With three Grammys and nearly four decades of generating sweet tones for Jesus to their credit, the Mighty Clouds of Joy should be about ready to sell the big bus, retire and enjoy their grandchildren. Forget that. The legendary gospel group stepped into the pulpit of Washington's Bibleway Temple Saturday night and carried on like performers half their age. The floor of the Northwest Washington church actually bounced up and down as more than 3,000 people danced and rocked themselves to exhaustion.
Lee Williams and the Spiritual QC's first stirred the audience into a frenzy with Williams's hit "I've Learned to Lean (and Depend on Jesus)," but the Mighty Clouds, who are on their 39th anniversary tour, were determined not to be upstaged by a group from Tupelo, Miss.
The Clouds broke out with a medly of foot-stomping songs. They slowed things down with their hit ballad "I've Been in the Storm Too Long" and then held a musical altar call, when even a toddler came forward in the name of Jesus. By the time the storm of gospel subsided, some concertgoers needed funeral home fans and smelling salts to be revived.
"I love gospel music. I was raised in the church, and I am going to die in the church," declared the Clouds lead singer, Joe Ligon, 62. He and Richard Wallace, 59, are the only two original members remaining in the group, which formed in Los Angeles in 1960.
On Saturday the Mighty Clouds headlined a program packed with legendary gospel acts--along with the Spiritual QC's were the Sensational Nightingales and the Williams Brothers. Gospel concerts are often musical marathons with people leaving before the headline act. But promoter Rosetta Thompson graciously allowed the Clouds to perform in the middle of the program.
Onstage, the Clouds sported tailored 1950s-style white suits, fade haircuts and a fresh, fast-paced sound. It was all part of a musical upgrade that will culminate with the October release of their new album, "Lord It Was You," in which they team up with hip-hop and contemporary music producers Fred Hammond, William Becton and Steven Ford for a younger sound. "It's bold. We are trying to please everybody," Ligon said.
The group sang with guitars and organ in the 1960s, when a cappella groups like the Fairfield Four were kings. In the '70s, when most groups fell in love with blue, brown or gray leisure suits, the Clouds wore pink leisure suits.
When asked about slowing down, Ligon simply refers to the group's recording "I Don't Feel No-Ways Tired."