Matthew Lawson: Greg, thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. For those who may not who you are, tell us about your history traveling and singing in Southern Gospel Music.
Greg Bentley: My history in Southern Gospel Music goes back to when I was about 12 and was first introduced to it through my family. My Grandfather on my mom’s side was very influential. I can remember going to their house at holidays and everyone pulling out the old convention books and singing. Then I went to my first concert with professional artists performing and I was hooked. That was the Hinsons. Not long after that, my grandfather, an uncle, a cousin, and my brother started singing around area churches around Boone NC. It slowly grew to be singing every weekend and I knew I wanted to do this for a living. When I was 19 I joined a more regional male quartet called The Christianaires from Burlington NC. From there, I had the opportunity to fill in with The Hoppers which became a full-time position for 5 years. When Kim made the transition from her family to The Hoppers, I moved to The Down East Boys for the next 3 years. I came off the road in 1993 and started working for what was then Hear Here studios which grew to Horizon Music Group and is now Crossroads Music. From 1995 thru 2005 I worked both for Crossroads and traveled full time with Squire Parsons. So I’ve been employed by Crossroads for 25 years this year and have been involved full time in the industry for 35 years.
ML: Many know you from your current position at Crossroads Music & Entertainment. Would you mind telling more about what you do and give us an insight to what a normal “day at the office” looks like for Greg Bentley?
GB: A normal day at the office! Hmm…. I reflect back to what evangelist David Ring says, “What do you consider Normal”? I wear multiple hats for Crossroads. I am A&R for our Southern Gospel labels, I am director of publishing for all labels, a part of the marketing team and work with the graphic designers on all of our layouts. So a normal day can go many ways for me. Some days I am focused on nothing but publishing which means working with our great team of writers as they send in new songs, pitching their songs to artists as I hear they are looking for new material, and that’s on our labels as well as outside labels. I also track down, clear and license all songs being recorded by our label’s artists making sure each song is set up in our royalty system so the writers and publishers get paid. On the A&R side, I’m in touch with our artists as we plan on new recordings and as needs arise that they need our help in, be it just everyday questions, or working with them on ads or promotions. That also folds into being part of our marketing team where we meet each week and work on promotion plans for each album released from any of our labels.
ML: Crossroads is home to many great songwriters and artists. Are there any approaching projects we should be on the look-out for?
GB: We have been extremely blessed when it comes to artists and writers. We have 22 Southern Gospel artists between our Horizon Records, Sonlite Records and Skyland Records labels, and 15 exclusive writers for our Asheville Music Publishing, Chris White Music, Asheville Forest Publishing, Manna White Music and Windsor Forest publishing catalogs. We also have a strong Bluegrass label called Mountain Home Music Co. which includes favorites like Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Balsam Range and about a dozen more. We are releasing new albums almost monthly, sometimes multiple albums in a month. For instance, July has two great young artists releases from the Jordan Family Band and Sunday Drive. That will be followed up in August with two quartet releases from The Down East Boys and Soul’d Out Quartet, and again in September with a brand new album from Three Bridges and a group that has really caught the ears of radio, The Wisecarvers.
ML: What sets Crossroads aside from other record labels in our industry, in your opinion?
GB: Now that’s a tough question. The genre of Southern Gospel music is so small compared to other secular genres. So many of the labels in our industry work very similarly and even together from time to time. Our goal at Crossroads is to put out the best quality music we can possibly put out. Even though we have a large roster of artists, we are very mindful of that fine line of how many can we service successfully and not get our plates too full. That being said, if you look at our roster of artists, you will see a wide range of styles as well as a wide range of where they are in their careers. For instance, The McKameys, Talleys, Mark Bishop or The Kingdom Heirs are very well established in their careers. On the other hand, 11th Hour, Steve Ladd, the Wisecarvers and The Old Paths are all still growing or are just stepping into the national spotlight. It is our goal to make sure Southern Gospel music is alive long after the established artists have reached that time they want to retire. At one point, and I can remember this, The McKameys were a new name to the industry, as were The Kingdom Heirs. So we have to find those new groups like Endless Highway, Master’s Voice or the Jordan Family Band that can help carry this music we love on to the next generation of fans.
ML: You also serve at your home church. Tell us more about that.
GB: I am over making sure all things pertaining to audio are covered, I have been a member of Trinity Baptist Church here in Asheville NC pretty much since I moved here in 1993. I love the heart of Pastor Ralph Sexton Jr. and the staff and it’s also a church that loves Southern Gospel music. Ernie Phillips (former Kingsmen) and Squire Parsons, along with The Rochesters are all members here. Not long after I came off the road with Squire, Pastor Sexton called me aside one evening and said: “I need a sound man, and you are him”. I laugh about it because it was not a question, “are you him?” it was a statement, “You are Him!” So I came on board with the church to oversee the sound. I love getting to be a part of ministry no matter if it is singing on stage or doing work behind the scenes. In God’s work, there are no big I’s and little I’s! I do still get to sing at church as well as some solo dates from time to time, and work in tandem with the music department as well, helping pick songs for the Jubilee Choir and lending advice as needed.
ML: Who are some artists that you are currently listening to?
GB: You are going to find out I have a WIDE range of music I listen to. Of course, my first love is SG music. I listen to all of our artist’s albums when they come out, But I enjoy artists from other genres too. I’m a big fan of Avalon. Their Hymns album is a mainstay in my playlist. I’m a big workout nut, so I have a playlist called “Pumpin’ Iron Workout” that I built on Spotify to keep me motivated in the gym. It has Babbie Mason, Avalon, Danny Gokey, Jason Crabb, Mandisa, 4Him, 11th Hour,The Martins, The Talleys and one of my new favorite artists Tauren Wells. He performed at the BMI Christian Music Awards and he’s as good live as on his albums. I’m not going to say I don’t listen to secular music too, because I do. I enjoy Carrie Underwood, Faith Hill, Rascal Flatts and have always been a fan of the vocal groups from the 80’s like Journey, Little River Band, and the Eagles. I guess those bands being built around harmonies takes us full circle back to the beginning since gospel music is a lot about harmonies.
ML: What is your favorite place to eat!?
GB: I am not a foodie so to speak. So I’m just as happy at Chick Fil A as I am at an expensive place. I do enjoy Red Lobster, Olive Garden and Chili’s, but I’m just as happy at Culver’s having a meal followed by some frozen custard! Haha…