We continue our series about country music and faith with today’s guests, Marty Raybon and Mike Maguire from legendary country music group Shenandoah, and the long-admired country vocalist Gene Watson. Marty and Mike share about the beginnings of their band and how grateful they are to God to be able to bring music to the world for more than 30 years. Gene shares about his humble beginnings and how he wanted to honor God and his parents for their faithfulness in all the good and challenging things that have happened in his life by recording his first Gospel record.
Faith Passed Down Through the Generations: Legendary Men of Country Music – Jesus Calling Episode #97
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling podcast. We continue our series on country music and faith with guests who have secured their place as country music legends: Marty Raybon and Mike Maguire from the country supergroup Shenandoah, and legendary vocalist Gene Watson. Marty Raybon is the lead singer and Mike Maguire is the drummer for Grammy award-winning and CMA award-winning group Shenandoah. They share about the beginnings of their band and how grateful they are to God to be able to bring music to the world for over 30 years.
Mike, A Baptist Minister’s Son With an Idyllic Upbringing
Marty: I’m Marty Raybon. I sing lead for the group Shenandoah and I’m married to a woman that I literally truly believe, without a shadow of doubt, I’m more desperately in love with today than I was the day that I married her.
We have three boys, hairy-legged boys — feet stink and everything…
Mike: They take after their daddy —
Marty: Michael, Matthew, Maxwell that I would give anything in the world for. Now, so I have two grand boys myself. Micah and Jamieson, and the Lord has truly blessed my house.
Mike: I’m Mike Maguire. I’m the drummer. Shenandoah — we started this thing 30-some-odd years ago and been playing drums the whole time. First band and only band ever. I’m a husband, I’m a dad, I’m a brand new grandfather — little three-month-old boy called Oakland and he’s the pride and joy right now of our family.
My dad was a Baptist minister. You know we were raised up in church. We were one of those kinds of families that we were in church every time the doors were open Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday too. Wednesdays were always Bible study. I remember that. Sunday school. You know we were raised the right way.
I’m thankful for the parents that the good Lord chose me to be raised by. My dad was good as gold. He’s been gone now for several years. He died of Alzheimer’s, and I miss my daddy every day. I still have a mother and she’s in, for her age, she’s in great health, drives a car. She’s 87 though, and she’s still driving a car, still lives in the same house I was raised up in. You know now, I tell people sometimes, my upbringing was as close as it could be to “Leave It To Beaver” and Andy Griffith as you could hope for.
Marty, Third of Five, Grew Up Learning to Love and Know God
Marty: I grew up in a home that my dad and mom divorced from when I was six. There were five of us. I was third in the family of five. Therefore, I’d not found out quite a bit of of what my older brother or sister realized. In a lot of ways I was ignorant about things that were going on in our life — not the same for my younger brother and younger sister. It wasn’t one of those situations where it was where it was a bad divorce or anything like that.
One thing that I can say is that I never heard my mother ever say one ugly thing about my father, and I never heard my daddy ever say an ugly word about my mother. In fact, even to the point when they were older, people would say, “Why did you ever divorce? Why?” And you know, to this day, myself nor any of my siblings even know the reason, but 17 years after they divorced, they remarried.
So, growing up in a home that seems somewhat scattered and tattered and stuff like that, there truly was always the belief that there was a God and that there was a Son and His name was Jesus. I have literally learned to love Him and know Him, and not just to the point of realizing that on March 15th, 1991, I staked my eternity on Him, but have had Him since that day, realizing that my salvation has been intact from the day God saved my wretched soul.
I realized that for 31 years what I was doing wasn’t working. It just wasn’t working, and I’m grateful to the Lord that I’ve even realized that.
One of the greatest things that I have been able or have tried to comprehend more than anything else in the world, is to realize — as the apostle Paul said — that God truly is willing to work with us, and to love us, and to overlook our fault to meet our needs.
“God truly is willing to work with us, and to love us, and to overlook our fault to meet our needs.” – Marty Raybon
Shenandoah’s First Music Deal
Mike: The way the band got started back in — golly, actually before Marty even joined the band — it was me, Jim Seales and Stan Thorn. The three of us were part of Shenandoah, but there was a different lead singer, and bass player, and we worked together in a nightclub in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and the lead singer and bass player got fired, and we were looking for a lead singer.
Well, Marty had become friends with my brother up here in Nashville, and so I had gotten to know Marty over about a year’s time. Again, I made trips all the time from Muscle Shoals to Nashville when we weren’t playing at the club. Anyway, when we lost our lead singer, I called Marty and offered him the job, you know, move down to Muscle Shoals. I’m not thinking anything about a record deal. In those days, that was never part of my thinking, and it was just hiring a lead singer to come work with us at the club.
So, he took the job, moved down to Muscle Shoals and moved in my apartment with me, and we worked at the club at night. During the daytime, there was a recording studio there called Fame Recording Studio.
There was a guy named Robert Byrne who was a songwriter there with Rick, and just in passing one day at the studio I said, “Man, you should come hear us play one night when I’m at the club.” So he shows up at the club and hears us one night and tells us about this deal that Rick Hall put together with CBS. They were looking for a band.
Marty: It was a production deal.
Mike: They had this deal with Rick Blackburn at CBS and they were looking for a band, so Robert, a songwriter by the name of Walt Aldridge, Tommy Brassfield and Mac MacAnally and I believe Steve Nathan — they were all supposed to go find a band to produce.
We didn’t even know about this, even though we were in studio every day. But Robert said, “Man I’ve been all over the country looking for a band to produce. I can’t believe right here in my own backyard. I want to use my slot on you guys.” So, we cut six songs, and he invited Rick to co-produce the project with him, which you know, and man, I attribute this — this was a God thing.
When they took our project to CBS to play the record, they also took one of the other guys’ projects too; played both of them in the same meeting. Robert told us that the record label liked the other band, but didn’t really hear anything in us. He said Rick Hall said, “Well, if you want these other guys you’re going to have to take these guys, too.” And they said, “We don’t want two bands. This whole thing has always been about one new band.” He said, “Well, I don’t care if you want those guys, you gotta take my guys too.” So they signed us on, “Well, okay, whatever.” So, they signed us.
“I can look back through our career and see where God showed us this way instead of that way, and that’s how we ended up where we are.” – Mike Mcguire
The Climb to the First Number One Country Hit
Marty: When we first got a record deal, a couple of the guys in the band weren’t really interested — they had families and stuff like that. And of course, they had studio work, and they also were songwriters as well. The little club work that we were doing sufficed what their need was monetarily, so therefore they didn’t have to go anywhere. They didn’t have to do anything other than the routine and the pattern that they were in with the family. So, a couple of the guys said, “No.”
“Man, look, man, I left Florida in ‘84 to get a record deal.” And I said, “Man, I’m in.” And of course, Mike said he was in, so did Stan the piano player.
So, then the next thing you know, I mean everybody was on board. To realize that not only you know had we recorded music, then all of a sudden we started seeing it work cross the country, and bam, from a couple two or three records. You know, the first record we had, you know it factored out at 58. The second single that we had, “Stop the Rain,” it went to 28 and bombed. So, there was that kind of, “Is this going to work or not?”
Then, all of the sudden, we came with a tune that Robert Burn and Will Robbins had written called “She Doesn’t Cry Anymore,” and it went to number nine. So, that happened to be our first top 10 record, and from there “Mama Knows” followed that up. From “Mama Knows” it turned into “Church on Cumberland Road,” which would be our first number one.
Mike: It was surreal having a hit on the radio. The first couple singles that we had out — to be honest — when we first got the record deal, it was just so surreal that we had a record deal, you know? The thought of us having a hit on the radio was so foreign to me. I mean, we’re just a regular old bunch of dumb country boys. To get a record deal was surreal enough in and of itself. The first couple of singles came out, and they didn’t really do much, but they did about what we thought they’d do — not much. But then, like Marty said, “She Doesn’t Cry Anymore” went to number nine with hardly any record promotion. But boy, when it went to number nine, the record label changed gears, and they started putting money behind us.
They sent us out to California, and those people out there were mouthing the words to everything we were singing. That’s the first time I realized how powerful radio is — country radio. You know, they’re playing country music out in California just like they do in Tennessee or Alabama or Texas, you know? Surreal is the only word I can think of to describe what the feeling was like to have hits.
Singing About Love That Doesn’t Die
Marty: “I Want to Be Loved Like That” is one of those kind of songs that literally lends itself because of what the three different scenarios and what the verses speak of. And it all comes back to love, and compassion, and the willingness to go on although someone’s passed. That love doesn’t die. Also, Christ was dead and laid in the tomb, and it’s because of that resurrection we also too may live, and so, therefore, that continues. It’s one of those kind of songs that is that from the very, very, very first time that people heard it when we first recorded. We started doing it live. I mean the chorus was just so sing-songy.
“It all comes back to love, and compassion, and the willingness to go on although someone’s passed. That love doesn’t die.” – Marty Raybon
The simplicity of what the chorus was — it just lent itself for people to sing it. What we were finding was that people would listen to the verse, but when the chorus came around, they started singing the chorus. Then we started noticing, OK, well it’s been played enough, now they’ll mouth the words to sing with you when you do the verses as well. From the very get-go, it was always that chorus that would speak to people, because it truly is a song that really puts you in the place of peace and ease. Somebody said, “Man it’s just a great song. It’s great having it in a show and to be able to exploit it for what it is.”
The only way in the world that I could see it exploited any other way than it could be was to allow folks to realize literally how much the love of God, and to realize how much God loves them. You know, that He’s literally willing to do whatever it takes to come and to meet you. Not only to give you what He wants to give you, but He’ll come and meet you at that place.
“[God’s] literally willing to do whatever it takes to come and to meet you. Not only to give you what He wants to give you, but He’ll come and meet you at that place.” – Marty Raybon
Thanking and Praising God First Thing in the Morning
Marty: One of the best ways in the world ever really to get charged up, is to be able to take that time in the morning, and you know, I’m going to say this — and I know this sounds, well, holier-than-thou. When I get up in the morning without even opening my eyes, I just say, “Lord, thank You. I praise Your name, Lord. Lord God, use me. Do something that You could do through me today. Just use me, Lord.”
A devotional is an absolutely wonderful way in which to do that because although you don’t have a time for a study, you know you could read John 6:12-13 through — the text — you know, I can read these two verses. But when you read and then get the take of somebody that has written it, and allows you to kind of get your understanding in gear with, “Okay, well, that’s the way they took it.”
The wonderful thing about the Word of God is that it may generate you to read something. It literally has that positive and pleasant understanding of knowing that not only is God in control, for the rest of the day He’s gonna lead you, but it allows you to realize that the Word of God is living.
“Reloaded” Is Shenandoah’s First Release in Nearly 20 Years
Narrator: Shenandoah has released their first new album in nearly 20 years called “Reloaded.” Marty and Mike talk a little about the record and their excitement about bringing new music to their fans.
Marty: The album that’s coming out on the 26th of next month in March is titled “Reloaded.”
Mike: Of course, in the way this whole thing started, Jay DeMarcus from Rascal Flatts called me one day out of the blue and had heard that Marty had rejoined the band, which he just had, just a few months earlier. He’d been gone for 17 years. And I told Jay, “Yeah, that’s true, Marty’s back.”
And he said, “Look man, we’re huge fans of you guys. First time we ever sang ‘Church on Cumberland Road,’ our first number one record.” He said, “I’d love to take you guys to the studio and record some new music and see if we can get a record deal.”
So, we came up to Nashville with Jay and went over to ASCAP and spent two days listening for songs and narrowed it down to five songs. And we took it over to BMG and BMG loved it.
We’re extremely excited. It’s the first country album we’ve had out in 20 years. First time we’ve had a song on that chart, for at least that long.
Marty: We still, honestly and truly, have a lot to say. We’re in good health, thank the Lord. We still absolutely love what we do. We truly love people. To be able to do that and to be able to have a run at this thing — and actually to have a run at it where we literally have no walls to tell us what you can do and what you can’t do — you know, “This is a good idea, that’s not a good idea.” You know that kind of stuff.
We actually have a lot of freedom and a lot of liberty to do it, and therefore being able to do this new album, that’s what makes it so exciting to be able to do it.
Narrator: To find out more about Shenandoah’s new record “Reloaded,” please visit Shenandoah.com
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Church and Music — Always a Part of Life for the Legendary Gene Watson
Narrator: Our next guest is recognized in country circles as a “singer’s singer” and is known for his masterful vocals. Gene Watson has endured the ups and downs of the music business to become a country music legend. After releasing his very first single in 1962, Watson is still touring constantly in the USA and abroad and remains proud to be known as an icon for “real country.” He reflects with us now on his childhood, how he developed his love for music, and the faith that has sustained him over a 50-year career.
Gene: I’m Gene Watson, and you know, as far back as I can remember, church has always been a part of my life.
I was raised poor — as poor as it can get. But if you’ve never had anything, you don’t really miss it, you know? So, when we got to stop on the road and drink Coca-Cola or something, that was a treat for us. We thought that was great.
I come from a family with meager, meager means, you know what I mean? It’s never been too easy for me personally. I was born crippled, and the doctor said I’d never walk, but my mother said, “Yes, he will.” She prayed for me, and she would rub and massage my feet. My feet were turned up against my legs. My toes were touching my shin, and she worked and massaged, worked and massaged. When I got old enough, she put me down on the floor and crawling came first and next thing you know I was walking enough, and of course, I can walk now. So, I have all the faith in the world that miracles can happen. I was raised that way.
“I have all the faith in the world that miracles can happen. I was raised that way.” – Gene Watson
We lived for a time in a school bus because my dad went from crop to crop. We would go pull radishes, we’d cut lettuce, dig potatoes — whatever — to get by. My dad’s faith was so strong, and he knew that he was the breadwinner. He had to make a living. One of his sayings was one that I’ll never forget and I love to live by. When he’d leave the house in the morning it was like, “Well, I’m going out there, and if there’s a dollar I’m going to get half of it.” That was what kept us going. So, I feel extremely fortunate and blessed, you know, for everything that I have. I feel like any good thing that I’ve got, or that’s happened to me, came through my mother’s prayers and from the good Lord above. I believe that with all my heart.
“I feel like any good thing that I’ve got, or that’s happened to me, came through my mother’s prayers and from the good Lord above. I believe that with all my heart.” – Gene Watson
Childhood Memories of Singing in Church
Gene: Music was a large part of my upbringing, my church, and everything. As far back as I can remember talking, I can remember singing in church. As far as the faith goes, I think the love for music was born when I was, and not only me, every member of my family were singers. Even living in a school bus we’d be going down the road singing, boy, just having a great time. But it was gospel music and all that. Of course, back then you could hear the top ten, if you had a radio, you could hear the top ten, and I always had my ear stuck to that radio. I loved music so much that if I ever heard a song twice, I knew it.
Of course, my mom and dad were singers, and I tell everybody that I’m the only one that took it up professionally, and I’m probably not even the best singer in the family. But, I was the only one crazy enough to go at it as a profession.
You know, I never had planned on being an entertainer. That was the furthest thing from my mind. I thought that was so out of the realm of what I would grow up to do because music like that was something you heard on the radio, and I didn’t figure I’d ever be on the radio. So, I was content to work on cars. But I was singing, too. A couple of guys heard me and asked me would I like to do some recording, and I thought they were fooling around with me then. But they brought me to Nashville. So, my career has been — through my eyes — an accident. I’m sure it was all pre-planned by our Maker.
Taking the Step to Play Music On the Road Full-time
Gene: So things just kind of evolved as to where I am now, and when I made up my mind to go out on the road full-time, that was a step that I was really reluctant to make, because like I say, I wasn’t sure that I could make it in the music business. I knew how to work on cars. So, I took my tools and rolled them up in the garage. And I said, “Well, I will try as hard as I can to make it in the music business. But if it don’t work, I’d come back and work on cars.” And I’ve been on the road ever since. Good Lord’s been good to me.
Music’s been good to me, but I never have anything that I consider good or great happened to me that I don’t give thanks to the good Lord above.
I come from a family where faith was everything. I think my mother might have instilled that into me, and I still believe that more than anything. If you’ve got the faith, you know that’s everything.
“I come from a family where faith was everything.” – Gene Watson
Facing Cancer With Rock-solid Faith
Gene: I know this through many, many times that have come and gone. For instance, in 2000, I was diagnosed with cancer. It was not a surprise that I had it, but I felt like if I had enough faith that I could beat it and I never gave up, I never gave in. I never thought about losing the fight. I always had faith that I could do it, and it wasn’t easy to do because I lost my mom from cancer, my dad from cancer. I lost my older brother from cancer and my older sister from cancer — all of them cancer. Then I had cancer.
You know what it says about having the “faith of a mustard seed and you can move mountains.” And I certainly have that much faith. No matter what comes or goes, what happens to me. I figure it was for a reason, and I know Who controls what happens. I just strive to do what’s right the best I can.
A lot of people you know before they go to bed at night get down on their knees and pray. You know I think that’s a great thing. Every day that rolls around, you know, I visit with Him in a lot of different ways. I mean, there’s a lot of times I’ll be driving down the road and just out loud say, “Thank you, God.” Not for one thing — for everything. For everything that He’s allowed me to be, to do, to become.
I know the good Man hears me when I talk to Him, and I talk to him every day. Sometimes I think it’s a silent time, and I don’t think there are many times of the day that I don’t spend with Him. He’s the Way, the Truth and Life, you know?
He gives me the strength to sing, and that’s all you can ask for.
New Record, “My Gospel Roots,” Releases
Narrator: Gene decided to go back to the music he first started singing as a boy and has recently recorded a gospel record entitled “My Gospel Roots.” He talks about a special song on that record that he dedicated to his parents, and why it touched his heart.
Gene: I could do just about any type of song that I wanted to, because my life is just full of music. As far as being heard, to where people were really paying attention to me, it all goes back to church.
The song that was brought to me by a good friend Dave Lindsey, who handles my publishing and everything, he come across the song and he brought it to me and said, “Gene, I’d like you to listen to this song.” He said, “Man, this could be a great gospel song.” So, I listened at it, and I thought, “Wow.” I had never heard a gospel song written from that perspective, because the good Lord died on the cross and He was crucified by the Romans, the soldiers, and they pierced his side and all this stuff, you know. Well, that was to save me, and you, and everything.
So, I’m one of the Roman soldiers that He died for. You know, I’m the one who pierced His side. I sit at the foot of the tree, you know. I get chill bumps right now thinking about it. I thought,”My goodness, what a song.” Through it all, it tells about when Jesus said, “Father, forgive them,” and He was looking down on me. I’m an old Roman soldier, I sit at the foot of the tree. And it just meant so much to me. It just really touched that spot.
Recording “My Gospel Roots” Brings Sweet Memories of Family
Gene: My dad would play guitar, and him and Mom would stand up there and sing these songs and everything, that I was raised on. I recorded — there’s some on that album — “Swing Wide Those Golden Gates I’m Going to Come Sweeping Through,” and I can visualize my mom and dad standing up there singing that song right now. I just thought, “You know, Mother used to take me and my brothers and sisters and say, ‘Look here, now. This song goes like this. The harmony goes here, goes there, goes here.’” And we all sung different parts and everything, and some of the songs would have after time in it, you know, that somebody had to do. And me and Mom was about the only ones that would attempt that. But it just all came back to my head and would just swirl, and it meant so much to me. I know that Mom’s looking down on me right now, you know, proud that I recorded this album.
Narrator: To find out more about Gene Watson’s Gospel record, “My Gospel Roots,” please visit GeneWatsonMusic.com
Narrator: If you have plans to be in Nashville, Tennessee, for the CMA Music Fest Jun 7-10, please visit us at the Jesus Calling Booth in the Fan Fair X area at Booth 106. We’ll have some of the artists you’ve heard on this podcast there to meet and greet visitors, and if you can’t make it, be sure to check us out on Facebook Live as we talk these artists at the show.
Narrator: This week’s passage comes from the June 6th passage of the Jesus Calling Audiobook.
Audiobook: Seek My Face, and you will find the fulfillment of your deepest longings. My world is filled with beautiful things; they are meant to be pointers to Me, reminders of my abiding Presence. The earth still declares My Glory to those who have eyes that see and ears that hear. You had a darkened mind before you sought me wholeheartedly. I chose to pour My Light into you so that you can be a beacon to others. There is no room for pride in this position. Your part is to reflect My Glory. I am the Lord!