I became aware of the original members of Paradise when they performed as the The Singing Christians band (Canaan Records, 1976-79) and the Mercy River Boys (Canaan Records, 1979-1984). I knew there was something very special about these musicians because I saw them perform in several different venues for a decade. I literally watched them grow as professional musicians and outstanding Christian men. I didn’t see them perform live after 1986 but I have listened to three of the four Paradise albums.
The original members of Paradise included Danny Hollis (guitar and vocals), Emory Atkins (bass guitar, vocals, and keyboards), and Ronny Ricks (drums and vocals). Danny and Ronny shared the role of lead singer and all three men contributed to the background vocals. The first album, God Bless The U.S.A., was clearly a revisiting of their favorite Mercy River Boys performances. They included their MRB hits: Would They Love Him Down in Shreveport, Antioch Choir, Put Something Back, Diamonds, and The Arms of My Best Friend. These MRB songs became transitional music, connecting the Mercy River Boys fans with the newly branded Paradise. My favorite song from the first album is the song: Last Train to Glory.
In 1986, Danny took a two-year sabbatical. He was replaced by guitarist and eclectic songwriter, Larry Hardgrave. Ronny moved into the role of lead vocalist with Larry being featured on several of his songs including: Aliens, and the title track, Hired Guns. Emory moved from bass guitar to keyboards to provide the band with a solid eighties CCM sound. Anyone comparing the first two Paradise albums would struggle to believe they were essentially the same band. The old genre was dropped and a new sound had evolved from their Christian country and Southern Gospel roots.
The Hired Guns album (Englewood Records, 1987) is one of the best CCM recordings of the decade. The basic tracks were tracked at Greg Hunt’s Rosewood Studio in Tyler, Texas. Emory Atkins had produced and recorded their first album at his twenty-four track analog studio in Texas but this project is the band members first journey into the digital format. Emory and Larry Hardgrave wrote most of the songs for the album. Atkins contracted Gary Leach to work with him in arranging and sequencing all of the tracts. Atkins plays keyboard bass for the first time and the project takes on a dark, eclectic mix, like a painter using dark blending contrasts on the canvas.
Atkins wrote Where Have All The Righteous Men Gone, Breakaway, Dream, and co-wrote several of the other songs. Larry Hardgrave penned Hired Guns, Don’t Avoid The Truth and Aliens. Ronny Ricks co-wrote the single worship song on the project, Praise to the Lamb. The project was well received in a limited release but became overshadowed by the departure of Ronny Ricks and the return of Danny Hollis. Jon Hodge was added to the lineup as a vocalist and Jimmy Lavon Watson was hired to play drums. The band immediately began writing songs and preparing for the next album.
Invade the Darkness was released in 1989, the band’s third album on Englewood Records. It was produced by Emory Atkins and Gary Boren. The album was nominated for a Grammy but was not a finalist for the award. Paradise became a solid Contemporary Christian band, featuring an 80’s pop/rock sound with hard driving electric guitars and layered keyboards. Danny’s return added several praise songs into the mix for well balanced live performances.
Emory moved to Nashville in 1990, establishing a twenty-four track digital recording studio in the United Artists Tower on Music Row. The band recorded their final album, releasing The First Six Years as a final tribute to the music of Parsdise. Atkins became an independent studio bassist, playing and touring with various country acts. He also toured with singer-songwriters Margaret Becker, Jerry Williams (Harvest), and Ben Ketting from The Netherlands. He retired from music in 1995 and lives with his wife in Texas.
I became a lifelong fan of these musicians, following them for more than a decade. Danny Hollis still performs in Texas with his country band. Ronny Ricks plays drums for Penny Gilley. Larry Hardgrave past away after an auto accident. The Legacy of these men reaches back to the mid 1970’s when they first met while performing with the Singing Christians.
Written by Charles Harris (Musical Historian)