BETWEEN THE LINER NOTES
Regie Hamm: Angels and Idols
By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
NASHVILLE -- For the better part of a decade Regie Hamm was a wildly successful songwriter based in Nashville. It seemed that every song he penned turned into a gold record. Hit after hit after hit came his way highlighted by “I Surrender All” sung by Clay Crosse.
Then it all seemingly unraveled. At the pinnacle of his success, Regie and his wife traveled to China to adopt a baby girl. Thrilled with the prospect of becoming parents for the first time, they didn’t realize that the next several years would be filled with devastating medical bills, a career in shambles, and his future a rather large unknown.
In early 2008, Regie decided to write ‘one more song’ at the request of his wife. That song became a number one hit for American Idol winner David Cook and earned Regie Song of the Year honors for 2009.
Regie’s story is one of surrender to a God who he thought had forgotten him. He chronicles his fall from grace and his subsequent restoration in the arms of Jesus Christ in his book, “Angels and Idols”. In tandem, Regie has also released an album, “Set It on Fire”, his first in seven years.
CBN.com Program Director Chris Carpenter recently sat down with Regie to discuss how his life fell apart, whether he ever considered walking away from his faith, and how a special blessing from God changed everything.
When did you know that music was what you wanted to do with your life?
It probably took until I was in my late teens. Even though I was doing it professionally at 10, I still wanted to be a professional football player. I was a kid. I wanted to do all kinds of things. At one point I wanted to restore classic cars and all that. I think when I got in my late teens and started realizing, you sort of emerge and realize, “Okay. I have a skill set, and how can I make this work?” And then you start realizing your passions. “Where am I spending all my time? Well, I’m spending all my time at this piano.”
Fast forwarding a bit, you had a highly successful songwriting career, writing more than 20 number one hits in the Christian genre for artists like Point of Grace, MercyMe, and Rebecca St. James. Everything seemed to be working for you until you adopted a baby girl from China who unbeknownst to you had a very rare genetic condition called Angelman Syndrome. Please tell me about that part of your life.
Well, I’ve got a little bit of a defiant streak in me, and even despite that, I have somehow continually come in contact with the concept and the precepts of surrender. And I wrote a song in 1993 called “I Surrender All,” sung by Clay Crosse. And I always had a problem with that song. Not that I didn’t like the song, but I didn’t like necessarily saying those words.
I have had this sort of ongoing wrestling match that I have with God to surrender my will in the things that I think need to happen for me. Because I’m a driven person, I’m a person that doesn’t back down from things. And I think you have to have some of that to succeed in the music business, but my book really sort of chronicles my journey through that, through the obstacles, through the way that God sort of helped me learn to surrender, really, through the adoption of this little girl and through losing everything. I lost all my money. I lost my beautiful house. I lost everything. I lost my career. And what I was left with was this amazing family and all this love and God. And once I got to that point of realizing that that is all I needed and that God would take care of everything else, I was sort of led through some corridors and I was able to write a song that went on to do some amazing things. But it was not because of anything I planned or schemed or really did. It was God showing me something.
You mentioned that you lost everything, and I’m sure your faith was tested tremendously through that. What kept you from just walking away from God there?
No one’s ever asked me that, and I don’t think I know the answer to it. That is because I don’t know. It was never really an option. I never thought about it. I think I always thought—no, no. Well, this is one thing: you never realize, I don’t think, that you’re at the bottom. You’re always thinking, “Well, tomorrow will be better. We can make it work tomorrow.” And I sort of have that personality type. I’m a guy that goes, “Well, wait a minute. Wednesday. We’ve got this coming up on Wednesday, and we’ll see about it.” So I think that’s part of it. And I think the other part of it is—first of all, I was never going to walk away from my family. And as far as walking away from God, maybe I did once or twice in my heart, just say ‘Whatever.” I’ve told people often, I don’t think you can really have a real relationship with God ‘til you’ve yelled at Him. But that’s not walking away. That’s just being honest. And I think a true relationship with anybody demands honesty.
So what was the turning point for you to kind of right the ship and start turning your life around?
The turning point was, believe it or not, my wife asked me to write a song for the American Idol songwriting contest. And I don’t watch the show, and I didn’t realize they were running the contest, and I just didn’t have that in my mind. I was on websites trying to get jobs and trying to figure out how to feed my family and doing jingles for 500 bucks. My wife said, “Hey, they’re having the American Idol songwriting contest again this year, and I want you to enter it. I want you to write a song. I know you can do it. You know you can do it. I want you to listen to who these singers are, and I want you to write a song.” She’s never in 18 years of marriage asked me to write a song. And I said, “Well, if you feel that strongly about it, I’ll try.” And that was it.
That song turned out to be “The Time of My Life”, a song that not only won the competition but went on to become a huge hit for American Idol winner David Cook. Please take me through the process of how you wrote the song.
I wrote the song really just from my perspective of where I was in life at the time. When you hear lines like, “holding onto things that vanished into the air, left me in pieces,” that’s me, that happened to me. And I wanted to get to the heart of “all that I needed was there all along,” “as close as the beat of my heart.” The God you seek is not far from you. And my family was there around me, close to me. That’s what that’s about, and that’s the only thing that I could get to. That’s the only thing that I could process. I couldn’t get into this moment song. And it is a moment song, but it’s about living now, not living in the past and not living in the future, but embracing now and embracing the love that you have around you now, and just kind of offering yourself to God with sort of clean hands and a pure heart and saying, “I’m going to live right now with what you’ve given me.” And I’m not going to take it for granted. I’ve done a lot of that. I had no inkling that anybody on that show would want to sing that song or that anybody would like it. But I turned it in on the day of the deadline with my ten-dollar entry fee. So I thought, “Well, I’ve said my peace, and that’s fine if I didn’t win.
But it did win. The song went into the world and became this mega-hit for him (David Cook). It crashed the iTunes server the first day it was out, and a lot of that was about his phenomenal success.
I took (the success of the song) as God’s sort of telling me, “Look, when you get to the place of surrender, I have such beautiful things that you don’t even know about, amazing things. Just look behind this curtain. Look how beautiful it is.”
I mentioned this earlier but you have written songs for a veritable who’s who in both Christian and pop music – Point of Grace, Backstreet Boys, Clay Crosse, Lonestar, Rebecca St. James. What’s the secret of your success here? You’re obviously tapped into something.
I don’t know. I am a very fortunate individual. I show up for work every day, and I do the very best I can at what I do, and I’m always pushing myself and digging deeper. At this point in my life, I’m trying to just be a good steward of the gifts God’s given me, and that means not being lazy about it. I think early in my career, I was just very driven to be successful, and I sacrificed a lot of time with my family and a lot of time with friends to be everywhere. And if you do that, you can be successful. Will it fulfill you? No. Is it nice when people say I love this song or that song? It is, and it’s wonderful to have those things out there, and it’s a legacy of sorts for my kids to know. But that’s not the essence of life, and that’s not the meaning of live, and these days I don’t push that hard, and I don’t write that many songs, and I don’t try to be on everybody’s record. It really comes down to, for me, I want to emotionally connect, and I want the Holy Spirit to be in it.
After people listen to Set it on Fire, or read Angels & Idols, what do you want people to take away from that with them?
I want them to know that they are important on this planet. And as insignificant as you can feel sometimes, God has a plan for you. I have a daughter who is severely mentally delayed and who, in some cultures, may be thrown to the side, and in some periods in history she may have been killed. She may have been killed in this time in history. And people can look at her and say she’s insignificant. She’s a drag on society. We don’t need her here. No, this little girl changed my life. This little girl has changed the lives of everybody she has been in contact with. She is important. So if she’s important, everybody is important.
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