Tony Cummings spoke to a seminal figure in the development of modern worship music, WAYNE DRAIN
In August last year an Arkansas-based newspaper, The Courier, published a report on a significant event for a local church. It read, "On the last day of August and the first four days of September, the Fellowship Of Christians will celebrate 40 years of worshipping in Russellville with numerous celebrations including an alumni luncheon and an event at the Center For The Arts at Russellville High School." What many of The Courier readers may not have realised is that the founder and senior pastor at the Fellowship Of Christians is an internationally renowned prophet and a key figure in the five-decade development of contemporary Christian music. Wayne Drain is today, along with Noel Richards and Brian Houston, one third of roots/Americana group The Hudson Taylors. During one of the occasional Hudson Taylors tours, the veteran pastor, prophet, singer, songwriter and worship leader spoke at length to Cross Rhythms about his life and multi-faceted ministry.
Wayne Drain was born in 1951 in a small town in the foothills of the majestic Ozark Mountains located in a bend of the Arkansas River aptly called Ozark, Arkansas. Wayne has Scottish and Cherokee blood in his veins. His father was a labourer in a small truck company. Said Wayne, "We were pretty poor, but I didn't know that. I had a great Mom and Dad that loved each other and she loved the Lord. My whole family was quite musical, I had an aunt that was on the Grand Old Opry and had an uncle: I don't know if you've ever heard the names Jean Shepard and Cowboy Copas but they were somehow kin to my family. My dad's sister, Aunt Marie, was being prepped for the Grand Old Opry then she got married and backed out of it. So they'd always had this desire for some of us to be involved in music. But there were only two kinds of music, you know, country and western. . . I've got three brothers, and they're all younger than me, all musical: drummers, guitar players. At our family gatherings after dinner we would all gather round and my grandpa would take out his banjo and one uncle would play a mandolin, another uncle played a guitar and we would all just play. That's what we'd do all afternoon. I'd sit and watch. So it was quite musical, growing up. I had a good childhood, I played sports and I was all about wanting to be a baseball player until an Ed Sullivan show: I'm walking through the house and the Beatles come on and I think 'that's it - that's what I want to do right there.'"
With some high school buddies Wayne formed a band, the Stingrays. Like the British beat groups they copied, The Stingrays' repertoire was dominated by twangy guitar renditions of black R&B standards. The Stingrays with 14 year old Wayne singing lead played around their immediate area and even got to make a record, cutting a rudimentary version of Eddie Floyd's R&B hit "Knock On Wood". Wayne laughingly commented, "It was a hit in our town: of course I was in charge of the Top 10 radio countdown every day, so I'm sure there was a little bit of help there."
With styles of rock changing The Stingrays evolved by 1968 into The High Tide. Continued Wayne, "I remember thinking, 'I've got a better chance of making it at music than I do at sports', although I had an athletic scholarship offer. And so as I went along music became much, much more important to me and we got a lot of immediate feedback, which is good for teenagers. And you got the girls. I mean that was always an exciting by-product of being a musician."
Wayne recounted how he became a Christian. "I was raised in a very fundamental Pentecostal church, and it was a church that believed there was no assurance of your salvation unless you spoke in tongues and I could never do that. I tried from the time I was five, and I finally gave up at 15. I just thought it was not going to happen. So actually I went to church to please my parents until I was about 14 and then I rebelled and just thought, 'Well if I'm not going to get to Heaven I might as well live the other way.' And that's sort of what I did for a while. But then there was a sweeping move of the Spirit going across our country when I was a senior in high school. I went to a little Methodist lay-witness mission with a bunch of my friends: we started getting together and just talking about 'is the Bible real, is Jesus real.' So I started getting interested again, but very cautious.
"I was at a beer bust for a fraternity, where a bunch of guys get together to pledge a fraternity and start drinking a whole lot of beer and either start getting into fights or talking about their Moms or something. This one guy, he came in and he didn't bring any beer, he brought some milk: he had a gallon of milk. I thought, 'What is this about?' He was the president of the student centre of the university I was going to and ended being my big brother in the fraternity. He started trying to witness to me that night. I saw it coming a mile away and I said, 'I've done all that, I've tried all that, it won't work for me'. He heard my story and he said something very profound. He said, 'You don't have to speak in tongues to be saved.' No one had ever said that to me. And so two days later I knelt beside my bed and I said, 'Lord, if you're real, show me.' I had a real experience with the Lord that I'll never forget. Not long after that I was filled with the Spirit."
The High Tide band didn't last beyond high school. Explained Wayne, "We were graduating in 1970 and were going to different universities. I went to a university about 75 miles away from my home and I got into another band there called Summerfield. That band was sort of a soul rock band. It was the era of Chicago, Blood, Sweat And Tears, Edgar Winter, people like that who had horns in their bands. We had a great horn section. We started off in college when I was 18 and I got a job being their lead singer. We travelled around southern parts of the United States, and colleges. It was a really good band and we had written some songs and everything looked like it was going to be a successful venture. We were having some money people approach us about doing an album and things like that. Then one night we were playing a gig at a bar in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and I was looking around, looking at the people in my little group, in my entourage. It was people that I did not want to be around anymore. One guy was practicing witchcraft, somebody else was a strong drug addict and I thought, 'I don't know if this is what I want to do'.
"So I'm having that question, I'm driving home that night by myself and this conversation starts happening in my head. It went, 'This is going to be good, you're about to get everything you ever wanted, you know, the money, the girls, the music, the albums, all that stuff', and I'm going, 'Yeah, and getting up for it again'. Then that voice went a little too far. It said, 'But you'll have to forget this Jesus stuff.' I kind of knew that probably was not God. . . I pulled the van over and I just stood beside the road on that stretch of highway and I said, 'Lord, show me what to do'. The the Lord spoke. He said, 'Trust me and follow me.' Two weeks later we played the last gig that we had on the current contract. I quit the band and within a month the Jesus Movement hit the university."
The revival amongst tens of thousands of American young people known as the Jesus Movement had begun in California but was making a profound impact across many American states. Wayne, who had recently married his teenage sweetheart June, was swept along by the exciting move of the Holy Spirit. "There was the revival happening out in Kentucky. There were some things going on up in Chicago. The Jesus Movement was all up and down the West Coast. Everyone wants to take credit of where it started. But these kids, they were very nomadic, everyone was hitch-hiking everywhere and going from festival to festival. So these kids that got saved, they just started going to colleges and high schools all over the nation, they just spread out. We had a group of kids get involved with Campus Crusade and they came to our town and started witnessing on campus, playing their guitars. We started gathering together to hear what they had to say and a revival swept across our campus: college professors getting saved, students, jocks, band people, military people, everyone was getting saved. It was just a wave of the Spirit going across the nation."
Wayne continued, "I didn't have a church at the time, I was just going to school. What happened is that this group of kids that got saved, we met every day at noon and on Thursday nights, because we wanted the weekends free to go and share testimonies in different churches. So one Thursday night there were several hundred kids there and these TV cameras showed up from Little Rock and they did an exposé on us - they were doing the Jesus Movement. And then the newspaper did a big article: 'There's a new Christian campus in Arkansas, it's Arkansas Tech University'. When this hit the television news kids literally started hitch-hiking from all over the state to our meetings on Thursday nights. Then a lot of kids made decisions to come to that university because of what was happening. People were getting healed and saved and things like that.
"My wife and I were the de facto leaders because we had a house, that's all I can figure, and we grew out of that. We named ourselves Fellowship Of Christians because I knew if we went to a Baptist church the Assembly Of God kids wouldn't come; if we went to a Methodist church the Baptist kids wouldn't come; and we had all stripes of backgrounds including atheists, agnostics, Buddhists being saved. I saw in the Scripture where it said they were called Christians at Antioch and I thought 'Why don't we just do that? Why don't we just be Christians?' So our real name is A Fellowship Of Christians, but through the years it's become Fellowship Of Christians."
Wayne began to write songs about his faith and was singing them in coffee houses and high schools in the area. He met other Jesus Movement musicians like Russ Taff and the Sounds Of Joy, the 2nd Chapter Of Acts, Phil Keaggy and Paul Clark. Wayne recalled the era with warmth. "We would share testimonies and basically what we would do, we would sing and we would have 12 out of tune guitars playing and we'd play like our lives depended on it and then somebody would give a testimony, 'I got saved today', or , 'I got rid of drugs today', or whatever. I seemed to emerge somehow, maybe it was because we had a home and people could come and they could talk to me longer than just at a meeting. Then I was kind of high-profile on campus because I was singing in one of the best rock bands in the area. My wife was a majorette with the college football team and the band director took a liking to me and he let me sing 'Vehicle' by the Ides Of March backed by a 300 piece band. I said, 'I'll do that for you if you do something for me'. He helped me get the stadium so we could start having meetings in the stadium and all these kids would come. We would set up a flatbed truck and play our Jesus music. I think, for whatever reason, people knew me: it might have been that my name was so funny - Wayne Drain - I don't know. And the other thing is we had a home so people came. I'd wake up some mornings and I'd have no idea who these people were sleeping on my floor. It was a crazy time."
By the late '70s Wayne's ministry was developing. He was particularly influenced by the music and ministry of Keith Green. He recounted, "We were all starting to realise that there was something beyond contemporary Christian music, there was something more. There was that special moment when Keith Green would just begin to sing beyond the lyrics, something coming out of his heart; or he would play and create a mood and then someone would get up and say, 'When he was playing I felt this', and I thought, 'That's what I want to do'. Then in 1979 I was invited to England for the first time and I went down to a thing that church leader John Noble was doing with a guy named John Menlove and Dave Bilbrough, people like that. All I'd seen so far was Jesus music, contemporary Christian music or church choirs.
"When I came over to the UK, everyone was talking about worship, singing directly to God not about God. I remember I walked in the room and I saw these grown men worshipping with all their heart and I thought, 'This is what I want, this is what I was made for'. So I started writing some songs that were more for our church to sing. We did a little cassette called 'Praises From The South'. It was horrible. It was just a little backroom thing we made, but the little thing had wings and people started making copies of it, much like they do today. We started getting invitations to Australia and New Zealand and England and Canada."