I grew up surrounded by music. My grandmother began teaching me to play piano at about 4 years old. One of my uncles had a Johnny Cash album that I loved listening to when I was at his house (loved “Ring of Fire). Another uncle gave my family a Kris Kristofferson record that was great (Jesus Was a Capricorn… loved the harmonies with him and Rita Coolidge).
The first album that was my very own left a mark though. I played it ‘til the grooves were going through the other side. That first album was Elton John’s 1974 release of his greatest hits. It was quickly followed with an earlier release simply called Elton John. My dad made fun of him, calling him Elton Toilet (you know, like “I gotta go to the John”), but I couldn’t get enough – and my playing began to take on Elton’s influence… that heavy bass line and the percussive right hand. (the old ladies in church never stopped complaining about my "banging on the piano")
Around that same time, I started listening to KINK radio here in Portland. On KINK, I discovered James Taylor and Jackson Browne. While they were primarily guitar players, they both left a bit of a folk-rock mark on me.
A couple years later I discovered Billy Joel. Now Billy was tough… a boxer… and a “piano man”. I was in high-school now and discovered that while all the guys thought playing the piano was gay, the girls loved it. Cool! I even wrote some “Just the Way You Are-esque” love songs (they’re horrible!) and added some of Billy’s chord progressions and voicings to my tool-kit . Billy’s signature dress was jeans with a sport coat and tennis shoes. I started dressing like him too.
In 1978 (the year I graduated high-school) I discovered a new sound. The Doobie Brothers had recently hired a replacement for their leader, Tom Johnston. His name was Michael McDonald. It was almost like I was hearing music for the first time. I quickly began acquiring every Michael McDonald recording I could find. I also began adding his percussive R&B rhythms to my playing. He was a god to me (not the greatest thing, but I guess we all do it). I made a comment to a mentor of mine about how cool it would be if Michael became a Christian and wrote Christian songs. He challenged me to pray for him. I started doing that. Slowly, over the years as I followed his career, I noticed his searching lyrics began including answers. In 2001 he released a Christmas album called “In the Spirit”. On it, the song “Peace” tells of his journey to Christ. He had become a Christian. He doesn’t know me, we’ve met… talked briefly… and he doesn’t know I prayed for him. But I’m convinced it worked. And one might even ask "who influenced whom?"
Anyway, those are the big musical influences in my life. Matt, you asked.
PS – I’ve never listened to a Keith Green album, so he isn’t one of the influences… sorry, Keith fans.