Musically speaking, I’m a chameleon. I blend in with the musical tastes of my peers. As a child and young teenager in the sixties and seventies, I listened to my older brother’s music. I still know all the words to “Brandy,” and I don’t even remember trying to learn them. In college, I gravitated toward the eclectic tastes of my friends, who pulled from several decades for a rich “playlist” that will always remind me of those formative years.
And then came John . . . and Bob Dylan (mostly) but there were others.
It’s true. I listen to Bob Dylan now, and it’s all thanks to John. However, five months after John died, 79-year-old Bob Dylan released a new album, Rough and Rowdy Ways, and it still astounds me that I have listened to Bob Dylan songs that John never heard. If you had peeked into the Montgomery Performing Arts Center on May 21 of this year, you would have seen the Geigers at the Bob Dylan Rough and Rowdy Ways Concert because, well, we’re Geigers, and Bob was in our hometown. I like a lot of Dylan’s music. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be the song “Saved” from his album by the same name. Classic rock and roll sound with a gospel message that is complete, victorious, proclamatory, and redemptive. In fact, the whole album is a theological feast.
But what I really want to talk about are a few of the others, namely Terry Scott Taylor, Lost Dogs, Sara Groves, and Randy Stonehill.
First, a little context. John was saved in the 70s around the age of 18. He always said that his conversion was the result of a dull sermon. He reached for a pew Bible to look at the maps. But alas, no maps, so he started reading. He read Galatians 5:19-21: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” He was shocked to think that, as someone who “did such things,” he might not actually inherit the kingdom of God. That message, along with a viewing of The Omen, led to his being convicted of “sin and righteousness and judgment” and turning to Christ, the great Lover of his soul.
His conversion was right on the heels of the Jesus movement that saw a large number of musicians turn to Christ. Many began producing Christian music, which brings us to some of the musicians mentioned above, namely Stonehill and Taylor. I found a recording of a radio show John produced in 1978 that featured a Randy Stonehill song, evidence that he listened to him for decades. Some of you may remember that John took a group of students to hear Randy Stonehill in a church south of Birmingham in 2017. He also brought Stonehill to Montgomery for a concert in our living room. The Class of 2018 even performed Stonehill’s “Shut De Do” flash-mob style at their graduation. I guess you could say he’s our jam. (Am I using that correctly?)
As for Terry Scott Taylor, John followed his career for 40 years, and I have the cassette tapes to prove it. As a single artist and founding member of several groups — Daniel Amos, The Swirling Eddies, Lost Dogs — Taylor wrote songs that appealed to John. Not only are his lyrics interesting but his sound changes dramatically through the decades, a skill John particularly appreciated in an artist. I like the songs he wrote for Lost Dogs. Some of my favorites are “Sunshine Down,” “Pray Where You Are,” “Lust of the Flesh,” “A Vegas Story,” and “Grace is the Smell of Rain.”
In contrast to Dylan, Stonehill, and Taylor, whom John followed for decades, Sara Groves appeared on John’s radar late in life, in fact, right at the end. We have our friend Beth Owen to thank for the introduction to Sara Groves because she faithfully sent John links to her songs. While his body restricted his physical movements, his soul soared when he listened to music, and he listened to Sara Groves a lot. My favorite Groves song is “To the Dawn.” This doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that my name is in the title, although I do like the way the word points to hope and light and the beginning of something good. Just listen to it; you’ll see.
And finally, an interesting connection. Last month Mary Agnes came across a new album released in April 2022 called There’s a Rainbow Somewhere: The Songs of Randy Stonehill. It is a tribute to Randy on the 50th anniversary of his first album, Born Twice, and features some of the greats in the Christian music industry, including Terry Scott Taylor, Lost Dogs, and Sara Groves! John would have known the backstories of most of the 22 artists on the album, but unfortunately, I do not. In fact, the only artist I knew before meeting John was Amy Grant because she was at Vanderbilt when I was. Like I said, chameleon.
So I’m writing this to recommend the album to you, along with the other songs listed above, and to give you a chance to remember your friend through the music and artists he loved. I’ve included the track list along with a review and a link to the playlist on Spotify. I think you’ll be surprised at the number of well-known Christian artists who covered some of their favorite Stonehill songs in acknowledgement of his influence on their art. My personal favorite? Well, while I do really like the songs submitted by the three musicians listed above, I think I’d have to choose Phil Keaggy’s “Lazarus Heart:” “I sailed to the edge of the world and I saw Your face, Your wonderful face . . . and that’s when You called to my Lazarus heart, rescued my Lazarus heart . . . ‘Rise again, rise again.’”