“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. “ Jeremiah 29:11
Country Music Artist and Songwriter Jeff Bates is a testament to this scripture. At the age of 54, Jeff has seen the best of times, the worst of times, and is now using these life lessons as a tool to help others. His incredible story is one of inspiration that should be written in stone to be shared with the world in order to show people that no matter how bad things are going in your life, there is always room for redemption. This is his story:
Jeff Bates was born in Mobile, Alabama on September 19,1963 to a life he was probably fortunate enough to not remember. At just 3 months old, Jeff was placed on the doorstep of a sharecropper couple in the wee hours of the morning. Awakened by his cries, they were startled to find a very sick infant in a basket in a soiled diaper wrapped in a blanket on their porch. The blanket he was draped in, as well as much of Jeff’s little body, was covered with burns and he had double pneumonia. The Bates opened their hearts and home to this child, as they nursed him back to health. He was an answer to their prayers, a gift from God…
The Bates had only been married just a couple of years and desperately wanted a large family, although despite the prayers and efforts, had not happened yet. Both had come from abusive homes and wanted as many children as God would bless them with so they could give them a loving and secure home they had never had.
For the next year, The Bates did everything they could to find out who Jeff belonged to by placing ads in newspapers in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisana, but no one ever came forward. So, after a year of silence, they formally adopted Jeff and raised him as one their own. The Bates would go on to have the large family they had always dreamed of by rearing eight children, in addition to Jeff.
As he grew into a boy, Jeff would never question why he was the only one out of nine children not to have blonde hair and blue eyes. At the age of seven, Jeff got into a fight on the school bus with another boy who would reveal this life-altering information by lashing out “You don’t really belong to those people. You’re not a Bates and you don’t belong here.”
Jeff ran home crying with these questions for his parents and his fears were confirmed. Jeff’s mother told him the truth in a very honest method. “I just want you to know that out of all these kids, you’re special, because we got to pick you.” Jeff didn’t take this news well, and really started paying attention to the differences between him and his siblings. He felt like he didn’t belong anymore and began to withdraw from friends. His introverted behavior would follow him throughout his high school years.
Jeff’s mother was a huge musical influence in his life because she, too, was a singer. None of his siblings would have this gift. Jeff could remember sitting out on the porch at night listening to her sing and singing along with her. It would ignite a passion for music in him that would carry him throughout his life. At the age of 11, Jeff traded a rusty old 57 Chevrolet Bel Air given to him by his father for his first Fender guitar. That guitar was always by his side wherever he went. He would sleep with it and take it to school with him.
When Jeff was 15, he accepted Christ as his Saviour. And although he would stray later from these beliefs, he would eventually find his way back.
People began to take notice of his “Conway-style” voice and at the age of 17, Jeff got his first gig playing at a night club. Unfortunately, Jeff began to take notice of new ways to numb his pain from feeling misplaced in the world. He began to drink heavily, followed by the introduction of crystal meth in his life, which sent him into a downward spiral. The first time Jeff did meth, he was hooked. He did whatever he could do to get his next fix, which included stealing from family and friends.
So, the pattern was pretty much set for Jeff for the next 20 years. He would work a daytime job and then play gigs on the weekend. This destructive path he was on eventually tangled with law enforcement world and his problems began to mount. Jeff had given up on his faith in God. He no longer believed that God, Jesus, or even the devil didn’t exist anymore, it was only the survival of the fittest.
But on March 14, 2001, things would come to a head when Jeff found himself in the back of a police car after being arrested for grand theft in Nashville. Many would think this was the end of his story, but for Jeff, it was his saving grace. “It saved my life”, he admitted, “I was slowly dying.”
In jail, they told Jeff he was looking at a sentence of six to fifteen years. It was a sobering revelation, and he hit his knees to pray to God to show him the way. Jeff knew that his actions alone had landed him in jail, so he didn’t ask God to get him out, but yet, he asked God to change him. “I had lost everything I’d ever had. I had ruined every relationship I had ever had in my life with lies, emotional abuse, used them, or stole from them.”
Jeff was given the option to attend a 12-step rehab program, and he willingly entered the program. Part of Jeff’s rehab was to make a list of all the people he had wronged and then make amends. Jeff said he asked God to be with him as he placed calls to everyone on his list with his apology and promise to pay them back somehow. Another step was to make a list of everybody he had ever felt anger and resentment for in his life. Jeff said he surprised himself when he turned in a 40- page letter three days later. “I had blamed everyone else for everything that had ever happened to me in life but myself. But I was the problem, so I kept working on that.”
45 days into his jail sentence, as he continually asked God to help let go of the anger and guilt, Jeff got his epiphany, when a Biblical scene began to play out before his very eyes just like watching a movie, where religious leaders were trying to trick Jesus into saying something wrong, so they could kill him. Jeff said was the realest thing he had ever experienced, and he began to let go of all those harbored feelings. With the weight finally from his guilt-ridden shoulders, he went to bed and slept better than he had in years. He finally felt free.
The very next day, Jeff got his first jail visitor, his song plugger from Warner Chapel, a record deal he had lost when he went to jail. During that visit, Jeff was then informed that some of his songs he had written had been recorded that very day by big name country artists, such as Gene Watson, Montgomery Gentry, and Tracy Lawrence. Another gift from God, he said.
Jeff continued his daily prayer ritual for God to show him the way and was once again blessed when the judge gave him a 15- year suspended sentence and one- year probation. He got out of jail with only the clothes on his back and was given a life line by a friend, who he had once stolen from. This friend shoved the very guitar Jeff had once stolen from and told him to start writing songs again and get his record deal back. His friend also gave him a place to stay and some clothes. Jeff got a job pouring concrete and slowly began crossing names off his list of people he had once stolen from to pay back. Within a year, he had paid every one of them back.
And the rest is history…
One year to the day he got out of jail, he got a call from RCA records for a record deal. At the age of 37, Jeff’s dream was finally coming true, thanks to God and perseverance. His first album “Rainbow Man” produced two hits on the Billboard national chart, “Long, Slow Kisses” and “I Wanna Make You Cry”. He would go on to have seven songs on the Billboard charts over time. At present time, he has a #9 song on the Christian Country Inspirational Chart called “Judging Judas”. He still writes songs and has a couple of songs on hold by Alan Jackson.
Over the course of his career, Jeff has probably written over 2000 songs. He travels from town to town playing gigs all over from bars to small venues. And on Sunday morning, he’s in church sharing his story. He remains clean and sober after 17 years of that fateful incident that re-shaped his life.
Jeff is completely content with his life and has dedicated his life to helping those facing drug and alcohol addictions. Through the Jeff Bates Ministries, he travels to jails, prisons, and recovery programs to share his story with others to let them know that they are not alone and there’s a better way. “We spend most of our lives trying to make others happy and fail miserably. What does work is making ourselves happy through Christ. Then we can help others”, Jeff says with a smile.
On Friday night, Dec. 1st, Jeff Bates will play at the historic Ashland Theatre “An Acoustic Christmas” and will feature his Christmas CD “Once Upon a Star”. All songs on this CD were wrote by Jeff and tell the story of Christmas in his own way. Jeff reconnected with his love for Christmas through his 12-step program 16 years ago, and now embraces it in every way. Jeff and his seven-year-old daughter spend a lot of quality time watching those old Christmas classics, such as “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer”. Jeff invites everyone to his performance for a night filled with the Holy Spirit and the Christmas Season.