Elder Jack Ward photo credit: Matt White
Elder Jack Ward and The Bible & Tire Co. Team Up For Joyful Release ‘Already Made’
Elder Jack Ward made a choice to pursue Gospel music at a young age, having given plenty of consideration to Blues and Rock ‘n Roll, and it was a direction that pretty quickly affirmed that he was on the right path. Spurred on by a major hit song at Stax Records with The Christian Harmonizers, Elder Jack Ward’s songwriting as well as vocal performances continued to take center stage in his life and has continued throughout his lifetime. He experienced touring for many years and worked with Juan D. Shipp’s D-Vine label as well as releasing music on his own imprint. Today, he’s both a minister and a songwriter who performs Gospel music. When Bruce Watson (of Fat Possum) decided to launch the imprint Bible & Tire Co., he set about gathering and rereleasing music from the D-Vine days and working with Shipp. Through working towards those rereleases, he came in contact with Elder Jack Ward and found him still writing and performing Gospel music in a unique vein that blends elements of Country and Soul with more traditional Gospel sounds. Not only that, but he had plenty of unrecorded songs in his repertoire.
Together they have now recorded Already Made, an album of new Gospel songs arriving on August 20th. It’s a collection which will you put you right inside an experience of music at Elder Jack Ward’s church, where he often leads songs, and the newly released video for the title track, will give you an excellent sense of the interactive and joyful aspects of the music in a group setting, too. Elder Jack Ward kindly talked to me from his home in Memphis about this new release.
Americana Highways: How did you first hear about the D-Vine rereleases and Bible & Tire Co.?
Elder Jack Ward: Well, Juan D. Shipp was with D-Vine and I originally recorded with him. Bruce Watson is working together with him and I got cut in on the rerelease. I got to know Bruce through D-Vine which led to this album.
AH: What was it like deciding what to record on a new album after some time away? Did you go into a studio?
EJW: Yes, we went into the studio. Me and my background singers did that with Bruce Watson. I guess that was about two or three months ago. Bruce liked the song “Already Made.” That was his choice, but I had others that I thought were as good or better to me. Some of the songs had a half-country sound.
When I was a young boy, I used to sing country stuff and back at that time, Black folks didn’t do no country stuff. There were some little white boys about my age who, when I went into town, would say, “Come on and sing a song.” They would give me a nickel or a dime to sing. I can do a variety of voices. But this album is the way that I like things now. I think the album is going to turn out really nice.
AH: This album sounds great. I’ve been able to listen to it and I loved the songs.
EJW: That’s so good. Did you like the song, “Someone Who Is Greater Than I”? I love that one.
AH: Yes, I did. I also love the song “Already Made.” I can see why Bruce was so intrigued by it. It makes a great album title, too. I also really like “Shout Trouble Is Over.” That’s a really powerful song.
EJW: [Laughs] Yes. Thank you.
AH: It is a little rare for people to write new Gospel songs rather than relying on traditional songs. But you have always done that, haven’t you?
EJW: Yes. I made my first hit record with Stax Records. I put out a record which was a single, with two cuts and one on one side, and one on the other. It was “Don’t Need No Doctor” and “Jesus Will Send Down His Blessings.” That stayed number two, off and on, for two years. That was my first hit. I had some others with another group. I mostly do all of my writing, putting them together and telling people how I want the music. I put some music to it and tell people how it goes. I write all of my stuff.
AH: I knew that you write the lyrics, but you also write the music, and show how it should be performed?
EJW: Yes I do.
AH: Do you play any musical instruments, or are you primarily a vocalist?
EJW: I play some guitar music, though I’m not too good just doing that. I have a guitar and I can play just a little bit to tell people how I want a song to start. They have a say in that, too, but a lot of times I tell them how I want the beginning to go. So far it’s been good.
AH: What makes you feel like you want to work on new songs these days? Is there a feeling that you have that new music is good for people?
EJW: Yes, I think it will be good for us. We also have a lot of groups out there who sing and most of the groups sound just alike. They have the same kind of voices. I like to be able to explore something that is different from other groups. That’s what makes me feel that I am embracing something, and bringing something, that’s somewhat different.
I’ve been singing out for a long time. I’ve been on the road. We’ve been all around the world with The Christian Harmonizers and The Sunset Travelers. We didn’t go too far with D-Vine so I did a CD on my own label, and it’s real good. It’s been a while. There are many songs on there. All of these songs seem good to me. I just think that God gave me this talent where I can mostly sing any part for any group. My mom was a great singer and I guess she left that with me.
AH: That’s wonderful to hear. I can relate to that. My mother was also a great singer and I think she gave me that love for Gospel music, too.
Do you perform new songs at church a lot, or do you try to stick to songs that the congregation knows already?
EJW: I do some old songs. I rearrange them and stuff like that. Basically, I do my own, though. There are several songs we do now that I have written, like “Never Give Up, Help Is On The Way.” That one is different from any other Gospel songs. But that sounds a little like The Christian Harmonizers. We were on the road a long time together. But since many of my fellows are gone, my daughters are in the background on this CD.
AH: I saw a video for the song, “Already Made.” Is that your church and are those your daughters in the video?
EJW: Yes, we did that in the church. They were with me. They are the church members. They are so well-equipped to adapt to what I’m saying, how I want the songs to go, and what else we need to mix with that. That’s the way we do it.
AH: It’s so great to see them in the video. I think it makes the video more powerful to include those other people, so that you can see that the music is really about a group of people. It’s about interacting together.
EJW: That’s right.
AH: Are there ways people might encounter your music these days other than through the church?
EJW: I have a broadcast on WMQM, AM 1600, on the radio dial. I’ve been on the air there for going on 17 years. I play a lot of my songs with different groups. We come on at 10:00AM and go off at 10:30AM. We play different Gospel songs but mostly we play the different CDs, some of which are Bruce’s, for the broadcast. I haven’t done a live radio broadcast in several years, though I was thinking about doing vocals.
AH: That’s wonderful. If there was a live show of performers who work with Bruce, would you want to perform these songs live?
EJW: It would be okay. Yes, it would be nice. We have been talking about some things. At church, each third Sunday of the month, we have my group or maybe another group performing. But we haven’t done a lot of that for a while because of this Corona virus. We’ve been careful about that. We’re waiting to hear when it’s clear to play. I’m ready to do a little traveling.
AH: Aren’t we all? Me too. Would you want to make more CDs and do more recording of songs that haven’t been released yet?
EJW: Oh, yes. I got some songs. I have some beautiful songs and that’s what I want to do. A lot of times when I’m just sitting down and writing, something will come to me. I’m a minister of the Gospel, too, but a title will sometimes come to me. They come to me pretty often. The way I do it, I write the title down and the first verse.
AH: Do you come back to it later or do you usually write a whole song at one time?
EJW: I don’t write a whole song at one time. The way I do it, I get the title and I’ll put maybe a line of verses, maybe two or three, so I won’t forget. Later on, I go back and finish it. Sometimes I don’t finish it because I just write things down when they come to me. I’ll go back to whatever one I feel like I need to go back to.
AH: Do you feel like you need to teach yourself the musical part of the song, and memorize it, so that can later tell other people how it goes?
EJW: Yes, right. I do.
AH: Some music, whether it’s church music or secular music, is more mournful in addressing the problems of the world. But you seem to be someone who focuses on being joyful in your music. Is that how you want things to be?
EJW: Yes, you have hit the nail on the head. I can do that, praise God. I love singing. I love preaching and teaching. I guess I was born with a talent that I could use any way that I wanted. But I started to get into Rock ‘n Roll. One of my schoolmates told me, “Jack, man, don’t go out there in that field. Let’s do some Gospel.” I told him, “Let me think about it.” Later on, they said, “The background sounds so good.” So I started off with them. That was The Christian Harmonizers. They said, “Man, you don’t need to sing those Blues.”
So I changed my mind. I said, “Well, I don’t need that. They don’t make any more money with Blues than they do with Gospel.” And as I stated before, you have a lot of Gospel groups who sound the same. I like to try to do something different that a lot of groups don’t have. A lot of times I get some ideas for music from other things that people play, but I just take a pinch of it, and then I put my music together.
AH: Does anyone ever try to influence you or suggest that you should change the sound of your songs?
EJW: Well, no. What you have to be able to do is play your songs, and then the same type of sound can be added to it. The musician can put what they feel in there. I tell them the way that we want it to go.
AH: So additions need to fit and go well together rather than changing the original core idea of the songs?
EJW: That’s right.
AH: I hope you get a chance to do some more recording with Bruce, and maybe some live performances eventually.
EJW: Oh, yes. We’re going to break loose after a while! What we’re waiting on is the Corona virus stuff. A lot of people haven’t taken their shots, though me and my wife have taken ours. We still have to be careful.
Follow and find more information on Elder Jack Ward here: https://biglegalmessrecords.com/collections/bible-tire