Eat Up With the Holy Spirit
Apostle James Moses White’s “The Word of God Don’t Change” is the best sermon I have ever heard
By Kevin Nutt
Reading time 13 Minutes
I am a Montgomery, Alabama-based host of a gospel radio show
I am a Montgomery, Alabama-based host of a gospel radio show, broadcast on the radio station WFMU since 2001. It is a presentation of vintage black gospel, from a cappella quartets to Pentecostal pandemonium. God is not an instrument of damnation and destruction. Anyone who says so is a liar. I consider myself a shadow member of the small Appalachian Primitive Baptist sect, the Primitive Baptist Universalists (often referred to as the No-Hellers), who believe salvation is for all humanity, past present and future.
It is because of “Sinner’s Crossroads,” which is the name of my show, that I met Michael Cook, one of the first listeners to contact me. This happened in 2002.
Michael was a longtime Columbia, South Carolina, resident and musical omnivore intrigued by the AM radio commercials I dropped in between gospel songs. He even sent me a black, zippered CD case as a gift, decorated like a Bible. For the next several years we had many late-night conversations via telephone. Cook was obsessed with the lovably demented neo-rockabilly Dexter Romweber of the Flat Duo Jets, and even formed his own jet fueled one-man version, Rocket Morgan. I recognized Michael immediately as a fellow Southern weirdo.
While in Columbia, Cook had befriended an even more haunted rocker, GG Allin. At the time Allin was driving a bread truck. (Michael told me Allin’s current name was the strangely familiar Kevin. He said that off-stage Kevin was a thoughtful, likable and kind soul.) Allin had been christened at birth as Jesus Christ Allin by his father, Merle. The elder insisted that Jesus had visited him in a vision and told him the new baby was destined to be Christ-like. Growing up, Allin’s older brother couldn’t pronounce “Jesus.” All that came out was JeJe or GG. Merle was tormented by the world and eat up with the Holy Spirit. He abused his family and once threatened to kill them and take his own life. Finally, one night, GG’s mother rounded up the kids and journeyed out of their own tortured Egypt of New Hampshire and escaped to the nearby promised land of Vermont.
While in Columbia, Michael had worked at the Poppa Jazz record store, which specialized in free jazz and was located near the Greyhound bus station, ensuring a steady stream of visionaries and sanctified grifters wandering into the store. At Poppa Jazz, Michael met a staffer named Matt Bradley, and he and I soon connected by email. During the next few years, Michael moved to Ithaca, New York, to be research librarian at Cornell, but Matt and I stayed in touch.
Sometime during 2005, the Apostle James Moses White entered Poppa Jazz record shop. Apostle White wanted to sell or drop off a few of his self-produced cassettes filled with his testimony and preaching. Matt Bradley vividly remembers his visitor. “I only met the Apostle twice,” he says. “I had heard about him through a friend who met him at a Kinko's. Then he came into the record store where I worked.” They had to make the encounter brief Bradley explains, because White was scaring his customers away.
The second and final meeting with the Apostle
The second and final meeting with the Apostle came while he was driving a beat old car, possibly a busted-up 1980s Buick Century. He was yelling out the window. “I pulled next to him and told him I wanted a tape. We pulled over into a Food Lion parking lot where he sold me the tape and then condemned a bunch of co-eds to hell,” recalls Bradley. “He was a very large black gentleman, stocky, with muscular arms. He was terrifying. I honestly was scared. He never made any threatening gestures toward me, but his energy was terrifying. I say this and I am a six-foot five, 300-pound dude that can handle most situations I get myself into.”
He doesn’t remember what the Apostle was wearing, though it might have been a white collared shirt. “I remember he was real sweaty,” Bradley says. “He didn't seem like he had much money. The car was dirty on the inside and he popped the trunk and had his tapes in a case in the back.” There were about 30 cassettes, and “my guess is that they were all different recordings. That's about as far as my memory takes me.”
Soon after, Bradley emailed me saying he had a tape I had to listen to and mailed it to me in Montgomery. The tape featured a mailing sticker on Side A with Apostle James Moses White’s contact information. Scribbled on it in green and red ink were several statements of what turned out to be the sermon titles. I dropped what I was doing and popped the tape in my cassette deck.
I couldn’t make out what Apostle White was saying. His stresses and shouts were all in the “wrong” places, like that synth bass whomp in George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog.” I say this as someone who has listened to thousands of preachers, lay folk and street corner shouters with their varied and unique whoops and sanctified, electric elocutions. I have lived most of my life in the South and considered myself especially adept and patient in sussing out the idioms and speech patterns of all manner of dialects, mangled dictions and muffle-mouthed rednecks. Here, I was baffled; but I kept listening.
White would rush through a sentence, almost scatting and then abruptly, without warning, slow down at a particular word or passage he wanted to emphasize, reminding me, startlingly, of Thelonious Monk’s piano phrasings. It kept giving me aural whiplash. Over time, I began to get a feel for the Apostle’s language and rhythms. It was hard work and like nothing I had ever heard. I realized that, because he had no one else in the room with him, he was inserting appropriate congregational shouts and responses himself. This contributed powerfully to the unusual verbal syncopations.
Apostle White’s cassette was a homemade production, recreating an AM radio gospel broadcast. Listening closely, you can hear the telltale crackle and sibilant hiss of scritta paper as Apostle White flips the pages of his Bible. His message is unerring and absolute. He condemns money, sex and any deviation from a strict reading of the Bible. The world is corrupt and one shall not submit to its temptations. One must be on guard at all times, like those USC co-eds. Throughout the tape there is gospel music in the background. He is obviously playing music in one boom box as he preaches into another, while recording both. He signs on and signs off as would a radio preacher hosting a short 15- or 30-minute paid broadcast.
Why didn’t the Apostle have his own radio show on local WLGO (We Let God Operate) AM gospel radio? Some of the craziest and inspirationally bizarre radio has appeared on tiny AM gospel radio stations throughout the South since the 1970s. Many sunup-to-sundown stations offered 15 minute to one-hour slots, usually on Saturdays, to anyone who would pony up the $30 to $60 weekly fees. Anyone.
From legitimate local churches playing cassettes of recorded Sunday morning services, to aging male quartets singing hymns and advertising their local appearances, to self-appointed congregation-less lay preacher holy men and women moved by the spirit from an irresistible urge deep down in their souls to testify about the sanctified fire of the Lord shut up in their bones. As strange, unprofessional and embarrassing as these programs can get, could it been that staff at WLGO just flat out denied Apostle White a slot? Matt Bradley told me that he heard this was the problem. The Apostle could be terrifying.
One wonders if the Apostle had mental issues, like GG Allin’s father, and if these tapes function as some kind of self-medicating shout therapy. Could Allin’s father have appeased the Christ-devils that haunted him if he had had a radio show? Or even just a boombox? Could it be that one can have too much of the Holy Ghost? Too much of the sacred fire? Can the terror of the beauty of encounter break the minds of trusting believers?
I feel sorry for Apostle James Moses White. Bradley says he just seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth. I hope he had some converts. The teachings of Jesus deserve their greatness and influence, regardless of the purveyor. Apostle James Moses White was a self-appointed (and anointed) apostle without a congregation or followers. There is a humbleness in naming one’s self an apostle and not a leader. White, contrary to the idea the manic energy of his exhortations might give, was a follower. He was doing his best at following the Lord’s directions to preach the gospel and spread his teachings. The Word of God don’t change; neither do Apostle James Moses White’s.
Kevin Nutt lost his faith late one Tuesday evening in 1979 when he realized the US government had been lying about the evils of communism. After many trials and tribulations, Nutt found succor and peace in 2009 as an archivist at the Alabama Department of Archives and History, running the CaseQuarter gospel record label and hosting the long running Sinner's Crossroads gospel show on WFMU in Jersey City.