"The realization that between raising hell and ‘Amazing Grace' is that fine line that we're walking on all the time, trying to live life to its fullest, and at the same time knowing that every day of our lives is a blessing," said William Kenneth "Big Kenny" Alphin of country megastars Big & Rich. "And I feel like, to those given much, much is expected. We've gotta reach out there and help those that need our help right now."
Although Kenny speaks like the son of a preacher man, actually it was John Rich (who comes out of Texas and Tennessee) whose father was a preacher—a guitar-playing preacher, at that. But Kenny's mother was the pianist at their church in Virginia. Both Big & Rich had spiritual grounding; both did a lot of Sunday singing. And both credit their fathers for their love-everybody, help-thy-fellow-artist values.
"Everything that's happened in my life has guided me to be the person I try to be now," says Kenny. "My father's one of the most incredible people I've ever met. He's a saint by all means, always trying to help his neighbor, anybody that he could." As a musician, Kenny struggled, to the tune of huge credit card debts. But, he says, he continued to believe, "no matter what, that you're gonna come out the other end and climb a top of a mountain. I've definitely felt that heartache enough times that it makes me truly compassionate."
As a kid in Amarillo, John experienced poverty. He and three siblings lived with their parents in a trailer, and they went to the food bank for help. Still, John recalls, "I watched my dad take guys in off the street. He didn't have anything to help anybody with, but he'd do whatever he could do to help people out."
"When you see somebody who's got the goods, you want for them not have to go through the same mistakes we had to go through," says Kenny. John adds: "We all share our momentum and our contacts. That's why we're being rewarded so greatly, is because we've been so selfless with it."
"We realized that there was this whole bunch of us that were making all different kinds of music in different joints in town," said Kenny. "We were all writing songs together, no matter what kind of music we were predominantly making, and we wanted to play them more often. So we decided, why don't we get together one night a week and find us some little place where we can make music and not have to clean up afterwards?"
After a four-year wait, the multi-platinum hit duo Big & Rich are set to release their latest studio album, Hillbilly Jedi
, Sept. 18 on Warner Bros. Records. The anticipated new album includes their latest Top 20 hit, "That's Why I Pray," which is the fastest-rising song of their career. I had the great opportunity to interview John Rich about this song.
Please share the background story that led you to write "That's Why I Pray."
I think "That's Why I Pray" takes on issues that you don't typically hear about in songs. It comes right at it, right out of the box. When you are in Country music or any type of music outside of Christian music, you really have to be careful how you say things because you don't want to seem like you are preaching at people. Those songs may not get listened to on Country radio. I think this song comes at the subject from the right point of view that pretty much everyone can relate to, regardless of politics, religion or background. Pretty much everybody wakes up in the morning afraid to turn on the news and afraid of what is happening in the world that seems completely out of control. You can do all the charity work in the world, give all the money you can, tithe 100 percent if you want to, and there's still things going on that are out of our control. The only thing you can do about it is pray. We need to pray that things will get better and believe that they will get better.
Please tell me which Bible verses connect to the message of the song.
"Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them."
How has that passage and the message of this song been a part of your life?
When you look at the situation that just happened at the movie theater in Colorado, it is just shocking. "That's Why I Pray" became an anthem on Country radio in Colorado right after that tragedy happened. For Big Kenny and I, this song is the most powerful and important thing we've ever said in our music. I grew up in Amarillo, Texas, and my dad was a minister since he was 19. He's been a real fire and brimstone kind of guy. He plays his guitar in church and he's a really charismatic preacher. When we would pray over dinner, it would take 2 or 3 minutes. And it wasn't "thanks for the food"; it was serious business. It is a serious endeavor to ring the Lord's telephone, and what you ask for--what you say to Him--is a very serious thing. I've even told atheists that are friends that just because you don't think God is there doesn't mean He isn't. If you ever want to call on God, He's there to listen to you. People can say all day that prayer doesn't matter, but that's not true. God cares about what we care about. If enough of us care about it at the same time, God really cares. If we don't call on Him, He'll let us see what happens without Him. This song is the perfect way to hit millions of people with this incredibly powerful message. You can play this song anywhere and we feel that people need to hear the message.
Man on the TV is goin' insane
And everybody's just laughin'
People across the world holdin' on
The earth caved in and
The ocean came down crashing
My neighbor just lost his house 'cause he can't get a job
Don't you dare pledge allegiance
Don't you dare speak of God
Chorus: I'm beggin' for forgiveness
I wanna make a difference
Even in the smallest ways
I'm only one person
But I can feel it workin'
I believe in better days
That's why I pray
Some stupid video posted as a joke
Somebody's life gets ruined
Out of everything we can create
Where is the cure to keep the sick from losing
Babies havin' babies 'cause their parents are always gone
Somehow we have forgotten
How to make a house a home
There's demons from my past
That haunt me every night
And I just can't get through it
If I could forget them on my own
I'd let go and just move on
But heaven knows I am only human
That's why I pray
That's why I pray
Matthew Henry's Bible commentary:
"We have many promises in Scripture of a gracious answer to the prayers of faith, but this gives a particular encouragement to the joint-prayer; the requests which two of you agree in, much more which many agree in. No law of heaven limits the number of petitioners. Though but two or three are met together, Christ is among them; this is an encouragement to the meeting of a few. Besides the secret worship performed by particular persons, and the public services of the whole congregation, there may be occasion sometimes for two or three to come together, either for mutual assistance in conference or joint assistance in prayer, not in contempt of public worship, there Christ will be present. Christ will be in the midst of them, for it is not the multitude, but the faith and sincere devotion of the worshippers that invites the presence of Christ."
I really applaud Big & Rich for recording a song with such a bold message. I resonate with the message and as a Christian who does understand the power of prayer, what people need to take away from this song is that we aren't in control of circumstances under our human ability. The power of God can transcend our human understanding and power. We serve a God who is much bigger than our struggles. What would your life look like if everything were taken away in this moment? Would Jesus be enough?
Corrie Ten Boom said: "When we are powerless to do anything, it is a great joy that we can come and step inside the ability of Jesus." This is an amazing song and really reflects the joy we receive when we don't rely on our own understanding, but instead fully submit yourself to faithfulness and trust in the ability of Jesus to lift us up no matter our circumstances.
The chorus is a great example of the power of prayer and the faith that God's listening. I love singing along with these great words: "I'm beggin' for forgiveness / I wanna make a difference / Even in the smallest ways / I'm only one person, but I can feel it workin' / I believe in better days / That's why I pray.
(You can watch the music video here.