Some songs pop out of a writer's mind and onto tape in mere minutes. Other songs, however, require a journey with several stops in order to develop into the fully formed statement they need to be. Almost three years ago, during the Christmas season of 2011, popular sports-talk radio host George Dunham of 1310 The Ticket, had a rush of impactful memories overtake him as he found inspiration for a new song he would write. For a bit over four years now, Dunham has been the lead singer and songwriter for local country band the Bird Dogs, and he suddenly felt it time to write a song detailing his Christian faith and its seemingly indescribable influence on his life.
"I started thinking about the presence of God and how I could write about it," says Dunham, whose been nominated for several Marconi awards for his day-time gig. "I started thinking about the times when I felt close to God: The birth of my kids, watching waves crash into the rocks on the Oregon coast and even being with my father as he took his last breath."
For Dunham, the song came to life through a particular line: "I felt a presence when I saw it all begin/There was peace in the room when it came to an end/There was light, it was bright and it was real." "Witnessing death was very sad and yet I felt a peace and warmth," he explains. "It was almost the same type of feeling I had when I watched my sons take their first breath. It was almost as if the room was illuminated. I was struck by the circle of life and a presence that was in the room."
The notion of "A Presence" was initially just the sketch of an idea, but it didn't stay dormant for long. Three weeks after Dunham began connecting the dots of where and how he had felt God's presence in some of his life's most dramatic moments, Argyle, the small town north of Fort Worth he lives in, was shocked by tragedy when 13 year-old Alex Betzhold died in his sleep, due to a previously undiagnosed heart condition. As his family and neighbors mourned, Dunham would again experience something he feels is only explained by God's supernatural expression.
"A candle light vigil was held at the school giving Alex's friends and chance to share memories about his life," Dunham remembers. "It was the saddest thing I have ever witnessed. Seventh graders were sobbing while trying to tell what Alex meant to them. Alex's dad, Steve, took the microphone to thank the hundreds of people in attendance, but as soon as he stood up in front of the crowd, a huge star shot across the sky. This was no ordinary shooting the star - the crowd gasped at its brightness as it flew overhead, it was so bright. At first I thought that someone had shot a flare gun, but it wasn't a flare, it was a star. The family and everyone else there that night took it as a sign from God that Alex was with him now. Driving home that night with my family I thought about the song that I had started weeks before."
After sharing his experience at the memorial service a few days later on his morning radio show, Dunham received an overwhelming number of emails and messages from people who were moved by his story and his openness. That radio segment led to him eventually meeting with Todd Storch, who he had known for years, and Dana Gage. Both Storch and Gage have suffered the loss of a teenager, but in their respective cases, it was due to different kinds of accidents. Taylor Storch, 14, died after a skiing accident in 2010 while in 2012, Connor Gage drowned after jumping into Possum Kingdom Lake without a life vest. Charities for Betzhold, Storch and Gage had been set-up to benefit other families suffering similar horrific circumstances. Dunham finally had all the inspiration he could possibly need to finish the song he had always known was meant to be more than just another album cut.
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"I was just thinking about both of these families and what I could do to help them," he explains. "I took all of that as my calling. It was clear to me that I'm here to help these families -- the Storches, the Betzholds and the Gages. I didn't know how exactly I was going to do it, but I knew one thing for sure: I was going to finish the song." By the end of last year, Dunham had finished writing the song and soon he and the Bird Dogs began looking for an opportunity to record it.
In January of this year, Dunham played the song for James Johnson, a drummer who was filling in for the Bird Dogs' usual drummer, Pablo Russell. Johnson was impressed, and as fate would have it, has his own recording studio, where he allowed the Bird Dogs to finally lay down "A Presence" for posterity. In many cases, this is where a song's journey may near the end, but for "A Presence," the recording represented the beginning of a new, beneficial life. The song that has come to represent so many powerful things to Dunham and to the people he had played it for could now offer hope to many in need that he will likely never know.
This past April, Dunham decided to offer the song as a digital single, with all proceeds going to the three family-run charities that he still holds dear. To this point, the song has raised almost $1,000 for the charities, but that's only the beginning, as Dunham recently made an appearance on KTXD'sLone Star Roads to perform the song, and word has continued to spread. As a long-time advocate for many charities, Dunham knows that the mission for "A Presence" is barely off the ground, but will indeed have a major impact.
"Something called me to start playing music again and writing music again in my 40s," he admits. "Like the Blues Brothers, I jokingly tell people, 'We are on a mission from God.' As corny as it sounds, I really do believe I was called to use my music for good."