Randy Wright defies the usual definition of drummer. Certainly he’s that for Barbara Mandrell, but he’s so much more. Aside from being the Mandrell bandleader, Randy is a featured vocalist in the band. In fact, he is almost more at home behind the drums when he is singing than when he’s not. Also, Barbara brings Randy up front to share the spotlight with her in a duet. In fact, she has been so supportive of his talents since his joining the band in 1978 that she was instrumental in his obtaining an artist deal with MCA a few years ago.
Eight years is a long time to work with the same artist, but the hectic two seasons of The Barbara Mandrell Show and the constant touring seem to have paved the way for some quieter, less chaotic times for the Mandrell unit. Certainly, her near-fatal auto accident a year ago (during which time Randy worked with Barbara’s sister Louise) is cause enough for some reevaluation by her and those close to her.
Perhaps one of the biggest factors responsible for the success of their lengthy association is Randy’s personality and even temperament. That he must provide the tempo and dynamics to such hits as “If Loving You Is Wrong, ” “Angel In Your Arms,” “The Best Of Strangers,” “Years,” “Crackers,” “Fast Lanes And Country Roads,” and “When You Get To The Heart” is almost a given. But at least as important is that Randy shares with her similar philosophies and beliefs as a Christian. Concerned with his faith, ethics, family, and the music being the product of the person as opposed to the person being created by the music, Randy is easy to be around and a pleasure to speak with.
RF: When did you meet up with the drums?
RW: I’m from a very small town in Missouri of about 1,000 people, where the big thing was the Saturday night dance in Twiehaus Hall. We lived in a mobile home right behind this dance hall, which my grandfather owned, and my mom and father helped run the place. I would sit upstairs where the band played for a couple of hours, and then go downstairs and fall asleep under one of the tables or something. The first drummer that I can remember making an impression on me was female. For some reason, I just picked on the drums more than the other instruments. My cousin, who lived next to me in the trailer, did the same. Both of us ended up with a career in it. He’s back with Chet Atkins again. He goes by the name Randy Hauser, instead of Twiehaus. My mom worked in a restaurant, and my cousin and I were ambitious enough to get some of the lard cans to set up a makeshift drumset back in the toolshed. I think he was actually the first one to get a real set of drums.
A year after that, when I was between the fifth and the sixth grade, they had initiated a summer band program in school, and I decided to check into that. The instructor, Ed Hayes, pretty much took me under his wing, and by the following year, I was playing in high school band. He was an incredible teacher and a perfectionist. He would say, “Look, you’ve got the ability to do this. If you want to do it, I want to work with you. If you don’t want to work, I don’t want to deal with it.” He ran into some problems at the school because of that. The band was supposed to be fun, according to the parents on the school board, and you weren’t supposed to kick the students out. He did, in fact, get fired from the school, but we got all the kids together and raised Cain, which got him hired back. He eventually moved on to a bigger and better job, though.
RF: What were you learning?
RW: At that stage, I was studying snare drum and the basics everyone starts with. As much as Ed Hayes influenced me technically, he influenced me in the mental aspect of discipline and continuing that challenge. I find myself here in later years, wishing I had that back again. It’s easy to get out of that habit when other things tend to become the priority. Later in high school, I was lucky enough to have a teacher who was a percussion major. I never studied with anybody individually, but this guy served that role because we would hang around after school. There was another fellow, Ben “Butch” Corbett, who plays drums for the Temptations now. The three of us would sight-read together, which was good. It’s not as much fun if you’re sitting around doing it by yourself, but with somebody else, it becomes fun. We did that for a couple of years. This teacher, Jerry Arana, was the first person to make the band really successful in school.
RF: Did you wonder how it was ever going to happen for you in this little town, or did you feel the sky was your limit?
RW: I think back then the sky was the limit. Everybody tends to wonder if it’s ever going to happen, but as a general rule, I think most of us are idealistic when we’re young and feel it will happen if we just continue. working at it. And there’s a certain amount of truth to that. There is also a certain amount of having the breaks come at the right time, which did happen for me. I got to Nashville because one of the bands I was in during high school had a guitar player, Dick Powelson, who ended up coming to town with someone in about 1976. He worked with Billy Crash Craddock for a while, he worked with Crystal Gayle, and he ended up with Barbara Mandrell. At Christmas of 1977, her drummer left her to work with Marty Robbins, and as is usually the case when somebody leaves the band, the artist asked the musicians if they knew anybody who would be good for the group. Dick thought of me and called me up in St. Louis. The fact that he remembered me from working in the band together was the way I actually got the job in Nashville. That kind of thing is going to happen a lot more than an artist coming through a small town, happening to see some kid playing, and saying, “Gosh, I’ve got to bring that kid to town.”
RF: Did you know, growing up, that you’d have to leave your home?
RW: Yes, because it was too small. It was only 40 miles from St. Louis, where I did work for two years in ’76 and ’77, six and sometimes seven nights a week with the top country act there, Nick Nixon. He recorded for Mercury and had some chart success. Even then, though, St. Louis wasn’t where it was happening for country music. Nashville was.
RF: Was your love always country music?
RW: Yes. I played a little bit of everything, though. We had a soul-type band for a while in high school that played for dances. I was also a part f a seven-or eight-piece horn Chicago-type band with a girl singer, which won the state talent contest in 1972. That four-year period in high school was really an incredible time to have the talent that we did in such a small town. My wife is from St. Louis suburb where there were a thousand kids in her high school, while there were a thousand people in my town, period. You hear pros and cons about whether the small schools are better. Obviously, there are more programs and more money is available at the larger schools, but having gained what I did in a small school, it’s hard for me to knock it.
RF: Was Nashville overwhelming when you got there?
RW: I came to town to take the job, so it was a lot easier that way. I know a lot of people who come to town looking for work, which can be a real pain. I’ve discouraged people from doing that. Don’t come to town looking for work, because there are too many people here wanting to do the same thing. There are also too many people who have been working at some point and aren’t working now. If you’ve got some cash put away and you want to come to town to test the waters, that’s great. But it’s not the type of place you can move to and expect to support yourself immediately.
RF: And yet, sometimes you’ve got to take a chance. What else are you going to do if you’re stuck in a small town?
RW: I generally tell people to stay there and play as much as possible. You might be better off being one of the better players in your small town, unless you are totally discouraged with what you’re doing. Then you need to make a change, because getting burned out is not good either. If you can continue to play and enjoy what you’re playing, and the only frustration you’re suffering is the fact that you haven’t hit the “big time,” it’s better just to sit back and wait awhile for that to happen than to try to force it. I’ve personally known too many good players who have come to town where nothing opened up at the time, and they ended up going back home. Then, they ended up going back home. Then, they were really bummed out. They thought they had their shot, but they probably never really did.
RF: Why do you think you got the job with Barbara? What did she need?
RW: It was a combination of things. I think I played well and I was confident of my playing at that point. In a case where you’re going to be spending a couple of hundred days a year on the road with somebody, it’s also important that you feel that the person is somebody you can live with—and that the individual’s personality and basic moral values are close to whatever you’re looking for. We’ve hired several players over the last eight years, and that is an issue. There are a whole bunch of good players, too. Finding the people who gel personally as well as musically is sometimes a little tough. I think that’s one of the reasons I got it. I also sing, which helped.
RF: When did you start singing?
RW: I guess I really started in the choir at church. Professionally, I’ve been working weekends since I was 12 or 13. My mom used to take me around to the different little local bands that I was with. I used to do a live Saturday afternoon radio show on a small radio station, which was a lot of fun and a good experience.
RF: Was it awkward when you first started putting the singing together with the drums?
RW: I really don’t remember. I can concentrate more on the playing if I’m not singing. One or the other is going to suffer to some degree, because you can’t divide your concentration that much, but it’s a very comfortable thing for me to do both at the same time. In the studio, and when we recorded the TV show, we obviously didn’t sing and play at the same time, but I found myself sometimes thinking too much when I was trying to play and I’d cross myself up, rather than just playing what felt good and what came naturally. When you sit back and consciously try to anticipate what is going to happen next, sometimes it’s worse.
RF: Usually one’s time suffers a bit when doing both.
RW: I think time is another positive point of mine that people I’ve worked behind enjoy. I’m fairly confident of my timekeeping, but I really don’t consider that the most important aspect of being a drummer. I think it’s very important to make a song feel right, which doesn’t mean it’s going to be the same tempo every night. Last year when I worked with Louise, one of her singles had multi-tracks of drums, which Larrie [Londin] did. It was impossible to duplicate live with one drummer, so we played that song to a drum machine. Rather than just trying to punch the drum machine in for the eight bars, we used it from the front to establish the tempo. There were many nights that it was very uncomfortable. You can’t argue with a drum machine, and there were some nights when it would have felt better to be a little faster or a little slower. To me, it’s much more important that the song feels good to the person who is performing it. Barbara recently made a reference to the HBO special, which we cut for three nights and which they edited down. As a general rule, a three-and-a-half minute song was exactly the same all three nights, and some varied a second or two on a night. I felt especially good about it, because I didn’t consciously sit there and worry about it. I was proud of the situation, but I think it impressed Barbara more than it did me, because even though the same song was three-and-a-half minutes each night, we might have started it at 170 each night, picked it up to 180 in the middle, and brought it back to 175 at the end. So that’s not saying the song was metronomically perfect every night, but it was consistent, however we did it, which is another thing that is important to the artist on the road. You get locked into—and you should—wanting to hear things the same way and wanting it to feel the same way. Somebody might say, “Well, if you want it to feel the same way every night, then you should use a metronome.” But if you’re playing to 50,000 people and everybody is real up and hyper, as a general rule, everybody is going to feel better if it’s a beat or two faster than if you’re recording a TV show, and it’s a subdued and perhaps tense atmosphere.
RF: You play things subtly different from the record, which means you’ve made it your own.
RW: Barbara is very good about giving us that freedom. It’s important that it sounds enough like the record, because the people who are buying those tickets came, as a general rule, because of the records they heard on the radio. We’ve got to start with that, but it’s nice to have the freedom to play it the way it feels good.
RF: On “Fast Lanes And Country Roads,” you do an interesting thing that isn’t on the record.
RW: Larrie played on it, so it would be a great honor for someone to say, “Gosh, you sounded just like Larrie Londin.” But at the same time, it is nice to take those ideas he had and work with that. If Larrie went in and cut that this week, it would probably be different, anyway. Tonight it will be different than it was last night. If there are a couple of beats to fill, I might try something different. As long as I don’t blow it, it’s great.
RF: Although you learn from blowing it, too.
RW: Yes, but in our situation, we can’t afford to do that, because there are too many other people depending on our not blowing it—especially those artists standing out there trying to sing their hit records. If we blow their entrances, it makes them look bad. We’re out there to make them look and sound good. Even in the studio, that’s what the musicians are there for. You’re working for someone, unless you happen to be lucky enough to be doing your own project. The bottom line has to be that you’re there, because they felt that you could contribute to their sound with your ideas. You can’t afford to pound on the table and say, “No, I’m going to play it this way.”
RF: Speaking of freedom, it’s rare to see an artist have her drummer come out front to sing with her.
RW: She’s always been very helpful and supportive in trying to make that happen. At the time that I had some singles out on MCA, she allowed me to come up front and do those singles in the show, which is unusual. As I was saying before, things fall into place the right way, and I feel very lucky that I fell into the Mandrell job. They are really good people. Their basic ideas, their moral values, the Christianity—they are the basic things that I believe in, so it’s a very comfortable situation. Eight years is a long time for somebody to be with the same person.
RF: You must feel as though there’s been a lot of growth.
RW: When I started, the big record was “Hold Me,” which people might not even remember, unless they are Barbara Mandrell fans. “Show Me” may be the more recognizable record of 1978, when I started. “Midnight Oil” was the first number-one record she had. When I started, we were working as an opening act for a lot of people, doing a lot of high school gymnasiums and small fairs. We carried our own P.A. under the bus, and her dad used to run the sound. The second year I was with her, we started opening for the Statler Brothers, and the year after that, the TV show came along. I think the exposure she gained from the Statler Brothers tour was a major help, along with the records that came out about that time, “Sleeping Single” and “You Can Eat Crackers In My Bed.”
RF: Even stylistically you’ve gone through a lot of changes. Right now, Barbara is bordering on rock.
RW: It’s very close, and that’s where she wants to be right now. She’s been going in that direction since “If Loving You Is Wrong,” and she’s very comfortable with that soul/rhythm & blues. “Show Me” was a Joe Tex R&B song. She’s been influenced by that for a long time. It’s a lot of fun to play that, too. But really, the whole country sound is questionable. It’s hard for anybody to say what’s country anymore and what’s not, but it’s all moving in that direction. Then you have somebody like Ricky Skaggs, who goes the other way and is a monster. That’s what makes it healthy, though. Right now, if you were to turn on your radio station and listen for a couple of hours, it would lean more toward the progressive crossover rock sound than the traditional Skaggs-type sound. I’m not saying it is necessarily going to go that way, and in a way, I hope that it doesn’t, because I think I probably have the most fun playing a 4/4 shuffle like the old Ray Price stuff. I was raised on that on the Saturday afternoon radio show. It doesn’t happen that much anymore, but I really love to play that.
RF: I would think that, as someone who was always involved in country, you would feel it’s a bit radical right now.
RW: Yes it is, but it’s fun. I can go back and pick up some of those things, like when I used to play some of the Temptations cuts and Motown things with Ben in high school. I think all of us around the 30-year mark are products of that. I think it would be impossible to grow up just locked into one style of music.
RF: You couldn’t play Barbara’s show if you were.
RW: Or anybody’s show. That variety is really important. Some of the comments I’ve heard about Barbara’s current tour have been about how much more contemporary it is than it was in the past. When Barbara and I sat down to talk about the show and what songs we would include this year, it was tough. First of all, we hadn’t worked in a year and a half, and she’s to the point now where she’s built up quite a repertoire of hit records that people expect to hear in some way, shape, or form. You can’t do five medleys of five songs either, because that gets old, too. You’ve got to pick and choose what you want to do. We decided we would try to get some of the more recognizable records in, and then support the new album, which happens to be a contemporary sound. So that’s why the show comes off that way. Another change people will probably notice right away is that, for three or four years before the accident, we had a fiddle player in the band. As long as he had a fiddle in his hand, regardless of what songs he played, people saw it as country. He is no longer with us, and we hired another guitar player. Because of the fact that we don’t have a fiddle on stage anywhere, a lot of people are going to say, “It’s not country anymore.” I think the show and its direction are good representations of where Barbara is headed. I hope so, anyway, because I’m partially responsible for it being like that.
RF: You’re a very integral part of the organization now.
RW: This is the first time that Barbara had ever had someone to take on the position of an official bandleader. For the first six years that I was with her, a fellow by the name of Lennie Webb assumed that responsibility. He was the guy we would go to if we had questions, and if Barbara wanted to get something to the band, she would go through him. After the accident, when she knew she would be touring in the spring, originally she was going to be doing a movie in January and February, and it would have been impossible for her to put a band together while doing the movie. She asked me if I would, first of all, be interested in going back on the road with her, and secondly, if I would be willing to take on the responsibility of being the bandleader—putting the band back together, and so on and so forth. I was very honored that she would give me that much responsibility and believe in me to that extent, but again, I think that goes back to the fact that, having been with her that long, she knows me well enough. We play off each other well, and we think enough alike that it was an easy transition to take that on. Everything in the show and the concepts are really hers, because even if I came up with the original idea, of course, we talked about it. Regarding the band, we’ve all been together long enough to know each other well enough that there are no problems there at all. I’m not silly enough to try to assume that I know more about playing guitar or piano than the guitar player or the piano player. If I wanted something a little different, I would say, “What if you tried to play it more like so-and-so with this type of sound?” You’re going to get more out of people you’re working with by doing it that way as opposed to saying, “Play this.”
RF: Let’s talk about the TV show. That was taped out in L.A. What was the situation?
RW: When we first went out, it was on a trial basis. We were contracted to do six shows. We started in the middle of August, and we did a show a week. On Monday and Tuesday, the girls learned the dances. There was a different dance each week and a lot of dancing in the show. We would sit down with R.C. Bannon, Barbara’s brother-in-law, who was musical coordinator. There was always a segment where we were featured on stage, and it was a medley. We usually tried to get four or five songs in a five- or six-minute segment. On Monday and Tuesday, we tried to figure out which songs we were going to use and get that medley together, as well as trying to get the ideas for the Gospel medley that was at the end of the show. We had to work the Gospel part around whoever the guests might be, because they usually sang some of the songs, too. Hopefully, we’d get all that done Monday and Tuesday.
Wednesday was the pre-record. We went into United Western Studios and put down all of the musical tracks, so it would sound decent. There were a few times where somebody actually played live on the show, but the sound quality usually suffered. It is a lot harder to tape somebody live. We would use the whole orchestra from 1:00 until 5:00, and then we would fix overdubs if necessary. Sometimes on Wednesday, we’d be there until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. The girls, as a general rule, did the lead vocals live, in order to lend believability. Sometimes if you try to lip sync a lead vocal, it doesn’t work. I think that was a big part of the show’s success. They were willing to sacrifice being a little off for the reality of it.
Thursday and Friday would be the video portion, actually putting it on tape. Usually Saturday and Sunday were spent talking about the ideas we would be trying to put together on Monday and Tuesday. It was a show a week. The first year was more uncomfortable, because we went out there for six shows, but when we got the fourth one done, they said, “We want another six.” That took us through Christmas, we took the break for Christmas, and during the second six, they decided to do the full season. That was tough, because we didn’t know any of it when we initially went out, and we ended up being there for the full year.
The second year of the show was easier because we knew we were doing the full series and we could take our families out to L.A., so it was more comfortable. The only problem was with Barbara’s recording career being at the successful stage that it was. Trying to do the TV show on top of that got physically impossible for her to accomplish. The summer between the TV shows, we did the longest tour we’ve ever done. It was 90-some shows in 67 different cities, sometimes two shows a day, in a two-and-a-half month period. That was the summer of 1981, and then we turned right around and went back in to tape the TV show. In hindsight, that was a big mistake. If Barbara has a fault, it is that she likes to be involved in all the aspects. It’s hard to call that a fault, because that’s why her career is working. It can be exhausting for her, though. She had to stomp her feet to get the Gospel thing in the show, and it turned out to be probably the most popular as far as viewer response was concerned. But the fact that she was so involved in every little aspect of the show wore her out and made it infeasible to continue.
The specials have worked out well. Since then we’ve done two specials, and there was talk that that would be an ongoing thing. The last tour we did was interesting. It was a lot of fun, because we all looked at it as a two-month tour. It was very busy for that period, but it was a testing ground. A year and a half was a long time not to work. Barbara made a miraculous recovery. It’s a miracle that she’s alive, let alone out touring again. I felt really good when I found out we were going to do this fall tour. The dates had been on the book, but they were booked with a cancellation clause, and we all thought she was going to cancel it. It made us all feel good for our own personal reasons, but also because it meant that Barbara was ready for the mainstream of her life again. She’s more in control of what she wants to do again and not wondering if she really does want to do this.
RF: Being so close to death can certainly affect your life.
RW: I think it affected all of our lives. It brought home the fact that this life is a fleeting moment and can be over at any instant. You hear and read about that all the time, but when it’s really that close to home, it carries a little bit more weight. I think it made all of us step back and think about where we were headed—not so much with our careers, because you tend to get caught up in that when you’re doing it. It becomes all consuming and most important. It has to be that way to an extent, but there also has to be that balance. You have to realize that there are other things that, if that career ends, can be the real basis of your happiness in life, such as family, your life, God, and a lot of other things that all together make the music happen. I think the music is a product of your life. If your life becomes the product of the music, which is easy to let happen, sooner or later it’s not going to work. I think that’s why you see so much drug and alcohol abuse. People get caught up in letting the music and their careers take over. When that happens, they’re unhappy, and instead of stopping and thinking about why they’re unhappy, they try to mask that through whatever means they can. Drug abuse is the easiest one to cite right off, but there are a lot of things that happen. Families fall apart, because they’ve lost their basis.
RF: How do you keep your family together when you’re so often on the road?
RW: It’s hard. It depends a lot on the other person, too. There has to be a mutual bond of trust, and you have to believe in each other enough to be willing to let both of you do what you each enjoy doing for a living. Even though I don’t abuse the privilege, there are still some strained moments with my family.
RF: When you’re off the road, you don’t get to play on the studio albums. How do you feel about that, particularly having done the pre-record of the TV show and doing vocals on Barbara’s albums?
RW: There is a great dichotomy in Nashville between road players and session players. The general thought seems to be that, if you work the road, you don’t work in the studio. There are a few artists who carry their bands in the studio, but very, very few.
RF: Yet, you were doing the TV show.
RW: We always played on the segment where we were on stage. But there was also an L.A. rhythm section that played the opening of the show. There were two different rhythm sections.
RF: Did the other section play for the other artists?
RW: It would depend. If it was a country artist, they would use us, but on the opening of the show, or for an L.A. or New York type artist who was intricately charted, they would use the L.A. people, because they read much better. I read okay, but not quite to that extent.
To get back to your question, I feel confident that I could play in the studio. At this stage, it’s not important enough to me to make an issue out of it with Barbara. There is a lot of politics involved in the studio work here in town, and a lot of times, it’s not so much how well you play as it is knowing the producer. I think that, if Barbara would stop and think about it, she would be hard pressed to say that the guys in the band couldn’t do it. We’ve got some tremendous players in the band, particularly our piano player, Mike Rojas, who is unbelievably talented and could do any session in town. All the musicians are capable, but Mike is outstanding. I don’t understand why there is such a division, and Larrie and most of the other players don’t understand it either. It’s in the control of the producers, whoever they might be, and Barbara’s producer is not the only one who doesn’t use the road band. It just happens to be that way. I think the producers get very dependent on and comfortable with the players they use in the studio, and they tend to rely on those people for their ideas and input. Producers know that, when they call those musicians, they’re going to get the sound those players have become associated with.
RF: Yet, how much easier it would be to go into rehearsal having played the record, or adding tunes in the show that you will eventually take into the studio.
RW: Exactly, ln the studio, you can basically learn a song well enough to play it in a matter of minutes, especially if you want to jot down a little chord chart. When you’re on the road, you don’t want to have your face buried in a chart, so you want a little more time. You want to get that song in your mind to the point where you’re comfortable enough to have freedom to experiment. It takes a little more time to be comfortable enough to do it on the road than it would be to actually cut the thing in the studio, because you can sit there and read it. As a general rule, we can put the basic songs for a show together in a couple of days. Just learning those 15 or 20 songs that are required to put that hour together doesn’t take that long. Barbara does an instrumental section where she plays the dobro, the mandolin, the banjo, the saxophone, and steel guitar, which takes a little time.
RF: Speaking of instruments, tell me about yours.
RW: Tama has been really good to me. Tama and Zildjian have bent over backwards to help me out. I’m playing the Tama Artstar now in sizes of 10″, 12″, 14″, and 16″, with a 22″ bass drum and usually a 6 1/2″ snare, but that depends. When the need arises, I’ve been using the Techstar unit to trigger the kick and the snare. On this last tour, I took out the Techstar pads, but if I do it again, I will probably just trigger everything with the acoustic drums. I think electronics can be very valuable, but if there is a personal choice to be made, I prefer the way acoustic drums sound. I’ve checked out the ddrums, which Larrie uses, and they’re incredible, but very hard to get a hold of and very expensive. The cymbals I use are a 22″ ping ride, 16″ and 18″ crashes, and 14″ New Beat hi-hats.
RF: Where did your artist deal come from?
RW: The one person I would have to give the most credit to is Bob Schnieders, who works for MCA. He was from St. Louis when I was working there with Nick Nixon. When I first started with Barbara, she liked my voice, so the first year, I was doing songs in the show. I remember I used to sing Milsap’s “Almost Like A Song.” Jim Fogelsong was the president of MCA at that point, and he had heard a few of the shows. There had been discussions about getting me in the studio. It was one of those things where everyone was saying, “Gosh, we should do something here,” but nobody was really saying, “Let’s do it.” So this friend of mine in Los Angeles was aware that the discussion was going on, and he, along with Barbara, was very instrumental in actually doing something.
RF: Was this a goal of yours?
RW: Yes. I’ll do it again, too. I feel very certain about that. Before I do it again, though, I will be in a position to call more of the shots myself and have a little more control of the situation. That was four or five years ago. I was thrilled to death to have a contract, and if it never happened again, I charted a couple of records, which most people don’t even get to do, even though they were only in the 80’s. Most people don’t get a chance to record for a major label, and I could say, “I had that dream and it’s been fulfilled,” but I think I will do it again.
RF: When you had your solo deal, you stayed with Barbara, didn’t you?
RW: Yes. She wanted it to happen as much as anybody did. I could work one show with her in front of 20,000 people. As a new artist doing clubs, it would have taken me several months to play in front of that many people. That was one of the most disappointing things about it not all falling into place the way it should have. The basic elements were all there for it to really take off, but standing back looking at it, it just wasn’t the right time. I wasn’t ready to give as much of myself yet. I probably didn’t admit that up front back then, but I think that was part of the reason things didn’t happen. I wouldn’t, and at this stage, still won’t, go out and work 300 days a year.
RF: You write.
RW: Yes, and in the past year or two, I probably have written more than I ever had up to that point. The tunes I have written that I feel good about are contemporary Christian, and I feel that, if I were going to go out and knock on doors today and try to get a deal, it would be in the contemporary Christian market. I’ve been on the road long enough that I’m getting tired of it. It’s different if you’re in the artist situation where you can take some of the family with you. I’ve got a wife and two little boys that I love to death, and it’s just getting harder every time to pull away from them. I’ve been thinking, though, that if I want to do an artist thing, there are a certain amount of sacrifices that have to be made. If I’m going to have to be on the road to support a career, I can rationalize it a lot better if I were doing it talking about something I believe in very strongly, which is my relationship with God through Christ. Maybe somebody will latch onto it while I’m doing it, and if that’s the case, then it will all be worth it. Then I could feel better about sacrificing some of my personal life.
RF: Is it difficult being a Christian in a business that seemingly chews you up and spits you out—one which people deem to be corrupting?
RW: It’s sad because that is the image that is portrayed, and to some extent, it is very true. Sometimes it’s so easy in the music business to fall in line with what’s happening. If all the rest of the kids are gathered in the car, drinking beer or smoking pot, it’s a lot easier to say, “Yeah, okay,” rather than to do what you really feel is right. I’ve got some very good friends who have different opinions and feelings. I’m not going to argue with them, but the bottom line is that I know my relationship with Christ works for me and I see that it works for other people.
RF: This business definitely offers more temptations to go astray than most. When you committed yourself to these ideals, was it difficult putting your money where your mouth was?
RW: Sure. It was difficult, but rewarding at the same time. I feel so much better when I have turned away from one of those temptations, and gone back to the room and gone to bed. I feel a whole lot better about myself than if I succumbed to the temptation. I think that’s really where the bottom line has to fall for each person. When you finally realize, “Wait a second, for me to be a Christian means to try to live like Christ in the way I think He would have,” that means not doing certain things people are doing today that they think is not a problem. What bothers me is, even in the contemporary Christian field, some of the people involved are questionable. I’ve seen a prominent contemporary Christian artist who was almost afraid to admit that he was a Christian. You could tell he had been coached by somebody who said, “We’re starting to get some success here and sell some records, so we have to be very careful about what we say. We don’t want these people not to buy your records because they think you’re a Christian.”
RF: Certainly it would be harder for you to maintain your thoughts and feelings if you weren’t with a Christian artist.
RW: Sure. That’s been a big help. Those people you surround yourself with are very important. When you realize that it’s a lot easier to get in trouble when you’re hanging around people who lean that way, it makes you change some things a little bit. I’ve found that I tend to zero in on people who share my feelings. It’s an all-encompassing subject to me, and there are many facets involved. I have a lot of good friends who really don’t necessarily see things eye to eye with me, but I still enjoy hashing it over with them. Jesus said that, when you come to the point where you start becoming judgmental of other people, you are really the one who needs the help, because you think you know it all.