I grew up in a church-faithful Christian family mostly in Georgia, the South, USA where I was born. We moved around some in elementary school and junior high school years as dad’s outstanding potential was recognized by his employer, Lockheed Aerospace Co., and he was advanced in rank, but always returned “home” to Marietta, Georgia.
My grandparents and, well, ALL my extended family were also very church-faithful Christians, all members of Southern Baptist congregations around the Chattanooga, TN area. Mom’s family was particularly talented musically, and she began singing southern gospel music publicly at a very young age. As a child and throughout adolescence, she sang with her mom and dad in the Blevins Trio at congregations all over the Chattanooga, TN area. When she married dad and he took her away, the music continued back home through her brothers and sisters and sisters-in-law and nieces and nephews, and continues now.
Back in Marietta, Georgia after our “travelling-as-a-family” years, there were many Sunday afternoons, between morning “services” and evenin “services”, when a bunch of local gospel singers, and other travelling singers passing through town, would show up at our house for fellowship that always led to singing and playing music. That was my tradition through high school as long as I was living with mom and dad.
By the time The Beatles had released “Abby Road” in 1970, I had taught myself to play acoustic and electric guitar using a chord book of their songs, and playing along with their records. Since church life was the center of my existence outside school, I started playing guitar at occasional church gatherings. The music director at our church formed a number of us from the Youth Choir into a quartet and piano-organ-drum-guitar-bass band (she played piano and kept us in line) to play special music at church services, youth events, and believe it or not (this will establish the era I’m talking about in American culture) at morning assembly at school auditoriums (yes public school) around the Cobb County/Marietta area. I was the guitar player and both my sisters were singers in the group. We had matching outfits. Us boys wore a bold black and white paisley shirt with white long pointy collar and two-button white cuffs, and you guessed it, billowy sleeves. Tight WHITE polyester bell-bottom pants accented by a wide white leather belt with twin buckle holes completed the ensemble for us boys, shod in zip-up, over the ankle black boots (could the belt and boots have been patent leather by any chance? My memory is blocking that horrid recollection from clarity). The girls wore the same paisley-fabric-and-white-sleeve/collar motif in very conservative one-piece “shift” dresses with a buttoned up collar (we got to leave ours open, but only the top collar button. No John Travolta disco stuff up in here.), and the dresses were certified by the “brothers” on the deacon board of our home church to be “below the knee”. Of course, the gals looked outstanding (that is, they stood out) in those dresses. The kicker for the boys was we had to cut our hair. AAARRRRRGGGGGGHHHHH!!!! I had spent more time than George Clooney’s character in “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” worrying about my hair. Above the collar in the back and above jewelry-free ears. It was a large price to pay but it was worth the fortune and glory it brought (lol).
Junior year in high school my social life started moving more to a classmate based pursuit after mom and dad got disillusioned by all the law and control in the church and felt called to withdraw from that culture for the forseeable future. We stopped “going to church”, opting for worshipping together as a family at home. My musical outlet shifted to playing rock and roll music with friends from school with similar interests in music and playing.
WHAT A CULTURE SHOCK to leave Marietta in 1974 and move down the street to the campus of Georgia Institute of Technology. Finding a “good church” to “join” was nowhere on my To-Do List, as I quickly abandoned that culture, burned my paisley shirt with the big white collar and cuffs, and got some khakis, white Brooks Brothers button-down-collar long-sleeve shirts, alligator belt, and Bass Weejuns. A supply of colored IZOD tennis sport shirts, Levi’s, and Sperry TopSiders were kept on hand for casual days.
The SAE fraternity had much different goals and aspirations than my high school youth group at the Baptist Church. As pledges, we had to memorize a creed called “The True Gentlemen” and recite it publicly to the upper classmen whenever they approached us on campus or at The House. Looking back, it is a very worthwhile statement of a good upstanding male citizen. But all it took was attendance at one of our post-home-football-game parties for about 10 minutes to conclude that none of us applied any of the principals described in “The True Gentleman” in our real lives. Predictably, “going to church” became a “special occasion” deal like Christmas, Easter, Mother’s and Father’s Days. “The Church” did not come looking for me, and I definitely was not looking for her.
The music was totally different too, and very few people actually “played” music, as in creating it, but listened to a lot. Seventies rock-n-roll. WOW. Allman Brothers, Rolling Stones, Kinks, Grand Funk Railroad, James Gang, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, Eric Clapton, Paul, George, and John, etc., etc. And the fraternity was into “Beach Music”, oldies like “Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie”, “My Girl”. I stopped playing music for the most part during this time.
I met Page Airheart on a blind date early Spring Quarter our freshman year, well into my indoctrination into the college, fraternity, partying lifestyle. She was a freshman at Agnes Scott College across town in Decatur; a girls’ school. Georgia Tech, at that time, had very few co-ed students, so, Agnes Scott was one of our main sources of females to import, date, and generally hang out with.
As summer approached for Page and I, our songs became “See You In September” and “Heat Wave” as we thought about separation and the likelihood that we would be a couple fall semester. Our relationship that started in the spring lasted through summer as a long-distance deal and resumed in the fall.
A regular party girl at first, Page became the voice of maturity and responsibility and self-control in the relationship and kept me from self-destruction during those years. She was an only child of salt-of-the-earth, high profile parents who were prominent in her small hometown in rural northeast Alabama (ok, Scottsboro). Way before me, she realized her responsibility to her name and family and traditions, and put the brakes on the fraternity, party lifestyle.
The years of my shenanigans during college extended my sentence at the Institution while Page moved through and out of Agnes Scott in the typical 4 years, and started a travelling career with Delta Airlines. I finally graduated and accepted an engineering job in New Orleans, LA. That strained and extended the “going steady” phase of our relationship, so it took ten years in that mode before she could convince herself there was any likelihood that I would grow up one day and become a responsible husband/son-in-law/father. She loved me despite my obnoxious immaturity. What a blessing.
I moved to Charleston, South Carolina after a year in New Orleans and started becoming a responsible career engineer, putting down roots in this cool historic city by the sea, and making important business contacts. As a single engineering graduate from Georgia Tech, with a professional job and salary, I still had some growing up to do as I made the shift from dependant/student to professional/producer.
In 1984, after I had been in Charleston four years, Page and I married, bought an old house in the Old Village of Mount Pleasant, SC, a historic suburb of Charleston, and I started a new engineering consulting company doing the same type of work I had been doing the previous 4 years. I was WAY out on a limb, and something inside said “plug in to a church”. Page was easily convinced since her tradition included church involvement like mine. We visited around and joined First Presbyterian Church in Charleston.
Why First Presbyterian? Well, first of all, I had just started a new company and the associate pastor “preached a sermon” the Sunday we visited about Christians taking risks, and all the Biblical evidence that we are called to be bold in faith. That had to be from God, right? Further, one of the associates was a classmate of Page’s from Anges Scott. “It’s a sign from Heaven”. And the deal was sealed when I looked at the list of “Board members” in the fine print on back of the bulletin and it was like roll call of the captains of the local business community, and a sample of some of the most important Charleston families. THIS will be great for business. Where do we “sign up”? (really, we “signed up” but it had to pass Board judgment before it was official). Soon we were sitting in “orientation classes” learning the Presbyterian slant on the truth, “Reformed” theology (my engineering mind struggled with that; “If it’s really theology, there is no way to re-form it”), and the history of that particular “Scottish Heritage” congregation, a long and proud tradition. All humor and sarcasm and current distaste for organized denominational religion aside, we were warmly welcomed by the members and they became part of our families. Page and I quickly became integral, fully-dedicated members of the body, as we had both witnessed our parents do.
God was finally doing a work in me again. He led me into things within that particular church life that awakened my Spirit and attracted me to a life of service like a moth to a 60-watt bulb. Every opportunity to learn and grow in understanding, I signed up for and never missed. We were part of the young adult fellowship, and helped the associate pastor with Senior High youth ministry. I got involved with Meals- On-Wheels and took a weekly route, and Page took over management of M-O-W. One Sunday after church a friend accosted us in love and told us we would be attending a spiritual retreat the next weekend called Presbyterian Cursillo. I heard it was at Seabrook Island, a resort golf and tennis community near the famous Kiawah Island, so I agreed and went packing golf clubs, tennis racket, etc. That weekend I got introduced to the difference between being a church member and having a relationship with my Creator. Game Changer. One feature of the retreat was live music of the likes I had never heard. Gospel, I had heard that. Church hymns from the 1400’s I had heard. These were simple songs and choruses led by people with guitars focused on praising, honoring, and worshipping God. The music leaders invited me up to play late in the retreat, and I had found a reason and application for my musical talent. I became a regular music leader at successive retreats, then Lay Leader of a retreat, then Chairman of the local ministry Council, then Chairman of the growing National Council. I travelled around the country helping other local communities start Cursillo retreat ministries and instructing musicians how to lead worship within that format.
Along in there somewhere, one of my young friends from our church youth group approached me and asked if Page and I would serve with her at a “Happening” retreat. She had been called to be Lay-Leader of the next retreat, and wanted Page and I to be on her retreat Team. She mentioned the retreat was like Cursillo, but for teens, and that it was run as a youth ministry of the Episcopal Church. We went, and WOW, WOW, WOW. I couldn’t believe what was “Happening”. Teen agers were experiencing God in a personal and life-changing way. I had no idea this was possible, or that anything like this was going on within professional religion. I was moved and changed. I volunteered to serve on the next 5 Happenings and saw God doing amazing things in the lives of these young people, and in me.
A friend who was also familiar with Happening approached to me with an idea to start a new retreat ministry for Presbyterian teens. Partnering with some strong adult leaders and their teens in Edmond, Oklahoma where we had worked together to start a thriving Cursillo adult ministry, we produced the first “Presbyterian Celebration” retreat out there. Soon after that, we did the first retreat in Charleston with a small group of adults and teens. I provided praise and worship music for the retreats, working with a number of teens who were interested in guitar and praise music. Pretty soon, one of them introduced me to Jars of Clay, a recording artist group in a genre called “Contemporary Christian”, in other words, MODERN JESUS MUSIC. Modern instruments, beats, and players. Young modern Christian writers expressing their love and devotion to God using the modern music medium. ANOTHER TURNING POINT FOR ME. I went to school on their cd and was inspired to try to write Christian music myself. In my engineering profession, my specialty was writing opinion reports about construction sites and “dirt” (actually, soil mechanics). So I thought, “If people pay me to write about dirt, surely I can write about something as important to me as God”.
I wrote my first song in 1991 called “Prayer To The Three In One”, and followed that with over a dozen songs based on blues, rock, soft rock musical riffs. I borrowed a 4-track cassette recorder from one of my teen friends and recorded rhythm guitar, bass, vocal, and a drum track for the songs I had written to share with people and find out if the music resonated with anyone. I shared a cassette with a new friend who had a Masters degree in music and was involved in the musical entertainment business in Myrtle Beach. He listened, recognized promise, encouraged me, and recommended I attend an upcoming event in Estes Park Colorado; the annual Gospel Music Association songwriter symposium where professional songwriters were teaching seminars and leading worship events. It was amazing. I went back and rewrote some of my songs based on the pointers I had learned in Estes Park.
This began a focused interest in composing and recording original music. My same friend from Myrtle Beach enlisted my help to write a song on September 11, 2001, the day of the infamous Jihadist attack on New York and DC, which became “United Through It All”, which legitimized me as a songwriter (read all about that elsewhere on this site) and connected me to some actual music-business professionals. Since then, I have written over 50 original songs, and recorded a handful of them to different stages of completeness. In 2014 I finally hunkered down and selected 9 of my recordings that I viewed as “complete” and took them to the next level of teaming with industry professionals to engineer tracks, master tracks, design packaging, and produce a “market-ready” cd. God inspired me to dub the cd “TruthRock”.
My life has produced “lasting” things. Page and I have been married for 31 years, I still act as Principal Engineer of the company I formed in 1984, Coastal Engineering & Testing Company, and we still live in Charleston, South Carolina. We have a wonderful young man in our lives, son Coleman, age 23 who works with me at my company. My parents, George and Jean Allen are still thriving and living independently in Athens, Georgia (home of the hairy dawgs, yuk), another huge blessing to me. I’ve lost my beloved WWII war hero Father-in-law, and my precious Mother-in-law, both integral figures in my life for 40 years, during the last 4 years. And I am still producing 3 teen retreats for Celebration as I have for 21 years, and 2 newer college-age retreats, Cross-Training, in addition to running a business and writing/recording original music.
I am a Patriotic Christian Southern American man with traditional Judeo-Christian values, as I hope is evident in my music. I am promoting TruthRock, vol. 1, and working on vol. 2, with a vision of leaving a legacy of original, God-centered music for future generations to enjoy and be inspired by.