by Contributing Writer Michael P. Coleman
Billy Gaines achieved fame and success throughout the 1980s and 1990s, as one half of the Dove Award-winning duo Billy & Sarah Gaines. They paved the way for acts like BeBe & CeCe Winans, Yolanda Adams and other urban contemporary gospels stars, and also helped break the color barrier with Contemporary Christian radio. Gaines has been ministering on his own since 2002. Heʼs promoting his ﬁrst solo CD, “Ten Thousand Angels”, is releasing new Christmas music this fall, and has already begun work on his second solo CD. Gaines took time out of his schedule to sit down for an exclusive interview with THE HUB.
THE HUB: I was very happy to ﬁnd that you were recording again. Where in the world have you been, and how have you been?
Gaines: Iʼm ﬁne, blessed…Iʼve never stopped ministry, but absence from radio airplay means absence in the minds of many people. Our last record (with former partner Sarah Gaines) was released in 1997. This new record is different, but itʼs an independently-produced and distributed record. Iʼve learned it works quite a bit differently [promoting a project] than it is when youʼve got a major label behind you. A lot more work goes into it!
THE HUB: Well, the new album is one of the most beautiful gospel albums Iʼve ever heard.
Gaines: (laughs) Well, thank you!
THE HUB: Talk a little bit about the album. Who produced it, and what was the inspiration behind it?
Gaines: I produced it. Basically, for years and years both my mom and dad encouraged me to record a hymn. Whenever Iʼd do an album, theyʼd ask me to put a hymn on it. Basically, I grew up with these songs. They are songs that my mom taught me…sheʼd play the piano and Iʼd sing them. That was the way weʼd spend many of our evenings together, growing up. The other thing is they meant so much to me, the content of those songs…Iʼve often said if I couldnʼt have a bible, and I could only have one book, Iʼd choose a hymnal because there is enough real doctrine in a hymnal to preach the entire gospel. From Moses to Revelation, Iʼm serious. These songs just have a special place in my heart.
THE HUB: Where was the album recorded?
Gaines: In Indianapolis, in a studio thatʼs in the back of a church. Iʼd come for Sunday service and stayed later, and basically laid down one song after another…itʼs basically recorded live. No splicing, no editing…it was a truly a moment of inspiration from the Lord.
THE HUB: So you recorded the album in one session?
Gaines: In one session…in one evening! Itʼs one song after another. It was just anointed. God just put it together, man. Itʼs one of the things that has happened in my life where I can see that God was just pulling me along and making it happen. He was doing it in a way where there would be no question about where it came from. I knew that something would come out of this record, because it was something that he did and I didnʼt do. Itʼs like “Jesus, take the wheel!”, you know? (Laughs)
THE HUB: (Laughs) Oh, I know! It sounds like God was at the wheel from the beginning. I need to ask you about “Thereʼs Room At The Cross For You” [from the new album]. When I heard it, I was just overcome.
Gaines: That means a lot, man. Itʼs interesting that you chose that song. I got saved listening to “Thereʼs Room At The Cross For You”. I was 14 years old. My mom had a hymns album by Kate Smith. She was a singer in the 50s and was famous for “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” and “God Bless America”. But her biggest deal for ME was “Thereʼs Room At The Cross For You”. It all came together for me when I was laying on the sofa at 14-years-old listening to that song.
THE HUB: Well, your version is AMAZING.
Gaines: Thank you. You know…sometimes you can feel a little isolated, and after so many years [out of the public eye] I didnʼt know whether people still wanted to hear me. So to hear that, itʼs wonderful. Thank you!
THE HUB: Thank YOU! I want to talk to you a little bit about the early part of your career. Everyoneʼs wondering about Sarah. How is she?
Gaines: Well, I donʼt really want to talk about that part of my life and relationship. As you might know, in 2001 she decided to stop ministry. I really donʼt want to talk for her or about her. I just want to talk about what God has done and is doing in my life.
THE HUB: I apologize for prying, but you began your professional career with her, so when a Billy Gaines solo record comes out, it begs the question…
Gaines: Oh, you donʼt have to apologize. I can appreciate people wanting to know whatʼs going on. I just donʼt want to cloud the waters with anything other than what God has called me to do, you know?
THE HUB: I do, and can respect that. But I have to talk to you about the early part of your career. The two of you, along with a handful of other artists, were among the ﬁrst African Americans to achieve artistic and commercial success on what was the more middle-of-the-road Contemporary Christian charts. That was before BeBe & CeCe Winans hit…tell me what being a trailblazer in that regard was like.
Gaines: Well, it wasnʼt expected but there again it was something that God just pulled me into. If I had had my way, our ﬁrst record would have come out sounding like an Earth, Wind & Fire record! Thatʼs my background, along with a classical music background. Iʼm as at home with a piano doing hymns as I am singing with a band with a bass and a big horn section. I just love music and know how to ﬁt into all of it, you know?
THE HUB: Well, itʼs pretty clear that you know how to work within very different genres. You ﬁt very well into that Contemporary Christian format, and then started moving in a more urban direction. Youʼve collaborated with some of the greats in gospel music: CeCe Winans, Fred Hammond, Keith Staten [founding members of Commissioned]…what was it like to work with those legendary artists?
Gaines: Oh, man it was amazing, it really was. We were at the forefront of Benson Records going in a more urban direction. “While You Wait” (from “Friends Indeed”) was one that Fred worked on with us, we were [Benson Records] label mates at the time. Our producer Dan Cleary was also the A & R guy at Benson. Dan asked me what act would I sign to the label. I answered in one second: Commissioned. We went and signed them, right then and there.
THE HUB: Could you see at the time the potential in Fred Hammond? He had to have been so young…could you see where he was going to go with his solo career?
Gaines: I have to say I didnʼt, because he was really with Commissioned. It was a few years later when Iʼd talk to him a few times a week when he was going thru some trials with the split from Commissioned, and other labels were trying to get him to do different things, to start recording secular music. But working with him was a great pleasure and opportunity. And then with CeCe Winans and later Anointed…well, probably one of the biggest disappointments of my career was our “Come On Back” album. Sarahʼd done a duet with CeCe called “Freedom”, and the title track “Come On Back” was a duet with Anointed. Word Records [Anointedʼs label] would not allow us to release that song as a single, and neither would Sparrow Records [CeCeʼs label] allow us to issue “Freedom” as a single. I mean, the whole concept of collaboration is to hit the market and show some unity and togetherness between artists, and the labels just stepped all over that one. Weʼd started an independent label [with Christian music producer Michael Omartian], and sometimes big labels donʼt like that. It didnʼt make any sense to me, and it was a blow emotionally. It almost felt as if something was trying to work against us, you know?
THE HUB: I can imagine how frustrating that must have been, because that “Come On Back” album was excellent. Because youʼd been known as Contemporary Christian artists, that one came as a surprise because we hadnʼt heard that kind of groove in your earlier records. Where you inﬂuenced early on by many secular artists?
Gaines: Understand this was 1986. Iʼd been listening to Donny Hathaway, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Stevie Wonder since the 70s. That was my musical era. I didnʼt really come out of the church musically. I became a Christian and decided to glorify God, but my musical experience came out of those guys. Those three artists, without a doubt. Stevie as a songwriter, Donny as a singer, and EWF musically. The only difference between me and those guys, really, was that my ultimate motivation was to spread the gospel.
THE HUB: Well, the inﬂuence of Donny Hathaway on your music is clear. Donny wasnʼt with us long enough to do “Ten Thousand Angels”, but God completed that work thru you.
Gaines: Wow, thatʼs an awesome compliment man. Thank you.
THE HUB: Youʼve talked about artists who were your inspirations early on. What singers do you listen to today?
Gaines: Oh, man…with what I grew up on, I donʼt mean to disrespect anyone, but itʼs hard for me to be impressed musically. I havenʼt found anyone to come out who moves me the way that I was moved growing up listening to music in the seventies…
THE HUB: I might agree with you. I think it may be because those artists from the seventies came up with at least one foot in the church…
Gaines: I think youʼre right. [Music producer] Maurice Starr was at my home once, because he was interested in signing my son. He said “If you want a star, you can ﬁnd one anywhere. But if you want a superstar, you have to look in the church.” God has anointed them in there, and He doesnʼt take that anointing away, and they take that anointing and touch people.
THE HUB: Speaking of your son, Iʼve seen a home video of him as a little guy, singing “Give Love On Christmas Day” , and I initially thought he was lip synching to Michael Jackson. Then I realized he was singing it live! He took after you FOR SURE! Is he pursuing a career in the music industry?
Gaines: Heʼs in Los Angeles, and he is working on stuff that Iʼve heard. Itʼs secular, but itʼs amazing…thatʼs all I can say.
THE HUB: How about his dad? Whatʼs next for you? Can we look forward to another “Ten Thousand Angels”?
Gaines: Iʼm preparing to record my very ﬁrst live record. I feel like I have some unﬁnished business, to be accepted in the urban or black gospel marketplace. Itʼs something thatʼs on my heart…I havenʼt done that yet. So my aim is to do a live record, to cover some of the things Iʼve done in the past that I think will be appreciated in that market. Iʼll start it independently, maybe record a few songs and see what kind of interest is out there. But the record industry has changed so drastically over the last few years. Weʼll see. Maybe Iʼll do the record myself and trust God that weʼll get some radio airplay, since thatʼs what drives sales. Weʼll see…
THE HUB: Billy, itʼs clear to me that youʼve been through a few things, your share of ups and downs. What advice do you have for someone whoʼs going thru a trial right now?
Gaines: Well, my word of encouragement is this: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not to you own understanding. Acknowledge him in all your ways, and He will direct your steps. Let me go further and say when we do that, thatʼs ﬁrst of all the surrender of our lives. Thatʼs us talking to our father and saying “Look, Lord, I really want to be successful, but I donʼt know what Iʼm doing so Iʼm surrendering my plans to you and asking you to show me what to do. You canʼt have a better guide in life than the One who created the heavens and the earth. And it does work, man…it does.
THE HUB: Well, I should have known that youʼd go right to the scriptures for your advice!
Gaines: (Laughs) Well, I canʼt help it!
THE HUB: Well, I appreciate your time, sir. Keep doing what youʼre doing, It is GREAT to have you back, Billy!
Gaines: Praise God, and thank you! God bless you, man.
THE HUB: God bless you!
Look for three new Christmas songs from Billy Gaines this holiday season, and download his “Ten Thousand Angels” album from iTunes or order it at billygaines.com. Billy is also available for performances and praise and worship services. Email him at BillyGaines@aol.com & follow him on Twitter: @BillyGainesSing
Email Michael P. Coleman at email@example.com & follow him on Twitter: @ColemanMichaelP