Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"I'm In The Battle Field For My Lord" - Rev. D.C. Rice and his Sanctified Congregation


Set Two: Social Music; Disc Two; Track Fifteen: "I'm In The Battle Field For My Lord" performed by Rev. D.C. Rice. "Vocal group with piano, trumpet, trombone, string bass, drums and triangle." Recorded in Chicago on February 22, 1929. Original issue Vocalion 1262.

Born in Barbour County, Alabama in 1888, D.C. Rice was raised in the Baptist Church. Around 1916, Rice moved to Chicago where he joined Bishop Hill's Pentecostal Church of the Living God. Following Hill's death in 1920, Rice became the leader of his own congregation. Rice was a fiery preacher who attracted a large following during the early part of the '20s. At some point, Rice was exposed to the recordings of Rev. J.M. Gates and Rev. F.W. McGee, which inspired Rice to do likewise he pursue a career as a recording artist. Rice contacted producer Jack Kapp, then of Vocalion Records. After hearing Rice's congregation, Kapp initially passed on recording Rice, but then inexplicably changed his mind a few days later. Over the next two years, Kapp would record twenty-eight recordings by Rice and his group, sometimes featuring both preaching and singing, often accompanied by a jazz ensemble. In February of 1929, Rice recorded "I'm In The Battle Field For My Lord," which quickly became one of his most popular recordings. Not satisfied to stay with Vocalion (which paid him $75 a record, but no royalties), Rice attempted to record for Paramount (which had recorded a good deal of religious material, including sides by fellow Anthology artists Blind Lemon Jefferson and Charlie Patton), but was unable to secure a contract. Rice meanwhile continued recording for Vocalion through 1930.

Once the Depression had put an end to his recording career, Rice moved back to Alabama where he preached at the Oak Street Holiness Church in Montgomery. He was later made a Bishop of the Apostolistic Overcoming Holy Church of God, overseeing dioceses in Alabama, Florida and Georgia. Rice reportedly made recordings later in life, but these have either been lost or were never released. He died in 1973.

"I'm In The Battle Field For My Lord" is a perfect example of Rice's enthusiastic leadership. Easily one of the most exciting recordings on the religious disc of "Social Music" (if not the whole Anthology). It features the great Bill Johnson on bass, Punch Miller on trumpet, the otherwise unknown Mr. Hunter, Sr. on triangle, along with anonymous trombone and piano players. In a word, this band cooks. It is the first track on the Anthology that could be truly said to swing. It comes as no surprise to learn that Bill Johnson was a top flight jazz bassist, having worked as a member of King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band (featuring a young trumpeter named Louis Armstrong). Johnson's bass is almost the whole show on this recording. It should be borne in mind that during this period, the string-bass was only beginning to become a fixture in jazz bands. Why? Largely because of the advent of electronic (as opposed to acoustic) recording techniques. Prior to this, the more primitive acoustic recording process demanded a bass instrument that had greater projecting power, and the tuba (or brass bass) was usually used. During the late '20s, many tuba players found themselves switching to the bass violin, and Bill Johnson was the best of the bunch. "I'm In The Battlefield For My Lord" is included on an all-Johnson disc as part of Dust-to-Digital's How Low Can You Go: Anthology of the String Bass three-disc set, which is highly recommended to fans of early jazz (and other music which featured the "bull fiddle").

[Spoken] "I'm On The Battlefield For My Lord." [Unintelligible] too church.

Once I was in the lowlands,
And I was just like you.
I heard a voice from heaven saying,
"Arise, there's work to do!"
So I offered God this hand,
And I joined His heavenly band.
I'm on the battlefield for my Lord.

I am on the battlefield for my Lord.
I'm on the battlefield for my Lord.
I promised the Lord that I will serve Him till I die.
I'm on the battlefield for my Lord.

I left my friends and kindred
Down [unintelligible] land.
The grace of God was in my soul
The fire was in my hand
And everywhere I go, I'm crying
"Sinner, come back home."
I am on the battlefield for my Lord.

I am on the battlefield for my Lord. (Hallelujah!)
I'm on the battlefield for my Lord.
I promised the Lord that I will serve Him till I die.
I'm on the battlefield for my Lord.

At times I was discouraged, along the rocky way.
The [unintelligible] depressed me, and I would often pray.
But soon the sun was shining in this weary soul of mine.
I'm on the battlefield for my Lord.

I am on the battlefield for my Lord.
I'm on the battlefield for my Lord.
I promised the Lord that I will serve Him till I die.
I'm on the battlefield for my Lord.

And when I see my Savior, I'll greet Him with a smile.
He'll heal the wounded spirit and only as a child.
And around the throne of grace He'll appoint my soul a place.
When I'm done on the battlefield for my Lord.

I am on the battlefield for my Lord.
I'm on the battlefield for my Lord.
I promised the Lord that I will serve Him till I die.
I'm on the battlefield for my Lord.

I am on the battlefield for my Lord.
I'm on the battlefield for my Lord.
I promised the Lord that I will serve Him till I die.
I'm on the battlefield for my Lord.


A rollicking testament to faith, and employing a war metaphor, "I'm In The Battle Field For My Lord" is sung by an anonymous member of Rice's congregation. Rice's voice is heard throughout, exhorting the lead vocalist and the chorus (at one point he can be heard shouting "Hallelujah!" in the background). The voice of Bill Johnson (who often shouts throughout other records on which he appears) is audible as well. Punch Miller's cornet and Johnson's bass solidly place this recording in the jazz age, an interesting tactic on Rice's (or Kapp's) part. While there were certainly people who associated jazz with whorehouses and saloons during this period, the use of jazz as a setting for religious music demonstrates a real effort to try to reach a wider listening audience. This might be viewed as a precursor to acoustic guitar wielding nuns during the early '60s, or even Christian rock in the present day.

At the beginning of the recording, Rev. Rice announces the title of the song, followed by something I can't make out. It sounds like he's addressing the congregation (calling them "church," as in "Get Right Church And Let's Go Home"), but I can't understand the first part of the statement.

Some of the lyrics in my transcription are conjectural and others were so hard to make out I simply dubbed them "unintelligible." Although easier to understand than "Shine On Me" (which really gave me a headache) and "Fifty Miles of Elbow Room," this is still a pretty tough song to make out at times.

"I'm In The Battle Field For My Lord" marks the last of three songs in a row to feature group singing and large instrumental groups. It also is the last song on the "Social Music" volume.

As with the "Ballads" volume, the songs on the "Social Music" set are clearly sequenced in chronological order, not of the recordings themselves, but of the styles of Social Music. The first disc takes us from the reels and jigs that came over to the Americas from England and Ireland, through the African American songsters and jug bands, through the music of Louisiana and French speaking Americans, to the jazz inspired "Moonshiner's Dance." The second disc takes us from the two earliest examples of (unaccompanied) religious singing: The lined-out hymns of the African American church and Anglo-American Sacred Harp singing, through the holy roar of Memphis based sacred singers, through songsters, country singers, and finally to the introduction of jazz elements, bringing this sequence of songs into the "modern" age in which the performers were living and working.

In our next entry, we will begin the third and final volume of the original Anthology set, "Songs."

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Here's a brief solo rendition of "I'm On The Battlefield For My Lord" performed on the acoustic guitar by musicman0671.



Download and listen to Rev. D.C. Rice and his Sanctified Congregation - "I'm In The Battle Field For My Lord"

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