For over 70 years, the Highway QC’s have been one of the top gospel groups in the classic “quartet”
tradition that married the older a cappella sound of jubilee singers to the hard-driving rhythm
sections of 1940s African American gospel. The QC’s launched the careers of Sam Cooke, Lou
Rawls, and Johnnie Taylor before each crossed over into the secular realm to become R&B stars.
But the group kept going without them, and recorded groundbreaking male-harmony records for
Vee-Jay, Savoy, Duke-Peacock, Gospel Jubilee and A & M discs that are landmarks in religious
music as much as the hits by Rawls and Taylor are in pop music.
Cooke co-founded the group in Chicago as a teenager in 1945. When he left in 1951, he was
replaced by Rawls. When Rawls left in 1953, he was replaced by Taylor. When Taylor left in 1957,
he was replaced by Spencer Taylor (no relation). When Spencer Taylor left … well, he never left.
Fifty-nine years later, he’s still belting out raspy-edged lead vocals over the smooth four-part
harmony of his bandmates. He’s been asked to cross over to R&B but has refused.
“We’re not going,” he says, “not as long as I live…. I don’t have any hang-ups about no music.
We’ve worked with everybody that has a name. We were the first group that worked with the [Edwin]
Hawkins Singers. We were on Broadway in ‘Gospel at Colonus.’ We were one of the groups that
worked with Mahalia Jackson. If they sing, then we’ve been with them.”
When the group nears the end of a hymn, if the spirit is on him, Spencer Taylor will signal the band
to bring the volume down to a rhythmic vamp so he can improvise on the written lyrics, adding his
own preaching, whoops, grunts and hollers. Against the silky background of his backing singers
(now including two of his sons), Taylor will work the song until the audience reaches the same
fevered pitch he has already attained.