Behind the Song… with Lyn Rowell and Wendy Wills: “Jesus is Holding My Hand”

When I “reviewed” Doug Anderson’s solo album, I said that “Jesus is Holding My Hand” was easily the best song on the project. I said that even after hearing clips of all the other tracks, and I put in a later note saying that I still maintained that position after listening to the CD in its entirety. Fortunately, somebody out there agrees with me and decided to single the song. It’s enjoyed chart success and become a staple of Signature Sound concerts as Doug takes it around the country and the world.

I asked the writers if they would be willing to let me and my readers into the process of how the song came to be, then came to be recorded. They graciously agreed.


Me: What was your initial inspiration for the song?

Wendy Wills: I came to a chapter of a Bible study I was doing that focused on Psalm 23.  I was thinking about how the Shepherd Lord is with us in both valley and pastures, and “Jesus Is Holding My Hand” popped into my head.  I remember thinking what a nice little song idea that could be, simple and hopeful, certainly true.  I do remember specifically thinking of starting from the green pastures and still waters, because that’s where I was spiritually – I was experiencing no trials or tribulations at that time.  I also was thinking that it’s these peaceful times that God wants us to recall when we’re going through the hard times because he has shown us his faithfulness.

In my mind was a picture of the mountains I hiked around when I lived in western China.  Deep, cool valleys nestled in between forbidding mountains.  But, oh, the view from the top!  That is truly a mountaintop blessing!  Life is a chain of mountains and valleys and Jesus is with us in both places, leading us to the place where he restores us, and helping us climb through trials.

Lyn Rowell: Wendy and I had a writing appointment at BMI in Nashville, and she said she had an idea — a lyrical hook with a melodic idea, so she played and sang “Jesus is holding my hand.” I immediately liked it, and we started talking about what it meant to us personally. I told her I had been realizing that both mountains and valleys can be encouraging or discouraging, based on the specifics of the circumstances and exactly where we are at the time. A valley can be restful and inviting when there are green pastures, but when the valley turns dark, the main goal is to move through it as quickly as possible! Similarly, if we stand at the base of a mountain looking up, it can be imposing and challenging. But once we’ve reached the top of the mountain, it becomes a place of victory and peace. So those different perspectives were the inspiration for the verses in the song for me, but the one idea holding it all together was that “Jesus is holding my hand,” no matter what happens.

Me:  How did lyrics and music come together? Did one of you write music and the other lyrics, or were both a joint effort?

WW: I came to the appointment with a melodic and lyrical hook.  But after that, it was definitely a collaborative effort.

LR: Since Wendy had the initial melodic hook on the guitar, she took the lead musically. It did take more than one writing appointment, but the music and lyrics came together at the same time as we worked through what we wanted to say.

Me: How did Doug come to record it?

WW: Lyn was more involved in that process.

LR: Ray “Chip” Davis did a great demo for us, and we began to pitch the song. Then in June of 2010, Wayne Haun (who was producing the project with Ernie Haase) texted me to ask if “Jesus Is Holding My Hand” had been cut yet. I texted back that it hadn’t been and asked why. He said they were listening for Doug Anderson’s solo CD and loved the song.

Me: Did you expect it to find the kind of success that it’s had?

LR: I was surprised, but excited to hear that it would be the first radio single from Doug’s project. When they first put the song on hold, they said it had the classic sound they were hoping to find, so that may be one reason why it’s been so well-received in live concerts all over the US and in other countries they’ve visited recently. Doug’s YouTube videos show that he always makes that song a rich moment during the Ernie Haase & Signature Sound concerts. He has the perfect voice to bring the song to life, and he communicates the message beautifully.

WW:  I really had no idea what to expect!  Lyn really kept me in the loop. It went from:  “Wayne loves it,” to “He played it for Doug,” to “Doug loves it,” to “It’s going to be the first single!”  I saw Doug sing it live at his CD release concert in his hometown of Lapel, IN, in April.  He was awesome.  People were singing along . . . it was a sweet moment.


Thank you ladies so much! This is a great song, and I’m just pleased as punch that it’s getting such good exposure. When you put two gifted writers in the same room, good things are bound to happen.


Behind the Song…with Dianne Wilkinson: “Where’s John?”

Last week, a lot of us got a good laugh at “Camping and crew” over the fact that they predicted the Second Coming on May 21st, and of course nothing happened on May 21st. But at the same time, we should recognize the sadness of what was going on there. Not only were many poor people fooled into giving up their livelihoods, Camping and his followers only gave more fuel to the fire of those who mock the idea of a Second Coming entirely. While it’s certainly true that no man can presume to know the day or the hour, we should still be sober and vigilant, knowing that Jesus surely will come.

Dianne Wilkinson recently penned a song on this very topic, and she was gracious enough to answer some questions about it for the blog.  It’s called “Where’s John?” and it has generated very positive critical reactions despite its chilling subject matter: The song is written in the first person from the perspective of a man who’s been left behind in the last days, searching for a brother named John who (we realize) has been carried away in the Rapture. The speaker says John was always warning him that one day Jesus would return, but he only laughed in his brother’s face. Now there are “open graves everywhere,” John is missing, and the speaker is slowly realizing the horrible truth of what awaits him. Most southern gospel songs leave the listener with some sort of pleasant feeling inside, but this is one fascinating exception!

Besides being interested in the song itself, I was curious about the fact that Arthur Rice had recorded the demo, since Terry Franklin always does Dianne’s demos. Read on for her intriguing answer to that question as well.

yankeegospelgirl: How did you come up with this fresh lyrical idea for a southern gospel song? Was there any specific inspiration?

Dianne: I wasn’t even thinking about writing…this song started coming to me, as many do, lyrics and music.  It only took about 20 minutes to finish, and I made no changes.

yankeegospelgirl: How did the music evolve? Did it come right along with the lyrics?

Dianne: The melody started in the minor key, and it seemed right just to keep it there, given the way the song turned out.

yankeegospelgirl: How did the Kingdom Heirs come to record it? I understand that Arthur picked it up after doing the demo.

Dianne: That is really a God thing. The young man who did the track on this suggested to my publisher that they send it to Arthur for the demo, and Arthur has never demo’d one of my songs before or since. When he sent it in, that’s when I realized Jeff was singing the bass feature (Arthur was doing all the other vocals). Well, I didn’t think the Kingdom Heirs would ever do this song, but I sent it to Steve French so he could hear what a great job Arthur and Jeff did. He contacted me immediately to put the song on hold, and was very excited about it. He thought it had a message the world needs to hear. Of course, I did, too…but I thought it would be difficult to get it recorded. I’m so glad the Kingdom Heirs did.

yankeegospelgirl: This has been described as “one of the creepiest songs in SG,” but in an approving way. What’s your reaction?

Dianne: Well, it’s certainly different.  It’s dark, and imagery is one of a young man’s growing terror after being left behind at the Rapture…separated from his brother.  So I expected people to react to it differently than probably anything I’ve ever written before.  It will be interesting to see how it’s received before live audiences.  My prayer is that it will find lodging in the hearts of lost people who come to a concert, or go into the Kingdom Heirs theater at Dollywood, and cause them to come to Christ before it’s TOO LATE.

yankeegospelgirl: Thank you very much!

I hope this will not be the last “behind the song” feature I get to do on this blog. Thanks to Dianne for taking the time to let us in on the song-writing process here!

Catching Up With Ian Owens

I thought my readers might enjoy the little conversation I had with fresh bass singer Ian Owens this past Saturday. He was very generous with his time, and I can now speak from experience that he is a great guy as well as a great singer. Enjoy!

"I have a heart of gold"


Me: How did “The Old Rugged Cross” become a sugar stick for you—how did that happen?

Ian: Basically, it’s one of Ernie’s favorite hymns, and he said that he enjoyed my heart and my delivery in a song, and he asked me to do it. And I think he was pleased with what I did, and now it’s just kinda an every night thing.

Me: That’s awesome. So how are you doing keeping up with “the steps?”

Ian: [Laughs] Oh that, you know that’s the hardest thing for me, because I am not coordinated. I have rhythm, but I am not coordinated. Not at all.

Me: Can you play basketball?

Ian: No. I can be the ball. They can play basketball, I’ll be the ball. Or I can play basketball if it has a joystick. But the steps are really the hardest part for me.

Me: So where do you see yourself going now as far as sort of refining your craft and becoming an even better bass singer?

Ian: You know, I have the same mentality today that I did when I started. And the reason George Younce is my hero is because for him it was always about singing first. He just happened to have a low voice. And for me, I want to work on my singing. I don’t want to work on the lows, I don’t want to work on the depth. That comes, it comes with age, they say you’re not even a real bass singer til you’re 45…I got 15 years to be a real bass singer! [Laughs] And so, you know, I’m working on the singing.

Me: I want you to keep that. I want you to keep that upper register, ‘cuz that’s where you really, that fruity, rich tone—keep that, don’t lose that, okay?

Ian: Yeah, thank you very much.

Me: Do you foresee any Imperials covers in the group’s future now that you’re on board?

Ian: I would hope so, because you know some of the older Imperials stuff from the 70s, the Terry Blackwood, Jim Murray, Sherman Andrus, Armond Morales, those days, that harmony was impeccable, it was wonderful…

[I share my own early memories of the Imperials…]

Ian: You need to tell Ernie we need some Imperials covers.

[I assure him that I have suggestions…]

Ian: Well “I Believe” is an Imperials cover, and that’s you know, Armond hired me to take his place.

Me: You know what you should do, you should do “My Mind Forgets a Million Things.”

Ian: Oh, I love that song.

Me: You have to sing that.

Ian: The only reason I didn’t with the Imperials is because I felt like I wasn’t really old enough for that song to seem relevant.

Me: Well I know, but you have to do it. I mean, you’re the only bass who can really…I thought nobody could top Armond on that one, but now you’re here, you can do it.

Ian: Oh thank you, thank you. I love you. [Looks over at bystanding old ladies.] I love her. Insert, “This is where I hug her.”

[This is where he hugs me.]


Catching Up With Doug Anderson

This past Saturday, I caught up with Doug Anderson in Grand Rapids. I also caught up with Ian Owens (look for that interview later!) Doug shared a little bit about his upcoming solo record, which I thought might interest my readers. (By the way, this sweet sepia shot is just one of many great shots I took from the concert. Look for a slideshow of those later—there are 60-some of them. [Update: See slideshow and concert review here.]  Some of my favorites happened to be of Doug—go figure!) Anyway, without further ado, here is my mini-interview with Doug Anderson.


Me: So I understand your debut solo project hits on May 3rd?

Doug: Comes out on May 3rd in all the stores and on all the tables—we’ll sell it at our concerts.

Me: That’s great. Can you tell us a little about that, like how long it’s been in the works, how you went about choosing songs and what we can expect it to sound like?

Doug: Well Wayne Haun and Ernie Haase are the producers on the project. We sat down in Chicago one weekend and played about a hundred songs, and we came up with ten that we really liked. Great messages, the style of it is pretty eclectic. There’s all different styles. And I’m excited about it. There’s a song out right now called “Jesus Is Holding My Hand…”

Me: I’ve heard it. It’s beautiful!

Doug: It’s on the radio right now, so…

Me: Now who is the writer?

Doug: Lyn Rowell and Wendy Wills—“Jesus is Holding My Hand.”

Me: That’s great. And that’s got a little bit of a country sound to it.

Doug: Yeah, and a lot of my stuff is more country sounding ‘cuz I love country music. But we did it with a gospel flare, with a good message.

Me: Yeah, you know when I heard it, I thought “That sounds like something from one of Gordon Mote’s solo projects.”

Doug: Yeah! Well I’ve always been a big fan of Gordon.

Me: He’s awesome. What can you say?

Doug: Of course, I mean yeah, Gordon’s a great talent, I love him… But we’ve got some great songs on this project, and hopefully the people will come out and buy it and support it!

Me: I sure will.

Doug: Well, thank you very much.