The Southmen have decided now is the time to retire.

The group, formed in 1970 in Gadsden, have stayed true to their Southern Gospel roots, something few groups can say today.

Jim Hefner, manager, emcee and tenor; Tim Riley, Bass; Buddy Burton, lead; Larry Beck, baritone; and Tommy Glover, pianist, are the original members.

“Like all groups, there have been changes in personnel,” Hefner said. “But the music and style have not changed. We still dress alike, wear our hair above our ears, and have neither earrings nor tattoos.”

The group will perform for their final concert on Aug. 7 at 7 p.m. at the First Baptist Church in Guntersville. 

No admission will be charged, but seating is limited.

During the evening, original members Jim, Buddy, Larry and Timwill be joined by Eddie Crook, one of gospel music’s finest pianists, Hefner said. Crook spent five years with the group.  

Also performing will be Rick Francis, a bass guitarist, Guntersville’s own Judy Smith and the Guntersville First Baptist Pickers. 

“Don’t miss this event as we say goodbye to one of gospel music’s few true Southern gospel quartets,” Hefner said.

Hefner said over the past 50 years, the group has accomplished almost everything they wished, including playing at The Grand Ole Opry numerous times, the National Quartet Convention, and a trip to Buck Owens Crystal Palace in Bakersfield, Cal. They have also performed many times on various television shows. 

The group has spent much of their time working in Canada, and along the East and West coasts, concentrating on performing at churches and state fairs.

An accident involving the group’s RV in 2014 killed one member and injured Hefner. 

“That was the beginning of the end,” Hefner said. 

Roy Bray, a 61-year-old baritone with the Southmen Quartet, was driving the band back from a performance in Indiana when the vehicle came off the freeway and crashed into a tree.

The RV was traveling south on I-65 in Lebanon, Ind., when it hit a wooded median, totaling the bus, a surviving member said.

Bray, from Trenton, Kentucky, was pronounced dead at the scene. Hefner, 72, at the time, was injured and taken to hospital.

The other members - Johny Washburn and Donnie Marr - escaped unharmed. The cause of the crash remains unclear.

Marr described the incident in a post on his Facebook page.

“As The Southmen Quartet was traveling to Nashville for our last concert for the weekend, tragedy hit us,” Marr wrote. 

“Traveling down I65 south in Lebanon, Ind, our bus left the road and traveled approximately 200 feet before hitting a tree head on totaling our bus.

“Our piano player/baritone singer Roy Bray was driving the bus and took the brunt of the impact and was tragically killed. Owner Jim Hefner has been admitted to the hospital for further evaluation. Johny Washburn and myself walked away with few or no scratches.”

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