I Just Want To Be A Good Man is a tribute to Pastor Wylie Champion and his wife Mother Champion, who both passed away after this recording was completed but before the release.
Pastor Champion was originally discovered a few years ago when Luaka Bop was putting together another release, The Time For Peace Is Now: Gospel Music About Us. Found in a collection of YouTube videos from the 37th Street Baptist Church in Oakland, California, which were put together by the pastor there, the label was so impressed they decided they had to make a record with him.
Pastor Champion isn’t like any other pastor you’ve ever met. As an itinerant preacher, a carpenter, and a father of five, he made a name for himself traveling up and down the California coast with his electric guitar. He traveled alone and he played alone, well into his seventies. The easiest way to describe him would be as an outsider gospel artist. Other than these bare facts, we never learned much about him, except that he was also the brother of the well-known soul singer Bettye Swann.
The label decided that because they met Champion through the 37th Street Baptist Church, they should record him there too. He was recorded live to a two-track Nagra reel to reel, as they wanted the album to be analog in the style of traditional gospel recordings. Over the course of two evenings, Champion taught his band - musicians who had never played together before - a handful of songs, a small selection of the nearly 2,000 fragments of songs and sermons that he regularly performed. The sessions were documented by filmmaker Adam Wissing, whose films will be released throughout the spring.
At one point, the label mentioned to Champion that he would have to be interviewed by someone to write notes for the album. He wasn’t too pleased with this idea, saying he’d had a hard life and he didn’t want to talk about it. Over the next few months, they kept asking Champion to talk to someone about his life. He told them he didn’t want to talk about growing up in Louisiana, his mother being accosted by the Klan, or that his father was a gambler. He didn’t want to talk about being jailed for 90 days for using a whites-only bathroom, being in gangs or having a street name. They told him that was fine, he could talk about what he wanted to talk about. So he told them he didn’t want to talk about anything.
Pastor Champion knew that this record wasn’t going to be for everyone. He didn’t really care. The important part for him was just getting the message out there in the same way that he always had, traveling alone with his electric guitar. “I want to say what I mean,” he said, “be practical, precise, to the point, and, at the same time, diplomatic.” In other words, he just wanted to be a good man.
God bless Pastor Champion and Mother Champion, peace be with them and their family. Love to all.