If you asked Sons of I Am lead singer, Art Dayton, if he thought he would be performing today he would answer, “No way,” without hesitation. However, Dayton’s adamancy is tempered with a humbleness that acknowledges life and the Lord have a plan.

In the 1980s, Dayton and his brother John were heavily influenced by the big hair bands of the era. The pair came from a family that surrounded them with music their entire lives growing up, so it wasn’t much of a surprise when the guys discovered their own musical talents.

Dayton recalls his younger brother, John, using four track recorders to record himself playing just about every instrument. Over time, he gathered an accumulation of tapes that ended up just lying around, Dayton says.

“One day I decided I was going to write some lyrics to one of the songs,” Dayton says. “I took it to him and sung the lyrics I’d written. He said, ‘We need to start a band.’ And that’s how it started.”

Every band needs members and the Dayton brothers didn’t waste time finding some friends who they’d grown up with to join the band, among them Columbus resident Steve Penrose and Tony Leullen, of Hartsville.

Now the search was on for the right name.

Originally, they planned to call themselves Altar Call, but they quickly found out someone else had dibs on the name. So the search continued.

“We were sitting around my brother‘s house one day trying to brainstorm on what to call our band and I just pulled the Bible out and started flipping through,” Dayton says. “I came across Sons of God, and I thought, ‘Well, Sons of God sounds cool, but Sons of I Am sounds cooler.”

Dayton ran the name by the guys and they liked it and the rest is history.

The band was certainly influenced by the sounds of Metallica and Black Sabbath, Dayton recalls, but from an early age the guys were very strong in their Christian faith. On its surface the pairing of a hard metal band sound with traditional hymns didn’t seem a likely combination, but it was the genesis of a sound that would carry the band for more than two decades.

The Sons of I Am sound can best be described as traditional hymns “rocked up,” Dayton says.

“My brother said, ‘Let’s take that style and rhythm of 80s music and rock up some of these hymnal songs and put some life back into them,’” Dayton recalls.

It was 1999 when the Sons of I Am landed their first appearance at a night service at the Hope First Baptist Church. Dayton says they shied away from calling their performances “gigs” simply because they thought the term a bit ill-fitting since they are a ministry band, Dayton says.

“I was extremely nervous that night because the way the band was set up when we originally formed I was playing bass and singing,” Dayton says. “So it was one thing I always seemed to struggle with because I wasn’t too good at multitasking.”

The set list that night included “Amazing Grace,” “I Shall Not Be Moved,” and “Mansion On the Hilltop” rocked up as a heavier version of the traditional hymnal and the audience absolutely loved it, Dayton recalls.

“People said we brought life back to the hymnals and bridged the gap between the younger and older generations,” Dayton says. “And now the younger generation thinks church music is cool.”

By the early 2000s, Penrose had left to join his brother’s band and Dayton’s sister Le Morris stepped in as bass player, he says. Morris, who up until then had managed the band, didn’t hesitate to tackle the bass guitar.

“I said,’ I will learn how to play and I’ll do it,’” Morris says. “So I bought a guitar, an amp and a book and every evening when I got home from work I would pull a kitchen chair into my living room and I would practice an hour or two each evening until I learned it.”

For Morris playing in the band fulfilled her childhood dream of being on stage and making others smile, she says.

Over the past 20 years, the band has enjoyed playing for churches in and around the Hope area, Dayton says. As band members have come and gone, today Dayton and Morris are joined by drummer David Parks, guitarist Dallas McKinney, Jerry Bragg on lead guitar and Avery Tallent on vocals and guitar.

Dayton says that although the rocked out sound is what the band has become known for the Sons of I Am sound has become tempered with some contemporary sway.

“For about the first 15 years of our ministry, rocked up hymnals were what we were known for,” Dayton says. “I am not saying we pulled away from the rocked up hymnals, but we do a lot more contemporary stuff than what we used to.”

Prior to COVID, Dayton says the band was playing at least one or two shows each month. Now, as restrictions have lifted it is simply a matter of getting everyone’s work schedules coordinated so they can book more shows.

Leading in to the summer is the band’s return to The Shelter in Scipio, which is affiliated with the Scipio United Methodist Church just off State Highway 7, Dayton says.

The large, outdoor shelter house is surrounded by woods and has great acoustics, Dayton says.

“Sometimes they will have a devotion or testimony,” Dayton says. “They always have food and the band will play for a couple of hours.”

The band’s appearance at 6 p.m. July 29 is part of a free event series that is offered every Thursday from March through October, Dayton says.

Tallent says he’s excited to be back in Scipio and doing what he loves.

“It will feel good,” he says. “Kind of shake the rust off and get us back out and playing some. Playing music with our friends and seeing the people in Scipio again, it’ll be a good time.”

Although they have yet to release an album, the Sons of I Am make their music readily accessible to fans everywhere via their Reverbnation page, as well as videos on YouTube and Facebook.

When asked what he enjoys most about performing, Dayton says it is all about the ministry as there are many people who connect more through music than the spoken word.

“Music is a bridge, as far as touching people’s hearts and souls, especially in a time where COVID has been dominant,” Dayton says. “We have lost people. I definitely lost some people I knew. There are a lot of people who are looking for hope and peace and I think gospel music brings that.”

Looking ahead to the future of the Sons of I Am, Dayton is content to continue playing and ministering. The rest is up to God, he says.

“As long as the Lord will allow us to serve in this capacity as a band, I am willing to do it,” he says. “He hasn’t asked us to do anything extravagant yet, He might, and we are willing to cross that road if it happens.”

Until then, the band is prepping to pick up where they left off before the pandemic.

“We always say come out and enjoy some good music,” Morris says. “We know it is the Lord’s music and that is why we are doing it. If we screw up hopefully God anoints their ears and they don’t hear it.”