I first met Dana in the early 90’s as Big Tent Revival was just starting to form. He and Eddie DeGarmo were at Ardent Studios recording their last studio record while Steve Wiggins and I were trying to pay the bills by working at the studio making coffee, taking out the trash and running errands for whoever needed something. It was an amazing time to be hanging out there. While Dana and Eddie would be in one studio, ZZ Top would be in another just down the hallway… and that was a normal day of random artists in the building.
As we became friends with Dana and Eddie, I had no idea who they were. I didn’t grow up listening to Christian music so I wasn’t a fan and never listened to any of their CD’s. However… I was a fan of them as people and that was all I needed.
As you could imagine, the first time I heard God Good, Devil Bad… I laughed in front of both of them never knowing it was a hit… oh I was young and stupid.
Fast forward a little bit to the forming of Ardent Records which Dana became a working part of not as an artist at first, but A&R guy, part owner, producer and the guy you call when you need a quick guitar part or overdub.
Dana Key, along with Pat Scholes and John Fry, were very instrumental in giving Big Tent Revival our start. They were the label and we were the first Christian band to be signed to their label.
There were many firsts… Our first tour was opening up for DeGarmo and Key on their farewell tour.( I played drums for D & K on this tour as well) They also gave us our first tour bus experience and showed us the ropes of traveling on the road. They also showed us how to gain weight by stopping at Waffle House every night at 2am… those were some fun nights!
Dana and Eddie would sit and tell us the funniest stories about touring and making records. Then turn around and tell us the scariest stories about touring and making records… and raising a family and the difficulties that come with it.
Dana and Eddie… those guys are survivors of the road… and to this day have never strayed from their goal… telling people about Christ.
Here are a few things I loved about Dana.
First, Dana was extremely funny and would tell you EXACTLY what’s on his mind with no filter.
Second, he scared the living daylights out of me one day when I was rehearsing with he and Eddie for their last tour. I was playing drums for them and we were practicing this one song where the ending of the song was way different live than what was on the CD. The first 3 times we went through the song I botched the ending every time. Then… out of no where, Dana whips around pointing his finger at me and says… very sternly.. “LOOK!!! Get it right!” that’s all he said… in my head he had said… get it right or your fired.
Well, we took a little break. I walked up to Steve Wiggins and I was shaking like I had just disappointed my coach or Dad in the worst way possible. Steve calmed me down and I went and learned the ending of the song.
I never messed it up again… or any other song on that tour.
The funny part… EVERY night on tour when we got to the ending of that song, Dana would turn around and wink at me for getting it right. Yep… he knew… and I knew… but we never ever spoke about it since he corrected me. That was an important moment for me and he knew it and I loved him for it.
Third, the day I got married he and his wife, Anita, drove from Memphis to Nashville to come to the wedding. I saw the two of them at the end of the reception. What I didn’t know was their car had broken down between Memphis and Nashville and they didn’t get to see the wedding… they had literally just walked in from about 7 hours of car trouble which should have only been about a 3 hour drive.
It meant so much to me that they would go to all of that trouble just to be there when they could have and probably should have turned around and gone home.
You see… that’s Dana. When you least expect it he was there for you in support. Always willing. Always there.
So Dana… You know… I’ve been sitting here crying my eyes out half the day going through all the memories. I regret so much that I didn’t come to see you sooner and I let my busy schedule get the best of me. I’ve been wanting to get back to Memphis to just catch up for a bit and tell you how much you’ve always meant to me and what a huge impact you made on my life as your friend. Thank you for taking the chance on me… and Wiggins… and Randy… and Dave and Dale… and thanks for believing in us.
Thanks for making me laugh and thanks for giving me teachable moments that I will never forget. Moments I use today to mentor other young artists now just like you did with us.
My friends… here’s the lesson in this.
We all know we don’t know when our time will come to leave this earth. So… make sure that if you need to spend time with someone you haven’t seen in while, seek them out now. Pursue them with diligence and get time with them. If they made an impact on you, make sure you tell them and thank them… buy them a meal or coffee or something. The smallest gesture goes the longest way.
Please continue to pray for his with Anita and the rest of his family and remember to pursue life with great diligence.