Clarence Fountain, the 73-year-old member of acclaimed gospel group The Blind Boys of Alabama, sits in a Cincinnati hotel room in the middle of a heavy touring stint when we catch up with him. He’s feeling under the weather, but refuses to let it slow him down.
“I got a bad, bad cold, but I’m alright,” he says with a laugh. “I know how to get around that. When you been blind as long as I have, you know how to get around anything you can come up with.”
The Blind Boys were formed in 1939 at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind, and now, 64 years later, Fountain and fellow founding members Jimmy Carter and George Scott are still going strong. “My philosophy always has been: Out of all the things you do, just remember to put the Lord first and you can go longer than you think you can go,” Fountain says.
In 2003, the Blind Boys released Go Tell It On The Mountain , a Christmas record with appearances from Mavis Staples, Aaron Neville, Solomon Burke and Tom Waits as well as a backing band that included John Medeski and Duke Robillard. It is a vibrant, thrilling release and, though it may feature appearances from George Clinton and Chrissie Hynde, it’s a gospel record through and through.
“What we really want to do is sing gospel,” Fountain explains. “We didn’t want to sing rock & roll. We had a chance to do all that Sam Cooke and Little Richard stuff, back in that day. But my thought was never on the rock & roll. I knew you could make more money, but I never wanted to be rich. I just wanted to get along and be happy and do what I was doing. I’m glad I did it that way. I wouldn’t do it no other way.”