John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

“Heaven’s Just A Sin Away”

This song was a smash and deservedly so

By - Sep 29th, 2016 05:29 pm
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The Kendalls

The Kendalls

What a gift a perfect voice is. It’s made even better when it’s delivering a song that’s a tad naughty and weird like “Heavens Just A Sin Away,” by the father and daughter duo The Kendalls. This song was a deserved smash, written, produced and performed with a charming wink that everybody caught.

Royce and Jeannie Kendall weren’t doing anything new, they were just doing it as good or better than anyone when they stumbled across this gem of a song. Country Music is always best when you can hear the bluegrass in it and this one had a lot. The most obvious mountain element in this arrangement is the shimmering and joyful voice of Jeannie Kendall sitting at the top of the harmony pile. When the melody is up there above the others, it soars. The lower harmony becomes an inner voice, hidden, supportive, but still important. Singing these kind of harmonies right will stand follicles at attention all over your body. Mine were saluting as I enjoyed this masterpiece for the 700th time.

Country Music is made better by leaving out the unnecessary things. That’s sounds easy, but it’s not. The generosity of great musicians can be like grandma’s Sunday meal — you’re offered more than you can possibly digest. To turn it down might hurt feelings, but you must. In town full of virtuosos, the smart ones lay back and get more work. They know when the words are coming from a special singer, nothing should interfere.

The song, written by a guy named Jerry Gillespie, was almost home the minute when the title was conceived. Of course there was work to be done — the contradiction required some explanation. The five words in the title sum up the tug of war between the spirit and the flesh that’s present in Southern culture. The competing ecstasies of the Holy Ghost and the honky tonk make for a wonderful tangle. Ask Jim Bakker or Jerry Lee Lewis. Gillespie wrote other hits, but I didn’t recognize the titles. He could trade this one for ten of anybody else’s.

Heaven’s just a sin away oh whoa just a sin away
I can’t wait another day I think I’m giving in
Though I’d love to hold you tight oh whoa be with you tonight
But that still won’t make it right cause I belong to him
Oh way down deep inside I know that it’s all-wrong
Your eyes keep tempting me and I never was that strong

Oh devil’s got me now oh whoa gone and got me now
I can’t fight him anyhow I think he’s gonna win
Heaven’s just a sin away oh whoa just a sin away
Heaven help me when I say I think I’m giving in

Oh way down deep inside I know that it’s all wrong
Your eyes keep tempting me and I never was that strong

Oh devil’s got me now oh whoa gone and got me now
I can’t fight him anyhow I think he’s gonna win
Heaven’s just a sin away oh whoa just a sin away
Heaven help me when I say I think I’m giving in

Heaven’s just a sin away oh whoa just a sin away
I can’t wait another day I think I’m giving in
Though I’d love to hold you tight oh whoa be with you tonight
But that still won’t make it right cause I belong to him

© Jerry Gillespie

I’ve always loved Telecasters. On the recorded version some sort of gold standard for Tele tone is achieved. It should be the template for all aspiring pickers.

The unavoidable subtext of this song is part of its strange magic. Does it not strike you as odd and maybe a little disturbing to hear a father and daughter harmonizing on a cheating song? The opportunity for modern snark is too easy — let’s assume they knew eyebrows would raise when they chose this tune. Anyway, it’s as easy to ignore as it is hard to resist the expressiveness of this performance. Jeannie Kendall has been compared to Dolly Parton — higher praise probably doesn’t exist. They both love their hair and makeup, and still manage to shine magnificently through layers of artifice. I chose the live version of this song, even though it doesn’t have that Tele. Looking at Jeannie Kendall’s face as she sings this song is like staring into the sun. Take that Max Factor, some girls can’t be covered!

4 thoughts on “Sieger on Songs: “Heaven’s Just A Sin Away””

  1. fred says:

    Have always really liked this, but still think that among the hits Gillespie wrote or co-wrote, Tommy Overstreet’s recording of “Gwen (Congratulations)” is the best.

  2. Christina Zawdiwsky says:

    Reminds me of the song Johnny Cash sings, “Long Black Veil”.

  3. Ken says:

    Got that LP. Good ole twang song!

  4. sanford brokaw says:

    Dear John:

    I’ve done publicity and personal management since 1974. The Kendalls were clients of mine and I did some pr for Heaven’s Just a Sin Away. I generated a bunch of national publicity for them. That song was huge. It was so hot that I was able to get them a ton of stuff. We went on to become good friends. Royce and Jeannie were great people. Sadly Royce had a massive heart attach and died way too early.

    Over the years I continued to do pr for them. They were so nice and so talented! Sandy

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