Home > Fred McNaughton > Memories of Dana Key (12/30/53 – 6/6/2010)

Memories of Dana Key (12/30/53 – 6/6/2010)

June 7th, 2010

Dana practicing this past Memorial Day in preparation for an upcoming benefit concert.

FRED MCNAUGHTON – For many WJTL listeners from the mid to late 80s, DeGarmo and Key was their favorite band.  They remained Rock and Roll while adopting “cool” 80s keyboard sounds and production techniques.   They also continued to share the Gospel in their same straight-forward manner, even though other artists of the time were finding success with ambiguous lyrics and a less confrontational message.

I had the opportunity to produce/promote/be a part of….about a dozen DeGarmo and Key shows over the years in the WJTL listening area (Hersheypark Arena, Elizabethtown College, Hershey Theatre, LMH, Sight and Sound, Creation).  With Dana’s unexpected passing, I was trying to remember some of the highlights from those events.   Of the two of them, Eddie DeGarmo was the more affable.  He was much more likely to strike up a conversation with you and hang out with the local crew.  Dana seemed more serious and focused on the task at hand. I do remember that Dana had the kind of gaze that could turn you into a statue.  Intense would not begin to describe it.

Here are just three little nuggets of memories I had from working with Eddie and Dana over the years.

For some reason I ended up backstage just before D&K was to perform at the Creation Festival.  As I remember it, this would have been toward the end of their career.  They were playing an afternoon slot.  I overheard stage manager Denny Keitzman tell them that, for whatever reason, they wouldn’t be able to soundcheck.  Eddie, Dana and Tommy Cathey (the band’s bass player) were unfazed by the request and nonchalantly said they could go on without a soundcheck.  This was not said with any sort of bragging, just very matter of factly.  Then they went on stage and lit into one of the hottest sets I have ever heard at Creation, barring none.  They were consummate professionals.  They had done thousands of shows and showed complete confidence in their own abilities as well as that of the Creation team they were working with.

Once, when we were doing a DeGarmo and Key show at LMH (Lancaster Mennonite High School).  Dana was on some kind of special diet where he needed to eat fish every so many days. Our intrepid concert catering team (Gwenda, Sarah, Cyndee, et.al.) agreed – against their better judgement.  By the time school opened back up on Monday morning the fish smell had permeated the entire music wing of the school.  I am pretty sure we have not served fish at a concert since.

Lastly, I remember a show we did with Eddie and Dana at Sight and Sound Auditorium. This was the old sight and sound hall before the new one was built.  If my memory serves me correctly it was a co-bill between DeGarmo and Key and Mylon and Brokenheart.  It was the last day of the tour and the crew was pulling off all kinds of practical jokes.   During one song, they lowered a poster of some kind with writing all over it, from the rafters, right beside Dana while he was singing.  Even the stoic Dana Key got a laugh from their unexpected prank and laughingly shared with the audience that it was the last night of the tour and that everyone was just a little giddy with the thought of going home.  I think it helped all of us realize that these guys weren’t just musicians – they were dads and husbands with wives and children who were excited for their soon arrival.

Dana Key (along with his childhood friend and partner – Ed DeGarmo) was a pioneer of Christian Rock Music.  He died yesterday (June 6) reportedly of a ruptured blood clot, at the age of 56.  At the time of his death, Dana was pastor of a church in Cordova Tennessee – The Love of Christ Church.  His passing gives new perspective regarding his comments from that Sight and Sound concert from long ago about “being a little giddy with the thought of going home.”

Fred McNaughton
Station Manager & Get Up and Go Show Co-Host

  1. Lynn Ressler
    June 7th, 2010 at 22:23 | #1

    Fred, thanks so much for those fond memories of Dana Key. I’m sure I’m not alone when I tell you how shocked I was to hear of Dana’s passing especially since he was to do a concert with Eddie DeGarmo on Friday. I , too, can remember DeGarmo and Key performing at one of the Creation Festivals and getting to meet them personally when they came to the WJTL booth after their performance was over. So, again, thanks so much for sharing your memories. What a fitting tribute to a great Christian performer and entertainer. God’s blessing and grace to Dana’s family and congregation during this very difficult time.

  2. Rose Hickernell
    June 8th, 2010 at 07:25 | #2

    Fred and John, I so appreciate you sharing memories of Dana on the air and on your website. I was a huge fan of D & K, and their song “Destined to Win” is my favorite song of all time. Their words spoke to me and so many others in a powerful way, and they could rock with the best of them. Concerts were amazing, and having worked with them several times through Creation, they were just normal guys singing for Jesus and having a good time. Dana truly loved the Lord, and the two of them did not compromise what they believed in, sharing the Good News. I remember the video “666” and how they fought to have it aired on MTV, pioneers in the Christian music industry. I will always love their music and am sure Dana is having a great time jammin’ in heaven with the other saints for his Lord and Savior! He will be missed.

  3. June 8th, 2010 at 11:11 | #3

    Like many other WJTL listeners, I heard the announcement of Dana Key’s passing with very mixed emotions. On one hand, I found space to rejoice that he’s finished his race and is finally in the presence of the One he served so diligently for so many years. On the other hand, I am saddened that the world has lost such a strident voice for Christ.

    I read Fred’s reminiscences of his time with Dana, and smiled. I have my own “special” memory of the sort of person he was.

    Some years ago, Degarmo & Key took about a year away from touring, to work on some other things. I don’t remember what those things were, although I believe that one of them was taking a few college courses or something. At any rate, their absence from the tour scene resulted in a number of rumors being circulated, many of which said that the band was breaking up.

    Eddie and Dana took it upon themselves to conduct a little “whirlwind tour” of a number of Christian radio stations in areas (such as Lancaster) where their music was very popular, to put an end to those rumors. I don’t recall who was hosting the WJTL morning show, at the time, but Eddie and Dana showed up at the station, spent the better part of the show chatting with the host, and even performed a couple of “live” songs in the studio, on the air.

    I was listening to the broadcast as I got ready to head to work, that morning. At the time, I worked at one of the car-rental counters at the Lancaster Airport. During the on-air conversation, someone mentioned the fact that Ed and Dana had to leave shortly, in order to catch a flight to Pittsburgh shortly after 9:00. Since I worked at the at the airport, I knew that there was a flight to Pittsburgh that departed shortly after 9:00, and figured that this was the flight that Ed and Dana were booked on. So I grabbed the cover-jacket for their “Communication” album and headed off to work.

    Once at the airport, it was easy to recognize them when they arrived to check in at the US Air desk and then went into the Airport Restaurant. I waited a couple minutes, and then went into the restaurant myself. I got the attention of the sole waitress on duty at that hour, and quietly asked her to please bring the check for the duo to me, rather than to them. I had to explain who they were, and then I asked her to try and let me remain anonymous, but not to lie to them if they pressed her for details.

    I guess that they pressed her for my identity, because – about 40 minutes later – Ed and Dana left the restaurant and came straight over to my rental counter.

    “I understand that we have you to thank, for our breakfast.” Dana began. “We were just wondering why.”

    So, slowly, I told them. I told them that they – and their music – had been a great influence at a time when I had just come back to Christ after walking apart from Him for several years, and that I wanted to do something to thank them for their obedience to the call that God had placed on their lives. They asked if there was anything they could do in return, and (with a bit of a blush) I produced the album cover, which they both signed – complete with scripture references. They stood and chatted with me for another few minutes or so, until it was time to board their flight.

    Flash forward to a couple years later, when they brought their “Unplugged” tour to Lancaster Mennonite High School. It was intermission, and my young son and I were standing in line at one of the tables, holding some CD’s and tee-shirts. As it came my turn to hand over my payment for the items, I felt a hand gently grasp my right shoulder as a voice from behind me.

    “This man’s money is no good, here!”

    For a split second, I was totally mystified. Then I turned around, to find Dana Key standing there – his hand still on my shoulder.

    “We’re even, now, for that breakfast!” he chuckled, with a broad smile.

    I wasn’t allowed to pay for the CD’s or tee-shirts, and my son – eyes all wide and jaw nearly hitting the floor at the realization that, somehow, his dad “knew” Dana Key – got autographs. The incident made the night truly memorable.

    Well, that’s my memory of Dana Key. Like I said, I rejoice that he’s home, and yet it’s sad to know that his voice won’t be heard again in this world, save in the music he left behind.

  4. June 8th, 2010 at 12:04 | #4


    This is an awesome story. Thanks so much for sharing it with our listeners.


  5. June 8th, 2010 at 21:56 | #5

    Wow, what testimonials, and what lasting affect these musicians have had on my early Christian beginning. Truly sad that Dana is not with us any longer. What a voice and passion for His Father’s heart. He is deeply missed in this family but we will all be together again in that day. Thanks Dana for a devoted life and lasting heritage in your music to us all.

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