The soul-saving testimony of ‘Behind This Guitar’ troubadour Mo Pitney
As a teenager growing up in Cherry Valley, Illinois, authenticity and believability grabbed traditional country music artist Mo Pitney’s attention when he unearthed Johnny Cash at San Quentin  in his dad’s record collection. “It wasn’t really fast picking or anything tremendously flashy, but when Johnny Cash took the stage, you never questioned if he believed what he was saying,” admits Pitney in the third, concluding installment of an interview.
RFDtv institutions like Country’s Family Reunion and Larry’s Country Diner exposed the acoustic guitarist to a national, albeit rural and extremely loyal audience. Pitney was named to Rolling Stone’s “10 New Country Artists You Need to Know About” list and counts two hits so far — “Boy and a Girl Thing” and “Country,” the latter co-written with Whisperin’ Bill Anderson. Both occupy the balladeer’s Billboard Top Ten debut long player, Behind This Guitar.
Signed to Curb Records, a Music Row label that has counted Tim McGraw, Hank Williams III, the Judds, LeAnn Rimes, and Merle Haggard among its roster — Hag infamously challenged owner and former California Lieutenant Governor Mike Curb to a boxing match in the mid-‘90s — a bouncy, sincere snapshot of “I Met Merle Haggard Today,” the tear-jerker “It Was Just a Dog,” and the Kleenex-required “Take the Chance” readily prove that the songwriter’s trajectory is far from being finished.
Having completed whirlwind tours of Switzerland, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, the unabashed old soul with an easy drawling baritone has also commanded the Grand Ole Opry stage multiple times and received a standing ovation for a winning cover of George Jones’ “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes,” a rare feat for a virtually unknown singer.
Two days after the Opry debut, a banjo-playing buddy named John Meyer planted the seeds for the then-21-year-old’s Christian transformation. “I started reading my Bible,” reveals Pitney. “The more I read, the worse I felt, because I knew that I was wrong about everything I believed about me being in control, knowing what I was talking about, and thinking the things I was doing weren’t hurting people or hurting God.” Accepting Christ as his personal savior, Pitney insists, “There were bondages in my life and things that I was caught up in that vanished overnight.”
Pitney’s spiritual journey rolls forward, sometimes on rocky ground much like the Man in Black’s, and is not for the faint of heart. “I am in one of those periods of my life right now where I am in between records, and I just worry about my ability to do right,” reveals the profoundly humble thinker. “I have a lot of responsibility, and I want to be obedient with that responsibility. My wife Emily and I just press forward, pray, and look to Him for everything.” Pitney’s complete Christian testimony unfurls starting now [revisit Part Two, entitled “A Brand New Day with ‘I Didn’t Wake Up This Morning’ Songsmith Mo Pitney,” to catch up].
The Mo Pitney Interview, Part Three [Conclusion]
Now that you’re a first-time dad, what’s different?
I am actually on baby duty right now chilling out here in my living room. You get a little less sleep, but Evelyne is a really good sleeper. She has a great mom that jumps up and is able to quickly get her back to sleep if she does wake up. Evelyne stays with us, so we don’t have to go far.
As far as learning life things, there are a lot of fears that come along, a lot of ways that you grow up, and a lot of ways that you love in ways you didn’t before. All the way around it’s been pretty amazing.
What role does Christianity play for you?
I’ve struggled in a lot of ways in my life. I’ve made a lot of mistakes like many of us have. We all are human, and the Word would argue that there is a reason for those imperfections. Those imperfections came because we are born of Adam, who made a mistake and let sin enter his blood veins. That is in every single one of us.
There is only one escape, not only from the punishment of our mistakes, but also the freedom to be able to not make them again. That is salvation through believing in Jesus Christ. There are many people trying to convince you that you must do or earn something for salvation.
But when proper faith is placed in Christ, your life is changed. You’re born again. I know that that’s the truth. I know that Jesus is Lord, and it’s helped me keep my head above water in really, really dark times.
I have my doubts, not about who God is or who Jesus is, but I have my doubts in His ability to love me. Sometimes I doubt whether I’m born again and know Him. That can cause some dark nights, too.
I want those struggles to come out in my music. That’s why I’ve gravitated towards listening to Christian artists. They have wrestled with and been honest about those same things.
There is nothing greater than being in a position where you believe that your creator loves you for no reason of your own, but purely because of what He did on the cross. Those have been probably the most deep, fulfilling feelings of joy I have ever experienced. However, we have an enemy that whispers lies in our head which can make our spiritual journey go up and down.
I want other people to know Him. I want to point to Him because I know He is the truth. I don’t want people to trust my word because I am fallible. I want people to trust His word. That means a lot to me.
How were you saved?
I grew up in a Baptist church and just didn’t listen. I didn’t care. I didn’t carry any type of conviction early on. I just did my own thing. I took control of my own life which is pride.
Was going to church every Sunday morning merely the right thing to do?
Yeah. By the time I was 21 years old I had a singer-banjoist buddy named John Meyer who had gotten saved. He had a joy, a peace, and a grace on his life. That was the Holy Spirit, and I knew that I didn’t have whatever he had.
Two days after I played the Grand Ole Opry for the first time [Pitney received a standing ovation on June 20, 2014, especially a rare feat considering that he was virtually an unknown artist], John told me that he loved God, God had freed him from sin, God had changed his life, and God gave him the desire to do what was right instead of begrudgingly trying to obey God.
I realized that John’s heart had been changed and that mine needed to be changed. I started reading my Bible. The more I read, the worse I felt, because I knew that I was wrong about everything I believed about me being in control, knowing what I was talking about, and thinking the things I was doing weren’t hurting people or hurting God.
Nothing was hidden anymore. I saw the depth of my sin which led me to tremendous despair. I actually didn’t eat or sleep for a week because I was under so much conviction.
One day I was reading Psalms 117 which says, “They fell down, loathed any type of food, and their backs were bent because of their rebelling against God. They reached out and there was none to help.” In that week I reached out to pastors, family, my parents — anybody to help me in the type of despair that I was in. But no one could help me. I realized that the only person who could help me was God.
The next verse says, “And then they lifted their heads and cried out to God, and he delivered them from their distress.” At that moment those words became true to me, and God’s love became real to me.
I was filled with so much joy in one moment I swear I could have ran up and down the street and knocked on people’s doors and told them what happened to me. I can’t tell you how many phone calls I made that day and how much I cried for joy because I felt like all my sins were gone.
I’ve never been the same since. Now, I still have a lot of depressing battles, and I have had certain dark thoughts get into my head trying to convince me that God didn’t save me.
But I know that I am different. I know that there were bondages in my life and things that I was caught up in that vanished overnight. I am still fighting the good fight every day. That’s a miracle. My wife Emily and I just press forward, pray, and look to Him for everything.
How do you emerge from those dark times?
I am in one of those periods of my life right now where I am in between records, and I just worry about my ability to do right. I have a lot of responsibility, and I want to be obedient with that responsibility. Sometimes I feel like I don’t know how to do that.
All I know to do is to keep reading His word, pray, and trust that tomorrow will be better. When I have done that, it has historically turned out to be true. When I have believed that nothing’s ever gonna get better, this is the end, or it’s too dark to move forward, it has not ever been true. So I try to hold on to where God has pulled me through dark times in the past. That gets me to another day, and I am thankful for that.
Is there a go-to Bible verse or chapter that you find yourself reading in moments of despair?
[Laughs]. I have absolutely devoured the entire book of Psalms and most of the New Testament pops up in my head. I repeat Philippians, Colossians — pretty much all of Romans I can almost recite because of how much I dove into that book. Romans Chapter 8 is huge — I carry that with me. The list goes on and on. When it gets really tough and dark and I am not able to bite off a whole lot, I normally pray with David the Psalms of despair.
How did you know that Emily was the one?
Emily is perhaps not so coincidentally wrapped up in the story that I just told you. I met her when I was 15 years old at the Crazy Horse Bluegrass Festival in middle Illinois [Ashland].
We were dating different people at the time. One of those phone calls that I made the day I got saved was to Emily. That had the same effect on her that my conversation with my buddy John Meyer had. It caused her to do some really deep soul searching, and she ended up being saved four days later.
After that happened I went on my radio tour, and she and I became best friends over FaceTime. We moved from just friends to best friends because we had so much in common with what had just happened in our lives. We had Bible studies actually almost every night on my radio tour over FaceTime. We would just sit there and talk about everything.
That just led from one thing to another — we weren’t just best friends anymore — we were dating. We dated for about 10 months, and then I asked her to marry me. We ended up being engaged for six months and then got married. That’s the story of how it went down.
The authentic heart and soul of ‘Boy and a Girl Thing’ balladeer Mo Pitney [PART ONE]
“I am thankful that I don’t feel like I have to put on or be something I’m not when I entertain an audience,” maintains…
A brand new day with ‘I Didn’t Wake Up This Morning’ songsmith Mo Pitney [PART TWO]
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