Southern Gospel Times Feature Article
I grew up listening to my dad sing the songs he had written so songwriting was a big part of my early life and music exposure. There wasn’t a week that went by where he’d stop me while we were working and sing a few lines of some new song he had written. His great enthusiasm for a new lyric made a great impression on me and is probably the main reason that songwriting and music publishing are my two favorite passions in the music business.
I love songwriters, the stories behind their songs and finding out what influenced them to write songs. This month I wanted to kick off this songwriter series by highlighting the journey of John Lemonis. I met John almost 20 years ago. We were both going around town pitching our songs to music publishers and we ran into each other one day at Sonlite Records. We’ve been friends ever since. John has plugged away at writing and pitching his songs over the years and I’ve watched him have some great success since that first meeting. Let’s learn a little more about John’s journey as I pose a few questions to him about his writing:
Mathis: What influenced you to write songs?
Lemonis: There was an old song that stated, “my heroes have always been cowboys.” Well, not so much for me! My heroes were songwriters. I remember buying phonograph records and reading the credits while I listened. When I finally started having my own songs recorded, it was surreal to see my name alongside some of those “heroes”.
Mathis: Tell the readers about some of your favorite songs you’ve written and any stories or information behind them.
Lemonis: My songs span a variety of styles and themes, so selecting a single favorite might be difficult. My most successful song to date is “Live to Worship”, but it is definitely not a “masterpiece” by any stretch of the imagination. The lyric for “Live to Worship” was written with a great lyricist, Tony Wood. Taking just a little more than 45 minutes, we wrote the lyric and then strategically passed it along to Scott Krippayne for the music. He is a tremendous melody writer. We wrote it for Plus One, who was looking for a worship song to record and then do live in their concerts. Though they passed on the song, it has since been picked up by Point of Grace, recorded by Joy Williams (Civil Wars), used in the Girls of Grace conferences, recorded by co-writer Scott – for whom it was a number one single, was nominated for a Dove Award, selected for multiple choral collections, recorded by PureNRG, and was released in a children’s music collection, not to mention that I released a version, several Indy artists have recorded it, and the song generates CCLI points as well – being used in churches around the globe for worship services. For all those reasons, it must be considered for the list of my favorites, right?
Another Krippayne-Wood co-write would possibly make the list, too. “The Closer I Get to the Cross” is one of my favorites because of its theme, some of the lines, and the music. Its initial recording was by a pop band named Palisade, produced by Jeremy Deibler (FFH). However, it was more driving rhythmically than the original demo version. Lyrically, it’s an intimate description of what we see and what we find as we move closer to the cross of Christ. It’s as much about looking at ourselves and how the cross affects everything. I also love that it contains “I Am Thine, O Lord” as the bridge, the great hymn by Fanny Crosby and William Doane.
“Forgive Myself” is a newer song I co-wrote with Amy Shellem. A very special song and personal statement for me, it chronicles the struggle of letting past failures go and moving on. Written from a recent real life experience, it is as personal a song as I’ve written. Forgiving ourselves is often harder than believing that God can forgive us. The song will make an appearance on the next Three Bridges recording. I also recorded it for my new Pathway Records release, “Starting Over”.
I have fun when I write with someone and consider it a challenge to say something significant. Out of such sessions have come songs like “The Last Time” (co-written with Bill Seymour) and “Call Me Gone” (co-written with Michaela Lindsey) on my new project. “The Last Time” reminds us of loved ones to whom we have said “Goodbye”. It’s the last time we’ll ever have to do that again with brothers and sisters in Christ! “Call Me Gone” talks about saying “Goodbye” to this old world with its struggles!
Mathis: Songs are great for writers and artists and labels for many reasons but ultimately it's the listener that we hope they have the greatest impact on. Can you share a favorite story or encounter that means the most to you where a song you had written impacted a listener's life?:
Lemonis: Hearing that my music has touched people’s lives is a huge reward. One lady reported that she had awakened for many years to her husband saying, “Good morning, Sweetheart” to which she replied, “Good morning, Herschel.” When he passed away, she was heart-broken. It was about that time that my song “Good Morning, Lord” (co-written with Marty Funderburk) was heading up the charts and receiving premium airplay. She heard the song and adopted the title as her new morning phrase! She says she now starts her day with “Good Morning, Lord!” It reminds her that ultimately He is in control and He is taking care of her! I love that it helped her through this difficult time. I don’t know that anyone would consider me a hero for writing a song, but I pray that God will keep granting opportunity with my music to have great artists record the songs and to have people be moved by them.
If you’d like to learn more about John Lemonis and the songs he has written, you can read more about him by visiting his website: JohnLemonis.com
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