A couple of months ago patrons of the Cup O’ Joy an incredible music venue in Green Bay, Wisconsin made these comments about the young man they had just witnessed playing his Taylor 714 CE guitar in concert.
“The message in his lyrics is vulnerable, yet strong?a heartfelt and honest performance.”
“Jason Gray is a master storyteller whose music and lyrics paint a prophetic picture, displaying sight beyond his years.”
Jan O who books the talent for the Cup O’ Joy had this to say about the musician and singer, “We’ve watched Jason grow over the years as a songwriter and performer. Jason Gray is someone who connects with people’s struggles?laying out bits of hope in a challenging world.”
The pop singer, like country singer and guitarist Mel Tillis who will be inducted to the Grande Ole Opry on June 9th, has created a startling career despite having a serious speech impediment that manifests itself in his speech as a pronounced stutter. Like Tillis the stutter is completely absent in his music. Gray’s music should not bear an asterisk that says he is a good musician, for a guy with a handicap. Gray should instead simply be described as a very good recording artist. His current CD All The Lovely Losers is a testament to his beautiful vocals and superb pop melodies.
The title of the album may at first glance seem somewhat confusing; however, Gray takes his cue from the Beatitudes. “I wanted to make an album that explored the virtues of brokenness and weakness, but I didn’t want it to be depressing. I wanted it to be hopeful and even joyful. It seemed to me that Jesus was saying, ?Blessed are the losers,’ which is where the title (of the CD) came from,” says Gray. It also serves as the incubator for songs such as “Blessed Be,” not to be confused with Matt Redman’s tune, and “Weak.”
Gray knows a lot about weaknesses and overcoming difficult circumstances in his life. “I grew up in an abusive home and one of the enduring scars is my speech handicap. When as a young man I became aware that God had a calling on my life, I used to argue with Him saying, ?I think you have the wrong guy and you can’t make me your spokesperson.’ When you tell God that He can’t do something it is like a dare that He can’t resist. He began to put me into places where I had to speak even though I didn’t think that I could do it very well. I believe that he uses us not in spite of our weaknesses, but because He wants to use our weaknesses. We read over and over that His strength is perfected in our weakness, and that He uses the foolish things of the world to compound the wise. I think however, as a people we want to still appear to be strong, competent and put together. I think that God uses our brokenness to make us tenderer, “he says.
When one considers the daunting challenge facing a young man with a serious speech impediment who feels compelled by God to take up a career in music, even the bravest of individuals would feel somewhat intimidated by the prospects. “When I started out I thought how crazy is this, a guy who is handicapped should be up on stage communicating with people. How is that going to work? I didn’t want to do it and I felt foolish. I have since discovered that one of the reasons that people like me is because I am not perfect. I think that our failures and weaknesses make us a safe place for others,” says Gray.
Not surprisingly, the affable musician says that he has found great encouragement in the life of Moses who also had a speech impediment and some have suggested was handicapped with a stutter.
Gray’s career is also a direct result of the golden rule of “Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Storyteller and musician Michael Card who I had the privilege of meeting in Toronto a few years ago is one of the most compassionate and sincere people you will ever meet and long before there was a singer named Jason Gray he was used as an instrument of God to set Gray’s career in motion. Early in her career, Sara Groves was invited by Michael Card to participate in one of his tours. I will let Gray pick up the story here, “She (Groves) had an amazing experience. Usually as an opening artist you have to pay to be in the opening slot, you play a few songs at the beginning of the night and they keep the house lights up a bit so that the headlining act can make a dramatic entrance. Michael (Card) just hates that and feels that it creates competition rather than community among artists. He therefore handpicks an artist to tour with him, has them play in the middle of his show, introduces them and honors them throughout the evening. He sets them up in a way so that they can succeed. Sara was overwhelmed by how things went and they asked how they could ever repay him. He told them to do the same thing for someone else,” Gray says as the story just starts to warm up.
Continuing he says, “In December of 2001, I had quit (his career in music). I was broke, discouraged and was doing the music thing. Troy (Sara’s husband) called me the same week and asked me if I would like to go out on the spring tour with them. They honored me and paid me for the tour. This came at a time when all kinds of other artists would have offered to pay them to be on their tour. A more established artist (than me) would have attracted bigger crowds but instead they chose me,” he says.
“When they ran into Michael Card at GMA that year Sara and Troy told him that they were doing what he had asked them to do. He was blown away by it. In the twenty or so years that he had been asking other artists to replicate what he does, the Groves were the first people to do so and I was the guy,” Gray gratefully acknowledges.
It therefore fitting that today Troy Groves manages Jason’s career and Sara performs a duet with Gray on the album All The Lovely Losers. The song that they sing together is “The Cut.”
Gray participated in the production of All The Lovely Losers, joined by Matt Patrick and Nate Sabin. “This was my dream team because Nate is very emotional, instinctive and from the gut. Matt is very creative, quirky, cool and creates good ear candy. I thought it would be cool to make a really hip record with a lot of heart. That is what we tried to do and I am pretty happy with the way that it turned out,” says Gray.
Gray has not hesitated while touring and performing to share his struggles both with his stutter and his struggle with depression. He says that in turn he has been rewarded as people approach him following his concerts. Concertgoers share with him how his ability to speak about his own struggles and overcome them has encouraged them. “It is amazing to me that sharing my little stories can accomplish that in a person’s life,” says Gray.
Jason Gray may be surprised concerning his affect upon people’s lives, but we should not be because not only is he a truly gifted artist but he is also a truly amazing person.
Copyright © 2007 Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved. Joe Montague is an internationally published journalist / photographer and the publisher of Riveting Riffs, www.rivetingriffs.com .