The longstanding tradition of quartets is being propelled into the next decade by the group 4 Runner, which harmoniously blends four distinct voices and musical influences to create a sound that’s all its own.
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4 Runner stands apart from other country music groups because the quartet is comprised of four equal voice parts, all of which are crucial to forming the group’s sound and depth. "4 Runner brings a new, yet familiar, sound that is absent from radio," says Craig Morris, who sings lead vocals. "It’s very rare to have four true parts - tenor, baritone, lead and bass. It will be a very identifiable sound, and the strengths of the songs on this project will make listening to the entire album very refreshing. There’s a lot of musical diversity, yet the vocal sound is consistent throughout."
Individually, Jim Chapman, Lee Hilliard, Craig Morris and Billy Simon can more than carry their weight as solo vocalists. But together, their voices gel to create something special.
Like the Eagles or Boyz II Men, 4 Runner has appealing harmonies that set them apart from every other vocal group, but no one singer defines the group’s sound. And as they tour with such acts as Tim McGraw, Blackhawk and Kenny Rogers, audiences nationwide are becoming first-time fans of a musical genre that dates back to the days of neighborhood barber shops.
"People expect us to sound somewhat traditional, but we are taking traditional four-part harmony where it’s never been before," says Hilliard, who sings tenor. "We’ve taken an old sound and made it fresh to be tailored and suited for the 90s."
"With similar styles and tastes, we think alike," he says. "We understand this whole concept as if it was one mind. We’re not pulling apart, we’re pulling together."
4 Runner is the culmination of four successful individual music careers that have converged into one. While the four have common threads that run through their music, each has different influences and backgrounds that have played a role in the quartet’s musical development.
Jim Chapman was raised in Springfield, Ohio, and began singing bass in groups while attending college. While teaching school, he continued singing and began songwriting with encouragement from his brother-in-law, Steven Curtis Chapman. He wrote "I Can See The Hand," which won a 1989 Dove Award.
Lee Hilliard was surrounded by several generations of singers while growing up in Danville, Virginia. He moved to Nashville at 18 after graduation and sang in the group Higher Ground. He backed up Loretta Lynn for nine years, and also toured with Reba McEntire.
Craig Morris grew up in Piggott, Arkansas, and has toured with Ronnie McDowell and Marie Osmond. He wrote Reba McEntire’s "If I had Only Known," and has written songs for Ray Charles, The Oak Ridge Boys and Gary Morris.
Billy Simon, who is originally from Cleveland, Oklahoma, was raised in church and began singing in quartets at an early age. He moved to Nashville in 1982 to be a songwriter and has had songs recorded by artist such as Conway Twitty, John Conley and Amy Grant. In 1983, he sang in a group with Hilliard’s brother.
Simon met Morris the year he moved Nashville when they were both staff writers at Tree Publishing. And he met Chapman when they both worked in the same studio. Hilliard ran into Morris at the Bluebird Cafe; the trio then recruited Simon, and 4 Runner was born.
4 Runner, the group’s debut project, is unique not only in the vocal and musical arrangements, but also in the selection of songs. They range from thought-provoking messages of good and evil to light, fun tunes about the joys of life. "It’s not traditional, but it’s not ultra-contemporary," Hilliard says. "But I think young kids and older people alike can identify with what we’re about."
For example, "Cain’s Blood" is about the positive and negative forces in life, with lines such as "Half of my blood is Cain’s blood, half of my blood is Abel’s; One eye looks to heaven and one eye looks for trouble."
One theme that runs throughout the project is that of small towns, because all four were shaped by their small-town upbringings. And the men have carried those beliefs, such as the importance of family and friends, into their adult lives. All are happily married, and Chapman and Simon each have four children, while Morris has two.
"We’ll probably do many songs throughout our career that deal with growing up with fond memories of childhood, because we all have very good memories of that time," Simon says. "The House at the End of the Road" is life in a nutshell for all four of us. We are very sentimental when it comes to family and childhood."
And "Ripples" finds the humorous, well-intended side to the gossip of small towns, an experience that Chapman lived firsthand when he was fired as Cedarville High School’s basketball coach after a losing season. "I came from a small town where gossip was passed from person to person in just a matter of seconds," Chapman says. "I lived that whole lifestyle, and there are millions of small towns in America just like that. The backbone of America is those small towns."
Although they’ve been playing music for more than a decade, they say nothing that they’ve done has prepared them for the experience of singing together on stage, when their different sounds meld together to create an entirely new sound.
"There is no greater feeling than the stage and a lifelong dream with three other guys I love and respect," Morris says. "We’re kind of like a football team all working together to get a touchdown. Instead of crossing the goal line, you just look into the faces of people and you know you’ve scored."
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