by The Rev. Greg Jones
photography by Smith Hardy
He grew up in a blue-collar family outside of Nashville, Tennessee. He started playing the drums when he was ten because he couldn’t afford to take up the sax. Hewgley’s, the great music store once located on Commerce Street in Nashville wouldn’t rent band instruments in those days, and shiny new saxophones cost more than $200 in 1957. But drumsticks cost only a dollar a pair, and the lesson book was 85 cents. David Crabtree could swing that. His brother made him a practice pad out of a block of wood with a piece of inner tube stretched thin on top. He played the pad and started cutting grass. He used to mow the lawn of Hank Cochran, a neighbor, and composer of I Fall to Pieces, the tune Patsy Cline made great.
The young drummer finally mowed enough grass to buy a set of Ludwigs and he played them hard. Legendary guitarist Chet Atkins once heard Crabtree play the drums and he said, “Son, you might want to tone it down a bit.” Crabtree thought about music non-stop, going to sleep at night and waking up in the morning with a transistor radio playing under his pillow. Like a lot of guys in Nashville in the 1950s and early 60s, he ended up playing professionally in bands and even did session work for radio jingles. When he started to wonder what he wanted to do when he grew up, he prayed to God about it. He says he heard a very clear response. The Lord said, “You’ve got your voice.” Crabtree became a DJ.
He took a break from the radio, and served a short stint as press secretary for the Tennessee House of Representatives, before Crabtree returned to the air as a reporter on Nashville’s WNGE. He has been on the TV news ever since, with stops in Washington, North Carolina, and Denver, Colorado, before winding up in Raleigh in 1994. His first Nashville radio producer co-wrote the song Son of a Preacher Man. Which is kind of funny, because while most people know David Crabtree as the anchorman of record in Raleigh, many also know him as a preacher man.
The Reverend David Crabtree is his real name. He felt the call years ago, and was eventually ordained in the Episcopal Church. Every Sunday he is not only reading the news, but proclaiming the Good News as a deacon. He first felt the call to ordained ministry through his work as a news reporter. Interviewing people on death row led to honest heart-to-heart conversations and even friendships with people sentenced to death, which moved and inspired him.
Crabtree learned early on that the most important thing in life is to be present in the moment. As a drummer, being present in the moment is the heart and soul of the band. As a newsman, being present to what’s going on is how you tell the story. Being present in the moment with people is at the heart of being a pastoral friend to those in need. David Crabtree has been present to countless people for a long time, on television, and in prisons, and at church. While he may be retiring from TV, he is only getting warmed up in ministry. And who knows, maybe he’ll hit the drums again.