In conversation, John Tesh is nothing like his outsized music, except the booming laugh that comes easily and often. Tesh tells Beliefnet in this interview that he's been called as a Christian to be honest and self-deprecating. He appears to live out his calling every second. Paul O'Donnell talked to him about his faith, his new album and living as a Christian in Los Angeles.
Do you have a favorite Christmas album-one you grew up with?
The one I grew up with, no one seems to remember: the Bert Kaempfert Orchestra. Back in those days, it was a lot of Nat King Cole and Big Band and orchestral stuff. No pop groups that I remember were doing Christmas albums. Now everyone's selling one. It was right around the time that Herb Alpert was real popular, so people were just more accepting of a rock sound behind an orchestra. Bert Kaempfert, I realize when I listen to him now, was the roots of the Mannheim Steamroller.
What was Christmas like as a child?
If you went to my house on Long Island (N.Y.), in the backyard there are 12 trees that represent the first 12 Christmases I can remember, when my dad would buy a live tree and keep it alive for the holidays and then plant it out back. They are still out there, by the pool that he built for me. My memories of Christmas are of it being very, very real. Being very Christian. I remember going to services on Christmas Eve and falling asleep on my mom's lap.
Where did you go to church growing up?
We went to a Methodist church. My parents were very involved. My father ran the Sunday school and my mom ran the women's auxiliary. I went to church camp every summer. It was a lot of memorization, as I remember. Everything was out of the hymnal and the Scriptures. You didn't show up in sneakers.
I go to a Messianic church.
How did you get from Methodist to Messianic?
About 12 years ago, I met Connie out here in Los Angeles. At the time I was doing "Entertainment Tonight," and had completely screwed up my first marriage, basically. I was sort of a spiritual mess. All of a sudden I meet this woman who is so together and she says, "Hey, I'm serious about my faith, period. Where are you with yours?"
I'd gone to everything. I'd always been a Christian, but I'd gone to temple, my sister is a Buddhist and I'd taken a lot of comparative religion courses in college at North Carolina State. Connie asked me to come to her church with her. It was started by Louis Lapides, a Vietnam vet, a Jewish guy who had gone through the '60s with the drugs and the acid and all that. But he'd had an experience and ended up chucking it all and going to seminary. He's a teacher, not a preacher. So I'm at his church and we're doing the Kadosh and the Shema and I loved it, because it was educational and that was what I was really after. I'd had all this Scripture growing up, but none of it wasn't related to what was happening around the world. So Louis and I became really good friends, he discipled me.
But it was all due to your wife.
Absolutely. I'm the one talking to you, but she's the one who later today will call up someone who's hurting and minister to them. She's the one who will put you in the position of having a great relationship, like the one I have with Louis.
Only because it was what I was doing with my life. Around the time I met Louis, I inherited a 9-year-old stepson who attended a camp in Branson, Mo. called Kanakuk. One of the guys at the worship service there asked me to play keyboards with them. It was a three piece band with a little plastic keyboard in a gym in the middle of Missouri where the bugs are serious. And I had a musical experience there like none I'd ever had. There were 250 kids singing songs like "Trading My Sorrows." I went nuts. When I took these songs back to Louis, he said, "Wow. This is fantastic. We're going to do this. But you're now the worship leader." And I was like, "What's that, first of all? And secondly, I don't have time for this."