He may live in South Texas, but InPop Records singer/songwriter Jimmy Needham sings with the soul of Memphis. Turning each line with the experience of a veteran blues musician, Needham uses musical nuance to preach a very plain gospel.
Two years after releasing Speak, a record encouraging Christians to boldly spread the Word, the singer/songwriter releases Not Without Love, a provocative exploration of the motives behind evangelism.
On the eve of his second street date, Jimmy discusses love, grace and his role as a minister of both.
ChristianMusicPlanet: From where do you draw inspiration musically?
Jimmy Needham: I grew up listening to Motown and the oldies. Stevie Wonder, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and Boyz II Men are some of my favorites—anything with soul.
CMP: What is your musical background?
Jimmy: I took six months of guitar lessons in sixth grade, and I played tuba in junior high. Does that count? [Laughs] I grew up singing, and I’ve always had a fascination with instruments. Beyond that, I was in musical theater.
CMP: As I’ve been listening to the new record, I hear a recurring conversation of faith being worked out, moving beyond legalism to grace—especially on “Come Around,” “Forgiven and Loved” and “The Benediction.”
Jimmy: I think you nailed it. This album is about the axiom that you can’t give what you don’t have. God began to show me the reason I wasn’t distributing His love properly was because I wasn’t receiving the love of God properly. I was motivated out of guilt rather than love.
I really struggle with this idea that I have to work hard to earn His affection. The reality is, the affections of God were won on the cross. Once I got that, it spilled over to the outward display of that in my life. Now, I’m not going to just try to use persuasive words and say all the right things, but I’m going to let love mark my evangelism.
CMP: Do you feel it is the church’s responsibility to rectify the Gospel as a Gospel of love versus a Gospel of legalism?
Jimmy: I’ve played a lot of shows and played for a lot of churches and, unfortunately, heard a lot of different gospels. I definitely feel like it is important for local churches to get that stuff straight because they are raising up and training my generation to go and be ministers of this Gospel.
CMP: What is your role as a touring artist in spreading the Gospel or even spreading to the church the word about the true Gospel?
Jimmy: Concerts are great, but if they’re only for entertainment then I have missed the purpose of why I am doing what I am doing. I think it is important to not just think I am a minister of the Gospel only in concerts, but it is also how I respond to the woman sitting next to me on the plane. Am I going to be the light of Christ to her, or am I going to just save it all for the people at the show? My hope is always to be Jimmy Needham, “Ambassador of Christ” whether I’m onstage or off.
CMP: Thumbing through your liner notes I noticed a buddy of mine, Will Hunt, produced a majority of the tracks. How was it working with Will’s gang at Spaceway Studios in Texas?
Jimmy: I’ve got the biggest grin on my face right now. You know Will. Some of the things he says I’m just like, “What are you talking about?” [Laughs] The best part about Will and that whole crew is everything they do, they do excellently. Whether he is working on a project like mine, which is for a label, or he’s working for some band in Dallas that is never going to “make it,” he puts forth the exact same amount of effort. Everything he does he does very, very well.
CMP: Since the last record you have gotten married.
Jimmy: Yep. We celebrated our two-year anniversary last week.
CMP: Congratulations. How has married life affected your career?
Jimmy: She plays violin in the band and is also the road manager. So it’s not like I leave for tour and come home again. We’re on tour together this fall with BarlowGirl. That’s always fun because we say “Goodnight” and get in our two separate bunks. [Laughs]
I wish I could re-write my liner notes to write a dedication of this record to my wife. She was a big catalyst for me in understanding some of the ideas on this record. Where I am the truth-teller, always sharing the hard message, she is tender, kind and an encourager.
CMP: I have watched a few episodes of "The Shimmy Show" on YouTube.
Jimmy: I’ll pray for you. [Laughs]. [My friend Shane] and [I] have these personalities. … When we get together it is absolutely ridiculous. So one night we were playing cards, and one of our wives said, “You should throw a camera up in front of yourselves and get this stuff on video.” Shane, being the little entrepreneur that he is, went and got a camera and just started filming. Ten episodes later, we’ve gotten between 80,000 and 120,000 feeds per episode. It’s 50 percent us being absolutely ridiculous and goofy and 50 percent us getting into spiritual content, taking calls and emails and addressing real issues. It is spirituality not divorced from humor.
Visit jimmyneedham.com for more info.
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*This interview first published on October 3, 2008.