Dana Key Remembered December 30, 1953 – June 6, 2010

The passing of Dana Key came as a surprise to all who knew him and to those who were fans of his music with DeGarmo & Key as well as his solo work and his work as a pastor.

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.


The views expressed here are those of a personal nature and do not reflect the corporate view of my employer or anyone else who employee my services.
  • http://intensedebate.com/people/JasonWert JasonWert

    What a wonderful post, Spence. I only met Dana a few times during the Ardent days when I was still in Christian radio but I could tell he had the respect of those around him. I think of all the ways my life was blessed by that man and the things he did like what he did for you in BTR…because of how BTR blessed me. I don't mean to be disrespectful to those who really knew him but I'm taking a lesson today from him in how the things we do make such an impact beyond our immediate circle. Dana Key clearly was used by God to bless thousands…maybe even millions…through his life even if he never met them.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/SpenceSmith SpenceSmith

      thankks Jason… that is a powerful lesson to take away and actually something i think we have the chance to do… impact those who are outside our immediate circle.

      thanks again!

  • http://randyelrod.com Randy Elrod

    Great post, Spence. Very, very touching and heartfelt.


    • http://intensedebate.com/people/SpenceSmith SpenceSmith

      Thanks Randy. It's always good processing through days like this with you.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Lindsey_Nobles Lindsey_Nobles

    Beautiful, Spence. A beautiful tribute to your friend. I know Dana is looking down from heaven and smiling at you and loving watching you "get it right."

    Guess I'll drive down to Franklin tomorrow and buy you Mexican tomorrow night so you know how much you mean to me!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/SpenceSmith SpenceSmith

      Thanks Lindsey. I'm looking forward to Mexican night and this one time i'll let you buy:)

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhsmith michaelhsmith

    Thanks for the post and insights to this life.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/SpenceSmith SpenceSmith

      Thanks Michael!

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/amabry amabry

    Thanks for sharing your memories and feelings. Made me remember a few of my own from those ForeFront/Ardent partnership days. He was a great man who left a great impact.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/SpenceSmith SpenceSmith

      Hey Anne… i know you must have some good memories from back in the day. Thanks for working hard on our records by the way:)

      • AMabry

        Dude. it was my privilege. Love me some BTR!

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/SpenceSmith SpenceSmith

          Right ON!

  • http://www.primarilyrye.com Courtenay Rogers

    Great post. I am so sorry for your loss, but love that you found the positive in this time of sadness.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/SpenceSmith SpenceSmith

      Thanks Courtenay. He was good man and could play the fool out of a guitar. There's always good memories to re-live.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/tejasfan His Girl

    Spence I am so sorry. I grew up on their music. So as a fan this is bitter sweet. I grew to love and respect Dana for all he did and his faith and passion for telling others of Christ. I live believing we should share how we feel about others. Not to hold it back and to reach out to those we love and let them know they are important to us. To let even strangers know if they have impacted us in a way. Know my thoughts and prayers are with you, Anita and all his friends and family. I also rejoice with Dana for being home and now worshiping at the throne. I am truly sorry for the ache you feel now. Thank you for teaching me so much just in your daily walk.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/SpenceSmith SpenceSmith

      Thanks Carol!

  • http://www.krissythomas.com Krissy

    Thank you for sharing your heart. You honor him with your words and memories of him. I wish I could give you a hug in person, since I can't. I'm asking all of the "Campus friends" to do it on my behalf.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/SpenceSmith SpenceSmith

      Well… the hug came in the form of a good summer drink and fajitas!

  • http://twitter.com/kylebjohnson @kylebjohnson

    Great post. I had the privilege to intern with him, Pat and John. Learned a lot from him. I remember hearing my first DeGarmo and Key record as a kid. I became a huge fan and saw them many times in Memphis. Both of Dana's solo releases are must listen as well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/SpenceSmith SpenceSmith

      Thanks Kyle… I know you probably had as much fun around there as i did.

  • Ani

    It's tough when you think about visiting someone you care but somehow you're always too busy and than all of a sudden…. it's too late. Must have been a difficult day for you. This post touched my heart.

    It's nice you have great memories of him.

    Praying for his family. And for you.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/SpenceSmith SpenceSmith

      Thanks Ani… it was a tough morning. But i know he would say it's ok… i know he's pretty happy about now.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    A beautiful tribute. Thank you.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/SpenceSmith SpenceSmith

      Thanks Mike.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/DerekDRobertson DerekDRobertson

    Great post and jealous because you knew such a legend in CCM. He is smiling big time now I am sure.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/SpenceSmith SpenceSmith

      he better be laughing. I'm not sure he has had this much attention on his facebook page in well… since facebook started:) He was a great man.

  • Laura

    Indeed, he was a great man. I had the priviledge of being Dana's assistant for the last 5 years. He was the "real deal." Don't get me wrong, there were times I wanted to knock him in the head but I loved him just the same. He was the most amazing man of God and loved the Word like nobody I have ever known. He was passionate about his Jesus and wanted everyone else to be as well. Our church is in shock and devastated at the loss of our beloved Pastor. Please continue to pray for his wife, his children, his family and the church that loved him so dearly. God Bless!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/SpenceSmith SpenceSmith

      Laura…. thank you so much for commenting on here. that's awesome that you were his assistant. he probably had you running in every direction!!! what a guy! You know… there's one thing all of us who knew Dana all have a least one good Dana story that brings a smile to people's face. i'll be their thursday and i hope to hug your neck and thank you for serving so well.

  • http://flowerudst.net anne jackson

    Spence – this news broke my heart when I saw it on Twitter the other day. I can only imagine how much he meant to you. I briefly knew him when an artist I was working with was working with him, but the time I spent with him he treated me like family (and even let me take his daughter out for her 16th birthday). My heart is so sad for his loss and I'm praying for his family & those close to him.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/SpenceSmith SpenceSmith

      thanks Anne. I'm sure you got a god memorable experience just from your short time around him and his family. that's cool you took her out for her birthday! thanks for your prayers… no go rest up for your thursday ride!

  • Mark Baker

    When I heard of the passing of Dana Key, I immmediately went to youtube to re-live some memories. I was drawn back to 1982 when I heard that Keith Green has died in a plane crash. I remembered that just because I was saved did not mean I would leave this world in a peaceful manner. I myself could easily leave this world tragically if God himself chose We know not the days we have on this planet and in this world. This journey is to make sure Heaven is our destination Throughout this life I believe with all my heart this was the mission , the calling if you will to bring as many as possible into the Kingdom by proclaiming to the world that this place has no answers. Dana Key showed and mentored many musicians not only by playing but by living a life with a no ego in the way attitude. He knew the Master Musician. He played in all the keys of life and obviously enjoyed serving God and others. He certainly enjoyed " every moment of his life".

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/toddvaters Todd

    Cool insight for someone like me who knew the music but not the man. Thanks for posting.