by Mark Ellis, Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
With a rich four-octave range, he’s been called a “singer’s singer,” and his luminous songwriting and production abilities have led to film scores and source music for feature films like “Perfect Storm” and “Inspector Gadget,” as well as numerous television series such as “Melrose Place,” “90210,” “The X-Files,” and “Baywatch.”
His efforts on behalf of victims of genocide in Sudan through his “Make Me Your Voice” CD project earned a trip to the White House. But few know the full story of a life that nearly ended prematurely in a haze of youthful rebellion, misdirection, and family mayhem-until a new door opened in his life.
“I smoked my first joint at six-years-old and did my first line of cocaine at nine,” says Ken Tamplin, 40, the recipient of several Dove Awards and founder of Tamplin Music. “I was raised in a predominately Christian home and my father was well-to-do, but there was little parental supervision and we were allowed to run amuck,” he says.
While he salutes his mother as a “prayer warrior” during this period, his father was largely absent, pursuing success in the business world. Even though he remembers making a decision for Christ at age six, he spent the remainder of his youth running from God.
Tamplin found access to drugs through his older brother, a well-known drug dealer in Orange County, California, who landed in jail several times due to his activities. “I would take over his business when he was in jail,” Tamplin says. His drug dealing involvement escalated between the ages of nine and 12 during his older brother’s “disappearances” from the home.
“At 12 I made a rocket out of an empty CO2 cartridge,” Tamplin says. “I assumed that if you took match heads and match powder and packed it in nice and tight it would shoot farther,” he says. Tamplin used a hammer and Allen wrench to pound the explosive powder tightly into the cartridge. “I didn’t realize I was making a very deadly pipe bomb.”
Tamplin remembers his father watching his dangerous endeavor unfold the night before his scheduled “launch,” but he made no effort to intervene. “The next day I lit it and it exploded.” The concussive blast near his body immediately ripped through his stomach, destroying his spleen and part of his colon. “I was rushed to the hospital and expected to die,” he recalls. “Peritonitis and a staph infection set in to a degree they pretty much guaranteed I would die.”
“Mom was completely distraught and overwhelmed and she got prayer chains all across the country to pray for me,” Tamplin says. When his mother went home from the hospital, not knowing if her son would die, she opened the pages of the Bible, and her eyes immediately fell on a verse saying: “Thy son liveth.”
“The letters were jumping off the page and it practically knocked her over,” Tamplin says. “She grabbed her Bible and raced down to the hospital and showed the doctors,” he says. Despite her newfound hope, the doctors informed her the staph infection had spread and they would have to leave the wound completely open. “I was in excruciating pain,” Tamplin adds.
Then the waiting game began as Tamplin tried to bargain with God. “I said, “If you just save me I swear I’ll never take another drug again as long as I live.”
“Several days went by and they wondered why I hadn’t died yet,” Tamplin says. “Then they took another blood sample and found the staph infection had gotten so low it seemed like I would recover,” he says. “I was supposed to be in the hospital three months and I got out in six weeks.”
While doctors had prepared him for possible lifetime use of a colostomy bag, something unexpected occurred. “The colon fused together miraculously,” he says.
After leaving the hospital, Tamplin was reunited with his old circle of friends, who immediately began to tempt him again with drugs. “I delved back into drugs considerably worse than before,” he says, forgetting his bargain with God. “I got into angel dust and smoking heroin. I overdosed on angel dust three times.”
“My parents got so disgusted with me,” he recalls. They decided to send Tamplin to a drug rehab camp in the local mountains operated by Melodyland Christian Center. “I remember looking for the bad kids on the first day and I found them,” Tamplin says. Ever the rebel, he called a drug buddy on the phone to bring drugs and beer up to his three new friends and they proceeded to indulge themselves.
Tamplin didn’t realize two of his new friends were also preacher’s kids. “We got high and they went back and they narced on me,” he says. The operators of the camp decided to make an example of Tamplin by publicly excoriating him in front of the other young people and sending him home. Humiliated and enraged, he vowed never to set foot at any activity operated by Melodyland Christian Center.
Back home, things were going from bad to worse, as Tamplin’s father divorced his mother and married his secretary. “We started spiraling out of control financially,” Tamplin says. The family went from living in a very affluent area near a country club to a rundown condominium, and then finally to a succession of hotels and motels.
“Mom started pawning off furniture, the piano, and the television,” he says. “She wasn’t working and she hadn’t worked in the 22 years of their marriage, so you can imagine.” At the same time, Tamplin’s sister ran away from home and his older brother was in jail. “It was just me, my mom, and my little brother.”
Meanwhile, Tamplin got into a jam with a cocaine dealer because he built up a $5,000 debt. “I had fronted cocaine out to a bunch of other people who hadn’t paid me,” Tamplin says. The drug dealer pressured Tamplin for repayment in an unforgettable way.
“He chased me down an alley on a motorcycle to where I lived and bashed the front door down and actually rode inside the house,” Tamplin says. “I bolted out the back door and over a fence so he couldn’t catch me.”
About a week later, Tamplin’s mother came to him with a heartfelt request. “Will you go to church with me?” she asked. “I can’t go alone-I need the support,” she said.
“Where are you going?” Tamplin asked.
“Melodyland Christian Center,” she said.
“No!” he replied. “I ain’t going to Melodyland.”
“It’s the only place I feel comfortable,” she said. “Please, I beg you.”
Reluctantly, Tamplin gave in. “Fine, we’ll sit in the back on the farthest side.”
Melodyland Christian Center, headed by noted charismatic pastor Ralph Wilkerson, was located across the street from Disneyland. As Tamplin and his mother settled into their seats in the round auditorium, staring down at the stage in the center, they were both surprised when Wilkerson started his message. “There is a young man out there who is 14, but he looks 25-years-old,” Wilkerson began.
“I looked at mom and I was fuming mad,” Tamplin admits, thinking she had called Wilkerson in advance. Meanwhile, Tamplin’s mother started “bawling her head off.”
“God wants you to make a decision today,” Wilkerson said. “Today is the day,” he said. “I fear if you don’t make a decision today, you won’t live much longer.” Tamplin started feeling butterflies in his stomach, as he considered whether Wilkerson spoke the truth.
“You owe someone money,” Wilkerson continued. “I want to say it’s $5,000.”
“I thought, ‘Oh my God! Mom didn’t know about this one.’ As the seconds ticked by and no one got up to come forward the choir started to sing.
Then Tamplin felt a powerful force lift him up. “It was literally as if someone shoved me out of my seat and pushed me down the aisle like a dog,” he remembers. After a few moments Wilkerson spotted Tamplin coming toward the stage.
“That’s him!” Wilkerson shouted. “That’s the young man I saw.” When Tamplin drew near, Wilkerson grabbed him and hauled him up next to the podium, then he barked out, “Congregation-pray!”
In the next few moments, Tamplin felt something he never felt before or any time since. “I’d never been slain in the spirit and I didn’t even know what it was,” he says. “But I fell backwards as if someone took weighted warm air like a bucket and swooshed it over my body. I couldn’t move-I was stunned.”
“I felt the presence of God. I felt healing and power. It was like being baptized but you’re not wet when you get up.”
Despite this life-changing experience for Tamplin, he and his mother returned to a motel room where they faced some harsh realities. “We were out of money and totally destitute,” he says. They were staying in a “roach-infested motel that smelled like bug spray” straddling the border of two cities-Whittier and La Habra. “Mom had $5 to her name, a beat-up AMC Gremlin with no gas in it, and we had one jar of peanut butter left.”
Then his mother contemplated the unthinkable. “The only thing she could recommend she knew to do was for us to take a big bottle of Valium and commit suicide together,” Tamplin says, his voice breaking with emotion. “She prayed-she didn’t know where else to go.”
“There was a little black and white TV with a coat hanger antenna in the room and there was a TV program called Operation Blessing that was a Pat Robertson show. Ben Kinchlow was on and he said, ‘There’s a family in Whittier, California and you’re thinking of committing suicide. Don’t do it. Call the number on the screen and we’ll get help to you’.”
“We called the number on the screen and received $25 from the Salvation Army, and a pastor came by and gave us a food voucher for $25,” Tamplin recalls. “I got a job after school selling carpet door-to-door and mom worked a little here and there.”
Their fortunes slowly began to turn around. “We got a little apartment,” Tamplin says. “We just grew from that and God started opening doors in my life,” he says. “I came to realize life is what you make it in Christ.”
One of the unforeseen benefits of their nomadic lifestyle is Tamplin lost touch with some of his drug-dealing friends. “Because we moved so much I lost contact with people,” he says. “The drug dealer had no way of finding me.”
“If you consecrate and relinquish everything to Him and get out of the way it will shock you what God can do with your life,” he adds. “One day I could be washing dishes and the next I could be meeting the President of the United States for helping with the Sudan issue, or playing on stage with well-known people.”
Tamplin’s musical gifts began to be recognized at a young age, as he joined a succession of rock groups such as Joshua, Shout, and Magdallan. With his rich vocal range, he was also asked to sing with groups such as Foreigner, Jeff Lynn, Geazer Butler, and Peter Frampton. Many also began to recognize his production abilities, which led to his work on numerous feature films and TV programs.
His recent “Make Me Your Voice” CD project to raise money for the victims of genocide in Sudan and to promote a peaceful end to the Sudan conflict featured noted Christian music artists such as Andrae Crouch and Charlie Peacock. His efforts also gained him an invitation to meet President Bush when Bush signed the Sudan Peace Act into law in 2002.
“He was very warm, sincere, and attentive,” Tamplin says, of his meeting with President Bush. “I felt like I was the only person in the room with him. He signed a card for my son and daughter, and I told him we were praying for him.”
“You know, I really appreciate the prayers,” Bush told Tamplin. “People ask me, ‘Aren’t you exhausted and fatigued? And I say, ‘No-I have the whole nation praying for me. I can really feel the prayers of the people’,” Bush told him.
Tamplin also produced a documentary called “Footsteps of Peace” with Calvary Chapel Pastor Gary Kusonoki, which they hoped would lead to greater understanding between Christians and Muslims and advance peace efforts in Sudan. So far, the documentary has aired five times throughout the Muslim world. A second documentary will be released as soon as the current peace accord is solidified.
Despite Tamplin’s heavy media involvement, he doesn’t receive cable TV in his home, but does own one television set with an antenna allowing reception of a few programs, mostly due to concerns about his children. “We watch “Fear Factor” as a family-that’s our one program we watch together,” Tamplin says.
“I know it’s a gateway for me and a portal for them,” Tamplin adds. “I pray that I stay as conservative as necessary to shield them for as long as necessary,” he says, expressing his concern for his eight and ten-year-old. Most of the content on television he views as “garbage,” and a time waster. On Wednesday nights, he and his family play games together at home. “I’m not trying to sound like Ozzie and Harriet, but we go out of our way to be good parents,” he says.
After a brief stint leading worship at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, which he found disappointing, he is currently involved with a church plant called “The Gate,” which meets at Laguna Hills High School, the same place Saddleback Church got started. Tamplin’s younger brother Lance is also involved in the church plant and shares in the teaching.
Tamplin just produced a new worship CD he describes as unique. “It’s like no other worship CD I’ve heard,” he says. “We were able to make a soundtrack where we didn’t care about the flavor of the month and all the wangle jangle stuff coming out of Nashville that all sounds exactly the same. It’s a very creative throw-back 70s record done for the 21st Century with crazy great fidelity and production.”
“I love doing things with excellence for God,” Tamplin adds.
Over and above the successes in his career, Tamplin’s greatest satisfaction comes from the changes within his family. “My whole family is back to Christ,” Tamplin reports, including his older brother and sister. “It’s miraculous. I attribute that to the prayers of a mother,” he says. “My mom has camel’s knees.”