A recent 'turntable hit' for UCB Europe was "You Give Me Hope" by JEFF SILVEY. Tony Cummings reports.
The superlative country album by Jeff Silvey 'Little Bit Of Faith', a year after the toe-tapping title track gained the number one slot on America's Country Gospel chart, finally got UK distribution in 1997 through Kingsway's representation of Brentwood Music. I don't suppose the execs at Kingsway were expecting too much in the way of UK exposure or sales. Despite the phenomenon that is Garth Brooks in the secular sphere, British CCM companies have traditionally shown little interest in the wealth of country gospel albums released Stateside. For instance, in the US Country Gospel Top 20 as I write this, only three artists (Charlie Daniels, Ken Holloway and Skip Ewing) have received UK release. But 'Little Bit Of Faith' and specifically the joyful romp "You Give Me Hope", ("When I'm at the end of my rope/Most of all you give me hope.") caught the ears of UCB Europe and made it to the 'A' list and Christians all over the UK have been trundling into their local bookshops to search out this engaging country singer/songwriter.
An interview with Jeff was also broadcast recently on UCB's specialist country music show, presented by Martin Mackenzie, Country Music Box. So who is this songwriter who waited 11 years and saw more than 40 of his songs recorded by Christian artists before recording his album debut? "I grew up on a farm in Indiana, in a little town called Alexandria which happens to be the hometown of Bill and Gloria Gaither. As Bill's ministry got really big in the '70's I was a little kid growing up. I grew up on a farm. We raised cattle and we had about three or four fields full of wheat, Soya beans and corn. I had all the responsible chores early on. We had to get out EARLY in the morning to feed the cows. I'll never forget the time Dad sold the cows, me and my brother had a big party!"
Jeff was exposed to music, country music, from childhood. "I always had a memory of a fiddle around the house because my dad was a bluegrass fiddle player and he played all the old fiddle tunes and I learned to chord along on the piano. There were always guys hanging around the house coming over to pick with dad - guitar players and banjo players - and it was a neat heritage to grow up in." In 1985 Jeff began his writing career with Bill Gaither's Arios Music. 11 years later, Silvey says he's just learned how to write. "Everything (to this point) has just been apprenticeship, so to speak. I've written so much, I finally understand how it works." Having written such top US Christian radio hits as "When It's Time To Go" (4Him), "Runs In The Blood" (Ken Holloway) and "Closer To The Fire" (Michael James), it's no surprise Jeff's song "He Is" (Aaron Jeoffrey) received a nomination for Dove Award Song Of The Year. While Silvey describes the path to Little Bit Of Faith' as a slow burning process, the sudden death of his father eight years ago made him realise he was capable of more than writing songs. "I knew then I wanted first hand to be able to see the effects of (my) songs on people's lives. With songwriting, you don't get to see those effects." The last song on the album, "Nice Place To Visit", was written in memory of Silvey's father.
In conversation, Silvey's love and devotion to country music is evident. "I think we're in a vehicle where we can really hit non-Christian people," states Silvey. "There are a lot of people who love country music who wouldn't necessarily listen to Christian music, but they'll listen to Christian country."
When asked how it feels to be on the artist side of the music fence, Silvey replies, "I feel like I've lived a little now, and I understand so much more. I can talk about how the Lord's working in my life and I just feel excited about it. As a songwriter you write about different ideas all the time, things that happen to other people. Those songs get picked up and recorded by other artists. But when I went to write for my record I realised 'I'm the artist here and I need to write some songs that deal with my life and deal with who I am' and I found it a lot more complicated than just getting together and writing songs that I've done for the last 10 years in town in Nashville. But it was real rewarding to do that because I got to dig down inside my heart and write about some of the things I've been going through and have been through in my life."
The title track of his album debut is one of Jeff's favourites. "The way we wrote it is that Randy Booger, who produced the record, and I went over to write with Ken Williams - who's one of country music's biggest songwriters right now, and had a lot of Garth Brooks cuts and things. Kens a real fast writer. He said, 'Where you from?' I told him, 'I'm from Indiana and grew up on a farm." So we sat down and wrote the song. I wanted to write a song about faith because my family had been through a lot of trying times. It's a real up-tempo fun song but when we got to the bridge, Ken just spurted out these lines and laughed real loud, 'When the horse you're riding drops dead on you.' Ken said, 'We can't put that in there.' But Randy and I looked at each other and said, 'We got to put that in there,' because humour's so important to me. I think one of the most important things in life is to be able to laugh at yourself."
The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.