The Inspirations at the Blue Gate
Combining the gospel harmonies of the Jordanaires and Original Oak Ridge Quartet with the old timey styles of famous Grand Ole Opry quartet, the Old Hickory Singers, the Inspirations formed a sound that was all their own, and immediately caused Gospel music fans to sit up and take notice. Evangelists Ralph Sexton and Maze Jackson gave them early exposure through their television and radio programs. They soon caught the attention of J G Whitfield and Les Beasley.
The group’s sound and consistency was not only established by their distinctive vocal capabilities during this period, but by the unique background accompaniment given by their musicians as well. Joining Martin Cook during the 1970s were musicians Jack Laws, Roger Fortner, and Dale Jones. With Laws on upright bass, Fortner on guitar, and Jones on steel guitar, the Inspirations created a sound on stage and in studio that has remained consistent for over 40 years. The Gospel music listener knows exactly what to expect when purchasing an Inspirations recording.
The Inspirations vocal lineup of Holcomb, Dietz, Burns, and Watkins remained unchanged for six years, until 1979 when Eddie Dietz resigned from the quartet to pursue evangelism. Jack Laws resumed the baritone position, and Roger Fortner moved to upright bass. Fortner left the quartet in 1981, and was replaced by Martin’s oldest son, Myron Cook. Fortner’s career has been varied as well, having since spent his career playing for The Hoppers, The Talleys, The Greenes, and most notably The McKameys… also continuing to play guitar on all of the Inspirations studio recordings.
As the group entered into the 21st century, they continued to be rewarded by their loyal fans. They were awarded Song of the Year honors in 2002, 2003, and 2007 for their hits, I’ll Not Turn My Back On Him Now, We Need to Thank God and I Have Not Forgotten at the Singing News Fan Awards. They were vot’ed Favorite Traditional Male Quartet in 2005 and 2006, and Mike Holcomb once again received Favorite Bass awards in 2002, 2005, and 2008. Martin Cook and Archie Watkins both were recipients of the Marvin Norcross Award, and each was inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2003 and 2007 respectively. Cook was also inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Piano Roll of Honor at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion in 2005.
Today’s lineup of the Inspirations holds firm to their roots, while setting the stage for another generation. The group as of January, 2011 consists of Martin Cook – Piano, Mike Holcomb – Bass, Jon Epley – Baritone, David Reagan – Lead, Jodi Hosterman – Tenor, Myron Cook – Upright Bass, along with Luke Vaught who can play almost any instrument put in his hands.
The Inspirations have continued to remain a top-selling recording artist, now recording for Horizon Records. They still pack churches and concert halls to capacity. Their presence still commands respect and admiration. The boys from Bryson City have proven consistency and integrity are still important, in times where neither have seemed to be viewed as relevant.