Steven Curtis Chapman has enjoyed one of the most successful careers in Christian music — enjoying hit records in four straight decades. However, his just-released disc, “Deep Roots,” released through Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, gave the Kentucky native a chance to revisit his roots by recording several time-honored hymns in an acoustic setting.
“It all begins with bluegrass,” the singer told Billboard. “I grew up in Paducah, Kentucky, and loved it. That was the first music I heard as a kid. Folk, bluegrass, banjos, mandolins, and dobros. Those are the instruments that define the music of my earliest childhood. Then, like all kids, I discovered rock and roll, electric guitar amps, and fuzz petals, and all the toys that came along and expanded my musical interests. Still, at the heart of me as a music guy, it was acoustic guitar, sitting round and picking with my family around the kitchen table on some of the songs that we recorded here like ‘What A Friend We Have In Jesus,’ or at Church – where I bet we sang the old Gaither song ‘He Touched Me,’ about a hundred times and ‘we’ meaning my brother, mom, and my dad singing four part harmony. Those were my musical memories.”
I’ve always said that someday I wanted to make that kind of record – to go to the deepest depths of my musical influences, and use those instruments, and arrange some songs the way I would want to interpret them, but to use those instruments.”
Enter into the conversation Julie Craig, marketing manager at Cracker Barrel, who helped to give Chapman that voice. “They caught wind of that through some different conversations, so they came to me and asked ‘What do you think about a hymns record, but make it the way you want to?'”
Chapman also opted to re-interpret a selection of his own songs and allow his recent life experiences to take on new meanings.
“I’ve been through so much in the last 25 years, and more recently in the last few years – from walking through the deep grief of losing my youngest daughter in an accident, and all of those things that have made those songs all the more important to me,” he said. “To be able to include my dad and brother, and have them sing with me, my son, and daughter-in-law, and even my bluegrass ‘big brother,’ Ricky Skaggs make an appearance, this was a dream come true for me to get to record.”
Recording with Skaggs on “What A Friend We Have In Jesus” was a treat for the singer, as he was one of his biggest influences in the 1980s. “I’ll never forget when Ricky Skaggs came upon the scene, he was this bluegrass guy, but he put such a spin on it with these cool chord changes, and songs that made it accessible to a whole new audience. I was a huge fan. In fact, I got a job working at Opryland, singing in a show where we would dress up and take on the persona of different country artists of the time. I would come out as him, and sing ‘Heartbroke,” he says with a laugh.
The singer is mindful of the opportunity that a Cracker Barrel partnership has afforded him – both musically, and from a marketing standpoint. “I think there will be people who come in who think ‘You know, I’ve heard of him or his family,’ but haven’t heard my music. They might pick this up and say ‘I want to check this out. I like these old hymns. I grew up singing them.'”