‘The best music this side of heaven’

Published 10:15 pm Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Dixie Melody Boys group leader Ed O’Neal had been trying to get Josh Garner to perform with the group, officially, since Garner was 19.

Each time wasn’t the right time, until summer 2013, when Garner felt called to join the Southern Gospel supergroup.

For Garner, who has performed solo as well as in a number of Southern Gospel groups, he recalled performing for his family group, the Garner Boys, when he was 15. O’Neal, a member of the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame, had asked then if he could play the bass guitar and when Garner said no, O’Neal asked how soon Garner could learn.

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O’Neal, who’s been performing with the group since 1961 and was one of the first people to notice Garner’s talent, asked him to join the group seven times over the years before Garner said yes and became the group’s lead vocalist. His joining the group came during a difficult period in O’Neal’s life, as his wife suffered from Alzheimer’s before her death in 2016.

“It’s our firm belief that the Lord has a time and place for everything,” Garner said, “and it was our timing for us to be together. It’s been six years for me, and I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon.”

Garner, O’Neal and the rest of the Dixie Melody Boys will be in Suffolk Saturday, performing at Southside Baptist Church.

“Dixie Melody Boys has quite a rich history in that part of Virginia,” Garner said. “We’ve been coming for a long time. The people have been really, really good to us.”

Garner said there will be something for both longtime and new fans to enjoy about the show.

“We have the great advantage since we are one of the longer-standing groups (and) we have a treasury of hits to fall back on, (but) we always try to present new music to the folks.”

He also said he’s not afraid to inflect a bit of humor into the show, which, along with a varying set list, makes each show different.

“I’m the type — I don’t consider myself to be a comic by any means, but if I see an opportunity for something, I’m going to grab it,” Garner said. “I’m not afraid to spotlight you.”

Garner said fans and newcomers can expect to hear the group’s rich, four-part harmonies that have brought it much acclaim and hit songs, including eight top-10 songs and a No. 1 song, “Antioch Church House Choir.” The group has performed with a number of different lineups, with O’Neal at bass the constant.

“We have a very strong set of all types — uptempo, slow, medium numbers that are pleasing to the ear, but the most important thing is the message we present in the songs — everything Jesus Christ has done for us,” Garner said.

Garner said he is looking forward to Saturday’s show, and while they plan to have a good time, “when it’s time for business, we’ll get down to business. We want to see people saved.”

“It’s been a good period of time since we’ve been last,” Garner said. “We just want to invite everybody to come as you are and enjoy the best music this side of heaven. It’s going to be a great night. Bring a friend.”