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30 Years of Memories: Bryan Duncan

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30 Years of Memories-Bryan Duncan

Bryan Edward Duncan, born in 1953 in Utah, raised the son of a ‘preacherman’ in North Carolina. I learned that a long time ago in a conversation with Bryan on the drive from Evansville, Indiana, on our way to our concert at the Marion Cultural and Civic Center. I’ll mention more about that talk later in this letter.

Beginning as early as 1973, Bryan was one of the early Contemporary Christian artists. Bryan originally was the lead vocalist for a group called the Sweet Comfort Band.

‘What a vocal gift!’ was one of my earliest thoughts about Bryan. I first signed him through the same agency that I booked Randy Stonehill and Phil Keaggy, the Street Level Agency out of Indiana. Holly was the agent and kind of a mother figure, I think, for all three. Each of those artists have faced personal disappointments and each is blessed with unique and God-given gifts to share with us all. All three have done WBVN concerts multiple times over the years.

Bryan is an artist that I used to say had an uncanny vocal range. If you talked to him you’d never expect that talking voice to have a range unlike anyone else. He can sing rather casually with little effort, actually, I think sounding better than on the cds you listen to. Bryan’s music expands from soul/jazz and pop to heartfelt ballads. Bryan’s a Harley motorcycle owner and has even written a song about that called “Hogwash.” (Ten #1 songs from 1993 thru 1997, 5 of those from one cd: Mercy. He was elected to the Christian Music Hall of Fame in 2007. Had Released 18 solo albums.)

Bryan was WBVN Concert number three on 1/19/1991. His most recent was on October 19, 2019. In between, there were many interesting events and stories to remember about Bryan. I remember our first meeting with Bryan and how after the concert Bryan came up to me and Mike Middleton and wanted to know what we were going to do the rest of the evening. Mike and I looked at each other and said, ‘We are going home and get some rest’. We both had just spent three 12 hour days on the radio during a Celebration and we were exhausted. I actually spent a couple of meetings at later concerts over the years apologizing for that comment to Bryan. There are actually too many stories initiated by Bryan to put in this letter, but let me share just a couple. One that I’ve shared the most was a concert years ago where the Civic Center event was on a Saturday night. Friday night Bryan was performing in Springfield, IL. Bryan arrived as usual, on time, humor in hand, ready to go– he’s always ready to go, he loves performing. As he got out of the car Bryan asked that his luggage be brought into the dressing room. Problem, no luggage! Bryan was traveling with a road manager at the time and he and the road manager had set the luggage down on the ground in Springfield to load in the car and each thought the other had loaded it. Interesting face Bryan was wearing at that thought. The luggage contained a new Armani suit that Bryan had just worn to have publicity photos made for an album cover, and a suit with a significant price tag according to the interesting face he was wearing. At the time my car was in the shop and I was driving my mother’s Big Buick, not a sub-compact Buick– a big ancient Buick. Next thing I knew Bryan was jumping in my mother’s car and off to Target to get a concert wardrobe. Bryan said he was going to drive me like they drive in Los Angeles. Interesting skills they have in Los Angeles.

There was a lot of weaving in and out of traffic, much acceleration, and my big eyes and lots of Bryan laughs at my reactions! By the way, a simple black tee-shirt was that wardrobe. That night Bryan did the concert in that black tee and his leather winter jacket. That was a hot concert in a couple of different ways.

Another interesting moment over the years was the trip I mentioned earlier from Evansville to our concert. It took about 90 minutes to travel. 90 minutes with Bryan is always full of conversation. And I’ve traveled many times with him in the car but this time was different from all the rest. That trip Bryan was very relaxed and seemed to spill out a lot of personal family information about his relationship with his dad. And, without the details, I’ll just say that Bryan’s experience as a young man and the relationship with a parent was similar to stories you’ve heard before. The simple version is that his dad and Bryan had a falling out, a separation, and eventually a time of not much communication. Years of heartache and anger passed. However, Bryan told me the last trip in that his father had come to the point of needing health care and he was put in the situation of having to go and help his father during the last part of his dad’s life. That necessity had led to a reconciliation of sorts and brought the story to a loving end. Bryan’s story of how he felt about his mother was shared in a song a couple years ago called ‘Remember My Mother’ that he performed for us during the last concert.

Without going into details, Bryan has experienced a lot of personal hurt over the years. While one of the funniest people I’ve met, he’s also one of the most bruised people I’ve met. He’s mountain topped and walked in a few valleys. When I express that I’m talking not about one or two things that have broken his heart but a handful of things that were painful. Some have been made public over the years, many from Bryan’s radio program called ‘A Road To Redemption’ done over the past few years to help others recover from their pain. He also created his own record label called Red Road Records, Red short for redemption. Bryan had done what we all are likely to do with pain, we slap it away and either cried or yelled in anger. Being human, I think Bryan has had both of those responses.

I’ll close with this thought. At the pre-concert meeting with some concert attendees at our last event with Bryan, those people experienced the Bryan Duncan behind the stage. That moment was so personal, so caring, so real for those that attended. Bryan is the kind of person that expresses much of what he’s thinking without huge filters or masquerades. Now that can make you a bit nervous occasionally, but he’s so energetic it’s always fun to be around Bryan D. He’s still writing music, doing a bit of singing and traveling. He’s a sports nut; knows every team’s members and their stats. I used to tell people if I was stranded on a desert island and had one vocalist to be with me I would choose Bryan Duncan, an unbelievable voice and his stories aren’t bad either.

30 Years of Memories-BIG DADDY WEAVE

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30 Years of Memories-Big Daddy Weave

It’s been awhile. Not because we haven’t tried, not because they haven’t tried, but Big Daddy’s travels and our opportunities to have them in for our concert series simply has not crossed paths. Obviously, they are one of our favorite events. They are a great band with tons of great music and message. They are great people; artists with ‘pastor’s hearts’ from my perspective. Even if they did not sing a note, did not play a chord, BDW are the kind of people you would want to have come to your town just to create a ‘family union’ atmosphere with members of the band. In 1998, Mike and Jay Weaver started the band while in college in Mobile, Alabama. They were worship leaders from Florida. Today’s BDW band also has Joe Shirk (keys), Jeremy Redmon (guitar), and Brian Beihl (drums). (Original drummer Jeff Jones left in 2013.) We first came in contact with BDW in 2002 with a concert at the Aldersgate United Methodist Church. I remember that night pretty well because of something Mike told me that afternoon. According to him, one: they were thrilled to be here. Two: that night was their first touring ‘headliner’ event. Three: he hoped they had enough music to fill the evening because they only had one cd (One and Only, let’s see… 9 songs and 2 hours to fill!). That caught my attention, made an impression for sure.

This fall’s concert scheduled for September would have been the 17th appearance for them for WBVN. As you can tell we kind of like them, and even better, you kind of like them. They are unique in that only Mark Schultz and BDW have filmed DVD’s here. That tells you that not only do you love them, they love coming here, choosing you as their audience to be filmed for that DVD. I will always remember hearing Mike and band singing ‘Redeemed’ and you singing louder than they were. I think I will hear that in my memory until my dying day. BDW also have been so popular with our concert family that they have done what only two other artists have done in 30 years, two sell out concerts in one day. (others: Schultz and NewSong) They are unique in another way; out of 213 concerts we have produced over the years, BDW (and Lincoln Brewster) are the only ones I’ve not been able to attend. Both those events were in the spring of 2012. The night of the BDW concert I was in Chicago with my wife Jane as she was being overcome with GBS, paralyzed from head to toe and in ICU. I remember Mike Middleton sending me videos from his phone that night to just give me an appreciation for that event. I remember getting a phone call a couple days later from Jay Weaver just wanting to assure Jane and me that they were praying for her and that they would keep her in their hearts over the next few weeks. Nice guy that Jay Weaver.

As you are aware, Jane survived that illness. And after three months in Chicago hospitals, she came home and finished her recovery back here. Ever since that experience, every time BDW is in town Mike and Jane have spent a few moments discussing that specific experience. A comment that Jane came away from Chicago with, and one Mike has spent time contemplating, is that thanksgiving is a place established in God, a place we can occupy, that it can hold us up in times like hers. (A He in us, we in Him place.) Mike still quotes Jane’s comments about thanksgiving being a dimension in God while on stage. He always brings that conversation up when they visit on the day of concerts.

I mentioned earlier that BDW coming to town is something like a family reunion. Many times, they have rented an extra bus and brought their wives and children with them. They are the typical traveling band but prioritize their families as well and make sure that their home life is preserved and cared for while out on the road. Another family connection that gets made in Southern Illinois when BDW comes to town is the family reunion between the Shirks. Joe (keys) went to grade school in Murphysboro. His dad, Steve Shirk, was a pastor/worship leader in Carbondale until his death a few years ago. (Steve was always a favorite with me, calling the station just to encourage me occasionally. Steve asked nothing in return for his encouragement and prayers, just loved folks, pastored folks and majored in kindness to me.) When Joe comes home his mother Betty is always present and his sister and family always attend. I remember just a couple years before Steve passed away that the bus pulled into the parking lot at the Civic Center and a little later the tour went to Murphysboro where Steve and Betty had prepared a huge picnic for all involved with the tour. The Shirk family has been very special.

Big Daddy Weave: one of the huge memories and experiences of WBVN’s 30 year history. It could not have been any better. I will always remember, and this was after the second night of two sellout crowds in a row, I mentioned to Jay that they were getting so big nationally, so popular in the large venues around the country, that I was concerned whether they could keep coming to a small venue like we have here in Southern Illinois. His response still rings in my ears because I think he sincerely meant it, ‘Big Daddy will always come to Marion, I promise you that!’ We are and they are going to make that come true again in 2021.

(As I write this memory it is appropriate to ask the readers to pray for Jay and his family. He has been and still is going through a very hard place physically and needs those prayers and certainly, the encouragement of God.)


30 Years of Memories-Randy Stonehill

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30 Years of Memories: RANDY STONEHILL

The history of contemporary Christian music is interesting. Some of it we got into just as we began the station in January, 1990. Names such as Keaggy and his Glass Harp band, Second Chapter of Acts, Michelle Wagner, Keith Green, Don Francisco, Annie Herring, Larry Norman come to mind as early ‘influencers’ of contemporary Gospel. One more name should be added and it’s a name that we have had multiple concerts with over the 30 years of ministry of WBVN. If I said Uncle Rand or simply Stonehill, little images may go off in the minds of some of our listeners.

Randy Stonehill first hit our concert series on March 22nd, 1992. What a character! Randy is an easy smile, easy to be amazed at the guitar skills, easy to love the person. I actually remember too many things about him as I write this memory. About the time one thing gets typed on the page I’m already smiling and thinking of something else that muses me about Stonehill.

Obviously, we played dozens of Randy’s songs over the years so the name was familiar. A friend of mine had actually mentioned Randy in some conversations we had and asked me if I knew that Randy appeared in The Blob II movie made in 1972. He has a scene singing to another lady, actress Cindy Williams, who played Shirley Feeney on the Laverne and Shirley television sitcom some years later. I had to watch that and did since Danny actually had a copy of the movie to look at. I digress; anyway, Randy was well known for his music writing, performing and humor. Each of those showed every time he came to do a concert for us. Whether singing ‘Who Will Save The Children’, ‘Every Heartbeat Is A Prayer’, or the grin songs ‘American Fastfood’, or Breakfast At Denny’s’, Randy was unique and worth every minute shared with us on stage; that from a guy who told me that back home in California he had a tortoise for a pet.

For awhile we brought Randy in every 3 or 4 years. I remember a concert we did at John A. Logan College on March 20th, 1998. Actually, March 20th and March 21st. That was an interesting night. The concert was scheduled to begin at 7pm and everyone was in their seats and ready to go at 7, but there was one little problem. Randy was stuck in a snow and ice adventure at the St. Louis airport. There were lots of phone calls that night between me and the artist management trying to decide what to do next. Do we send people home and tell Randy to go get a room until he can fly back to California or do we wait? We waited. Randy, and this was an amazing little coincidence, was visiting on the plane with a person headed to SIU for meetings. That conversation turned into a car ride to JALC. Randy arrived about 10:30 that night. He tuned the guitar. He drank his always required lemon juice and hot water and started the concert at about 11pm. The reason I said March 20th and 21st was the concert didn’t get over until after midnight, and in my office I have a signed photograph of Randy and he put two signatures on the picture and the dates: 3-20-98 and 3-21-98. That’s Stonehillian!

I remember a concert a few years later. Randy found out that Phil Keaggy was coming in a few months after his concert and he took copy paper and wrote a bunch of notes to Phil and asked us to hang them around the Civic Center. Stonehillian! That concert was very special and actually the last one we’ve done with Randy. It was fun and serious all in one package. It was special in another way as well. Randy had to be taken back to the airport in Evansville, Indiana, and along the way something just clicked in Randy. The result was tears and smiles but certainly heartwarming. A car ride I will never forget. He went into detail about album covers, like the one with a screen door behind his photo, which Larry Norman had taken at their back door rented house. He mentioned that the famous, high leg kick photo on the album ‘The Wild Frontier’ was actually just a photo that the record company had rotated the photograph to make it look like he was kicking over his head but really was him bending over and only kicking about a foot up. I learned how it all started and the tears were part of Randy’s conversation with me about Keith Green. The starting part was fun and interesting. He started with the little known fact that the way he, and also Larry Norman, got started was from a $500 dollar gift from Pat Boone– the 1957 ‘April Love’ Pat Boone. Randy told how Pat had seen them in a small club and that, impressed, he asked them to come to his house for a meeting. There Pat gave them $500 cash to pay for studio recording time, time to make their music. According to Randy, Larry Norman went to the bank and had it exchanged for five hundred one dollar bills just simply to see and feel all those dollars. Again, according to Randy, Larry put all the cash in a dresser drawer and stirred it up, they thought they were rich.

The tears part was associated with Randy’s conversation about Keith Green. They had written songs together, worked together and were great friends. He told me of how Keith would show up at 2 o’clock in the morning and wake Randy up and tell him he just needed to listen to a new song Keith had just written. I think the word spontaneous was used to describe Keith. The tears flowed when Randy began to tell about seeing Keith at the airport coming off a plane while Randy waited to get on one. I got the impression that there had been a bit of tension between them but not having stopped and talked, not renewing old friendship, is something Randy wished he could do over. Randy’s sadness was because just a few weeks later, Keith would be killed in a plane crash. Not taking the time to come together seemed to be a real heart-breaking moment from Randy’s memory. It was hard to talk about anything after those tears.

One of the amazing things over the years that surprised me about the artists we’ve met in concert, artists that you have experienced and loved just as I have, has been the immense talents and sincerity of people we brought in to do concerts. There have been hundreds of personalities but one very common denominator: Love of Jesus in each. There may be hundreds of different ways to sing and talk of the Gospel with those artists but, just like Randy, the integrity of their mission and purpose, for the most part, the kindness of their hearts have been amazing. Randy Stonehill is one of a kind for sure. Yet, that Spirit of God still makes him a lot like you, a lot like me.