In the early 1960’s WMRB disc jockey Bob Poole was branching out. Poole had spent 1960 hosting the Championship Wrestling program on Greenville television station WFBC.
After leaving that program he started a Sunday morning gospel television program that would bring the great gospel quartets of the 1950’s and early ‘60’s into the homes of Americans in television markets across the country.
Groups such as the Speer Family, the Blackwood Brothers and the Statesmen were established national stars. Broadcasting performances of these groups on television was a ratings boon for the local station
The Trav’lers were a local quartet who bore the influence of these classic groups. They became regulars on Bob Poole’s Gospel Favorites. The Trav’lers and the Bob Poole’s Gospel Favorites show would be the linchpin in the expansion of Mark V Studios.
In 1961 the Trav’lers were a young group. Pianist Otis Forrest was just nineteen years old, the oldest members only in their mid-twenties. The groups talent for harmonizing was already gaining recognition in the gospel music world, though, and they quickly established themselves as a draw among gospel quartet fans. When Poole had the group on his show the response was positive enough that the Trav’lers got to thinking about making a record to build on the momentum. Mark V Studios was still working out the bugs when the Trav’lers approached them.
“We had done a couple of little country things,” Joe Huffman remembers. “But it was all experimental at that point. We weren’t charging any dollars for anything.”
The Trav’lers sessions were in this category. The group came into the studio and recorded their record The Trav’lers Sing Songs You Have Requested with the staff musicians and engineers of Mark V backing them. They did numbers that were hits from Bob Poole’s Gospel Favorites. No money changed hands for the sessions.
The sound of the recordings was pleasing enough that the Trav’lers wanted to feature the Mark V band on their future television appearances. The Huffman brothers sensed a door opening for them, but there were some issues to be worked out first.
“We had watched Bob Poole’s show and, to us, the sound was terrible,” Bill says. “So, we had talked to Poole through (Trav’lers members) Tommy Brown or Jack Pittman, I can’t quite remember who. But we got with them and decided that we would assist their sound engineers to get the sound right. The Trav’lers wanted their TV appearances to be like the record. But if it didn’t sound good, we didn’t want any part of it. That was our thing; sound.”
Joe Huffman finishes the story. “He asked us what we wanted for performing on the show. What we wanted was to be the staff musicians. And we wanted him to talk about how” we’re proud of our staff musicians from Mark V” on the show. Not Joe Huffman, not Bill Huffman; Mark V.”
“Back then Poole had a sidekick, Bill Hefner. Bill Hefner was with the group the Harvesters Quartet out of Charlotte. Hefner and Poole were kind of like Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon. Now, Bill Hefner would work it in where he would ask Bob Poole something like, “What do you think of our music.” And Poole would say something like, “I tell you what these old boys from Mark V can play. If you need any recording done you should go down and see these guys.”
Their appearances on Bob Poole’s Gospel Favorite’s television program are what put Mark V Studios on the map in the gospel music industry. The studio and its musicians gained a level of notoriety that made it the place to record for gospel entertainers in the 1960’s and into the ‘70’s. This was, in no small part, due to the caliber of players at Mark V. The Bob Poole publicity helped the studio assemble the players who would become it’s stable of session musicians.
“After that we were able to attract the attention of the best players in town who had the desire to work and do something in recording. These guys would come in and volunteer their time to rehearse. We started working on how to do a recording session. I’d write this out and I’d hand it to the band. Now, how fast can we get it to sound like professionals have been working on it for days. These musicians would train with us; no money involved. The Poole show was how we started to attract musicians other than us. Because we couldn’t do it all.”
A group of the best musicians from the Upstate began to coalesce at Mark V. The names of these players appear again and again on records that came out of the studio from 1962 until the mid-1970’s. Michael Burnette appears as art director, drums, bass and guitar, Pee Wee Melton on lead guitar, steel guitar players Larry Orr and Tommy Dodd, Joe, Bill and Harold Huffman on guitars and bass, Jesse Evatt writing and playing guitar, , Bill Medlin drumming or engineering, Buster Phillips, Billy Reynolds and Mitch Humphries on drums, Steve Mauldin on bass or as arranger, his brother Russell on drums and arrangements, and former Trav’lers pianist Otis Forrest on piano or handling orchestral arrangements.
Business expanded quickly after the brothers started taking clients and Mark V Studios soon outgrew the Mayberry Street location. A team of the studio’s musicians came together to create a new space that would accommodate the growth. Michael Burnette worked a day job as an architect. He designed a building on Michael Drive, just off of White Horse Road, to house the studio’s ever-growing arsenal of equipment. The studio team all put in time as laborers and the team turned to one of their own for construction as well, tapping Horace Mauldin’s firm as the builder.