Jeff Snyder who has had performed with Crystal River, the Bowlings and the Greenes, has released his debut solo album "Keep the Faith." The album features the vocals of Taranda Greene, Mike Bowling and Ray Dean Reese.
Ever since 2016, Jeff would go on to join the staff at his home church, Valley Forge Church, in Elizabethton, TN where he remains the Worship Leader to this day. "Valley Forge has been an extension of that calling I felt over 20 years ago during that camp meeting in Louisville." says Jeff. After several years of planning and discussion, Jeff and Melissa felt it was time for him to make a solo album. In 2019 Jeff recorded his first solo album entitled "Keep The Faith".
Q: Jeff, thanks for doing this interview with us. Let's start with yourself: over the years, you have been very influential in the gospel music scene. Tell us a little about your journey and involvement in various groups.
A: Well, thank you for that, and I must start by saying that church and music have always been a huge part of my life. I was always in church growing up whether it was Sunday services, the Wednesday evening service, Saturday night prayer meetings, or a revival. My brothers and I were always there. My parents made sure of that. Church took precedence over anything else, including sports. My father was the song leader of our little church, so naturally, my brothers and I were heavily involved in the music ministry of the church. So, with that kind of an upbringing and participation, God began to cultivate in me a desire to sing for Him. I was saved during one of those revivals at the age of 13.
A couple of years later I was sitting in a camp meeting in Louisville, Ky, and the singers for that camp just so happened to be Phil and Kim Collingsworth. This was before they had their family group known today as The Collingsworth Family. They were singing a song called "Show Me The Cross". The saints began to shout and something within my soul started to stir. I remember looking up at the rafters in that old open air tabernacle, and it was as if the Lord parted the clouds, came down to that little encampment, and told me He wanted me to do what the singers were doing in that moment. He wanted me to use my gifts and talents for music ministry and worship. That's where my music ministry journey began.
I would then go on to enroll in bible college and travel in various trios and quartets from the fall of 1997 until the summer of 2002. In December of 2004 I joined Crystal River and sang with them until the fall of 2006. That's when I got a call from Mike Bowling to come to Nashville and try out for him and his wife, Kelly, who is a member of the Crabb Family. This was right after the Crabb Family decided to go in separate ministry directions and the group Mike & Kelly Bowling (now known as The Bowling Family) was formed. During my time with Mike & Kelly, we recorded an album called "Faith To Believe", which had number one songs like Your Cries Have Awoken The Master, Notified, We Have A Savior, and A Miracle Today on it.
In January of 2009, I joined the legendary family group The Greenes. I remember as a young person listening to The Greenes live album, "And The Walls Came Down", over and over. I absolutely loved that record! So, it was a full circle moment for me to join the group and travel with Tony, TaRanda, and John! I stayed with The Greenes until the untimely death of group patriarch Tony Greene. After Tony passed away, I decided to come off the road. I am still very much in contact with all of my former group members. When you travel on a bus 150 plus dates a year, you develop a life-long kinship that is unbreakable.
Q: There was also a time when you and your wife were serving as missionaries in Central Africa! Tell us more about your ministry there.
A: Yes, in 2011, my wife, Melissa, and I served a whole month in Cameroon. It was an unbelievable time in our lives and marriage. In fact, we spent our 5th wedding anniversary over there. My wife is a pediatric doctor, so we were able to go to Africa through an awesome organization called World Medical Mission, which is a ministry under the umbrella of Samaritan's Purse. Melissa was the children's ward physician and I served as the chaplain for the same ward. It was really cool for us to serve side by side. Rarely does medical ministry and music ministry have the opportunity to work along-side each other, but in this case, it was a perfect match!
Part of my job as the chaplain was to get the patients up in the morning and have devotions with them. I would read some scripture and talk about how to apply it to their lives and then follow up with a song. God would meet with us in a special way during those times. Melissa would round with the nurses and residents daily. She did an amazing job saving several children from certain death while we were there.
One of my fondest memories during our time happened one afternoon. I was asked to go to a post leprosy village to minister to the residents. Yes, you heard me correctly. These were people that had leprosy at one point in their lives. Most of the people there were considered outcasts in their home communities, so they formed this colony called New Hope Village. When I arrived there, you could visibly see the damages the disease had caused. It was heartbreaking to see. After I settled in and we began to interact with each other, I was keenly aware that these people were some of the most thankful people I had ever met. As I led them in worship and spoke that afternoon, the Lord began to speak to my heart about my own lack of gratitude. That experience, and the whole trip, changed my life forever.
Q: How and why did you decide to release your new solo album?
A: Well, that's a good question. When I came off the road in 2010, I would still get asked to sing for revivals and conference type services. There were many times I would greet people after a service and they would ask for a CD, and I would just tell them that hopefully one day I would have something they could take home with them. So, the idea to record started as a necessity, but then after getting into the process of making an album I realized that this was an extension of God's calling on my life. When you take a step of faith and put yourself "out there", God will bless you for it. He has indeed blessed me from the start to the finish of "Keep The Faith". I think I needed it just as much as anyone. It has definitely increased my faith.
Q: Danny Crawford, who has produced so many of the records from Crossroads, also produced your new album. What was it like working with Danny?
A: Danny was a joy to work with! During our pre-production meeting, I knew immediately that we were going to mesh well together. Danny's session leading style is so laid back, making the atmosphere creative and comfortable. Danny has been around the gospel music industry for several decades, so I love to hear the stories he has collected over the years. I can't imagine this project without Danny's expertise at the helm! Not only did he produce the tracking and vocal sessions, he also played keys and did the orchestrations for the album.
Q: I was glad to see the name Sandy Blythe appearing twice as the writer of two songs on the record. Not long ago we also featured Sandy in an interview. I really love your take of her song "Set Apart." What attracted you to this song and what does this song mean to you?
A: I would have to say that Sandy Blythe is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. Not only does she produce great lyrics, but her musical style is right up my alley! I came across the song "Set Apart" a couple of years ago. I thought to myself, "If I ever record an album, I am recording that song right there!". Sure enough, when it came time to nail down the final cuts, it was there along with "We're Not Defeated", which is another great song written by Sandy and her brother, Richard.
"Set Apart" is a prayer song to God. It talks about how you and I have a need in our lives to not only be forgiven of our sins, but we have a need to be totally surrendered to the Lord. I really think that is the greatest need in our churches today. God wants everything, not just our sinful past, but He also wants our hopes, dreams, and ambitions. He wants to set us apart for a holy purpose. This is the kind of song that you should start your day with. Listen to it while you're getting ready for the day, or listen to it during your commute to the office. It has definitely changed my life!
Q: "Echo of Grace" is another song I have on repeat. For the sake of our readers who have not heard it yet, what's the song about? And why did you choose to record it?
A: The song "Echo of Grace" is for someone who might have, let's say, a complicated past. Maybe you have really made a mess of your life and you feel like you have gone too far for God's grace to reach you. I love the first line of the song that says "Stop the hiding, don't be afraid. No use in trying to erase the mess you made." I love that thought. Honestly, there's nothing we can do in and of ourselves that could ever erase all of the sins and failures of the past, outside of the blood of Jesus. You and I could never be "good enough" to earn or merit God's amazing grace. So, stop trying to do what only God can do. I was in need of an "altar song" for this recording and I actually had a song in mind that The Greenes recorded, but then Matthew Lawson, the songwriter, emailed me this song. It was exactly what I was looking for.
The feedback for "Echo of Grace", from the initial release of the album, has been tremendous. My prayer for this song is that it would reach the hearts of those that feel like there is no hope left for them. Probably my favorite line in the whole song is "Your story's not over, it's only beginning. Let the voice of shame fade away in the echo of grace." Wow, what a message! What a Savior!
Q: Your current single is "No Better Time." Tell us more about this song.
A: I'm so excited about this song for several reasons. First of all, I had the best background vocalists, for this album, that you could get. In fact, I wouldn't even use the words "back ground vocalists" on the album credits. I thought, "We'll just call them guest vocalists". Mike Bowling and TaRanda Greene (now TaRanda Beene) did the back ground vocals on "Keep The Faith". Yes, my former bosses! I definitely called in the favors on this one. I jokingly tell people that when I called Mike and TaRanda to see if they would do this for me, I reminded them of how many nights I loaded and unloaded sound equipment when I traveled for them! Seriously though, I could not have asked for a better sound than the one they brought to this record. The harmonies are so tight. I love how it turned out!
So, about the song "No Better Time". I needed a good upbeat, hand clapping type song and this one certainly delivered that! It sounded like a great quartet song, but the only thing it was missing was a bass singer. The first bass singer that came to my mind was the legendary Kingsmen bass vocalist, Ray Dean Reese. I didn't know if he would do it or not, so I contacted his son Brandon, who is a friend of mine and he said that Ray would be honored to! It was a dream come true for me since I have been a Kingsmen fan my entire life. Ray, who is now in his eighties, did an outstanding job on the song! In fact, I thought it sounded so good that I just had to release it as my first single!
Q: You have also included a live bonus track to the album. What's the significance of this bonus live track?
A: Oh yes, this is one of those surprises that I put on the album. I wasn't totally for sure if it was going to work out or not due to the recording method of the song. It was actually recorded from the sound booth of my church. I serve as the worship leader at Valley Forge Church in Elizabethton, TN, and we were singing an old G.T. "Dad" Speer song called "The Dearest Friend I Ever Had" during a Sunday evening service. God just settled in while we were singing and the rest is history. There were no pro tools or tuning involved. It's just a raw Sunday night service, but I think it captured a special moment. Our Praise Choir has a very unique sound, and this special live bonus cut captures a glimpse of what our services are like at Valley Forge. I didn't tell the choir that I was putting them on my album until after it came out. Needless to say, they were all very excited about it!
Q: In the making of this album, how has your faith been enlarged and deepened as a result of encountering Jesus through these tunes?
A: Well, as I said before, recording this project has increased my faith tremendously. When you are picking out songs for a project, it's like the Lord gives you small revelations of who the music might affect. So, the process is actually a spiritual journey of the realization that God is getting ready to use you for a special purpose. I remember listening to demo after demo, and it's like the Lord would bring people to my mind that would be ministered to through that particular song. The beautiful thing about that is, since releasing the album, I have had people messaging me about which song has been personally speaking to them.
Every single song has been "someone's song". It's like God is confirming to me that He graced this album with His presence, and let me tell you, that is what makes all the difference. You can be a great singer, and that's awesome, but without God's presence, all is vain. I just thank Him for the opportunity to be used for His glory. It all goes back to that camp meeting in Louisville with a simple "Yes, Lord"! I encourage anyone reading this, say "yes" to Jesus today. Whatever it is God wants you to do with your life, say "yes"! By the way, say "yes" in the little things too. He makes this life worth living and will take you on the greatest journey of your life! Just sit back and enjoy the ride!