ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
In a basement recording studio in their ranch-style home, a talented Galva couple quietly share their love of music, each other and their Maker.
“We enjoy doing this, and this is a gift God gave us,” said Michelle King, who sings vocals and plays the piano with husband Sammie, studio manager and instrumentalist.
“It was a gift that God brought us together-the way our music life has intertwined and worked so well together. So we’re giving back to the Lord.”
In their own recording studio, Michelle and Sammie recently performed on and produced their first compact-disc recording titled “Jesus Loves You.”
The CD of old gospel and contemporary Christian music includes 12 songs, such as “Amazing Grace,” “When Ten Thousand Angels Cried” and “That’s How Much I Love You.”
The CD is available for sale for $10 at five stores in McPherson and a gift shop in Galva. Cuts from the CD can also be heard on McPherson radio station KBBE 96.7 FM, thanks to disc jockey Bob Hapgood.
“People started calling him every day wanting to hear it,” Michelle said. “Bless his heart. He’s just played and played it. The response has been wonderful.”
When they were married in 1991, Sammie was the father of two grown boys and Michelle brought two young girls to the family. About two years later, Michelle and Sammie had one daughter together.
Today, Michelle’s full-time job is a pharmaceutical assistant with Hospira in McPherson, and Sammie manages their studio completed in 2002.
The two first met 20 years ago, when Michelle was Michelle Gill and Sammie was working as a sound technician at a talent contest sponsored by KFDI radio station in Wichita.
It was 1984. Michelle was vocalist with a seven-piece country-music band called “Doubletake.”
Band members encouraged the young alto to enter Nashville’s “You Can Be A Star” regional contest in Wichita.
“I don’t like contests,” Michelle said about the only musical competition she has entered in her lifetime. “I’m not one who wants to be in the spotlight.”
With Sammie working the sound board, Michelle took first place away from a young country-western singer now known as Martina McBride and went on to compete at the national level in Nashville.
Growing up in Galva, Michelle’s musical talent surfaced at age 5, when she began playing piano by ear. To this day, she doesn’t read music. As a young girl singing in church and school choirs, she developed her rich voice and joined her first country band, “The Kansas Outlaws,” after high-school graduation.
“I’ve played piano and sang professionally since I was about 16,” Michelle said. “I played in bands here and there and got paid for it. Back in those days, it was pretty lucrative. You didn’t have DJs. It was very rare that you would go anywhere where there wasn’t live music with live bands.”
Following “The Kansas Outlaws,” she was part of a duo called “Kenny and Michelle.” Two years later, Michelle sang as solo artist in Canada with the “Whiskey River Band.”
The “Doubletake” band formed in about 1984 with members from the McPherson area and concentrated on music ranging from the rock-and-roll sounds of the 1950s and 1960s to country music of the day.
Raised in the wooded hills of Waldron, Ark., Sammie began playing drums at the age of 9.
“Music is something I’ve wanted to do ever since I can remember,” he said. “My whole family has been involved in music in one respect or another for all our lives. Before I was able to hold an instrument or play, I was the little guy running around holding a little tape recorder and recording everybody.”
Playing trombone and trumpet in high school, Sammie also played bass and electric guitar, organized and played in a rock band, performed in two country-rock bands and worked part-time as an assistant engineer in a recording studio.
“He’s self taught,” Michelle said. “If he decides he wants to play an instrument, he can teach himself. He has that gift.”
Sammie’s background and experience as a sound technician and guitar and steel-guitar player is extensive.
He served six years in the U.S. Air Force stationed in Maine and formed a popular country band called the “Southernaires.” Following honorable discharge, he joined his family band, “The High Country Show Band,” earned degrees in electronics and computers and has worked in warm-up and back-up bands for country stars, such as Dave Dudley, David Houston and Reba McEntire.
In addition to sound engineer, the versatile musician is credited as a musical director and can sing lead and harmony vocals.
In 1985, Sammie joined “Doubletake” for three years and then left to go on the road with the “Ark Valley Boys.”
After they were married, Sammie and Michelle performed in a country-music band and a three-piece combo, usually playing private parties on weekends, until about 1999.
“Then, we laid back and didn’t do anything,” Michelle said about a period of time they were involved in church activities with their children.
“Eventually, our church had a Saturday night service they started and developed around us,” Sammie said about the opportunity to play guitar while Michelle played the piano and sang. “It was a full band, a praise team for the Saturday night contemporary service.”
Today, in addition to the praise team, the Kings still play for private engagements and Christian-based programs.
“I do a lot of playing piano and singing for programs,” Michelle said. “But I’ve realized it’s much more fun if Sammie is there doing it with me, too. He adds all the prettiness to it with his instrumentation. So I drag him along.”
Although Michelle’s voice is alto, her range has expanded as the years have passed.
“She can stretch and go about anywhere,” Sammie said. “She sang the harmony on her CD, and I heard her singing higher than I’ve ever heard her sing. Her voice is real strong, rich and full. Her pitch is really good. She locks on and she’s there.”
Their studio was born from a set of circumstances, such as Sammie’s debilitating vehicle accident in 2001 and an opportunity to buy equipment from his former recording-studio partner in Wichita.
“My partner asked if we would take all of the equipment because he wanted to get out of the business,” Sammie said. “I’ve always wanted to use a studio as a business, to do this as a living.”
With the help of friends to put up sheet-rock in the downstairs area, the couple put their basement furniture in their garage and began converting to a studio.
“In the past, I’ve found if you do too much real heavy insulation, it kills the sound so much that you artificially have to put life back into it,” Sammie said.
The Kings now operate with an analog 16-track tape setup in addition to a complete 24-track digital studio. They can master to CD, DVD, cassette, DAT and reel.
“We can provide you with your completed project all the way to shrink-wrapped, ready for retail packages or just bulk for demos and anything in between,” Sammie said.
He can also work with Power-Point presentations and videos for businesses and private individuals.
The studio includes a control room, and two rooms with instruments such as a Hammond B-3 organ, a Kawai electric grand piano, a full drum set and three symphonic timpanies.
Studio-time cost is set at $35 an hour, but the couple said they don’t watch the clock and are flexible when the creative juices of a group are flowing.
“The group ‘King Midas’ did their big 40th anniversary CD here,” Michelle said. “They’re a lot of old rock and roll stuff. It was wonderful.”
For quality multiple copies of the original CDs recorded in the studio, Sammie out-sources to a pressing plant.
“They actually glass master the things and press them so they are more durable, and they will last a lifetime,” he said. “On those, I can’t go quantities less than 1,000. The whole package, with graphics and shrink wrap and retail ready is less than $2 a CD for production cost.”
Of the 2,000 copies of their recent CD, Michelle and Sammie now have about 1,000 copies left. In addition to selling them, the couple give them away to friends or donate to church groups as fund-raisers.
If fame comes knocking at their door at this point in their lives, the couple said they would want more control over their careers.
“There’s no way we can upset the applecart, relocate our kids and take them on the road,” Michelle said.
“But we would entertain the idea and see what’s possible. It would be in the gospel realm and on our terms, not according to a corporation dictating our life.”
Meanwhile, they look forward to producing another CD sometime in the future and enjoy the time spent in their studio.
“This is predominantly a God thing that it’s all come together like this,” Michelle said. “We love music and God has given us this opportunity.”
For more information, visit the Web site www.kaveco.com or call 620-654-3193.