Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Rainbow Gospel Hour on CD From Kendra Steiner Editions!

THE RAINBOW GOSPEL HOUR ... ON THE AIR! by Reverend Raymond Branch,
from Kendra Steiner Editions. KSE #335 (CD-R album)
$8 US postpaid / $12.00 elsewhere postpaid
[This release is no longer in print from KSE]

“If I can help somebody as I pass along... If I can cheer somebody with a word or song... If I can show somebody he's traveling wrong... Then my living shall not be in vain.”*
—frequent program closing

FOR YEARS, Reverend Raymond Branch of the Heavenly Rainbow Baptist Church in South Los Angeles spent Sundays after services traveling to local rest homes and hospitals. Together with his wife Jean, they’d sing and pray, offering comfort and fellowship as they visited as many forgotten members of the community as the day allowed. Feeling called to do more but unsure how, inspiration struck when Rev. Branch noticed the one thing each of the people they visited kept at their bedside: a radio.

And so, in 1971, he began leasing the 3 a.m. timeslot on Inglewood’s KTYM-AM each Sunday morning (after midnight, the station diminished their signal, and rates were cheaper), and The Rainbow Gospel Hour was born, with most installments opening with the dedication:

“This program is designed for the sick and shut-inin the sanitariums, hospitals, and penal institutions. We want you to know that we love you! And we care for you.”

 At first, the show was recorded live in the KTYM studio, where he was usually accompanied by Jean.

“She would be with me when I’d be (rehearsing) at the house, before we went to the studio. Then, when we were at the studio, she’d be right there singing.” When the late-night schedule began to take a toll, they switched from live to prerecorded programs, with Rev. Branch providing cassette tapes to the station.

A barber by trade—and for decades concurrent with his community service, a barber by profession—Rev. Branch endeavored to keep business separate from his ministry, and today he remains a man of modest needs. A place of refuge, not judgment or dogma, the Heavenly Rainbow has always handed out more than it’s taken in, and Rev. Branch has never sought tax-exempt status for himself or the church. Though the Rainbow Gospel Hour enjoyed occasional sponsorship by local businesses over its four-decade run, most of the show’s broadcasts were financed entirely by Rev. Branch.

He put the shows together working with what he had. Initially a guitarist, he’d plug in and play and sing into a dual cassette boom box’s built-in mic, sometimes joined by Jean (she can be heard accompanying her husband on “It’s No Secret What God Can Do” and “Milky White Way”), sometimes joined by guests and members of his small congregation (“the faithful few”). He’d piece each show together on cassette and submit it for broadcast. Then he’d reuse those cassettes, using the dual deck to cut in and out, sometimes abbreviating and lengthening performances by recording new verses onto the tape, patching in relevant announcements and prayer requests by taping over outdated ones, and dropping in performances from other tapes. No masters were preserved, and tapes might be reused this way again and again over the years, resulting in sonic irregularities, volume jumps, and bleed-through mutations that, over time, became part of the aural texture of the broadcasts. While some adjustments have been made for this release in order to provide a consistent listening experience, this disc provides an otherwise accurate presentation of the broadcast as it aired.

The program saw changes in Rev. Branch’s choice of instruments during its long history.

“I started off in 1971 at the studio with the guitar. Then when I contracted arthritis real bad in my fingers, I couldn’t play the guitar anymore. So I went and got me an Omnichord, and I played that. I was playing the guitar and the Omnichord for a while, but my fingers were going bad. It had to be in the ‘80s—'82 or '84—that I started putting the guitar down.”

The Omnichord introduced a traditional church organ sound to his recordings, but around 1997, a neighbor expressed interest in learning to play it. Rev. Branch passed down his Omni, and replaced it with a QChord, a similar instrument that lends an ethereal character to his music. This disc includes music from each of those periods.


This broadcast is also notable for the inclusion of a trio of lively duets with Roland Payne. But the energy, spirit, and palpable joy evident in the performances stands in contrast to the two men’s poignant history: Payne was a childhood friend from the rough-and-tumble backwater of Bayou Black, Louisiana, where he and Rev. Branch made up half of a young gospel quartet, calling themselves Branch Brothers. “Roland,” he explains, “was just like my brother.”

“I fought for Roland. A lot of guys tried to fight Roland; he couldn’t fight good, physically. I was a fast fighter. Even when I wasn’t sure I could whip ’em, I’d whip ’em anyway! When somebody messed with him, he came to me. I took care of him. That’s just how close we was.

“Roland always wanted to be a preacher. He was raised by his grandfather; his grandfather was a minister. When he came to California, I had been here two or three years. I left Louisiana and came here in 1949. Roland came here about ’52 or ’53.

“He always went to other churches. I believe that Roland was thinking that I was trying to be a preacher because he was trying to be a preacher.

“He should have been a minister when I became a pastor, but he didn’t come and work with me. He had got to a place where he was doing sinful things. I’d call him out about it, and he’d get shook up. That’s why he and I weren’t as close as we should have been, later.

“After we went down the line,” Rev. Branch says today, “I misplaced Roland.”

“But I remember he came by one Sunday—I think we did that right in the church, those three songs. He was visiting, and I taped three songs and put them on the radio.”


The Rainbow Gospel Hour ceased broadcasting in 2014, when KTYM was sold and a format change was announced. Despite the program’s historic four-decade run, the broadcast ended without fanfare. Attendance at the Heavenly Rainbow has fallen off, as former congregants pass on or shift allegiances to bigger, glossier houses of worship that now dominate the landscape. But Rev. Branch’s commitment to his ministry remains undiminished, and he maintains daily hours at the church building while continuing to offer a musical service each Sunday, where all are made welcome.

“I feel like God can do anything. If a guy is rich in money, and you’re rich in believing, you’re just as rich as that guy. There’s richness on the Devil’s side, and there’s richness on God’s side. I prefer being poor and loving God to being rich and loving the Devil.”

Twice a widower at 85, times are tougher than ever for Rev. Branch. But it’s never an easy road for those who choose to sincerely heed the call to service, and Rev. Branch has known tough times since he was a child on Bayou Black.

“When they were fighting and cutting and shooting, I was sitting in the corner, looking in the sky, trying to find out where God was.”

* From the hymn, “If I Can Help Somebody” and quoted by Martin Luther King Jr., in his sermon “The Drum Major Instinct,” delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church in February 1968.

liner notes by Wyatt Doyle © 2016 all rights reserved


1. Station Introduction

2. It’s No Secret What God Can Do

3. Welcome

4. The Lord Will Make a Way Somehow (w/Brother Roland Payne)

5. Hebrews 11/Psalm 27

6. On the Right Road Now (w/Brother Roland Payne)

7. I Want My Crown

8. Remember Me

9. Precious Lord, Take My Hand

10. Sponsor’s Message

11. Is It Well With Your Soul?

12. I Must Tell Jesus All About My Troubles

13. The Lord Will Make a Way Somehow (solo QChord)

14. The Lord Will Make a Way (Yes He Will) (w/Brother Roland Payne)

15. Step by Step

16. Waiting for Me

17. So Soon

18. I Have a Radio Television in My Heart

19. I Just Can’t Keep It to Myself

20. When the Saints Go Marching In

21. You’ve Got to Take Time Out

22. Sponsor’s Message

23. Dedication

24. I’m Troubled

25. Milky White Way

26. I Want to Be Loved

27. Closing/Ten Commandments of Maturity

Some of these songs were rerecorded for Rev. Branch’s 2015 CD, I’ve Got Heaven on My Mind. For Rev. Branch’s thoughts on those songs, follow this link to read that album’s liner notes:

Sunday, January 3, 2016

"Motherless Children"

Rev. Branch in a slightly different mode. This was my last visit with Rev. Branch before I left California in 2014. We'd retired to his office to chat and unwind after recording a day's worth of performances in the church when he broke into this almost spontaneously, while I raced to set up the camera. I'm glad I did.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

"I'll Go," From Rev. Branch's New CD

Purchase I've Got Heaven on My Mind, the new album from Rev. Raymond Branch:
CD:      Download:

All proceeds go directly to support Rev. Branch and his ongoing community work at the Heavenly Rainbow.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Rev. Branch Sings the Velvet Underground

As another sneak preview of his new album, enjoy Rev. Branch's heartfelt interpretation of the Lou Reed composition "Jesus," originally recorded by the Velvet Underground in 1967. This stirring rendition appears on Rev. Branch's LP, I've Got Heaven on My Mind, now available on CD and download.

Rev. Branch frequently asks for song recommendations, and the Velvet Underground's "Jesus" was a composition I thought might speak to him. Though Rev. Branch is 84, he's never followed rock or popular music, and the Velvet Underground (and the song's composer, the late Lou Reed) were new to him. Still, he recognized a familiar dynamic at work in the songand in his covering the track. As he explains in the liner notes of the new CD:

"With this song, rock and roll took the message from the Christian family, and made rock and roll out of it. But when I was a little boy on Bayou Black, we got our radio broadcasts from TennesseeNashville. (In those days, we didn't have much radio in Louisiana.) We took what they called hillbilly songs and changed 'em around our way, made them spiritual songs. We put 'em together.

"It seemed to me that's what I was praying when I was 3 or 4 years old: Help me in my weakness...and right down the line."

The album was recorded and mixed by Todd Burke (Fitz and the Tantrums, Ben Harper) and was produced by Wyatt Doyle of New Texture and Yeti's Mike McGonigal.

Join Rev. Branch for a live performance to celebrate the release of the CD at the Heavenly Rainbow this Sunday, July 26 at 3:30 pm. For more details and to RSVP, visit the event page on Facebook. Copies of the CD will be available for purchase at the event.

Out-of-towners can order copies of the CD here:

Watch "Rest," also from I've Got Heaven on My Mind, here.

Friday, July 10, 2015

From Rev. Branch's new CD: "Rest"

From Wyatt Doyle:

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, then slowly re-emerge. What I heard had the timeless quality of a field recording, with aspects of the cut-up tapes 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.”

After a historic 43 years, Rev. Branch was surely among the longest serving broadcasters in Los Angeles radio; four decades on air is a rare achievement by any criteria, But Rev. Branch retired the Rainbow Gospel Hour in 2014 without fanfare when KTYM announced plans to change ownership and format. He remains active, and today, at 84, he continues to hold a musical service every Sunday, and keeps daily hours at the church building assisting the community, welcoming all who arrive at the Heavenly Rainbow’s door.

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.”

Friday, June 26, 2015

CD Release Celebration at the Heavenly Rainbow, July 26th!

Join Rev. Branch at the Heavenly Rainbow on Sunday, July 26th at 3:30 pm to celebrate the release of his full-length CD, I've Got Heaven on My Mind!

First copies of the CD will be available at the church on the day of the event, and out-of-towners can order CD copies here and digital downloads here.

This album has been a long time in coming, and it is most definitely worth the wait. All are welcome!

CD track listing:

1. I've Got Heaven on My Mind
2. Is It Well With Your Soul?
3. Harvest Home
4. Jesus (Lou Reed, composer)
5. Sending Up My Timber
6. Precious Lord, Take My Hand
7. The Lord Will Make a Way Somehow
8. Walk With Me
9. Rest
10. While the Blood Runs Warm
11. He Never Said a Mumblin' Word
12. I'll Go

Album recorded and mixed by Todd Burke. Produced by Wyatt Doyle and Mike McGonigal.

RSVP not necessary, but appreciated. Facebook users can RSVP here.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

"Mother Don't Worry About Me" (excerpt) - Ray Branch and His Guitar

Found on ebay: A vintage record dealer auctioning a copy of one of Rev. Branch's earliest recordings, "Mother Don't Worry About Me," recorded as "Ray Branch and His Guitar" on his own Branch Bros. Records.

The seller included a brief portion of the song and a photograph of the A-side label, and here it is.

If anyone out there has this record, Rev. Branch would very much appreciate a complete copy of both sides in any format.

To view on YouTube, click above. To watch via Vimeo, see below.

Click here to listen to a home recording of the same song, decades later.

© 2015 Rev. Raymond Branch, Wyatt Doyle; all rights reserved

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Thoughts & Reflections: "In the Plan"

Sunday saw only $4 in the Heavenly Rainbow collection basket, which almost immediately left in the hands of two needy people. Rev. Branch's response? Gratitude he was able to help at all. And a $4 Sunday offering doesn’t mean $4 is all the Church will spend helping people this week; it just means the rest will come out of his pocket.

Recorded from the Heavenly Rainbow Baptist Church, January 2015

To view on YouTube, click above. To watch via Vimeo, see below.

© 2015 Rev. Raymond Branch, Wyatt Doyle; all rights reserved

Sunday, July 27, 2014

"I'm Troubled"

Rev. Branch, Omnichord and vocal.

Archival recording fragment, date unknown

To view on YouTube, click above. To watch via Vimeo, see below.

© 2014 Rev. Raymond Branch, Wyatt Doyle; all rights reserved

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Thoughts & Reflections: "In the Holy Land"

Rev. Branch recalls his visits to the Holy Land.

Recorded from the Heavenly Rainbow Baptist Church, June 2014

To view on YouTube, click above. To watch via Vimeo, see below.

© 2014 Rev. Raymond Branch, Wyatt Doyle; all rights reserved