In 1989, Jason Deere was a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, serving in Las Vegas.
One evening, four months into his mission, Deere went out onto the porch of his small, pink trailer home with his guitar. He wrote a song called "Lamb to the Slaughter," about Joseph Smith.
Twenty-two years after he wrote that first song as a missionary, he and his partners in the Nashville Tribute Band are having a record-release party at the Sandy Amphitheater on Aug. 4. The country collective’s third LDS album, "The Work: A Nashville Tribute to the Missionaries," released by R Legacy Entertainment.
"Songwriting is an emotional experience," said Deere, who grew up in Oklahoma to parents who had converted to the LDS church. "It’s scraping something out of someone’s soul. I never had an experience like this. It was fueled by passion, and love."
Until 2003, Deere hadn’t written another song about his faith since that night on the porch, as he built a Nashville career as a songwriter for country musicians such as SHeDAISY, Little Big Town, LeAnn Rimes, the Wreckers, and even Jessica Simpson.
As his success grew — he even contributed a song to Lady Antebellum’s debut album — Deere thanked God for his blessings. Through a series of what he termed "accidents," he began writing songs about his church’s founder and the struggles he and his followers endured in the days before they emigrated to the Salt Lake Valley. Deere wanted to share those songs. "This interesting kid introduced himself in church," said Diamond Rio musician Dan Truman, like Deere, a graduate of Brigham Young University. At the Nashville wardhouse, Deere told Truman that he was a songwriter. Truman was polite, but he had met hundreds of people over the years of his career who wanted to pass on their songs to Truman. "He turned out quite different from the average songwriter," said Truman, who was raised in St. George. "He has a relentlessness, an artistic passion."
The two men’s daughters became friends, and the two men became friends as well. One day, Deere called Truman and told him about his song, "Lamb to the Slaughter," as well as some other faith-based songs.
Truman came over to Deere’s house, and had a revelation. "Let’s use our creativity about our other passion: The gospel," Truman said.
As they wrote together, they realized that the conventions of country music lent themselves well to the unconventional topics they were writing about. Acoustic guitars and fiddles, for example, makes the music feel more "real," Truman said, rather than the synths now employed on Top-40 radio. The music, occasionally with period instrumentation, sounds as if it were performed by Mormon pioneers — albeit extremely talented Mormon pioneers.
Part of the reason for their songs success is the musicality of the band, which nearly has a different line-up every night, depending on the obligations of the other members. Core members include Due West, a country trio that includes Matt Lopez, who co-wrote Lady Antebellum’s "Love’s Lookin’ Good on You" with Deere; Katherine Nelson, noted for her starring role as Emma in the film "Emma Smith: My Story"; and Ron Saltmarsh, an Emmy-winning guitarist, composer, producer and arranger.
The motivation to create an album dedicated to the missionary experience came when Deere received a letter from a New Jersey missionary. The writer told Deere that he and his companion used a song the band had recorded, "The Rising," from the CD, "Joseph: a Nashville Tribute to the Prophet," as an inspiration when they awoke each morning. Why didn’t Deere and the Nashville Tribute Band write about the missionary experience, the missionary asked.
Deere and Truman, who had served a mission in northern Florida, were themselves inspired by that letter, and because their missions were formative experiences in their lives, the music came rather easily. The resulting work, "The Work: A Nashville Tribute to the Missionaries," includes songs such as "Bless My Son," "Hardest Thing I Ever Loved", "Children Go Where I Send Thee," and "I Was Born," the first single. The album also includes compositions form Due West, David Osmond, Ryan Innes and Billy Dean, among others.
"I want to let people know the culture of missionaries," Deere said, including the selflessness, sacrifice and pride that missionaries feel each time they knock on a door, not knowing what they will find. His own mission, Deere said, "made me want to shout from the mountaintops about my experience."
Both Truman and Deere know that the vast majority of their audiences are already converted to the Mormon faith, but they both hope to provide a spark in some people to learn more about the church. One of Deere’s favorite memories, he said, sparks tears when he retells it. After a show, a large man who looked like a cowboy came up to Deere and gave him a bear hug, saying he had been away from the faith for many years. "I’m back," the cowboy told the musician.
Nashville Tribute Band
When • Thursday, Aug. 4 at 8 p.m.
Where • Sandy Amphitheater, 1245 East 9400 South, Sandy
Tickets • $10-$12 at SmithsTix
Info • The Nashville Tribute Band will debut its new CD, "The Work: A Nashville Tribute to the Missionaries."
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