By CRYSTAL CAVINESS  |  Nov. 17, 2003 at 7:05 PM
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NASHVILLE, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- Interview: John Tesh

by Crystal Caviness

NASHVILLE (Nov. 14 (UPI) - John Tesh does not waste time. Spend no longer than five minutes with the tall, blond entertainer and he will share the depth of his devotion to his wife, his children and his faith. As he finds himself in the midst of a prolific and successful music career, as well as host of "Intelligence For Your Life," a nationally-syndicated radio show to eight million listeners, Tesh, 51, is quick to give credit to his God and prayer, whose role he thoroughly examines in his new book, "The Power of Prayer and Worship- an Invitation To A Deeper Faith," which contains a 10-song CD of Tesh's songs. The success of "A Deeper Faith," worship music recorded by Tesh featuring his trademark piano playing, resulted in "A Deeper Faith II," which was recently released. A PBS special titled "Christmas In Positano," filmed at the Amalfi coast in Italy, will begin airing Thanksgiving Day nationally, with a special edition DVD of the show and music accompanying a re-release of Tesh's "Christmas Worship" CD this holiday season. In October, Tesh and his band returned to Red Rocks Amphitheater in Denver to perform and record "Live Worship At Red Rocks," ten years after his career-defining concert "Live At Red Rocks." Seemingly, Tesh is at the pinnacle of his career. He spoke with UPI just days before his Red Rocks concert about how he got to this place in his world.

UPI: For the past seven years, you've pursued a musical career full time. During that time, you've racked up three gold records, several awards, including Grammy nominations, No. 1 songs and three popular PBS specials. But for many people, you'll always be remembered for the decade you spent as co-host of "Entertainment Tonight."

JT: My whole life I wanted to be a full-time musician. I grew up when the Beatles were happening and I played in garage bands. That's all I wanted to do is to be standing on stage with an 80-piece orchestra behind me.

I studied classical music for years. I played trumpet in the orchestra, in many orchestras, and at church. That's what I wanted to do. And my parents were like "You're going to starve to death. You're going to study physics or chemistry." So I did what they told me to do.

So one thing happened after another where I ended up in the radio and television business and ultimately when I got to "Entertainment Tonight," which was in 1986, I made a deal with them where they would let me out at 1 o'clock every afternoon and I'd go pursue my music. They had a studio on the lot. I got to a point where I wasn't all that happy with what television was presenting, where I felt like I was making a difference. I was going through the motions. I was collecting a lot of money.

I was touring every now and then. I had the most amazing time connecting with people live. And I was playing songs and people were saying "Oh, we used this song to birth our child. We used this song to get married. It was such a great connection.

So I went to my wife, Connie (Selleca). We had been married for two years. And I said "You know, the way to do this, to really raise my hand and say I'm going to be a full time musician is to do big giant television show or a PBS special." She said "OK. How much is this going to cost?" I said "It's going to be really expensive." So, we figured out what it was and we went to PBS and they said "OK, what are you going to do...read the celebrity birthdays?" It was one of those things. They said "We'll look at this special after it's done, but we're not going to pay for anything."

So we took a second mortgage on our home, my wife and I did. And we went and rehearsed with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and all of my musicians. And we had 15 cameras and we were at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre (in Denver), which is amazing.

UPI: Of course, the end of that story is the "Live At Red Rocks" concert that was a hit PBS special in 1993 and became a pivotal point for your transition from "John Tesh, the ET co-host" to "John Tesh, the pianist."

JT: "You're right. Even now if I walk through an airport, someone may call out "Hey, Tesh...Red Rocks!"

UPI: You have a lot of job titles these days: musician, producer, CEO of your own record label, Garden City Music, radio and television personality. The one that seems to be missing is "minister."

JT: I think you have to have training to be a minister....I think the chief job of a pastor or minister is to provide encouragement, because I think that's the one thing we're lacking most. There are two things that I totally stand by: don't ever let a word come out of your mouth that's not encouragement. It's really hard to, especially with kids, because you say "No, no, do it this way." And the other is to never, ever let fear rule your life. And that's one thing I've tried to be is absent of fear. And if you look at my bio, you can tell that's what it is. I'm an idiot when it comes to that...I've read studies of interviews with people over the age of 90 and they said what would you change? They said "I would risk more."

UPI: Don't you feel that your music has become a ministry?

JT: The great thing about music is it's a winsome approach to ministry. ...I think it's a great ministry...One summer my kid (Gib, now 22) got invited to go to Kanakuk (a United Methodist Church camp near Branson, Mo.) and I went along. I was in a gym with 250 kids in the middle of Missouri where the bugs have measurable weight. The guys in the band said "Will you come join us?" I didn't know what any of these songs were. They were just in the Methodist hymnal. I'm sitting there and I'm playing keyboard with this little group and these kids are worshipping like mad people, calling out to God, singing. We were in this sweaty gym in the middle of nowhere. And I was thinking, "Look at these kids - from 7 to 17, giving their lives to the Lord, calling out to God like the Psalmists." And I thought "What am I doing?"

So I went back to our little church that Connie had taken me to and I told the pastor "You've got to get rid of these lame songs, you've got to get with it. The hymns are great, but let's get with it." He said, "that's great. Now you're the worship leader." I said "I play 60 concerts a year, I can't do this." He said 'would you organize our band?" So that's how that happened. Jim (Sitterly - from Tesh's band) and I play in the church band every Sunday.

UPI: You have a new book out, "The Power of Prayer and Worship, An Invitation to A Deeper Faith." One story that really struck me was your experience with a cab driver in Nigeria immediately following 9-11 when you traveled to Africa for a large worship service.

JT: Yes, my cab driver said 'It's not about the church, it's not about the pastor, it's about the Christ." I was puzzled. I said "Why are you all so serious about your worship and your faith?" And he said "because we have no distractions." He said Americans are totally distracted by stuff that means nothing.

I wrote this book because when you look at the things that have happened to me and the places I've been, I believe they came from prayer. I pray every single night. I've never missed a night. And it was a selfish prayer: "God lead me in the direction that I can make the most difference for my profession." I want to be the best, I want to be focused, I want to be successful....It's a very self-serving prayer.

And then when I met my wife 12 years ago... she took me to this Messianic congregation and that's where it all started for me. From there I got involved with Promise Keepers. I got involved with Kanakuk. It was like somebody picked up the plug and put it back in the wall.

What that book was about and still is is just saying if you just look inside your heart, if you're honest, you're going to realize that there is power in prayer and worship.

UPI: There's something else about the tone of the book...

JT: It's raw.

UPI: It is raw and there's a real vulnerability from you.

JT: I was hoping it would come off as being experiential. Here's the experience that I've had. Painting a picture of how you're handling something in your life ...hopefully that's what happened in this book. You can see John going to Africa, you can see him sitting in the cab.

UPI: What's it going to be like to go back to Red Rocks?

JT: Oh, it's going to be magnificent. In the audience, there's a picture of my wife, holding Prima when she was 2 months old (from the first concert). Now (my daughter) Prima's going to be singing on stage with us. It's going to be great because that experience was so defining...

This time at Red Rocks, we're going to be useful. It's not like a self-serving bunch of songs that we wrote. We're creating a worship service. God is going to bless it, whatever He has in mind, whether we back into a blessing in the rain or the snow or whatever. He'll take care of us or at least He's going to have His hand in it. And that's a great place to me. Someone said before "I'm afraid of my performance." And I said "If God's in it, you're not going to be afraid, you're not going to have fear in your life."

UPI: "Deeper Faith II" has just been released. Tell me abut the how the "Deeper Faith" project first came to be.

JT: That was really from Kanakuk and the worship experience and from the church. My pastor said "You really need to a CD of this stuff." I said "I can't do a CD of worship songs." He said "Why not?" I said "I'm the New Age piano guy, plus I don't sing." He said "You sing. It's worship songs."

UPI: Let's talk about the Great Thanksgiving Banquet. On Thanksgiving Day, the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions will serve more than one-half million meals and you, as chairman of the event, will serve at the New York City Rescue Mission.

JT: You know this is going to sound totally wacky, but when I was a reporter for Ch. 2 TV in New York City in 1976, we were trying to illustrate the problem of the homeless in New York City...I got a make up artist and I dressed up like a homeless person. I spent three days in the dead cold January winter on 42nd Street on the streets of New York City...There was a hidden camera following me. No one would talk to me. No one. What I did to illustrate it was I walked down 42nd Street as me. People were saying "Hey. How's it going?" then 24 hours later, I was there as a homeless person. People walked around me, on the other side of the street to get away from me. They refused me at a homeless shelter. They said "We're full." There's a law now in New York, because of this story, that says you can't refuse any homeless person. You have to take them in. So when we were asked to get involved, we do, whenever we can. Their big hurdle is trying to get people to hold on to the fact that it's a problem year-round, not just at Thanksgiving.

UPI: You have your own charity for another group, don't you?

JT: My wife and I started the Selleca Tesh Foundation for the Forgotten Generation about a year ago. It's a very uncomfortable charity. Kids charities or medical charities, or even pet charities, people get behind those. This is for men and women in nursing homes, for the elderly. What we do is hire musicians to go in and play music and give music therapy for seniors. We're raising money now for the instruments and the therapists to go in.

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