The Judy Nelon Group
"I did it at my home church and so many friends and family were there. It was the most incredible thing," Rhonda tells The Boot, of recording at the Greentop United Methodist Church in her native Missouri. "However, it was very challenging because there had been a storm the night before and there wasn't any electricity."
Being a firm believer in that old adage "The show must go on," Rhonda didn't let a power outage deter her from her goal. With help from her savvy band and crew, the show did indeed go on. "The church is over 100 years old," Rhonda says. "When we got there people started gathering and we started singing just a cappella. My bass player and another friend of ours went and bought $1500 worth of electrical cable and they hooked into the Martha White bus and powered [the sessions]. We had a film crew, a recording crew and all kinds of guests that had traveled hundreds of miles, so it was like, 'We have to do this. Everybody is here.' So they made it work. I really have to attribute it to my band who were so amazing through this because most bands would have said, 'You know what? I'm out of here. I really don't have to do that.'"
Rhonda's acclaimed band, the Rage, rose to the occasion, braved the heat and together they recorded an amazing album of gospel standards and new tunes. The album was recorded during a heat wave in June 2011. "It was 100 degrees in the church and so it was almost unbearable circumstances," she says. "You could barely breathe. It was like if you'd gone in your oven, but in the end, it was the most special experience of my life. It was all live and it just worked. We prayed. We read scripture and went to Philippians 4:13 that says, 'I can do all things through Christ' and that got us through.
"We [recorded] it over three days and we started it at 10am and basically just [went] until the first person passed out," she says with a laugh. "It was a minimum of 100 degrees at any moment in there. We kind of went into survival mode and said 'We've got to do this!' so with each song we patted our faces down. It was like you took your clothes and dipped them in the Jordan River."
A day and a half into the recording, the electricity finally came back on, but Rhonda says they continued on without making changes. "We were already set up, so we didn't change anything from the electricity standpoint," she says. "The church was established in 1876 and there were only two outlets in the entire church. God was looking out for us and made a way for everything to work out."
The 16-song CD releases today (July 10) and features such classics as "Just As I Am" and "The Old Rugged Cross" along with newer tunes such as "His Promised Land," which Rhonda began writing during a family vacation in Las Vegas. "That was probably six or eight years ago," she recalls. "My family and I were getting ready to go see a show. I was laying in the bathtub and I just started singing. I was like, 'I think I have myself a song here.' It seemed like 'Amazing Grace' a little bit. I had a verse and a chorus and I could not finish that thing. For years, I would sing it at sound check and I just couldn't seem to finish it and then I met Lisa Shaffer. She's an incredible artist/songwriter ... and she took it and finished it up."
In recording "God Put a Rainbow in the Clouds," Rhonda pays tribute to some of her favorite Grand Ole Opry legends. "I grew up listening to this song by Johnny & Jack along with Kitty Wells on 650 AM WSM," she says of the famed radio station that carries the Opry. "I felt it was a perfect showcase for every member of the Rage."
Recording a gospel album with her band is something Rhonda had wanted to do for a long time. "I was under contract and when I said something about wanting to do a gospel project, they didn't want me to do that," she says of her previous record company, "so I started my own label and this was at the top of my list. I am so thrilled that I was able to do that. I grew up performing with my family in church and our very first project when I was five years old was a gospel project."
Rhonda has come a long way from singing with her family band as a child. She has won multiple female vocalist honors from the International Bluegrass Music Assn. (IBMA) and the Society for Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America (SPBGMA). She was also named IBMA entertainer of the year in 2001 and earned to top entertainer accolade from SPBGMA from 2002 through 2006.
"This is a very personal project," she says of Sunday Mornin' Singin' LIVE! "It was a very important project for me to make. I grew up in church. My family raised me in a Godly home. My grandmother and my great-grandma lived one house away and I know how important this would be to them. It is so important to me and I am thrilled to get to share it finally. It's something that I've been wanting to do for so very long."