REAL Singer/ songwriter STEVE WIGGINS used to front one of American CCM's most popular bands, Big Tent Revival. Now, for the second time, he's back as a solo, as Tony Cummings reports.
Big Tent Revival were one of those bands who, through tireless gigging, built up a major American following. Their honest, Memphis-hewn, blue collar rock kept them in the limelight for several years and albums 'Big Tent Revival' (1995), 'Open All Nite' (1996), 'Amplifier' (1998), 'Choose Life' (1999) and 'Big Tent RevivaLIVE' (2001) sold well and gained them a shoal of Dove and Grammy nominations. But the gruelling life on the road (up to 200 gigs some years!) took its toll. When in December 2000 they announced a "sabbatical" few expected Big Tent Revival (Steve Wiggins, vocal, guitar; Spence Smith, drums; Randy Williams, guitar; and Rick Heil, bass) to return. They didn't.
Now Steve Wiggins finds himself with a solo album, 'Faith That Is Real' (he'd first recorded the 'Steve Wiggins' album for Sparrow back in 1991). The years with the band left Steve with a good deal of self-questioning. As Steve lived out his life aboard that tour bus a question nagged at him Is it possible to be too popular? Especially now that he was married and a father of three? "You can't be gone half your marriage and half your kids' lives and expect that not to have an effect," Steve reasoned.
His music was also taking him away from regularly attending church. So while he loved the band, he knew he had to find another way. There was a difficult choice to be made, and in the end Steve chose the option that didn't provide a way to pay his mortgage but one he felt was right for his family. It was a gutsy move and while he knew he'd made the right choice, Steve now struggled with how to fill his days - and pay his bills. "The hardest thing for me about not being an artist was to read the Bible and have nobody to share it with. To have all of this within you and not have an outlet, that's just torment."
During that period of time, Steve took heart from the words of author Os Guinness who says, in his book The Call, "You can be unemployed, but you can't be uncalled." The trick for Steve was to rediscover just what that calling was. He was certain it was broader than being a singer in a band. He felt his particular gifts lay in his ability to communicate the Gospel. But to whom? With nothing to lose, Steve returned to his roots. This college kid who got his start penning songs for Bible studies, began writing tunes tailored specifically to his pastor's sermons. After many months of being diligent in this new work, Steve assembled a large collection of powerful songs and realised that, without even trying, he'd written another record. 'Faith That Is Real' for Memphis-based Ardent Records is the result. Produced by John Hampton (Gin Blossoms, Smalltown Poets) and Dana Key (DeGarmo & Key) the recording sessions were quite an experience for Steve. "For starters, I got to use a bunch of my friends in Memphis," he said. "But their admiration for Big Tent's music led to the players feeling a bit stifled at times. "They thought that's how they had to sound," Steve recalled. "I had to say, 'It's okay to do your own thing. That's what this record is about."
That freedom led to such musical gems as the first single, "Living For The Lord", written around the theme of "legacy." Steve recalled a trip Big Tent Revival was scheduled to take to South Africa, just before the first elections allowing blacks to vote were to be held. Three weeks before they were to leave, violence erupted at a concert sponsored by the same promoter that had invited the band to come. In the end, 60 people were killed by a grenade blast and random gunfire. The group had a decision to make and so Steve issued a challenge. "At the time I wasn't married and I said, 'Do you want to die in your La-Z-Boy watching TV or do you want to go with your boots on doing something for the Lord? '" "And so we went down there and it was a great tour. Some parts were really scary, but most of it was an adventure."
"Living For The Lord" captures that challenge as well as the idea that we all want to leave something behind when we die. "It's not just about what you want your family and your friends to say about you, but what do you want God to say? Personally, I want him to say, 'Well done. '" The impetus for the title cut was something a little closer to home. A Nashville area church was looking for a song that would sum up the entire book of James. Reading the sometimes controversial words, Steve poignantly reminds us that hard times are going to come and yet we need to consider it joy when they arrive. Why? "Because when what we believe is not what we can see or feel and we continue to hold on, that's when our faith becomes real," Steve said. "If God will move me, I'll be moved. Hopefully, we're living out this faith that is real."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.