Chapter 11: The Rock That Doesn't
Explo '72 was, in a sense, the ''coming out'' of contemporary Christian music. The fuse had been lit in Dallas. However, there was a long way to go before anything resembling an explosion in Jesus music would take place.
During the next two years or so, Jesus music was written, recorded, and performed, but one would hardly know it by listening to the radio, reading magazines, or attending church services. Like a diamond being formed in an underground bed of coal, Jesus music was being purified and molded into a distinct art form under the pressure of a dubious public.
During late 1972 and on through 1974, numerous Christian composers were writing songs and making every possible move to give contemporary Christian music a sound of its own. The writers wanted their music to have the punch of popular music, but they wanted the lyrics to contain more profound substance than the songs of the world.
There were the "radical" composers and performers such as Randy Matthews, Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Mike Johnson, and others who desired to write and perform "street music"rock music with Christian lyrics, a style which parents had trouble endorsing. There were also the artists such as the Archers and Dallas Holm, whose music at that time was contemporary, but carried enough overtones of the more traditional gospel to be accepted by a more general audience. Those more "conservative" musiciansstill considered radical by some churchesmade up a vital bridge between street music and church music.
Benson Publishing of Nashville was one of the early builders of that bridge. The Archers and Dallas Holm recorded for the Impact label, owned by Benson. While Benson's other label, Heart Warming,
carried the traditional family gospel acts such as the Rambos, Impact introduced the more progressive artists.
For a brief period of time, Impact also featured recordings by ''street label'' artists. Larry Norman's Upon This Rock was picked up from Capitol Records and finally made its way into some Christian bookstores (fifth row back, in the corner, behind the greeting cards, and next to the water fountain). Graham Kendrick and Judy MacKenzie were folk performers from England whose recordings also were picked up and released by Impact Records in America in 1972. Joshua was the name of a Jesus-rock group from the Southwest who recorded one Impact album in 1974 before they disbanded. Impact also featured the music of the Imperials, whose style was basically Southern gospel; however, as time went by, the Imperials progressed into a more contemporary mode.
The more conservative musicians performed in numerous churches and crusades around the country as their music found favor with church leaders, but the radical writers and performers had a much tougher go at it. Their desire to create no-holds-barred Jesus-rock met with disdain and oftentimes outright animosity from church elders and the older members of their congregation. Even when those leaders were sympathetic to Jesus music, they were still cautious.
In 1979, musician Tom Coomes recalled a 1974 concert in the Blue Church of Philadelphia where caution was the rule. ''I was in the group Wing and a Prayer at that time,'' he recounts. ''When we got to the church, we found out that they had never even had drums in that church. Here it was 1974, and we thought the question of drums had long ago been answered. But not at the Blue Church.
''We were asked to meet with the Board of Elders prior to the night's concert. Three of us went inTom Stipe, John Mehler, and myself. Tom remembers being nervous, but I would say I was somewhat at peace about it. It wasn't like the elders were mad, or that they hated rock music. But they did tell us they were very concerned that the music we were going to play didn't appeal to the flesh rather than the Spirit. They said, 'We've heard about Jesus-rock music, and we'll be watching closely.'
''Though the warning was given as a sincere expression of their concern, it had a sound of finality to it! We could have all gotten up tight about the situation, but we didn't. The Lord gave us all a peace at that moment. In fact, I really felt it was a real privilege to be playing there. Our next thought was, should we change our repertoire? We were kind of a rock 'n' roll band. We went off and really prayed. What should we do? Should we do just a worship set? Or a
set of mellow music? Or what? We prayed and we really felt a peace about doing just what we usually did.
''That night about four hundred or five hundred kids crammed into the room,'' Coomes recalls. ''They'd never had that many young people in their church before, ever. We played just what we normally played, which included some rock 'n' roll. But we played it at 1 ½ on our amps! John, the drummer, did his drum solo too, but he barely tapped the drums! We could see the elders standing back in the hall. By the second or third number, we could see them smiling!
''About fifty or sixty kids came to know the Lord. As a result, the elders asked us to share with all the adults at the church service that night. Once a month to this day, years afterwards, that church in Philadelphia still has a concert.''
The Jesus-music writers and performers knew what they had to do, regardless of the consequences. They had to write the songs that the Lord had given them to write; they had to perform the music that would reach the churched and unchurched youth; and they had to upgrade the quality of a fledgling art form.
Bob Hartman was a member of Petra, one of the first all-out Jesus-rock bands to record an album. He described Petra's reasons for existence. ''We're extremely rock-oriented, but we're not oppressively heavy. The name 'Petra' has a deeper meaning to us because it's a word that's used in the Bible when Jesus said, 'Upon this rock I will build my church.' That word 'rock' is 'petra' in Greek. It's upon the confession of Jesus Christ being Lord of a person's life that our group is built, because of the experience that we have had with him. He's changed our lives and given us a whole new outlook on life, and that outlook is reflected in our music.''
Petra's music was rock, all right, but with its special spiritual dimensions it became a way of life for young rock-music fans.
''People,'' Bob continued, ''have almost been brainwashed by other rock groups and the message they have to bring. I think it's time the people heard a positive message.''
A yet harder rock group was Agape, whose two albums were released in 1971 and 1972 during the crest of the Jesus movement. They played Jesus rock at its crustiestmusic which cut through the thickest defenses of the non-Christian rock fans. For those to whom hard-rock music was a language, Agape and Petra spokeclearly. As a result, many young people, whose main defense against Christianity was its ''old fashioned, hokey'' music, found themselves pleasantly surprised when a friend shared Jesus-rock music with them.
Agape's and Petra's music was not the most welcomed form of music on Christian radio stations, either. Only a few such stations would even consider playing their songs. One of those few stations was KDTX-FM in Dallas.
KDTX had broadcast all of the Cotton Bowl meetings of Explo '72. Station manager Mike Burk was impressed by the contemporary gospel music he heard played there, and the way the youth responded to it. Mike opened up the 10 P.M. to 2 A.M. air shift for a Jesus-music show. On a fall night in 1972, ''A Joyful Noise'' became a live, four-hour nightly radio show in Dallas, hosted by one Paul Baker.
The first show was opened with a song by Myrrh recording group First Gear, appropriately entitled ''Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now.'' For the first few nights there were a few calls of complaint about the rock music, but the calls of encouragement and thanks quickly over-shadowed them. Dallas had been primed by Explo, and Jesus music filled the air nightly.
''A Joyful Noise'' in Dallas became much more than just a music show. Top Christian performers were interviewed, including Andrae Crouch, Noel Paul Stookey, rock artist Chi Coltraine, and many more. Since KDTX had large studios, numerous live concerts were also broadcast as part of ''A Joyful Noise.'' Larry Norman, Paul Clark, Ken Medema, Malcolm & Alwyn, and countless other Jesus-music artists performed. Sometimes the concerts were announced far in advance and large crowds attended. Other times, spontaneous concerts were arranged when a musician passed through, and a handful of people showed up in time. But all the concerts were heard by thousands of radio listeners in north Texas over KDTX.
Much as ''The Scott Ross Show'' had done in New York state, ''A Joyful Noise'' provided nightly fellowship for young people and adults who preferred Christian radio over secular radio. ''A Joyful Noise'' continued on the air live for one year in Dallas, but KDTX (later KMGC) would broadcast nightly Jesus music for a while longer.
Meanwhile in Washington, an innovation was being tried. In May of 1973, WCTN introduced a format of secular adult rock and contemporary Christian music combined. However, Christians in the Washington area proved to be extremely conservative. The unique format lasted only a few months before WCTN had to change to a more moderate playlist, as the CBN stations in New York had been forced to do a few years earlier. The Jesus music stayed, but in smaller amounts.
Still, whenever Jesus music was broadcast there were changed
lives. Sometimes it only took a few moments of exposure to lead someone to the startling realization that Jesus was the answer, as this writer testified in a letter to ''A Joyful Noise'':
I was driving from Oklahoma City to Clinton, Oklahoma, one day after being on a hard drug trip for the whole weekend, when I turned on the radio to KOMA. It was 6:30 in the morning, and I was expecting to find my usual heavy rockbut as I listened closer to the words of this different kind of rock and roll, I heard a different kind of message. A message about a person called Jesus. I started to change the station as I have for the last twenty-five years. But instead, this time I listened.
After hearing such a beautiful message from people like myself, I started to realize that Jesus is a more real thing than reality itself.
My life has changed a lot now, as I have thrown away my man-made drugs and taken on God's love instead.
Well, I'm sure you know the rest of the story. . . . How can I say thank you but to say that I love you all very much. You people are beautiful and the message you carry is so super concrete.
J. W., Medicine Park, Oklahoma
In spite of the testimonies of young people who found Christ through Jesus music, the battle against it went on. Certain evangelists would incite young people to literally burn anything resembling or alluding to rock music. There even were bonfires held for the occasion.
Evangelist Bob Larson was probably the most outspoken critic of rock music in the late 1960s and 1970s. Larson, himself a musician, wrote a book as early as 1967 denouncing rock-and-roll music as "the devil's diversion." His scathing criticisms of rock music rapidly resulted in support from the adult/parent side, while many teenagers scorned Larson.
Rock & Roll: The Devil's Diversion was followed by several more books on the evils of rock and roll: Rock & The Church (1971), Hippies, Hindus and Rock & Roll (1972), and The Day the Music Died (1973). Larson lectured at churches and high schools, playing demonstrations of rock music, speaking against it, and encouraging young people to destroy their rock records by burning them.
Larson's fiery antirock campaign was highly publicized by both the secular and religious press. The secular press was skeptical or critical; the religious press was generally sympathetic. However, Larson was anything but sympathetic toward Christian rock. In his book Rock & The Church, Larson laid down this indictment: ''I maintain that the use of Christian rock is a blatant compromise so obvious that only those who are spiritually blind by carnality can accept it.''
The phenomenon of Christian rock has been around only since approximately 1968. There is still some question whether or not decisions in Christian rock concerts lead to genuine rebirth. Usually there is no clear-cut invitation to repentance at such affairs. If the explanation of steps of salvation is blurred, how can the way be found?
Some have speculated that more often than not, conversion to Christ at Christian rock concerts and musicals is not really a born-again experience but an identification with the person of Jesus within the perspective of the ''groovy Christian life.
Although many of Larson's arguments against secular rock were well-founded, he created great resentment among Christian rock musicians with blanketing conclusions such as: ''Once the possibility of demon involvement is suggested, there is no way Christian rock can be justified.''
Other evangelists joined in denouncing rock, and the gap widened. The main support for the antirock preachers came from adults and parents who disliked rock and roll in the first place, and the anti-rock music books and lectures gave them what they believed to be a biblical foundation for the abhorrence of all rock music, including Jesus music.
The Jesus musicians who witnessed and had a part in the conversion of young people through their music were not as ready to criticize the more avant-garde styles of rock gospel. Even though they themselves may not have favored all of its forms, they saw the fruits of such evangelism.
Churck Girard of Love Song, with a background in rock music, commented in 1973, ''I believe God may call some hard rock band, and I believe they may do all hard rock 'n' roll, screaming Jesus lyrics. That may be all they do. I believe that where they'll be used is a different place than where we'll be used.
''I think it would be very hard for me,'' he continued, ''if I were
fifty-five or sixty-two, to believe right off the bat that this is all right on. Because I think some of it isn't. But I think it's hard for some of the older people to grasp the sincerity of the long-haired Christians at first, especially in light of the counterculture movement out of which grew the tradition of long hair and hard-rock music.
''I've had a lot of old people come up and say, 'Well, if Jesus has changed you on the inside, why doesn't he change you on the outside?' They should realize that God looks on the inner man.
''I think as everything progresses and they see that there are long-haired Christians sticking with it, faithful to the Lord, and being used as ministers, they'll understand it more.''
Many Jesus-rock musicians agreed with Larry Norman that Jesus is ''good for the body and great for the soul. He's the rock that doesn't roll.''
Cornerstone, a paper published by the Jesus People USA, printed this letter to the editors:
Until this past year, both of us thought being a Christian was pretty bad, no good music, old hymnbooks and a Bible that was written in old English. Not very much to interest people who were into living in the present. It wasn't until after I met Jesus and was born again that we met some other Christians who shared Larry Norman, Cornerstone and the Holy Spirit. So Christianity wasn't dead after all! Unsaved people hardly ever hear about this side the true life of joy of living for Jesus in today's world, not 400 years ago.
D. & C. H
Cornerstone was one of the ''underground'' Jesus papers which published the Good News in a most unique way. The paper was sponsored by the Jesus People USA in Chicago, who also formed The Resurrection Band. The band, which specialized in hard-rock, Christian-message music, began their ministry in 1971, playing in high schools, prisons, and in the streets.
The Resurrection Band, Cornerstone, and JPUSA's drama troupe, The Holy Ghost Players, were the most adventurous when it came to boldness in communicating the gospel. From the mod-art design of their newspaper to the screaming guitars in their band, they dealt in forms of communication which were controversial to say the least.
Contrary to the bad images of Christian rock 'n' rollers given by the antirock evangelists, these same young people were consistently more outspoken and bold in their presentation of the life-saving claims of Jesus than most Christians. The complaints against the raucousness of their music and the admonition that no one could use rock music to witness to the unsaved became mighty weak when the work of JPUSA was studied deeply, with literally thousands of people won to Christ through their ministry.
As the heated controversy continued, undaunted young composers kept at their work, creating what they were convinced the Lord wanted them to create. Because of the lack of support, there was little money in their work, and it was next to impossible to make more than a meager living as a professional contemporary Christian musician. This kept Jesus music a fairly pure art form for several years, practically devoid of the corruption which existed in many other forms of music, including some religious music.
Though Jesus music had been shunned by the majority of church leaders, young people were finding out about it, mostly by word-of-mouth. The exposure of the music on the radio still proved to be next to impossible, and the increasing number of Jesus-music records were still hard to find in stores.
The proprietors of the secular record stores, however, had every right to refuse much of the Jesus music. Since the music was still in fledgling stage, many of the albums being released were poor in quality. The spirit of the singers was not enough to qualify the albums as professional recordings, especially when the technical and musical quality of those albums was poor.
Also, many times the youth, in their crusade for Jesus music, became overexuberant and presumptuously expected their churches to accept the new kind of music too readily and without question. Unfortunately, there were not many adults who understood contemporary music enough to give them unbiased guidance which would encourage the young people in their musical pursuits, but at the same time calm their youthful overzealousness. In that sense, the young Christians had to make a go of it on their own.
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