Joe English agreed to this interview in 1980. Then he disappeared. In 1983, I got approximately three-fourths of this interview on tape, when Joe disappeared for another three years. I nick-named him the Howard Hughes of Drumming. I had no positive proof that Joe was a bad guy. He never returned my phone calls or answered my letters, but I have two grandmothers who are guilty of the same thing and they’re not bad people. The last quarter of this interview was, finally, taped at the tail end of 1985, and I submitted it to MD in March 1986.
Is Joe English a bad guy? No, not at all. I don’t know if he has a busier schedule than anyone else, but I do believe that it is much more hectic. Over the last few years, Joe English has been performing on the “Contemporary Christian Music” circuit, mixing excellent pop music with a Christian ministry. This interview reflects the rewards and frustrations of such a career.
Musicians such as Bach, Haydn, Handel, and Penderecki have openly composed musical homages to God and/or Jesus Christ. We call these men musical geniuses of classical music. Duke Ellington, Mary Lou Williams, Max Roach, Donald Byrd, and John Coltrane openly composed musical homages to God and/or Jesus Christ. We call these people musical geniuses of American classical music or jazz. It is unfortunate that the rock ‘n’ roll/pop music market, which often rallies under the banner of progressive thoughts, words, and deeds, has shown itself to have little room, scant acceptance, and amused indifference to Contemporary Christian musicians. We can give Grammy awards to, and boogie down to, musical questions such as: “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” and songs about extramarital affairs, such as “I’m Saving All My Love,” but a musician such as Joe English seems to make the average rock ‘n’ roller uncomfortable when he sings, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” Christianity leaves no room for the gray areas of today’s situational ethics. I have met several excellent rock musicians, such as Joe English, who have been at the apex of the rock ‘n’ roll world, and who have experienced the side of it that makes a song such as “We Built This City On Rock’n’Roll”a lamentation rather than an anthem. Hopefully, we’ll someday recognize their positive contribution to rock/pop music in the same way the fans have recognized their jazz and classical brothers-in-arms.
JE: I started playing in bands when I was 14 years old. The first music I played was like Buffalo Springfield stuff, and I listened to the Beatles. But soon after that, we went into playing James Brown stuff. That music still has some incredible drumming. We played soul music, funk—syncopated stuff.
Chuck and Gap Mangione’s father had a grocery store in my neighborhood. Their family lived in back of it. They were going to Eastman, or just getting out of high school, and I used to hear them practicing this different music. They were playing jazz as young fledglings. I’d be playing in the neighborhood, and go by their house and listen. That really intrigued me. And there was a guy named Vinnie Ruggierio in town, who was an incredible drummer. Philly Joe Jones and Vinnie used to get together in Rochester and play all the time. So, there was that influence.
I went through the funk phase, and then there was a different kind of music happening in Rochester. Steve Gadd’s from Rochester. I didn’t know Steve, but I knew of him. There were some really good players around town who you could catch now and then. There was an air of good playing. When you got the chance to hear them, it was an inspiration.
SF: Have you ever had the desire to play bebop or straight-ahead jazz?
JE: No. I was into the rock thing for so long, and I had never taken any lessons. Well, I took one lesson from Vinnie Ruggierio. I guess I was unteachable; I don’t know. I look back now and wish I had taken lessons. I used to go to hear jazz bands and feel as if I would like to do that. The closest I ever got to jazz playing was with Sea Level, and before that with some put-together high-energy, rock/fusion groups in Georgia. They were fun, but we could not get any work at all.
SF: If Rochester, New York, was such a happening city, what inspired you to move to Georgia?
JE: I just decided to try something different. I was in a band called Jam Factory. We all packed up and moved to Daytona Beach, Florida, and ended up moving to Georgia. Some of the most creative and exciting playing I’ve been involved with went on in Georgia. I got together with some guys, and we played exactly what we wanted to at any time. We explored a lot, tried a lot of things, and to our amazement, a lot of the things we had been thinking about worked! I learned how to back soloists and how to run along with them. I covered a lot of bases, as far as working in a rhythm section was concerned, in going from that situation to Wings, and then on to Sea Level.
When I moved near to Macon, Georgia, I lived on a farm that was owned by the Allman Brothers Band. I had heard about them from their first album, when I was living in Syracuse. Theirs was a very different sound. When I lived on the farm, I used to go to Jaimo’s house. I didn’t know how good a drummer Jaimo was. He played well with the Allman Brothers, but when I went to his house and heard him play, he was incredible. So, I told Jaimo that I wanted to get a few lessons from him. He said, “Joe, you don’t need any lessons.” I said, “Okay, don’t call them lessons. Let’s hang out together.” Jaimo’s idea of a lesson was to lay on the floor and listen to John Coltrane for a long time, and then listen to Elvin Jones. And then we’d go into his music room and just play together for hours on end. Those were some incredible times. I used to tell people how incredible Jaimo was. They wouldn’t know. It was as if it was Jaimo’s secret.
When I tell people what a musical highlight that was, they think that I must have just gotten caught up in the whole Allman Brothers scene, but it was the furthest thing from that. I’d pull into Jaimo’s driveway and hear Coltrane and Rashied Ali’s album, Interstellar Space, coming from inside his house. I had dabbled with jazz, but I went from not doing it at all to getting into that kind of jazz. I’d come out of Jaimo’s house sweating. And before he and I ever got together, he told me that we would have to go over some things. The first thing he had me do was take my drums completely apart. I stripped every part, cleaned all of them, and put them back together. And then we’d play. Maybe that was for discipline. It makes me laugh to think about it now, but it was some serious practice. I got a whole different outlook on drumming. I learned how to play outside.
When I’d go to gigs and start whipping that stuff on people, they would either be in awe, or they’d say, “Hey, man. You can’t do that. Play the 2 and 4 a little more.” It was a good mixture: playing funky with a heavy backbeat mixed with playing outside. I guess that’s why people say, “You play weird.” I always took that as a compliment. I didn’t want to play like everybody else.
Basically, I play my hi-hat with my left hand and my snare drum with my right hand on a right-handed kit. I’ve been playing like that all my life. Drummers say, “Oh, you play like Billy Cobham.” No. I’ve been playing like that since I was 14, when I didn’t even know who Billy Cobham was. When I took a few drum lessons early on, people would say, “Matched grip? No! You’ve got to use traditional grip, and you’ve got to set your drums up like this.” I said, “No way.” A lot of people ended up playing like that: Billy Cobham, Lenny White. For me, it’s easier. I can lead with my left or right, and I don’t have to cross my hands. When I sit at the table, I don’t cross my hands when I eat. When I drive, I don’t take my right hand and cross it over to hold the left side of the steering wheel. It just didn’t make sense to me. People say, “Man, I’d like to be able to do that.” It’s just as hard for me to play with crossed hands, using traditional grip.
SF: How did you get the gig with Paul McCartney & Wings?
JE: Well, I was with Jam Factory for about five years. We had moved from Syracuse to Georgia, and then the band broke up. I want to get this straight; the press never gets this straight! I was hanging out with Jaimo, living on the farm. I had no band, and I was playing club dates in Macon. Then I got a phone call from Jaimo’s friend, Tony Dorsey, who was working with Paul McCartney in Nashville on a song called “Sally G.” He had heard that McCartney might be firing his drummer and getting a new one. That drummer was Geoff Britton. I didn’t really feel comfortable replacing him, because he’s a black-belt karate expert.
I couldn’t believe the phone call at first. I was flat broke, too. I was driving a 1964 Dodge Dart with bald tires. My drums were in it, and it had no backseat. I could play good, but I sure was broke. “Hey man, I can play the best funk beat. Can you loan me a dime for a cup of coffee?”
After I got the phone call, I took Jaimo aside and said, “Man, should I take this gig?” You should have seen the expression on Jaimo’s face. He looked at me, and he was real quiet. Then he looked down at the floor before looking back up at me. He made that funny face and said, “Man, you’d better get on that plane.” I said, “I don’t have any money.” Jaimo said, “Don’t worry about that.” He loaned me the money for the plane ticket to New Orleans. I went and the rest is history. I stayed with Wings for three years.
SF: Was this an audition?
JE: No. Tony was working with McCartney at Allen Toussaint’s Sea Saint Studio. He said, “Man, I want you to have this gig.” I said, “Tony, I don’t know the material.” Then I went right into a recording situation, and I had hardly been doing any recording sessions. Tony said, “Don’t worry. Just watch me.” He was the arranger; he was sort of directing the date. He stood in front of the drum booth and gave me every cue: when to stop and when to accent.
SF: Weren’t there any drum charts?
JE: I didn’t read. We went ahead, and I guess my concept of playing was different. McCartney liked it and it jelled, so we went to New Orleans and then to Wally Heider’s studio in Los Angeles for mixing, where McCartney asked me to join the band. That didn’t take too much thought. I said, “Yes, sir. I’ll take the job.”
SF: What were your feelings when you heard those first playbacks of yourself with McCartney?
JE: I was pretty excited. It was a feeling that I was moving forward in the music business suddenly. I was playing purely what I felt was needed at the moment, and McCartney must have been thinking that that was what the songs needed, because I got the job. That’s a good way to check out a musician. Put the person under pressure. They wanted to see if this horse could run.
SF: Why didn’t you want to live in London after you had joined Wings?
JE: I eventually had an apartment in London. I was going back and forth between England and the U.S. We had started to get into some heavy recording when I moved to England. The on-the-scene experience, along with the skill, that I got while recording with McCartney—working hour upon hour into the early morning at the board and in learning recording techniques—was really fun. I couldn’t have asked for a better person to work with, as far as learning about songs and the recording studio goes. But I was an American. When I left Wings, it was on a good note. McCartney and I are still friends. I just could not give up the States. It’s the same thing with McCartney. You don’t see him moving over here. I thought I could live in two places, but that wore thin after a while.
SF: Was Wings really a band, or was it actually Paul McCartney and his band?
JE: It was a real band situation. It wasn’t like, “Hey, I’m Paul McCartney. I know more than you.” If someone had a good suggestion, it was used. It was a real learning experience, and I soaked in as much as possible. When I’m in the studio, getting into production today, some things will come out that I learned back then. I couldn’t even put a dollar value on what that experience was worth.
SF: I think it’s hard for inexperienced drummers to conceptualize why it’s different playing drums in a recording studio.
JE: I wouldn’t know how to explain the difference. We started getting into different tunings. For certain sounds, I’d use one size plastic-tipped stick in my cymbal hand and a heavier stick in my right hand, or vice versa. And I’d use different cymbals. I started realizing what my gear was all about. I guess you can do that in a live playing situation, too, but in the studio, it’s like putting the drums under a microscope. You really start to hear what stuff is like. You start to hear textures and other things.
SF: When you went on the world tour with Wings, did you do anything specific to keep physically and mentally in shape?
JE: I didn’t do anything physically, and mentally I didn’t have to. I had a gig that most musicians dream about. I had people opening limousine doors for me. We flew on chartered jets—first class. People were always wanting to do things for me. I had no other worries. All I thought about was playing my gig at night. I didn’t worry about where my clothes were or what I was going to wear. We had people with trunks of clothing that were pressed and ironed, all sewn and custom-made for the tour. You’d walk into a room and they’d ask, “What do you want to wear?”
I was a kid who’d seen the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. All that was going through my mind. I was thinking, “Hey, I’ve got a chance. This is Paul McCartney. This guy is no slouch.” I’m not talking about working with some mediocre guy in the rock ‘n’ roll business. There are a few people in the business on the top, and he’s one of them. I got a chance to work with him, and he turned out to be a great guy. A lot of people in that situation don’t have to be great guys. But Paul made it as nice as possible, and it paid off. All we had to concentrate on was what we were doing.
SF: You had 13¢ to your name when you received the call to join McCartney. You were making a six-figure income with Wings, and yet you have said that all of that created a turmoil within you. Why?
JE: It’s hard to answer that. I could have locked right into that scene, but I know that the Lord had different plans for me. McCartney gave me a fantastic break with Wings. He’s a fantastic guy to work for. These are things that never get into print. It’s always the mystique that, “Boy, Paul must have been a hard guy to work for. Joe must have gotten into a fight when he left.” Let me tell you: Paul McCartney treated me like one of his family. I stayed at his house to adjust when I first joined the band and moved to England. He didn’t want me staying in some cold hotel room. He treated us wonderfully. If you can find anywhere to print that, you need to let people know that.
SF: Rolling Stone described you, Bob Dylan, and Bonnie Bramlett as “repentant rockers.” Is that an apt description?
JE: I don’t remember that article. I just came to a conviction about being a Christian and playing songs about things that I didn’t believe in. I just had to do my own songs, write about what I wanted to, and play songs that went along with my Christian beliefs. It just didn’t make any sense to be singing/playing about one thing and telling people that you believe in something else. It looks like hypocrisy. That was the main reason why I started my own band.
SF: I have read press reports which indicate that your Christian musical turning point came after your wife’s car accident, but it sounds as if you were thinking about it beforehand.
JE: Dayle had the accident right at the end of my time with Wings. It was a long time between the accident and the Joe English Band. I took one year off, played for a couple of years with Sea Level, and then started my own band. My conversion to Christianity came through seeing God heal my wife. A lot of people thought my wife and I were crazy anyway, but when everybody saw her healed, they got real quiet and walked away.
SF: Is it true that Dayle had been cured by a faith healer?
JE: No. She was just at a prayer meeting with some Christians. My wife accepted the Lord. The people around her were led by God to pray that He’d heal her. It was that simple. It wasn’t a special place. The people weren’t dressed in any special way. They were just regular folks, but God had a plan. Up until that point, I had thought that all of that stuff was just a bunch of baloney. But when it hits that close to home, and three hours beforehand your wife is in bed, she can’t walk, and she’s addicted to codeine, and then you come home and she’s running up and down the stairs, completely healed—then that’s enough. I quickly came to believe that there was something other than Joe English and what he was doing.
SF: I’m glad you set the record straight. I was under the impression that you were unhappy with Wings, that Dayle then had her accident and was healed, and that prompted you to form the Joe English Band.
JE: No. And it wasn’t that I was really unhappy with Wings. I was more unhappy with myself and what was going on in my life. When the accident happened, it was just time to move on. It wasn’t a choice of leaving Wings to go with Sea Level. I left Wings and didn’t do anything for a year. Then, I knew Chuck Leavell, the keyboard player with Sea Level, and I had to start playing again.
I was playing drums like a truck driver. Nothing against truck drivers, but my chops were down. My last year with Wings was a situation where I did a lot of waiting but not a lot of playing. I just didn’t get inspired to practice in my London apartment, so my chops started to slide. Then I took one year off, with the exception of playing a few club dates with some friends. The guys in Sea Level had been playing together constantly for two years when I went to work for them, and they were playing instrumentals and progressive music. And there I was with my chops down 98%. I had to soak in hot water after playing with them the first week. But it was great. It was do or die: Get your chops back together or go pick strawberries. I did get my chops back together, and it felt really good to work with people who were playing that kind of music.
After Wings was over, I had learned how to play pretty simple. I learned that playing simple and putting good things in certain spots is an art in itself, just like being able to play all over the place at any time is special, too. It took me six months to get my act back together. I did three albums with Sea Level: On The Edge, Ballroom, and Long Walk Off A Short Pier. On The Edge was my favorite and then Ballroom. Sea Level was the world’s greatest unknown band. We had followers in different parts of the country, but for the most part, people’s reaction was, “Who’s that?” When they heard the band, they’d be completely blown away. It was a great band of great musicians.
SF: Did you have a definite format in mind when you started the Joe English Band?
JE: I wanted keyboards and the basic rhythm section, but I ended up with two guitars, keyboards, bass, and drums. I just prayed a lot and asked the Lord to help me put the band together. It’s a little different, after working for somebody else, to pinch myself and say, “Okay, I’m the boss. I’m the guy whose running this thing now.” I was always a follower. Now all of a sudden I’m the leader, which takes work, concentration, and the understanding of other people’s needs and not your own all the time.
Lights In The World was recorded in Nashville with studio musicians. George Cocchini, one of the guitarists I played with when I was 14 years old, came down, played on the album, and ended up in the band.
SF: John Rosasco contributed quite a bit. Why didn’t he become a band member?
JE: He wanted to pursue his writing/producing, and you can’t do that if you’re in a band. He’s real funky—a real good keyboard player and writer, who went way beyond the call of duty. He did everything he could to make me happy with the songs.
SF: Was Lights In The World a reflection of your musical ideas?
JE: I like many different styles of music. I would be happy to have a soul band that did rock versions of James Brown tunes. And on the other hand, I’m a frustrated three-piece-heavy-rock-with-stacks-of-Marshalls musician. I’m serious; I’ve always wanted to do that.
SF: Then why not play music along the lines of groups like Barnabas and the REZ Band?
JE: I guess I don’t get around people who write like that. I’d like to have the double bass drums—even though I don’t play double bass drums—but just a big kit, three musicians, and we’d just blast and do some fast-moving stuff. It doesn’t have to be Neanderthal music, but music that falls somewhere between Alan Holdsworth and Jimi Hendrix.
SF: Press On was your third album. It seemed like the first true Joe English Band album, because there was musical input from all of the band members.
JE: Yeah, it was a band album. Our latest album, What You Need, is the only thing I’ve ever recorded with this band that I would play for any of my musician friends. I won’t play any of the other albums. They’re trash. I won’t play any of the Wings albums. When I was doing that stuff, I never played it for anybody. I never listened to it.
SF: What You Need is so different from your other English Band albums. Is it more along the musical lines of what you have always wanted?
JE: Maybe not. But I will still listen to it at home and not think that I don’t ever want to hear it again. However, some people like the other English Band albums better.
SF: What You Need strikes me as being less relaxed than your other albums. Did losing Tim Smith and John Lawry throw a wrench into the making of that album?
JE: No. They had been gone a long time. We had a great time recording it. Between Press On and What You Need, we put out a live album, which meant we hadn’t been in the studio in almost two years. That hurt us a little. What You Need was the three of us: George Cocchini, Paul Brannon, and myself. One saving grace was that our producer was the A&R man for the record company. We knew that, when he was done producing the album, he was going to sell it. But we just had a great time. We spent a lot of time with the drum sounds, and on the end of “Joy Of The Lord,” we rocked out. I wanted to extend the end so that the guitar player and I could really blow, but we faded it. Still, that’s the kind of energy I want to get on tape for people to hear, so that they’ll say, “Hey, the guy can play,” and not, “All he’s doing is playing 2 and 4.”
SF: In your drumming with all of the groups you’ve recorded with, you seem to be very conscious of the lyrics or the melody line.
JE: That goes back to the Jam Factory. We had a trombone player named Earl Ford, who was a hardcore jazzer. He really taught me about paying attention to the melody, and listening to and following the soloist. My playing is a combination of that and sitting in the pocket. A lot of drummers who can follow a soloist and play all over don’t know how to play in the pocket. You should be able to follow the melody, follow the soloist, and then be able to lay back and play a backbeat. You can’t just play backbeat and not go out- side; you can’t just go outside and not play backbeat. You have to be well-rounded.
SF: Have you always been able to do that?
JE: Yeah. I guess that’s why people said I played a little different. I just didn’t sit in one place, and I had to keep myself musically stimulated. I couldn’t just sit back there and be a robot either. I never play the same thing twice, even if I’m doing a session. I’ll play real close, but I just can’t play the same thing over and over. I’ve got to have some spontaneous creativity.
SF: Have you always had the ability to keep good time?
JE: I’ve gotten better over the years. Now I’m singing and playing. It’s a killer. A long time ago, I used to play drums and sing, and I sang background on some things in Wings, but I hadn’t done it in years. I have to simplify when I’m singing melody lines that are going in one direction, while the beat is going somewhere else. That in itself is a time improver. When you’re singing and playing, it’s like a built-in clock.
I never went in to record a tune and thought, “I guess I’d better play simple, because I have to sing.” I guess it’s a blessing in disguise. If you listen, from the first album to the third album, I’ve gotten looser. I’m real loose when I play on other people’s stuff. I tell my band, “Let’s make believe it’s not our baby.” If it’s your kid, you’re so careful. “Don’t fall. Don’t hurt yourself.”
SF: Up until What You Need, in which you used electronic drums and drum machines, your acoustic drums always had such a nice, deep, open sound.
JE: I use double heads. Depending on my mood, I’ll use Ambassador clear on the top and Diplomat clear on the bottom, or Emperor clear on top and Ambassador clear on the bottom. I like the response and sound of double heads. I don’t like drums that sound too dead, and I try to tune for the occasion. I like the sound of playing a drum that’s real deep and fat, but I don’t like playing on a drum that feels like you’re playing on a piece of wet cardboard. I like to play a double stroke and work out a little bit on the snare drum. At one time in my career, I had my drums tuned so low that they sounded wonderful, but all you could play was duh-duh-duh-duh-duh. It was just like hitting garbage cans with pillows attached to them. I got fed up with it. People said that I needed that fat sound. I said, “I don’t need anything. I’m going to do what I want to do.” Now my snare drum is tight. So what if it sounds fat on the record? That’s done in the studio. I’ll tune it that way, but live I’ve got to have a nice, crisp, tight snare drum and double heads on the tom-toms. I need that response. That’s the joy of playing. I don’t want to make playing a burden. Playing is the one thing I look forward to. And I go back and forth between using a double-headed bass drum with a small hole cut in the front head, and using no front head at all.
SF: You have used many different brands and sizes of drum equipment over the course of your career.
JE: I started out with a top-of-the-line, Burgundy Sparkle Gretsch kit that my mother bought. Those drums were terrific. I sold them when I was a kid for a drumset that I thought was a better color! Then I played Camco, because Jim Gordon played Camco drums with Delaney & Bonnie. My set was made in Oaklawn, Illinois, and they were good drums before they were sold.
When I went on tour with McCartney, I had just been hanging out with Jaimo, so I bought a mini-Gretsch drumset with a 20″ bass drum, 8×12 and 14×14 tom-toms, and a 6 1/2 x 14 Ludwig chrome snare. I used Zildjian cymbals, but I don’t know what sizes they were. I used a lot of different snare drums in the studio with Wings, and I used a Pearl drumset that I bought at Frank Ippolito’s Drum Shop in New York City. I mostly used either a 6 1/2 x 14 or a 5×14 Ludwig Supraphonic snare drum, and they sounded great. Plus, we had a lot of time to mess with them.
I got my endorsement with Tama when I was with Sea Level. Right now I’m using Tama Artstar drums with the Black Piano finish. I use Tama Techstar pads through a LinnDrum. With the different chips, it sounds wonderful.
SF: Are the touring accommodations with the English Band different than they were with Wings?
JE: When I got my own band, the touring arrangements went progressively backwards, from a jet with Wings, to a bus with Sea Level, and now I’m using my van. But I believe in what I’m doing, and in what I’m talking and singing about: Jesus Christ. At first, a lot of people thought, “Well, Joe’s got religion. He’s crazy. He went nuts.” But when they come to see the band play, they think, “Hey, he doesn’t look any different. He’s not flipped out. He’s just singing about something that he really believes in.”
SF: What avenues of promotion are open to Christian recording artists?
JE: Christian bookstores, K-Mart—some Christian labels are getting major labels to distribute some of their artists. Word Records, the label I’m with, is working with A&M Records. They distribute Amy Grant’s records and she’s sold a lot of records. She’s outdrawing some secular acts. It’s a freak in Christian music to sell that many records. You’ll find Amy Grant’s records in the stores with Kenny Loggins records, for example. I walk into the A&P, and I hear Amy Grant’s music played right after the Stones. She’s in the real world. Her music is being played in every major city in the country, and she’s a strong Christian. Her album is out, and people are buying it. That’s what I want to be doing. I want to go out and play for the masses. Amy Grant has broken the ice. I hear her on the major rock stations every hour.
SF: But which of Amy Grant’s songs are you hearing on the major rock stations? Are they songs about Jesus?
JE: She’s not saying “Jesus” every five minutes. The hit song was “Love Will Find A Way,” which was actually a good tune.
SF: Would it be safe to say that the secular media, for the most part, won’t touch Christian groups?
JE: I don’t see many of them doing it. I’ve heard that the REZ Band has a video on MTV. That’s good. We’ve had our albums reviewed in Billboard. But in the Christian business we’ve got to ask, “How do you judge success?” Is it how much money you make? There were people in the Bible who walked and spread the Gospel about Jesus Christ, and they were stoned and beaten for doing it. You’re not supposed to sit around and grumble about a lot of things.
SF: True, but it isn’t biblically wrong to earn a decent living, or to want to.
JE: Coming from working in Wings, I’m in a strange place. We’re touring, playing concerts, and people are finding out about Jesus. Before I was with Wings, I wasn’t doing anything like this. I was shoveling horse manure. When I think that it could be better, I think that there are a lot of people who would give their left arm just to be doing what we’re doing now. Then there’s the other side. If somebody like Kenny Loggins called and wanted me to join his band and tour, I’d have to sit down and think about it seriously. I’m not going to go out there talking about supporting your local Satan worshippers, killing your mother, or something. Really, I thank God that I’m doing what I’m doing, but in the music business, if you’re a musician/ Christian, they say, “Hey, you’d better play Christian music.” What is this? Instrumental music is one thing and music with lyrics is another.
When I took the Wings gig, I think I completely changed the direction that I was going in. I don’t know where I was going, but I think I was headed towards playing music that wouldn’t have gotten a lot of work. I didn’t care what people thought about what I was playing. I believed enough in myself—and this sounds really selfish—that I just reached a point where there really weren’t any musical boundaries. I’d try anything. It seems like I made a turn and started playing a lot of commercial pop. I look back at all of the different things I’ve played, and it’s not much of a musical challenge. It’s a musical challenge to keep a tight groove, but . . . .
SF: In the Old Testament, Moses commissioned an artist named Bezalel to build God’s Temple. I have an article in which the author lists six characteristics of Bezalel that he feels all Christian artists should have: to be filled with the Spirit of God, to have talent, intelligence, knowledge, craftsmanship, and the inspiration to teach.
JE: That’s nice. You can’t disagree with that. I’ve been on this kick of excellence. God wants things excellent. We’re trying to get exposure in the secular market. That market is used to hearing really good music all the time, so we have to be really good. I think God wants us to be excellent. I don’t think He wants amateur, small-time junk.
SF: A preacher named Rowland Hill once asked, “Why should the devil have all the good tunes?”
JE: Right. Back home, my wife sings in the choir and my sister-in-law plays piano at my little church. My wife asked me to come down and help them. I said, “I’m going to come down there, and tell you if it’s not right or if it’s out of tune.” And I told them that the only way they were going to be good was to practice. I said, “God wants you excellent.” If you’re going to play, sing, or do anything for people, then you’d better practice and make it perfect, because that’s what He wants. People know when it’s out of tune. People know when it’s an inferior recording. We’re not just playing for people who don’t buy anything other than Christian records. Come on! The eyes of the world are upon us. The recording industry is not some special animal. If we were a Christian company making Christian televisions, and that’s how we were judged, we had better make a TV as good as Sony or Mitsubishi, or the public wouldn’t buy it. Why shouldn’t the recording business be the same way? Do the best you can.