When Con Hunley performs the song "Wayfarin' Stranger," it's hard for both an audience and the singer to stay unemotional.
"Even with all the recording, mixing and going over and over it, it still affects me in a real spiritual way," says Hunley over lunch at Litton's.
There's no doubt listening to the recording that Hunley feels the song.
"I was at the house working on (the song) 'Didn't It Rain' and it just hit me," says Hunley. "I sat down at the piano and started singing 'Wayfaring Stranger.' Like that song, I'd lost my mother, my father and my brother and the spirit of that song totally engulfed me."
When it came time to record it, both Hunley and the instrumentalists, who were friends of Hunley's family, had to stop several times before getting through it.
Hunley had been a country hitmaker in the late 1970s and 1980s, but had some bad breaks in the business. Afterwards he spent a dark time addicted to drink with a faltering music career. At the turn of the millenium Hunley got clean and began to get back on track. With the independently-released "Sweet Memories" Hunley found his audience had been waiting for him. In addition, he had become an even better and more soulful singer.
Hunley decided to include one gospel song on every album, but relatives and friends kept encouraging him to record an entire album of gospel music.
The album "Wayfarin' Stranger" encompasses Hunley's gospel experience — from the house rockin' "There's a Leak In This Ol' Building" and "Satisfied" to more subdued standards, including "Peace In the Valley," and more recently-written songs. It also includes "When I Was a Sinner," a fine number written by Hunley's mother when she was 16.
When word got out that Hunley was recording a gospel album, songwriting friends, including Dean Dillon and Red Lane gave him recent songs to consider.
Hunley says the Kim Williams song 'He Loved Me' really spoke to him as well.
"It was about where I've been in my life — when you've given up on yourself and your life, but for some reason you survive. Times you couldn't stand to look in the mirror ... He loved me even when I couldn't love myself."
If audiences find "Wayfarin' Stranger" therapeutic, it would probably be no more so than it was for Hunley himself.
"I don't really talk about tough times. I'm a pretty private person. I've always been reluctant to expose my innermost feelings to the public. But this kind of gave me an inner peace. Sometimes you get caught up in the ifs ands or buts and it kind of helped me reconcile the loss of my mother, my father and my brother and think about what's really important.
"The church is where all this stuff became a part of me, but I don't want to go on a church tour. I'd just like to be who I am and let it fall wherever it falls ... I do not want to be preaching fire and brimstone, get right or go to hell. I want people to listen to the music ... and feel what I felt when I recorded these songs."
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!