#64 EVERGREEN by Honeytree (1975)
One who is among the earliest to help create or develop new ideas, methods, etc.
In early 1997, a group of eighteen Jesus Music pioneers gathered in a mountain lodge in Southern California for three days of fellowship and music. Think of it as sort of a Gaither Homecoming-style video for Jesus People. The brainchild of Dan Collins and Steve Greisen, First Love: A Historic Gathering of Jesus Music Pioneers was released on 2 VHS tapes, 2 audio CDs, and later on 2 DVDs. The award-winning First Love is a must-have for any lover of Jesus Music; compelling personal testimonies, vintage video and photographs, and sparkling musical performances combine to deliver an experience like no other. A review in the New York Times called it “stunning.” Terry Clark’s rendition of Let’s Have a Good Time (featuring Darrell Mansfield on blues harp) was certainly a highlight, as was the late Andrae Crouch’s retelling of how he first received “the gift of music.” But arguably the most memorable moment on First Love was Nancy Honeytree’s performance of a song titled Pioneer. The Holy Spirit filled the room and tears began to freely flow as Nancy played her guitar and sang these words:
Keep pressing onward beyond your fear
Only the Father goes before you to your own frontier
You’re a Pioneer
Uncharted wilderness stretches before you
And you thrive on going where no one has gone
Still it gets lonely when darkness deepens
So sing by the fire until the dawn
You travel light, and you travel alone
And when you arrive nobody knows
But the Father in Heaven, He is glad you can go,
For those who come after you will need the road
And what you have done, others will do
Bigger and better and faster than you
But you can’t look back; no, you gotta keep pressing through
There’s a wilderness pathway and it’s calling you
Nancy Honeytree was indeed a pioneer. After surrendering her heart and life to Jesus (which we talked about in detail here), Nancy became a regular at the influential Adam’s Apple coffeehouse in Fort Wayne, Indiana, playing her songs alongside Phil Keaggy, Mike Warnke, Mike Johnson, and the earliest incarnation of Petra. Her self-titled custom album was picked up and released by Myrrh Records in 1973, and was followed by a second album, The Way I Feel, in 1974. At a time when Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Joan Baez and Carole King were popular on secular airwaves, the Jesus Movement had its very own “hippie chick folk singer” in Honeytree. Perhaps the best known female artist in the burgeoning Jesus Music field, she came to be known as the First Lady of Jesus Music. I had a chance to ask her about that title recently.
“I don’t remember exactly how I began to be called the first lady of Jesus Music,” Nancy responded. “It’s kind of embarrassing really, but I am definitely one of the first ladies of Jesus Music!”
Honeytree’s next album would make an indelible mark. Mark Allan Powell’s Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music calls it her “masterpiece.” The Ancient Star Song blog says that it is “one of Jesus Music’s most classic albums.” Blogger David Lowman says it’s Honeytree’s “best album” and “considered by many to be one of the Top 10 most important and influential albums of the Jesus Music era.” One thing’s for sure — in 1975 Honeytree took a giant step forward with an album called Evergreen.
The album’s cover featured a beaming Nancy in a pine grove, wearing a denim hat and her trademark glasses. The photo was actually taken by Bill Grein, husband of Janny, who would see her own debut album released the following year.
“The photo shoot was really simply done, as everything about the project was,” Nancy recalls. “Bill and Janny Grein and I just went out one day during the recording sessions, found a cool tree and took some pictures. If you look at my glasses really close you can actually see Bill’s trousers and his tripod, and farther back there’s Janny with her camera. They were precious friends in the Lord and powerful ministers. As for the denim hat, it’s in Mike Warnke’s collection of Jesus Movement memorabilia and I have a hat of his that was similar.”
The back cover featured candid shots taken by Janny Grein during the recording sessions and feature Phil Keaggy in addition to Honeytree. Roger Sanders designed the cover.
The album’s title was explained as soon as the needle dropped on the first song of Side One. To familiar acoustic folk and percussion, Honeytree sang these words:
When the seed was planted in my heart
I prayed that I would be
Just like a fruitful tree
And grow evergreen
Lord, let me grow evergreen
Bill Puett’s flute accentuated the brief title track.
The wide-ranging It’s Only Right has an uptempo gospel feel, complete with backup singers. It begins as an autobiographical song that talks about Nancy’s travels and her “burning desire” to sing her songs; the second verse implores her fellow Jesus People to “arise” and “do the best we can with what we’ve got”; while the song’s final verse talks about Jesus establishing the Church and His promise to return.
Next up was the soft and tender (Lovely Jesus) Here I Am. The song features beautiful orchestration and was penned by Phil Keaggy.
“Phil Keaggy used to come to Fort Wayne as often as we could get him to do concerts at the Adam’s Apple where I was the secretary,” Nancy remembers. “During the afternoon before he would play at the Apple, we would sit around in the office with our guitars and play. He would listen to my new stuff, immediately learning and playing along with each song – imagine my delight! I think Phil got a kick out of the fact that I was a pretty good guitar player and he would show me a few licks saying, ‘Can you play this?’ He taught me the beginning of Lovely Jesus, in fact the whole song, and said that although he had written it, he never heard it done by a male voice. That’s how I got the privilege of recording Lovely Jesus.”
It’s a song that speaks of complete surrender and devotion.
Next we are treated to a set of songs about people from the Bible – Mary and Martha from the New Testament, and Ruth from the Old Testament.
Keaggy’s lead guitar shines on Mary and Martha, an uptempo rocker that points out the difference between the two biblical sisters, emphasizing the importance of spending time with the Lord.
“One of my favorite things about the recording of Mary and Martha is the fantastic flute parts played by Bill Puett,” says Nancy Honeytree. “Then Phil gets going on a great electric solo and the flute comes back in… so great.”
Ruth gives us a preview, stylistically, of some of the music we would later hear on The Melodies In Me. The music has a haunting quality (and I mean that in a good way) while the lyrics ask the Lord to “give me the heart of Ruth, full of faithfulness and truth.”
Side One of Evergreen closes with another cover song, this one written by Larry Norman. Nancy revealed that it wasn’t her idea to record the song, but she’s glad she did.
“Billy Ray Hearn, who produced Evergreen, was the one who came up with the idea of my recording Larry Norman’s I Am Your Servant,” Nancy recalls. “That was just the Lord. I have heard so many testimonies of people who decided to serve the Lord with their whole lives as a result of listening to that song. If I had to pick out just one song to represent the heart of the Jesus Movement it would be I Am Your Servant.”
That’s high praise from a songwriter of Nancy’s caliber. Norman’s signature version of the song would be released a year later on his In Another Land album. But for many, it’s Honeytree’s version that they heard first and love the best.
The track begins with Nancy singing acapella in a plaintive voice…
I am a servant, I am listening for my name
I sit here waiting, I’ve been looking at the game
That I’ve been playing, and I’ve been staying much the same
When you are lonely, you’re the only one to blame
I am a servant, I am waiting for the call
I’ve been unfaithful, so I sit here in the hall
How can You use me when I’ve never given all
How can You choose me when You know I’d quickly fall
So You feed my soul and You make me grow
And You let me know You love me
And I’m worthless now, but I’ve made a vow
I will humbly bow before thee
O please use me, I am lonely
I am a servant getting ready for my part
There’s been a change, a rearrangement in my heart
At last I’m learning, there’s no returning once I start
To live’s a privilege, to love is such an art
But I need Yur help to start
O please purify my heart, I am Your servant
Evergreen was recorded at Superior Sound Studio in Hendersonville, TN with Bud Billings engineering. It was remixed at Creative Workshop in Nashville by Brent Maher, who would go on to produce and engineer six Grammy winning albums. Maher also produced Benny Hester’s debut album and is credited with discovering and developing The Judds as a country music duo.
In addition to the aforementioned Keaggy and Puett, instrumentalists included bassist Joe Osborn, Jerry Carrigan on drums, Ron Oates on piano and organist Tony Brown. Cindy Reynolds added a little harp here and there. Nancy Honeytree herself played guitar on the album, and she gave Phil Keaggy credit in the album’s liner notes for assisting with producing and arranging the album.
Side Two begins with two of the album’s standout tracks.
Rattle Me, Shake Me comes across as a bit of a novelty song. According to Nancy, it was written in an unorthodox fashion.
“Rattle Me Shake Me was made up to keep me awake while driving at night,” she recalls. “The scenarios were fictional, but the experience (of somebody thinking I was high because I was so happy in the Lord) was mine. After I got saved during my senior year of high school I worked as a Girl Scout camp counselor for the summer. I taught all my kids to pray if they got homesick and the Lord gave us a spirit of joy in our unit. My superiors at the camp were very suspicious (I later found out) and had people watching me to see if I was doing dope or doping my kids! I was so in love with Jesus and was just witnessing to everyone without any sensitivity to whether it was appropriate or not – which caused a lot of controversy. But the Lord used it by His grace because everyone kept talking about it so much that eventually quite a few of the ‘opposition’ got saved!”
Rattle Me, Shake Me became a huge favorite of Honeytree’s audiences. She still performs it to this day. I don’t think she’d ever be allowed to stop singing that song even if she wanted to!
Searchlight is another song with an interesting story behind it.
“Searchlight was written on a long road trip out west,” Nancy said. “We went to Nevada and as we were driving along endless blank desert miles there suddenly appeared a green interstate sign for the town Searchlight, which seared into my head by the sheer visual contrast. Later in my hotel room in I wrote the song Searchlight.”
Searchlight, turn your beam on me
When I’m not what I seem to be
When darkness creeps in
Turn your light on my sin
Oh, searchlight, turn your beam on me
Jesus, when my life is done
And You call me to Your throne
How I long to hear You say
On that Resurrection Day
Oh, welcome, my child
This one had a bit of a pre-disco rhythm and gave Keaggy’s lead guitar and Puett’s saxophone room to stretch out and shine.
Nancy says, “I loved the way Searchlight was recorded by the guys in Nashville and Phil Keaggy – such a great groove, the background singers were awesome and the string parts – wow! The string and BGV arranger was a guy named Bergen White. The singers included Bergen, Sherry Kramer, and Janie Fricke who later had a bunch of country hits.”
The upbeat Say You Told Me So featured some nice lead lines by Phil Keaggy. According to Nancy, it began as another type of song altogether.
She recalls, “Say You Told Me So was one of those songs that got inspired by some long forgotten drama in a dating relationship which involved breaking up and wanting to get back together – but the words were so perfect to apply to our relationship with Jesus and how we feel when we try to walk out on Him – we’re ecstatic to humble ourselves if it means we can be back together with the One who fills the deepest desires of our hearts!”
Sometimes I Need You was a gentle folk ballad, accentuated by Reynolds’ harp and Puett’s flute. This song was actually my initial introduction to Evergreen due to its inclusion on Myrrh’s double sampler album, Jubilation, Too!
Sometimes I need you to be tough
Solid as a wall of stone
When my enemies gather outside
And I cannot fight them off alone
Let me hide behind the wall
So the arrows don’t get through to me
Like a fortress strong and tall
That’s what I need for you to be
Sometimes I need you to be sharper
Than a two-edged sword
When my heart and mind lead me astray
And you know I cannot see the way
When I stumble and fall
And temptation makes a fool of me
Upon you I will call
Restore me in humility
And love, sister
Sometimes I need you just to be tender
Soft as a baby’s skin
Warmer than a mother’s smile
When my fears attack me from within
When you hold me let me cry
So I know my tears get through to you
To sing a gentle lullaby
That’s all I need for you to do
Sometimes I know it’s hard to tell
And it’s hard for me to tell you
Tough or tender I‘ll try to remember
That you need me, too
And I will do the same for you
Sometimes, sweet sister
“Sometimes I Need You became a favorite song of Joni Eareckson Tada,” Nancy remembers. “She and I would sing harmony on that one together whenever we were invited to minister at the same event – precious!”
Lullaby in Jesus’ Name concludes the album. This one also reminds me a bit of some of the music we would later hear on The Melodies In Me.
Day is done, gone the sun
But we need not fear
Darkness comes that we may see
The stars and know that God is near
Greater light rules the day
Lesser rules the night
Sun or moon, it doesn’t matter
We are always in His sight
Greater love hath no man
Than our Savior’s love
Jesus came to give His life
That we may know our God above
In the name of Jesus
I sing a lullaby
In His name I say goodnight
But never have to say goodbye
“Evergreen opened a lot of doors – there was so much radio play,” Nancy said. “I still love to hear the arrangements – it was just right. That was such a creative time, songs just seemed to roll out. I think about that now that I have to be much more intentional about writing. I can remember sitting with Phil Keaggy in the Adam’s Apple office working out the basic structure for these songs before we went into the studio in Nashville. His natural musicianship caused a beautiful flow to all the songs.”
Nancy Honeytree certainly was – and is – a pioneer. Pioneers don’t stand still. They can’t afford to. As Nancy penned in her song, a pioneer has to “keep pressing onward.” She did clear a path and paved a road for those who would follow. And while those who followed were selling more albums, getting more airplay, drawing bigger crowds, and winning more awards…Nancy was pressing through without looking back. Because there was a wilderness pathway calling her.
After the success of Evergreen, Nancy recorded a live album in Dallas, Texas and then released two wonderful albums that we’ve already written about on this list – 1978’s The Melodies In Me and 1979’s Maranatha Marathon. After her “Jesus Music” era, Nancy became an ordained minister and developed a specialized ministry to singles, continuing to write and record. She also ministered in prisons for a time alongside Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship. After marriage and family, she shifted gears once again and developed an international focus, ministering in Central America and Pakistan. A 2005 album, Call of the Harvest, featured a reunion with Phil Keaggy and was available in three different languages.
With the totality of her life and ministry in mind, Nancy’s lyrics from the song It’s Only Right certainly proved to be prophetic:
No matter where the Spirit leads
You know I’m gonna trust and obey
And keep singin’ this song all along the way
** IMAGE Rattle Me Shake Me YouTube **
Fun Fact: With this post, Honeytree becomes the first artist with FOUR albums on our list.
** IMAGE TerryNancy **
January 31, 2015 at 9:54 AM
Excellent job, Scott — such a pleasure to read. Well done, my friend!