“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” — Isaac Newton
This past weekend, I lost two long-time friends and mentors with the same last name. I met Charley Goss on the first day of seventh-grade football practice. He was the coach who I thought made us run too much and seemed to always call the name of the biggest guy on the team to come pulverize me in “bull in the ring.” He was also the history teacher who paddled me so often that I joked with his wife that I might stand with my back to his casket so that he would recognize me. I met Lari Goss about 20 years later in a recording studio. He was the big-name producer who made time to talk to no-name me.
On the outside, these two couldn’t have been any more different. Charley was a former state-champion wrestler and a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. He was a big, strong man with a booming voice. Lari was a smaller, quieter guy, who was a Grammy award-winning musician, producer, arranger, and orchestrator.
Inside, though, these men were very much alike. They shared two remarkable traits. First of all, they were both passionate about what they did. Charley loved athletics with all of his heart. He coached football, track, and wrestling. In his spare time, he refereed wrestling and even played on a softball team with me for a summer. Lari loved music every bit as much as Charley loved sports. I was once on a television show with Lari and the interviewer asked him what advice he would give to young musicians who might be watching. He said to love music with everything within you… to be willing to do it anytime, anywhere, and to be willing to do it for no pay. While it would take too long to list all of Lari’s accomplishments, one of the greatest facts about him was that he had done it anytime, anywhere, and often with no pay. For this reason, he had a presence in nearly every field of music. From working in the studio with some of the original members of The Atlanta Rhythm Section to arranging and orchestrating the Grammy Awards Show; from producing the Brooklyn Tabernacle choir to producing custom albums for fledgling artists, Lari touched nearly every genre of music.
The second quality these men shared was the one which impacted my life the most. While they were passionate about their respective fields, they were equally committed to mentoring the next generation. They both recognized potential in young people and did everything they could to help them discover every drop that was in them. I wasn’t a really good athlete, but Charley pushed me to run longer and faster, to try harder in class, and to become my very best. As I got out of school, he smoothly transitioned into a friend and encourager who always had time to talk to me as well as listen. To say that I wouldn’t have accomplished nearly as much in the music field without Lari’s help is an understatement. He was the person who produced, and endorsed the first two songs that I ever had released on a record label. He also cared enough to tell me when songs weren’t good enough. In fact, he turned down 16 of the 18 songs I played for him (some of them in the first 30 seconds), before choosing two for that first recording. The music industry is full of people who owe Lari a debt of gratitude. For example, on the first album I did with Lari, he brought along a college student who was taking his class on orchestration. Lari had recognized his potential and begun to mentor him, so he allowed him to direct the orchestra during our sessions. That young man, who is named Bradley Knight, is now a well-known arranger and orchestrator in his own right.
Ironically, my best friend, who is a Grammy nominated producer and musician, can tell a similar story. He ran track for Coach Goss at East Ridge Junior High, and years later moved to Nashville, where the first person to give him a chance and hire him for a session was… (you guessed it) Lari Goss.
The world is a better place not only for having enjoyed the talents of these two men, but because a generation has come behind them that will do even greater things because of the impact of Lari and Charley. While you would have looked at them and seen opposites, I look at them and see the same face… the face of Jesus. I wonder how many people will pass into heaven in the next few decades and will make a point of looking up Charley or Lari (or both) just to say thank you.