For those of you old enough to remember the movie American Graffiti or have seen the film in later years you will remember a subplot involving Curt Henderson as portrayed by actor Richard Dreyfuss. The young Dreyfuss always seemed one step behind in catching up with the blonde haired girl (Suzanne Somers) in the T-Bird. Rocketown Records recording artist George Rowe had an auspicious beginning to his career that sounds a lot like Curt Henderson.
Rowe had got it into his head that if he could only meet his hero David Foster then he could jump start his career in music. His encounters and near misses however always seemed to leave him wondering if Foster even knew he existed. Rowe’s first encounter with Foster occurred while he was attending Pepperdine University on a full scholarship. He became friends with Foster’s nanny who offered to introduce Rowe to Foster. She arranged for Rowe to sit in on studio session. Foster and Natalie Cole were creating her CD Unforgettable. Rowe recalls the somewhat humbling experience, “I was blown away to not only meet David Foster but Natalie Cole (as well). I thought this is so cool. I sat there speechless and had nothing interesting to contribute at all. When we broke for lunch Natalie said, ‘Now why are you here? Who are you?” After stammering out a reply that didn’t really answer the question he sat silent in the studio for another four hours. When everyone went their separate ways he felt he had blown a great opportunity to tell them about his hope for a career in music.
Rowe’s second Foster encounter was both grotesque and more fleeting. After their first encounter Rowe had recorded a demo just on the off chance he might someday meet Foster again. “A couple of years later I am driving home late at night on the Pacific Coast highway and I saw a terrible accident. It turned out driver was a friend of mine from law school,” he says. Rowe describes the scene as his friend being bloodied after hitting a jay walker who was now dead. He quickly called 911 and began to help in whatever way he could. Rowe says, “Minutes later David Foster drives by.” Rowe’s obvious priority was the accident scene but it all seemed so surrealistic to him.
Rowe displayed an interesting mixture of being naï¶¥ and attorney like persistence when he decided to do the unthinkable and just drop by David Foster’s house with his demo CD in hand. At the security gate he spoke rapidly over the intercom system in a self professed attempt to confuse the person at the other end. His plan worked because the gentleman became confused and told Foster that there was a friend of his outside who had been in an accident with him and needed to see him. The man who Rowe mistook for a security guard and later turned out to be an emerging singer met him on the driveway with a less than warm greeting. The jig was up and Rowe was told, ‘He gets hundreds of these every single day what makes you think he will listen to yours?’ remembers Rowe.
To make a long story short the man agreed to take Rowe’s CD and sent Rowe on his way. Foster promptly threw Rowe’s CD in the trash. Later in the evening Foster and the other artist had a change of heart and hauled the CD out of the garbage. After listening to it Rowe says, “They called me at 12:30 am. They said, ‘Is that really you singing on the demo. I said yes. They said we have to talk can you come over tomorrow?” Foster came up with an idea for Rowe and the other artist to form a duet with Foster producing the project. Unfortunately the CD fizzled. Foster and Rowe however remain friends to this day.
Rowe went back to working at his lucrative job with a Malibu law firm. He lived in a lush neighborhood where his neighbors included; Tom Hanks, Cindy Crawford, Cher, Barbara Streisand as well as many other celebrities. All this seemed a far cry from his life growing up in Clayton New Jersey a blue collar town of 6,000 people. To some this would appear an idyllic existence but something was missing. The aching in his heart to pursue a ministry in music would not go away, “At night and on the weekends I would go around singing at churches, camps, youth functions and colleges. I borrowed money from a friend to record a CD and sold it out of the trunk of my car. I just felt so fulfilled and useful.”
Rowe struggled over whether to continue with his law career or to follow the tugging at his heart strings. “I didn’t want to be a starving artist and was pretty proud of the fact that I was an attorney. Nobody in my family had ever gone to college let alone graduate school. It was fun to go home to a small one traffic light town in New Jersey where everyone knew that I was an attorney and had done well. I got used to do that and got sucked into the lifestyle,” he says.
It was at the urging of his peers, friends and his best friend his wife Merritt that he decided to choose music. In fact when I asked Rowe how his fellow lawyers responded he said, “(They said) it’s about time. They were big supporters. They all knew what I was doing and had bought my CD. They all gave me their blessings when I left. They are still great supporters today.”
Although Rowe was sure this was what God wanted him to do you get the impression it was not without fear and trepidation, “I thought okay I am giving up a lot here and God has to honor this urge that He has put upon my heart.”
“I was pretty worn down by the time the record came out (late in 2003). It was a pretty draining process. It was emotionally draining and financially draining. I really had to examine my heart to figure out if this is what I wanted to do,” says Rowe.
Rowe says throughout the difficult times of launching a career as a Christian artist and adjusting to the sparse income that often accompanies those beginnings his wife Merritt has been a fortress. He uses superlatives such as organized, phenomenal and unwavering to describe her. “She has been a pillar of strength and faith. She is positive, constructive and affirming. (She has told me) ‘I am still confident this is what you are supposed to be doing with your life.’ She is pretty down to earth and aware of the things that are important in life. She has been pretty committed to me as a companion and as a friend. ”
The song “Think About That” was birthed when Rowe was feeling generally discouraged about life. Merritt directed him to Philippians chapter four and verse eight. It is a passage that speaks to all the good things that God does bestow upon us.
The CD “Think About That” provides a reflection of the peace and encouragement George and Merritt Rowe have found in Scripture. Beautiful praise tunes such as “Swerve”, “Everlasting” and “Say The Word” adorn this album. They are gentle songs that highlight the R&B timbre of Rowe’s vocals.
Rowe also draws upon lessons learned as a child. He says, “My parents are blindly faithful. They are resolute in their faith. We were at the church building whenever it was open. (When I was a child) they were committed to Christ and leading us (to be like Christ). That fundamentally has shaped who I am.” He says despite the fact that his father worked shift work he never missed a school concert or sporting event that his siblings and he were involved in. “His kids were his priority. My parents sacrificed and did anything for their family. They loved us with their time and attention,” he says.
Those lessons of sacrifice have spilled over into Rowe’s ministry today. His involvement with International Justice Mission and his own prison ministry are just two examples. “I was first introduced to them (International Justice Mission) when they were in town (Nashville) three years ago for GMA week. They heard that Rocketown had signed an attorney to their roster,” says Rowe.
He described for me the work of International Justice Mission, “When you hear about the victims, their stories and the atrocities that are happening in the Asian countries we go into it is just heart wrenching. The organization goes in and rescues young girls who are sex slaves overseas. They are being held against their will.” Readers will be shocked to learn that these girls are in many cases ten years old or younger. While touring with Natalie Grant he discovered that she was also involved in supporting the ongoing efforts of IJM and hopes together they can raise the awareness of these tragic conditions.
Rowe says one of the greatest blessings he received while performing occurred in a level five prison in Georgia. He described the inmates singing as sounding like a well rehearsed choir.
Rowe is enjoying being a part of the Rocketown Records family. He says, “I truly love going to work everyday. Sometimes it means being on a tour bus and seeing different parts of the country. Sometimes it means sitting at home writing songs, going to the studio, writing or visiting with the media.”
Copyright © 2006 Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved. This material may not be redistributed without prior written permission from Joe Montague. Joe Montague is an internationally published freelance journalist / photographer.