Song Snapshots is a column featuring new and classic Southern Gospel songs.
Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview legendary songwriter Neil Enloe about his songs. We discussed songs like “Statue of Liberty,” “The Joy of Knowing Jesus,” and “Give Me Jesus”—all of which you will read about in coming weeks.
But the conversation took an unexpected turn when I mentioned the song “I’m the Lamb (That the Shepherd Left the Flock For).”
“Now here’s where the story really turns unique,” he said.
He paused for effect.
“I did not write that song.”
He proceeded to explain that they recorded the song on their 1975 Kinda Country album. The album was released by Tempo Records in Kansas City, Missouri. The album cover designers, he said, “knew I had written some songs.” Though they didn’t know who wrote “I’m the Lamb,” he said, “they assumed I did, and they put my name on it. Ever since then, it’s been my song!”
The song was actually written by Phil Armenia, a producer and engineer who lived in Staten Island, New York—as Neil Enloe likes to joke, “it was written by a guy who’s never seen a sheep in his life!”
Armenia relates that the song was inspired by a picture: “The inspiration came from a picture I received for perfect attendance in Sunday School when I was in third grade. I always loved that picture and as a young boy I hung it over my bed.”
“Some years later,” he continues, “I was in Macy’s Department Store on 34th Street in New York City buying my wife a gift… I saw the very same picture in the Home Furnishings Department and something happened to my heart. It seemed like it was my face on the lamb that Jesus was holding.
“It began to inspire me on my commute home to Staten Island. On the Staten Island Ferry, all the words and all the music came in the 30 minutes it took to get from Manhattan to Staten Island. I wrote the words down on the paper bag that my wife’s gift was in.”
The irony of the contrast between the setting of the song and its origins is not lost on either Enloe or Armenia. Enloe notes, “I often say it was written by a guy who’s never seen a sheep in his life!”
Armenia adds: “It’s ironic that a New York City boy would write a song on the Staten Island Ferry in the middle of New York City that would have such a country music flavor. But I always loved and sang Southern Gospel flavor.”
Armenia moved from New York to Pennsylvania in 1974; that is when the Couriers heard the song and decided to record it. He has nothing but the highest praise for the Couriers: “I have known and loved Dave, Duane and Neil since I was a teenager. Their music and their testimony have been a great example of three Godly men.” He says it was “the highest honor” that they would be the ones to introduce his song.
Enloe notes that there is another side to the story. Phil and Marie Armenia perform as a duet, and recorded a song that Enloe actually did write,”I Will Live For Jesus.” He comments: “Brooklyn Tabernacle had them back time and time again, would not let them come without singing that song, and so everyone thinks they wrote that one. So we kind have a joking deal that we traded songs!”
Though the song never became one of the most frequently recorded Southern Gospel songs, it has maintained a steady presence in the genre, with renditions in every decade since its release. Willie Wynn and the Tennesseans recorded it the same year it came out, in 1975, on Presenting. The Hoppers did it two years later, on their 1977 album Collectors Edition. In the 1980s, Ken Turner recorded it with his family, on their 1985 album Ken Turner of the Blackwood Brothers Presents the Multi-Talented Turner Family. The Old Time Gospel Hour Quartet included it on their 2005 Restoration album.
The most notable renditions, though, since the original Couriers rendition were the two Booth Brothers renditions. The original Booth Brothers lineup—Ron Booth, Ronnie Booth, and Michael Booth—cut the song on their 1996 album Praise God Anyhow. Today’s lineup—Michael Booth, Ronnie Booth, and Jim Brady—recently revisited the song on their 2009 album 09.