Little Is Much: The Simple Joys of The Crain Family

The Crain Family weren’t unique, as far as I can tell. In 1965, there were countless gospel singing groups throughout the country, plenty of whom toured and/or made private-press records. The scant liner notes for Little Is Much (thus far, the only information I’ve found on the group), written by patriarch Sam Crain, tell us that “The Crain Family are known in Michigan and neighboring states for their love of Gospel Singing”. The group consists of Little Jerry on first tenor, Larry on second tenor, Bill (Sam’s brother) on bass, Sammy Jr. on piano, and Sam himself on baritone. It was recorded in Dayton, OH and released in 1965.

There’s probably not that much more story here. The Crain Family recorded, they toured, they loved Jesus Christ, and that’s about it. The only thing exceptional about them is that they were notably good, something that can’t always be said of their peers (anyone who has slogged through gospel records looking for rare gems will surely attest to this).

The Crain Family do pretty straight 1960s country gospel. The harmonies are tight, but the sound is still spare and raw… not the overwhelming, noisy raw of a Charlie Jackson or Louis Overstreet, mind, just the simple rawness of conviction and personal truth (not to be confused with my personal truth, but that’s beside the point). There are no outrageous politically incorrect moments, and only a little “outsider” charm. It’s not “weird”. It’s just a good, solid gospel record.

Given its relative lack of novelty value, the record’s most endearing traits are revealed upon attentive repeat listening. Little Jerry has a great Frankie Lymon-esque keening to his voice; Bill’s bass voice sounds, at times, eerily like that of K Records guy Calvin Johnson (see “Rainbow Of Love” above for a prime example). There’s something that sounds kind of like a washtub bass that burbles into the mix here and there, but it could just be an upright that wasn’t exceptionally well-recorded (either way it’s uncredited, and either way it sounds great). Sam’s plain-spoken delivery on “In The Upper Room” is patronly and strong, though I will admit that it also makes the religion-hating 15-year-old in me giggle.

Life is full of small, simple pleasures. Like I said, this record is pretty straight; nothing outrageous or viral going on over here. If it thus doesn’t grab your cynical, internet-addled ears that hard, well, maybe your ears are the problem.


Dustin Krcatovich is a cartoonist, writer, designer, founder of FM DUST, and a collector of certain curios and ephemera (with a focus on 20th century "junk culture"). His writing and illustration work appears frequently in The Quietus, Tiny Mix Tapes, and Esquire's Culture Blog. He is also a former editor and contributor to Secret Zen Garden,Saagara's illustrated mindfulness/wellness blog for young people. He currently resides in Portland, OR.

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