Artist Interview-Andy Maples:
1. (keith from Indieheaven) Welcome to IndieHeaven, Andy. Tell me a little about how you developed an interest in guitar playing and songwriting.
I started playing guitar in high school with my good friends Richard Peck and Craig Sutherland. Mostly we played songs for the church youth group, and area ministries in Asheville NC, where my high school was located. Originally, Richard was the song writer of the bunch, but as I entered into my senior year, I began writing some tunes as well. As I grew older and a little more accomplished technique wise on the guitar, I began checking out different forms on music.
I remember the first time I ever heard John Denver sing and play. He was on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and I really enjoyed how he mixed his wonderful voice with some beautiful guitar chords. To this day, I still find little traces of John Denver's musical style in my songwriting. One thing that I did notice was that John Denver wrote songs about creation. I have heard him sing love songs for mountains, trees, horses, streams, and even heard once sing a love song to a wild pack of woods on the Colorado River Rafting Trip that was filmed by PBS. I remember thinking as I listened to him, "I can do that." And that is when I first found myself saying that I wanted to be a songwriter.
I decided that if John Denver could come up with beautiful songs about creation, then I would do the same thing writing songs about my Creator. It is rare that I write any songs that do not have some reference to my faith in God. Not every song I write is a praise and worship song, but I do seek to bring glory to God in each word that I write. Some other influence besides John Denver are James Taylor, Stephen Stills, Barry McGuire, Pat Terry, Phil Keaggy, just to name a few
2. (keith from Indieheaven) Andy, do you remember a significant event that affected you musically when you were young?
Oh wow, yeah. I was feeling jealous of Richard because he was getting so much attention from the girls at our school because he was writing songs. There was a girl in my class that I really wanted to impress, and let's face it, one of the great perks about being a songwriter is that girls think it is cool. I did not have a clue about how to structure a song, about what chords went with other chords to develop a flow, or why it was important that songs not be written in 3 keys instead of just one. I just strung some chord together, tried to develop some type of melody, and then put some words down.
It was terrible, but I was so green at songwriting that I did not see it. So I tell this girl that I wrote her a song and she is so excited and wants to hear it. About half way through the song, the girl covered her mouth like she was about to vomit and ran out of the room. My first attempt at writing a song had actually made someone physically sick. I think the problem was that she could not find a way to tell me how bad the song was without hurting my feelings, which caused her to be overwhelmed with stress on how to handle the situation.
To this day, she is still a great friend who I stay in contact, but we never talk about the first song I ever wrote. A note for all you aspiring songwriters, making someone physically sick with a song is not a confidence builder. I was so embarrassed that I decided that I would never write another song, Funny how things turn out!
3. (keith from Indieheaven) How did your love for guitar and songwriting continue to develop after your high school days came to an end?
I went away for high school like most folks go away for college. Ben Lippen School, which is owned by Columbia International University, was a Christian Boarding School. When I graduated in 1973, I did not have a clue as to what I wanted to do with my life. I knew that the Lord's hand had been on me since I was very young and that some type of ministry was in my future, but I just was not sure what that was. I took some classes at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, but I never had any real focus. I made good grades, but I just could not see where I was headed.
So I got a job in a warehouse, and devoted my free time to playing music and being involved at Mount Olive Baptist Church on the south side of town. I picked up a lot of experience in guitar playing, helping lead worship for Bible Studies, and playing in the band that traveled with the Youth Choir (We went on great trips every summer). I joined bands here and there, kept writing songs. Around 1984, after ten plus years of drifting from job to job in order to keep options open for a musical career, I auditioned to be the lead guitarist for a Family Oriented Traveling Show.
It was called the Tommy Scott "Last Real Medicine Show." I traveled with this group for two straight years, all over the North American continent. I did not think it was a great show, but playing in front of actual people every night for two years was a great way for me to develop my chops and improve on my technique. A couple of folks on the show were also songwriters so we spent a great deal of our free time working on new tunes. There was an older guy in the band. Everyone called him "Old Bleb," and I never knew quite way. Man, he was one of the greatest guitar players I had ever been around. I learned so much just from watching how he prepared and performed. I was will always be thankful for that experience.
When my contract ran out with the family show, I decided to go back to Knoxville and see if I could take some of the things I had learned from being on the road and develop that into a music career. It worked but not in the way you may think. The only job I could find was washing dishes at a small Bar-B-Que joint called "The Lucky Rooster." Fortunately for me, this place had live music on the weekends and I spent many of those night sitting in with the bluegrass bands. It really was a great experience.
While there I became friends with Steve Kauffman, one of the greatest flat top pickers of our time. The best thing that happened as a result of working at the Rooster was getting to meet Bill Monroe. The Lucky Rooster sponsored a big bluegrass concert in Oak Ridge, TN and I not only met Mr. Monroe, but he invited me back to his dressing room to meet his band. While I was there, he let me play his mandolin. Unfortunately, the Rooster went out of business and ended up moving to Atlanta GA in hopes of finding a job.
4. (keith from Indieheaven) Were you able to walk away from music, or was that just a temporary break?
I was so glad that it was temporary. One of my best friends in the world is Paul Christopher and he had moved down to Atlanta a couple years before me. He is one of the better banjo players I have known through the years, and it was not long till we started working on tunes to play. We had a couple bands, entered some contests. We actually won first place at the annual Bluegrass Festival in Tullahoma, TN with a group called "Hook, Line, and Sinker" a name we got from a Three Stooges episode.
Mostly, I played at church. I tried playing in some bars, but I always tend to get into trouble in places like that. Church was a safe gig. I ended up leading the Sunday Morning Music for the youth. I gained a ton of experience in leading worship working with those kids. I could not believe how fun it was in simply leading others into the presence of God. I had taken a job as a courier, making deliveries in a van, but had been promoted to the position of Safety Supervisor.
I loved this move because it gave me normal day hours, mostly spent in a office, which opened more free time at night to be involved in ministries at my church. I also decided that I wanted to go back to school so I enrolled in a small Bible College outside of Atlanta for night classes, all the while working on developing my songwriting techniques.
5. (keith from Indieheaven) Your bio says that you are currently a full time missionary at New Life Bible Camp. How did that come about and how did it affect your vision for being a songwriter and worship leader?
While working at the courier company and being involved in my church, I discovered that missions and ministry should be happening no matter what my vocation is. I ended up starting a Bible Study for the drivers and I can not tell you how many of them expressed a new found faith. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life, seeing man come to Christ. I mean it got to where it happened on almost a daily basis. As I continued working with these men, and also continuing helping with ministries at my church, one of the church elders came to me and said, "I am not sure if you realize this or not, but the hand of the Lord is on you. You need to consider a way to be in full time ministry." So I took a mission trip with Operation Mobilization to Germany and France and somehow, through that experience, God made it clear that He had some things for me that I had not even considered.
After returning from the mission trip, where I saw the Lord take my gifts and my personality and use them with folks from other cultures, I just knew I was being lead into full time Christian services. My friend Craig Sutherland, who I had mentioned earlier, had just taken over a camping ministry in Buffalo Mills, PA called New Life Bible Camp. He invited me to come help them finish building the gym and to stay there for a couple weeks to see if I might enjoy the camping ministry.
That was close to 23 years ago. I have been working as one of the camp missionaries all this time, serving in many different aspects, that include using all my musical abilities. The leadership board of the camp offered for me to work for 6 months at the camp and to work on music for 6 months but I decided that I could not do both well, so I decided to focus on the camping ministry and keep the musical side in the background. Turned out to be a great decision. I get to play for retreat groups, lead worship for all of our camping programs, have been able to lead worship for local churches in the area.
I teach songwriting classes to our home school kids, and I have also been able to complete my education to boot. This past year, I was earned a Masters of Divinity degree through Christian Biblical Seminary of Spring TX. Working at the camp has been a wonderful experience. I think the camping ministry, even though it seemed that I was taking a detour from music and songwriting, actually has played a vital part in my development as a musician and a songwriter.
6. (keith from Indieheaven) You mentioned your development as a musician and a songwriter. Explain that a bit more.
There have been opportunities to combine my musical talents with developing the programs at the camp. Part of my job description says that I am to write and implement the teaching curriculum that the camp will use for its summer camp programs. I have found that songwriting has been a great tool to embellish the Bible Studies that we do with the staff and the campers. There are songs that I wrote for a summer camp theme 20 years ago that we are still singing at camp today. Songwriting has become part of the tradition and culture at New Life Bible Camp. Another thing I do is attend as many workshops and seminars that I can each year. I try to go to at least one a year if not two.
I have learned so much about writing songs for worship at seminars led by great songwriters like, Paul Baloche, John Chisum, and Carl Cartee. I would highly recommend anyone interested in writing songs for worship or who just want to develop better as a worship leader to attend an Integrity Worship Seminar, Songwriters Retreat at Mount Hermon, Song 4 Discovery event. Inspire Conference in Franklin, TN, or one of the Christian Musician Summits. These seminars have been beneficial in my development as a musician and a songwriter.
7. (keith from Indieheaven) You have recorded a few projects of Christian music that you have written. Tell us about your first projects.
The first project would not have happened without the assistance of my high school friend, Richard Peck. See, the camp requires for the staff to raise its own support. Richard thought that if he helped me make a an album, it would be a good way to help supplement my income. We did not have a clue how to do it, but he booked a studio in Charlotte NC and I drove down from PA with Craig and Chrissy Zimmerman, a couple at my church who were very talented musicians and vocalist in their own right. We had 10 hours to recorded ten songs and that included mix down time. The Lord's hand was in it cause we were able to pull it off and it sounded pretty good considering.
I have recorded other projects closer to where I live since that time at Raintree Studios and Vogtman Studios. I tried doing a project at my home using a 8 track Tascam home studio that turned out okay, but there was always something just not quite right in all of these projects. Whenever I would demo a song or pitch a song to a publisher, I usually got the same advice. They would say that I needed to work on having a professional sound. The quality of the music and the musicianship just isn’t where it ought to be.
8. (keith from Indieheaven) That brings us to your latest project, "The Water Brooks." How did that come about and what makes this project different?
The phrase "the water brooks" comes out of Psalm 42:1, which says, "As the hart pants after the water brooks, so pants my heart for Thee, O God." After many rejections from songwriting professionals, I decided that I needed professional help. I contacted some of the musicians that I had met at the conferences, asking them about the cost of making a quality demo. What I wanted was to get professional musicians and professional vocalist to do all the tracks, but it would have run me about $10,000 per song or more. I did a search for studios and found Stan Williamson Productions, and his studio was about a ten minute drive from where my parents live in North Knoxville. I set up an interview time with Stan and we went through the songs that I felt would work best. He was such a great guy to work with and an outstanding musician. Because of his expertise, we were able to record the songs professionally and I could not be more pleased with the results. I was going to get Stan to get one of his studio vocalists to sing lead on all the songs, but he talked me into doing the lead vocals myself. It feels so good to be part of something that is excellent. One thing I learned from Carl Cartee and Paul Baloche is that writing songs of worship have to be about excellence, and I think Stan and I accomplished that on "The Water Brooks."
9. (keith from Indieheaven) So what is your favorite song from the new project and are you working on more songs for future projects?
My favorite song from "The Water Brooks" is called "I Believe the Word of God is True." There is an interesting story with this song. I was driving to Nashville last May to attend Song 4 Discovery’s Songwriters in the Round Conference. I was down around the Crossville, TN area on I-40 and was trying to find some sports talk radio on the AM dial. I came across a station where two guys were arguing about some gay rights issues in sports and some other issues, and one of the guys brought up the Bible. The other reporter said, "Anyone who believes in the Bible in this day and age is insane." I was upset by that but considering the source, I was not surprised. I changed the channel and found a couple of men talking about Kirk Cameron the actor, neither were speaking to highly of him. Then one of them made this comment that I hope someone says about me one day. He said, "I’ll say one thing for Kirk Cameron, he believes that the Word of God is true." I turned off the radio and kept hearing this phrase repeating in my mind, "I believe the Word of God is true." By the time I got to Nashville, the song was almost completely written. On my way back through Knoxville, I stopped off at Stan's and we recorded the song. I think it is the most important song I have ever written. Not because it has a catchy tune, or has a clever hook, but because it is something that Christians need to proclaim and not be ashamed about. I think it is important that the church loudly tells the world that we believe the Word of God is true and that we are going to live accordingly. And yes, I have been writing new songs. I have enough for a new project but I want to give Stan a nice break. It took us over a year to get "The Water Brooks" completed.
10. (keith from Indieheaven) One more question before you leave, what inspires you to write songs of worship?
The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Colossians to encourage each other with hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs. Usually it is the Bible that inspires and informs my songwriting.. I keep some writing paper next to my Bible so that if I get an idea about a new song during my devotions, I can jot it down. Also, I have had songs grow out of sermons, books, prayers, and sometimes songs by other writers. I try to listen to a lot of different styles of music and incorporate them into my musical styles. I learned a good bit from a guy named Randy Hughes who teaches an acoustic guitar class at the Inspire Conference. My playing and writing went to another level after he showed me some jazz progressions.
A couple weeks ago, I was leading worship for another camp and Duffy Robbins was the speaker. He heard me playing some tunes on my guitar and came over to chat about what I was playing. I was playing some simple arrangement of hymns and some movie themes. He asked me if I knew the theme song for Lonesome Dove the Western Mini-Series with Robert Duvall. I said yeah, and played it for him. He said, "That melody would make a great worship song. You should work on that." That comment was the seed and inspiration for a song that I just completed a couple days ago.
Inspiration comes from all over the place. The trick is learning what to do with it when it comes. Some of the best advice that I ever got and I think all worship leaders should take to heart came from Richard Peck's father, Walter Peck. I used to visit the Peck's home for sleep-overs on a regular basis, and every night I was there I saw Mr. Peck reading his Bible while the rest of stayed up playing games or goofing off. One night I asked him if he would like to join us and he said, "Thanks, but no, this is my time to spend with the Lord." And I replied, "Really, why?" And he looked over at me and said, "Andy, worship takes effort." Mr. Peck was probably the smartest man I have ever known. He had a hand in inventing the ejector seat that we use in our military’s fighter planes and also on the Shuttle. He had received numerous awards for science and engineering. Just watching the way he lived his life in step with his Savior each day of his life and those three words, "Worship Takes Effort" made a huge impact on me and inspired me to not only pursue excellence in songwriting but in life. Thanks Keith, it has been a pleasure chatting with you.
Learn more about Andy's music mission at:
Andy's Indieheaven Profile
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