Blind Boys of Alabama Founding Member Jimmy Carter: "We're Testing the Water, and I Hope We Don't Drown."

Ladies and gentlemen, The Blind Boys of Alabama have gone country.

Well, kind of. The long running gospel group, which formed at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind way back in 1939, released Take the High Road in April of this year. Featuring Hank Williams Jr., Willie Nelson, The Oak Bridge, Vince Gill, and co-produced by Jamey Johnson, the record finds the group linking gospel and country music.

Having collaborated with artists like Tom Petty, Peter Gabriel, and Prince, the Boys are no strangers to diverse collaborations, but founding member Jimmy Carter admits to being a little nervous about the idea of exploring such twangy sounds.

"I tell my audience, well, 'We're testing the water, and I hope we don't drown,'" he says laughing over lunch.

Carter and I discussed record and the band's upcoming Christmas shows.

The Blind Boys of Alabama are scheduled to perform Saturday, December 10, at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

Up on the Sun: Tell me a little about Take the High Road, Mr. Carter.

Jimmy Carter: Well, you know, we have recorded many records, but this is the first one we've ever done that...well, when I get on stage, I tell my audience, 'Well, we're testing the water, and I hope we don't drown.' [laughs]

You guys really embrace the country sound on this one, exploring the connection between that kind of roots music and gospel.

Well, you know, we got some good people on there. Hank Jr., Willie Nelson, Jamey Johnson, Lee Ann Womack, Oak Ridge Boys, Vince Gill. It's got some names on there.

What do you think of the record?

I think it's alright. You have to hear it, because it grows on you. I have two or three favorite songs. [At first] I didn't have but one; now I have two or three.

Was it strange for you to combine those sounds?

I have been a country music fan all of my life. I grew up listening to country music, I had a lot of country music heroes. I had a blast making the record. I enjoyed myself. I got a chance to meet people like Willie Nelson. I got a chance to do that.

So it worked that way, at least.

It worked good that way. I don't know about the other.

You guys seem very open to interesting chances. You guys did Tom Wait's "Way Down in the Hole," which is the theme song to my favorite show, The Wire. Each season featured a different version, and I liked yours the best.

Thank you. Alright.

Where you familiar with the show?

I never watched it. I didn't even know the song was on there until someone called me and told me. [laughs] we can get away with working with really secular people, but what most people don't understand is that most of the secular people we've collaborated with have roots in gospel, most of them came out of the church, and choose to do different kinds of music. [But the artists] have roots in gospel.

That song is certainly rooted in gospel traditions.

It says, "you got a keep the devil down in the hole. That's where he belongs! [laughs]

Are you guys going to be singing some Christmas stuff on the upcoming tour?

We'll be singing Christmas songs with our stuff. Oh yeah, traditional Christmas carols, songs.

I'm excited that Scottsdale is your first stop on the tour, after Detroit.

Yeah. The last time we were in Scottsdale we had a good time.

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