Rod Burton sees life not as a steady race, but one that gets faster and faster.
“It’s all I can do to keep up with all the work there is to do. God’s given us a lot… and as time goes on, I feel a call to simplify and forge ahead in His service.”
The service Rod has been called to currently includes the continuing evolution of his career as a gospel soloist, along with singing with Eric Hinson and Hinson Revival.
But since Rod’s latest CD release in 2008, he has been called to different kinds of ministries as well. He and his wife Kelly formed YMR Music Productions, LLC. in 2009 for the purpose of presenting the Branson Gospel Music Convention. In its first year, and in spite of many obstacles, the 4-day, 4-night event hosted 150 gospel artists and an audience of approximately 5000 guests. More importantly, the event, named the Southern Gospel News Pacesetter of the Year, has become known as a politics-and-competition-free time of fellowship and ministry for artists, those on the national plain as well as the regional.
Rod Burton at Branson GMC 2009
“Branson GMC changed everything for us,” Rod says. “As we were exiting town when it was all over, Kelly and I looked at each other and knew that we were being called into a new work. We declared together that we would chase it.”
And just a few weeks later, it seemed God was shouting the confirmation: After a 20-plus career in telecommunications, Rod was given a buyout package from his job of eleven years in northern-Chicago.
“What could have been a scary time for us was instead a time of faith fulfilled,” he says. “We were very fortunate in that the company has taken good care of us, so we have some financial security. And we’ve used every day since August 5, 2009 to follow our new God-given dream in full time ministry.”
Along with Branson GMC, Rod and Kelly are now advocates for Compassion International and look forward to their first missions trip soon. They are also using YMR Music Productions as a foundation for Give the Gospel, concerts that will benefit specific causes in small towns.
Recently, Rod also joined with longtime friend and southern gospel singer Darrell Webb to form New Hope Music Productions, a Nashville-based recording company for emerging gospel artists.
“Having talked to a lot of other artists and companies in the past years,” Rod says, “I had a specific idea of what seemed to be needed by so many of us in gospel music: a company to help put quality recording projects together, period. While we offer advice to artists on radio promotions and marketing, we have partnered with experts to make the final decisions, making sure our artists receive the best advice and support possible. We’re here to help them spend precious dollars wisely to create excellent sound.”
The flagship release of New Hope Music Productions is also Rod’s latest project, The Difference. The CD marks a musical departure for Rod into a less-traditional-southern, more “Christian-country” sound. More importantly, however, it showcases songs that have made a difference in Rod’s life…ones that he hopes will make an impact in the lives of others.
“Music has always been a large influence on my life,” he says. “The songs represent phases of my life, positive changes that have taken place.”
Among the collection are traditional favorites such as Squire Parson’s “Sweet Beulah Land,” which became more special to Rod after he sang it as his dad’s 2005 funeral, and “The Old Rugged Cross Made the Difference,” a Bill and Gloria Gaither anthem that showcases Rod’s powerful tenor sound.
Rod Burton singing
Another special pair of songs were penned by Charles Feltner (“The Bridegroom Cometh”) and his daughter Vanessa Feltner (“Sometimes You Can’t Walk”).
“I’ve known Vanessa since I traveled with her dad, who also gave me my start in gospel music ministry,” Rod says. “I know Charlie would be so proud of the work she is going now. I have said I will always have a Charlie song on my CDs, and so it was especially cool to have one of Vanessa’s on this one as well.”
Several songs have already touched audiences. “There is a God,” written by Shane Roark, is a stirring declaration of divinity that Rod was recently allowed to sing at a public high school. “Son of Man’s Man” was written especially for Rod by Sue Duffield and has touched a chord with male audiences for its mixture of humor and accountability. “Water Grave,” an Imperials’ song from the early ‘80s, has been morphed into a southern-rock anthem featuring vocals by Russ Taff and a stirring call to die to self.
“This CD was definitely an enjoyable, surprising process,” Rod says. “I was more hands-on than I’ve ever been in the arranging, the players, and the overall theme and sound. So this one feels very personal and also very accessible.”
Continuing a tradition, the recording was a family process for the Burtons. Kelly partnered with Rod on the song selections and directed the art design. Sixteen-year-old daughter Paige lent background vocals to “Water Grave.” And toddler daughters Miranda Rose (3) and Kaitlyn Emma (2) add flavor and personality to the recording sessions…charming the players, giving hugs, and dancing, which you can spot them doing at Rod’s concert dates as well.burton daughters
Rod was born to a Church of God family in the coal-mining county of Harlan, Kentucky, and he spent his childhood there before moving to Dayton, Ohio as an adolescent. Prior to branching out as a solo artist, Rod spent many years with a variety of groups. His earliest experience was with renowned gospel writer, the late Charles Feltner. Rod played bass and sang with “Charlie” as a teenager and during this time, learned his model for ministry.
“At the end of the day, no matter where we were going, no matter how many miles driven or how many people sat in the audience, Charlie was always reminding us what ministry really is. We can sing the greatest songs ever written, but our hearts must be right before God for it to matter. And more than anything, my goal now is to spread the gospel. Music is just the means for me to do that.”
After his time with Feltner, Rod tried his hand with several other groups: His Witnesses, the Christian rock band T.A.S.K., and the Dayton, Ohio based trio Destined. After moving to the Chicago area in the late 1990s, Rod took a break from southern gospel, but found it wasn’t long until the music in his soul made its way back to the forefront of his life… and he also found that the time away gave him a powerful testimony.
Rod signed with the Eddie Crook Company in 2006, under which he released two CDs and the Singing News charting single, “Take a Stand.” He has gained a reputation for his unique mix of powerful vocals, transparency on stage, and a business-like approach to his ministry-based organizations and events.
Through his growth as a minister and the expansion of his horizons in the last four years, Rod’s center still comes back to one thing: grace. “No matter what happens in your life, God can use it. Satan will try to convince us otherwise, but God’s grace is truly bigger than any mistakes we can make.”Rod Burton and son Josh
Rod will continue spreading the message of that grace, through his solo ministry, with Eric Hinson and Hinson Revival, and in both YMR Music Productions and New Hope Music Productions events and projects. Along with Kelly and their daughters (they also has an adult son, Josh), he looks to relocate to the Nashville area this year.
“I never anticipated where I would be at this stage in life, but I am loving the freedom of it,” Rod says. “I am free from the guilt of sin, free from politics, games, and competition, free from trying to be anything other than what God called me to be. I am dedicated to bringing forth his word, to singing with the best of my ability, to helping others receive grace and attain excellence. And I get to have my wife as my partner and my kids as my assistants. It makes all the difference.”