I first heard Rev. Branch in the 1990s. I was living in Hollywood, where his signal barely reached. On a late night crawl through the AM band, I landed on what sounded like some ethereal border radio broadcast: A lone guitar buzzed, crowed and sighed a rudimentary progression looped like a mantra. The raw, shouted voice of the singer sounded distant and disembodied, bleeding in from another room. A low whistle of interference drifted in and out in ghostly accompaniment. At times the broadcast faded entirely into aural snowdrift, only to gradually re-emerge. What I heard had the timeless quality of a field recording, with aspects of the cut-up tape experiments of Burroughs/Gysin. It was like nothing I’d stumbled across previously on the radio. I was transfixed.
Rev. Branch’s Rainbow Gospel Hour could be heard on KTYM-AM out of Inglewood for over 40 years, financed with income Rev. Branch earned from his trade as a barber. Rev. Branch assembled each program with care, using the tools he had. Initially Rev. Branch accompanied himself on guitar, even self-releasing a handful of now-prized gospel singles in the 1960s as "Ray Branch and his Guitar." But in the last few decades, arthritis has meant putting down the guitar. For some time he played the Omnichord, an instrument similar to an electronic autoharp. Currently he plays a QChord, a next-generation Omnichord with an ethereal character.
With a portable, dual tape deck boom box perched on the podium of the Heavenly Rainbow Baptist Church in South Los Angeles, he’d dub in and out of previous episodes, recycling cassettes. He'd record performances live to tape, timing inserts by the second hand of the clock on the church wall. Ghosts of previous recordings inevitably bled through, adding sonic texture and patina that would only become more layered and enigmatic once transmitted by KTYM’s diminished after-hours broadcast signal. (KTYM powered down its signal after midnight and lowered its airtime fees accordingly, making late-night hours affordable.)
Even Rev. Branch couldn’t always say for certain exactly who was tuning in at 3 am on Sunday mornings, though he began each show with the welcome, “This program is designed for the sick and shut-in…in the sanitariums, hospitals, and penal institutions. We want you to know that we love you! And we care for you.”
I love Rev. Branch's music, and I'm constantly inspired by his tireless efforts on behalf of the community, and by his no-nonsense, D.I.Y. approach to life, music, and helping each other out. I'm proud to be a part of releasing this new collection. I’ve Got Heaven on My Mind, his debut full-length release, and his first in high fidelity. was recorded and mixed by Todd Burke (Fitz and the Tantrums, Ben Harper) at the Heavenly Rainbow. The twelve tracks include a selection of hymns and spirituals that will be familiar to longtime listeners of the Rainbow Gospel Hour, as well as Rev. Branch’s stirring new interpretation of “Jesus,” written by Lou Reed and originally recorded by the Velvet Underground in 1967.
We’ll be celebrating the album’s release with a musical service and celebration at the Heavenly Rainbow on Sunday, July 26 at 3:30 pm. First copies of the disc will be available there, but out-of-towners can purchase copies of the CD here and the download edition here. Sales benefit the Heavenly Rainbow and Rev. Branch’s continued good works there.
Here’s a preview from the album, the poignant “Rest.”