Question of the Week: J.D. Miller

One of the most delightful aspects of blogging in this industry is the opportunity to come across people who have shaped our genre in one way or another but either were never recognized for their efforts or have been forgotten. One such individual is J.D. Miller, a songwriter and pianist who commented on a recent post of the J.D.s of Southern Gospel music that mentioned him.

Daniel: How did you get involved with Christian music, and what led to you becoming pianist for the Gaither tour for five years?

J.D.: Thank you for your email and for the inquiries regarding my history with Gospel Music. I would be delighted to try and answer your questions, but I am doubtful that it will be that interesting to your readers. They would probably prefer to hear more about the “Legends of Gospel Music” than some obscure pianist/songwriter.

My primary recognition in Gospel Music circles is only through my association with the Gaithers. Prior to writing with them I wrote and produced jingles for Corporate clients such as”Nationwide Insurance, McDonald’s, KFC, American Airlines, Valvoline, Humana, Hyatt Regency, and many more. I did that for 22 years. I also had songs recorded by country artist like Kenny Rogers, and J P Pennington, and co-wrote with over 60 other artists. Then one day Jim Hill (of Stamps Quartet and Golden Keys fame) was kind enough to take a cassette of some of my Christian song demos to Bill Gaither and made him ride in his car out through the Indiana back woods until he had listened to the entire cassette. Bill called me soon after that and invited me to write with him and Gloria. After we had written several songs together, Bill invited me to travel with the Trio and the GVB , helping his Dad with the product sales and playing keyboard so we would have more time on the road to write and work on song ideas.

For the record, we never wrote any songs on the road!

I have been an admirer of Bill and Gloria and their contribution to the church through their creative writing and productions since I was a young man playing for church for my Dad, who has been preaching now for over 55 years!

Daniel: You co-wrote a number of songs with the Gaithers; two of the most enduring classics you helped write, that are still being played and sung in our genre, are “I Just Can’t Make it By Myself” and “I’ll Worship Only at the Feet of Jesus.” Could you shed any light on the writing of those songs—when they were written, who had the original idea, and what inspired them?

J.D.: Each of the song I co-wrote with the Gaithers were ideas they initiated. Sometimes Bill would show me a beautiful lyric that Gloria had written that didn’t resonate with him musically. He would ask me to show him how i might treat they lyric with a melody. Then he would contribute his directions and very quickly we would record a piano version of the melody line with chords. Then Bill would send those rough demoes to some of the most successful producers in the industry and get them recorded. I was always amazed to hear the final releases!

“Peace Be Still” is a great example of how things would begin. The Gaithers had taken a tour of the Holy Land with some of their GM friends, singing at each famous spot on the tour. When they got to the Sea of Galilee, they found it difficult to come up with a song that was appropriate for that place and experience. The peacefulness of the Sea, the reminder that God was in control even through the storm… Bill wanted to capture that feeling in a song. So when they returned, Bill invited me to contribute music to the words, “Peace, Be Still”. Gloria added her beautiful lyrics after she heard the melody we created. It is still one of my favorite memories of writing with Bill!

“Old Friends” was an idea Bill had right after he began producing the now famous Gaither Video Series. He wanted a song that captured the warmth and nostalgia that he felt when his ‘Old Friends” gathered around a piano and sang the “shape notes”, or got together for Fried Chicken dinner. We created that melody at the Gaither’s studio in 15 minutes in between a recording session I was producing there at the time.

Daniel: You’ve written or co-written probably a dozen other songs which many Southern Gospel fans would recognize, with 86 total listed by BMI. Are there any other songs you’ve written—whether or not it would be one we’re likely to have heard—that have special meaning for you, or that you would count to be among your finest work?

J.D.: There are some songs I have written by myself that have been recorded by other artists. Steve Green recorded “Let Us Praise The Almighty.” The Stone Brothers recorded “They Sing Glory” (with a little help of a bridge Lari Goss added after the original song was written). Scott Fowler and the Johnson Family Quartet both recorded “Yesterday’s Preacher,” a song I wrote about memories of my Dad preaching when I was just a kid. Wade Hammond recorded “He Whispered” and “A Soldier Volunteers”, all songs that I wrote alone. Others are out there but these come to mind.

Daniel: What have you been doing in your years since being a pianist on the Gaither tour?

J.D.: Since leaving the Gaithers I have continued to produce recordings for Christian artists such as Gordon Jensen, Larry Orrell, Jerry Trammell, Roy Tremble and others. Like Bill, I have a deep respect for those Gospel artist that contributed to the recognition of quality Christian music, and want to do all I can to support and encourage them. I take at least two “mission trips” each year, taking Christian performers to places like China, Russia, Ukraine, Honduras, India, Jamaica and Mexico. I also have served full-time or part time as music director for local churches here in Kentucky.

Between the productions, writing, trips, local ministry and activities with my children and grandchildren, I stay quite busy! I am blessed to be so active!

Daniel: Thank you!

J.D.: Thank you for the opportunity to share some of the details behind the creations. I appreciate your forum and your interest.