With a Banjo on My Knee By inSpire with Gerry Goldman

Photo: Gerry Goldman
We asked Gerry Goldman about his background and entry into the world of music.

inSpire - Gerry, you have figured out a way to use bluegrass as a way to connect with people and share God's love. But before we go there, please tell us about your background and how you developed a passion for the music you play?

Goldman - I was taken to church as a young boy by my mom, but when I got my drivers license I got freedom. I didn't go to church anymore after getting my license and got involved with motorcycles and a rock band. Although the band never went anywhere, we had fun.

After living in southern California for a time, my parents decided to move to northern California and I decided to go also. Being away from the influences down south, my mind started to clear and I could sense God drawing me back, so I started going back to church. Sometime after this we moved to Round Mountain where we helped start an Adventist church. I could tell about many miracles that happened there. I would use my guitar on Sabbath mornings to sing with the kids up front as people came in. Everyone liked it. A few years down the road one of the ladies there brought a banjo for me to try. That was about eight years ago, and that was the first time I had ever touched a banjo, and something just clicked. Although I'm not saying that God just zapped bluegrass into my head — the  interest did start to develop then. I believe God gave me this new tool for outreach. All you have to do is pull a banjo out and people smile.

inSpire - So you sort of stumbled into bluegrass gospel. How easy was it for you to learn the banjo? Did you have to work very hard?

Goldman - Yes, I guess you could say I stumbled into it. I never really listened to that type of music until the one week my friend brought the banjo to church for me to try. I waited until I got home before I tried it. Something clicked and I was hooked. Since I already played guitar I had an advantage over someone just beginning. The hardest part was learning to finger pick and wear the finger picks. For the first two years I played with a flat pick (which I was used with my guitar). I could pick the individual strings with the flat pick and people thought it sounded pretty good. But I knew it wasn't right. So I finally decided I was going to do it right — which slowed me way down. But I stuck with it. It took several years before I could pick and talk at the same time. The banjo is hard work and you really never get to the place where you can say, "I'm there." I have a long way to go, yet if you enjoy something you don't mind the work.

inSpire - Tell us how your music provides you with opportunities to minister to others.

Goldman -  It is amazing how doors keep opening. When we first went to our local cafe to participate in their open-mic nite, people enjoyed our music. I know that if we had gone in with Bibles we would have been run out. This is a rural area — kinda in the sticks — where a lot of people move here to be left alone.
As we made more friends we decided to start meeting at one friend’s house on Friday afternoons for more “picken and grinnen.” Sometimes only a couple of people show up, and sometimes up to fourteen come. This setting provides some great opportunities for us to get to know our community. For example, one fellow I recently spoke with told me he has a masters degree in world religions and we talked about 45 min. before we even started playing. Also an elderly woman at the cafe asked if I would give her lessons [She may have been kidding]. So I surprised her one morning by showing up at her front door, and now have been going there about two years. She occasionally asks questions about my faith. It is very slow work in this area. People have to get to know you before they will open up. Also the guitar lessons I give allow me to meet one-on-one with people. Over time I try to find out where they are spiritually. I am convinced the Lord opened that first door and He continues to lead and open doors.

inSpire - When you talk about giving lessons in town, are you talking about guitar lessons? Also, the woman that you've been going to her house for two years — is that to teach her guitar?

Goldman - Actually there are a lot of guitar teachers in the town of Redding. One of them I know mentioned that the owner of the store where he teaches was looking for someone to teach banjo — so I thought possibly the Lord was opening a door. I felt I should move ahead to see if the door stayed open. Believe it or not the woman had a banjo, but I still wasn't sure if she was serious — she was.

inSpire - Have you written any of your own music, or do you just do cover songs? Maybe you can list the names of a few of the ones that you do that are your favorites.

Goldman - The Lord hasn't given me the ability to write my own music yet — maybe He will in the future. Early one morning while having my quiet time I saw five chords connected like a train flash thru my mind — so I got my guitar and started playing what I saw and words came to my mind so I wrote them down — it was a great experience. It is a very reverent song and the first line is, “O Lord there is no one like You.”

Anyway some of my favorite songs are: "Sweet By and By," "Are You Washed In the Blood," "Precious Memories," "Closer Walk," "When I Survey the Wonderous Cross," "Pass Me not O Gentle Saviour," "Life is like a Mountain Railway," etc. A lot of these are in our hymnal and we just give them a bluegrass twist, but keep them reverent.

This interview was conducted by Rich DuBose, Director of Pacific Union Conference Church Support Services and the inSpire project. All rights reserved © 2012 VisitInSpire.org. Click here for content usage information.