Larry Veal, Sr., was born in 1966 and grew up in the small southwestern Mississippi town of Gloster. He now lives with his wife and children near his in-laws about twenty miles from Gloster in the Buffalo community east of Woodville. His parents worked in the local lumber industry, and he has worked for the Wal-Mart distribution center in Brookhaven for about fourteen years.
Both of Veal’s parents were involved in gospel music, his father playing guitar, and his mother as a singer. They encouraged Larry and his brothers to sing from the start. Some of Larry Veal’s earliest memories of music are actually of the struggle to get matching suits for the young Veal Brothers to perform in, whether to purchase or try to sew these.
The group consisted from the beginning of four brothers, all singers, plus another four musicians. They’ve been active as a group for over thirty years. When the Veal Brothers started performing in 1975 in several of the older churches near Gloster, they sang the popular songs of the gospel greats, including “Soul Operator, Give Me Long Distance.” They would meet at the Veal home every Tuesday night and rehearse for about two hours, learning the music by listening to records.
Today, Larry is one of the leaders of the group and performs as one of the main background singers. His oldest brother, Robert Veal, Jr., is one of the lead singers. Charles (also older than Larry) is an alto singer in the background and the first lead guitar player. Jerry, a baritone, plays drums. L. C. Clark sings tenor, Geoffrey Gibson plays bass guitar, Tony Turner, keyboard, and Charles Veal, Jr., keyboard.
These days the group writes their own songs. Charles has special responsibility for melody, and Larry works well with words, though he often has the original musical idea that Charles and the other musicians flesh out. But everybody is part of what Larry calls a “self-explanatory” process, that is, they all are fluent in the style of arranging and style of performance that they typically use. After three or four rehearsals, they’ve got a new song “pretty much down pat.”
They feel strongly that the original vision of a song is divinely inspired: “The Lord can reveal a song.” But the timing of inspiration can be coordinated with rough times in their lives. And the feelings shared between performers and members of the audience can be based on similar trying experiences: “You never know what people’s going through in their lives, and your song or praises can help someone else.”
The Veal Brothers travel in a 15-passenger van to local performances or a bus for further distances; there’s room for the families to come along then. These days the Veal Brothers sing all over the country, though many of their favorite performances are still in the churches just down the road. They still sing three or four times a year at his wife’s church, and “that’s like coming home. . . It reminds you of yourself thirty years ago.” Larry summarizes: “The music helps you establish your life, if you don’t have your life established with God. It helps you touch another soul–you can really help someone come to Christ through music. And that means more to me than anything.”
– Chris Goertzen