Recently, I had the chance to interview Gary Casto, lead singer and manager for Tribute Quartet.
DJM: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you get interested in Southern Gospel, and what groups have you sung with?
Casto: It started years ago. My family had some friends who lived down the road who had a local group. One evening, we went over there while they were rehearsing. I sat back and watched till they looked at me and said, “Let’s teach you a song.” They taught me Squire Parsons’ “Sweet Beulah Land” and asked me to go along that week and back me up while I sang it.
Then one of the larger groups in my state, the West Virginia Couriers, was looking for a tenor singer and asked me if I could come on.
From that point—my first pro group was New Revelations; they were based a little north of Columbus, Ohio. Actually, they were in Marion, but Columbus was the nearest big city, so they typically said they were from Columbus. I was with them approximately 4 years. We traveled all over East Coast to West Coast and in Canada.
Then I was the Southmen out of Alabama.
DJM: The group Tim Riley was with?
Casto: Yes, but not at that time; Tim Riley was already with Gold City. I would say I was with them about four or five years; I was still singing tenor.
After that I was with the Harvesters. From that point I had my own group for a while, called Turning Point. We were a trio. We did that in 98 and 99 for a short stint.
For a short period while I was still doing that I worked with Southern Communications, a radio promotion company in our industry.
I was with the Wilburns from 1999 through 2005, when they retired. At that point, I was still called a tenor, even though it was with a mixed group. I was part of starting Monument and with them for a year before forming Tribute.
DJM: What was it like to transition from tenor to lead when you started Monument?
Casto: Actually, it didn’t feel too much different, because in the Wilburns, even though I was called a tenor, I was singing lower. So the transition was not hard at all.
DJM: Could you tell us a bit about your group, Tribute Quartet?
Casto: We started Tribute in 2006. The members were at that time, Josh Singletary, Dennis Duggar, and Jacob Kitson.
Josh Singletary plays keyboards and sings baritone. I sang with him in the Wilburns from 2000 till they retired.
Singing bass is Dennis Duggar from Arkansas. He was with a group called the Apostles.
DJM: Any connection to London Parris’s group?
Casto: Yes, it was the same Apostles, but another gentleman owned the name at that opint.
Tribute’s original tenor, Jacob Kitson, from Michigan, sang with his family group, the Kitsons, while he was in Bible college. Tribute’s first date was in December of ’06; he left in June ’08, so he was with us a year and a half.
When he left to join Greater Vision, we hired Brian Alvey, from Indiana. He had sung previously with Southern Sound. He sang tenor and at one point played the keyboard for them. He plays multiple instruments, and we’ll be utilizing his abilities there later.
DJM: What is your vision for Tribute Quartet?
Casto: Our heart is ministry. We want to do everything we can for the kingdom of the Lord.
At the same time, we’re also very industry minded. The motto I use everywhere is “Preserving the heritage and promoting the future of Southern Gospel music.” That’s our heart—too keep our music going.
DJM: So what would you say makes Southern Gospel Southern Gospel as opposed to some other form of Christian music?
Casto: The message in the song.
DJM: Put in a different way than other genres of Christian music would put it?
Casto: Yes. A lot of our songs come directly out of the Bible. Of course, I’m not trying to say that other genres aren’t Biblical…
DJM: Well, maybe we could put it like this: Southern Gospel songs tend to start off straight from the Bible and then perhaps bring in a practical application, while a CCM song would start off with real life today and perhaps bring in a Biblical application.
Casto: Yes, that’s what I was trying to say.
DJM: You mentioned that your motto is “ Preserving the heritage and promoting the future of Southern Gospel music.” So what is a typical Tribute Quartet concert like? Do you sing a lot of old material?
Casto: Actually, most of our concert is new material. What we mean by preserving the heritage is preserving the tradition, straight down the middle of quartet singing.
DJM: What makes your group unique?
Casto: We try to find songs that fit us, and we try to stay consistent from album to album. I’m a firm believer that “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” I’m also very song about what Jerry Goff told me years ago: “Always know who you’re singing to.”
Everywhere you turn, you find someone who wants to change their music or appearance. Now groups have to find something that works, but the key is to know who you’re singing to and what they want. It’s easy for promoters to bring in groups they like or for a group to record a song they like, but the key is: Do the fans like it?
DJM: Let’s jump topics for a bit. I just found out recently that you were also a songwriter. How long have you been writing songs?
Casto: Since probably about ’04, maybe the end of ’03—about 4 or 5 years.
DJM: About how many have you written?
Casto: Probably about 50. Maybe it’s not quite that many, but it’s somewhere around there.
I’ve co-written a few with Barbara Huffman, a few with Glen Bates, some on my own, and working on one right now with Aaron Wilburn.
DJM: Could you name some groups that have recorded songs you wrote or co-wrote?
Casto: The McKameys recorded “He Hears My Tears” and “Coming Very Soon.” The Ruppes recorded “One Day.” Three Bridges recorded “In the Valley There’s a Rock.”
The Hoppers recorded one of my best, “Grace Will Always Be Greater.” The King’s Heralds, Rejoice, and Tribute have all recorded songs I’ve written.
DJM: But Tribute has only done a few of your songs.
Casto: Yes—we’ve recorded “I’m in That Crowd” and “This I Know.”
DJM: When a group has a songwriter who sends songs to other groups, it’s not unheard of for them to do their own versions of some of those songs. Greater Vision did Rodney Griffin’s “He’d Still Been God” and “The Depths of the Fathers Love” after the Freemans and the Kingdom Heirs introduced the songs. Have you considered that possibility?
Casto: It is a possibility. Other songwriters have encouraged me to a male quartet rendition of “Grace Will Always Be Greater.” So it’s definitely a possibility.
DJM: Of all the songs you have written, which songs mean the most to you? Do you have a personal favorite?
Casto: Well, it would have to be a tie—“The Climb” and “Grace Will Always Be Greater.”
“The Climb” is a song Monument recorded that we’ll probably cut again one of these days. It really means a lot to me; a lot of thought went into that song.
Barbara Huffman and I wrote “Grace Will Always Be Greater” together. That one came so quickly—the words the Lord gave us. The Climb took a lot of heart, a lot of thought process.
DJM: If you could do one thing to improve Southern Gospel, what would it be?
Casto: I think if I had the power, I would bring unity between all ministries. That everyone could be in one mind and one accord as the Bible speaks about. I guess that might sound cheesy, but it is my heart. If we could all be one unit, one team, we could be so much more effective for the Kingdom of God.
DJM: Are there any questions you wish an interviewer would ask you, but nobody has to date?
Casto: Wow! I’ve done so many interviews—you would think there would be one that would come directly to mind. I’ve done interviews from the artist’s perspective and the industry side; I’m involved with the Southern Gospel guild and the SGMA [Southern Gospel Music Association].
There aren’t really any that I can think of off hand.
There was one question asked to me this year at NQC which nobody had ever asked me before: “Why do you do what you do”?
The reason why we do what we do is we love what we sing, and we sing what we love, and that’s Southern Gospel music.
DJM: The year is 1973, and you have your pick of singing for any Southern Gospel group. Which group do you choose, and why?
Casto: The Cathedrals. The Cathedrals have always set the standard from Day 1. They were not as popular then, but they had a strong ministry, always had high standards, and were starting to take off.
They’ve set good examples, they’ve paved the road, and now I and other Southern Gospel performers today get to benefit from the roads that they have paved. And it’s great to walk that paved road, but it would have been something to help pave that road.
DJM: Any other thoughts or comments?
Casto: It’s all about the songs. It’s about the message.
We as groups have to be so careful in what we record, because we live with it the rest of our lives. We don’t ever know what song’s gonna go down in history as a classic. We as writers can sometimes feel if something’s gonna be good, but we never know until the Lord starts ministering to people’s hearts how He’ll use it.
It could be a longevity song or a one-project song. A prime example is “Grace Will Always Be Greater.” It’s been a big hit as far as staging for the Hoppers, but it didn’t get sent to radio.
DJM: Well, there had to be something like eight songs on that project that would have made strong singles!
Casto: Yes, definitely. The Ride is one of strongest projects ever recorded in Southern Gospel Twenty Years down the road, we’ll still be talking about it.
I see the future of Southern Gospel music growing by leaps and bounds. I really feel that the best years are ahead of us in Gospel music—Gospel music is on the upswing. We’re seeing crowds grow at concerts, the crowd was bigger at NQC this year—Southern Gospel is stronger than ever!
DJM: Thanks for doing this!