Updated: Jul 2, 2022
High school was interesting, to say the least. When I received my driver’s permit and started dating, life got a whole lot more complicated. In the mid-’90s my parents were NOT doing well, and neither was I. It seemed obvious that our family was falling apart. When I first picked up the guitar, I felt like an insecure reject. I became determined to escape into the same kinds of alluring creativity and dumbfounding mystery it seemed to offer others. Initially, my aim was to make my ex-girlfriend jealous. I thought, “Perhaps she would someday regret abandoning me!” But something in the rhythms I was creating kept me there. Much like the pen, I started strumming through the pain, and I never stopped.
As I sought to come up with my own songs, I thought about my journal and began using those rants to add lyrics to melodies. The therapies of old soon turned to poetry anew. In no time, unaware of what I was doing, I became a lyricist and a songwriter. I was clueless about the future and didn’t care about fame or popularity. It just felt great to craft, sing and finally be able to play actual music of my own. The song “Wise Man” was one of the first songs I ever wrote. It was written during this time in my life when music was all I had. I sang from my soul what my heart and mind could not otherwise comprehend, let alone express.
I learned many popular songs and loved going to parties to find others who appreciated the music as much as I did. Campfires were the best. I loved how a little live music seemed to light up every space and bring people together. The music seemed to keep most of the high school soap opera-type drama at bay. It wasn’t diminished altogether but it was kept to a minimum. What a great distraction! We busied ourselves focusing on who our favorite artists were and which lyrics we could memorize for the next jam in “Jeff’s backyard.”
During my senior year in High School I realized I could simply listen to a song and figure it out on the guitar fretboard without any outside help, even if it was a bit more complicated than the average two or three chord song. That was when I noticed I might be getting somewhere with guitar. Many melodies, the likes of which had previously taken days to learn, were now revealing themselves to me in a matter of minutes. How could I stop? The guitar became harder and harder to put down.
When I wasn’t in school I often looked for any opportunity I could find to perform a few songs with my peers. This mostly happened at friends’ houses and parties. It was a liberating feeling, jamming with close friends and also a few strangers here and there along the way. I played open mics, campfires and coffee houses. Eventually I started playing in church and soon noticed there was a strong response from the other young people. One memorable moment was when my brother and I played Matt Redman’s “Heart Of Worship” on the chapel stage at church camp, and nearly every teenager came forward and knelt weeping at the altar. I wondered if perhaps God was calling me to use this gift for Him. Years passed as I wrestled with this calling, but God brought me around through several other music ministers. It took years but I finally surrendered to His plan. Here’s how that happened...
(The blog you've just read is actually an excerpt from JJ's new book which will be released shortly.)