Off the road . . . Golden Valley Crusaders retiring

Apr. 26, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

When Butch Cook stands up to sing baritone and pick the mandolin for a concert Saturday, May 4 at First Broad Baptist Church in Golden Valley, the event will be bitter/sweet.

After the concert, Cook and the other Golden Valley Crusaders will officially be retired.  All the members, including Cook, aren't thrilled about retiring, while others believe it's time to move on to something else.

Organized in 1970 by a much younger Butch Cook, his sister, Martha Cook, their brother, Ken Cook, and a nephew, Chris Guffey, the Golden Valley Crusaders became one of the southeast's most popular bluegrass gospel groups and claimed several national awards.

In addition to Cook, other members today are Clint Houser on banjo and lead tenor; Gary Heaver, bass; David Heaver (Gary's son) mandolin, guitar, lead singer and George Giddens, fiddle. Giddens has begun playing with The Dillards.

Christy Heavner, daughter of Gary, is the group's marketing and sales director. Houser wanted to stop traveling in order to spend time with his young family and David wants to go to Atlanta, Ga. and with Giddens already in another band, it was time to retire.

They talked about their 43 years on the road.

Beginning a gospel band seemed like the thing to do in 1970, Cook said. 

"I grew up with a dad who was an old-fashioned Baptist preacher, Ottis Cook, so singing in churches was a part of growing up in a preacher's house," he said. "When we started out and we were going to churches and singing I never figured it would carry on as far as it did.

"The group has done more than 175 shows, touring about half of the United States and even shows on a cruise ship to the Bahamas along with other southern gospel and bluegrass bands. 

 "That's as much as any professionals," Cook said of their busy schedule.

 But the members of the Golden Valley Crusaders have always had other jobs in order to make a living and traveled on weekends.

"To make a $1 million doing this, you must start out with $2 million," David Heavner said of the gospel music business.

Cook is a semi-retired truck driver. Other family members including, Heavner's father, Gary, works at the family store, Becky's Store and Grill, located off U.S. 226 in Golden Valley. 

Houser works with the Rutherford County Building Inspections Department.

Christy Heavner, the sister of David and daughter of Gary and Becky Heavner, works as a meter-reader with the Broad River Water Authority.

Heavner, 25, wants to go to Atlanta. 

Their purpose in singing and traveling has never been to make money, but to witness for for the Lord, Cook said.  They probably made enough money to pay expenses.

When the Golden Valley Crusaders began they sang southern gospel and gravitated to bluegrass gospel. 

Through the years the group has included several different family members with the largest being seven and the smallest group is today's four members. 

In 2009, the Golden Valley Crusaders were named Gospel Band of the Year and also the Country Gospel North Carolina/ South Carolina group of the Year.

During their four decades of traveling, they wore out five tour buses. They still have one bus that might become a motor home.

Former members of the group are all invited to Saturday's concert that begins at 6 p.m. at their home church, First Broad in Golden Valley. 

That's the final concert on their schedule.

"But we will be back in March at R-S Central for the Carolina Gospel Association's concert," Cook said. "We've decided that we'll come come out of retirement at least once a year."

For next Saturday's concert, the group will give all the love offerings they receive to The Perrys, another popular gospel group, who has a sick family member.