Interview with Lee Black and Ben Storie

Ben Storie

Ben Storie

I recently had the chance to catch up with Lee Black and Ben Storie, co-authors of the Talley Trio’s latest single, “Applause.”

DJM: What inspired the song Applause?

Lee: Ben and I met at a writers retreat a few years ago but didn’t have the chance to hook up and write together there. I left that retreat thinking, “I would really like to write with this guy. He’s a great writer. I think we could turn out some good stuff.” Then several months later, Ben contacted me, said he had an idea for a song, and asked if I would be interested in writing it with him. I thought it was a great idea and told him I would love to co-write it. He had most of the first verse and chorus lyric written and emailed them to me. We set a date to meet up via Skype to work on the idea some more. For whatever reason, technology failed us that night and we ended up pretty much finishing the lyric over the phone.

After a first verse on an obvious “well done, thou good and faithful servant” kind of believer, we decided to write a verse about an average Joe living for the Lord. This was just the guy who demonstrated his faith by loving his wife and kids, serving his neighbor, and never really drawing any attention to himself. I think sometimes people get this crazy idea that if you really want to please the Lord, you’ve got to be a pastor or missionary or some other full time vocational minister. So we kind of wanted to paint a picture of someone not in the ministry who’s living a God honoring life.

Then… how long was it, Ben? A couple of months later? We got together at Daywind to work on the melody. That was a good night… because we tweaked the lyric for Applause and wrote the melody. Then we wrote this fun bluegrassy, Christmas song that I really love. So if anybody’s cutting a Christmas record… CALL US! Have we got a song for you! Ha ha!

Ben: My wife and I used to be big fans of Extreme Home Makeover. We’d record it on Sunday nights and watch it after church. I don’t even know how many times we’d both break down and cry hearing these folks who had come through such adversity as they told their stories. Then the Extreme crew would come in and build them a mansion far beyond what they could have ever imagined. And the best part is the big reveal. The family drives up (in a limousine, no less) and are received by this huge crowd of people who are wildly cheering and holding up “welcome home” signs. They’re excited because they have already seen the house. They know what’s in store for these precious people who have been through so much loss, so much hurt, so much tragedy.

Isn’t that picture a shadow of what’s to come when we enter into eternity? The heartache will be behind us. The tears will by long dried. Our faith is no longer needed. Because we are finally seeing heaven. Finally strolling on golden pavement. Finally beholding Jesus. And there’s an multitude who have gone before us. And they’re beside themselves to welcome us home… with deafening applause.
How could I not write that song?

P.S. I think that Heaven should have about ten thousand teenage girls (Justin Bieber fans, maybe?) standing at the gate to scream for us as we enter that city. Because everyone, at one point or another in their life, should hear that ridiculous level of applause in their honor!

I wrote the song’s first draft but it wasn’t special enough. So I called Lee Black. I’d been wanting to write with him so we worked on it some long-distance and then met at Daywind to knock it out. It was like Extreme Makeover – Song Edition. We cut and rewrote and composed and recomposed. I think we even decomposed a little at one point. Writing with Lee was a great experience. By the way, we’ve written quite a few other great, great tunes since then. Most of them are looking for a good home right now. So call us! I’m not kidding. I think we’ve written at least 2 or 3 other number one songs. Takers?

Regarding other cuts I’m excited about? I just heard that a song I wrote called “Evidence of Love” for an artist named Chris Hester will chart at 26 on the SN Top 80 for the month of March. That’s only the second month on the chart for that song so that’s exciting for me and for Chris. I’ve got some other placements in the works, but I won’t jinx them by announcing them publicly until it’s official.

DJM: Were your characters general, or modeled on real-life characters?

Lee: Ben, was the missionary based on somebody you knew???

Ben: We didn’t have anyone in particular in mind when we started. I think we talked about a missionary named Lottie Moon at one point as kind of a reference, but these are just fictional folks.

DJM: Was it one of those songs where you knew immediately you had something special on your hands, or was it one where you had the feeling, “I hope this is good. and that people will like it”?

Lee: I guess with every song I finish, there’s this immediate high of thinking “OK… this is great!” Then the buzz goes away and I end up at “Nobody will ever cut this.” Just kidding… sort of… not really. But with this one, I honestly felt like we might have hit on something special. It’s just an amazing thought that Almighty God could welcome someone into heaven and say, “Well done…” I thought this song was a cool way to say that.

Ben: I thought the inspiration of the song was something special. As for whether I knew it was a hit? No clue. My mom and my mother-in-law have been convinced since day one.

Lee: The only thing I would add is that I have been a fan of the Talleys – and I mean back to the Roger, Debra, and Kirk days – for YEARS! I’ve pitched them songs for several years and have never gotten a cut. So to have three songs on this project and the first single is a huge thrill. Melissa and I drove up to NQC ’10 for an afternoon to visit with some artists who had cut songs of mine during the past year. When Roger played me a close-to-final mix on Applause, I just bawled… tears of joy. I am grateful for every cut I get, but when an artist that you really love cuts something and gets it right… man, there’s just nothing better. I LOVE what they did with this song. I hope it ministers to a lot of people. I hope it comforts people who have lost loved ones. I hope it challenges people to live lives worthy of hearing “Well done…” when they finally see Jesus face to face.

Ben: I’m a big, big fan of Lee Black’s.  Huge.  And I hope that one day he doesn’t realize that I’m just a hack and ditch me.  The guy’s awesome.

DJM: Applause is on the Talley Trio’s latest project, Stories and Songs, available from their website and (digitally and physically) from their label.

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50 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. The song and video is already on Youtube. Beautiful, beautiful. The line where Jesus is leading all of heaven in applause makes chills run laps on the spine.

    • I love that, Donnie! That’s how that thought makes me feel too.

  2. Nobody handles this idea better than C. S. Lewis in _The Great Divorce_. He is standing in heaven with his mentor (George MacDonald), and suddenly they see a beautiful woman coming toward them in great splendor:

    “‘Is it?… Is it?’ I whispered to my guide.

    ‘Not at all,’ said he. ‘It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders green.’

    ‘She seems to be … well, a person of particular importance?’

    ‘Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on earth are two quite different things.’

    ‘And who are these gigantic people… look! They’re like emeralds… who are dancing and throwing flowers before her?’

    ‘Haven’t you read Milton? A thousand liveried angels lackey her.’

    ‘And who are all these young men and women on each side?’

    ‘They are her sons and daughters.’

    ‘She must have had a very large family, Sir.’

    ‘Every young man or boy that met her became her son–even if it is was only the boy that brought meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter.’

    ‘Isn’t that a bit hard on their own parents?’

    ‘No. There are those that steal other people’s children. But her motherhood was of a different kind. Those on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more. Few men looked on her without becoming, in a certain fashion, her lovers. But it was the kind of love that made them not less true, but truer, to their own wives.’

    ‘And how… But Hullo! What are all these animals? A cat–two cats–dozens of cats. And all those dogs… why, I can’t count them. And the birds. And the Horses.’

    ‘They are her beasts.’

    ‘Did she keep a sort of zoo? I mean this is a bit too much.’

    ‘Every beast or bird that came near her had a place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them.’ “

    • Perhaps nobody handled it better in prose – yet I’m glad that someone handled it musically, too, since ideas expressed musically impact many people (including me!) in ways that prose never or almost never can…

      • Oh, I’m not saying it couldn’t be handled well musically too. Just saying that I’ve never seen anybody, in any art form, do it quite like Lewis.

      • Hmm – okay. I think it would be hard at least in this case to take, on the one hand, the page of prose, and on the other, the song, and make a supportable objective statement as to which is more moving or profound. So I’ll just say that, personally, the song version moves me more.

      • Give your tastes, that’s very natural. I would say that the Lewis is (pretty clearly) objectively greater, but I can certainly understand why some people would respond better to a song.

      • I think there cases where that could objectively be said of his writing, yet I would not classify that as one of his strongest passages.

        Up against one of his strongest passages – yeah, it might be possible to say that the song was objectively weaker. Here, though, that would not be an accurate or fair assessment.

      • :Shrug: With Lewis it’s an embarrassment of riches. This passage makes a good comparison because it deals with same topic.

        Again, I think your opinion is perfectly natural even if it’s not accurate.

      • Anyway I wasn’t trying to turn this into a showdown between the song and the passage, I was just bringing in a pertinent and excellent literary connection to the subject matter for interest’s sake.

      • Well, yes, we can certainly agree that it is a pertinent literary connection. You would have saved both of us a little trouble if you’d said just that – instead of coming on and saying that while the song might be good, it’s certainly not as good as the pertinent literary connection you’re about to bless us with. 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

      • Well, that sounds about right. 😀

        Seriously though, I do that kind of thing all the time, and it’s not meant to be antagonistic at all. It’s more like, “Oh man, I just remembered x amazing passage in y book that this reminds me of…”

      • Well, when it comes across that way, it doesn’t bother me. 🙂

    • Never heard the song, but I enjoyed the discussion about it. I’ll try to get around to giving a listen later.

      The C.S. Lewis passage makes absolutely no sense to me. Maybe it’s just some deep metaphor or something that’s over my head, but I believe that’s way off base of what heaven will be like. All those angels, people, and animals (? what animals?) will be worshiping Christ, not us.

      • You’re missing the point Brian. Nobody is WORSHIPING her. But all the young men and women are people whose lives she touched and blessed when she was on earth, so now they are with her and they are proud of her. All the animals are animals to whom she was kind, and they remember her. Nowhere is the intent one of “worship.” She is a good and faithful servant who is loved and honored by many people, and she is receiving her just reward.

      • “so now they are with her”…

        In heaven – since the scene is not earthly?

        You neither get to heaven by ‘blessing’ people, nor do you get to heaven by being ‘blessed’. Never mind the dogs and cats.

        Once we start spiritualizing CSL’s allegories we get into deep water NSF, uncharted unscriptural water.

        In fact this passage HAS a taint of female worship, “way off base” as Brian says!

      • Sorry you’re not getting it either David. At least Ben Storie and I know what I’m talking about. 😉

      • NSF, I just taking your interpretation at face value [above], not the passage. 🙂

        Whether I “get” CSL or not – sometimes yes, sometimes no – what you said was surely clear enough…

        to be, scripturally, clearly wrong?


      • No, nothing I said was scripturally wrong. I said that these people are, in heaven, specifically identified with the woman who loved them on earth. It didn’t occur to me that someone could interpret what I said so rigidly as to mean literally that they got to go to heaven BECAUSE of this. All of them found their way to heaven by believing in God. But for many or all of them, Sarah was the one who showed them the way, and she was a picture of Christ’s love to them on earth.

      • “I said that these people are, in heaven, specifically identified with the woman who loved them on earth.”

        “We shall be like Him” (!John 3:2)

        …is not quite the same thing, NSF.

        I don’t go with the deeper interpretation of this allegory – which is just where you are going.

        Will agree to, widely, differ on this one.

      • David Mac – agreed. It makes nice poetry, but I think there are some holes in that theology.

      • I’m not even big on C S Lewis myself, but I’m gonna mostly side with NSF on this. Not that I think it’s necessarily going to happen, any more than many of our other imaginings, but that there’s nothing subversive about it.

        (I know you’re not getting into the animals idea, but I’m the girl that stopped missing my cat that died when I was six years old because I [claimed to have] received a direct revelation from God that the cat would be in Heaven. So there’s bound to be at least one cat there. And the Bible doesn’t say that there won’t be animals there … Hey, stay out of Ecclesiastes.)

        I for one plan to find a former pastor that passed away a couple of years ago and spend a little time with him, and I think some other people may as well. It could happen about the same time as Rodney Griffin’s “Faces” song comes to pass. I won’t be there just because I was blessed by his ministry, and he won’t be there just because his ministry blessed me, but … I think there could have been a few people up there spreading flowers in his path when he arrived.

      • Agreed Amy. What neither David Mac nor Daniel seem to realize is that Lewis is really talking about exactly the same thing that’s in this song. Nobody is worshiping the woman, and nobody is placing her where God belongs. They are flocking around her in joy and in welcome, because she is a saint of God whom they remember and love. Just like you and your pastor, we will certainly do the same thing as we embrace and welcome the people who helped us in our Christian walk on earth.

      • No, NSF, I do understand what Lewis is saying—I just don’t agree with all of it. It’s not all theologically sound. Some of it is – and that’s the way it is for much of Lewis’s work, a mixture of truth and error.

        There is Biblical justification for believing that there are horses in Heaven, though whether these Heavenly beasts bear more than just a resemblance to the burden-beasts of earth is disputable.

        My biggest problem with the passage is the assertions relating to salvation of animals, or at any rate, imputation of eternal life through Christ, whether or not that is specifically said to include salvation (though, Biblically speaking, there is no other way humans receive eternal life through Christ!) Jesus extends salvation to humans.

        Let’s re-read the closing sentences: “Every beast or bird that came near her had a place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them.”

        There, Lewis is pretty clearly stating that the life that this Christian woman received in Christ from the Father was flowing into her animals. I don’t think we can safely term that as good theology. 🙂

      • You may believe what you like, but I will simply say that there is in fact much more truth and much less error in Lewis than you think.

        However, with regard to this specific passage, keep in mind that Lewis is writing an imaginative, fictional allegory of heaven. He was not intending to write things as he literally believed they would be played out. The animals are merely a suggestion, and they do not even form the center of the point that is being made in this passage. The book as a whole is full of some very profound theological insights, and it should be staple reading for any Christian.

      • I don’t disagree that there’s quite a bit of truth in what he says.

        I’m just saying that some of it quite clearly isn’t – and thus that Christians need to be pretty careful and on their guard when observing his writings. That’s all I’m saying.

      • If you would like to restrict yourself in that way, you’re free to do so.

        Meanwhile, I’ll be over here gleefully and unwarily helping myself to one of God’s greatest gifts to Christendom. Cheerio! 😀

      • Restrict myself to being on guard, in such a way as to carefully evaluate whether an author’s statements are Biblically accurate?

        Sure, that’s a restriction I’ll happily sign up for.

      • No. Restrict yourself as in finding problems where there are none and refusing to let yourself appreciate something based on artificial and unnecessary standards.

      • With all due respect, the question of whether eternal life through Christ is imputed to animals is neither an artificial nor an unnecessary point of concern. 🙂

      • I have a hunch that Lewis was using his imagination and didn’t hang his hat on the matter one way or the other. 😉

      • Salvation is too central a doctrine of the Christian faith to leave to the imagination.

      • You sure must have been fun to play with when you were a kid…

      • “something based on artificial and unnecessary standards”

        I do think this refers, succinctly, to the passage quoted, rather than to Daniel’s theological position.

        With respect to Amy & NSF et al, what I agree with is totally distinct from what I understand. I have deep reservations about the syncretic nature of some of CSL’s work and the misleading nature of the [apparent] theology in this quoted passage is dangerous to say the least.

        It is, i terms of applied allegory quite unsound. We have strayed far from “Firm Foundations” with stuff like this and are in danger of pushing an agenda rather than scriptural debate.

        Sorry to come on strong here, fellow commentors.

      • It’s all right David. You’re just as free to be wrong as we are to be right. 😀

        (Only in jest, only in jest… 😉 )

    • That’s a great book, Sogo. One of my favorites. I do believe I’m going to read it again now that you’d reminded me of why I like it so much. 🙂

      • Thanks Ben! Always nice to find a fellow Lewis and lit. buff. 😀

  3. Why does everything seem to devolve into a discussion of “better than”? “CCM” is not as “good as” SG. Country Gospel doesn’t “measure up” to the old hymns. Can’t we just enjoy the song for what it is; a beautiful picture of Jesus’s love for us and the value of a life lived for Christ?

    • NSF bangs on about “CSL”, not “CCM”.

      Still, it is good to “try the spirits”, no harm in making comparitive judgements surely – even if are all a wee bit subjective, Donnie?

      • Maybe, David. But this entire discussion strayed from the subject of a beautiful song and in my opinion became “vain” disputation.

      • In all honesty, I was not trying to derail the thread in any way. I didn’t foresee that my contribution would provoke any dispute whatsoever, and I’m sorry that things seem to have gotten off topic.

      • “I second that motion.” Well anyway, I agree again.

  4. so…for some reason i see this guy’s picture and name, and it really rings a bell but i can not figure out why…? i need some help lol

    • I remember a group he used to travel with, Sweeter Rain. They were a mixed trio with a great sound, similar to the Martins.

  5. steve you are amazing…sweeter rain came to my church in arkansas several times when i was in jr high…as i recall they were very good! wow good call dude! thanks!

  6. I was trying to place him, too… I’m pretty sure I’ve seen him in a JCPenney’s catalog… or maybe he’s that guy in all the picture frames at Target???

    • No, no, he’s that guy who was selling a used car in that TV ad you saw the other day.

      • Uh…

      • Er, pardon us while we blow your cover Ben. We knew you were a hack from day one. 😀

  7. can you help me write a song