Chris Unthank: For those unfamiliar with who you are, tell us a bit about yourself and your family.
Janice Crow: I am originally from Wood River, IL. I grew up going to a tight-knit little church, Pence Avenue Church of God, where music was a big deal. Dad played saxophone, violin and sang duets with my mother. She had a voice like velvet and had sung on the radio back in the old days. Dad taught me my first song on a big old upright out-of-tune piano and I will forever be grateful. I am married to a terrific guy named Bruce who puts up with my odd songwriting hours and is content to eat tacos if I’m chasing a song idea. We have three grown children. I come from a legal background, spending years as a court stenographer taking down testimony….just like on Matlock, if anybody remembers that. (Could I tell some stories!) The last ten years of my legal career I spent, strangely, as a paralegal and investigator. I guess you could say I was paid to be nosey.
CU: What is your history with Gospel music?
JC: I fell in love with Southern Gospel before that phrase was ever used. When I was little, my older brother, Don, sang bass in a quartet with Neil Enloe (later of the Couriers). They were just teenagers, but I thought they were movie stars up there on stage. I remember seeing the Blackwood Brothers, Statesmen, and The LeFevres at the Old St. Louis House when I was just a little kid and being mesmerized by the harmonies. I didn’t know what to call it, but I loved it. When Eva Mae swished out onto that stage in a blue satin dress, plunked down at that piano and played the daylights out of it, I was hooked. When I was fourteen, I started traveling and playing piano for a regional group. I guess I grew up a bit of a square peg….listening to The Imperials and The Oak Ridge Boys while my friends were drooling over the latest rock group. I sang with Sunday Edition several years and filled in with other groups along the way. After raising my kids, I started singing again as a soloist performing my own songs.
CU: How did you get started with songwriting?
JC: I actually started trying to write songs when I was twelve. I put gospel words to that old Patti Page tune, “Shake Me I Rattle”. Yes, it was awful. I couldn’t stop listening to how songs were put together, though. I loved odd chords and I would sit in front of the record player and listen to the same song over and over just to hear that one chord that blew me away. The first time I heard Stuart Hamblen’s song “It is No Secret (What God Can Do)”, where the lyric says, “The chimes of time ring out the news another day is through”, I could see in my mind’s eye a dim hallway at midnight with a grandfather clock’s pendulum swinging. He painted a picture for me and I wanted to do that. I didn’t know how, but I wanted to.
CU: What are some cuts that people would recognize you from?
JC: Well, the song that’s on radio now, LeFevre Quartet’s latest single “Between the Prayer and the Answer” and of course Triumphant Quartet’s “Amazing God” (written with Sue Smith and Lee Black). I’ve been honored with several title cuts such as Kingdom Heirs’ current project, “Everything in Between”; Old Paths’ “It’s Real” (written with Kenna Turner West), as well as “Talkin’ About Heaven” by Legacy Five. Matt Fouch and Legacy did a masterful job on my song, “Who Knew”, and Greater Vision honored me with the cut of “I Believe it All”. Let’s see, what else…Ivan Parker’s “Walk My Way”and Tribute Quartet’s “Thank the Lord”, although it was not singled, has gotten airplay. I guess those are the ones that stand out to me. I’m grateful for them all.
CU: What or who would be your biggest influence in the songwriting world?
JC: I have loved the writing of Mosie Lister, Vep Ellis, R.E. Winsett, Ira Stanphill, Pop Speer, and Albert E. Brumley since I was a kid, and later on Bill and Gloria Gaither, Dottie Rambo, Ronnie Hinson, Rusty Goodman and Dianne Wilkinson. I also loved great country writers like Jimmy Webb whose lyrical imagery could almost make you smell an acre of green onions and taste the dust rolling behind a red pickup truck.
CU: Do you have a favorite co-write that you can think of?
JC: I think my favorite co-write ever is my first co-write with Dianne Wilkinson. What an education. That lady took me to school! Her knowledge of the Bible and dedication to Biblical correctness set the bar high for me. If you’re not sure if your lyric is right on, go get THE BOOK! Plus, she was just a whole lot of fun and had a million great stories. There was one co-write we did remotely, however, that let me know God has all this in His hands, if you trust Him with it. I had a melody that I just had no lyric for and no idea what it should be about. That was unusual because I usually get words and music at the same time. I sent the melody to Dianne and she wrote a lyric that made me bawl like a baby. It’s called, “Heaven is the Place Where Dreams Come True.” She had no idea what was going on with me at the time, but she wrote it.
CU: What advice can you recommend to songwriters who want to break in to the industry?
JC: That’s the easiest question of all. There is no better way on the planet to learn the craft and business of Christian songwriting than Sue Smith’s “Write About Jesus” conference held in the fall every year in St. Charles, Mo. Here Sue brings together the best of the best in the music industry (songwriters, publishers, industry insiders) to teach, critique, mentor and cheer on those who have come hungry to learn. I owe my relationship with awesome publisher Rick Shelton and the great people at Daywind to the years spent at “Write About Jesus” soaking up every ounce of instruction, incite and encouragement from those most empowered to give it. It was invaluable.
CU: What has God been teaching you lately?
JC: What is God teaching me? Look up. When I can see Bible prophecy unfolding in front of my eyes everyday in the news, it just reinforces everything I’ve been taught from my youth up. That Book He gave us as a road map is true. It’s infallible. It’s up-to-the-minute accurate and things are right on schedule. Everything falling apart around us is just a wake-up call for the sleeping Christian. But here’s the really big deal… if the bad stuff He said would happen is happening, that means the good stuff is gonna happen, too, and that is amazing!