"At the age of five I was fortunate enough to have my own monophonic record player. It was the size of a small suitcase. I also must have inherited someone's patriotic music collection, which I loved, but one day my dad brought home a recording of Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” and that changed everything. I soon began to wear out the grooves on every Top-40 record I could get my little hands on,” says Derek.
Thus began Derek’s lifelong love affair with music. As a native of Texas and Arkansas, he grew up steeped in the rich musical traditions of the South, including Country music and, of course, Rock and Roll. Derek’s father loved music as well. A Conoco “oil man” by day, he spent nights and weekends doing what he loved--singing for local audiences. Derek started playing the accordion at age six and the drums at age nine.
“Drumming was just second nature to me,” says Derek. “It felt like something that I had done in a past life.” Derek also displayed an early knack for songwriting.
“I wrote a song for my elementary school rock band called ‘Lucky,” he remembers. “ It was a love song, of sorts, and led to our band of 6th graders making a record. I was especially proud of the fact that our band had a proper manager,” he laughs. “His name was Daniel Kaberon - also a 6th grader.”
After graduating from high school, Derek moved to Boston where he began playing in local bands in the night club circuit. He also began studying with legendary teacher and drummer, Alan Dawson.
“Alan was like a second father,” says Derek. “I valued every word he uttered. His lessons were demanding; to make the most of it I practiced for 4-6 hours every day. Come lesson time I'd be playing it back I'd catch him grinning from ear to ear, and I knew I had it right."
Derek’s band, The Jon Butcher Axis, signed with Polygram Records in 1982. Two albums, Jon Butcher Axis and Stare at the Sun, followed, accompanied by MTV videos and tours with bands like Rush and Def Leppard. In 1985, the band moved to Capitol Records and released its third album, Along the Axis, whose single, “The Ritual” earned a Grammy nomination. The band was busier than ever--touring, recording and shooting videos.
But something had shifted for Derek.
“The band was at the height of its success,” says Derek. “In many ways I was on top of the world realizing all my dreams, but inwardly I had an enduring sense that something very important was still missing. Around this time I began reading the New Testament because I had always been curious about the Bible. Five chapters into the book of Matthew God opened my eyes. It was a pivotal moment when I realized that I was holding God’s very Word, and that a relationship with Him is what I needed more than anything in the world. Fearfully I prayed for faith, and then began to pray that God would come meet me and forgive me for being so far away for so long. From then on God revealed Himself in amazing ways. Parts of my life that were previously beyond my control were suddenly manageable. I devoured the Bible and wanted to share with everyone all that was happening to me. It was a surreal experience. I felt as though I was being carried through it."
Derek committed his life to Jesus. At first, he gave little thought to how his new-found faith might impact his career.
“Life on the tour bus after that was--I say this with great affection--akin to living on a pirate ship,” he chuckles. “My friends respected my faith and were wonderful people. But gradually it grew more apparent to me that something had to give. I stayed on for two more years thinking I could be both a professional rock musician and a committed Christian, but sharp contrasts between both worlds continually wore me down. And the recording industry as a whole was a big let down. I had to ask myself, 'Do I really want to support this?'."
Derek also became increasingly troubled by how little artistic control he had over lyrics, themes and artwork.
“We were never one of those ‘hell-bent’ bands, but even subtle themes in lyrics and videos would give me a chill.” he says. “I remember when we were working on our fourth album I was looking through the lyrics. There was a single entitled, ‘Goodbye Saving Grace.’ It was ostensibly a love song, but because I had had such a powerful experience of God’s grace saving me, it was hard for me to treat it lightly, even in a song. Sure enough, that song became the first single on that album and was released with an over-the-top sensual video that appeared daily on MTV. I knew then that I was living in two separate worlds. It was one of a series of instances where I sensed God telling me that it was time to move on.”
“Leaving the band wasn’t just a matter of changing careers,” Derek continues. “It meant laying down my identity, my sense of worth, and everything I had worked for and aspired to be. It was the most difficult decision I have ever made. Everyone thought I was crazy, even my family. But in the midst of it all God was already leading me in other directions providing for my every need. That gave me the assurance that I really needed to get through that transition and on to a new life."
Derek eventually transitioned into leading worship for a large 600 person congregation in Boston. Content to serve wherever God had called, he didn’t consider worship songwriting until he was sitting in a small group gathering, listening to the chord sequence the leader was playing.
“I realized that I knew the same chords from watching my bandmates in my rock band days,” he says. “I tried it and it came as easily as drumming.”
Armed with a cheap guitar and a capo, Derek began writing songs, adopting the open chord harmonics used by songwriters like Chris Tomlin.
“A whole new world opened up for me,” says Derek. “And then the race was on to learn how to play, sing, write, and lead.” Since then, Derek has written and recorded dozens of songs and is currently about to release his first CD.
“I feel God propelling me forward in this way,” he says. “And when I get discouraged, or I feel stuck creatively, I take comfort in knowing that I'm in God's hands - the best place to be. Although, I must admit at times I do look back and wonder what might have happened if I had stayed in the rock scene. Like the day my friend and bandmate, Tom Gimble, went on to play keyboards and sax for Aerosmith. I always wanted to play in Aerosmith back in those days. Like if Joey Cramer had broken his leg at some point?" he laughs. "When I find myself wondering, I always come back to the same conclusion: Nah, wouldn't change a thing. Thankfully I still keep in touch with many of those guys whom I consider to be dear friends. "
Derek is currently co-worship director and worship leader at New Hope Community Church Without Walls in Berkeley, CA.
He has been married to his wife, Judy, for 15 years. They have two beautiful children, Will and Lindsey.