Elvis said, "This is Chris Christian. A few months ago, I heard a song he wrote, and it touched me. I recorded it recently and he’s never heard my version of the song. I thought it would be fun for Chris and all of you to hear it for the first time. I hope you like it.”
Chris Christian grew up in Abilene before hitting it big in the music business in Nashville, Los Angeles, and Dallas. He tells his inspiring and entertaining story in his new book, A Grandmother’s Prayer: Moments in a Music Life (True Potential, $29.99 hardcover). Christian started out as a singer, guitarist, and banjo player and made his name as a songwriter, record producer, and recording artist. He is considered one of the pioneers in developing what became known as contemporary Christian music.
Hundreds of his songs have been recorded by some of the biggest names in pop and contemporary Christian music, including Elvis Presley, Olivia Newton-John, Amy Grant, Sandi Patty, The Carpenters, B.J. Thomas, Dionne Warwick, Donnie and Marie Osmond, and Chris himself. He even recorded two Christmas albums with Coach Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys in the 1980s.
His story shows how relationships formed early in his career led from one opportunity to another. At the end of the book, he offers a concise two-page summary of the most important lessons he has learned in his life, one of them being: “Despite what people say, it’s not who you know that leads to success. It’s who likes you.”
Just a few months after graduating from Abilene Christian College in 1973, Christian was backing up Wayne Newton in Las Vegas. But he asked Newton for the night off when Elvis Presley came to play at the Las Vegas Hilton. Elvis had selected one of Chris’s songs to record, and he invited Chris and a friend to his performance and then to his suite for an after-show party. “I was a 22-year-old kid from Abilene, soaking it all in,” he writes. At the party, Elvis walked up and said, “Hello, Chris, my name is Elvis Presley.”
“As if I didn’t know who he was,” Christian reflects. “But with his humble southern manners, (he) felt obliged to introduce himself. I found out later this was normal for him."
“Then he stood up, clapped his hands, and asked everyone to be quiet. As a hush fell over the room, Elvis said, "This is Chris Christian. A few months ago, I heard a song he wrote, and it touched me. I recorded it recently and he’s never heard my version of the song. I thought it would be fun for Chris and all of you to hear it for the first time. I hope you like it." Then he played the recording of “Love Song of the Year,” which Chris had written when he was in high school in Abilene. After the song, Elvis turned to Chris and whispered, “So how do you like what I did with your song?”
What Elvis didn’t know, Christian writes, was “this was the first song I’d ever had recorded by a major artist.” That night remains “one of the most memorable of my life.”
It’s one of many engaging and uplifting stories in A Grandmother’s Prayer.