There was a time in my younger life when I traveled in a band. It didn’t start out as a band per say, but it ended that way somehow.

My Second Job:

In college, I had a “job” representing the college in one of their singing groups that toured schools, churches, and camps across the nation. As many of you are aware, we pretty much lived in a 15 passenger van and hauled a huge trailer behind us everywhere we went.

When I started this job, I landed the illustrious gig of singing baritone in an all male quintet. Why a quintet instead of a quartet? Because you can apparently never have enough tenor in Southern Gospel music.

We went from place to place singing the favorites from groups like the Cathedrals, the Gaithers, and other Southern gospel groups of the day. Southern Gospel you say? Really?

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You betcha. I was raised on the stuff. There was always something about that harmony that fascinated me. Let’s be honest, those boys can sing. If you took time to listen to Guy Penrod or David Phelps, they’re some of the best voices on the planet. Our goal was to go out and give out a reasonable facsimile of these amazing singers and recruit for the University.

For the first couple of years of the group, we did just that. We traveled to churches and not for profit groups on the weekends during the school year and sang our hearts out. During the summers, we traveled from camp to camp serving as the musical guests and most of the time also getting to be camp counselors for a group of pre-teens.

Oh the stories I could tell you from those summers out on the road. I’ll just have to save some of those for another time…

On The Road:

One I will share is when we decided that Southern Gospel music wasn’t exactly working for summer camps full of hundreds of teenagers. We got tired of showing up to camps and having the people in charge “sigh” and try to figure out what to do with a Southern Gospel singing group at a teen camp. It got to the point where they wanted us to help out and run the camp, but our music was a bit of a nuisance since it just didn’t fit with the current music the kids were listening to.

The kids were walking around with their Walkmans (Yep, remember those?) playing D.C. Talk, Newsboys, Sixpence None The Richer and other popular bands of the time. I totally get where the disconnect was for them, and so we called a group meeting. We took a look around the group and we asked if anyone played any instruments.

We had two guys who played the piano/keyboard, one who played the acoustic guitar and the rest just stood there and stared at the floor. We knew that we needed drums and bass guitar at a minimum in order to pull it off, so we made a decision. I was one of the guys who played keyboards, but I was up to learning something new. Our group leader was also up to the challenge, so he and I needed to decide who learned drums and who learned bass guitar.

Rock, Paper, Scissors:

What better way to decide something as epic as this other than a round of good old rock, paper, scissors.

Jason Grate (our fearless leader) won with rock over scissors, so he got to make his pick. Jason chose drums and that same day I decided to go out and buy my first bass guitar.

I drove down to Marion’s own “Marion Music & Sound” and plopped down $200 for a black Epiphone 4 string bass guitar. Turns out I didn’t know the first thing about playing the bass guitar, but I did have a friend from high school who played. Jason Sandefur was a bass player, and even though I hadn’t talked to him in 3 or so years at this point, I gave him a call.

Jason gave me my first bass guitar lesson over the phone and taught me where to play and when to play. He told me how the hand positioning worked and I was off to the races.

It’s probably worth noting here that I don’t think at this point in time we had asked the University for permission to drastically alter the group. To us, it made total sense to change our group from a Southern Gospel group singing with cassette tracks to a rock group that played D.C. Talk. I’m not sure at that point in time that the University was in on the game, but we were too busy rehearsing and learning new instruments to have long meetings about it. Let’s just chalk that up to #younganddumb

Timing Is Everything:

It’s also probably worth mentioning that we made this decision to become a band 10 days before we hit the road that summer. So, let’s put this into perspective, shall we… Here we are, 10 days before we are supposed to show up at a camp full of hundreds of teenagers. It makes total sense to us that we should drastically change our group from Southern Gospel to a Rock Band, and two of us had never played the rhythm instruments that our new band was supposed to have as the foundation of the group.

Probably a good thing we didn’t try this when we were older. Looking back it seems completely nuts, but to those guys at 21 years old, this all made total sense.

We picked out 5 or 6 songs and changed every one of them to the key of G so we only had to learn one key to play in. Yep. True story. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

So, we pile into the van 10 days later and we were off as a newly minted rock group ready to play for a bunch of screaming teens. What was yet to be seen was if they would be screaming because of excitement or because of sheer terror.

Things get a little hazy for the next 3 weeks as we spent the day being camp counselor and the night learning how to be a band. I think we were up in Michigan for those 3 or so weeks, and I’m pretty sure that things went relatively well. It turns out that apparently the camp staff and the kids at each place would rather have a terrible rock band than a pretty decent southern gospel group.

Overall, we started something that summer that ended up being pretty special. Over the next two years the group would change members, change styles a bit, and even branch out into new keys! Along the way we somehow still became one of the best recruiting groups the University had seen. 

What I Learned:

Oh, the things I learned during my time with that crew. So many things… If I had to narrow it down to just one for this post, I would say that I learned that there are times when launching a half baked idea can be better than maintaining a mediocre status quo. When faced with a lackluster present, charging into uncharted territory with half an idea can be much better than doing nothing at all to improve the situation.