I’ve come to release that a lot of my favorite bands from my college/high school years that were, sadly, confined to the CCM ghetto are quickly fading away. Many of my younger friends have no idea who these bands are or what they sound like, so I’m creating a series of posts to educate the young listener.
Who Are They?
Whiteheart is a rock band that combined strong vocal harmonies with a rock sound that became progressively more complex from album to album from 1982 to 1997. The main band members throughout the history of the band were Billy Smiley (guitars, vocals) and Mark Gersmehl (keyboards, vocals). Rick Florian (vocals) joined the band in 1986 and became a principal member of the band. The rest of the roles were filled by a revolving door of musicians on drums, bass, and electric guitar. While Whiteheart enjoyed quite a bit of success on their own, the band became a springboard for many of the members to go on to successful session musician careers.
Whiteheart’s music became progressively better with each album, delving deeper lyrically as they moved away from common Christianese lyrics to more thoughtful and questioning thoughts. The band also benefitted from more and more complex arrangements from the musicians that performed on each of their albums. The band perhaps peaked in 1992 or 1993 when rock music changed in response to grunge music. Whiteheart unsuccessfully tried to adapt the sound, but it never truly fit within their oeuvre.
Whiteheart formed in 1982 from musicians performing for Bill Gaither. Smiley and Gersmehl were members of the original band along with vocalist Steve Green and brothers Dann (guitars) and David Huff (drums). Green left after the first self-titled album saying that rock was not his preferred music and went on to a successful CCM career. Vocalist Scott Douglas joined the band for the next two albums. Dann Huff left after next album Vital Signs and David Huff left after Hotline and the two brothers formed the band Giant, which enjoyed brief success in the 80’s.
Whiteheart was rocked by scandal in 1986 when Douglas was arrested as a sexual offender. Fortunately for the band, the members discovered that their roadie and bus driver, Rick Florian, was a more than capable replacement and he became the vocalist for the rest of the band’s duration. Florian became notable for spelling his first name differently on every album (Ric, Rickq, etc.) Florian’s first album Don’t Wait For the Movie featured Gordon Kennedy on guitar and Chris McHugh on drums. Tommy Simms joined the band on bass for Emergency Broadcast. The band experience a quantum leap in quality with their next album Freedom in 1989.
After Freedom, the band left their original label, Sparrow Records, and joined Starsong Records. McHugh, Simms, and Kennedy all left the band at this time to become session musicians. Whiteheart debuted a new lineup with Mark Nemer (drums), Anthony Sallee (bass), and Brian Wooten (guitar) on the album Powerhouse in 1991. McHugh returned to play drums on the next album Tales Of Wonder in 1992 and during the tour the band hired Jon Knox, formerly of Adam Again, to play drums. In 1993, the band released their last album on Starsong titled Highlands
The band released a couple of new songs on a couple of Best Of releases before ending their contract with Starsong. John Thorn joined the band on bass, replacing Sallee. The band joined Curb Records with anticipation of greater mainstream appeal, but when Inside was released in 1995, the musical climate had change for rock music and the album was a disappointment. The band underwent another upheaval as Wooten, Thorn, and Knox all departed the and. Gersmehl and Florian each also has personal crises as Gersmehl lost his father to death and Florian divorced his wife. Gersmehl, Florian, and Smiley hired session musicans to release one last album, Redemption before they announced they were entering a “dormant stage” for the band in 1997.
Where Are They Now?
Florian is a now a real-estate agent. Gersmehl and Smiley remain involved in the music business as Gersmehl still performs as a solo artist and Smiley works for a label called Devotion. Many of the other musicians remain in high demand as session musicans for Christian, country, and mainstream rock and pop albums and artists. Though the band has never officially broken up, there are no plans for any future touring and albums. The band did, however, reunite in 2006 for an awards show with a lineup of Gersmehl, Smiley, Florian, Knox, Simms, and Kennedy. The band performed two songs (Video of “Freedom” here on YouTube) for the show.
If You Bought Only One Album….
The real peak of Whiteheart’s music in terms of songwriting and musical quality are the albums between and including Freedom and Highlands. The albums before Freedom are mostly hit-and-miss with each one progressively becoming slightly more hit than miss, but are not essential and the albums afterwards lack some of the musical strength of the peak albums. Freedom would be a fine choice as it features some fantastic songs (“Sing Your Freedom”,”Over Me”,”Let The Kingdom Come”) but it is a little uneven. I would probably pick Tales of Wonder as just slightly above Freedom. Tales of Wonder is a rare album that I can listen to the entire way through without skipping a single track.
Get Thee to iTunes! Or Make Your Own Mix Tape for 10 bucks
Unfortunately, Highlands is not available on iTunes, which is criminal, so I had to leave two fantastic songs (“Heaven of My Heart” and “The Flame Passes On”) off the list, but if you can find them somewhere, add them to this list.
1. How Many Times (Seventy Times Seven) (Souvenirs)
2. Montana Sky (Souvenirs)
3. Sing Your Freedom (Freedom)
4. Let the Kingdom Come (Freedom)
5. Over Me (Freedom)
6. Powerhouse (Powerhouse)
7. Unchain (Tales of Wonder)
8. Who Owns You (Tales of Wonder)
9. Find A Way (Inside)
10. Fall On Me (Redemption)