If you’ve never heard of Tuscaloosa singer/songwriter Buddy Causey, take a closer look at the canon of southern rock music over the past few decades. If that doesn’t work, check this year’s Grammys. A veteran of the music business, Causey started recording at Alabama’s legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio when he was just 19 years old. He parlayed his passion and talent into a career that saw record deals on such labels as United Artists, Capitol, Roulette and Warner Bros. He also wrote thousands of jingles for companies like McDonald’s, Miller Beer and Betty Crocker. Along the way, however, the reflective and deeply spiritual Causey fought a decades-long battle with substance abuse and addiction: “I got involved with everything you shouldn’t be involved with, hand over fist.” His primary drugs of choice were pills and marijuana.
Fate intervened in 2007 when Causey suffered an “extremely unusual” stroke that left him reliant on a walker, temporary visually impaired and with nerve damage to one of his vocal cords: “That changed my life. I promised God that if he ever let me sing again, I wouldn’t be selfish and sing to sell a bunch of records; I’d sing for him.” For the past five years, and after making a full recovery, Causey has been better than his word, traveling his self-designated route, spreading his version of the gospel. Since his recovery, all accept for one song (which just happens to be a Grammy-nominated collaboration with fellow Muscle Shoals alumni Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham), has been about his newly reinvigorated relationship with God.
The stroke also prevented Causey from any further drug use. After struggling to sing for four years, he was contacted by members of Celebrate Recovery. After initial reluctance to embrace recovery, it was only a matter of time before Causey started listening to the message: “I thought ‘Hey I’m a miracle, man. I could sing. I don’t need any of this mess.’ I was a fool. I needed it more than anybody. After I went through the step-study, I realized I kept making the same mistakes over and over.” Causey counts letting his temper get the better of him and taking the easy way out whenever possible among these dominant, lifelong mistakes.
These days the 70-year-old Causey is more interested in spreading his musical message to those who he feels truly need to hear it: “All I do now is go to churches, Celebrate Recovery [events], halfway houses, jails and prisons.” While the compensation may not be what he was used to from his days of writing and performing full-time, it’s no longer about money for Causey: “I make way more than money by going.” Causey started his current mission in November of 2011, after taking four years to recover from his life-changing stroke, and has been relentless in its pursuit ever since.
Although he might be slowing down his performance schedule, Causey remains active in the studio. He recently recorded a Christian record entitled Well Done My Son, which features collaborations with members of Toto, and Michael McDonald’s band and was co-produced by Blue Miller, a regular collaborator with India Arie. Well Done My Son is a self-funded effort and was put out by Causey himself on his Brother Man Records label. Despite a superlative musical career and his inspiring work helping others, Causey admits to being the occasional prisoner of the past: “I used to say that I wasted so much of my life; but if I hadn’t done what I’d done, I couldn’t talk to these people. They wouldn’t believe me. People that I talk to are people just like me.” Causey might be in error, however, to believe that anyone is truly like him.