Monday, November 13, 2006
"These Thousand Hills"
Since this is by far the most high profile song from our back catalog (Thank you, Third Day!) I thought it would be a good place to start blogging about our songs. If you are interested in all that behind-the-scenes VH1 stuff, you'll like this. If not, well... move along. There's nothing to see here. So, here I go with a little story I like to call "These Thousand Hills: The Best I Remember It."
In between the recording of Door Into Summer (spring 1989) and writing new songs for what would become Knock, Breathe, Shine, I took a vacation with my wife to Florida. While we were there we stayed with a friend whose family was from England. On the coffee table in their living room was a huge book about Scotland. I have always wanted to visit Scotland. I just love the green rolling hills, the castles, the rich history. And I had recently seen the movie Local Hero (rent it! You’ll love it!) and just fell in love with the people and traditions of Scotland.
I was flipping through this book just soaking in the pictures of the people and places and this song just sort of welled up inside me. The words “These thousand hills” I had remembered from an old western I saw on cable a few months back. I always liked the sound of it and had it in mind to use in a song whenever the right opportunity arose.
I jotted it down and as soon as we got back from vacation, I took it to the band. All I had were a few verses and the chorus. It was not anywhere near finished in my mind. The response from Mark and Steve was lackluster at best. Steve sort of liked it but Mark said it sounded too much like the U2 song “Van Diemen’s Land” from Rattle and Hum. In fact, the melody was remarkably similar. So we just sort of shelved it for the time being and moved on to other songs.
Fast forward to the recording of Knock, Breathe, Shine (spring 1990): We are sitting in the studio putting the finishing touches on basic tracks and Terry (Taylor, the producer) says, “Well, is there anything else you guys have?” I said, “Well, there is this one song but it’s not really finished.”
“Let’s hear it, “ he says. So Mark breaks out the acoustic and I sang it to him. Terry sort of lit up. He caught the whole “Mull of Kintyre” thing I was after and we tracked the drums and scratch guitar and vocals.
During overdubs, he had Greg Flesch play the bagpipe parts on a keyboard. He called in everybody from Frontline, artists and office workers and they came down and made an impromptu choir. And we had Tim Chandler play bass on it, not because Steve couldn’t but because Steve was a huge Chandler fan and specifically requested that Tim play it.
It turned out better than anyone anticipated and we suggested Frontline release it as the AC single they were always trying to get from us. They took one listen and turned us down flat. “Songs with bagpipes don’t get played on Christian radio,” they said. And that was that. Never mind that, only a few short years later, Rich Mullins’ “Step By Step” complete with REAL bagpipes shot to the top of the Christian radio AC charts.
Over the next several months after the album’s release we got tons of fan mail saying “These Thousand Hills” was the best song on the album, and they sang it in their church youth group meetings. Still Frontline refused to even hear of releasing it to radio. Even in 1998, when KMG was putting together a greatest hits package, they refused to put “These Thousand Hills" on the track listing. Two years later, Third Day recorded it and had a Top 3 radio hit with it.
And the moral of this story is: When the A&R guys at your record label say one thing and everybody else in the whole world says the opposite, don’t listen to the A&R guys.
A lot of people ask me, "Do you mind Third Day covering your song and having a big hit with it? Now veryone thinks it's their song!" Heck, no! I'm thrilled! Those guys are good friends and great encouragers. If they think a song we wrote is will encourage the church and help people see Jesus clearly then I'm all for it.
Another question I hear all the time is, "I'll bet you guys made a bun dle off that song!" You would think. The CD went gold and continues to sell very well. The song got tons of airplay and still gets a decent amount. But the truth is that back when we were first signed, our contract stipulated that we sign over 100% of our publishing rights. What that means in everyday terms is that we don't own one single song we wrote. While we did see some money, our individual shares were only about 1/16 of the total monies generated by that song.
Let me just stop here and say this: Despite the sheer wrongness of the record deal we signed and in spite of all that we have suffered financially as a result of it, I cannot honestly say I regret signing with Frontline. Maybe we should have stuck to our guns and held out for more equitable terms, I don’t know. Hindsight is always 20/20 but I’m pretty myopic when it comes to the future. I don’t see it until it’s about to run over me.
When I think about all that being signed with Frontline did for us – exposing our music to thousands of fans worldwide, the friendships that followed, the places we got to go to and people we met along the way, the experiences – man, none of it would have happened if we hadn’t signed that contract. Who knows? Maybe if we had turned Frontline down, some other label might have stepped up with a better deal. Then again, maybe we would have gigged around another year or so and then disappeared back into obscurity. Heck, we’re dang close to obscurity as it is!
All I know is that when I said that being in Jacob’s Trouble was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me, most of it happened as a part of the Frontline Music Group. And like the deal or not, it was a way cool label to be on in those days. It was kind of like an honor, you know? And to have the chance to not only work with, but get to know one of my personal spiritual heroes, Terry Taylor, and to spend time in his home with his family…well, that’s a small price to pay for a handful of songs that most folks will never hear anyway.
Well, there you have it. If any of you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them and I will respond as best I can. Thanks, and check back soon for more fun from the musty memories of an aging poser.
Posted by True North Video Productions at 4:07 PM