Evangelist, Bible teacher and blues singer JIMMIE BRATCHER was interviewed in depth recently by Tony Cummings
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JB: Well, my love of the blues started when I was in high school. There was a janitor in my school named J Jones, an African American man and he had been friends with Lightening Hopkins and his brother, and he would invite me to come to his house on the other side of the tracks and he would drag out an old guitar and amplifier onto the front porch and he would play and I would jam with him. I was always fascinated by the sound that he got and it came from his fingers you know. That attracted me to the blues and then I just started playing and it was what was in my heart in 2000 to do. It was what I always wanted to do, kind of the direction. Although I really don't personally consider myself purely a blues artist. I am broader than that just one specific genre but that's what people say that I do, so we kind of arrived at that at a time when I was writing for my first CD. I was doing a lot of prison ministry nationally and in planning for 'Honey In The Rock', Larry Howard sat me down and we were talking about what I would write and he asked me a very important question. His question was, "Who are you writing these songs to?" And he said, "I want you to get personal. Individually, who is it you are writing these songs to?" I initially said, "I am writing them to a congregation," and when I said that it just didn't set in my heart correctly and finally I arrived, before I really started writing, I arrived at the point of saying, "I am writing this to people that really don't know a lot about the things of God," and you know, you could say a lost person, you could say one that has not yet come to a point of faith, whatever. So I started writing, thinking not necessarily about addressing a congregation or church, although wanting to do that; I am a local church person, I am tied to that, that is what God does and that is how he works us from that axis, but I just felt that I needed to be, you know, because I was going to be on prison yards throughout America and I've been in some of the most famous prisons in America and I wanted to be able to connect both musically and more than that, emotionally with those men and women that we would stand in front of and the blues seem to me to be the best emotional agent to be able to do that. I don't know about in the UK but in America there is a huge movement right now, really just underway, there is a PBS documentary on the blues that was put together by Martin Scorsese. I don't know if you have seen that or not and so I just arrived from an emotional standpoint from what I was able to do musically that I was familiar with, that that would be a good opportunity and a good place to start.
TC: And what happened after that, because everything was changing in your life. That album signalled a new beginning for you.
JB: Yeah it was. We released that in July of 2001 at the Cornerstone Festival in Illinois and it really started to change my ministry. Initially when we started traveling, and I still do a lot of preaching, in fact that is why I am here in the UK right now, is to minister some things, but my heart is really to reach people that don't know anything about the Lord. And as an evangelist, you know, in America, and I don't know about the UK, but in America 80 per cent of people that come to know Christ as their Saviour come in the same fashion, in that they were invited by a friend to attend an event where the Gospel was preached. So, knowing this, this is what made the church where we were at, St Josephs, Missourri, so successful is that the pastor, Pastor Brian Zonds, knew that. That was the essence of church life, that if we present the Gospel in our meetings the Holy Spirit will see to it that the people get to that place.
So the music then started to evolve. I had scheduled some dates in late 2001, early 2002 with a band just so that I would have to be forced to form a band. I have a friend in the Kansas City area, a pastor of a very successful church who heard about it and he called me and said, "I want you to bring your band to my church on Sunday morning and I want you to do a blues concert." I said, "You're crazy!" So we did it and used some of their horn players and organised some things. I was shocked. They had record attendance! We had many people come to Christ and the thing that really amazed me the most was that God showed up in such a wonderful way. So we started doing these events called Blues Sundays where the band and I will go and the pastor will open the service. If they have a good praise team they might do a song or two to kind of open up and then we will go on and play blues for 45 minutes to an hour and my thoughts on that is people will come to a concert so I want to give them a concert so I won't preach a lot. When we take the stage we will do 15 or 20 minutes solid non stop music, no talking, because that is what people come to hear and I wanna make sure that what I am going to say later in the programme that I have built up a foundation of trust, they know this is where we are going to start and what we are going to do. So we will do those and through that interaction of music I will introduce some songs and talk about things and then people will get to the place where they feel confident and so they can trust the Lord.
TC: Tell us a bit about your second album.
JB: 'Something Better' was released in April of 2003 and features my band, Geoff Holmberg playing bass, Doug Dimmell playing drums and Paul Draper plays plays B3 on a couple of tracks. We recorded the primary bass of the project in Georgia at Larry Howard's studio. However, there were some players in the Kansas City area I wanted to get on it so we moved it in late 2002 to Awestruck Studios in Blue Springs, Missourri which is in Kansas City.
The album is a bit more aggressive than our 'Honey In The Rock' was. It is dedicated to Geoff Holmberg who was the bassist on the record but died on July 25, 2002. He was reading his Bible and getting ready to go to sleep and circled Psalm 130 which says, "If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered." His wife Michelle said he circled that and laid his pen down and just let out a wheeze and had a massive heart attack and died and went to Heaven. I know there is not going to be any pain in Heaven but I would like to inflict some pain on him for running off like that! So it is dedicated to Geoff. Geoff was a meth addict and God saved him in prison and as his testimony he would tell guys, you know, he had a really gruff voice, and he would say, "Yeah! I got saved in prison and when I got out of prison I took Jesus home with me!" So he played in a lot of clubs in the city areas. His funeral was huge and a lot of people came to Christ as a result of his death.
So, a bitter-sweet album but my current bass player Jeremy Ward also plays on "Something Better" on part of the track. So it's done. We have just recorded a live CD "4th July", actually a DVD, CD set. That was recorded at our home church, Word O Life, St Joseph, Missourri. Originally we called it 'Red, White And Blues' but on a PBS special Martin Scorsese had a session on that which was called Red, White And Blues so we decided to just change the name to 'Live On 4th July'. It is a 15 minute concert of what we do and some other documentary things.
TC: Will people who read this interview be able to get a copy? Presumably you will be able to get it through the internet so tell me about that as well. When do you think it will be out and available?
JB: We are just finishing the surround sound mix for the DVD and the final touches on the video and it should be available right after the first of the year.My website is just jimmiebratcher.com and there is a store up there and in fact if you want, you can pre-order it already.
TC: Jimmie, it has been wonderful talking to you. Thank you very much indeed.
JB: Well, thank you Tony and I appreciate it. We look forward to coming back to the UK many times and doing much ministry here. Thank you.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.