Gospel Clouds

Brothers Charles and Leonard Lothlen were raised in Oakland’s Mingleton Temple Church of God in Christ, where their father was a pastor. Secular music was forbidden in the Lothlen home, and recordings by Sly Stone, the Delfonics, and the Whispers made their way onto the family hi-fi only after elder Lothlens had left for Sunday evening service. Having had his wrists slapped one too many times by his militant piano teacher, Leonard brokered a deal with his father to switch over to the guitar...on the condition that he play it in church. Charles picked up bass and, after the additions of Keith Jackson on drums, vocalists Charles Holland, Hymes Hollis, Malcom Mitchell, and John Glasper, Gospel Clouds had gathered.

Toting wah-wah pedals to church gigs and boasting numerous originals, Gospel Clouds found offers abounding from outside Mingleton. “Never Grow Old” b/w “Thank You Lord” materialized on Connie Grant's Custom Fidelity label in 1967; it disappeared, along with the masters, shortly after its release, but stayed available long enough to pique the interest of San Carlos’ Spectrum Records. The sophomore Gospel Clouds single, “Let Us Pray” b/w “Cold Dark Thursday Evening,” appeared on Spectrum in 1969, filled out by Leonard Lothlen’s Skyline High orchestra classmates. Cousin Charles Webb provided delicate organ strokes for the opening stanzas of “Let Us Pray,” which followed the same flatlined market trajectory as their Custom Fidelity debut.

But Gospel Clouds floated on and, in 1973, made the trek to Capitol Studios to track their debut full-length Keep On Praying, which they self-released as The Gospel Clouds via Century Records. Steamin' followed in 1977 on Deep Roots Records, credited simply to Clouds. Local jazz-funk foundry Fantasy Records recognized the Clouds’ secular potential and made the group an offer they ultimately refused. By the end of the decade, the Clouds had changed their name to Infinity to avoid confusion with the Mighty Clouds of Joy and, to a lesser degree, the Gospel Clouds of Morven, Georgia, the Gospel Clouds of Joy out of Columbus, Ohio, or any other nebular-named combo plying gospel’s sunny skies. As Infinity, Charles and Leonard Lothlen’s enduring vehicle released several modern-soul infused LPs, and remain active to this day.

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