In My Own Words…
My father and mother each owned their own business, but beyond putting food on the table my parents served the community by promoting concerts in the area. They really didn’t make any money at it, but that wasn’t the point. They were serving their community in North East Wisconsin. At a time when they were fresh off their Grammy and Dove award winning celebrations, my parents hosted Gospel greats such as Sandy Patti, Larnell Harris, Dino Kartsonakis, The Imperials – just to do a little name dropping. At an impressionable age, I had the opportunity to experience great musical talent, and it wasn’t long before I imagined myself on stage playing drums for those award winning singers.
My dad also served the community as a high school volleyball coach. He sort of tripped into that job backwards, but he built a program that was known for producing winning teams. As a young child my dad took me along to practices. I am sure I got in the way, but I loved being in the gym, and soon became thirsty for competition. One of my dad’s players later won an Olympic gold medal. That’s what I wanted – to lead a team to an Olympic gold medal. I was a good athlete and played on Junior Olympic teams, captaining two of them. My average body proportions, however, forced me to question athletics, or music.
Experiencing all those concerts, passion for music performance took root in my soul. Taking every opportunity my high school had to offer in music performance, I lettered 9 times. I couldn’t possibly show enough gratitude to my parents who arranged for weekly private lessons with Rick Brothers (Gretchen Wilson), and sent me off to Boston to study at Berklee College of Music with Casey Schurell (Shaka Khan). They helped me move to Nashville to attend Belmont University where I studied under Chester Thomson (Genesis, Phil Collins). I have supportive parents. I got a great education.
Attending Belmont, the world of the music business came alive to me. I was introduced to the recording studio. One semester alone, I logged 27 recording sessions. I was enamored with recording – mesmerized by it, and jumped at the chance to get on the other side of the glass and produce an album for the school’s leading student run gospel choir. While maintaining a rigorous class, practice, and performance schedule at the school, I was hired to be a house band drummer for a local Nashville studio. We would record into the early morning, mainly for southern gospel groups. The sparks of passion to create music were being fanned into flames.
One of the recording sessions at Belmont, I had the pleasure of playing drums on a track being performed by Melinda Doolittle (American Idol Finalist 2006). The song recorded was a composition by Denver Bierman, who had also just put a little band together to perform some of his big-band arrangements. He named the band Denver & the Mile High Orchestra (DMHO), and a year later the group had a record deal. Needing a new drummer, Denver asked if I would join the group. I had one year left in school, but the performance schedule seemed doable, and even though I told him I probably wasn’t the right fit, I could get him by until he found the right guy.
My first show with DMHO was in August of 2000, and I was literally yelled at by the promoter for playing too loud. My second show with the band had 3 people in the audience. This was not a very promising start to a professional career in music performance. We traveled the country with little glamour, playing small venues and music festival side stages. Audiences attended our concerts because they were curious, not because they were fans. I would see other bands getting off their tour bus, playing the big stages, and doing arena tours. That was the dream that was planted in me during the concerts I saw as a child, and what I had worked so hard to attain. I earnestly sought after other gigs, hoping they would take me to catch my dreams, begging God to give me “the desires of my heart”. I remember telling my good friend, Jaimee Paul, a rising star in the recording session world that I wanted to play drums for her. At that time, she wasn’t ready to take the step into being a solo artist. I went to auditions, and not one had a successful outcome for me. Self-doubt, bitterness, and fear crept in to my heart and mind. It probably would have been better to have trained to be an Olympic athlete.
DMHO kept calling, and I kept going, but the self-doubt, bitterness, and fear, were blinding me. My eyes were so focused on what other musicians were doing that I was missing the extraordinary opportunities to experience life in abundance right in front of me. Giant snowflakes falling in upstate New York and Fourth of July fireworks in Middle America are memories I came close to missing. On a tour in California I saw Barry Bonds break Willie Mays home run record. I experienced hiking in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado, and unlimited rounds of golf in South Dakota with Mount Rushmore as the backdrop. On a European tour I walked across the Great Causeway Bridge in Northern Ireland and swam in the Mediterranean. During the cold winter month of February, DMHO took me to play on two different Caribbean cruises, with other shows in south Florida allowing me to avoid winter that year altogether. God was giving me life in abundance, and shedding the blinders of fear and disappointment were critical if I were to ever relax in the gift of life I was given.
I am embarrassed to admit that I spent probably half of my professional career to this point wanting someone else’s music history, not realizing that God had been carving a specific place in music history just for me. All the years of reading charts on the road with DMHO set me up perfectly to be the house band drummer for several televised award shows, including the Dove Awards. Because of all the recording sessions I did in college, I was ready to drum on seven of DMHO’s recording projects, one of them winning a Dove Award. Handling pressures in the studio translated nicely to promoting DMHO recordings as I performed with the band live on every Christian television network domestically, and many international networks as well. Learning to handle the pressures of live television lead me to the exhilarating experience of performing live to 3 million viewers every week on Fox Network’s, Next Great American Band live competition show. Ultimately I played for two different groups on the show, both finishing in the finals. If the pressure of live television week after week could be handled, Casting Crowns reasoned that I could handle being the house band drummer for their Christmas Celebration tour playing for several different Grammy and Dove award winning artists they were bringing on the tour with them.
It was time to rid my mind and spirit of negativity I had allowed to build up over time, and start the practice of living life fully in the opportunities God was giving me in that moment. I was never meant to concern myself with someone else’s history, rather enjoy the fact that I have my own history. Living in the moment is a practice for me now, which is to suggest that I don’t do it perfectly every day. I have to practice this concept probably harder than I practice drums.
Jaimee Paul did end up calling. After becoming a first call Nashville session vocalist, Bill Gaither took notice of Jaimee, and signed her to one of his labels. Her first release went to #1 on the iTunes jazz charts, and she asked “do you remember all those years ago when you said you wanted to play for me? It’s time.” Jaimee has taken me to perform at 6 sold out shows at The Cotton Club in Tokyo, as well as shows for Prime Ministers in Europe, and 4 Star Generals from multiple countries.
I have learned a lot since being yelled at during my first professional performance, and I continue to grow. In spite of the many years of negative blindness, I am grateful that God never stopped lying at my feet opportunities that made my dreams come true. I never did make it to the Olympics as an athlete, but in a wonderful twist to my story, God took me there as a musician. I performed with DMHO at the Winter Games in Salt Lake City 2002, and the Summer Games in Athens 2004.
I never got to do areana tours with the Grammy award winning artists my parents brought to their little