Song Snapshots #18: Bless Your Holy Name Again (Lesters, Three Bridges)

Ben Storie spent ten years honing his songwriting skill while traveling in a Southern Gospel group with his wife before moving to Nashville to pursue songwriting professionally. After three years with little success, he decided to make a last-ditch effort, recording demos for about a dozen songs and passing them out at a National Quartet Convention one year.

“I gave it to anybody and everybody, including Daryl Williams,” he recalls. “I had met Daryl several years before, because my family’s group had done some of the same events as the Daryl Williams Trio.”

He continues: “I didn’t hear anything from anybody. That was my last-ditch effort; financially, we had to make some decisions, so we ended up moving back home, where we had come from, in Oklahoma.”

For the next six months, he kept submitting songs to different artists and publishers. One Tuesday, he got a polite no-thank-you letter. “I honestly don’t even remember exactly what happened,” he recalls, “but I just made the conscious decision that I would no longer pursue writing as a professional goal. It was one of those moments where I told my wife and the Lord, ‘I get it. This is not meant to be. I’m wasting a lot of time and resources and energy and this is not the direction You have for me.’ And I settled it in my soul.”

“I don’t know how to describe it,” he continues. “It wasn’t dramatic; it was just one of those moments where I made peace with it. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday; I had walked away and laid it down. I knew that if I wrote again, it would be just purely for personal enjoyment.”

That Friday night, he got a call from Daryl Williams: “Ben, I’ve had a chance to listen to your music, and the stuff that you’re writing is already good enough to be published and for artists to be interested. You just need someone to connect you.”

Not only did Williams introduce him to Rick Shelton at Daywind Music Publishing, he also co-wrote eight to ten songs with Storie over the next several months. “He was just very, very gracious to mentor me and encourage me. What looked like the end of the road became the beginning of my songwriting story, professionally.”

One of the songs they wrote together was “Bless Your Holy Name Again.” “We set out to write a Southern Gospel praise and worship song,” he recalls,” something that would have a chorus that was very congregational in nature.”

“We wanted to communicate a praise and worship thought that a Southern Gospel artist and a Southern Gospel audience could identify with and want to sing,” he adds. “A lot of Southern Gospel artists want to have a point in their concerts where they invite audiences to join in singing a worship song together to the Lord. At that time, I think we were thinking that the Gaithers had the market cornered on congregational-type songs; we wanted to write one of those. It’s something that would still flow in a traditional worship service with a fresh melody and a fresh lyric.”

Three Bridges, the Lesters, and David McVay all ended up recorded the song; the Lesters used it as a concert opener. “It really is fun when you you write a song and it kind of takes on its own life and gets cut by several artists,” he concludes. “It is cool to hear through the grapevine that someone else has recorded this song and has breathed a new life in it.”

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Song Snapshots #17: Face to Face With Grace (Dove Brothers)

Song Snapshots is a column featuring the stories behind new and classic Southern Gospel songs.

Chris and Kim (Ryan) White are both respected leaders in the Southern Gospel industry; Chris leads Sonlite Records, a division of Crossroads, while Kim is a noted video producer.

Several years ago, after Kim’s father passed away, someone asked her how she was doing. She said, “Oh, I’m just face to face with grace.” The line stuck with her, and she mentioned it to her husband. Chris, in turn, mentioned it to Ray Scarbrough—a long-time friend, and one of the songwriters with his publishing company, Chris White Music Publishing.

“People call me and say, “Hey, I’ve got a song idea,” Ray recalls. “I can’t shake it out of my head when they do that!”

“I could sympathize totally with Kim, he continues, “because shortly before that, I had buried my dad. There’s that period of time shortly following the death of a loved one, we know what sustains us. We identify with grace.

“When we have gone through one of those situations, we can put our arms around somebody and say, ‘I know exactly how you feel.’”

Several years later, the song’s story would come full circle in an unexpected way. Two years before he married his wife, Candy Muncey Scarbrough, she had lost her three-year-old son. “Face to Face with Grace” ended up ministering deeply to her in her grieving process.

“It’s funny how God used it, in His foreknowledge,” Ray recalls. “He had Kim tell Chris, Chris tell me. God inspired me to write the song that was going to be a huge difference-maker in the life of my wife, when I didn’t even know she was going to be my wife.”

“We didn’t meet because of the song, either,” he continues. “That’s what’s so strange.” Today, Candy sings the song with Beautiful, a female Southern Gospel trio she performs with.

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Song Snapshots #16: God is Still in America (Legacy Five)

“It seems we tend to romanticize the 1950s version of America,” songwriter Ben Storie observes. “We have this ideal that if we could just get back to the ’50s, we’d be much better off. Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not.”

All the bad news Christians hear today helped inspire the song “God is Still in America”: “I wrote it as a kind of response to all the anxiety and frustration that I feel about the state of our nation.”

In an interview conducted before November’s election results, he elaborated: “I just wanted to encourage people that even though maybe your guy’s not in the White House, or maybe there are laws being passed that fly in the face of your values and morals—just because America isn’t the 1950s version of America anymore, God is still here. We know that because in His Word, it says, where two or three are gathered, He is in their midst. So if we as Christians in this country are still gathering together in His name, then He’s still here. Regardless of whatever Washington, D.C. is doing, or regardless of whatever state our local communities are in, God’s not abandoned us, and God’s not absent.”

He co-wrote the song with Belinda Smith via phone and email; they didn’t actually meet in person until the song was done. In the song’s lyric, they referred to specific instances of God moving in difficult times, referencing the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and individuals like Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was removed from his office for acknowledging God and standing for the Ten Commandments (but was recently re-elected), and Valeen Schnurr, who stood for her faith in the 1999 Columbine, Colorado school shooting. (According to eyewitness testimony, early reports attributing the conversation to Cassie Bernall were mistaken.) They built from these specific instances into a sweeping chorus acknowledging and celebrating God’s ongoing work in hearts and lives in this country.

Legacy Five recorded the song on their 2011 album A Wonderful Life.

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Song Snapshots #15: Applause (The Talley Trio)

Song Snapshots is a column featuring the stories behind new and classic Southern Gospel songs.

Ideas for songs often come from decidedly unusual places, and the inspiration for “Applause” is no exception. Of all things, it was inspired by Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

It’s a show that songwriter Ben Storie enjoys watching. He particularly loves the moment, toward the end of each show, when a bus sitting between the family and their house is moved, and they are shown their remodeled house. “I think at some time in our lives,” Storie shares, “everybody should have a crowd cheering and encouraging and responding to you like those families did. I love the idea of these families who’ve been through so much pain being received by this crowd. It actually kind of makes me choke up.”

He pivots to apply the emotion of the moment to Heaven: “I think that if I had a concept of Heaven, what it’s like when we finally finish this journey, with this great cloud of witnesses that are receiving us into God’s presence—it’s not this quiet, hushed, somber thing! It’s this celebration, this pandemonium breaks out that another child has made it home! I just wanted to write a song about that moment.”

He wrote a chorus and several versions of verses, but he didn’t think any of the verses were as strong as they needed to be. So he approached another songwriter, Lee Black, with the idea. “I had met him at a writers retreat. I had never written with him, but I was a fan of his writing style and his talent, so I asked if he would work with me on it.”

Black recalls meeting Storie at a songwriter’s retreat. “We had nametags,” he recalls. “We would drop them in a box and draw out one or two names for a co-write. I met Ben there; our names never ended up getting drawn out of the hat, but I got to know him there, and at the end of the day, we would kind of get together and just share the songs that we had written. I remember thinking, ‘Man, that guy’s a really good writer; I’d love to write with him.’ So we stayed in touch from there.”

“Applause” was the first time they wrote together. They didn’t finish it at once; they worked on the verses over several sessions. They wrote most of the lyric over the phone, and met at Daywind one night to work on the melody. “Together, we molded the verses into what they are now,” Storie recalls, “and then he helped me make the melody pop a bit more than what it had when I was working on it solo.

Black lived in Alabama at the time. He took the song back home and recorded a demo at his home piano; that was the version that got pitched to the Talleys. The Talleys recorded it on their final album as a trio, Stories and Songs, and even selected it as a radio single. It hit its peak at #2, staying at that position for two months (on the August and September 2011 Singing News radio charts).

The first verse of a song speaks of a missionary’s sacrifices. Storie recalls that it was inspired by Lottie Moon, “a missionary that I’ve heard about all my life.”

The second verse takes an unexpected turn, speaking of the faithfulness of a husband and father who lived a very ordinary life. “I liked the idea of taking it in a slightly different turn,” Storie recalls. “Some of us will be vocational ministers and do the obvious things. But I do think that we’re going to be really surprised when we finally get into eternity and see that there were a lot of things that mattered that we didn’t value like we should have, or that we didn’t notice. I think those folks are going to be just as valued, and maybe more so in some places. Plus, I didn’t want to make it this grand thing that you’ve got to be a missionary to be received joyfully into God’s Kingdom.”

Black adds, “We wanted to start with the obvious one, but then say, ‘You know what, serve the Lord where you are, even if you’re not a missionary in Africa. Serve the Lord well by running the grocery store or working at the post office or being a nurse or fireman. Whatever you do, do it unto the Lord and honor Him in that.’ We wanted to approach it in that way.”

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Song Snapshots #14: Love Brought Me Back (The Perrys)

Song Snapshots is a column featuring the stories behind new and classic Southern Gospel songs.

About twelve years ago, co-writers Belinda Smith and Joel Lindsey got together for a writing session one day. They knew the Perrys were looking for songs, and Joel brought the idea for “Love Brought Me Back.”

He told Belinda Smith that it would be a prodigal son song. “I was like, ‘I don’t know,’” she recalls. “I don’t know, I’ve heard a million prodigal son songs. Sell this to me.”

Joel said, “I said that I would be just fine without him.”

“I’m like, ‘okay,’” Smith recalls.

Then Joel shared the second line: “Oh, the things a foolish heart will say.”

Smith replied: “Okay, done, sold. Finished.”

“It was a really sweet session,” she remembers. “That’s also a song that I could not have written without co-writing it with someone that’s a friend to me like Joel is. Joel’s family.”

The Perrys recorded it on their 2001 Changed Forever album. Over a decade later, the raw honesty and vulnerability of the message still resonates with Smith. She says: “There’s something about the honesty of what we wrote during that song. Ninety percent of the people you write for are not going to go, ‘Yes, I want to be vulnerable, to stand on stage and I have doubts.’ I understand that; I totally get it. And so I didn’t know if the Perrys would be okay with being a little vulnerable.”

“Based on all the artists who tend to lean away from those types of songs,” she adds, “I felt like it was a risk for them to take. I already loved the Perrys, but after they recorded ‘Love Brought me Back’ … I drink their kool-aid! Whatever they do, I’ll buy!”

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Song Snapshots #13: In Time, On Time, Every Time (Gold City)

Song Snapshots is a column featuring the stories behind new and classic Southern Gospel songs.

When songwriter Belinda Smith was in college, she sang in a regional Southern Gospel group with her brother and her next-door neighbor.

One weekend, she auditioned to be the piano player for The Rowlands. At the time, Kyla Rowland and her brother, Ron Martin, were both part of the group. (Ron continues to run the group today.)

“I was so excited,” she recalls. “It was a really cool weekend to go out with them, because it was Kyla Rowland. I was devouring their cassettes, so I was so excited. It was just really cool to hang out for a weekend with someone like that!”

At one concert that weekend, she was playing piano as Kyla was testifying. “She was setting up something, and she said, ‘All I know is that God is in time, on time, every time.’

She thought, “Ooh, I should write that song! But it’s Kyla Rowland—maybe she’s written it! But she didn’t go into a song with that line, so so I really, deeply, truly thought she’d not written that song. And when Kyla Rowland speaks, you get your pencil!”

She went home and wrote the song in twenty minutes. After she recorded it with her group, she took it to John Darin Rowsey. (She knew John from her local Southern Gospel circuit.) John took the song to his publisher, Niles Borop of Centergy.

“A local artist recorded it—I never did find out who that was—and Jay Parrack was doing background vocals. He took it back to Gold City, and they recorded it.”

The song launched her career: “It was my first cut in Nashville, it was my first radio single, it was my first #1 song, and it was my first Dove Award nomination. And I’m like, ‘I should quit, and go home, and be done! I don’t know what else to do!’”

One year, Gold City performed the song at the National Quartet Convention. Gerald Wolfe, who had known Kyla Rowland since touring with her brother in his Dumplin Valley Boys days, came up to Belinda. He said, “Oh, Kyla Rowland has written a song something like ‘In Time, On Time, Every Time.’”

“Daniel, I could have cried!” Smith exclaimed. “I would never have written a song on top of hers, ever—I mean, ever!”

Interestingly, the Perrys recently cut and singled the Kyla Rowland song with the line—”Every Time I Need Him.” So both songs eventually saw the light of day, both hit the top five on the Singing News radio airplay chart. As it turns out, the concept was enough to sustain two top five hits!

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Song Snapshots #12: Joy Ride (Ivan Parker)

“Joy Ride,” the title track to Ivan Parker’s most recent mainline release, JoyRide (2011), was co-written by Ben Storie, Barry Weeks, and Brian White.

The idea came from Ben Storie: “I just loved that play on words. Life should be a joyful journey; it doesn’t always have to be happy, but it can still be joyful.”

He had never written with or even met either of the other two co-writers prior to working on this song. One day, Storie and Barry Weeks were scheduled to write at the Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing offices. Storie recalls: “Actually, the writing session was just a two-person session. Barry and I worked on it off and on for the better part of a day.”

“We were just really stuck on the bridge,” he continued. “Nothing that we were throwing out was working.” At one point, Weeks stepped into the hall and saw Brian White. “Brian White is a great, prolific writer; anybody that’s familiar with country music would know his song ‘I’ve Been Watching You.’ Barry pulled Brian in, and we cranked out the bridge.”

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Song Snapshots #11: Every Scar (The Talleys, Darin & Brooke Aldridge)

Song Snapshots is a column featuring the stories behind new and classic Southern Gospel songs.

One day, Gina Boe’s daughter asked her about a scar on her hand or her arm. When Gina told her daughter the story, she commented, “Oh, every scar has a story to tell.” It occurred to her that the line would make a good song, so she wrote it down.

One day, Boe, Jerry Salley, and Lee Black were writing at Brentwood-Benson. She mentioned the line, and they all started talking about it. They started off with the intent of shaping the thought into a country song. But, as Lee Black recalls, “The more we got into it, we thought, this just cries to go to a second verse about Jesus.”

Black recalls that it took them several writing sessions to finish the song. “We really put a whole lot of thought into every one of those lines, both verses and the choruses, and I think it took us two or three sessions to finally settle on everything. We tried to take our time and make sure that we really, really get this right.”

The song references a number of stories of how the narrator picked up different scars. Many of these, Black recalls, were drawn from real life. One day, Black’s brother and cousin were fishing; his cousin got a lure stuck in his head. This inspired the lyric “I got this one one summer / on the bank of Salt Creek / brother thought he’d caught a big one / but it was just me.”

Halfway through the second verse, the lyric pivots to talking about Jesus’ scars. Black, Salley, and Boe were particularly cautious not to fall into the realm of hackneyed clichés. “We’ve all heard scar songs before. I think that if you hear this song in a church setting, you know that the second verse is going to be about Jesus. But we were trying to write in a way that, even if you hear it in a church setting, by the time it gets to that line, it’s still going to catch you off guard. Even though you know it’s going to that place, we tried to write it in a way that it’s still going to get you in the heart.”

Even though the song has only been out for slightly over a year, it has already been recorded three times. Darin & Brooke Aldridge introduced the song on their August 2011 release So Much In Between. The couple, known as the “Sweethearts of Bluegrass,” had an inside track to land the song; the album was produced by co-writer Jerry Salley. Their rendition charted on the Singing News Bluegrass Gospel charts, and also charted for several months on their Top 80 Southern Gospel charts.

Just a few months later, the Talleys picked up the song; they offered a straight-ahead Southern Gospel version, featuring baritone singer Roger Talley, on their May 2012 release Love Won.

This fall, Dailey & Vincent bass singer Christian Davis recorded a Christian Country album, and offered a country rendition of the song.

Black is delighted to see the success the song has found on stages beyond church platforms: “I still think it’s the kind of song that could resonate with the crowds who might not hear it on church on Sunday, and still be a great message to them.”

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Song Snapshots #10: Settled at the Cross (Nelons)

Song Snapshots is a column featuring the stories behind new and classic Southern Gospel songs.

Songwriter Lee Black got his start in the mid-1990s with a Brian Free & Assurance cut, “Flood the Altar.” He signed with Daywind Music Publishing for several years, and got a number of cuts with artists like Ivan Parker, the Ruppes, Misty Freeman, and the Nelons.

A few years later, he accepted a job working in publishing for a praise and worship label. He recalls that he put his own writing on the back burner for several years, explaining that it’s an honor system: “It’s an unspoken rule that if you’re working on that side of the publishing desk, you probably won’t concentrate on your own writing that much. You’re responsible for getting songs cut for eight to ten staff writers.”

He did get some praise and worship cuts, “when we had an 11th-hour deadline, and our writers weren’t turning in songs for it.”

One day about five or six years ago, Joel Lindsey called Lee up and invited him to a songwriters’ retreat. “We had written together years before,” he says, “and had just known each other for a long time. So I did.”

Shortly before the retreat, his pastor preached a sermon challenging our temptation to question God’s goodness. The pastor said that even if God never does another good thing for you, you can’t question His goodness; that was settled forever at the cross. “Those weren’t his exact words,” Black recalls, ”but that was the message I took home. I thought, ‘Man, I want to write that song!’”

He took that idea with him to the songwriting conference and mentioned it in a writing session with Lyn Rowell and Phil Mehrens. They wrote it together.

“I walked away from that weekend with three or four finished songs,” Black recalls, “and that was one that I felt really strongly about.”

“I just walked away from that retreat feeling like I wanted to write more than work in publishing,” he continues. “So I told my wife that, even if we had to eat beans, I’d rather be a writer than a publisher. She has been amazing; I could not have done this without her full support and belief in what I’m doing.”

Shortly afterwards, he heard that Word was resurrecting Canaan Records, under the leadership of Dave Clark. Clark had been his first publisher, so he sent him an email congratulating him on the position: “Hey, congratulations! I think it’s really smart when a label will put a song guy at the helm. Those guys know what works.”

“And just honestly, with my right hand up,” Black continues, “I said, ‘Hey, why don’t you sign me as your first writer, ha ha ha?”

Clark emailed back his thanks, adding, “What are you doing with your publishing these days?”

Black replied, “Nothing.”

So they started to talk, and Clark ended up signing Black. “Settled at the Cross” was one of the songs he brought into the contract. It was cut in choral music prior to making its way into Southern Gospel; both Lillenas and Brentwood-Benson issued anthems with it. The Nelons brought it into Southern Gospel on their 2010 Beside Still Waters album.

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Song Snapshots #9: Not That You Died (Legacy Five)

Song Snapshots is a column featuring the stories behind new and classic Southern Gospel songs.

One year, Belinda Smith, Tony Wood, and Barry Weeks went up to the National Quartet Convention, just to hear the evening’s program.

“I think that as a writer, the moments that hit me might be a little different than the moments that hit other listeners,” Belinda Smith recalls. “That night, the Gaither Vocal Band sang ‘Had it Not Been.’ It has this gorgeous melody, and sparse lyrics. It is amazing; it just makes you want to stand up and hold your imaginary lighter! There was something so simple and perfect about that performance.”

On the way back home, the three writers talked about how flawless the performance was. Later that week, Tony Wood and Belinda Smith were scheduled to write together. “When we got into the writing room,” Smith said, “Tony had already come up with the lines ‘not that you died for the whole world / but that You died for me.’”

Smith and Wood wanted the song to have a similar feel to “Had it Not Been.” While the two songs don’t sound alike, “Not That You Died” was defined by “”the scarcity of the lyric, and the rise and fall of the melody.”

“So that was totally inspired by an old song,” Belinda Smith concludes. “Legacy Five did an amazing job on it.”

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