LIMA — His parents might have hoped that he’d take a different path.
“My mom,” David Phelps told me, “is a college professor in English. My dad’s a CPA. So they’re both very practical people. So when I said I wanted to be a musician that took some convincing. But they definitely got onboard.”
His parents’ blessing was probably not that hard a sell. Phelps, who will be coming to Lima for a Sept. 30 performance at the Lima Baptist Temple, recalls that music was always a part of his family’s everyday life.
“We weren’t really professionals,” he added, “but we’d sing at different places around locally. We sang together a whole lot.”
A tenor gifted with with a three-octave range, his decision to pursue a career in music seemed like an obvious choice to the Tomball, Texas, native.
“It was in my teen years when I started realizing that I had something different. I think it was ninth grade when I got in the car and said, ‘Dad, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’ And it hasn’t changed since then.”
Pursuit of this goal led to Baylor University, where Phelps earned a bachelor’s degree in music, then to Nashville, where he planned to launch a solo career. But while in the process of recording an album that was to be released under his name as a solo artist, he got the break of a lifetime.
“Someone walked in from the record label and said, ‘Hey, did you hear that the Vocal Band is looking for somebody?’ And I said, ‘Let’s take a break here and let’s see if we can work that out. I want to make some calls and see if I can get an audition.’ I’d always wanted to work with Bill and Gloria. They’re just amazing. So we sang together and got to know each other and it went from there. I was with them for about 18 years in all.”
According to Phelps, being a member of the Gaither Vocal Band is a lot like becoming part of a family, or maybe a bit like joining the Marines. During his 18-year tenure, Phelps sang with the band while continuing to record solo projects. And a relationship with Bill and Gloria Gaither is a relationship that endures, even when you’re no longer on active duty.
“Bill has always been very open with the whole thing,” Phelps explains. “He said, ‘You need to keep doing your solo stuff and it’ll grow right along with us.’ They kind of complemented each other. When it’s time for someone to go, he’s always been very gracious. We go with his blessing and he says, ‘We’ll see you again soon. You’re always part of the family.’”
Phelps’ most recent album, “Hymnal,” is something of a departure from his previous releases. In addition to his talents as a vocalist, Phelps also writes 85 to 90 percent of the material that he records. But for “Hymnal” he has chosen to perform some of the best-loved hymns of the Christian faith. Focusing on familiar songs like “Amazing Grace,” “How Great Thou Art,” “In The Garden,” “Victory In Jesus,” and “It Is Well With My Soul,” Phelps says that “Hymnal” is his attempt to recreate a worship service for listeners.
“There are these great hymns that these amazing writers from generations before us have put together with blood, sweat and tears. And going through all these amazing songs, I’m still moved. There’s great poetry. It was a great privilege to put the whole thing together. It was a lot of fun to do.”
Phelps’ current tour — “A Journey of Faith” — highlights selections from the new recording, but he and his band will not be attempting to perform the entire album onstage.
“We don’t recreate the album. We do parts of it, sections of it. But then there are songs from over the years that people want to hear that we make sure we do. It’s really about making a wonderful evening for the family. We do songs back from even my first record, and on forward.”
Unlike a lot of touring Christian performers who rely heavily on pre-recorded backing tracks, Phelps travels with a full band, one that has been on the road with him for a decade.
“I have bass, drums, keyboards and guitar, and then I have a violin and a trumpet player and some vocalists. So it’s a full stage. We have a great time.”
Proudly keeping it in that musical family of his, Phelps notes that his sister Kari Lee plays trumpet and his music director is his wife Lori’s cousin, Jack Daniels.
Phelps says that he and his band have been “hitting the road pretty hard.” But that is something he has always done. “It’s part of who we are.”
And he is eager to share that experience with the people of northwest Ohio.
“We’re just going to have a great time. You’ll clap your hands and, hopefully, you’ll also be moved by a message of hope at the same time.”
Reach Dayton Fandray at firstname.lastname@example.org.