Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Russ Taff - Standing Here - Part 1

  • Updated Feb 01, 2002
Russ Taff - Standing Here - Part 1

"When I was in my '20s and early '30s, there were certain things I was taught to believe and think, and I was trying to live up to something that was impossible to live up to. Then you learn about grace, God's unmerited favor."

There are few performers in contemporary Christian music as deserving of every scrap of critical acclaim heaped on them as {{Russ Taff}}. Although Taff clearly accepts most compliments with appreciation and grace, he's much more comfortable in deflecting such praise to his Creator and Lord. "God put something in me when I was a kid," Taff says flatly. "He gave me a gift and a talent, and I feel like it's my job to protect it and watch over it and let Him lead and guide it."

==Right Here, Right Now== is the latest triumph in a recorded legacy by Taff which stretches back almost 25 years. It's the first all-new album (excluding ==A Christmas Song)== that Taff has created specifically for the Christian market in eight years. "My whole life I wanted to work for a season, then take time off and be home and live like everybody else," Taff says, explaining his self-imposed "absence." "I wanted to wake up in the morning, get the kids off to school. Just hang and be a dad. [Taff and his wife Tori are parents to Maddie Rose, 7, and Charlotte, 3.] I've been very fortunate that I've been able to do that in the early years of my kids' lives. Of course you hear, 'if you stay out of the market, they'll forget about you.' But some things are more important than music."

Taff says that the impetus to record ==Right Here, Right Now==, which is brimming with honest, heartfelt, sometimes painfully transparent songs, began as "a burning in my gut. My father passed away two years ago and as I began to deal with that, songs started coming. I started writing, dealing with the pain of losing him. I just knew it was time. God was moving in my gut, so I tried to be faithful."

Being faithful to God's calling has been a hallmark of Taff's career, ever since the young singer, barely in his twenties, hooked up with legendary gospel quartet, {{The Imperials}}, in 1976. "They had been pretty much a southern gospel group, and then they started turning toward a more contemporary vein with [the 1974 album] No Shortage. When I joined, they had just signed with DaySpring. Actually, the first record I did with them was never released; the label felt like it wasn't progressive enough. So we went back into the studio and made Sail On with Brown Bannister."

Taff gets much of the credit (or blame, depending on whom you ask) for modernizing The Imperials' sound. Although hits such as "Sail On," "Praise the Lord" and "One More Song for You" clearly retained the quartet's Southern Gospel roots, Taff certainly helped usher in the group's pop era with songs such as "Finish What You Started" and "Trumpet of Jesus."

After spending five years with The Imperials, and another two years traveling as a solo artist, Taff issued his debut solo recording, Walls of Glass. That album featured, as did every Taff album to follow, at least one career classic-- in this case, it was "We Will Stand."

"It's funny, I went out with {{Bob Carlisle}} this spring," Taff remarks, "and we closed every city with 'We Will Stand.' This fall, on tour with {{4HIM}}, we'll close with it also. Every once in a great while, the Lord will drop one of those in your lap. It's been in hymnals. Hopefully, when I've gone on to glory, somebody will still be singing that song. That would make me feel good."

Taff's pop masterpiece, Medals, virtually defined the contemporary Christian music sound of the 1980's. But by 1987, Taff was facing serious writer's block "I hadn't written a song for a year and a half," he admits. "And the record company was waiting on me for another record. When Medals exploded with all its success, I wore myself out on the road. I came home and just stopped. I cried out 'Jesus save me, help me. I didn't know this is what it was going to cost me to sing for you.' Everyone looks at the glamour, but you don't know what it costs. My marriage was in trouble because I was gone so much. When you're traveling that much you don't go to church as much as you should. It's real easy to let your relationship with Jesus get lukewarm. It's a dangerous place. Thank God it didn't consume me." Russ was able to rebound with a self-titled album that marked a distinct turning point in his career, in terms of the candor with which he would approach his life and music.

With the 1989 release of ==The Way Home==, Taff turned toward a more rootsy rock and pop sound which would showcase both his stunning vocal ability and songwriting skills in a way no previous album had done. Taff gives much of the credit for that album's success to friend and production partner James Hollihan, Jr. "==The Way Home== was the first time that James and I were left alone to make a record, so we were allowed to really do what we wanted.

"James is much more than my right hand man," Taff continues. "He's surrounded me, he's lifted me, and he's carried me. When I was a teenager in Hot Springs, Ark., we lived across the street from each other. I had a Bible study and James used to bring over his acoustic guitar and we'd sing for the Bible study. We've remained close friends for probably 25 years. I feel blessed to have a relationship that's lasted that long, especially in this business."

Click here for part TWO of "Russ Taff - Standing Here," including personal thoughts on the death of his father and the songs it inspired on his new project.