Turn Your Radio On
The Stories Behind Gospel Music's Greatest Songs
This is really the book that started the parade of Stories Behind projects. I had published books on the stories behind country music's great songs and a fun book on novelty songs before "Radio," but this was the one that really took off. It went into five printings. It seemed thousands felt that knowing the inspriation behind their most beloved gospel song made the song even more meaningful. With more than sixty super chapters in the book it is hard to pick just one, so I just opted for a personal favorite.
It seemed only natural that Mylon LeFevre would write gospel music. His family had been one of the most respected and honored southern gospel acts of all time. His mother and father, Eva Mae and Urias LeFevre, are in the Gospel Music Association's Hall of Fame. Innovative, energetic, and driven to produce gospel music with an "edge," the LeFevres didn't just walk onto the stage, they stormed it. The power of their performances is still being talked about some four decades later.
The LeFevres were not a standard southern gospel quartet. Their music was girded by guitars, bass, drums, piano, and any other instrument they could find to play. Also, they didn't sing straight four-part harmonies. During their shows they could move from solos to duets to trios and then to quartets; then, just as quickly, they could rush into an almost choral type of country-inspired effort. There was no other group like theirs. If you needed tight structure, you wouldn't last long singing with the LeFevres. To work with them, you had to be willing to give everything you had, live spontaneously, and go wherever the Spirit moved you.
Even as a child, Mylon was the most dynamic member of this singing family. Charismatic, talented, a vocal master who also played a half dozen instruments, he had music in his blood from his days as a toddler. Wherever he performed, no matter what groups came before or followed the LeFevres, those who had gathered to hear the gospel in music left talking about the good-looking teenager. Because of his incredible talent and personality, the spotlight always seemed brighter when it shone on Mylon.
In many ways, everything might have come too easily for Mylon. He grew up gaining the approval of huge crowds, being told he was incredibly gifted, and sharing in the glory largely created by the drive and hard work of a previous generation of LeFevres. In his own mind he must have seemed immortal, a human beacon placed above those who paid to listen to him sing.
Just as being the star on stage seemed almost effortless, sharing his thoughts and ideas with others also was no problem for the young man. The first time Mylon began to compose, he seemed to effortlessly produce an exceptional work. No LeFevre had ever written anything that seemed as inspired and powerful as "Without Him."
Mylon LeFevre's strong message of depending on the Lord to guide him through each day was more a product of his imagination than actual experience. At the time he wrote the song his own faith was mostly a surface show. Religion was a product he was selling but not really using. He had little depth, spent little time in Christian growth, and sang not so much for God's glory as for his own. Nevertheless, "Without Him" was such an outstanding work that just months after it was written Elvis Presley decided to feature it on his second RCA gospel album. Because of Elvis, Mylon LeFevre, at seventeen years of age, suddenly found himself basking in more fame than almost anyone else involved in Christian music. He also quickly became very rich.
Presley's recording of "Without Him" earned tens of thousands of dollars in writer's royalties before Mylon was old enough to vote. When more than one hundred others recorded the song, he found himself floating in money. Soon he began to think of himself as a man who had all the gifts, power, and wisdom he needed. He believed Cod was out there, but he didn't really need Him. Those who knew Mylon well found it ironic that the earnings and acclaim showered on the young man for "Without Him" had paved the way for him to live in a world without God.
For the next fifteen years Mylon put together several bands, sang both rock and contemporary Christian music, and rubbed elbows with music's biggest stars. He partied with the likes of legendary rockers such as Alvin Lee, George Harrison, and Eric Clapton. He recorded with everyone from the Beatles to the Rolling Stones. He rode in limousines and private planes, ate at the most elegant cafes in Paris and London, and was at the heart of the jet-set lifestyle. While he may have been flying high, he was also heading for a terrifying crash. Depending on drugs to enhance his spirit, spending his money faster than he could make it, by 1970 it seemed Mylon had moved as far away from his southem gospel roots as was possible.
Three years later, now a hopeless heroin addict, LeFevre picked up a Gideon Bible while doing drugs. Alone, frustrated, whirling in a life of confusion, Mylon somehow saw in God's Word a faint light through the fog that clouded his mind. For the first time in years, a life with faith seemed to have meaning and substance, but it was not enough. Even though he once again believed God was there for him, he chose more drugs over the Savior. For seven more years he wandered along in a spiritual haze completely without Jesus.
In 1980, his career back on track and singing with a Christian musical group, "The Second Chapter of Acts," LeFevre finally sank to the bottom. With the encouragement of members of his group, he admitted to himself and his Lord that he could no longer live without a daily walk with Jesus. Falling to his knees, he begged forgiveness and pledged to live, work, and sing for God. Coming back to his roots, he accepted a call to evangelical service and spoke to thousands about his past, his sins, and his newfound hope.
For LeFevre the act of rededication almost came too late. A heart attack, caused by his years of drug abuse and his jetset lifestyle, almost killed him before he reached his fortieth birthday. Told by doctors that two-thirds of his heart was dead and that traveling and ministering were out of the question, a weak Mylon prayed for a miracle. Now that he finally had Jesus back in his life, now that he was finally living with Him instead of without Him, he felt moved to take his message to the world. He hoped that God would somehow find a way to make this possible.
Doctors don't know how LeFevre's heart was reborn. They don't understand how a man so close to an invalid state could rebound into vital health, but most who now examine him and remember his former condition call it a miracle. When Mylon LeFevre was just seventeen he wrote a song that would touch millions. "Without Him" is not only one of the most recorded works in gospel music history, but it has quickly found its way into countless hymnals and songbooks. It is a statement of God's power; the writer wrote the words and music to his testimony some h•venty years before he understood them himself. It seems that he didn't fully grasp the power of God until he had spent half his life living without Him.