Monday, March 9, 2009

now do you understand

He wasn't Red Beard The Pirate when I first met him. Randy Matthews was one of the early pioneers of the Jesus Music / Gospel Rock music that emerged from the Jesus Movement back in the mid to late sixties and through out the seventies. Randy was signed on Word records and later Myrrh Records was created for his second release.

I didn't know who Randy Matthews was when Christian Brothers Sound Company made their way down to Birmingham's BJCC. The concert was a brought to us by Ekklesia Productions, which is where I first heard of a guy named Wendall Miller. Wendall brought a lot of the "names" to our area. Again, I had never heard of Randy Matthews before that night - but he gave an unforgettable concert. I knew that when ever I got to a place where I could man a guitar- that I wanted to do the kind of stuff that Randy did that night. That night Randy laced his original songs with stories, riddled the evening with so much laughter.

He had just come out with the double album Now Do You Understand (1975), which included the memorable song Didn't He. It was a live album which much of the stories and songs he did that night are contained within that production. I went home from that concert and learned a lot of Randy's songs. I emulated his energy and impersonated his voice as I banged on Brooky's Yamaha FG-180 in the living room for at a time. There was a time when I could pretty much mimic the whole live album - stories, songs, and every voice inflection by heart. I was on a mission to understand what he did on stage that night. I had never in my life experienced someone that could get on stage and fill a room with that big a sound all by himself. I wanted to tell stories. I wanted to sing songs from the heart like that. I wanted to make people laugh and tell them about Jesus.

As I think back on Randy Matthews, I think about my beginnings as an singer/songwriter, storyteller and performer. He was my primary influence back in '75 when I was seventeen.

Later, in 1993, when I was still living in Bowling Green, I got a call from an old friend Wendall Miller. I had not seen nor heard from him in well over a decade. It was quite a surprised to hear his voice after all those years. Wendall and I talked for a long time. I had come out with my STAND CD and was singing around a good bit back then. Wendall asked me if I'd drive down to Alabama and sing for the students at Livingston University. Wendall was then the head of the campus ministries. I laughed, "Wow, I'm being booked for a concert by Wendall." I told him that I'd come down and that I looked forward to seeing him.

When I arrived on campus, I saw my promo materials everywhere. The only thing was, Wendall failed to mention on the poster that I was singing. He wrote - David Finlayson - STAND UP COMEDY. I then remembered during our phone conversation, Wendall asking me if I still clowned around. It's what he remembered me doing in my late teens when we saw each other. I told him that I did. I told him about the CD release and that I was playing a lot. While walking down those halls of Livingston University (now University of West Alabama) - my stomached tightened every time I passed a poster on a wall. There was my head shot and name with the caption reading STAND UP COMEDY! What has Wendall done to me?

Wendall was an excellent host. He treated me off campus to a steak dinner and we talked about the Ekklesia concert days. He told me about the Kieth Green concert at UAB, and I commented on the Randy Matthews concert in 1975. He said that the magnitude of that event was a big surprise to him. He said that he booked Randy to come down and Monty Matthews (Randy's dad) sent him a press kit. Wendall took the press kit to the Birmingham newspaper and left it with some guy. This fellow at the newspaper was familiar with Monty Matthews. Monty was the baritone of the Jordanairs, Elvis' first back up group. Any who - the newspaper guy gave the Randy Mathews concert a full page spread. Wendall was surprised to see that kind of free PR and was even more surprised at the turn out. The BJCC auditorium was packed to the rafters.

Wendall, Gina and I sat at the restaurant talking for a very long time. I asked him lots of questions about those events and about the people connected to Ekklesia Productions of that day. Christian Brothers Association gang in Gadsden and the Birmingham and Ekklesia gang saw a lot of each other back during that time. We'd go down to their concerts, often furnishing sound reinforcement and they'd come up for our festivals (NO JIVE JESUS IS ALIVE FALLS FESTIVAL).

So the three of us made our way back to the Livingston campus after we spent all that time catching up. I was still nervous about going into an environment where the audience EXPECTED a stand-up act. Wendall had promised me a sound system when I got there. The sound system was something heavily upholstered from the sixties - and was in terrible shape. I discovered at the eleventh hour that I simply couldn't use it. I had to have a P.A. for that room to sing.  I knew by the time the second song that my voice wasn't going to last. There I was - all those eyes looking up - and I had to do something. I put the guitar down and started telling stories and diving into ad-lib - and stirred up the room.

After it was over I went back to Gina and Wendall who had been sitting together at the back of the room. They said they were in stitches the entire time. I asked Wendall how long I had been up there and if I had done enough. Gina said, "David, you were up there 3 hours and we couldn't stop laughing!" I had no idea.
Gina later told me that she hurt the next day from laughing so hard and so much.  I knew I had gotten some response from the front, but the lights were on the stage and I was blind to the audience beyond the fourth row.

That evening at Livingston, I had never before performed stand-up comedy. I felt God winking and letting me know that He made me to be funny ~ this kind of joy giving. I drove back to Bowling Green having a definite confirmation that God had use for even my silliness. It might not make any sense to others, but that moment in time still means something to me. All those years in churches that people treated humor as beneath God's holy approval. All those years around Christians who thought of the silliness and laughter as a sign of immaturity. God said, "This is David, and this is why I made you."

So I'll just close this long convoluted telling by saying, "Thank you God for making me the way you made me. Thank you God for making people like Randy Matthews - the guy that beat the hell out of guitars, made people laugh till it hurt, open up the hearts wide enough to plant your seed."

...and thanks Randy for the influence.
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