Music

Four Books in the Bible

Today’s post was written by Paul.

wilson brothers

A couple of weeks ago, I thought of a song that Pap and Ray used to sing called “Four Books in the Bible.” It probably crossed my mind because of its opening line, “If you want to know what’s a matter with this old sinful world…”

I realized that I had never heard anyone else sing this song, yet I knew Pap didn’t write it. I was pretty sure it wasn’t in any hymnal, so I set out to find out where they learned the song.

I tested several theories, seeking to answer more questions in the process. An initial YouTube search yielded 4 results: The Stanley Brothers, Cowboy Copas, Carl Story, and a men’s choir in a foreign country (Het Urker Mannenkoor ‘Hallelujah’ ).

I knew Pap and Ray didn’t learn it from the Stanleys. Although they respected them, neither Pap nor Ray liked their singing. Pap generally liked Copas, so I thought Copas might be the source. I figured Pap learned the song first and brought it to Ray, rather than the other way around. I was basing this on the fact that Pap sang all the verses, rather than Ray. Most likely, if they had learned the song at the same time, Ray would have sung them, because he was the primary lead singer.

However, some things about Copas’ version didn’t seem to fit. Some of the lyrics were different, and the notes and phrasing were also different. Neither Pap nor Ray were strong fans of Carl Story, but Pap liked Story’s version of “Light at the River,” so I listened to Story’s version of “Four Books.” Early in the song, there was a small clue.

Out of all the versions I listened to online, only Story says “weaker and wiser,” like Pap sang it. Everyone else says “weak and wiser.” The clincher came when I heard Story sing the verse that begins “There’s comfort in the Holy scriptures.” No one else has this verse, which Pap also sang. After answering that question (at least to my satisfaction), attention turned to authorship. Who wrote this song? Answer: Odell Mcleod, a small-time musician and singer who started in the late 30’s and continued until the 80’s, singing at one point with a male partner named Slim and later with his wife as a duet. Notably, Mcleod also composed “Thirty Pieces of Silver!” There’s a worthwhile small collection of his music on YouTube, but I didn’t come across him singing “Four Books.” He seemed to sometimes enjoy interjecting a lot of words into a small span of beats (such as listing four disciples’ names in only three beats). This can be heard in other catchy songs he wrote, like “One Day Religion Won’t Do.” I like his style.

Remember that foreign men’s choir mentioned above? I listened to their version of “Four Books” and was fascinated. I love their version. I listened over and over. What country was this? Why were they dressed this way (striped shirts, short pants, bells under their necks, double earrings for some)? How did this song wind up there, being sung just six months ago?

By watching their other videos (only one other was in English) and reading the comments, I gathered that they are Dutch. Back in the 90’s, Pap and Ray used to receive letters from the Netherlands. Although the letters were written in English, we really couldn’t understand what they were trying to say, other than that Pap and Ray’s tapes had somehow found their way to their country, and that they too believed in God. For a moment, I speculated, “Could Pap and Ray be responsible for this song reaching the Netherlands?” I quickly remembered that they never recorded the song on a published record.

My next theory centered on Copas. He had the star power to have international reach, having one song that remained #1 in the US for 12 weeks. I noticed that the lead singer in the video of this particular men’s choir even sings in the business-like manner of Copas. I figured, “I bet this guy is a fan of classic country, and I bet he convinced the choir to include this song in a set!” I was briefly satisfied with this conclusion, but then I noticed: “Wait, there’s another Dutch choir singing it, and another, and another, and another!”

I found at least 5 different men’s choirs in the Netherlands performing it, going back as far as 1992 (some with an almost jazz-like approach). Why would this song be covered so much in that country?

“Odell Mcleod” is a strange name; maybe he was Dutch? Nope. Born in Alabama. I kept searching and stumbled upon what I believe to be the answer: in the 1980’s Mcleod and his wife toured in the Netherlands, thereby planting the seed of this song, where it flourished. They toured with a Dutch husband and wife called A.G. and Kate. The latter couple was quite popular, and it may have been more their success than that of Mcleod that spread the song there.

A.G. and Kate moved to West Virginia, playing and singing their music in the US for years until their retirement. You can find them online.

Remembering “Four Books” also led me to rediscover an old VHS tape of Pap and Ray and to share it.


I hope you enjoyed Paul’s post and the song! If you’d like to have some Wilson Brother music for your own, check out the cds below: “Live at the John C. Campbell Folk School” and “Today if You Will Hear His Voice.”

Tipper

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15 Comments

  • Reply
    Tom Gulledge
    August 2, 2020 at 7:45 pm

    I really enjoyed that old VHS recording.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 2, 2020 at 3:38 pm

    I can’t want until Paul discovers enough material for an album. I would like to reserve the first copy. How much is it and where do I send the money?

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    August 2, 2020 at 12:40 pm

    Tipper,
    And Paul,
    I enjoyed Pap and Ray’s singing on the four Gospels. That’s the first I can remember them switching, and Ray singing the High parts. They both done Good.

    When I was in high school, and in World History Class, I had Mrs. Barnette (I think I was in the 10th grade. She had twins… Ronald and Donald… and both worked at Stanley Furniture in Robbinsville, and they had done finished school. )

    The Subject was: How many books are in the Bible? I raised my hand, not a Single Classmate raised theirs. The Teacher said “How Many” and I said ’66’. She nodded and said “class, how many Books are in the Old Testament”? I raised my hand as I did before and said “39” and she said “correct”. The New Testament was 27. Mama had taught us Boys that, and I’m glad she did, because there were from 28 to 32 in each class and nobody knew.

    I grew up in a Religious Home, and my five Brothers were taught how to Pray and Do What is Right. I can still say the Books of the Bible. What I didn’t know, I learned in Vacation Bible School each year. …Ken

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      August 2, 2020 at 3:39 pm

      I can’t want and I can’t wait!

  • Reply
    Bob Dalsemer
    August 2, 2020 at 11:07 am

    Great detective work, Paul! I enjoyed following your investigation.

    • Reply
      Melinda
      August 2, 2020 at 10:59 pm

      Wow! Paul, you really Are a good deceive! Well done!

  • Reply
    Dee
    August 2, 2020 at 10:03 am

    I enjoyed reading Paul’s post and hearing Pap and his brother sing the song. Their voices blend beautifully! I also listened to the choir sing and it was really good. Having never heard this song, I enjoyed it immensely. Thanks for sharing it with us. God Bless!

  • Reply
    Margie Goldstein
    August 2, 2020 at 9:42 am

    I knew the books HAD to be Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This was a beautiful song and the family harmony and guitar harmony is perfect! I did notice the picture of Our Lord as He prayed at Gethsemane above the gentlemen- so fittingly perfect for that setting. I will be listening to this again. Thanks for the share and history. It was indeed a mystery until you solved it. It really is no wonder why your family is so talented all the way down the line!

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    August 2, 2020 at 8:26 am

    I’d never heard that song before, and if Pap has sung lead on a song before, I don’t remember it. But I enjoyed both the melody and message.

    Paul, I’m not sure if you caused the Het Urker Mannenkoor group’s version to pop up near the end, but I listened to them as well, and think I’ll listen again. The one family line of ours that I’ve been able to trace back across the water with authority is a Van Swearingen family which arrived in the good old (now) USA in the 1600s. Five generations later, they were in western North Carolina.

    Tipper has written about the folks of Oconaluftee for the blog and so have I. Elizabeth Beck Collins’ mother was Jane Swearingen. The Becks, Conners, and other families of Lufty all carried Swearingen blood.

    I enjoy hearing the different pronunciation and emphasis of the Dutch groups. We say Matthew, with the emphasis on the first syllable. Their spelling for Matthew is Matteus and they pronounce it more like MattYOU – emphasis on the last. Our second son is named Matthew; I think I’ll start calling him MattYOU.

    Now then, I want to hear Blind Pig version, with Paul singing lead and the girls singing harmony….

    • Reply
      Paul
      August 2, 2020 at 11:38 am

      Hi, Don.

      Yes, I sure did put in that link/suggestion to the Dutch group singing it. I also created a YouTube playlist with 16 versions of the song, most of them from Dutch choirs, and I linked that into our video too. I like to just let that playlist play. I too love how they pronounce “Matthew.” To me, it sounds almost like “Ma-Chew.” I also noticed that several of the other Dutch choirs say “pra-fa-seed,” rather than “pra-fa-sighed.” They do this even though it causes the word to not rhyme with “high.” Pap actually sang lead on a good handful of songs, including one of your favorites: “I Feel Him Touch My Soul.” 🙂

      • Reply
        Ed Ammons
        August 2, 2020 at 4:25 pm

        Being the highly intelligent person I am, I went searching for the Dutch mens choir before I watched Pap and Ray. I finally found them after about 45 minutes of searching and listened to their version of the song. Then I played Pap and Ray and there it was up in the corner. It made me feel like a fool. I’m sure glad nobody knows!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    August 2, 2020 at 8:23 am

    What a family mystery story. And a glimpse into the world of music (to which I am a complete stranger). This story would fit quite well into the country music museum, the one on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It would never have occured to me that someone from the Netherlands would move to West Virginia because of music.

    I am with you Paul on wondering what is wrong with this world. Actually believers know what it is yet being able to name it doesn’t mean we can understand. To us, it is an unknowable cloud we can’t see into the heart of. I think maybe that is why the bible speaks of “the mystery of iniquity” and also why the Lord will say “I never knew you”. These are indeed troubling times.

    • Reply
      Paul Wilson
      August 2, 2020 at 11:23 am

      Ron,

      I agree completely. I guess it’s some of those principalities and evil powers at work, not mere flesh and blood…

  • Reply
    aw griff
    August 2, 2020 at 8:18 am

    I really enjoyed this song and it brought back so many memories. I can’t remember how many years it has been since I heard it. My Aunt and Uncle used to sing it and they have been gone a long time.

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    August 2, 2020 at 7:14 am

    Good story…..love your history stories,,,keep them coming…!!

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