Musician and former minister finds harmony between Christianity and classic rock roots

Tony "DLivahh" Prince, a local Christian musician, (Alexis Macklin/DD)
Tony “DLivahh” Prince, a local Christian musician, released his latest album “Behind the Mask” in January 2012. (Alexis Macklin/DD)
[audio:http://downtowndevil.com/audio/tonydlivahh]
Audio story by Linnea Bennett

After spending time as both a musician and minister, Tony “DLivahh” Prince has found a balance of his two inspirations, blending his ’70s music roots with Christian ministry to produce music that both inspires and “rocks.”

Prince’s eighth and most recent album is a conceptual disc entitled “Behind the Mask.” The songs featured on “Behind the Mask” have a wide range of themes and sounds, from faith-based ballads about God to high-energy songs that reflect his love of the “Lord of the Rings” movie trilogy.

Paisley Yankolovich, another modern Christian artist who is based in Phoenix and collaborated with Prince on “Behind the Mask,” reflected on Prince’s work.

“Tony is his own creation,” Yankolovich said. “He is an incredibly talented musician and singer and songwriter, but he definitely marches to the beat of his own drum.”

While Prince, 55, may not explicitly state that he is singing about Jesus or God in his songs, it is apparent that his faith plays a large role in everything he does, especially his music.

“My desire to do music is an outgrow of expression, overflow of whatever ministry that I do,” he said. “And I don’t have to do, quote unquote, ‘Christian music’ to sing songs about Jesus, although he is the one who in fact inspires me.”

Prince said Christian music often gets pigeonholed into something it’s not.

“Because we’re Christians, people expect us to be a certain way,” he said. “They think, ‘Well, you’re going to be religious, or you’re going to cram it down our throats or you’re going to sound like J.S. Bach.’”

Prince said his music unintentionally delivers the gospel and that sometimes it’s hard to discern if he’s singing about God at all.

“I’m an artist who also happens to be a Christian,” Prince said. “That’s the way I look at myself, so that gives me a lot of freedom.”

Originally from Joplin, MO, Prince grew up listening to rock idols like Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Deep Purple and Yes. He dedicated his life to music when he bought his first guitar at 16 and wrote his first song a year later. However, Prince said that at 17, the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle made him feel like he was spiraling out of control.

“I was big in the rock ‘n’ roll scene as a teenager. I was also doing my share of drugs, mostly marijuana,” he said. “It got to the point where I wanted out. I was going nowhere, and it caused me great depression.”

Prince was not sure how to escape his depressive patterns until the day he stumbled upon tickets to a rock show that doubled as a bible study.

“I was at (high) school and went to lunch, and when I got back from lunch, there were these two tickets to the show tucked in my books,” Prince said.

Though Prince never found out who left the tickets in his books, he decided to give the concert a shot.

“It sounded cool because there was going to be rock music there, so I went there, and that’s where I met the Lord,” he said. “I got saved.”

Soon after the show began, an artist on stage began playing a song that stopped Prince in his tracks.

“I remember the date. It was April 24, 1974,” Prince said. “I don’t even remember anything about the song except it was a ballad, and he was talking about his life spiraling down the tubes, and there was a red light that came on him.”

Prince was struck by the red light, remembering an LSD trip he once had where a similar light permeated the room.

“During that trip I remember hearing a voice that said, ‘Do you want to be my disciple?’ and I said ‘Yes.’”

He watched the musician playing as the red light turned to white, amazed at the similarities between that moment and his past acid trip. Prince said it was then that he realized God’s grace.

This experience eventually led Prince to quit drugs, leave rock ‘n’ roll and attend ministry school, after which he spent 25 years as a pastor. He also began to work as a deliverance counselor, a role he still holds, wherein he helps people who are bounded by spiritual, mental and emotional issues.

Though he continued to play music during his time as a minister, Prince said the music he wrote and played was more reminiscent of contemporary Christian music than of rock ‘n’ roll.

That all changed in 2006, when Prince felt the calling to return to his rock roots.

He began listening to the artists whose albums he had given away so many years ago and reconnecting with the genre that had originally inspired him to learn to play guitar.

“Classic rock. I don’t think there’s a genre, in my opinion, that competes with that, because back then, people cared about the music,” Prince said. “Or as a friend of mine said once, ‘back when they gave a damn.’”

A year after this reconnection, Prince moved to Phoenix, where he has been making and producing his own music ever since. He also picked a stage name: DLivahh, a play on the title of “deliverance” ministry.

Allen Cox, a musician in North Carolina who has hosted Prince on his radio show, said his listeners often comment on Prince’s approachable religious style.

“If I get a comment about Tony, it’s more or less about how he takes the religious themes and pairs it with his unique style,” he said. “I like how he uses the Bible and stories and his knowledge of religion in his musical trials.”

But Prince said the only mission he has in making music is bringing people joy.

“My music with my name ‘DLivahh’ is music that delivers, so there’s a lot of meaning behind that,” he said. “It could be Tony delivers the goods, or the music delivers … a peace, it delivers a joy.”

Correction: March 8, 2013

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Tony Prince is from St. Louis when he is really from Joplin, MO.

Contact the reporter at linnea.bennett@asu.edu