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Urban Christian group influenced by music at early age

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Posted: Friday, November 22, 2013 4:30 am

They’ve had music in their blood since they were youngsters when they used to sneak into the church to play drums and piano. Today, these men use their God-given talents to influence and bring others to Christ.

The urban contemporary gospel group, Influenz, rocked concert-goers at Unity Baptist Church on Saturday night with songs from its first album “Returned.”

The trio is made up of three Copperas Cove musicians — Derrick A. Gilbert, Travis Griggs, and Michael “Mike Jon” Johnson. They are one of the newest acts signed to Tate Music Group and will release their first album early next year.

“I cleaned the church twice a week when I was 9,” Gilbert said. “When I was done, I would lock the church but stay inside and play the drums and piano.”

The three men, who came from different regions of the country, ended up in Cove and are now making music together as their careers take off.

Gilbert, 36, is the leader of the group. He went on his first professional tour when he was only 8, singing contemporary gospel tunes in Arkansas and Tennessee. He grew up in Little Rock, and joined the Army where he sang and played secular music in Korea and Iraq.

Griggs grew up in New Jersey and comes from a musical family where his mother and sister also sing and his father was an organist. He relocated to Cove to live with his grandmother and said God put him here to praise him through music.

“I would sit by my father on his lap as he played the organ and I would mimic him,” said Griggs, 23. “That’s when I fell in love with music.”

He later learned to play the drums in exchange for fried chicken.

“A man in our church played the drums. I asked him to teach me,” Griggs said. “He agreed if I would make him fried chicken for his father. To say the least, I made a lot of chicken.”

Johnson, 21, said he put his “life on hold” when his aunt died and he stayed in Cove to help his cousin.

He has worked with several musicians but believes God intended for the three to form Influenz.

“I would sneak into the church when I was young but couldn’t figure out how to turn the power on. So, all I could play was the drums,” Johnson said.

Johnson graduated high school at 16 after completing his first music tour at 15.

He attended the School of Audio Engineering in Manhattan and has performed in Amsterdam, Holland and Canada and across the U.S.

“I have always had a passion for music,” Johnson said. “I started out beating on pots and pans in the kitchen floor.”

All three play multiple instruments. Gilbert plays the drums, piano and guitar and sings lead vocals.

Griggs plays drums, percussion, piano, tenor sax, base guitar and spoons, and sings. Johnson works as the producer for the group but also plays the piano, drums, base guitar, organ, violin, all percussion instruments, xylophone and alto sax. He sings back-up vocals.

“We’re not trying to preach a culture but live life as we’re supposed to,” Gilbert said. “We’re using our talents to do kingdom-building for Christ.”

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