What Roman Catholic songwriter was nominated for a Dove Award, has performed twice for the Pope, has co-written hit songs with well-known Christian musicians, has toured the US with a monk who plays bluegrass, was a worship leader for a mega-church and was into Christian music before Christian music was cool? Well, if you guessed Tom Booth, then you’re right!
Tom learned to play guitar when he was young. He started writing songs when he was in the 8th grade. He thought that’s what everybody did, until he realized that most kids his age, while interested in music, didn’t give it the time and attention that he did. Tom would write on the usual topics of interest for his age – love, philosophy, his view of the world, etc. In high school, he played football and basketball, but in his Junior and Senior years, music took over. Tom had a band, long hair and a girlfriend.
“What more could you want?” Tom asks. “Well, what you want is purpose, hope, salvation and to know who you are in God.”
During Tom’s senior year, he met a woman whom he calls a “prayerrist.” Tom explains that,“a prayerrist uses prayer violently to help people. A terrorist uses violence to hurt people.” He found out later the woman prayed for him every day for years. Around the same time, Tom had a discussion with a friend on a rather serious matter.
Tom heard himself tell his friend, “You need God.” He thought, What am I saying? I need God! Tom decided to figure this God thing out, so he began a ‘church search’.
He tried several churches and denominations, but having been raised Catholic, the Catholic church felt like home. He began attending mass every morning.
Tom recalls,“I was hearing the gospel, hearing people say ‘yes’ to Jesus.”
He decided to attend a charismatic prayer meeting that people were talking about. The meeting left quite an impression on Tom.
“I thought, these people are either crazy or right. I found out they were both,” Tom said. “They loved Jesus and they were giving their lives to him.”
Tom, also, gave his life to Christ.
In The Beginning
The year was 1979. Tom started writing songs about Jesus, faith, the Bible and truth. His band was not happy with the change and didn’t want anything to do with the new direction Tom was taking. Tom now reflects on his beginnings as a Christian artist:
“It was a radical, daring thing to do. ‘You play at the church? You write Christian songs?’ It got you asked out of places, not into places.” Tom felt what he calls a “profound destiny” to follow Jesus, to say ‘yes’ to Christ.
Tom recalls the beginning as a “lonely and crucial” time in his life. “It was a different culture then. It put you on the outside of the mainstream. People who were buying Christian music were people from the Jesus movement.”
It was around this time that Tom went to a John Michael Talbot concert. John Michael Talbot is a Catholic monk and founder of a monastic community known as the Brothers and Sisters of Charity. He is a songwriter, a recording artist and has his own TV show on The Church Channel (Tom calls it “The Monk Dynasty”). As Tom puts it, “John was radically saying ‘yes’ to Jesus and writing radical songs.”
Tom bought John’s album and met him at the end of the concert. It was the beginning of a life-long friendship. Tom thinks of John as a big brother.
Tom went to college and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Music History, with a Minor in Philosophy and Religious Studies In 1985, he was hired as the Associate Music Director for St. Timothy Catholic Community church in Mesa, Arizona. His job was to reach youth in the surrounding area through music. St. Timothy’s had grown to a mega church with about 12,000 members. Christian musicians and songwriters often attended the church, most notably, Rich Mullins and Kathy Troccoli. Tom and Kathy collaborated on rewriting one of Tom’s songs, “I Will Choose Christ,” to appeal to Kathy’s audience. Kathy recorded the song and it went to number one on the Christian music charts. Tom was nominated for a Gospel Music Association Dove award. He co-wrote another song with Kathy, “Love Has a Name”, which topped the charts, as well. This opened many doors for Tom.
He was invited to play in Europe. He toured the United States with John Michael Talbot. He was asked to write and perform a song (Cry The Gospel) for the Pope John Paul II’s visit to the United States in 1999, and played in Rome for the Pope and 2 million other people on World Youth Day in Italy in 2000.
Tom and Rich Mullins became good friends and co-writers in the two years before Rich’s fatal car accident in September of 1997. Tom remembers taking a cassette with a song that he and Rich had co-written and recorded, rubber banding a piece of paper with the lyrics around it. He dropped it in the mail to Rich. The cassette, found at the scene of the accident where Rich died, eventually made its way to A&M records. The song, Nothing Is Beyond You, was recorded by Amy Grant and topped the Christian music charts. Tom still misses his friend, Rich, and knows he is with Jesus.
Tom attributes all of his success to God. He has done things most people just dream about, but success didn’t keep him from what he loved doing the most:
“I got to play at my church every Sunday. Sometimes people think the stage and concerts is a bigger deal than a Sunday mass or a Sunday service. I think a more profound calling is to be in the church every week to sing for friends and family, and being in relationship. That was a great honor to me to do both. To be traveling, but also to be ministering at the same church every week.”
In his opinion, churches are a huge mission field which is often over-looked. He’s discovered that many people don’t know how to pray. He thinks it’s important to remember that, “people in our homes and neighborhoods need evangelism.” Tom paraphrased Mother Teresa, “don’t come to India, walk across the hall in your home. Reach out to your mother, father, sister, brother, who need love in their life.”
Not only has God blessed Tom’s music ministry, God has also blessed his personal life. Tom and his wife, Tammy, have been married over 25 years. His oldest daughter, Haley, is an elementary school teacher. His daughter, Carly, is a professional ballroom dancer, and his son, Anthony, is a Junior in High School who loves to play basketball.
Saying “Yes” to Jesus
“My focus hasn’t been Christian radio or performing as much as it’s been……what has it been?” Tom asked himself. “It’s been about expressing my faith in an artistic and musical way so that young people, who, like me, are searching and looking, could find direction and find an answer…We find Jesus and we think we’ve found all the answers. And we have, but following Jesus, we discover a lot more questions. Life is not simple. We want to say, ‘if you know this, and you know this, and you know this, you know life.’…Then we feel like we got it down, but to me, there’s a lot of questions.”
“Even Jesus had questions. ‘Father, let this cup pass from me.’ In Gethsemane, Jesus wasn’t sitting on a stone…saying, ‘I know what’s going to happen. I got this.’ The pain of being a human being, and Jesus was 100% human and 100% divine. The human part says, ‘what is going on? I don’t want this, but Father, your will be done.”
Tom looks to Mary, Jesus’ mother, and to Mother Teresa as personal examples:
“For me, saying ‘yes’ to Jesus gives me the answer, but it’s also a ‘yes’ to the unknown, the mysteries of life. So, as a songwriter, as an artist…I want to write about pain in our lives and how life is challenging. There’s questions and there’s mystery and love calls us into places that are uncomfortable. I’m trying to say ‘yes’, not only in my music, but in my life.”
Tom is aware of the distance that seems to exist between the Catholic and protestant churches:
“A lot of your readers might be saying, ‘I’ve never met a Catholic who is passionate about Christ’, but let me promise you, there are millions. And one of these is called Pope Francis. The new Pope is a radical follower of Christ.
In every church, there are people there because they love God. There are people there who aren’t sure. They’re checking it out. There are others saying, ‘well, if I don’t go, my wife is going to kick me out of the house.’ There are other people there that are saying, ‘I can’t wait until this is over!’. In every faith, every church, you’re going to have a range. It comes down to two types of people. You become a religious authority, where you learn all about religion, telling people what’s right and wrong in their life. Or, you become a follower and a disciple. I suppose there are people in between, but in terms of my own Catholicism, which some find unique but really isn’t…
I’m put to shame by many Catholics I meet, by their profound love of the Lord and their ‘yes’ to God’s will in their life. In fact, we call them Saints. Catholics have a tendency to have heroes. Humans have a tendency to have heroes. We call our heroes Saints. Mother Teresa, St. Francis of Assisi, all kinds of saints through generations of people, who have said ‘yes’ to God, that we look at as heroes, to encourage us, to be examples of what it means to follow Jesus.
People who don’t understand the faith say ‘you have these statues and you’re worshiping them’. That’s like saying every American stands up every morning, says the Pledge of Allegiance, and eats apple pie. It’s a beautiful faith. It’s the first Christian faith. It’s the church that Jesus founded and it’s a church that needs help, like every other denomination that I have encountered. We all need to put our eyes on Jesus, to share Jesus, to sing about Jesus, to imitate Jesus and to love one another.”
Tom has released eight CD’s on the spiritandsong.com label (and 8 previous albums on vinyl and cassette). His ninth CD, entitled, Time Stands Still, is scheduled for release on December 3, 2014.
“As I get older,” Tom said, “there’s less years ahead of me then there are behind. Life is really a preparation for death.” That’s what the title song of the CD is about – death, life and pain, but in eternity, time stands still.
In My Father’s House is a tribute to Tom’s brother-in-law, who said ‘yes’ to Christ, even in the midst of a struggling with a disease that eventually took his life. Other songs on the 8 song CD include More Than Conquerors, from the writings of St. Paul; By the Love of God, a song about salvation; and The Jesus Song, a simple prayer sung to the backdrop of a full symphonic string arrangement.
Beautifully recorded with wonderful harmonies and a variety of styles from down home country to rock and roll, Time Stands Still is worshipful and honoring to Jesus. Although the song topics are a bit on the heavy side, the listener is left with a sense that those who say “yes” to Christ are, indeed, more the conquerors.
About half of Time Stands Still was recorded in Nashville at Blackbird Studios by Kevin Becka, who works with John McBride, husband of Martina McBride, and is a well-respected audio engineer. The other half was recorded at Clarke Rigsby’s Tempest Studio in Tempe, AZ. Tom considers Clarke an “Arizona treasure” and works with Clarke on personal recording projects.
Another Nashville audio engineer, Jeff Thomas, co-produced Tom’s last three CD’s, and recorded and mixed several songs on Time Stands Still.
Many years ago, Tom decided he needed a personal mission statement, only to discover it had been already been written by another well-known songwriter named David:
His Steadfast Love Endures Forever
A Psalm for giving thanks.
1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
2 Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
3 Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
5 For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever,
Tom left his job with St. Timothy’s in 2005 and has been working with OCP, his music publisher. Tom is currently the Associate Director of Music Development and Music Outreach at spiritandsong.com, a division of OCP and Tom’s record label. Tom notes that the label works with many great artists and is a good source for Christian and worship songs.
When asked about his future, Tom said he will continue being a husband, father, songwriter and recording artist. Tom has no business plan, no manager. He describes his career as, “stumbling forward and listening to Christ, listening to the Holy Spirit. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve made good choices. But through it all, I know I need God more today then I felt I did at 17. My prayer these days, ‘I need you God!’ My secondary prayer is ‘you don’t have to explain to me what I am to do next, just show me.’ I am not owed an explanation. Give me the strength to be faithful and follow You.”