The Road Behind…The Road Ahead
Most Christian pop music fans know that Greg Long isn’t just the "new guy in Avalon" or the "husband of Janna from Avalon." They know, for instance, just how long Mr. Long has been singing "How Long," his first single and first No.1 song from his first solo album, Cross My Heart, in 1995. It was the first of four solo albums that each delivered at least one No. 1 hit on Christian radio.
But after stepping in to help his wife and friends in Avalon when Michael Passons left the group last summer for a number of already booked dates, the resulting blend of voices and hearts led Greg to agree to join the group permanently. And though the familial aspects of that decision are self-evident, being an ‘Avalonian’ didn’t lessen his desire to create music as a solo artist. In fact, if the songs on his fifth and latest solo album, Born Again (Christian Records), are any indicator, it would appear the experience has caused the singer to become more personal than ever before.
The album’s title song tells the story of Greg’s own baptism at the hands of his father, an itinerant preacher/evangelist who led revivals in various parts of the country. "All my life I was a vagabond," he says, recalling a childhood spent on the road. "My two brothers and I were students at a Christian school but only spent five to 10 days a school year at the facility itself. The rest of the time we were out with the family on a bus being tutored by my mom. And when your friends are back home in South Dakota, you make short-term friends at the churches Dad’s ministering at, getting real chummy but knowing by Friday you’d be done.
"My dad had to make a choice between being away from his family most of the time or taking them with him in an RV on the road. I personally am glad he chose the latter because whatever was lost in the sense of rooted-ness in a certain place was more than made up for by being with him. I guess it prepared me for the life I live today."
In college, Greg started a men’s trio that traveled every summer and weekends for concerts. After four years, he joined up with a touring evangelist for whom Greg would provide the music ministry and lead worship. As Greg says, chuckling a bit, "Yeah… outside of working in the campus bookstore when I was in college, I’ve never really had a 9-to-5 kind of job. This is who I am. It’s in my blood."
As for the title song, Greg explains, "My parents taught me that Jesus loves me and encouraged me to give my heart to Christ, which I did at 5. But they never forced me into any other religious commitments or service. I sang on the platform when I was a kid, but that’s because I asked to do that. It wasn’t until I was 12 that I asked to be baptized. We were ministering at a church in Florida on the Gulf of Mexico at the time, and the lyric of the song is literally the story of my baptism. In fact, the video we made for the song [included on the enhanced CD] features actual footage of my baptism that was shot for home movies at the time!
"When I first mentioned the title of the song to Don Koch, who I wrote it with, he balked a bit, saying it sounded like a title of so many songs that had been recorded years before. But I said that it wasn’t a song about the need to be born again per se, but it was my testimony, my life, my story; and nobody’s testimony is invalid. Having said that, I hope that by the end of the chorus, when the lyric says, ‘It’s not about what I was/It’s about what I am," anyone who has found Christ and been found by Christ should be able to relate to those words. I mean, I believe we are compelled to present Jesus to our culture in a way that is contemporary, and I hope the music does that; but the term ‘born again’ comes out of the mouth of Jesus himself, and there’s no reason to shy away from that." Another very personal song on the new CD is Greg’s updated cover of Dallas Holm’s classic anthem, "Rise Again," which he says also has a Florida connection.
"The reason I chose to record ‘Rise Again’ is because I recommitted my life to Christ when I was 14 at a Dallas Holm concert that was also in Florida. His music really, really ministered to me and impacted me; and, without stretching the truth at all, I can tell you that when he called people forward for commitment that night, it was almost like I couldn’t resist. I was drawn so strongly to recommit my heart to Christ, there was really no other decision for me in that moment.
"In looking at that now from a music minister’s standpoint, there are times when I think to myself, ‘I’ve got to make these people really want to serve Christ or commit their lives to Christ,’ but Dallas Holm didn’t make that happen for me that night. That was the Spirit of God moving in that place and in my heart who compelled me to do that."
And Long says it’s that same Spirit who he calls upon to take his words and music and make something of it that is more than the sum of its parts.
"I don’t want to sound hokey, but I pray that God would really and honestly use my music in people’s lives because I experienced the power of this music and message in my life growing up. From Dallas Holm, to Russ Taff, to Andraé Crouch, to Edwin Hawkins, the Imperials, 4Him… these people and their music really did make a difference in my life. I can honestly say I’m honored to do the same kind of work and pray to make the same kind of difference in someone else’s life."