By Craig Harris
Rejection kept a door closed for Layke Jones. However, it also eventually led to an entryway for the aspiring performer.Â â€œMy sophomore year of college, when Mark Lowry left, I auditioned for the (Gaither) Vocal Band,â€ Jones explains. â€œBeing a (former) educator, he (Bill Gaither) said, â€˜I canâ€™t in good faith take you out of college.â€™â€
After graduating from Anderson (Ind.) University, Jones landed his current position as a vocalist with the Jim Brady Trio in June. â€œHeâ€™s the reason I have this job,â€ Jones says of Gaitherâ€™s involvement. â€œHeâ€™s backed it hard.
â€œA guy with a Rolodex his size, Iâ€™m not sure why he would give me the time of day. Itâ€™s a God thing.â€
Unlike many in the Southern Gospel industry, Jones doesnâ€™t have a musical heritage. â€œI have no family with any music background,â€ Jones points out. â€œI was in community choir and dance. I did show choir and marching band.â€
However, his musical taste became more eclectic during his college tenure. â€œIn college, I fell in love with classical music,â€ Jones shares. â€œI love quality music of any genre. I did a lot of worship leading in college. When you see a room full of broken people, it changes lives â€¦ Southern Gospel, Christian (music) in general. I want to make an impact. It keeps me grounded.â€
Getting a Southern Gospel Education
Jones admittedly wasnâ€™t well-versed in Southern Gospel Music before becoming a part of it.
â€œGod has opened so many doors (that) I know that Iâ€™m where Iâ€™m supposed to be,â€ Jones explains. â€œThe Gaither Vocal Band is my all-time favorite group. Iâ€™m a huge fan.
â€œI like quality music and music that makes an impact. That was a big influence in pursuing Southern Gospel. The Gaither Vocal Band was an influence on me both musically and spiritually.â€
The 23-year-old was recently a part of a Gaither Homecoming video filming. â€œIt was surreal,â€ Jones emphasizes.
Learning the Ropes
Jones is only the fourth member of the Jim Brady Trio, succeeding Tim Parton and joining the husband and wife tandem of Jim and Melissa Brady. The group released its first project, Promises, following Jonesâ€™ addition in October.
â€œIn some groups, itâ€™s very evident that itâ€™s a boss/employee relationship,â€ Jones says. â€œJim has said from the get-go that weâ€™re a team. Heâ€™s the one who is invested in that bus, but at the same time, he respects me. He values the fact that I went to college, and in some respects musically, I know what Iâ€™m talking about. Iâ€™m spoiled. Iâ€™m with two consistent individuals.
â€œI couldnâ€™t have a better boss. Jim puts everybody ahead of himself. You couldnâ€™t have a better guy. With the accolades and hand heâ€™s had in this industry â€¦ yet, heâ€™s still as humble as he is.â€
The fans have received him with open arms as well. â€œThese people are loving,â€ Jones points out. â€œItâ€™s been overflowing. To be honest, I was a little overwhelmed at first. With this being so new and me being 23, to have an audience who genuinely cares about my well-being, itâ€™s good for me. Itâ€™s nice to have people in my court. Being away from family is difficult.â€
That has been one of Jonesâ€™ most formidable challenges. â€œThatâ€™s been the biggest adjustment (road life),â€ Jones says. â€œThat bus gets small real quick. People see this job at glamourous. Itâ€™s rich in some ways â€¦ but itâ€™s work.
â€œI joke and say I sleep in my coffin (bunk) every night, and itâ€™s being away from friends and family. Itâ€™s not being in a weekly church service. The road life has been hard, but I love traveling.â€
When heâ€™s off the road, Jones does choreography for high-school show choirs and is also a studio vocalist. And his taste for Southern Gospel Music is expanding. â€œThe Isaacs and the Vocal Band are two groups I listened to a ton in high school, any groups that were closely affiliated with the Vocal Band,â€ Jones shares. â€œThis (music) is good news. â€˜Show a Little Bit of Love and Kindnessâ€™ (performed by the Collingsworth Family) is a great song. I love it.
â€œItâ€™s a whole new world. Iâ€™m really enjoying it.â€
His investment in the genre has quickly increased as well. â€œHaving been raised with more contemporary music, I wish there was a way to keep the history of Southern Gospel alive while also figuring out a way to bridge the gap (between the genres),â€ Jones explains. â€œIâ€™d love to find a way to keep sustenance with this industry. Itâ€™s why I love the Vocal Band. Bill Gaither is able to do nearly every style of music, and it all has the same message. Iâ€™d love to find a way to bridge the gap.
â€œThis music is too good and too rich to let if fall by the wayside. If Iâ€™m going to invest my life in this industry, I want to help this music find its way to the masses. If I can do that, Iâ€™m in it for the long haul.â€
By Craig Harris
First published by SGNScoops magazine in December 2016.
Photo Credits: Craig Harris and the Jim Brady Trio.
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