Music disciple

UGA music grad has found success in Christian rock, winning a Grammy as part of the group Third Day

Music disciple

Scotty Wilbanks

Photo by: Special

Scotty Wilbanks spent his college nights and weekends playing in clubs, churches, weddings and at other gigs across the Southeast.

Back then, his audiences didn’t care that he was a student majoring in music education at UGA’s Hugh Hodgson School of Music. They cared that Wilbanks knew how to sing and entertain them on the saxophone, piano and keyboards. They didn’t realize that his talents were being honed and developed by day at UGA, during a period of his life that Wilbanks calls crucial to his success as the keyboard player for the Grammy-winning band Third Day and as a Grammy-nominated, Dove Award-winning record producer.  

“I took my last exam and literally left and got on a tour bus that night,” says Wilbanks, who lives in suburban Atlanta.

That was to be a roadie with Christian group NewSong, which invited Wilbanks a couple of months later to join the group, performing for larger audiences than the Athens clubs where he got his start.

“The University of Georgia was one of those dominos in my life that had to be in place. It launched me into NewSong and from there into working on other people’s records, then to Third Day,” he says.

The demanding music degree program equipped Wilbanks, who came to UGA as a saxophonist, for his work touring with bands and as a producer for groups including Grammy nominees After Edmund and DecembeRadio, also recipients of Dove Awards, the hallmark of the Christian music industry. His 2009 touring schedule took him from London to Slovakia to South Africa.

“The biggest thing at Georgia was it forced me to really focus on the craft, performing and just the discipline of practicing every day for hours,” Wilbanks says.

Even years later, Wilbanks finds he uses UGA training as he works on arrangements and melodies with younger, up-and-coming artists in the business.

“The degree comes into play subconsciously,” he says. “When I’m in a position where I need that knowledge, it just comes to my brain really fast.”

—Lori Johnston is a writer living in Watkinsville.