On Friday, Jan. 13, at 7 p.m., three musicians gathered a small audience of country music fans at an event called “Heart Behind the Music” in the Claudia Crosby Theater.
The event was organized and put on by the Troy Arts Council (TAC).
“It was a very interesting night full of wonderful music and songwriters sharing memories of how they wrote their songs,” said Taylor Manning, a junior music industry major from Troy. “It was incredible.”
Marty Raybon, Lenny LeBlanc and John Ford Coley, all country musicians with various backgrounds, played several of their hit singles and shared stories about the inspiration and creation process of their music.
Raybon traced the beginning of his path to becoming a songwriter back to a 1966 third-grade school talent show.
“It was one of those ‘I knew it’ moments when you just know,” Raybon said. “I felt like I was gonna do this (singing) for the rest of my life, and that’s really actually what I’ve done.”
After playing with his father and brothers in a bluegrass band for 10 to 12 years, Raybon said he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and later to Muscle Shoals and started playing with a band, which later became known as “Shenandoah.”
“At the time we were just a club band; we were just working four nights a week, just paying our bills,” he said. “And at that time, we didn’t even have a name. We just played at the MGM (club). So at the time we were just known as the MGM band.”
According to Raybon, in 1988, CBS Records International signed a record deal with the band after hearing it play in the MGM.
“Shenandoah” went on to have “14 No. 1 records, 22 chart singles, a couple of Grammys and a few Academy of Country Music (ACM) awards,” according to Raybon.
Some of its most popular records included “Church on Cumberland Road,” “Two Dozen Roses,” and “Sunday in the South.”
John Ford Coley, a soft rock and folk musician of the England Dan and John Ford Coley duo, told the story of his encounter with a fan.
“After I finished playing, this really nicely dressed lady comes up and she reaches out and very gently takes me by the hand and in a very sweet voice she begins to talk,” he said.
The woman went on to say: “I want you to know my fiancé and I fell in love to your song ‘Nights Are Forever Without You.’
“We danced to the song, he proposed to me to the song, we loved to the song, we did just about everything to that song.”
According to Coley, the woman then changed her demeanor.
“She got about that far from my nose, squeezed my hand so tight that it hurt, and in a voice I didn’t recognize as coming out of her before she said, ‘And then that blinky-blink, that so-and-so left me, and I hated your song ever since!’ ”
“I mean I don’t scare easy, but in the moment I could only look at that woman and go, ‘cool.’ ”
Coley performed that song and followed by playing the famous “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight,” while Lenny LeBlanc played “You First” and “Above All,” a song that since its creation has become a classic Christian worship song.
“Most of what I write is Christian music, being a follower of Jesus since 1981,” LeBlanc said. “ ‘Above All’ is a little worship song I wrote and didn’t really think I would do anything about it, and then they (the record company) got ahold of it, and since then it’s been around the world.”
Frank Thompson, assistant professor of marketing, said that “Above All” was one of his favorite songs of the night and admitted to reminiscing of his own high school days upon hearing the music that was popular during that time.
“You could hear the difference, the different decades—what they were writing in the 1970s versus what they were writing now,” Thompson said. “There’s a message, and there’s a time. Music is really a way of understanding the culture at the time and the mood of the country, the mood of the individual and the generation.
“By experiencing the music, you experience the culture.”
According to Raybon, he still believes that his unchanging passion for music is a creative force that can change people, as well as a motivator that helps him in his pursuit of a musical career.
“Music allows you to do that, you know—you can share a song that tells something very strong and very positive, and when it tells it, it moves people,” he said.
“Music is a very powerful, powerful thing because it moves emotions. You know, whether somebody wants to get up and dance or whether it wants to bring somebody to tears…Being able to share that same type of creation as an individual is important to me.”
In the spring, the TAC will be sponsoring two other events with free admission for students: the “Classical Music with a Twist” program by the Janoska Ensemble on Friday, March 17, and the “Roll Over Beethoven” concert with Julian Gargiulo on Tuesday, April 4.