Reckless Mercy: Delivering a ministry of music
By Mary Ellen Thompson | Beaufortonian Stephen Jeffrey, who brought this group together with Alex Castillo, says “God has taken all of our shortcomings and failures and made Reckless Mercy.”
Reckless Mercy’s primary description would be Christian Rock, however their music reaches far and wide in an Americana/Folk/Rock/Alternative Country combination genre which bikers love, church goers and non-church goers respond to, as well as people who have no idea that this music carries a message, follow. The lyrics, written mostly by Jeffrey, although often the other members contribute a song or a phrase, are not in your face in a hymnal sort of way, nor are they preachy, but they do carry a strong message.
Band members are Stephen Jeffrey, Alex Castillo, Adan Brinks and Tony Cox.
“I want to say I’m sorry
And leave my sin behind
Beaten and discouraged
With a pain I can’t deny
Sit down and write my feelings in words I can’t express
Just to say I love you, nothing more and nothing less.”
(To Say I’m Sorry)
Their videos: Ain’t No Grave, Turning Over Tables, Walk On, were created in collaboration with Stephen Wollwerth. So powerful and full of life, they stand alone, acting as invitations to enter the world Reckless Mercy portrays – fortitude, fear, redemption, hope, salvation, and always at the bottom and top of it all – faith.
In Ain’t No Grave, the cinematography will have you hooked right along with the first chord. There you are, in a graveyard at night surrounded by fog and eerily hanging Spanish moss. If you can resist swaying, tapping your foot, and the urge to clap along with this, you may be ready for the grave. Turning Over Tables lures you in with the harmonies; Adam’s award winning shy smile and Alex’s playfulness, will begin to contrast as the tempo and action escalate and quickly juxtapose with Stephen’s solemnity and Tony’s intensity, both visually and musically.
Some people believe in coincidence, and some eschew the very concept, but many people will agree that at least, once in awhile, something arrives in our life at the very moment we need it most. Those things come to us “out of the blue” as if the word blue represents the sky, which in turn, represents heaven. Four men, united by faith, joined together by serendipity, have formed a kinship that delivers their message in musical form to minister to those who, like them, are searching. In one way or another, those “blue” moments brought these four together like a sequence in connect-a-dot pictures we used to do when we were children.
As the assortment of guitars, mandolins, banjos, drums, and other musical instruments come out, Stephen displays the artistically added press-on tattoos as the artwork he has applied to the head of the cigar box guitar that he built for himself. Everyone looks on and admires his ingenuity.
Stephen Jeffrey: Born in Walterboro, SC; thought he wanted to be an art teacher when he was growing up. But, one day when he was sitting in the chair, the local barber suggested beauty school to him and shortly thereafter, off he went to the Charleston School of Cosmetology. One of his teachers there was Beaufort’s beloved Dusty Connor, who remembers Stephen’s commitment to the pursuit of his studies. “That boy was dedicated! Every day Stephen would arrive early for class, then one day he wasn’t early, he wasn’t on time and just when everyone started to be concerned, he walked in. It turned out that he had car problems and walked a good deal of the 50 miles from his home to the school.”
Stephen feels that his calling to minister to people is amplified when they are sitting in his chair, “Sometimes, they can’t even look at themselves straight in the mirror. The things that were done to people, words that were spoken over them, need to be broken. I have to talk to that person, to help them feel better about themselves; it has become part of my ministry.”
“We want so bad to seek the approval of our fathers
We want so bad to hear affirmations from our mothers
You see their dreams began when we were little boys
Wanting sometimes to fulfill their dreams that were destroyed.”
Stephen was sitting in a church in Orlando, FL when he was about 20; the pastor turned around and looked him, and said, “You: apricot hair, chains, combat boots – do you play music?” Stephen answered, “No.” The pastor replied, “Watch what happens in six months.” That Christmas, out of the blue, his brother gave him a guitar.”
Stephen remembers singing in a Baptist Church with some friends when an old man told him to keep going; “I’d never planned on it, but God knows what we don’t. If we’re willing to be open, God will get us where we need to be. The mountain is high and we can only see the part of the road that we’re on at the moment, but that is enough to keep us going; the whole picture isn’t revealed all at once.”
Alex asks: “Hey guys, are we going to wear plaid?” The unanimous response is “Plaid!” These boys love their plaid shirts and take armfuls of them to photo shoots and gigs. They pay attention to detail. Perfectionists with humility, they want to do their best, not for their personal egos but in the eyes of the God that saved them from themselves. That’s not to say they don’t have egos, they are all good looking and talented men with a fine sense of humor to boot, but it’s their gratitude to a Higher Power that sustains and guides them. And their sense of brotherhood is tangible.
Alex Castillo: Born in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, spent early years in Bogota, Colombia; both parents were preachers in the Church of God in Bogota. When he was in Bogota, Alex played the recorder in the school band and sang in the church choir. “I was brought up in a church and household that taught me that Jesus loves everyone, that we are all the same in the eyes of God. When I was 9 we moved to a small town in rural Georgia and it was a huge culture shock. Racism was everywhere and I remember seeing Klansmen handing out brochures in a park. I couldn’t wrap my head around how I was treated – a Spanish boy being bullied in a Southern redneck town. So I hopped the church fence and became rebellious because I thought God had let me down.”
Alex describes those years as being a curious lost teenager who was searching for answers. Some of that searching inevitably led to trouble and he found himself in a detention center. Metaphorically and realistically, that place and his life at that time, were places of darkness where he could find no joy. Then, out of the blue, a man by the name of Neil Bush showed up. Neil was a music minister and he talked with Alex and shared his own story, he took his top teeth out and told Alex that his teeth had disintegrated as a result of using crack. Alex recalls, “I saw what I had been looking for in a cafeteria in a detention center – that everyone is broken.”
One night, Alex was leading a worship in a venue in Port Wentworth, GA that had been a truck stop bar, it had pool tables, a boxing ring, and a stage. There, he met Stephen who was wearing bell bottoms and had long hair, Alex had long hair also – they hit if off immediately. Over time, they decided to start a band, added a touring drummer, and got some studio time in Asheville, NC where they recorded their first CD together.
Adam Brinks: Born in Grand Rapids, MI. In high school he got a phone call, out of the blue, from an Army recruiter who said to him,”Have you ever thought about your future?” “I had never had been out of Grand Rapids, MI. In 1998, after graduation, I got on a plane and went to Ft. Jackson, SC. From there I as sent to Virginia, then to Ft. Campbell, KY, next to South Korea for two years, and back to Ft. Campbell.” A Chinook Helicopter mechanic, in 2007 Adam chose the opportunity to transfer to Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, GA.
Adam had a musical background – “My mothers family is musical. When I was in school I played in the band and I practiced 45 – 60 minutes every night. I played the trombone, the upright bass and bass guitar. My band leader and my mother’s persistence kept me on the musical path.”
When he was a child his family went to church all the time, but he stopped going during the time he had been in the Army – there had been lots of moves, times away because of deployments. Since 2001 Adam has deployed 11 times to Afghanistan, and 1 time to Iraq. Later this year he will go to Afghanistan again. “But,” he said “I knew I needed to be part of a church and my wife said she needed me to go to church with her, so we went. The first thing I saw when I walked in was Alex and his wife on the stage. The Holy Spirit hit me between the eyes when I got into that church and saw Alex on the stage; I asked how I could be a part of that. It turned out that the bass player they had was leaving.”
Alex and Stephen were part of Soul Music Ministry at that time. The first day Adam was to practice with them, he was riding his motorcycle, had an accident and broke his collarbone. Adam’s desire to participate in what they were doing was so strong that he went to practice anyway, bleeding and broken; the symbolism of that was not lost on any of them.
Adam’s military background has taught him about leadership, chain of command, doing duty, and following your leader. “I saw Alex and Stephen as spiritual leaders, I had to be part of what they were doing, it never occurred to me to do otherwise. Now we’re submitted to that church; we’re raising 4 small children in a Christian home. I have been on active duty, I have 4 more years. I don’t see what the future holds but I know God will take care of us.”
“She sits quietly by the window
Lost in her thoughts
She’s waiting and she’s praying
For her husband in the war
Trying to fight back feelings
Of loneliness and fear
She prays to the Father
Who always lends an ear”
Tony Cox: hails from Asheville, NC. After graduation in 1985, he went into the Army the following year for the next 5 years. Tony started playing the drums when he was 4, had his first drum kit when he was 5 and went on the road at age 6. He came from a musical family – his uncles and father played with the Southern Gospel group, the Peacemakers, and they took Tony along to play with them. He traveled with them until he was 7 at which time the school board insisted that he attend school. His uncle drowned in 1976 and that was the end of the Peacemakers.
Having played all kinds of music all his life, in 1990 Tony decided to give it up because he realized he had seen what music and touring and playing certain venues did to families; he wanted his children to be raised in a stable home. However, in 2008 he decided to give it another go and play music with his two sons, carrying on the family tradition. When his older son went away to college, they disbanded.
When Reckless Mercy was playing in Asheville, Tony sat in with them and after a bit of soul searching, decided he wanted to be their drummer. He made a phone call to Stephen and left him a message telling him that he wanted to play with them when, out of the blue, Stephen called Tony and asked him to be their drummer. Tony told Stephen, “Hang up and listen to your phone message!”
Tony summarizes, “We were brought together for a reason. We respect one another; three years ago we were four guys who played music together, we have transformed our goal into a ministry. Our common desire is to stand out of Gods way and let Him take us where He wants us to go. Now we are playing about 45 weekends a year and traveling all over to do so.” As a band, they all have families, jobs, and one is in active military duty, yet they get together to play almost every weekend. Our strength, and faith, comes from making mistakes.”
Stephen concurs, “We’ve all tried and come up wanting. We share our stories and see who walks through the door.”
We’re sure you caught their performance on Saturday evening at StreetMusic on Paris Avenue in Port Royal. Don’t miss them at Beaufort’s Homegrown Music Fest held at USCB, where they’ll be playing on Saturday, June 7th.
For more information, please find the Reckless Mercy videos on youtube or vimeo and visit their website: www.recklessmercy.com
Story by Mary Ellen Thompson and above photos by John Wollwerth for Beaufort Lifestyle Magazine. Published bi-monthly, Beaufort Lifestyle is a classy, sophisticated publication about the wonderful people, places and events of Beaufort, Port Royal and the Sea Islands. Grab your free copy at any one of 200 area locations or check it out online at BeaufortLifestyle.com.
Photos from Reckless Mercy at StreetMusic on Paris Avenue, May 17th.