Over the past couple of years, I’ve been blessed to get to know, pick, sing and minister with a new group in Bluegrass gospel music called the Stevens Family Tradition (SFT). They are talented, they are anointed and they are driven for the cause of Christ. I’d like to introduce you to one of their founding members, Brad Stevens. He is a great singer, a fine musician and an anointed preacher.
Les Butler: What is your earliest musical memory?
Brad Stevens: I’ve often said I cut my teeth on church pews and guitars; that being said, music has been a part of my life since a very early age. I remember standing in front of a church in my home town at the age of five, playing my guitar and singing a whole song. No doubt even before that I was joining in on the picking and singing at my nanny Shirley Stevens and Papaw Jess Stevens’ house.
Butler: Who is your top instrumental mentor? Vocal mentor? Preaching mentor?
Stevens: For instrument mentors I would have to look no farther than my immediate family: my dad, Donald Stevens, my late papaw, Jess Stevens, and my brother, Donnie Stevens. My cradle was surrounded by their playing and singing.
Vocal mentors could be a long list of folks for sure, but one of the most influential ones would have to be a gentleman, who is my cousin, Danny Stevens. I grew up listening to him sing in church and I found myself trying to sing like him for years when I was a kid.
My preaching mentor is my pastor of nearly 22 years, who is also my father-in-law, Joey Burns. He has faithfully served the same church, which he started, for 31 years. He has taught me so much from delivering the word of God effectively to how to love people unconditionally.
Butler: Why is the word, “Tradition,” included in your group name?
Stevens: As you may have already noticed, music has been part of my brother’s and my life since birth. We certainly have inherited a love for music from our papaw and dad. We’re the third generation of our immediate family that has maintained a love for music…I’d say that’s tradition.
Butler: Tell us the history of SFT and introduce us to those who are in the group today.
Stevens: Stevens Family Tradition (SFT) started around four years ago as an album project. It had been over 15 years since I had been part of any music other than at church. Before I started preaching, my brother and I were part of a bluegrass band and made some of the fondest memories of our life doing so. After the long absence of that organized band music in my life, I really felt it was time to rekindle that with my brother, so we got together a group of friends to record an album. Next thing you know, after some conversations with our producer, Steve Gulley, who influenced us greatly to write songs, something we had never really done, the Lord began to give us lyrics, and the rest is history. The band started with myself, my brother Donnie Stevens, our long-time friend Frank Farley on guitar, and Jim Harp on the bass. These are the original band members and are still with us today. Frank’s son, Trey, played resonator guitar with us for about a year until life took him in a different direction; we enjoyed having him. We have had several different banjo players throughout the process but filling that position now is a local friend Tommy Couch. Our good friend, Gil Benson, sits in with us from time to time on the fiddle as well.
Butler: What’s your biggest or most special musical moment?
Stevens: The Lord has blessed us to be able to play for a diverse group of people throughout our ministry so far; from Dollywood to congregations in churches throughout several states both large and small. We have been blessed to have our music on the radio and even on the charts, which is still a little hard to fathom. But if there’s ever a moment that is special, it’s when we’ve got to see those in need of the Savior lose grip of that pew and walk the aisle to the altar and pray through to salvation. That’s why we do it.
Butler: Tell us about your family. Are any of them musical?
Steens: I have been married to my wife Candon for 21 years. We have been blessed with three kids; Peyton, 19, Hannah, 16, and Hope who is seven. Candon plays piano and has been the worship leader in our church for many years. Our middle daughter, Hannah, has recently begun to follow in her mommy and daddy’s footsteps, singing in church as well. As for little Hope, she’s like her daddy; she’s been a song bird since she could talk. All this music and singing hasn’t caught up with our son Peyton yet, but one day I believe it will.
Butler: Tell us about the music festivals you are involved with in your hometown of Manchester, Kentucky.
Stevens: My brother Donnie and I have recently been involved with a festival here in our home town called Saltworks Appalachian Homecoming Festival. We had a very small part in it before, and were blessed to have the folks ask us to take care of booking the bands. We did our best to provide them the best bluegrass music in America today.
We also felt the urgency and believe the Lord has led us to organize and promote a gospel event in our community as well. We went before the Manchester Tourism Commission with our vision and they were kind enough to give us the financial boost we needed to make sure this vision becomes reality. With their help and other sponsors as well, what will be known as the 1st Annual Shaping Clay Jubilee will happen on October 4 – 5, 2019, right here at the Pioneer Village in Manchester. Appearing at the event will be Heaven’s Mountain Band, the Shepherds, Steve Gulley and Friends, Stevens Family Tradition, the Old Time Preachers Quartet, Jeff and Sheri Easter, the Hoppers, and the Isaacs. We are pleased to be able to offer this event for free to all who would like to attend.
Butler: Please give us a brief testimony.
Stevens: First let me say, I’m thankful to be saved. I remember the day when the Lord changed everything about my life. Since that day, life has certainly dealt me and my family some uncertain days. On December 23, 2010, I had a massive stroke in my brain stem. God gave us a miracle and I survived; however, there were many days over the next four months when I didn’t know if I would live or die. But through it all, God was with us and gave us the grace and strength we needed to endure. This experience has played a huge part of who myself and my family are today. I still deal with some issues from the stroke today, but I don’t regret it happened because as a result of this experience, my family has grown closer, our dependency on the Lord has grown stronger, and many sermons and songs have come into being influenced by this first-hand experience. I’m very thankful for life and the opportunity to minister the truth of the gospel through preaching and music. I don’t deserve to be where I am today, and give God all the glory for being not only my Savior, but the Author and the Finisher of my faith!
By Les Butler
First published by SGNScoops Magazine in July 2019
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