Old-Time Religion is truly the essence of Southern Gospel music. First known publication was 1873, though it’s true origins are unclear. Some have said it may originate from English folk music. Whether you say “Give Me That”… or “I’ve Got That”… Old Time Religion is one of the most universally recognized gospel songs in existence.
Charles Davis Tillman published a collection of church music in 1891, called “The Revival”. Two years earlier, he had been helping his father at a tent meeting. His father loaned the tent to an African American group for a Sunday afternoon sing, and Charles first heard it there. When he finally published, it was with previously unknown verses, and an altered rhythm that made the song, well, a lot more fun.
The lyrics Tillman used were either taken from notes of the sing where he first heard it, or written by himself. The history is unclear. But his version is the most well-known, and has been credited with helping form the entire genre of southern gospel music. Kind of the ultimate ‘grandfather’ of my favorite song style. :^)
As a matter of fact, according to the Wiki, the influence went far beyond gospel, to “rock and roll, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, the Beatles” and more. One more bit of trivia; some felt Tillman made the song too fun. To tone it back down a notch, the re-invented the first line, and the first line of the chorus, to read “Tis the old-time religion.” More formal. In my own upbringing, I can recall one church that thought the word ‘religion’ was too superficial, so they changed it to ‘salvation’. That’s a fair point, and it doesn’t harm the song. But that was the only place I’ve ever known to worry about it.
I’ve said before, God must have a sense of humor. In the case of Old-Time Religion, there’s plenty of opportunity for laughter. Especially if we can laugh when we’re the target of humor. One of my favorite writers ever, Gordon R. Dickson, wrote a parody. He’s not the only one, but his version was performed by Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger live, and in the album “Precious Friend”. Given the fame of all three, this is the version best known. In the tradition of Filk music, it’s a folksy parody that most likely originated in a sci-fi convention. That’s not a definition of filk (google it), because there’s not really a definition. But it’s certainly parameters encompassed by filk. Dickson’s version (or ones obviously based on his parody) is the only one I’ve actually heard. It’s pretty irreverent, but is also funny, and in it’s own way, an homage to God, gospel music, and faith.
Anyway, I had a blast playing the song. With such a repetitive melody, it’s a little difficult to bring variety to each verse. But it was a lot of fun making this arrangement!