'Still Singing His Song'
Pastor Ron Hemphill doesn't go a day without reading his Bible or playing his guitar.
"I play guitar every day of my life, unless I'm behind the steering wheel or 30,000 feet in the air. It's just what I do. I feel lost without it," he says.
Lessons from the Bible merge with his love for music in his latest album, "Still Singing His Song," which he produced with Fire Place Music last fall.
Hemphill invites the community to hear his new Christian Country songs during a free hour-long concert beginning at 4 p.m. Sunday, March 4 at his church, New Life Bible Chapel in Prineville.
"My vision for this album is entertainment but ministry at the same time," he says. "I want people to be able to sing along with it, I want people to enjoy it, but I want it like ministry time, too."
This album isn't this ol' cowboy's first production. In fact, this is Hemphill's eighth album.
"I've been recording out of Nashville since 2005," he says as he strums his guitar. "I have a producer, and I trust this man. He's been in the ministry for a long time."
Robb Tripp, along with his wife, Shanda Tripp, own Fire Place Music and are based just outside of Nashville, Tennessee.
In November, Hemphill spent a week there recording the 10 songs for "Still Singing His Song."
So how does a cowboy-type pastor in Prineville, Oregon, end up recording songs in Nashville, Tennessee?
"Today's technology, the studio musicians, they're something else," Hemphill says. "What I'll do is on my iPad, I'll sit here, and I'll pick up my guitar."
He goes on to explain how he takes videos of himself playing the songs that he'd like to record. Most are cover songs, meaning that somebody else wrote or recorded them. He then emails the videos to his producer. When he has enough songs to produce another album, he heads to Nashville.
This time, however, he hadn't quite nailed down all of the songs for "Still Singing His Song."
He had Blake Shelton's "Savior's Shadow" on his long list, but his wife, Paula, thought it was too mundane, and Tripp agreed.
But, Tripp had another song in mind for Hemphill.
A man had recently come into Tripp's studio and played a demo. Tripp played the song for Hemphill.
"I was in a swivel chair, and I had to turn my back to him, and I started bawling like a little baby. I'm a full-grown man, and I'm a cowboy. Cowboys don't cry," Hemphill says. "The song is about a soldier. And it just got to me. When the song was over, I had to get my composure back."
"That's your song, isn't it?" Tripp asked.
It was called "Thank a Soldier."
"So we scratched 'Savior's Shadow,' and I went back to my motel room … and I learned the song overnight," Hemphill says.
As producer, Tripp arranged for studio musicians, which Hemphill calls the "cream of the crop," to play the keyboards, bass, guitar, fiddle and background vocals. Tripp, himself, plays the drums. Hemphill is the vocalist.
The album includes "Power in the Blood," an old hymn that Hemphill wanted to be done in Western Swing. The steel guitar player on this project, Scott Sanders, who was the backup steel guitar player for George Jones, questioned it, but agreed.
"This particular album, it's got a lot of hot, jumpy stuff, but it's got two I guess what you'd call old-style country. We're talking old-style country, real heavy," Hemphill said. "The third song on here, 'I Know a Man Who Can,' is just as country as country can be."
He calls "Meanwhile, Back at the Cross" a difficult song because it has six vocal key changes.
Other songs on the album include "Get Up in Jesus Name," which Marty Raybon, the lead singer of the band Shenandoah, first recorded. Hemphill sings "A Bible and a Belt," which Joey and Rory Feek produced.
Hemphill believes "Quiet Time" was written for him.
"It's about me and my morning," he says of his quiet time with his cup of coffee and his Bible at the beginning of each new day.
Other songs include "Thanks For the 'G' Chord," "Mercy Walked In," and "Granny's Gonna Run."
They produced 600 CDs of the album, some of which are available at the church for $15. It's also on download cards and thumb drives as well as online, through iTunes and other sites. He also offers a songbook for sale.
Hemphill has released some of his songs from his eight albums to Christian radio stations, and he gets a quarterly royalty check for whatever is played on the radio.
In April, he and his wife, Paula, will travel to Nashville to record a full-length video on one of the songs and two short videos and release them to Christian TV. They will also put on concerts at several churches along the way.
But Hemphill, who pioneered New Life Bible Chapel in 1982, looks forward to playing for the home crowd.
"Music comes right out of my heart. It comes right out of my soul," he says. "I play what I feel, and I feel what I play."
Ron Hemphill Album Release Concert
Date: 4 p.m. Sunday, March 4
Place: New Life Bible Chapel, 510 NW Fourth St., Prineville