As Southern Gospel music continues to thrive, families will continue to keep this music going. Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Jason Griggs of Endless Highway. This family group consists of Jason and Vanessa Wimberley Griggs, their children, Jay and Ally Griggs, and Vanessa’s parents and founders, Perry and Nell Wimberley. Let’s see what’s happening with Endless Highway!
Andrew Stephens (AS): Over the past year, Southern Gospel fans have heard the name, Endless Highway, but may not be very familiar with the group. How did Endless Highway begin?
Jason Griggs (JG): Endless Highway actually began in March 1971 as “The Joylanders.” Perry and Nell Wimberley, had spent their early years playing country music in local bars. God gloriously intervened in their lives and Perry and Nell answered God’s call to Gospel music ministry. We’ve had the current group lineup since around 1999. In August of 2017, we changed our name from “The Joylanders” to “Endless Highway.”
AS: Many people are familiar with the first and second generations of Endless Highway, but you’ve added your children, Jay and Ally. How has the ministry experience changed since they joined full-time in the music ministry?
JG: Jay and Ally are like most children who are raised in this music. We brought them up to sing a cute “kid” song as soon as they were able to carry a tune. We did this for several years, but at the same time we began working with them to hear and sing harmony. We also began practicing instruments with them at home. Around 2012, we felt that it was time for them to transition into being a main part of the concert program and my in-laws began to take more of a backseat. Being younger teenagers, the kids had to learn how to conduct themselves on stage for an entire performance, build their vocal ability to sing an entire concert, and become consistent with their instrumentation on stage. We realized this season would be a time of training and learning for them as they matured. Jay attended the Steve Hurst School of Music and that was a great experience for him.
About 3 years ago, we felt that the kids’ voices had matured enough vocally to invest in a professional recording. That is when we went to Crossroads to record our first major project. Our ministry has blossomed since signing with Crossroads and since we’ve been able to have our music on national radio outlets. We’ve done our best to teach our kids vocal technique, instrumentation, stage presence, how to treat people with respect, but most importantly we’ve tried to anchor in their souls that the heart of what we do is ministry.
As a “next step” in investing in our kids and improving, we spent some time working with an individual that teaches vocal coaching/technique, performance coaching, and communication. This proved to be invaluable and began showing results the first week. During the last year, we’ve made a conscious decision to push the kids out front even more as we enter a new season of preparing them to be able to lead this ministry. You’ll notice that they are featured even more on vocals and that they are beginning to introduce songs and speak more on stage.
It’s such a blessing to stand shoulder to shoulder with our grown children now and watch as they minister, through song and through speaking, and see how God is using them to reach people in a way that we older folks can’t. We always play live instrumentation in concert and it’s fun to watch all of the generations take note of Jay playing the upright bass and Ally playing guitar and mandolin. Younger folks always want to talk with the kids about singing and playing instruments. It’s a blessing to see them encourage other young folks to sing and play.”
AS: When I was first introduced to Endless Highway (then, the Joylanders), I was drawn to the variety and skill in the family. How do you manage to transition from various styles in the concert setting?
JG: Variety seems to be our style. We love a variety of styles and our audiences tell us that is what they love about us. It’s our goal that you never hear the same thing for more than 2-3 songs. The variety actually keeps the crowd very engaged. We normally will do two to three Southern Gospel songs and a hymn, a song with fun modern harmonies, we will do an acapella song or two, then we transition to bluegrass, then a style that is more acoustic than bluegrass, then we will do a patriotic song, a couple of Christmas songs, and then end with a couple of “barn burner” southern gospel songs or a ballad. We take crowds on a musical journey. We prepare a repertoire that allows us to sing a song or two that will appeal and minister to anyone in the room. Usually, we can quickly tell what style a crowd does or does not like. We give them a taste of the variety, but we can stay in the vein of whatever they seem to like the most. We usually will sing an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes and it’s funny to watch people as we cover that much musical ground in that amount of time. They can’t believe an hour has passed!
AS: Endless Highway gained national attention when you signed with Crossroads Music a few years back. How has the journey been as a national recording artist?
JG: We can’t say enough about the professionalism and class of the Crossroads organization. We literally feel like we’ve been adopted into part of the Crossroads family. I could brag on Chris White, Jeff & Vickie Collins, Greg Bentley, Jim Stover, Van Atkins, & Scott Barnett for an hour! They have invested in our family! They have single handedly been instrumental in sharing our music to national radio and to all digital streaming outlets. Jim Stover has his finger on the pulse of the national radio market and he is amazing! Jim has been instrumental in choosing our singles and teaching us how to interact and build relationships with the wonderful DJ’s that play our music. Everyone wants a charting position and a number one song, but we’ve learned the value of just having your music in front of your target audience.
While we were at NQC, it was so neat to meet the DJ’s and fans from all over the country and Canada that told us they play and hear our music. Greg Bentley has been instrumental in getting our music on all digital streaming outlets and educating us on how to capitalize on that market as well. One major benefit of streaming is that it gives the potential to expose our music to literally a world of listeners who otherwise may never hear it.
AS: Tell us about your new project, ‘East to West.’ What are some of your favorites from the project?
JG: ‘East To West’ is our sophomore project with Crossroads and it is another project that shows our variety of styles.
As far as favorites, all of the songs made the final cut, so we love them all and are grateful to the writers for entrusting us with their songs. “Under the Sea,” “The Richest Crown,” and “Unbroken Promise” are favorites because of the message in each song and the impact the songs have on an audience. “It’s His Story” is fun because of the style and fun harmonies. “Highway to Heaven” just feels like church! We hired an orchestra for two of the songs, “The Richest Crown” and “This Is the Grace I Know,” and it completely transformed those songs. “This Is The Grace I Know”, our latest single, is fun because of the Broadway Musical style, but the message rings clear and true.
AS: Your family has a variety of songs in your repertoire. What are some of your favorite tunes to sing in concert?
JG: Ally’s favorite song to sing is “I Stand Amazed In The Presence” and any of our Christmas songs. Jay’s favorites to sing are “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” (Christmas a cappella) and “The Old Rugged Cross.” I personally love to sing any of the Christmas songs. I also love “I Stand Amazed In The Presence.” Van’s favorite songs to sing are “There’s No Other God,” “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” and “It’s Gonna Be Wonderful.”
AS: Who are some of your musical mentors and/or influences (as a family and/or individuals)?
JG: Van’s musical mentors and influences would be Ginger Lester Pitchers, her husband Jason, Royce Barnett, the Rambo’s, Allison Krauss, Anne Murray, and Ricky Skaggs. Jay’s mentors are his mom and dad. And, regarding influences, Jay is a big fan of arrangers such as David Foster, Larry Goss, Roger Talley, Ginger Lester Pitchers, The Carpenters, Jerry Hey, and Tim Akers. Ally’s mentors are her mom and dad as well. And, regarding influences, Ally likes Shania Twain, Allison Krauss, Celine Dion, and Karen Carpenter. Jason’s mentors are his grandmother Marcy Kelsey and a local musician, Johnny Wall. Jason’s influences are The Original Hinsons, The Cathedrals, The Talleys, Lari Goss, Tim Parton, the McGruders Band, David Foster, the Lesters, Ricky Skaggs, Nat King Cole, Asleep At The Wheel, & Riders In The Sky.
AS: As the music world continues to change, what are some challenges you feel in regard to growing and maintaining Southern Gospel Music?
JG: We have to keep finding ways to expose young people to this music. In my opinion, I truly believe that Southern Gospel Music needs to once again incorporate instrumentation in the live setting to keep this music growing.
AS: How can fans keep up with Endless Highway?
JG: You can find us at our website www.endlesshighway.org , on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and all digital streaming outlets.
AS: I encourage everyone to check out Endless Highway. The harmonies, the arrangements, the musical variety and skill all make for an enjoyable listening experience. Also, be listening for their current single, “This Is the Grace I Know.”