McCrary, Regina [1958 - ]
Regina McCrary (sometimes billed under her previous married names Regina Havis and Regina McCrary Brown) was born May 22, 1958 in Nashville, the daughter of the late Rev. Samuel Brown, who as Sam McCrary was lead singer of the Fairfield Four gospel group in the 1940s. The group had been formed in the 1920s; re-formed in the 1980s, the Fairfield Four performs ‘Lonesome Valley’ on the soundtrack of the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?. The younger sister of gospel-singer Ann McCrary, she was encouraged to audition for a place in Dylan’s back-up singers’ group by her friend Carolyn Dennis, whom she had known since they were small children.
She auditioned when the 1978 World Tour hit Nashville on December 2, almost at the end of its long run - and she was brought in for the sessions for Slow Train Coming in spring 1979, beginning with vocal overdubs in the Muscle Shoals studio in Sheffield, Alabama that May 5 and continuing on May 7, 10 and 11. Next, the very beautiful Ms McCrary Brown formed part of the back-up singing outfit on Dylan’s ‘Saturday Night Live’ appearance on October 20, 1979 and then embarked on the first Dylan gospel tour, starting with the long run of sold-out dates at the Fox Warfield in San Francisco that November 1 and finishing on December 9 in Tucson, Arizona. She had no idea how ‘big’ Bob Dylan was when she signed up with him: it was only when confronted with these audiences that she registered how important a figure he was to so many people.
Her friend Carolyn Dennis was not in the group on this tour: Regina’s vocal colleagues were Mona Lisa Young and Helena Springs. The group sang some opening numbers each night before Dylan himself came on, but he plunged Regina in at the deep end by making her deliver as a monologue a particular ‘Christian homily’ story she’d known all her life and had been heard retailing backstage.
In 1980 McCrary stayed on the Dylan payroll, remaining all through the year’s touring - from snowy Portland, Oregon on January 11 through to Charleston, West Virginia on February 9, and from Toronto on April 17 through to Dayton, Ohio on May 21. She was there too for the recording of the Saved album in between the two tours, beginning in the studio on February 13, along with Mona Lisa Young and Clydie King, and she sang behind Dylan on ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ at the Grammy awards show on CBS-TV in LA that February 27. (In March, when Dylan played harmonica on Keith Green’s track ‘Pledge My Head To Heaven’, two other McCrary sisters, Charity and Linda, were the back-up singers.)
On the second 1980 tour, she duetted with Dylan on his little-known song ‘Ain’t No Man Righteous, No Not One’ at Hartford, Connecticut on May 7, and two weeks later sang it solo on the tour’s last night. Again, this tour did not include Carolyn Dennis.
In 1981 Regina McCrary was still with Dylan when he went into the studios in Santa Monica on March 11 to start work on the Shot of Love sessions, and towards the end of that month during one day’s session she not only sang back-up vocals but was recorded singing solo lead vocals on ‘Please Be Patient With Me’ and (as she had done live the year before) ‘‘Ain’t No Man Righteous, No Not One’. She and Dylan even co-wrote a song at these sessions, ‘Got To Give Him My All’ (though it has never circulated, by either singer). She remained at the sessions until May, though she seems to have left before the last session, at which were Carolyn Dennis and Madelyn Quebec but no Regina.
On the June-July 1981 tour, Regina was there again, and sang solo lead vocal on ‘Till I Get It Right’ in an early slot at each concert, and duetted with Dylan on ‘Mary From the Wild Moor’ at the third London performance on June 28.
In all, she had been with Bob Dylan on three albums and over 150 concerts. By 1999, when interviewed for the US Dylan fanzine On The Tracks, McCrary Brown was working ‘as a drug counselor in a Christian ministry’ and singing on ‘The Bobby Jones Gospel Show’, then the largest gospel TV show in the country, which went out twice each Sunday via cable TV channel BET from Nashville, her home base.
McCrary’s 21-year-old son Tony was murdered in c2000, but she reportedly found peace by inwardly forgiving his killer. By 2004 she had become the Rev. Regina McCrary and was billed as a guest speaker at the Surviving Heartbreak Hotel Women’s Retreat, again in Nashville.
In 2003, a circle of sorts was completed with the release of the various-artists compilation album Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan, which features two relevant items (alongside Dylan’s own duet with Mavis Staples): here we find an a cappella ‘Are You Ready?’ by the newest incarnation of the all-male Fairfield Four - and a version of ‘Pressing On’ billed as by the Chicago Mass Choir on which the lead vocalist is . . . Regina McCrary.
Since then, as part of gospel group the McCrary Sisters, she has continued to perform and record gospel albums. Our Journey, from 2010, includes a re-working of ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’.