Mark Bishop has always had a song to write, a story to tell and one to sing. It’s a trait that goes back to his childhood.
“I’ve always enjoyed doing creative things,” he said. “Even when I was a kid, I would make up songs, and I loved to draw and write stories.”
His creativity as a youngster carried over into adulthood when Bishop began his singing career as a member of The Bishops, a popular southern gospel trio based in Waco, Ky. Bishop, along with brother Kenny and father Kenneth, recorded numerous hits during a 17-year period, most of which appeared on the Singing News Top 40 charts. A No. 1 hit penned by Bishop — “You Can’t Ask Too Much of My God” — was named song of the year by the southern gospel Music Songwriters Association in 1997. An award-winning writer and singer, Mark Bishop produced the album “Kentucky Bluegrass” in 2000 which earned the group a Dove award for “Best Bluegrass Album of the Year.” From 1984-2001, the Bishops appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, Crook and Chase, Nashville Now and numerous national and syndicated gospel music and other ministry programs.
When the group retired in 2001, Bishop stepped off the bus and began a new era as a soloist. The success of the family group followed him along the new trail he embarked upon more than a decade ago. Bishop admitted the venture into uncharted waters proved to be treacherous in the beginning, but his songs and name recognition in the field paved the way for a smooth transition. He is part of the Sonlite Records label and The Harper Agency, the same booking company that handled his family’s traveling itinerary.
“It’s been a new chapter,” he said. “When I was with the group, I enjoyed that and it was a different dynamic between a group presentation and a solo presentation. It took me a little while to adapt to being on stage by myself. There’s a comfort in being flanked on stage with six other talented guys and you don’t feel as much of a burden to carry the whole thing.
You kind of tag team (duties on stage). You step up for a few minutes, shine and do your song, and then when it’s over, you can sit back, compose your thoughts and get your bearings in the concert. As a soloist, as soon as they introduce you on stage, all right buddy, it’s you for the next hour. It’s up to you to steer this thing, push the gas, push the brake, keep everybody engaged and happy. If you’re in poor voice or whatever, there’s no place to hide. You just have to do it.
“It was a learning curve a year or two I think, but now I love it and I would really have a hard time now trying to fit back into a group. I would feel like I was slacking off and not doing anything.”
Being a soloist kept Bishop busy. In the past 11 years, Bishop has written 19 songs that have appeared on the national charts, including eight in the Top 10, six in the Top 5 and three No. 1 songs, including his most recent chart topper, “I’m Listening for the Call,” which reached the top in 2012. Bishop has more songs and ideas stored on his smartphone and numerous others on paper. Those ideas come from the Bible, sermons, thoughts and everyday comments uttered by those around him. Bishop, who does approximately 150 concert and church dates per year, develops ideas and finishes a majority of his songs while on the road.
“I have less time (for writing songs) than I did before, but I somehow have to do it,” he said. “The is dilemna everybody in America is facing now. Bosses are paying you less and expecting you to do more. That’s kind of like where I am at. When the group was on the road, all of the duties that needed to be fulfilled to keep the ministry of our size going were split three ways with me, Kenny and Dad. When I became a soloist, I’m doing all of the things the three of us used to do. My best writing time now is during the travel time. The only down time I really have is when I am driving eight hours to one place, 12 hours to this place and 11 hours to that place and six hours back home. It’s during those times when I actually earn my living, that’s when I write the songs I will be singing for the next few years.”
Bishop began sharing writing duties with his brother and father when the group began touring, but eventually became the ringleader in the songwriting category.
“As the group evolved, they found other areas of the ministry that were more interesting to them than writing songs,” he said. “I got more engrossed in it and more engaged in it and as the years went on, I started writing more and more of the group’s material and they were writing less and less. Finally when we got to the end of our run, I had written all of our songs for the last two or three albums and 100 percent of the music. When the group dissolved in 2001 and I started my solo ministry, that (writing songs)¿wasn’t an issue. I had all kinds of songs written and I’ve never been hurting for material. I¿love writing songs and the Lord has blessed me to write some songs that were No. 1 for the group and I’ve had three No. 1 songs since I’ve been a soloist.”
He added there’s “no template” for writing songs.
“It can come from any place and it does,” he said. “I¿always tell folks there’s one little extra filter between my ear and my brain that catches potential song ideas. I’ll be watching television, listening to other music or sitting in church listening to a preacher and they will say something (that catches my attention). They keep moving on, but something gets caught in that filter and I’ll jump on it and it’s a couple of words away from being a song. I’m always writing stuff down. I’ve probably got 400 different song ideas and there just sitting there in a pile. Some I write from beginning to end as soon as I start thinking of it, but a lot of times, I will write down a chorus and maybe a verse and come back to it later.”
His current single, “I Can Rejoice,” is steadily climbing the charts.
“It just came out,” he said. “It’s jumped from like No. 70 to No. 17 in one month, which is a huge jump in our music (industry). If it keeps the momentum up, it’s going to be a strong song regardless. It’s up-tempo and fast.”
The rise of his latest chart single is no surprise considering his past success.
Contact Keith Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.