Gary Evans is a singer and an accomplished guitarist who was a member of Wedgwood, a Christian music group that was formed when The Wedgwood Trio disbanded in 1969. A last minute stand-in for Don Vollmer, who had left the trio, he proved to be a good fit with the remaining two members, Bob Summerour and Jerry Hoyle, and continued with them and John Waller, a keyboard player, as the group forged a new sound and identity.
Evans was seventeen and a senior at Glendale Academy in California, when he joined the group. On the basis of his ability as an accomplished guitarist and singer with a "James Taylor-type sound," he was approached with an invitation to audition. He was a flat pick style guitar player, which complemented Summerour's finger pick style.
With his joining of the group, the music changed dramatically. Vollmer had left because the other two members of the trio were interested in incorporating folk-rock elements and developing a more contemporary sound - all of which contrasted with the simpler acoustic mountain folk music that the trio had been singing for the previous five years.
Electric string instruments were added, and Hoyle's acoustic string bass was replaced with an electric one. Electric keyboards were added, played by Waller, a medical student who had previously known Hoyle at Mount Pisgah Academy and Southern Missionary College, now Southern Adventist University. Percussionists and other studio musicians joined the group for recording sessions. The first album released by Chapel Records under the Wedgwood name, Country Church, with its soft rock feel, drew decidedly mixed reviews.
In February 1970, five months after Evans and Waller joined the group, Wedgwood gave a Saturday night concert at Walla Walla College, later University, introducing their new sound, their first appearance on that campus. The new look captured in a publicity photo used to announce that concert featured various members with long hair, a beard, and moustaches, attired in modish clothes including paisley shirts, scarves, and leather jackets.
Although their concert created some controversy on that campus, it was a concert given at Pacific Union College a month later that became a turning point for them. At the time of the concert, the students responded as they had at WWC, with increasing enthusiasm as the program progressed, and then gave them a rousing ovation at the end, a response the group viewed as an affirmation of what they were doing.
Shortly after their return home from PUC, however, they received a letter from F.O. Rittenhouse, president of the college. In it, he revealed that although the music department had unanimously urged a cancellation of the scheduled performance prior to their coming, the school had felt it should honor its agreement with them. Rittenhouse concluded his letter by stating that in light of its performance and standards, the college had decided the group would not be invited back for another appearance on campus. Additionally, he noted that a copy of his letter was being sent to all of the other Adventist colleges and universities. Rittenhouse's letter, distorted news about the group, and false rumors about supposed drug use resulted in fewer and fewer invitations for concerts.
Wedgwood felt it was speaking to cultural issues with thought-provoking lyrics and finely crafted music suitable for Adventist youth in the 1970s, an era characterized by rebellion against authority and the status quo. Increasing numbers of Adventists began, however, to see them as facilitating turmoil among the church's youth.
Evans later observed,
I struggled with the fact that our music was becoming controversial. I always thought it was so benign. When your intent is one way and people take it another way, it's easy to get defensive.
The message I thought we were conveying in Wedgewood was that the world is challenging and changing, and we all need something to hold on to. I think we were seeking inner peace. I know I believed very much in God, and I had a strong spiritual side, but I wasn't finding comfort in the church organization.
People there were telling me I was a pretty bad guy. In the end, the backlash and controversy, wondering "Will they let us play? Should we cut our hair?" got in the way of what the group was about - making good music and raising serious questions.
Apparently, for some in the church the greatest concern about the group, other than its appearance, was the more contemporary rhythms and lyrics of their music. From an arranger's viewpoint, however, the quality of scoring and creative orchestrations using numerous instruments, such as recorder, electrified harpsichord, dobro, and other exotic instruments, was remarkable.
They began working on an album titled Dove that would present their best work. For a year, they rewrote and rescored some of the songs and had multiple recording sessions, redoing numerous tracks in their quest for perfection.
In the midst of that year, they were invited to present a concert at the Loma Linda University Church in September 1972. They decided that the concert would be recorded and released as a live-concert album. A small orchestra was formed and orchestrations for a dozen of their numbers were prepared to complement other numbers that they would accompany with their usual string, keyboard, and percussion instruments.
The church was packed with an audience that had come with high expectations. From the start of the concert, the performers could sense the growing excitement in the crowd and responded with one of the best performances of their lives. A third of the way through the concert, the audience began applauding at the end of numbers, an unheard of reaction in Adventist church sanctuaries at that time.
The euphoria following the obvious success of the program vanished a few days later when the Loma Linda city newspaper panned the concert in a review headlined "Wedgwood: Shall We Dance?" When the album of that concert was released a few weeks later, the university church requested that its name not be mentioned in the jacket liner. Yet another blow followed when the Dove album was recalled from Adventist bookstores a month after it was released.
In the earliest days of the formation of Wedgwood there had been talk of its becoming a fulltime entity and possibly breaking into mainstream music outside the church. The realities of what it would take to pursue that course, and now the loss of support from within the church that had been its base, ended that possibility, and the group disbanded.
Evans completed a degree at Loma Linda University. Although he continued to pursue his interests in music, he eventually became involved in business development and sales related to photographic products and services. Now residing in Atlanta, Georgia, Evans served in several vice-president positions in the Eastman Kodak Company, responsible for different aspects of its operation.
Sources: This biography is based primarily on interviews conducted by Marilyn Thomsen with members of the Wedgwood Trio and Wedgwood, which were then edited and placed in context by her in Wedgwood: Their music, their journey, Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1996; Other online sources.