Wednesday, March 17, 2010
ReWind Wednesdays: Gary Casto, July 2005
Beginning this week, we will reprint some features from the early days of SGM Radio. Our feature this week stars Gary Casto of Tribute Quartet. We hope you enjoy this glimpse into the past!
Starting a New Quartet: A Monumental Task
It was a warm, sunny May weekend in 1997 when a newly-formed trio came to perform in Ontario, Canada, for an appreciative audience in a large Baptist church. Made up of members who had sung with such groups as Crimson River and the Southmen, “Turning Point” had a blend of ‘edgy-Southern’ meets ‘upbeat-Traditional’. Singing baritone was John Stemberg, who went on to sing with the Anchormen. Rod Propes sang lead, a gentleman who now has a flourishing solo ministry. And in the tenor position was Gary Casto, who went on to join the Wilburns ministry and now is involved in building “Monument Quartet”.
Gary Casto has been involved in Southern Gospel for over twenty years. He says he began at age six, but anyone who has come into contact with Gary will know that he loves trying to pull any leg he can reach. Gary’s sense of humour and ready smile have made him a favourite with fans across the country, and his work ethic and business sense have endeared him to many industry personnel as well. Involvement in any kind of organization that you believe in demands time, effort and resources. For Gary Casto, involvement in SGM has required heart and soul as well.
There are perhaps fans of Southern Gospel who are not aware of Gary’s contribution to the industry, and he is not one to be overly concerned about his prominence or position. His resume, however, speaks volumes. Gary has sung with such groups as the Harvesters, the Southmen, Turning Point, and the Wilburns. He has been involved with radio promotion, vocal training, and studio production. He serves on the SGMA Advisory Board and on the Executive Board of the Southern Gospel Music Guild. He is also involved with the Talent Competition and other areas of the National Quartet Convention. Now he has added “Group Manager” to his list of credits, and the new “Monument Quartet” is his latest endeavor.
From this writer’s first introduction to the world of Gary Casto through “Turning Point”, to the current formation of Monument, or “MQ”, there have been many challenges, life changes and even health scares, but Gary always seems to land on his feet. A vivid recollection of talking with Gary in the pew of a little church in New York State while his group started their next set without him, seeing him bound up the aisle and the steps, tripping, grabbing the microphone and still starting with the right note has often brought a smile. He has remained a generous and congenial friend, a fellow chocolate-lover who also enjoys assisting newcomers in this ever-growing industry. One of these relative newcomers, Josh Singletary, has moved from the Wilburns with Gary to join the front-line of MQ.
“Josh Singletary was an easy find—he was also a member of the Wilburns. When Josh came with the Wilburns, he and I formed a friendship almost immediately. He’s an extremely talented young man and it was one of those cases where I knew if I was going to start a group I wanted Josh on my team. He’s a musical genius, and anyone who sees him in concert knows that he has a stage presence that people fall in love with instantly. Everyone will remember that Josh was Wilburns’ piano player, but he’s actually our baritone vocalist at this point. He’s still playing keyboards some, but is doing double duty with Monument. I’ve known Marshall Pugh [tenor] for quite some time, although not well until he came on board with Monument. Marshall used to travel with the Goodmans, particularly Vestal during the last couple years before she passed away. He has an awesome tenor voice and fans are already taking to his singing. Dennis Dugger is our bass singer. Dennis came to us to try out from Bald Knob, AR, where he sang with a regional quartet, The Apostles, and we fell in love with his voice and his demeanor. He’s a joy to travel and work with. I’m excited to have surrounded myself with these people, and I can’t wait for folks to meet them and hear the group.”
Beginning this venture has been a “monumental” task for this veteran quartet-man. It is one thing to just sing in a group and take on different jobs to help in the daily routine, but quite another to shoulder the burden of Manager. Gary explains, “As a group manager, it seems my work is never done. I’m involved in every process from purchasing needed items to booking dates to dealing with promoters and pastors as we get to the concert dates to emceeing to handling interviews, and the list goes on and on. I feel personally responsible for everything that goes on, the successes, the failures, all of it. I love every minute of it, but there are pressures that are naturally there with the responsibility of knowing that most of the success or failure hinges on how well or not I do my job.”
The rise or fall of a new SGM group relies on many things, from developing the mandate and purpose of the group to catching God’s vision for what they can accomplish. The basis of the formation of Monument Quartet is a desire to do the will of God, and the fulfillment of a call to ministry. Through much prayer, seeking direction from God and advice from industry people, Gary felt the timing was right to begin to live his dream and put MQ on the road. He has received a lot of positive feedback from both industry and fans, which has been very encouraging. When someone with Gary’s resume starts a new group, it is an entirely different situation than a fledgling quartet having to “break in” to the scene. Being as involved in the industry as Gary is can make the start of something new even more of a challenge.
“…It’s both a blessing and a curse, if you will.” Gary states. “I have to say that I do believe that people in the industry know my heart and work ethic. I hope that they see I am in this for the long haul, and I hope that I have proved myself to be dedicated to southern gospel music and wanting to better it. I’ve also been very blessed to have worked with the Beckie Simmons Agency (BSA) for several years through my involvement with the Wilburns, and have been fortunate to have her support—support that might not have been there if I was a new-comer. So, I guess you’d say that I do have some advantage from my years of involvement, but I can also tell you that while folks may see it as a “head start,” it can also be a real challenge to live up to expectations that others place on you. There’s this gnawing in me that says I have to succeed, because everyone is expecting great things because of my involvement in the industry to this point. So, while the advantages may be there, the bar is still raised pretty high. If I had to be honest, I place a lot of pressure on myself to do things the right way and be successful, so I think I’m accurate in saying that my previous involvement is both a help and a hindrance.”
Any good businessman planning on releasing a new product will tell you that what you are promoting should be unique enough to create demand, or fill a niche not currently being met. This can be a daunting prospect in today’s SGM. Gary describes the style of Monument as a “traditional male quartet with unique harmonies”, for which he credits their producer, Johnny Minick. Their concert performance includes a variety of styles within southern gospel, and with Gary’s hand guiding the vocals, fans will hear a group geared to excellence in delivery of both song and message. Instead of just being “another new quartet”, Gary has determined that MQ will make a positive mark on the industry, and more importantly, do positive things for God with His guidance.
“If I didn’t think I could make a difference and a positive contribution to Southern Gospel Music, I’d quit today. That’s one of the reasons why Monument Quartet was formed. I think Southern Gospel Music is a wonderful thing, but as with all organizations and businesses, we face challenges every day. The goals of Monument Quartet are to share Christ through our music, and to personally preserve the heritage of Southern Gospel Music while promoting its future. We love this industry and want to see it continue to thrive. Life today is full of changes, challenges, and potential, and SGM is no exception. I think our industry needs to honor God, focus on our mission, be ourselves, live what we sing about, be good stewards of our finances, and work on more professionally promoting ourselves and we’ll be able to withstand whatever may try to come against us.”
Gary laughs as he comments on where he sees Monument five years from now. “I hope we’re not selling burgers and fries somewhere! There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it’s not what we’re called to do. There’s nothing I’d love more than to see Monument Quartet be out here for the next 40 years singing gospel music. I hope that we can make some great music that fans will remember and cherish, I hope that we find a favored place in the hearts of many people, and I want to be consistent in producing great quality southern gospel music. But really, it’s more about what God wants us to do, so above all I really hope that in five years people still find us faithful to doing what God wants, following the path He’s set forth for us.”
Listening and talking to people, sharing the challenges and victories as a child of God is a huge part of being a Southern Gospel artist. Saying that this is what sets SGM apart from any other type of music, Gary loves the fact that the message in the songs offers hope and the Solution to life’s problems. And being able to share one-on-one with fans helps to bring the message to the specific place they find themselves at that moment. “I think that makes us more effective ministers of the gospel, because so much of a group’s effectiveness in this industry happens off the stage before or after a concert. Our fans can walk right up and talk to us and we can share one-on-one with them, and I think that makes our industry unique and more personal.”
Gary Casto himself has lived through many of the challenges and situations that his audience experiences. This latest undertaking has been used by God to teach him another truth about his faith. Gary shares, “I’d say that the fear of the unknown in starting the new group has been a serious spiritual challenge to overcome. Fear can be an overwhelming presence in someone’s life, and we all know that fear is not of the Lord. Finally, it was to the point that I had to either make up my mind to move on and start the new group and let God have it or invalidate everything I’d sung about to this point. Once again, I’ve learned that God is always there, faithful and in control and He always has a plan if I let him take care of things. So, once I gave Monument Quartet to Him, it made all the difference.”
A monument can be defined as “an icon or emblem that stands for something of extreme importance or significance”. Monument Quartet has determined they will stand for Christ. And for Gary Casto, that is the most significant accomplishment.
Monument Quartet is on the web at www.monumentqt.com, and have just released their new single, “Roll On”.
First published on www.sgmradio.com in July 2005. Article reprinted by permission.
))Author's Note: Monument Quartet is now Tribute Quartet.
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