intended to be the kind of songs you could start singing along with, even if you’ve never heard them before,” he explains. “Then it stays in your head for weeks and weeks and weeks.”
Plus, “the coolest of the cats were gospel cats,” he says, citing Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, who sang gospel before earning fame as country singers. “As soon as they got enough clout to put their foot down and do what they wanted to do, they started to make gospel songs.”
The suggested donation for Sunday’s concert is $10 at the door, but all donations are gratefully accepted, with net proceeds going to Our Place. “If you’d like to give more, that would be awesome,” Angel says, noting that net proceeds from Sinner CD sales at the show will also go to Our Place.
And be prepared to have fun.
“We’re going to encourage people to sing along, clap along and dance if they want.”