Tough love, unexpected guest and faith in Christ set free from addiction
By John Herndon, KentuckySings.com
(Note: This feature originally appeared in the February, 2019 SGN Scoops Magazine)
RADCLIFF, Ky. — Joseph Habedank leans back, microphone in his right hand, left arm outstretched. He pours his entire soul into delivering the message he lives every day.
Heaven’s best takes all the scars
For the worst in all of us
That’s the glory of the cross
The wonder of His love
That’s the beauty of the blood! (Joseph Habedank, Tony Wood & Michael Farren. Copyright Christian Taylor Music/BMI, division o Daywind Music)
They aren’t just words of beauty for one of Southern Gospel’s favorite soloists. They’re life. And he’s grateful beyond measure.
“Only God can take blood and make it pretty,” he says during a November concert at Stithton Baptist Church in Radcliff, Kentucky.
Joseph Habedank knows that beauty of the blood. He knows it personally. Even his surname is a reminder of what God has done in his life. “My name in English is Habedank,” he says with a smile. “In German, ‘haben’ is ‘to have’ and ‘danke’ is thanks. So my name means ‘have thanks.’
It was fitting that a few weeks before Christmas he was with The Erwins as part of the Resurrection of Faith Tour which has been working since 2017. The name comes from the artists albums, Habedank’s “Resurrection” and The Erwins’ “Only Faith Can See,” which were current at the tour’s outset.
At 33, Habedank is the oldest artist on the tour. The Erwins’ ages range from 18 to 26. Through November, they had played about 50 dates together and plan to continue the tour indefinitely.
“I’m proud of (the tour). There is no one else in the entire world I would rather travel with than those kids,” Habedank says.
But the Resurrection of Faith tour might be a metaphor for Joseph Habedank’s career. One of gospel music’s top stars before he was 20, Habedank hit the bottom before he was 30 but now tells his story, made possible by the beauty of Christ’s blood.
He’d started young, singing in Cornerstone Baptist Church in Dayton, Ohio as a child. By his teenage years, Joseph and his family sang at area revivals and camp meetings, often traveling with another regional group, The Sandlins. “That really fostered a love for gospel music at a young age. When I was a little kid, I knew that was what God wanted me to do,” Habedank says.
He eventually sang solo, driving his 1994 Camaro around Ohio and surrounding states before joining The Perrys when he was all of 17.
No one could have seen how that chapter in Joseph’s life would end. Outwardly, he was singing praises with one of Southern Gospel’s top groups. On the inside, a battle began to rage.
“I was a drug addict, a liar and a con man,” Habedank says during his concerts.
He elaborated in a one-on-one interview later.
“Addiction will make you do things that you otherwise would never do,” Habedank says. “I did not lie. I was honest. I never stole anything in my life. I never took anything. But you become an addict, you do anything you can to get that next high.”
Habedank had become dependent on pain killers after developing an ulcer on the back of his throat. “I was taking 10 to 12 hydrocodone or oxycodone pills every day of my life. It was just an endless cycle of chasing that pill. It was no way to live. It was an awful way to live.
“I ended up losing my job.”
It was a dose of reality tempered with grace.
“The Perrys came to me. They had given me numerous chances to get cleaned up. I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t get the help I needed. They came to me and said, ‘We really don’t want to fire you but we can’t have you on the road using drugs.’
“I said, ‘If it’s OK, I would like to resign.’ They said that would be OK and they were gracious enough to let me resign.”
It was exactly what Joseph needed. “I knew I couldn’t get sober being on the road 200 and some odd days a year. I had to get away to get the help I needed and I did that. I just wanted to get clean. It didn’t matter if I never sang.”
Habedank also credits his wife for being steadfastly with him as he fought an addiction to painkillers. “Lindsey was great,” he says. “She was very gracious and she stuck with me. There were times when she could leave, but she stayed with me.”
Habedank checked in at Cumberland Heights recovery center on the outskirts of Nashville. About two weeks later he received an unexpected visitor. “It was Russ Taff,” Habedank says of the gospel great whose fight with alcoholism was the subject of the movie “I Still Believe.”
Taff became Habedank’s sponsor in the 12-step program to overcome addiction. “He told me I was going to be OK and that he loved me,” Habedank recalls. “He gave me his cell number and said, ‘If you can’t get my cell number, call my home number. I want you to call me every day when you get out of treatment.’
“If I was having a good day, he was there. If I was having a bad day, he was there. He walked me through that first year. That’s a big part of staying sober. We help other people and it’s a big part of recovery. Russ is probably the biggest reason, outside of Jesus, that I am sober today.”
Habedank has been sober over five-and-a-half years. And he’s thankful for the tough love shown by his former employer.
“I think God used (the Perrys) the way they handled it to help me tremendously. I don’t think I could have gotten sober staying on that bus. … I knew I I had to come off the road. That was the best thing that ever happened to me for them to say, ‘ Hey, we can’t have you on the road like this anymore.’ It was hard. It was the hardest thing ever, but I am grateful for it. I really am.”
Habedank considered a departure from his beloved Southern Gospel field. “I was afraid the Southern Gospel world wouldn’t accept me. So my wife and I talked about going contemporary. But to be honest with you, I am not a contemporary singer. I love those people — Steven Curtis Chapman, Michael W. Smith. But that is not me.”
His record company, Daywind, believed in Habedank, pitching a new album. “I had just gotten out of rehab three or four months earlier. I thought, ‘You have got to be kidding me,’” he says. “I went home and told my wife. She said, ‘You have got to be kidding me.’”
After praying earnestly about the situation, Habedank decided to proceed with the album, which became “Welcome Home.” The album contains songs to describe recovery, including “The Beauty of the Blood.
“I tell you what, Daywind took a gamble on me,” Habedank says. “They had no idea I was going to stay clean and sober. I was less than six months out of rehab. But God impressed it on them.”
Since then, Habedank’s career has been exploding. He’s been nominated for Grammys and Dove Awards. He’s won fan awards as Soloist of the Year.
He’s excited about 2019 as well. “I have a new album coming out in April,” he says, noting that it will contain songs he has written.
But most of all he’s excited about ministry. On the late November night in Radcliff, Habedank noted a young family who had lost a young father. “It was four beautiful little girls, precious little girls,” Habedank explains. “They came up to me after the meet and greet. I noticed the four girls and the mom and I was wondering if their dad is here.
“She said, ‘I want you to know my husband passed away in March. He was 34. He listened to your songs every night in the hospital room.’ It was just a powerful moment. It’s amazing what music can do.
“It’s easy to talk about how good God is when things are going good. But even when things are going bad, God is good.”
Joseph Habedank knows.