The Ohio-based gospel group Half Mile Home is scheduled to release a new album, Church Muzik & Inspiration, on November 6. The 14-track CD offers a wide range of music from traditional to contemporary gospel with and urban twist.
The four members of the musically self-contained group—Terrance “Buttons” Burton (lead vocalist, drummer and songwriter), Todd “Ty Traxx” Burton (pianist and producer), Darryl “Deaken” Brownlee (lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter) and Dwayne “Weezie” Satterfield (bass player)—grew up as “church boys” in Akron, Ohio, before embarking on a career in R&B music in the 1990s. In 2004, they returned to their gospel roots, but brought some of their R&B and hip-hop vibe with them, resulting in a unique and engaging musical style with a message of hope and encouragement. That inspirational musical blend is on full display on the Church Muzik & Inspiration CD.
The new single, “So Good,” uses the tune from Billy Preston’s 1970s hit, “Nothing From Nothing,” as the bases of a song that celebrates how good God is. “The tune is familiar, so it grabs people’s attention,” he says. “They think we’re going to sing one thing, but then we’re talking about how good God is. Not enough people talk about how good God is, and we need to start talking more about it. We need to be encouraging. That’s one of the reasons I wrote this song.”
“We [Half Mile Home] have been together for a long time,” says Todd Burton, producer of Half Mile Home. “We are looking forward to getting on the road to promote the new single and album. We are blessed to still be in the music business, singing and doing what we love best. But more importantly, we are in service to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Half Mile Home has received a great deal of support from various industry veterans such as Dr. Bobby Jones and Fred Hammond. “A group like this is very rare,” says Fred Hammond. “The guys are self-contained—they write, produce, play and sing. They remind me of my group Commissioned.” Dr. Bobby Jones, best known for giving so many artists their break in gospel music, says, “I predict that this group will have long lasting success.”
The album features praise and worship songs, quartet music, and traditional and contemporary gospel and inspirational music. However, in many ways, Half Mile Home’s powerful sound defies categorization. “It’s very difficult to put us into any certain box,” says Buttons. “I would just say its God music. Instead of Rhythm & Blues, it’s Rhythm & Light. We most definitely have rhythm, and we’re trying to show our light. We’re making sure we show people that there’s a possibility to continue to let your light shine through Christ. We’re trying to do that on a daily basis.”
All of the songs on the CD were written by Half Mile Home members, particularly the musically gifted brothers, Buttons and Todd. “Our intention, when we were creating this album, was to have something that could minister to all people: the saved as well as the unsaved,” says Todd. “Our purpose for this particular album was to create music that everybody could relate to. And with God leading us, we’ve been able to successfully put that together on this new project.
In 2004, Half Mile Home’s debut gospel project, aptly named The Movement, was released by the esteemed label, Malaco Records. The album’s single, “Do It Again,” was a huge success, establishing them as rising gospel artists. The group travels around the country to minister to audiences at churches, concerts and community events. Their unique sound and high energy have attracted fans of all ages and a range of musical preferences.
Half Mile Home’s musical journey began in the church, but, inspired and influenced by Ohio’s music industry VIPs such as the O’Jays, the Ohio Players, Babyface, Roger Troutman & Zapp, Tracy Chapman, Macy Gray, Lakeside, and The Deele, as well as hometown music idols Howard Hewitt and James Ingram, who both hail from Akron, the group’s members set their sights on being the next successful R&B group to come out of the Buckeye State. In the early 1990s, the group was on its way to fulfilling that dream when they landed a recording contract with Dick Griffey’s legendary Solar Records, where the group was given the provocative name, 1-900. Handling the production for 1-900’s debut album was Jodeci’s leader Devanté Swing and his Swing Mob production team. With their smooth sound and tight harmonies, the quartet was gaining attention in the industry. But not long after the release of their debut album, Solar Records unexpectedly shuttered its doors, leaving the group without a home. Columbia Records picked up some of Solar’s artists, including 1-900, but the group did not like the direction they were going in, so they did not pen a deal.
In the mid-1990s, Buttons, Todd Ty Traxx, Deaken and Weezie decided to regroup, starting with changing the group’s name to After The Rain. During that time, some of the group members ventured out on their own. Weezie landed a position as bass player in Jodeci’s live and studio bands. At the same time, Buttons was signed to Raphael Saadiq’s label, Pookie Records, as a solo artist, and also secured a position as a staff songwriter for the production company of Ohio luminary Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. The label never came through with an album for Buttons, and he decided to turn his full attention to After The Rain.
The group again met with some success and went on tour with artists such as Anita Baker, Gerald Lavert, Ginuwine, Dru Hill, Next, Case and Michael Cooper, but over time it became evident that the group members didn’t feel at home with the R&B lifestyle. All were raised in the church and many are preachers’ kids, and it turned out that you can take the man out of the church, but you can’t take the church out of the man. “None of us smoke or drink and to see that, and some other things, on a consistent basis was really tough for us,” says Buttons. “We had to hold each other accountable for what we stood for.” What the group members didn’t understand at the time was that their actions were ministering to the other musicians. “When we would go around the other musicians, they would hide their cigarettes and their drinks,” Buttons continues. We didn’t know that we were making witness to the fact that God is still in control and that our colleagues respected who we were.”
Their discomfort on the tour led to some serious soul searching among group members about the direction of their careers. Out of that process, came the decision to go back to their roots and transition from R&B to gospel. As they were preparing to change the focus of their music, the group literally got a sign that led to second name change.
“We were coming back to town after being on the road,” explains Buttons. “I knew that I was done with R&B and we had pretty much decided to do gospel music. As we were driving down the highway and getting closer to Akron, I saw a road sign that said we were a half a mile away from Akron, which meant we were a half mile from home. I knew that was it. Half Mile Home fit us so perfectly. It spoke to our transition.”
When the group isn’t on the road or in the studio, the members, who are all entrepreneurs, run their businesses, serve their churches, and spend as much time as they can with their families. The members of Half Mile Home have no regrets about their decision to walk away from their R&B dreams and use their talents to serve God. “At the end of the day, the idea is to be active and bless people by using your art to tell what God is doing for you,” says Buttons. Todd agrees. “R&B just wasn’t where we felt we needed to be. We knew that we were supposed to be doing something different. And we came back to do it for the glory of God, and we’re here to stay.”
Listen to their latest single, “So Good” below.