Meet Wayne Kirkpatrick
It was the year we moved from Alexandria, Louisiana to Baton Rouge. Our father had left a successful real estate business to follow a calling to be a preacher, and we were more or less starting a new life. It hit Wayne the hardest. Being the new guy at a new high school is a tough assignment for any young teen, let alone one who doesn’t say much to begin with. One week we had gone with Dad to a Bible camp in Florida, and there was a guy there who had a guitar. He taught Wayne and I how to play this old Baptist hymn, “Just A Closer Walk With Thee,” and I swear we must’ve played it fifty times a day. After all, it was Bible camp. What else were we supposed to do? There was no way to know at the time the significance of this simple guitar lesson, but it would change Wayne’s life forever. We had a guitar at home, or rather I should say I had a guitar, emphasis on had. When we returned home, Wayne soon absconded with my pathetic yet precious Sears acoustic axe and he was rarely heard from again.
My basic memory of Wayne is this. He would come home from school, get a bag of Cheetos and a Dr. Pepper, lock himself in his room and play his guitar until supper. He wrote volumes of songs and when he would play them for me, I remember being awed by his innate ability to take whatever was going on around and put it into a song. Even at that young age, he had a gift for lyrics, and I do mean ‘lyrics’ as in words that are lyrical, evocative, allegorical. Since my father had a church, Wayne always had an audience to listen to his fledgling compositions. Congregational favorites included “I Was A Soldier In Pilate’s Army” about a guy who was there when Jesus was crucified and how the experience converted him and “Where’s Mommy?” about a father and his child and a mother who had lost her faith. They were both real tearjerkers. Again, looking back, these aren’t what you would call masterful songs. But there was a quality to them. Hard to put a finger on exactly what that quality was and still is, but if I had to come up with a word that best describes them, that word would be truthful.
And when Wayne started dating? Whoa. Talk about fertile soil. In 11th grade he met Fran, who would eventually become his wife. During the last two years of high school- when they met, broke up, and got back together, -Wayne’s songs could be labeled one of three ways: “I love Fran”, “I don’t love Fran”, or “I miss Fran.” They were so personal and specific to her, yet they helped me navigate the turbulent emotional waters of teen dating and puppy love. It was comforting to know that someone out there was going through the same thing I was, and especially comforting knowing that that someone was my own brother.
It was clear to all of us who knew him that Wayne had to be in music. He had a gift for it. As for his other work, like waiting tables, cleaning movie theaters, taking inventory at hardware stores, let me just say once more – he had a gift for music. Wayne took a stab at Landscape Architecture, but it was music that was in his blood, not dirt. So he moved to Nashville to attend Belmont College, and I followed him. I had decided at the ripe old age of 18 that I was going to be Wayne’s manager. Amazingly, he thought it was a good idea.
There’s a course at Belmont in which one of the requirements is that students must interview someone in the music business. So I interviewed Amy Grant, and all I did the entire interview is talk about what a great songwriter my brother was. I managed to get a tape of Wayne’s music to Amy’s manager, Michael Blanton. There were only three songs on the tape, but Mike could instantly tell this guy had what it takes. Before long, Wayne had his first record cut with Billy Sprague, a song called “What A Way To Go.” I’ll never forget the day that the album arrived. Both of us just stared at his name on the record sleeve and grinned from ear to ear. It’s hard to recognize a defining moment when you’re actually in one; they’re much easier to spot in retrospect. But I think both of us knew this was a moment. This was the start of something big. So we went out and celebrated the only way we knew how to celebrate such a momentous occasion. We had a steak.
The next big moment came a year or so later. I arrived home one day and found Wayne on the phone. As soon as I walked in he cupped his hand over the receiver and said, excitedly, “It’s Amy Grant! She’s doing one of my songs!” The song was called “Wise Up” and it was going to be on Amy’s UNGUARDED record. It was the start of a collaboration with Amy that continues to this day. It was also another night out for steak.
My stint as Wayne’s manager was short lived. I moved to California to pursue screenwriting. Wayne kept writing songs. And the cuts kept coming. So did the moments. Like the first time I heard one of Wayne’s songs on the radio (Michael W. Smith’s “PLACE IN THIS WORLD”), the first album he produced on his own (Susan Ashton’s “WAKENED BY THE WIND”), the first world tour (with Michael W. Smith), the first television appearance, and the coup de grace, the Grammy Award in 1996 for “Song of the Year” (for “CHANGE THE WORLD”, recorded by Eric Clapton featured in the hit movie “PHENOMENON”). Country cuts, Pop cuts, Contemporary Christian Music cuts, R & B cuts by artists like Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Eric Clapton, Martina McBride, Wynonna Judd, Faith Hill, and Garth Brooks to name a few. Wayne went on to become one of the most prolific and respected songwriters in his field. I think he has something like 200 record cuts by now, but don’t quote me on that. And over the span of this twenty-four year career, the one question Wayne has always been asked was “When are you going to do your own record?”
And now that the record is finally here, if you twist my arm I’ll admit that the songs on it are just a shade better than “Lady Wind”. But to me not much has changed. I still hear a quiet, introspective guy, who has taken a look at the world around him, retreated to his room and found a way to communicate his thoughts and convictions the best way he knows how, through song. Some people call his songs spiritual, some call them observational, some call them poetry, others say they are just good catchy tunes. Me, I just think they’re all very Wayne. And they’re all filled with the same truthful quality they’ve always had.
Hey, call me biased but I believe Wayne is one of today’s great singer/songwriters. Just don’t call me tonight. We’ll probably be out having a steak.
Aside from his claim to fame as “Wayne’s little brother,” Karey is a screenwriter living in Los Angeles whose credits include “The Rescuers Down Under”, “Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves”, “James and the Giant Peach” and the upcoming Summer 2000 Dreamworks release, “Chicken Run.”