“Oh What A Savior.” “Shoutin’ Time.” “Celebrate Me Home.” For each of these award-winning Gospel songs, most fans could name the group that took that song to the top of the charts. Most artists have certain songs that have made their names a household word, songs that they continue to sing every time they step on stage. For Three Bridges, one of those milestone tunes is now “Forgive Myself,” a song which strikes a chord with every audience and has increased the visibility of a trio that has been staking their place in the world of Southern Gospel for over a decade.
For Elliott McCoy, Shannon Smith and Jeremie Hudson, “Forgive Myself” is another great song they’ve been allowed to share with their audience, a passionate ballad with intense lyrics that speak to the heart of the listener.Their unique rhythm-and-blues-styled Gospel has allowed them to create their own niche in the ever-expanding industry. Smith describes their sound as ‘interesting’ and ‘eclectic.’ “Our current sound also features powerful, high vocals and tight harmonies,” says Smith. “I think our trademark has become our high energy and full-of-joy performances.”
Smith says the joy that radiates from Three Bridges’ live performances comes from within the members, enabling them to remain enthusiastic about their music. “It’s not hard when it flows out of your calling or the assignment that God has placed on your life,” Smith shares. “I am so humbled and honored to get to do what God put me on this earth to do. It is sad how many people live their whole lives not knowing their purpose in life. The other thing that keeps me enthused is that we are sharing God’s love and His Word when we sing. It doesn’t get any better than that!”
Gospel music doesn’t get much better than the newest album by Three Bridges, entitled Twelve, the source of “Forgive Myself” and the latest single, “Salvation Station.” Bringing more of the black Gospel/rhythm and blues sound to the forefront, “Salvation Station” is an enthusiastic number that almost dares the audience not to become engaged. “I really love our current single, ‘Salvation Station’ because it is so full of joy and it is fun to watch crowds get involved with it and have a good time!” says Smith. Other songs from Twelve are equally enjoyable. “I love the message of ‘By His Word’ because I just love the Word of God. God’s Word spoken in His love is the most powerful thing in the universe – It will never pass away! We have a couple of songs on the CD that deal with prayer (“Walkin’ With The Lord” and “Have a Talk With God”) and I love those because they are the story of my life. I don’t think very many minutes go by that I am not communicating with the Lord.”
For Smith and all of Three Bridges, the song is at the forefront of the stage, rather than any one member of the group. Smith says, “One of my vocal coaches, Dr. Tom De Graaf, used to tell me, ‘The song is more important than the singer! Sing the song the way the song needs to be sung. A lot of people style a song but few actually sing the song. Its not about you – the singer – it’s about the message of the song!’” This attitude adds to the uniqueness of Three Bridges and is part of the reason the group continues to add to their audience.
Three Bridges is with Mansion Entertainment, home of Christian music favorites Triumphant Quartet, Allison Speer and TG Sheppard. John Mathis of Mansion is a big fan of Three Bridges and their latest release. “The new project, Twelve, is doing very well for Three Bridges,” says Mathis. “’Forgive Myself’ was the debut single from the project and was a great Top 40 for them. More important are the stories they’ve shared about how that message has freed people wherever they’ve had the chance to sing it. Ironically, people can believe in a God that can forgive them from their past, but don’t realize the need to forgive themselves.”
“Hit singles are great, new projects are great but you have to see these guys in person to fully appreciate what they do.” Mathis continues, “Our music was built off of live performance; I think that’s something that will never change about what we do. They create fantastic, quality music in-studio, but they continue to represent the live performance aspect of this music at the level that it was built upon.”
For Mathis, the great thing about Three Bridges is that the message of the music echoes the sentiments of their hearts. “I have always liked their music and the past few years I’ve had the privilege of working with them on a personal level. That’s where I really become a fan of artists, when you get to know their heart and spirit. Of course they sing great and Elliott has a knack for picking songs, which is a talent in itself. They have all the combinations you’d want in a Gospel group to go out and represent our genre.”
“But the inspiring aspects are the calls or conversations I have with the guys where they tell me about ministry experiences that happen to them out on the road,” continues Mathis. “Sure, it’s important to cover expenses and sell some of that product you work so hard to produce but it’s really cool when an artists stops you to say, ‘Let me tell you about this 80 year old gentleman giving his heart to the Lord last weekend in Texas.’ I love hearing those stories! When you know the guys you’re working with are not only bringing smiles to people’s faces from great songs, great performances and great singing but that they’re changing lives and inspiring people wherever they go, it makes you feel really good to be associated with them in some small way. They believe in what they’re doing in a life-changing aspect and it causes me to believe in them! I know they’ve personally been inspiring and encouraging to me!”
Bringing encouragement and inspiration to audiences across the nation has been a life-long endeavor for each of these men. Three Bridges founder, Elliott McCoy, has a rich history of traveling with quartets such as The Laymen and The Premiers. McCoy began Three Bridges in 2001 with Mitch Kenitzer (Mitchell Jon) and Stephen Blanton, basing the ministry on a desire to be a bridge for others to know Christ. Shannon Smith joined McCoy in 2010, having sung with artists such as N’Harmony and the Imperials. Jeremie Hudson, also an Imperials’ alumni, began his stint with Three Bridges in 2010 as well. The blending of the trio is a testament to skill, experience and the touch of God.
McCoy shares that the Three Bridges’ beginning was not easy. “The first year of Three Bridges was a big challenge! Starting a group is tough. No one in the industry knew who we were and we were not young kids that a label might get excited about. Trying to keep personnel together, get a good recording and book dates, and make it financially was definitely a challenge.” However, McCoy received some sound advice from a good friend. “Near the start of our second year, a legend in our industry called me and told me how proud of us he was and he encouraged us to keep it going. George Younce called and said, ‘Elliott, this is the old man . . . ‘ His call really encouraged and motivated me and it still does!”
Motivated to continuously improve, McCoy talks about his goals for Three Bridges. “From an industry perspective, I see us as one of the leading groups in Gospel music. Spiritually, that we would be a team of godly men that God can use to the fullest for His purposes.”
The team has formed a tight sound as well as a tight friendship that is obvious when they have a chance to share some details about each other. Elliott McCoy talks about what he appreciates about his fellow bandmates. “My favorite thing about Shannon is his knowledge of the Word and his ability to share the Word in concert. My favorite thing about Jeremie is his love for Gospel music – his dad was a Gospel singer so he is second generation – and his passion for what we do!” Something fans may not know about these two artists may bring a smile. “Shannon is an extraordinary snoring machine! He’s louder than the Detroit diesel in the bus! With Jeremie, it’s his love and never-dying hope for the Confederacy!”
Jeremie Hudson shares, “Elliott is one of the best men that I have ever known. All you have to do is spend a few minutes with him and you’ll know it! Shannon has been one of my best friends for 10 years or so. I have gone into battle with him many times. Basically, he’s got my back and he will do what needs to be done. His word is good.” As for his pals’ private personality traits, Hudson says, “Well, that’s hard… They sort of act the way they act all the time. It really doesn’t matter who may be around!” Hudson laughs, “Although Shannon does snore like a crazed bear.”
Smith, whose friends agree on his snoring abilities, says this about McCoy and Hudson: “Elliott is the most joyful and generous man I have ever known. I love his heart for God and people. Jeremie and I have been through a lot together and we have a friendship that can only be forged in the fires of life. He is real and he is trustworthy!” Smith continues, “Elliott is just funny! He refuses to be depressed and will find the humor or joy in any and every situation. Jeremie is dangerous with a TV remote in his hand. He cannot watch one channel for more than five seconds!”
Life on the road with Three Bridges always has its share of highs and lows. From bus breakdowns to bad weather, even the best of friends can find their good humor tested. However, there are always interesting comments from fans to make them laugh again. For Hudson, his laugh-out-loud fan comment was, “Wow, you sound just like Conway Twitty!” For his chuckle, McCoy relates, “We were in a very large church and the Pastor’s wife asked if we could sing her favorite song. I was expecting her to ask for one of our hits or maybe a famous Gospel song, but she asked us to sing, ‘Almost Heaven, West Virginia’ …and she was serious!”
The men of Three Bridges try to keep grounded between the ups and downs in the lives of traveling artists. Hudson says keeping his feet on a firm foundation really isn’t that difficult. “I just remember Who I’m singing for and Who I’m singing about…It’s not about me or Three Bridges. It’s completely about Him. When you focus on that, what is there to have an ego about? I really believe that if one stays focused on the Word, family, ministry, and church, being grounded will just happen. Also, we have such a huge support group, that gives so much, it helps one’s heart to stay humble.”
Smith agrees that focusing on God instead of yourself does help keep an artist from being swayed by the bright lights. “[It’s about] honesty – with God, myself, my wife, my children, the guys I travel with, and others that God has placed in my life. I do my best to stay immersed in the Word of God and to live what I call ‘an integrated life.’ 1 Thessalonians 5:23 talks about God sanctifying or setting apart our ‘whole spirit, soul, and body.’ In other words, there is no room for compartmentalization in the life of the believer! There is no part of my life that is off-limits to God. There is no such thing as some things are sacred and others are secular! When its time to mow my yard, that is just as godly – and God is just as much a part of it – as when it is time to step on a stage and minister the life and love of Jesus!”
McCoy has been ministering the love of Jesus for a long time and he is aware that the job takes its toll on artists. To keep strong as he travels, he has set several personal goals. “Number one, to take better care of myself physically. If I am physically fit, I will be better able to use my strength to serve God.” McCoy continues, “Number two, to improve my vocal ability. It may surprise people to know that sometimes the hardest thing for a traveling singer is to stay in good vocal shape. There are so many other things involved in managing a group and traveling that it is easy to let the voice go. Number three, to become a better manager of Three Bridges and the things God has entrusted to us.”
Elliot McCoy has been a careful trustee of what God has loaned to him. Throughout McCoy’s management of Three Bridges, the group has had numerous nominations for various awards, including Trio of The Year from the Singing News, SoGospelnews.com and TheSouthernGospel.com. Their songs have charted several times, garnering the trio seven Top 10’s and three number one songs.
The group’s new album, Twelve, saw its first release hit number 25 on the Singing News charts, and no doubt will have more charting singles in the months to come. Regarding “Forgive Myself,” Smith says, “The best accolade for any song is the lives that are touched or changed by its message! Nearly every time we sing that song, we can see the Holy Spirit working in people and healing their heart even as we sing. Just this past Sunday as we sang it, people began to come forward to the altar to pray without anyone giving an invitation!”
Three Bridges continues to hone their skills to be the best they can be for the God they serve. Even though the group has been dedicated to excellence, the men also strive to have a good home and family life. McCoy is married with six children and several grandchildren. He and his wife, Terri, will celebrate 50 years of marriage this coming December. Hudson also is a family man and has been married for almost twenty years and has three children. Smith has been married for 26 years and has two children. Smith says, “Quite simply, I could not do any of what I do without the active support of my family! My family is my first ministry but they also are the primary place where I receive ministry.”
“A few years ago, I left the road primarily because I felt that my ministry was demanding so much time and energy that my family was suffering as a result,” Smith shares. “I know that sometimes fans think it is a copout or a trite statement for artists to say they are leaving the road ‘to spend more time with my family’ but that is precisely what I did. I will never regret that; it was one of the best things I have ever done. Giving time and attention to our family is vital and we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7-8).”
Many artists who have difficulty balancing career and family may suffer burnout or become jaded by the music industry and turn to an entirely different career. Smith, who left the road and then returned, was able to keep his perspective on the Christian music business. Smith says, “I see ‘the industry’ as people; people just like you and me who are doing their best in both their business and their personal lives. I also see ‘the industry’ as just that: a business. Successful businesses need to make a profit and they are seeking to serve as many people as possible.”
“The confusion comes when people think ‘the industry’ should operate like a non-profit ministry or like a church. Of course, we should all follow Biblical guidelines in our business or personal lives but business and ministry are not the same things. A mentor of mine, Dr. Byron Spradlin, of Artists in Christian Testimony, once told me, ‘Ministry, by definition, is always free, but living and traveling and doing business are not free.’ Translation: regardless of what ‘industry’ or business you are in, always be ready to minister the life and love of Jesus, but don’t forget to follow Biblical business principles and take care of your family at the same time.”
Smith, just like McCoy, received this sound advice and applied it to his life. Jeremie Hudson also says he has received good advice, only his came from his Granddads and his Father: “Pray, pray, pray….. They are and have lived, what they told me I should do and be.”
Three Bridges exudes joy and enthusiasm through their music and during their performances, attracting people to the love of Christ. They are able to do this through keeping their focus on Jesus, taking care of their families and keeping grounded in the Word. Whether they are sharing a deep thoughtful ballad like “Forgive Myself” or an energetic song such as “Salvation Station,” the group sings their message into the hearts of their audience. They hope that the last impression of the group as they leave the stage is not one of pride or a slick presentation. Jeremie Hudson says, “I want them to remember that they saw the love of God in me and that this isn’t just a job!”
Shannon Smith desires: “That the Holy Spirit was able to use me to bring them into Jesus’ presence and that they sensed the love and goodness of God in a real way.” And Elliott McCoy, owner and founder of Three Bridges, sums up what he hopes people remember from their presentation: “That the love of Christ flowed through us to others and that the joy He has placed in our lives has encouraged them on their journey.”
For more information on Three Bridges: http://www.threebridges.net/
Special Thanks to John Mathis of Mansion Entertainment: http://themansionentertainment.com/
First published August 2013 by SGN Scoops digital magazine http://www.sgnscoops.com/
By Lorraine Walker
Questions? Comments? Email Lorraine at email@example.com