"I don't sing hymns because they're old; I sing them because they're good." - Guy Penrod
Guy Penrod is in every sense of the word a man cut from the cloth of rugged individualism.
Never is this more evident than in the tracks of his first solo country album project, Breathe Deep. It's more than a collection of thirteen new songs. It's the creative thumbprint of a man with strong values and a positive worldview that harkens back to deep roots in faith and family.
His well-publicized departure in recent months after 14 years as a centerpiece of Bill Gaither's celebrated "Vocal Band" was not a move for the faint of heart—nor for a man less sure that he's tracking on a right course set for new horizons.
"I came to the Vocal Band with my own personal philosophy that for my time there, I needed to have a singular creative focus and priority," noted Guy recently.
"I shared that feeling with Bill at the onset when we were initially talking about my leaving my session and studio interests in 1994 to sign on with the Vocal Band. I was committed to give one hundred percent of myself and my talents. Looking back, I wouldn't have traded a moment of my time with the Gaithers. I felt called for that season, and I felt I had purpose and family and was valued for what I was contributing. I just got encouraging notes recently in the mail from both Bill and Gloria telling me how much they loved my new music."
"I had made fourteen records with the Gaither Vocal Band when Bill asked me last year if I wanted to do a solo record. I was excited by the opportunity to individualize my music and broaden my horizons. I also wanted to be true to the integrity of not doing a solo career inside the walls of my commitment to the Vocal Band. I guess I just felt it was the right time to make the move while I still have my hair—what with teenagers and all," Guy laughs with a twinkle in his eyes.
With the launch of Breathe Deep, Guy Penrod will tell you he's not looking to change the face of country music. Only to bring a new prospective to its' best attributes. And to the question—'is this a new Guy Penrod?' -there's a short answer.
"I haven't changed a lick—I just wanted a fresh wrapper," he notes. "What's 'new' is the prospective that the music is fresh and different than what I was doing with the Vocal Band. But as far as who I am and what I've represented over the past fourteen years with the Gaithers, or how my wife and family have chosen to live our lives, there's no departure. That's the well from which I draw, and it won't change."
"I wanted with the new album to kick it out there in a little bigger pond. I believe that country is one the best genres of music from which to tell the American story. To me, music is a way of telling the story of every day America and a country song has the ability to tell a story with the potential for the positive. Songs can literally become modern day parables on how to live life. In fact, there's a lot of 'gospel' on the thirteen songs we just recorded—not my answers, but God's way wrapped in every day language with a country feel."
Born in Abilene, Texas, the son of a preacher, Guy grew up in church with a desire to somehow impact the world. "I learned pretty early in life that music was a good vehicle for me." He nurtured the gift of music growing up by singing in church and school and recalls his mom and dad telling him the story of how they stood him up on a folding chair as a 3-year old for his debut solo of "Fill My Cup Lord." From there, the powerful voice that would grow through experiences in school plays, and singing with local groups and theater productions, would lead subsequently to graduation with a vocal scholarship to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. He took a job teaching voice at a private school in Georgia before opting a year later to heading back into vocal performance and a move to Nashville with wife, Angie.
Guy Penrod is no stranger to country music. Just a country boy who grew up to become a major voice—first in Nashville's creative scene 'behind the scenes'—and later center stage as a major name in southern gospel. During the early 90's, he was an in-demand session singer in Nashville working in studio with the biggest names in both country and gospel music. TNN's "Music City Tonight" subsequently introduced Guy to wider national audiences as part of the vocal quartet that appeared nightly on the live 90 minute telecast. "I got to sing behind some of the great legends of country music that I grew up listening to, as well as backing new artists like Kenny Chesney and Shania Twain at a point when their careers where just launching."
Breathe Deep is filled with DNA from Guy Penrod's personal values system. "From a philosophical perspective this is a record I wanted to make to address a kind of 'nuts and bolts approach to living real life from a Christian worldview—one that in my opinion has been proven to work."
"I don't' see myself jumping from one genre to another—I want to blur the line, not jump the fence. There's a large base of folks that love country music and go to church on Sunday. I believe they'll connect with what we're doing. I've been blessed with really loyal support through all these years with the Vocal Band—something I'm very grateful for. I'm hoping that all these people will come with me on this new chapter of my life and music."
With him for the creative studio process was veteran hit producer Brent Rowan.
"Brent had a real heart and vision for this project and the kind of songs we were looking for. We believed there were great country songs that great writers were turning out with the same hopes we had of reaching the mass of people out there who want good country music that doesn't compromise their values. We found those writers and those great songs."
"For example, there's one song we included—Young Enough To Know Better—that's talking essentially about what we find happening socially in America with our 'kids having kids.' From the vantage point of the decisions young people make, it says, 'wait awhile.' Even When We Do talks about the beauty of growing old with the first love of your life at your side. Breathe Deep touches on how fast our kids grow-up, and how soon our parents grow old -and how precious those moments in between are."
Asked for a definition of his "signature" in music, it's a subject to which Guy has given much thought.
"The closest definition I've found for my music is 'life music.' I don't presume that everyone lives the same lifestyle. I have my wife, Angie, who's been the love of my life for twenty-five years, we have eight kids, seven boys and one girl ages seventeen down to three that we homeschool, I live in the country on a farm in a log house, drive a tractor and a Ford F-350. For us as a family--as we have tried to put God at the center of our lives, we've found peace even in the middle of life's storms. Those listening to the new music may live in Manhattan in a high rise and go to work in a limo, but at the end of the day—'life is life' and we all have joys and heartaches as well as similar basic needs and desires. That's the common thread that runs through my music that I think everyone can identity with."
In the midst of an exciting new chapter in his career, Guy Penrod believes 'now' is the time for his music and message.
"My dad used to say, 'Just take a deep breath son and...jump in, get up there and sing.. watch the ball, get back in the saddle' ...you get the idea. I believe that's good advice for living and it is in that spirit I say...brew a good cup of coffee, sit down for a minute, ponder the treasures of life, take a listen, and Breathe Deep."