The first three posts in this Worship Influences series involved keyboard-driven worship. Today’s look involves a guitarist, though Tommy Walker plays far beyond the ubiquitous open G songs that would dominate the worship landscape in the first part of this century.
I first saw Tommy Walker sometime in the mid-’90s when he led with the multi-ethnic Promise Keepers band, as he sported a headset mic not unlike Michael Jackson’s and Madonna’s. I would see him at a few worship conferences following. I was drawn to his worship style, not the least because he is heavily influenced by jazz, producing something like the sound of Steely Dan.
Typically, he fronts his band as the lone guitarist, playing a customized Strat, amid drums, bass, two keys players, and sometimes auxiliary percussion. And plenty of vocals. Next week I’ll post about the decrease of the vocal ensemble, but Walker maintains what a friend once referred to as the “wall of butts,” which is what the vocal team looks like from the perspective of the drummer and other back-of-the-stage musicians. Sopranos double Walker’s melody lead with alto and tenor harmony. Often Walker ad libs and vocalizes as a sort of descant, very common in contemporary worship.
Walker’s band has always had accomplished musicians, since he has led Christian Assembly in Los Angeles, which boasts a huge talent pool. His earlier recordings feature a familiar sound (from last week’s post) in Justo Almario’s saxophone and flute. Walker mixes up genres, a reflection of his church’s ethnic diversity. His Latin-sounding forays sound a bit like Santana.
The Promise Keepers band was a product of Maranatha Music, but Walker would go on to record with Integrity’s, a Maranatha rival. (Do worship recording companies compete with one another?) The first of the Integrity’s albums, Never Gonna Stop, was better than his follow-up, Make It Glorious. But even more, I prefer his church’s productions, including the double-set Live At Home and There Is a Rock.
I was accused sometime around 2002 of leaning too heavily on Walker for my church’s worship songs. I’ve done this many times over the course of ministry. When I discover an artist, I want to use every good song he or she writes/records. I have to be careful to mix up our selections to vary our sound.
I haven’t used much from Walker, however, in the past several years, but here are some of the songs (of over 100 he’s written) that I used in leading, despite not having a guitarist that could touch Walker for most of that 1998-2004 stretch.
- Mourning into Dancing
- Lift Up Your Heads
- As We Worship You
- Everyone Arise — Cindy called this the Raisin Bran song
- Doxology — a fantastic arrangement
- He Knows My Name — a beautiful lullaby-like tune
- How Good and Pleasant
- I Fix My Eyes on You — based on one of my favorite scriptures
- Never Gonna Stop
- Only a God Like You — probably my churches’ favorite Walker song
- That’s Why We Praise Him — a wonderful explanation of what we do when we worship
- Unto the King
- Your Throne
- For God So Loved the World
- Te Alabamos — a Spanish/English song combining bossa and salsa; we used this at my church in Arizona
As I write this, I’m listening to a more recent Walker recording. I might need to listen more intentionally, because his music would appeal to my congregation. Of course, I’d need to work on my chords a bit, or just move over to piano where I belong. Check out Tommy Walker, since he’s still writing and recording.
Next week I’ll look at two records that pioneered today’s worship landscape.