Question of the Week: J.D. Miller

One of the most delightful aspects of blogging in this industry is the opportunity to come across people who have shaped our genre in one way or another but either were never recognized for their efforts or have been forgotten. One such individual is J.D. Miller, a songwriter and pianist who commented on a recent post of the J.D.s of Southern Gospel music that mentioned him.

Daniel: How did you get involved with Christian music, and what led to you becoming pianist for the Gaither tour for five years?

J.D.: Thank you for your email and for the inquiries regarding my history with Gospel Music. I would be delighted to try and answer your questions, but I am doubtful that it will be that interesting to your readers. They would probably prefer to hear more about the “Legends of Gospel Music” than some obscure pianist/songwriter.

My primary recognition in Gospel Music circles is only through my association with the Gaithers. Prior to writing with them I wrote and produced jingles for Corporate clients such as”Nationwide Insurance, McDonald’s, KFC, American Airlines, Valvoline, Humana, Hyatt Regency, and many more. I did that for 22 years. I also had songs recorded by country artist like Kenny Rogers, and J P Pennington, and co-wrote with over 60 other artists. Then one day Jim Hill (of Stamps Quartet and Golden Keys fame) was kind enough to take a cassette of some of my Christian song demos to Bill Gaither and made him ride in his car out through the Indiana back woods until he had listened to the entire cassette. Bill called me soon after that and invited me to write with him and Gloria. After we had written several songs together, Bill invited me to travel with the Trio and the GVB , helping his Dad with the product sales and playing keyboard so we would have more time on the road to write and work on song ideas.

For the record, we never wrote any songs on the road!

I have been an admirer of Bill and Gloria and their contribution to the church through their creative writing and productions since I was a young man playing for church for my Dad, who has been preaching now for over 55 years!

Daniel: You co-wrote a number of songs with the Gaithers; two of the most enduring classics you helped write, that are still being played and sung in our genre, are “I Just Can’t Make it By Myself” and “I’ll Worship Only at the Feet of Jesus.” Could you shed any light on the writing of those songs—when they were written, who had the original idea, and what inspired them?

J.D.: Each of the song I co-wrote with the Gaithers were ideas they initiated. Sometimes Bill would show me a beautiful lyric that Gloria had written that didn’t resonate with him musically. He would ask me to show him how i might treat they lyric with a melody. Then he would contribute his directions and very quickly we would record a piano version of the melody line with chords. Then Bill would send those rough demoes to some of the most successful producers in the industry and get them recorded. I was always amazed to hear the final releases!

“Peace Be Still” is a great example of how things would begin. The Gaithers had taken a tour of the Holy Land with some of their GM friends, singing at each famous spot on the tour. When they got to the Sea of Galilee, they found it difficult to come up with a song that was appropriate for that place and experience. The peacefulness of the Sea, the reminder that God was in control even through the storm… Bill wanted to capture that feeling in a song. So when they returned, Bill invited me to contribute music to the words, “Peace, Be Still”. Gloria added her beautiful lyrics after she heard the melody we created. It is still one of my favorite memories of writing with Bill!

“Old Friends” was an idea Bill had right after he began producing the now famous Gaither Video Series. He wanted a song that captured the warmth and nostalgia that he felt when his ‘Old Friends” gathered around a piano and sang the “shape notes”, or got together for Fried Chicken dinner. We created that melody at the Gaither’s studio in 15 minutes in between a recording session I was producing there at the time.

Daniel: You’ve written or co-written probably a dozen other songs which many Southern Gospel fans would recognize, with 86 total listed by BMI. Are there any other songs you’ve written—whether or not it would be one we’re likely to have heard—that have special meaning for you, or that you would count to be among your finest work?

J.D.: There are some songs I have written by myself that have been recorded by other artists. Steve Green recorded “Let Us Praise The Almighty.” The Stone Brothers recorded “They Sing Glory” (with a little help of a bridge Lari Goss added after the original song was written). Scott Fowler and the Johnson Family Quartet both recorded “Yesterday’s Preacher,” a song I wrote about memories of my Dad preaching when I was just a kid. Wade Hammond recorded “He Whispered” and “A Soldier Volunteers”, all songs that I wrote alone. Others are out there but these come to mind.

Daniel: What have you been doing in your years since being a pianist on the Gaither tour?

J.D.: Since leaving the Gaithers I have continued to produce recordings for Christian artists such as Gordon Jensen, Larry Orrell, Jerry Trammell, Roy Tremble and others. Like Bill, I have a deep respect for those Gospel artist that contributed to the recognition of quality Christian music, and want to do all I can to support and encourage them. I take at least two “mission trips” each year, taking Christian performers to places like China, Russia, Ukraine, Honduras, India, Jamaica and Mexico. I also have served full-time or part time as music director for local churches here in Kentucky.

Between the productions, writing, trips, local ministry and activities with my children and grandchildren, I stay quite busy! I am blessed to be so active!

Daniel: Thank you!

J.D.: Thank you for the opportunity to share some of the details behind the creations. I appreciate your forum and your interest.


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21 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. Cool interview Daniel.

  2. There are songs he has written or co-written that I really like. “I’ll Worship Only at the Feet of Jesus” is a favorite. (I prefer the GVB version to the Cathedrals although I love both groups dearly.) One not mentioned that was done by the Gaither Trio is “Hurt By Hurt”. Another favorite is “I Just Can’t Make It By Myself”.

    I did enjoy the interview, so there are a few of us already, J.D.

    • I noticed that “I’ll Worship Only” – I just discovered the Cathedrals version of it not long ago and enjoyed it.

      • Yes, the Cathedrals rendition is incredible. George had lived those words, and so he could deliver a really strong performance.

  3. One of the most unique qualities that JD possesses is sheer genius. He is a masterful orchestrator and can take a simple melody and create a symphony from it.
    “Old Friends” is still one my favorites.

  4. Gospelmusicupdate reports that Tim Duncan is leaving EHSS and is being replaced by Ian Owens.

  5. Its funny I was at a L5 concert in Danville Illinois last April for a concert and JD was there… He was playing piano for the regional group that was there (Homeward Bound) I had no idea at the time who he was; and now I know, so Thanks Daniel! I hope he is there again this year so I can meet him! BTW I remember thinking at the time he was quite talented on the piano…

    • Really? Very neat!

      Well, someone whom, I’m guessing (from the time frame), Anthony Burger was hired to replace would in all likelihood be quite talented. :)

  6. Thank you, Daniel, for posting this! Nate, you must have really been blessed to hear both Homeward Bound and JD together! I can imagine that those guys plus L5 would have been an awesome time! From what I know of Mr. Miller, he is very humble, yet profoundly accomplished.

    • It was one of the best concerts I have ever been to… It was two weeks after my mom passed away, and needless to say it was just what I needed at the time!

  7. Wow, Nate. I’m sorry about your mom. I’ve lost mine, too. I’m glad they could be so encouraging to you at such a rough time. When my mom passed, I went to friend’s mom funeral just two weeks to the day after my mom’s… that was tough! But, God is amazing, isn’t He?! Gets us through. Well, thanks for sharing, and I’m glad we have some mutual friends, too!

  8. JD produced my last CD he is a great humble and talented man. I’m blessed to know him, and call him friend.

  9. Just a word of gratitude for the kind and complimentary comments regarding your interview. It is encouraging to see the Spirit of Christ exemplified through the comments and positive statements of your readers. Thank you again, Daniel for providing this format. I have found the process to be a source of encouragement ! I hope you will continue to offer ministry to others through your blogs and personal living.
    Your new “Old Friend”,
    JD Miller

    • You’re welcome, and thank you so much for taking part!

    • We meet you and your wife on the cruise and we talked about my Christmas song. We were not able to connect with you after that but would love to talk to you about the offer to listen to my song. You can email me at pfields1958@yahoo.com.
      Thanks so much

  10. I’ve know JD since he was the music minister at our church. I had been the interim choir director so he “took my place”! That really cracks me up since he is truly a genius! I too have recorded with him with the group of ladies I sing with and we recorded “I’ll Worship Only” and “Let’s Walk”! He can absolutely drive one crazy but I dearly love him for his love of his Savior and the warmth he spreads in his wake! Love you JD!

  11. I’ve known JD his entire life and can speak from the unique perspective of his being his BIG sister! He is truly a servant of God to each and every man, woman and child he meets. Thanks for the memories buddy! We started our careers before the age of 5 singing in church together with our other brother. after 58 years…nothing has changed except the scenery and the folks to whom we minister. God Bless you JD!

  12. Glad to see so many positive coments about J.D. He is an excellent pianist and I am very blessed to be singing with him now at Renfro Valley Entertainment Center. Being able to sing “I Bowed On My Knees” and having the man who originally played for Michael English and the Gaithers accompany me humbles me greatly for as the scripture says, “I am the least of these”. God is good!

    Shawn Burdette

  13. Having the huge honor of working with JD, I am stunned by his musical brilliance. But, I must say that the person he is, a reflection of Christ’s love, has been the most endearing quality he encapsulates. JD is humble, but he serves with conviction and mends with compassion.

  14. JD Miller is the “real deal!” He has produced my best performance tracks, but beyond that, I would like to share a personal story. JD was the Worship Leader/Accompanist for a large Women’s Conference. I was a featured guest. I had booked the program three years in advance of the event and was heart sickened when I realized the event fell on the day of my daughter’s Senior Prom. After approaching my daughter about the unfortunate circumstances of commitment vs. love of my daughter …she gave me the “green light” to do the Conference with her blessing. The morning of the event, I told the ladies the unfortunate circumstances. The audience cried with me. When my portion was complete, JD Miller met me backstage, shuffled me to an awaiting car …handed me a plane ticket—i boarded a plane to Nashville, and I pulled into the driveway to see my beautiful daughter exiting the house. She cried and I cried…as I am doing, retelling this story. JD is a sacrificial Christ follower! I am blessed to call him “friend!”

    • THAT is the JD I know and love, too. Your story took my breath away for a moment as I can picture this happening. I have learned a lot about not just music, but life and how to be an ambassador of Christ’s love through his example. I’m so glad you could celebrate your daughter’s
      prom because of his generosity and care.