Let's Get This Over With

I usually prefer to not allow people to read rough drafts of my scripts because seeing the in-progress stages creates a vulnerability where people can actually see and realize you're not nearly as good at what you do as they may have thought (me rapping: a really stupid idea. The guide was for the actual rapper). Recording artists usually have closets full of rough drafts, quick demos and sketches they'd prefer not be released to the public. This is, essentially, what is here in this section, a set of guides I created for a third and final attempt to recreate the band William and I belonged to in high school.

I was in a rush because I was still in the middle of my wife's project which was, essentially, four years in development. I think I took about two or so weeks to slap this together fast as I could so I could resume her project. This is all quickie stuff, done with a new Alesis 8-track sequencer. It sounds pretty robotic and, of course, fairly 1980's (it was recorded in 1993). Still, the obsessive compulsive in me figured what the heck, lets include it for posterity.

The group never came together. Two of the principals (both married women) became pregnant before rehearsals started and opted out, and the rest seemed ambivalent at best. I find it pretty sad that, not since William and high school have I encountered a group of people, young or old, who were serious about a ministry in music. I mean, I've met lots of musicians chasing paychecks, and I've met lots of super-charged religious types who don't take the discipleship of music seriously. Not since I was a kid have I found a group that exists in proper accord with God and who were wiling to sacrifice (i.e. no paycheck) to glorify Him through their musical gifts.

In New Witness III and, subsequently, Riverside, I found phenomenally talented yet easily distracted young people content to allow me to do all of the heavy lifting while lacking commitment, accountability or sacrifice. In fact, most talented people I've known seem wholly indifferent to giving anything back to the One Who endowed them with their gift. I dragooned and guilt-tripped Yanick into helping me with the project, but her performances here are at best obligatory and non-committal, lacking the passion and fire Gospel music burns for fuel. Let's get this over with. Which is not to fault her: this was my thing, not her thing. She was doing me a favor.

In the end, I shelved the demo and cancelled the band project. It is more than kind and generous of my friends and my wife to do me a favor, but doing me a favor is not what ministry is about. As nice a gesture as it is, God is not glorified, not pleased, by people doing me favors. Even at this update (2013), I've not since encountered a group of Christian musicians willing to glorify Christ. I know only mercenaries and loving friends willing to help me out, missing the point of what they actually should be doing with their gifts.

God responds not to what we do but to our motives for doing it. Success and failure are, by that rationale, measured much differently by God. How many people show up to an event is much less important to Him than is our obedience in hosting it. Just being willing to serve Him is much more important than actually serving Him because our motives are right, even if we lack the courage or resources to move forward. Just open your mouth. You don't have to be a great singer or great speaker. You don't have to be articulate or even feel particularly "called." Just open your mouth. That's all God is asking us to do.

Nights & Days

New Witness III was to be my second attempt to recreate the anointed, dedicated band William and I experienced as kids. I did some very rough guide tracks and recruited Yanick to help me lay guide vocals. She performed nearly every song in a sort of obligatory fashion, and the resulting work (granted, meant only as a guide for my new band) was a hollow, mediocre non-effort. I've included it here because, with the inclusion of Minister Darryl Cherry's project (following), this was the only project I've done that was not represented here. This is, more or less, a capitulation to the completist impulse, as the work is eminently skippable.

Yanick and I didn't work very hard on these guide vocals, and the tracks were all sequenced cut-and-paste rush-jobs, mainly because NW3 was being assembled toward the end of Yanick's never-ending project (April, I think, of 1993) and she was fidgeting impatiently while I tried to work on my project. The tension in the house was palpable as Yanick writhed like a four year-old waiting for Dad to finish working on the carburetor. Her interest in NW3 was zero, and my ability to craft any kind of quality work here was totally inhibited by her hovering.

NW3 was my misguided attempt to bring a political militancy to the Gospel message; to be as aggressively ethnic and political in Christ as the Nation of Islam was in Allah. There is some strong language and sharp edges here, mirroring my frustration with traditional Christian outreach. 

I recruited some friends to form the group, but two of the singers got pregnant (yes, they were married), and the rest of the group was more or less hired help. I'd begun to realize something I now accept as fact: most Christians have little or no interest in missionary work or evangelism. Most black Christians I know are vain, petty, materialistic, uneducated about religious or political matters, and completely at odds with the philosophy they claim to embrace. NW3 was going nowhere fast. I shelved the guides at some point because I realized the kids were listening to Mary J. Blige now, and that new Puff Daddy sound was a whole different thing from what I was selling.

I started to rework the music into more of a Dr. Dre feel, but by that time the marriage was ending and I'd gotten involved with Minister Cherry's choir. NW3 went on the back burner where it stayed until 1996's Riverside project, which also starved to death from a lack of commitment.

This was not a Hollis Stone project. Hollis Stone's name was never going to appear on NW3. I wasn't yet sure who I was, but in retrospect, I'm certain that, had this mess actually amounted to anything, I would have credited the project to Priest, as I have here. I'd talked about and thought about and prayed about changing my last name for years, and had pretty much decided to do it by 1993, but Yanick's passive aggressive non-support for the change kept me from actually going ahead with it. In retrospect, the more I think about it, the more certain I am that NW3 was/would have been Priest's emancipation project, my coming out declaration as I lost the remaining inhibitions and timidity concerning my Christian convictions.

Open My Mouth was actually stolen from Minister Darryl Cherry, who'd let me hear a track he'd recorded based on the traditional hymn. I put a lame rap to it.

I Can't Stand It is probably my favorite moment here, classic Hollis Stone angst, snarling, hollering, ripping off Michael Jackson's Jam, which I still think is brilliant. The song was borne of the misery my life had become. By Spring of 1993 the marriage was failing fast, and both Yanick and I were incredibly stressed and incredibly tired but trying like hell to hold on.

Blue-Eyed Jesus (Who Told You That?) was me in my radical/progressive phase, annoyed that many local black churches use images of a white Christ in their sanctuaries. I'm sure I wanted, then and now, to wake black Christians from their complacency and their slavish observance of utter nonsense. He Abides was an 80's style funk update of an old Mattie Moss Clark song recorded by the B. C. & M. Choir (for Baptist, Catholic and Methodist) on their 1972 Salvation Records Hello Sunshine, a favorite of my mom's that had become indelibly imprinted upon me.

My Life I Give To You and Just When I Need Him Most were later folded into Yanick's Night & Day project. Yanick originally recorded Just When... solo, but we dubbed in Florence for the Night & Day project. The mix on the Florence version was better, so I've included Florence's version here. Just When... was written by Minister Cherry, who dislikes my version.

I'm So Glad (You Came My Way) is one of the first songs I ever wrote (I was 15 years old), and one of the first collaborations between William and myself. I almost like this interpretation, and Yanick's superb performance here is the single redeeming moment of the NW3 project.

Christopher J. Priest
January 2000  UPDATED OCTOBER 2013

Next:  Covenant Live