Everybody has a hero… everybody. For some, it’s a sports figure. For others it’s a Pastor, a teacher, an entertainer, a politician, or any number of other pronouns that describe the person they look up to and try to emulate. For me, that person was a piano-player.
I first heard Lari Goss on a 1968 recording by The LeFevres, called “A Man Who Is Wise.” At the time, I didn’t know it was Lari… I didn’t read the liner notes on my Papaw’s album… I just listened, and loved it. It wasn’t until 1978, when a group called The Sentinels visited my Church for a Saturday Night Singing, that I heard someone play the piano like Lari Goss, in person. After the service, I asked the group’s pianist, Ed Osborne, where he learned those unique chord progressions he was using, and he said “you need to listen to anything you can find with Lari Goss on it,” and my quest began. I read every record cover I could find, looking for his name in the credits. I found him on records by The Speer Family, The LeFevres, and of course, on The Sentinels’ album I bought at my Church. For months, I would come home from school, play those albums, and sit at the piano, trying to figure out those “Goss chords,” and attempt to play them with Lari’s almost feather-like touch on the keys.
In February of 1981, after hearing me play at Church, I got a call from the Dumplin Valley Boys… asking if I would begin traveling with them as their pianist. I was still in High School, but very reluctantly, Mom and Dad said I could give it a try, as long as my grades didn’t suffer. My first trip with the group was to Chattanooga, Tennessee, for a recording session at Elmer Cole’s Pyramid recording studio, on top of Lookout Mountain. It was my first time to ever walk into a studio, and the first person I saw, was a short man wearing a ball-cap, sitting at a brown, Steinway baby-grand, with his back to me, working on a chord chart. Although I had never seen him before… not even a picture… when he began to play the chart he had just written, I knew exactly who it was. Elmer Cole walked with me across the room, and said “Gerald, this is Lari Goss.” I wish I could remember what I said… I’m sure it was a profound statement of incoherent ridiculousness… after which Lari said, “it’s very nice to meet you too.” That’s it…. and the session began.
Between songs, Lari would come into the Control Room to listen to the tracks, and between songs, he and the other guys would exchange funny stories and jokes. It was surreal… Being in the studio for the first time, with THE person who had inspired me to want to learn to play. He even acted like he wanted to hear me play… to give him an idea of how the songs were supposed to go. I’m sure he was chuckling on the inside, but on the outside, he was very complimentary, and gracious. He never knew what that day really meant to me…. or maybe he did.
Many people never get to meet their heroes… and sometimes that’s a good thing… because they might not be what we have envisioned them to be. Lari was different… He really was that guy I imagined him to be. Very unassuming, very funny, emotional, happy, sad, loyal, generous, and what I would call, someone with country-fide brilliance. He never got over being raised in Cartersville, Georgia… and he didn’t want to get over it. It was a big part of what made him who he was. Sure… he worked with major Christian Artists, world-renowned orchestras and choirs… but inside and out, he was always a country boy from Cartersville, who taught Orchestration classes at Universities, but who never graduated from High School.
It would be pointless to attempt to list all of Lari’s major recordings. A few years ago, I asked him how many albums he had worked on during his career, and his response was “I really don’t know, but it’s probably several thousand.” I don’t doubt that for a minute. Most people are familiar with his work with The Cathedral Quartet, The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, Larnelle Harris, The Gaithers, Greater Vision, The Nelons, The Goodmans, Legacy Five, The Booth Brothers, Mark Trammell Quartet, Speer Family, and most recently, Jim Brady’s new Trio, as well as many, many others. However, Lari was always ready to help Artists and Choirs who might not be as well known. I have LPs and CDs in my “Goss Collection” from The Harmonettes, Cedar Ridge Singers, The Clarks, and others as well. For Lari, it was about getting the message of the Gospel to as many people as possible, using music as the method… and for five decades, he did just that… more effectively than anyone else.
On January 10, 2015, Lari Goss was able to see the place and the One he had tried so hard to describe musically… and he discovered his masterful arrangements didn’t quite measure up to the reality of being in the literal presence of The Lord. Lari has temporarily left behind his wife, Carolyn, his sons, his daughters-in-law, his grandchildren, his brother, and his many friends, who are still grieving the loss, while rejoicing in the reality of Lari being in perfect health, with perfect joy, and perfect peace. Thankfully, Lari also left behind an enduring legacy of beautiful music that reminds us of the majesty of God, and of His love for us.
Lari Goss’ departure has left a huge hole in Gospel Music. Because of Lari’s recently finished works, it will probably be a year or two before it’s really noticed, but it will be noticed. God will raise someone up to continue the musical work of the ministry, but there will never be another Lari Goss. While often imitated, the “Goss touch” on the piano keys will never be duplicated. Somehow, you could hear Lari’s heart, when his fingers touched the keys. You could hear the joy, and sometimes, the pain, as his wrinkled fingers seemed to almost float across the keyboard. It was a “God thing.” Lari didn’t learn it, and he didn’t earn it. It was a gift. God gave it to Lari, and Lari shared it with the rest of us.