Scott Riggan sits at a monument designating Freezeout Hill in Emmett. Scott is a musician who, at 53, brings a more mature perspective to his lyrics and who feels his newly released recording reflects what he’s gained from his life experiences. (Photo by Michael Sean H.)
By Gaye Bunderson
When local Christian recording artist Scott Riggan was 3 years old, he slipped away from his mother while at church and ran to the front of the congregation to belt out a song. Naturally, the adults laughed at his impromptu performance. His reaction? The grown-ups’ chuckles made him mad.
“I didn’t think I was cute, I wanted to be taken seriously,” Scott said.
Music has always been fundamental to Scott’s existence; and in more ways than one, it all started in church.
“We were a church-going family, and me, my dad, and brother would perform,” Scott said. Obviously, he’s been more than a toddler soloist, but he had a deep love for all things musical from a very early age.
“I sang all the time,” he said.
Around the age of 5, he started piano lessons. He picked it up quickly and preferred unrestricted creativity over following precise musical notes on a page. He’d fetch himself a bit of trouble from his teacher when he’d play one song while seemingly reading another. “I was creating my little melodies – I’ve always been fascinated by music,” he said.
He honed his singing skills in a similar fashion. When the eldest Riggan, who plays guitar, would go into a room and shut the door for some privacy, Scott admits he really wanted to be in the room to share musical moments with his father. Thankfully, he was allowed in and not only bonded with his dad but also got some informal singing lessons. “I would try to imitate Dad. I was noticing the vibrato in his voice, and I would try to do that,” he said. He was only 4 years old.
Scott came to Idaho from Redding, Calif. to attend Boise Bible College, where he majored in general Bible studies. He said he never felt called to be a pastor and that music has always been his passion. In his 20s, he lived in Nashville and wrote hundreds of songs for a Christian publishing company and traveled extensively with a Christian rock band.
He and his band paid to record an album with a Christian recording company. Later, after recording the album, the company cast off its Christian label and took all the references to Jesus out of the lyrics before the songs were aired. Money and musical credibility as a faith-based band were compromised.
“At the end of it all, we asked ourselves, ‘How did we find ourselves in this place? Was it just a waste?’” Scott said. They felt it had all amounted to a total loss until a bandmate spoke up and pointed out that for two entire years, they’d met and talked to people who’d never known a Christian before and got the opportunity to share the Gospel with them. At the end of their time as a band, they realized they may not know in this lifetime just how many people they influenced, said Scott.
“My professional background is profoundly strange,” said the now 53-year-old. He worked in Christian radio in Nashville and locally. At one point, he worked in non-profit fund development for Second Harvest Food Bank in Nashville. “It was an ideal job,” he said.
In development, there was no traveling and he was married with one child by then, so constantly being on the road was not an ideal situation. His family also had time to go to church every Sunday. For those things, he has high praise for the employment. But inwardly, something nagged at him: a constant thought that he was called to be a musician, not a development director.
“It was a great job, but I think God put me there to make it clear that I was supposed to be in music,” he said. Otherwise, he explained, he’d have felt contentment instead of a gnawing restlessness; and if he’d had a job he hated, he wouldn’t have thought twice about feeling a sense of something out of sync.
He recorded another album in Nashville, then came home to Idaho in 2002.
“I was glad to be back. I saw how happy my wife was, and how happy she was to be around animals again. It was her turn. She never liked traveling, and I wanted my kids to know their Idaho family.”
His wife grew up on a farm in Emmett, unlike her husband, who grew up in a Redding suburb. Now, the family of four resides on a plot of Emmett farmland. At the same time, Scott is worship arts pastor at Eagle Christian Church, a job he’s held since 2007.
The album he recorded before returning to Idaho was ultimately going to keep him linked to a musician’s life. “I had been advised that one of the songs on my album could go high on the charts,” he said.
The song was “I Love You, Lord,” written by Laurie Klein in the ’70s. All the other songs were written by Scott, who explained he’d been writing songs that “wrestled with trusting God, wrestled with questions,” such as why does He let bad things happen? Some heavy topics, to be sure.
“I put ‘I Love You, Lord’ as a palette-cleansing song at the end of the album,” he said.
It turned out to be a very fortuitous decision, as the song soared. It ended up being one of those songs with staggering statistics. It became a Christian radio hit that rocketed to No. 1 on the Billboard charts and stayed there for an unprecedented nine months. Scott rode that wave from 2003-2004.
“When I came back to Idaho, I believed my career was over, but then I have a No. 1 song! I feel that God honored my putting my family as a priority,” Scott said.
He was playing on huge festival stages, averaging 125 shows per year and traveling throughout the world, including to China, Africa, Italy, and Mexico. “That song opened a lot of doors,” he said.
Two years ago, he took a break from so much traveling and slowed down. But he revived his musical aspirations, with plenty of touring plans for 2020 – until COVID-19 waylaid all that. Now he’s released a new album titled, “Beautiful and Terrible.”
“In many ways, I’m a ‘new artist’ again, after a long period of laying low. I hope to begin booking shows later this year,” he said.
In an Album Companion to the recording, the title is explained this way: “Heartache, joy, loss, gratitude, sorrow…it’s a volatile mix, but these things all coexist in my life right now. The sweet and the bitter are both part of the human experience.”
He stated, “There’s been a deepening of my songwriting. I had thought I was done as a songwriter, but one day as I was playing the piano, a lyric came to me: ‘I know so much less than I used to.’ I used to be an arrogant Christian, certain about everything. A lot of my opinions have been shaken up.”
He said he’s gone through a difficult time during the past year or so – taken a gut punch – and that God has used all his troubles to refine him. “I’ve gone through a process of evaluating. I’m more compassionate. The nature of a blind spot is that you don’t know you have it. Now I know with a lot more clarity. It all rests on Jesus and it all rests on Scripture.”
He said the lyric “I know so much less than I used to” is almost a ‘thesis statement’ for the new album.
He’s lived, learned, and loved, and the trip has amounted to more than 53 consecutive birthdays – or, 50 years since that first church solo. He’s experienced a maturing that has flowered, a faith that has grown, and a Savior who has remained steadfast. Now, there will be more of his music on the radio; more traveling and performing; and when he’s home, more worship at ECC.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been bored in my life,” Scott said. “I would never have put myself into a life where I was constantly idle.”
Clearly, idleness will not be a problem for him.
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