Jan Willem Vink spoke at length to Christendom's premier guitar hero, PHIL KEAGGY.
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Do you feel comfortable with the hype created around 'Crimson And Blue'?
"It's a marketing thing, it's my last album in my contract for Word/Myrrh records. I put my best in it, and the record company has really showed themselves beyond the call of duty. The have gone far beyond what they have ever done for me in the past with promoting. In terms of hype, I don't know if that's a good word. I would say what they do with Michael Jackson has a great deal of hype, but they do that with marketing artists and things like that. Still this album, there's no way this album is going gold or platinum. If it sells twice as much as 'Find Me In These Fields' then we've really made some progress. It's basically that everyone at the record company has got their heart in it, and I'm out there playing at concerts and I put my heart in my performances. And doing my part, it's more working together than help."
Can you tell some more about your collaboration with Lynn Nichols?
"Lynn's been a friend of mine since 1972 when I first met him in the state of New York on a visit up there. We began to play in a band together in 1976 for a couple of years. Then we played through 1978 and part of 1979 as a duo - two acoustic guitars. My wife Brenda and I moved to Kansas City in '79 and Lynn moved from New York to Texas and began to work for Word Records. And then we moved to California in 1983 and ended up being on a small label that didn't really do much, didn't really go anywhere until I did an album called 'The Wind And The Wheat', with thanks to Tom Coomes who helped bring that about for Maranatha Records and Word distributed that album. My manager, Norman Miller, got me a contract with Word Records, in which Lynn at the time was the person who signed me to Myrrh records. He worked for Myrrh, he was vice-president of A&R there. So we got in a working relationship again. He produced 'Sunday's Child' and then he co-produced 'Find Me In These Fields' and he produced the newest 'Crimson And Blue'. He is a man that I always conferred with, I always respected his musical taste. We have a common ground, very similar interests in musical styles. Lynn is always the person who is really fun to work with and I enjoy working in the studio with him. He's a man who knows how to be creative, how to be serious when he's called for. He knows how to laugh, and is so at ease at work in the studio. It was great to work with him."
You used the Glass Harp drummer, John Sferra on this new record. Why did you want to go back to this period in your life? In earlier interviews it seemed to be something you'd rather forget. Do you feel you matured?
"Well, I'm still in the process of maturing. Those were struggling times in my late teens and early 20s. And if it weren't for the Lord, coming invading my life like he did and giving me a whole new start, I wouldn't know where I would be now, today. The thing with Glass Harp was, we were all young boys, especially John and me. When I left Glass Harp in 1972 it was a very difficult parting of ways. And so there were a few years of silence. Then John actually came up in 1977 and visited us in New York and we spent some time together then. Then in 1981 he came up to Kansas City and we did some Reunion concerts with Glass Harp in 1981 and also in 1987, but it's not been until 1992 when we really locked in again as friends and that's been really good. So that could also be included in the whole 'Reunion Of Friends' idea. Me and John playing together again. We're going to do some more band dates this year and it will be great to play again with John. He's a better drummer than ever. He's more matured as a musician and as a person and we have a common ground in the Lord that we didn't have in the Glass Harp days. I just really love John, I have a deep respect for him. He's one of those persons who is more Christ-like than you expect to see. He never speaks ill of anyone, he's got a really tender attitude, just a really decent fellow. I think John and I have a better understanding and as a result of that are one in spirit and musically."
Which albums do you regard as highlights?
"The Master And The Musician' is a highlight for me. Primarily because I enjoy listening more to my instrumental music than my singing. Although my latest vocal album is the best singing I've done since 'Sunday's Child'. I would say I'm still maturing, my voice is still growing up. For a while I sounded like a little boy: 'What A Day', 'Love Broke Through', 'Emerging' and 'Philip Side'. I guess it's because of the kind of voice I have. For a while it seemed like my voice was stuck in my early teens, but I do grow up now. But I would say that highlights of my albums are mostly my instrumental that I've done. And then there are particular songs that mean a great deal to me on my vocal albums. One of which is 'Little Ones', 'Spend My Life With You', 'Let Everything Else Go', 'Rise Up O Men Of God', 'Reaching Out', 'Like' and 'Island' and various songs from the newest albums. Songs to my kids are special to me, songs that are written to my wife, such as 'She Came To Say', 'One In A Million'. It's the songs that have to do with family life, there's another song called 'Maker Of The Universe', way back home. I really enjoy songs that have a real melodic sense to them. As you can see I've picked out more melodic and soft songs because that's what I feel that I am deep inside. A melodic romanticist."
You did a song on your new album by Van Morrison, any particular reason for that?
"I think I'm saying melodic romantic, help! Because I'm a Van Morrison fan, in fact his early albums, 'Astral Weeks' and 'Moondancer' were produced by Louis Mernsteven, who produced the Glass Harp, but we never met in those days. But the 'Avalon Sunset' album is a brilliant album, in fact it is one of my favourites. I also love his 'Hymns To The Silence' album. Lynn sat down with me and said, 'Listen to the song, look to the lyrics as you listen.' I loved it, it really got to me and what he was saying and how he put it across. To borrow a song so to speak, to do it for my own album was a real privilege. I hope I did it justice. I love singing the song, whether it's with the band or in the studio or solo, it's perfect for all settings. So I think this is what the song says: it's asking the question repeatedly, when will I ever learn to live in God? To me means continually live and trust, live in faith, live in utter dependency, in whatever my hand finds to do, music, family, work, do it in God, do it in all strength God gives to us. It's a great song. It talks about architecture, paintings, the beauty of the creation above us. Just got a mystical thing about it that's also pretty good."
Is there anything you would like to close with?
"I suppose I want to say I just want to appreciate what God has given more continually because I feel like living life and having a life that is a good life in the Lord, knowing Jesus, having a family and a home, these are all great blessings God has given to me. I just want to live in a state of continual gratitude and thanksgiving. I really want my children to grow up to know the love of God and be secure in that. And to be a light and continue to be a light with my music. And say thanks to all the people out there who've listened and who enjoy it and have shown their support for the music that I've come up with. And say thanks again to all the people that have influenced me musically over the years that have been so many, too numerous to count, who've actually influenced my life, from musicians to writers of various sorts. Lastly, keep anticipating the coming of the Lord Jesus because the day is gonna come when he will return."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.
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