Those cheerful words are legendary gospel singer Jake Hess’ standard answer to any and all questions regarding his health. And that’s about all you’ll usually get out of him — Jake readily admits he’d rather “fight a circle saw” than sit around cataloguing his aches and pains. But last spring, Jake experienced a serious heart attack that resulted in his third bypass surgery and then a second, even more severe heart attack occurred in the recovery room. His prolonged absence from the Homecoming concerts has been a cause of concern to friends and fans alike, so recently he graciously agreed to this interview in which he candidly and thoughtfully answered the question, “How are you really doing?”
The Jake Hess that greeted me in the foyer of his daughter Becky’s beautiful home was a little thinner and walking a little slower than the last time I saw him. But his mustachioed smile and twinkling eyes looked the same as ever. He was dapper in a crisp seersucker suit, every hair on his famous grey wig in place.
As we got comfortable, arranging ourselves on the plush cushions of the big living room sofa, I teased Jake about “suffering for Jesus,” recovering in such luxurious surroundings. He laughed and took the opportunity to express his admiration and gratitude for his children’s loving care. “They’ve all been just wonderful,” he said. “Becky is so good. I told her I was going to get me a nurse and go on home — see, I have a nice home here in Columbus — and she won’t even listen to that. So I guess I’ll be staying here for awhile…” He grinned, waited a beat, then, “Wanna buy a house?”
As the conversation turned more reflective, Jake spoke openly about the very private, ongoing battle he has faced throughout his career — the tug of war between a heart called to sing and minister the music he loves and a body that won’t cooperate. Without a trace of self-pity, he matter-of-factly listed some of the health problems he has survived, beginning with his first heart attack and bypass surgery back in 1972. When I expressed amazement at how much and how long he has endured, he immediately downplayed the seriousness of the subject. “Actually, it wasn’t all that bad. ’Course now I’ve got so much machinery in me, I rattle when I walk!”
It was apparent though, that this latest round has been the hardest to bear and has taken the greatest toll on this gentle, courageous man. “I was in the hospital 49 days,” Jake said, suddenly sober. “Long time to lay flat on your back. I’ll tell you the truth, I got to where I thought I’d start screaming if I had to stay there one more day.”
He leaned forward and continued. “The most frustrating part is being weak and not able to do the things I want to do. Everybody comes in and says, ‘Oh Jake, you look so much better’ and I just want to sweep that under the rug and go on because if I was doing THAT much better, I’d know it!”
Jake took a breath and then said quietly, “I can’t sing at all. I don’t know what the main cause is. My doctor keeps telling me I’ll be all right when I regain my strength, but I haven’t regained much yet.”
A moment passed, and then a wry smile appeared as he said, “Well, that’s not really true. I’m actually doing exceptionally well, just not fast enough to suit me. I’m doing rehab three days a week. I’m getting there.” He laughed. “You should have seen me the first time they put me up on that treadmill. I thought I was going to fall on my face — would have, too, if the lady hadn’t been helping me! Now I’m getting pretty good at it.”
As the interview wound down, I decided to ask Jake the really tough one. I brought up the subject that makes all of us Christians a little theologically squirmy: what about healing? Why do you think some people pray and get healed and others, despite their best efforts and prayers, just don’t? There was a long pause and then Jake said simply, “I don’t know.
“That’s such a hard question,” he continued. “There have been so many people praying for me, and I really do want to thank them. Please tell them that it’s working; keep doing it! And I’ll tell you this: I think God will heal me, but in His own good time. If I didn’t believe that, I don’t know what I’d do. I think I will sing again but just not anytime soon.”
And then, true to his nature, Jake’s face broke into a smile as he said, “Well, not anytime real soon. Probably be November or so before I go back out.” He gave a wink and left me with this: “’Course, by then, Gaither may be out of business.”
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