Last year, a documentary was released called Russ Taff: I Still Believe (an accompanying book and audio release also hit the market around the same time). The documentary was screened as a “one-night-only” event and later released on home video. While I’ve been wanting to see this documentary, I never got around to ordering the DVD, and it kind of fell off my radar until recently, when I found it available for streaming as part of Amazon’s Prime Video service.
For those of you unfamiliar, Russ Taff got his first big break when he was hired as the lead vocals for the Imperials in 1976. His raw vocals coupled with his writing made him a stand-out in the group, ultimately leading to a successful solo career starting in 1982. Later in his career, he would find a resurgence of sorts as a mainstay on the Gaither Homecoming tour, including three years as baritone for the Gaither Vocal Band. Along the way, he’s won numerous awards and released albums across multiple genres.
This is the public knowledge of Russ Taff. Behind it all, however, was a struggle that had been going on quietly for many years – a struggle with alcoholism.
I Still Believe goes into (sometimes gritty) details of not just Russ’ addiction to alcohol, but his often-troubled childhood, including a father who seemingly defined hypocrisy, along with years of self doubt, leading to a broken marriage and a career on the verge of collapse due to multiple relapses. That this documentary is being made (and includes both Russ and his wife, Tori) is a testament to the eventual outcome of these struggles, though the couple both agree that it didn’t always appear that such an ending would be possible or even likely.
A documentary about a (still active) Christian artist can be tricky. On one hand, you want to be honest about the subject at hand, but on the other, you don’t want to run into exposé territory, where the sensationalism wins out, or gossip. Having Russ and Tori both take part in interviews, both together and separately, removes the gossip aspect, and any claims about any other individuals are approached fairly and with the opportunity for said individuals to respond. For the most part, this is Russ and Tori’s story, and the focus stays on them and Russ’ journey.
This is a high-quality production. Nothing looks cheap about it. Director Rick Altizer crafts an engaging narrative with interviews, photos, and relevant (and often entertaining) archive footage. Seeing some of it in hindsight after knowing the stories behind it makes it all the more interesting (and sometimes heartbreaking) to watch.
Russ Taff is not the first Christian artist to admit to struggling with addiction of sorts, and sadly, he probably will not be the last, but I Still Believe is a moving testimony not just of a talented singer-songwriter, but of a man who has learned over his lifetime to come to grips with his family, his marriage, and ultimately, himself.