Over the summer, I had the opportunity to see Tommy Renfro doing an acoustic performance. Up until this show, I had never heard of Renfro, but I was almost instantly impressed. He performed a wide range of songs ranging from country to southern rock. It was easy to tell he was a music fan and really enjoyed performing. I also liked that he alternated between playing the guitar and keyboard.
Renfro said the performance I saw was a stretch for him. Although Renfro loves country music and southern rock, his focus as a performer is as a Contemporary Christian Music artist.
“I do love country and southern rock, but my drive is to use my music to reach a lost and hurting world,” Renfro said. “I have meandered through various genre styles within Christian music, but I’ve never left the reason why I sing. Love is the message and music is the vehicle that drives it.”
His love for music goes back to his childhood. Renfro said he started singing in church when he was 12 years old. However, he wasn’t always as comfortable singing in front of other people. “My mom and my pastor’s wife used to buy me old southern gospel tracks and then sneak in ‘special music’ to services so I would be put on the spot,” he said. “This was the only way I would agree to sing in front of people.”
Like many CCM artists, Renfro lists Rich Mullins as one of his influences. He said he had the opportunity to meet Mullins when he was nine years old. “His family lives about 10 miles from me and I went to school with his cousins. His music and family were huge influences on my immersion into Contemporary Christian Music,” Renfro said. “Not a bad kick start; to have one of the “founding” members of CCM pushing you along.” He lists Third Day, NeedToBreathe, TobyMac and JJ Weeks Band as some of his favorite CCM artists.
Renfro is a huge country fan and said he lists some of his country influences as Alabama, Travis Tritt, Eric Church, Keith Urban and Diamond Rio. He also lists artists like Creedence Clearwater Revival, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and The Eagles.
In addition to playing more than 50 shows a year, Renfro is entering his eighth year as a secondary science teacher at Tri-Village High School in New Madison, OH. He is also a professor of education at Indiana University East in Richmond, IN. He said he is able to balance teaching with music because the administration supports his dreams in music and his colleagues are big supporters as well. He said he has a passion for working with the youth of America and a passion for music. “Being able to have the opportunity to balance both of them is a true blessing!”
Renfro said he has grown as a songwriter by immersing himself in the culture of music and learning from others around him who are better at their craft. He said TobyMac gave him some good advice on this topic. He said TobyMac told him to always surround himself with people who are better, adding that when you stop looking around for help, you are already falling.
Renfro said he writes a lot of songs about his family. He said he feels that his relationship with his wife has made his experiences more authentic. “She keeps me level, while stretching me,” Renfro said. “I also feel like being married to an amazing, beautiful, Godly woman has allowed me to relate to my fans in a more authentic way. I don’t ever want my songwriting to be a far-fetched reality, but rather a real place that touches the heart of its listeners.”
What is Renfro’s favorite song that he has written? “I wrote a song called “Giving it to God” on my first album that helped me through some tough times,” he said. “I had just graduated from Indiana University and couldn’t find a teaching job, my dad was dying, and my world was crashing down. And, while I sat on our family farm in Kentucky, I picked up my guitar and God spoke to me: “Tommy this is not your will to fight. Let it go.” So I penned the song in about 10 minutes and I think it has helped a lot more people realize God will never leave them nor forsake them.”
Not every song that appears on Refro’s forthcoming CD will be a song he has written or co-written. He is working with Scotty Wilbanks of Third Day on his new record. He said he was pitched many songs by production. “I have a song by a great worship artist, Carl Cartee, going on the project. And then, I was blown away to be pitched an AMAZING song by the great Brian White,” Renfro said. “I mean, it’s Brian White, 14 number one tracks.”
White co-wrote “Watching You,” which was recorded by Rodney Adkins and it was the most played country song in 2007. Other artists that have recorded a song written or co-written by White include Rascal Flatts, Mandisa, Michael English and others.“God hit a homerun with this one,” Renfro said. “All I can say is that I’m humbled and honored to be singing a Brian White song!! Hopefully radio will fall in love with it like I did.”
Renfro said he wants people to find authenticity in his music. “I want the lyrics to come from a real place they have seen, felt, or experienced and the melodies to uplift their soul,” he said. “As one of the songs on my new project states, I want people to know “It’s Gonna Be OK.”
Renfro said his CD is in the middle of production and hopes to make a few trips to Nashville to chat with record labels, management companies and others this fall. He said his guess is the CD won’t be released until early next year.
He currently has around 30,000 fans on social media sites from various countries around the world. “One of the cool things is how many missionaries I have follow me on Twitter and Facebook,” Renfro said. “I get messages from pastors in the field from Africa, India, South America, and Southeast Asia all the time. It’s amazing that people in Uganda or Brazil are listening to my music via social media. Very cool.”
Renfro loves getting new fans on social media and said they are now booking new tour dates for 2016. People can visit tommyrenfro.com for more information.