Back in the mid to late 1990’s, the Livingstons were making a splash in the industry, introducing such great songs as “It’s Our Turn to Sing”, “There’s Still Water in the Well”, “Making Plans for a Better Day”, “Some Things Never Change” and others. Artists such as the Kingsmen, Nelons and Karen Peck & New River were noticing as well and singing songs penned by resident songwriter Denny Livingston. Then around the year 2000 or so, they seemed to disappear. Now, almost 17 years since their last recording, they’re back with a story to tell and they’re excited to tell where they’ve been on their unexpected journey. Today, the group consists of pastor, singer and songwriter, Denny Livingston, along with his wife Alonna and daughter Brittany. I recently got a chance to talk to them and played catch up on where they’ve been, where they’re at and where they’re going…
James: Let’s catch everyone up on the group and give us a brief history/background of the Livingstons.
Denny: I am the third generation of Livingstons singing. My grandmother, my dad and his brother sang back in the late 1950s in the hills of east Tennessee around Johnson City. Then my dad became a minister and then he and mother sang with my grandmother and uncle and they actually recorded an album back in the 1970s.
I guess I was about 10 or so when it was just me, my mom and dad and before long it was just me, my dad and my sister. I got engaged to Alonna and she joined the group and we were the main crux of the group that signed with Horizon in the early 90s and then with Daywind in the mid to late 90s. So, along with me and Alonna, my dad and sister, was my wife’s brother Cory, who also sang with us. He passed away 9 years ago from Colon Cancer, which was a very difficult loss for us. Our last recording, Stories, came out in 1998 and at the time I was pastoring a church and we didn’t re-sign with Daywind. Cory went on and got married and we got busy building a new sanctuary where we were pastoring in east Tennessee. At the time, we were just a family of 3 with Alonna and Brittany and over the course of about 2 ½ years, we had 2 more children and we adopted 2 children! We never stopped being in ministry, but after all these kids and being involved in church work…we looked around and it had been 17 years since we had recorded!
We just started singing some and felt this is what we needed to do. In fact, about 3 ½ years ago, someone prophesied over us and we just knew what we needed to do and that kind of started it all.
James: How has God prepared you for ministry in this day and time?
Denny: Ministry is at its best when it’s relevant and you can say “I’ve been there”! We’re living in a tough time today and a lot of things are going on…lots of struggles, lots of hurts, a lot of pain…we look back on our lives and there’s a lot of stuff we went through and we have the songs of healing and testimony that we made it through it and didn’t give up. These songs minister to people because of where we have been and I think that is how the Lord has prepared us. He has allowed us to go through things so that we can bring hope and encouragement to someone today.
James: Tell me about your brand new recording, Unexpected Journey. This truly was a labor of love for you guys.
Denny: We had our songs ready for the album and we looked back and wondered what we were going to call it. We had everything done and had a 10 song album and we had come up with a couple of titles that we thought were good. Then after the first of the year we finished it; but in November of last year, my mother became very sick and they took her to the hospital and long story, she ended up with a bone marrow issue and she had to come and stay with us for several months as she was transferred to Vanderbilt here in Nashville. So during that time, me and Brittany were on our way to a writer’s retreat with Joel Lindsey and on the trip, Brittany had been very upset about her Nana’s health and she told me she had some words and ran them by me and sang me the first part of the song, “Unexpected Journey” and she sang, “peace isn’t always understanding, finding strength that never can be understood, heartache doesn’t always mean heartbroken…” and I was reminded the words of the Apostle Paul when he said though we weep, we just don’t weep like other people weep. I picked it up from there, but we never had the title. Even right up until January, we didn’t have a finished song and the entire project had been done and mixed. We met with a friend of ours named Carrie, and Brittany reminded me that we never finished that song and we sang it to Carrie and she went crazy over it, but we had no title or a finished chorus. I had a line in the song that said, “I trust what I know, not what I see” and I said how crazy would it be to say “it’s just another unexpected journey” and we jumped on it at that point and the Lord gave us every line of the verses. We sang it for my wife and she fell in love with it and we all felt very strongly about that song and that it needed to be on the album. So I called Kevin Ward and I told him he was going to kill me, but we felt the Lord told us to put this song on this album and he said, “Well, I’m not going to argue with the Lord!” (laughing) So we got the musicians and we went back into the studio and recorded it and after we did, we just knew the name of this album was to be Unexpected Journey and the first single from the album was “Where I’ve Been”. And the song, “Where I’ve Been” just sums it all up by saying “I just want to take a little time to tell you where I’ve been” and the album is all about the unexpected journey.
James: Any personal favorites from the recording?
Denny: The last 2 days before my dad passed away he listened to our album non-stop. Dad took his last breath in the bridge of “Unexpected Journey” where it says, “He’s willing to go with me, I am not alone”. So that song is definitely special to all of us. But my dad, being the preacher that he was, preached many years ago about the prodigal son and he said something out the prodigal that I never forgot. He said that even though the son left, the father kept the robe, kept that ring shined, and he always believed his son was going to come back. My love for my dad and knowing that I wrote the song, “The Prodigal” from my dad’s sermon, that’s a very special song to me.
Brittany: ”Unexpected Journey” is definitely my favorite, but a close second would be “People Need Love”. It had a good groove to it and it kind of flowed really well. It really fits with the time we live in.
Denny: The week before we went into the studio to record, I was sitting at the piano at my dad’s church and I had some of the lyrics already and I FaceTime’d Brittany and we wrote it that way and took it straight to the studio the next week! (laughing) And who knew we’d be where we are today with all the racial tension and things going on, it’s a message we want to get out for sure that everyone needs love.
Brittany: It’s one big “Tweet That!” (laughing) #peopleneedlove!
Alonna: It’s hard for me to pick a favorite. Each one I know was written through something we actually experienced and lived through, so trying to pick a favorite is difficult for me. I love them all so much! We lived these songs for the last 17 years.
Brittany: Can you tell she’s a mother of 5 children and got that whole “I don’t pick favorites” thing down? (laughing)
Denny: I wrote “I Just Don’t Feel Like Giving Up” for Alonna. We lost a baby several years ago and that song is her testimony.
James: What do you hope to accomplish through your music?
Denny: James, this whole thing is a step of faith for us. We’re not signed with anybody, nobody is backing us…it’s literally us three and my daughter’s husband, Jason, does our IT work and a ton of other stuff. As far as what we WANT to happen…we want people to be encouraged, be blessed…people are discouraged, but if something in our music can encourage someone…if the song “The Prodigal” can bring a backslider home, oh it’s worth it! If “I Just Don’t Feel Like Giving Up” causes someone to gain hope…we want this recording to do whatever God wants.
Brittany: We wrote these songs to encourage each other through some very trying times, and if some of these lyrics can give somebody hope in a season of heartache, it makes it all worth it. I had a teenage girl reach out to me and she was at the point of giving up on her walk with God and she listened to “Grace” and felt like she had a second chance. If it encourages somebody to keep on going, it’s worth it.
Denny: We want to do everything we can, not because we’re anything, but because of the message in the songs. We want God to make that happen!
James: As a songwriter, where do you get most of your inspirations for songs?
Denny: As a preacher of 33 years, a lot of my songs come from my messages. Sometimes it’s a thought that I have. Brittany and I are kind of the creative type of people and an idea will pop in our heads and we’ll just bounce it off each other.
Brittany: Outside of personal experiences, because I tend to write about personal experiences, honestly I get a lot of my inspirations from helping leading teenagers to God. Being a pastor’s wife and a pastor’s daughter and watching people overcome their obstacles and helping them through their brokenness, I get a lot of my inspirations from that. I am only 26 years old, so I am not seasoned in certain things, but I’ve seen a lot through that.
Denny: Our church is involved in a lot of Matthew 25 ministry…clothing the naked, feeding the hungry…our song, “Say Bye to Your Chains” came out of working with the Nashville Women’s Shelter and a lot of them are free and they don’t realize it. We want them to know that they can say good-bye to their chains.
James: What inspired you to start writing songs?
Denny: Andrea Crouch and Larry Gatlin! (laughing) I loved the music and I was about 11 or 12 years old and I started leaning towards these people that wrote their own songs. These people, along with people like Dottie Rambo really stood out to me. I tried my hand at it, and sang it to my dad and he loved it. I just tackled it myself and God would give me songs like he would give me sermons. Sometimes my sermon would be from what I went, or my sermon would be in preparation of what I was going to go through. One of the first songs I ever wrote was a song called, “When We Reach Heaven”. I wrote that in August many years ago, and in December of that year, my grandmother passed away. God was kind of preparing me with that song.
Brittany: Not to sound incredibly cheesy or anything…but my dad! I grew up around the making of music and it’s kind of all I’ve known and kind of happened like breathing. I was about 10 years old when I started understanding the concept of rhyme and lyrics. So he was my biggest inspiration. And I had the privilege of growing up and listening to the same music that inspired my dad.
Denny: Brittany started playing the guitar when she was just a kid and just started writing songs and man, before you know it, those songs kept getting better and better and we just started singing some.
James: What is up the road for the Livingstons?
Denny: This is probably going to sound crazy, but I have no idea! (laughing) It’s literally in the hands of God! I pastor a wonderful church. My family and preaching ministry is first, but I believe in our music. I don’t know what doors are going to open, I don’t know what’s going to transpire. If we can be ministering to people through our music and ministry on a regular basis, I will be as happy as I can possibly be. If I can include my other kids who are starting to play instruments and write songs, if we look like the Partridge Family, that would be awesome! (laughing)
James: If anyone wanted to reach out to you guys for CDs, bookings, etc., how would they do that?
Denny: They can go to our website, www.thelivingstonsmusic.com, and all the information is there from booking, music, etc.