Latest additions to the Vocal Band are having “the time of their lives”
Todd Suttles has a background in athletics. In fact, the Gaither Vocal Band baritone singer has been around athletes his entire life. Therefore, it’s not surprising that he has a unique way of referring to Bill Gaither. To Suttles, Gaither is “Coach.”
“I’m part of a team now,” Suttles says. “I was a coach so long. I miss the coaching aspect of having someone you know who has the best interest for you and best interest of what is going on.
“Bill coaches us. He coaches me through every song I sing. We put ourselves in all of these songs.”
Suttles worked at Vanderbilt University for 21 years, serving as the strength and conditioning coordinator for all of the university’s athletic programs for nine years.“I coached for a while,” Suttles points out. “Being in the organization I was in at Vanderbilt, you see a lot people.
“This is beyond … it’s a God thing. I have a brotherhood, a trustworthy aspect. It’s amazing that these people are real. Bill is grounded. I know grounded people, how they treat people, how they think, how they make decisions. When he said, ‘Todd, I would want you on my team even if you couldn’t hit the ball’ … that was something. Adam is from Kentucky. I’m from Georgia. David is from Texas. Wes is really from Tennessee. We talk about everyday stuff. Heartfelt listening is what we do. How do we treat people? That’s one of the songs on the project … ‘Sow Mercy.’ It’s life-changing. It’s a positive aspect. Bill is teaching us on stage. He loves the people out there. Bill is an everyday person. He’s the same person on stage and off stage.”
Gaither does have some athletic interests.“Bill loves basketball … the Pacers (Indiana’s National Basketball Association franchise),” Suttles notes. “We talk basketball.”
Though he remained on staff at Vanderbilt after joining the Gaither Vocal Band, Suttles recently decided to step away from that chapter of his life and devote himself fully to the group.“It was a little bit of a tough decision,” Suttles admits. “You go through and look at stuff in life. It’s choosing what to hold on to and what to let go of. I’ve been there 21 years. I have a thing called Camp Vandy (a youth program for children age 4-13). It’s great. It’s flourishing.
“God is taking care of me. I wanted to choose this day who I’m going to serve. I’ve served Vanderbilt for a while. Now, I just feel like He’s leading me in one direction. I want to give everything I can to God. I’m giving my life.”
There has inevitably been some restructuring due to the recent change.“It’s been an adjustment (time wise),” Suttles says. “It’s all about scheduling. I told Bill that God takes care of everything. It’s all worked out. I’ve worked two jobs for a year and a half. Now, I’m going fully music. I’m letting God lead me and see where God wants me to go. The real reason for us to be here is to spread the good news. I’m leaning and depending on God. He takes care of us. I want to be available.”
However, Suttles’ groupmate – lead singer Adam Crabb – hasn’t slowed down … yet. Crabb has intentions of eventually scaling back some of his extensive schedule of solo appearances, but that hasn’t been the case since he joined the Gaither Vocal Band early in 2014.
“Being a part of this has put me in a place to where someday I’m going to be able to do that,” Crabb explains. “I go out every weekend. I love it. I love doing the solo thing. I love doing the group thing. Bill allows us to go out and do that.
“To me, I’m with one of the greatest groups out there today. Vocally, they are incredible. You hear that saying, ‘living the dream’ … that’s what I’m doing. It’s great to have my name out there with David (Phelps) and Wes (Hampton) and Todd and Bill. Then, I get to go out and share my heart. It definitely is the best of both worlds.”
With Suttles joining the group at approximately the same time as Crabb, they have handled the learning curve together.“When we first started, we listened to songs together,” Crabb remembers. “Todd is such a great soul. He has a great heart.
“All of the guys have been very helpful to all of us. Wes is an incredible singer. He knows every song, every harmony part, every lyric. It’s amazing what that man knows.”
Both Crabb and Suttles covet the camaraderie that the five group members share.“I’ve never been on the road,” Suttles says. “I’ve heard horror stories about how groups do, how people take separate buses. We get on the bus, and everybody knows where everybody’s little spot is on the bus.
“I’m learning as it goes. We talk about our families. That’s what I need. It’s like brothers.”
Crabb was a little more familiar with road life having traveled extensively with his siblings as part of the Crabb Family. “First of all, it’s been incredible,” Crabb emphasizes. “It’s been a great journey so far. Coming into it, I was very anxious and nervous at the same time. I didn’t know really know what to expect.
“We get along so well. That’s one thing that blew me away. Coming into something of the caliber of the Gaither Vocal Band, you never know personality-wise what they are going be like. I didn’t know David that well. I really didn’t know Bill that well, but they’re all amazing people. I love being a part of that group, and I feel like the better days are ahead.”
Suttles adds, “It’s the heart aspect. I’ll get a text (message) … saying, ‘I’m thinking about you,’ or, ‘I’m praying for you, man.’ You get on the bus and get the biggest hug you’ve ever had in your life. It’s like a battle. We are spreading the gospel. (The music) draws you in to give you the good news.”
While Crabb had been in and around the Gaither Homecoming Tour and artists, he’s seeing it from a different perspective now. “I’ve been around Gaither, but to be a part of it is so much different,” Crabb points out. “I’ve learned a lot through the whole process. Now, as far as a group, we’re getting to a place where we’re comfortable. We’re having fun. We’re just blending and enjoying that time.
Suttles echoes those sentiments in regard to “Coach Gaither.” “All of the Homecoming thing … we’re just soldiers,” Suttles says. “Bill is led. We don’t know what we’re going to say. He’s led. It’s heartfelt. That the thing I’m most excited about … the heart.”
Crabb’s growth as an artist has been evident, not only to himself but to others as well. “I really do feel like I’ve grown,” Crabb acknowledges. “The other day, my twin (Aaron) and I … we were singing at church together. He said, ‘This is your season. Your voice has really grown.’ I’ve had several say, ‘you can tell you have been around the Gaither Vocal Band.’
“The way you sing changes. David is a teacher. Bill is a teacher. I feel like I’ve grown, but I still have a long way to go. It’s made me a better lead singer and a better harmony singer. It’s helped me to understand what a great lyric is. I really feel like I have grown, but I’m nowhere (as far as) where I want to be yet.”
That growth took place, despite some early reservations. “Any time God puts you somewhere, it’s a place of growth,” Crabb explains. “Through that, you have to go through some tough times. I remember when I first came in, I thought, ‘I’ll never be able to do this. I’ll never remember all of these lyrics. I’ll never remember all of these harmony moves.’ I challenged myself. I told myself that I can. I can do all things through Christ. That’s one thing I love about Bill. No matter what door God opens, know (that) he puts you there for a reason. That’s what I look at. If I wasn’t good enough, I wouldn’t be there. I do feel like I’ve grown as a singer. I finally feel like I’m in a place where I belong where I’m at. I’m just very excited.”
Suttles may be the poster child for excitement. “I’m having the time of my life,” Suttles emphasizes. “What makes me most excited is that it’s God’s move. It’s God’s will … and I’m in the will. I feel like I’m in the will. Where else would you want to be? I could be making millions of dollars, but it doesn’t matter if you’re not in the will.”
One specific thing that Suttles is excited about is the Gaither Vocal Band’s upcoming Christmas project. “The Christmas project is going to be … Phelps is killing it,” Suttles points out. “It’s amazing. It has Mark (Lowry) and Guy (Penrod) on it. It has the best renditions. I’m excited. It’s just … wow. I get excited.
“We have Phelps. We have Wes. They are singing in the ceiling of things. On stage, I get so excited … you have David, Wes, Adam and Bill, and Bill is still the best singer on the stage. He just loves music. When they sing, it fills my heart. When they are singing, I can see that they mean what they say.”
Crabb shares in the excitement about the Christmas project. “It was a blast,” Crabb says. “It was snowing pretty good when we started cutting that album, so, it felt like Christmas time.
“We’ve done several different recordings, but this record came together so well. To me, it’s my favorite stuff we’ve done so far, probably the most challenging stuff. Everybody, you can tell they are growing vocally. I think our fans are going to love it. David put another touch on it. His arrangements are crazy. One of my favorites is ‘(Little) Drummer Boy.’ It’s probably my favorite arrangement of this song, and David did a phenomenal job on it. It was a lot of fun doing this record, a lot of hours in the studio, but I think our fans are going to really appreciate it.”
Suttles has his favorites as well.“David sings ‘O Holy Night,’ but this ‘O Holy Night,’ he sang the screws off of it,” Suttles explains. “When I hear it, I imagine David standing in his barn on a Christmas Eve thanking God for sending His child when nobody is around. It sounds like he takes himself totally away from everything and is standing in his barn. It’s like he’s giving praise.
“They did a version of ‘Mary Did You Know’ that is crazy. Bill pulls the best. These songs … every one is a praise we send out.”
“Sometimes It Takes a Mountain” – which is the title cut on the Gaither Vocal Band’s latest project – is another of Suttles’ favorites. “‘Sometimes It Takes a Mountain’ … it gets me,” Suttles points out. “I’ve seen a lot of mountains. I understand what that’s like. I understand what it’s like to be on a mountain.
“I look at the faces (at concerts). The faces tell a lot. Some look like a prune. Those are the people I love to sing to … to deliver an understanding about a song. Those mountains come to make me strong. I’m thankful for that. We’ve all been there. When you see a person that’s broken, it speaks loud. I want the message to go out.”
Both Crabb and Suttles have had to adjust to the additional visibility since joining the group. “I’m starting to see that (the notoriety) some now,” Crabb admits. “I still get recognized a ton just from the family days. I have noticed since our new DVD came out and has been on TV, I will run into people who will say, ‘I just saw you on the Gaither DVD the other night.’ It’s crazy to me how much people do see and recognize. If I go into a restaurant, I get recognized. At the hospital the other day with my dad (Gerald Crabb), we were recognized. It’s cool. It’s a great feeling to know your music is out there touching people and know that people still care and appreciate what you do.”
Suttles adds, “I just do normal stuff. We just talk and go through (life). I’ve coached NFL (National Football League) athletes. I’m used to being around people who are known faces. I get recognized, but I know Who I’m representing. I want to be able to talk to them about (God). You hear the people and the stories and why they believe and how this music has changed their lives.”
Suttles’ eagerness to communicate and invest in people has been ingrained. “I grew up on a little farm in Georgia,” Suttles says. “We didn’t have nothing, but we had each other. My parents always taught me that, ‘no matter what, you treat people with the love of God.’ My momma always said, ‘I don’t care what they do, that is somebody’s child.’ The thing about God is that (He) reaches. We’re no better than anybody else. We’re all sinners saved by grace. It takes a while to get there, but once you understand that …
“I want to see smiles on people’s faces. That’s the thing I love most about being with the Gaither Vocal Band. I have more joy because of being with the Gaither Vocal Band. The joy of the Lord is our strength. People come to our concerts for strength.”
Photographs by Lee Steffen
By Craig Harris
First published by SGN Scoops in September 2015
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