Many people came to know the gospel group Dixie Hummingbirds when they backed up Paul Simon’s “Loves Me Like A Rock” in 1973.
It was a good thing for the group of course. Simon introduced them to a wider audience and presumably they made some money off the recording as well, including from their own version.
But this was a dynamic group with a vast and accomplished repertoire of its own. While the members have obviously changed, the group, having started in 1928, is nearly 100 years old. It’s less a group than an institution at this point. Ira B. Tucker, who became the lead singer in 1938, stayed with group for an astounding 70 years, until his death in 2008.
They influenced many people besides Simon. James Brown and Jackie Wilson incorporated elements of the Hummingbird’s act into their own.
They have many stunning songs but perhaps none is more remarkable than “Standing By The Bedside of a Neighbor.” It’s a brilliant arrangement vocally and the guitar work by Howard Carroll is superb.
Despite being at the heart of much of it, gospel music is often overlooked in the American tradition, particularly in the crasser era we live in now. Groups like the Hummingbirds reached a level of genius that few pop bands can even dream of though, much less reach. You can listen to this song once and focus on the intricacy of the call and response of the guitar. The next time you might focus on the gorgeous backup vocals. The third time you might just listen to the base singer, who is superb.
Much like a diamond, Bedside of a Neighbor has many facets and like all great art, is both simple and profound.
If you like this song, you might also like Let’s Go Out To The Program, in which the Hummingbirds mimic several other popular gospel groups of the day including The Soul Stirrers with Sam Cook, and do so with a virtuosity that has to be heard to be believed.
These guys were the real deal.