Chapter 14: Superstar

The amazing growth of Jesus music in 1975 continued all over the country in 1976, as Jimmy Carter introduced Americans to the term ''born again.'' Virtually unknown before his presidential candidacy, Carter testified to his faith and brought about a new interest in evangelicalism. In the tradition of Look magazine, whose writers in the early seventies had invented the term ''Jesus movement,'' the press labeled this new consciousness the ''born-again movement.'' Plenty of Christians already knew the meaning of the term, but it was new to people outside the church.

   Well-known personalities began verbalizing their faith in Christ as Savior, and in many cases following dramatic changes in their lives: Chuck Colson and Jeb Stuart Magruder of Watergate infamy; Susan Atkins and Charles ''Tex'' Watson of the convicted Manson Family; actor Dean Jones of Walt Disney fame; actress Lulu Roman of ''Hee Haw''; Eldridge Cleaver of the Black Panthers; and Roger Staubach of the Dallas Cowboys.

   The same renewal seemed to be taking place in the musical entertainment field. Singers who once rocked and rolled for fame and fortune changed their tune as they got a better grip on their lives. Though there seemed to be a rash of such testimonies in the late seventies, the changed lives had been occurring throughout the rock and roll years. But it wasn't as easy in the earlier years for entertainers to admit publicly that they were Christians. During the sixties, the popular trend of youth was away from the churches, the Christian religion, and Americanism. For an artist to declare ''I am a Christian'' was a bold move with plenty of complications for his or her public life.

   Pat Boone was one of the first rock performers to proclaim Christ when it wasn't the popular thing to do. He was chided by

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critics as being square, milquetoast, the epitome of blandness. Yet, the number of lives positively affected by Pat Boone's work and witness was definitely nothing to scoff at.

   Frequent visits on national television talk shows were an excellent example of this witness. He was not pompous with his religion, and prior to each show he would carefully pray and ask the Lord whether it was the time and place to speak of Christ verbally, or whether it was more important for him to be a living example, while sparing words.

   Because between 1955 and 1969 fifty-eight of Pat's records reached the top 100 charts, Rolling Stone featured a cover story on Pat in their January 29, 1976 issue. Author John Anderson stated that he had expected Boone to be a ''Rasputin-like character.'' By the conclusion, Anderson mused that he had not found Pat to be the ''greedy, money-grabbing hypocrite'' he had set out to discover: ''Whatever Pat does, he does in response to the voice which calls out to him with a reality he can bank on.''

   In 1972 Pat formed his own record company, Lamb and Lion Records, on which numerous gospel-music and Jesus-music performers were given their starts. The work Pat has done in getting the word out about Jesus has been unparalleled by any other pop entertainer.

   Pat's daughter Debby carried on a family tradition of hits when she recorded ''You Light Up My Life'' in 1977. The song became the biggest pop record hit in twenty-three years, and remained in the number 1 position for ten weeks. ''You Light Up My Life'' had a special meaning for the twenty-one-year-old Debby. The song was the theme from a movie, which she admits she ''didn't even agree with.'' (Her recording was not in the movie, nor did she see the movie until after ''You Light Up My Life'' was #1.)

   ''I sang it to the Lord, and that's all!'' she added. ''The first time I heard the song, I thought it was just an okay song. But when I started listening to the words and saw how it really applied to my relationship with the Lord, then the excitement came!''

   With the hit came Debby's opportunity to perform on ''The Tonight Show,'' plus an endless string of other network shows. On such occasions Debby didn't hide the fact that she was a Christian, especially if the question came up in an interview situation. But she didn't tout her faith on every stage on which she performed. She viewed her function in the Lord's work as being something similar to that of the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testamentthat is, a container of the Holy Spirit.

   ''I should just be who I am. Debby Boonecontainer of the

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Holy Spirit,'' she explained in a private interview. ''I don't have to get in a 'good one for the Lord' each time I appear on a TV show. The power of the Holy Spirit will come across and it will do the work! I don't try to hide it, but I don't try to force it either. It's just amazing when I get a letter from someone who says, 'I heard your song on the radio and recommitted my life to the Lord,' or 'I was going through such a difficult time in my life and I heard that song and it pulled me through.' And I wasn't even trying! I was just singing to the Lord!''

   Debby's faith in the Lord was no secret, nor was that of her three sistersLaury, Lindy, and Cherrywith whom she recorded Jesus-music albums on her father's record label. The sisters' up-bringing in a Christian atmosphere made the Boone family the object of heavy scrutiny from the sensationalist press, ready to pounce on them for any wandering from that faith or its lifestyle. But each of the daughters, along with parents Pat and Shirley, withstood such criticism and continued to be strong in their Christian witness.

   While John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison were singing as ''The Quarrymen'' in church-hall dances and ''beat clubs,'' a young man named Harry Webb made his first record. In August 1958, Webb took on the professional name of Cliff Richard, and with his group the Drifters recorded ''Move It'' and ''Schoolboy Crush.'' The records catapulted Cliff Richard into national prominence as a rock singer.

   The hits continued, at a rate of about five a year, and Cliff Richard became Britain's top performer. Even when the Beatles exploded with their hits in the early 1960s, Cliff continued his hold on the charts of Britain, as well as in Europe and Asia.

   Thus, in 1966, when Cliff stepped up to the microphone on Billy Graham's podium at a London Crusade where over twenty-five thousand people were present, the whole nation listened. Though he was one of the nation's best-known and most popular individuals, he was nervous.

   ''I have never had the opportunity to speak to an audience as big as this before,'' he began, ''but it is a great privilege to be able to tell so many people that I am a Christian. I can only say to people who are not Christians that until you have taken the step of asking Christ into your life, your life is not really worthwhile. It worksit works for me.''

   Cliff's announcement hit the pages of every London paper the next morning. Would he end his career and go into ''religion''? Just what would become of Cliff Richard was the gossip of the music

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papers. In a 1972 Rolling Stone interview, some four years after his public profession, Cliff expressed a frustration he shared with many other Christians. ''When I came out for Jesus, most people said, 'Well there goes a good career,' When it didn't end, they said, 'Oh what a gimmick.' ''

   Cliff also said in the interview that he challenged the "popularity of Jesus Christ and some of his (Cliff's) contemporaries for going along with it.'' Cliff added:

Everybody (is) able to record ''My Sweet Lord'' and ''Oh Happy Day.'' except me. If I did anything like that everybody would say: ''Oh here comes the religious bit.'' But everybody else could do it. As a Christian I felt that where they all missed out, although they were great records, was that they didn't know exactly who Jesus was.

   In 1976, rock superstar Elton John signed Cliff to a contract with his Rocket Record Company. Cliff recorded ''Devil Woman,'' and the song reached #6 on the Billboard charts, the biggest American hit of his nineteen-year recording career. Those people who remembered Cliff's statements of his faith back in 1966 were taken aback by such a song as ''Devil Woman.'' Cliff defended the song, stating that it was a warning against occult practices rather than an endorsement.

   Cliff's continued testimonies for Christ in pop concerts around the world at least indicated his strong faith. His popularity as a singer enabled Cliff to experience awesome opportunities at witnessing. Not long after his American hit, Cliff was sharing Christ with nearly seventy thousand people inof all placesLeningrad and Moscow.

   Noel Paul Stookey met Jesus in an Austin, Texas, motel room. Stookey had been touring for years as the ''Paul and'' of Peter, Paul & Mary, one of the top vocal groups in the United States during the troubled 1960s. Noel's success as a performer had failed to give him the satisfaction of being a whole person. His friend Bob Dylan had advised him to read the Bible, so Noel was somewhat ready when a young man came up to him at an Austin concert to talk to him about Jesus.

   "We got to rapping," Noel recalls. "I had been reading the New Testament and looking for some kind of a moral way to live my lifesomething more fulfilling than what I had. I had no idea I was gonna get 'smote!'

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"It was terrific. I went back to my hotel room and I asked Jesus to come into my life. I cried, and oh! What a fantastic time we had that night! It was just a very cleansing experience."

   Noel's acceptance of Christ as Savior led to the dissolution of the Peter, Paul & Mary trio after ten years of many hits together. The three were still friends, but Noel felt it was time.

   "I began to see my life as a paradox. I mean, I loved being on the road in terms of the people I met. I was talking about love, togetherness, home and family, and continuity of spirit, but I wasn't living it, because I was on the road four days out of the week. I had a child in school and it just seemed logical after accepting Christ and reading the New Testament that I should get me back to where I belonged.''

   Noel did just that. He ultimately moved himself and his family to South Blue Hill, Maine (population 1,200). He began singing in the Congregational Church Choir. His twin daughters and older daughter began to see more of their father than most musicians' kids did. Noel's wife, Elizabeth, took up operation of a greenhouse, and the whole family benefited from Noel's revelation of ''how much better it is to live near God.''

   Noel didn't say farewell to recording, however. He began his own eight-track recording studio and animation studio (he's a cartoonist, too). In 1977 he began releasing albums on his own Neworld label.

   In 1978 Noel announced that Peter Yarrow, Mary Travers, and he would reunite as Peter, Paul & Mary for a concert tour and a new recording.

   By late 1975, B. J. Thomas's record sales had reached thirty-two million copies. He scored high with ''(Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song'' in early 1975. The singalong hit reached #1.

   But just while everything seemed rosy for B.J. in the eyes of the record-buying world, the bottom had fallen out for him. He was a drug addict; his cocaine alone cost $3,000 a week. He was separated from his wife and daughter and could hardly get through a recording session because of his incoherency. He developed a reputation among musicians as being extremely hard to work with and creating havoc in the studios.

   ''In 1975 I began to realize that I was either going to die or I was going to make a decision to put the drugs down,'' B. J. recalls. ''I couldn't put them down, so I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to eventually kill myself. On many occasions, I would take

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over fifty pills at one time and I would say 'B., this is going to kill you.' And then I would say, 'Well, who cares?' ''

   Later in the year, B. J. was scheduled to do a concert in Hawaii. After taking more than eighty pills that particular night, B. J. told the audience he couldn't sing. He left the stage and went back to his hotel room.

   ''Somehow,'' B. J. later explained, ''my road man got me to the airport. They noticed I wasn't breathing very much. My fingernails turned black and my lips turned black. Then, as I got worse, they put a mirror under my nose and couldn't get any breath. For all intents and purposes I had died.''

   They got B. J. to a hospital and immediately hooked his body up to machines in an effort to revive him. ''I woke up the next day and asked them, 'Well, how close was it?' They said I had been gone. Only the machines kept me alive.''

   Coincidentally, B. J.'s record company had released another single off his current album. The title, ''Help Me Make It (To My Rocking Chair),'' said more than anyone on the outside world could imagine.

   B. J.'s wife Gloria kept imploring him to come home. Gloria had become a Christian, and she saw light at the end of the tunnel for her husband. By early 1976, he was no more than a hallowed-out shell of a man. He finally conceded to return home to Hurst, Texas.

   Shortly after he came back, Gloria's witness, his daughter Paige's love, and some friend's prayers led B. J. to accept new life in Christ. He was healed of his drug habit in those intense moments that night in January 1976. ''It was such a miraculous thing for me,'' he later recalled. ''When I received the Lord as my Savior, I just knew I was gonna go through some withdrawals. I knew I was gonna lose my mind. But I never had one shaky moment, one sleepless night. Nothing bad ever happened.''

   The next few months were spent pulling his family back together, straightening out finances (including declaring bankruptcy), and generally making plans for a new future. B. J.'s contract with his record label was terminated, and one of his first moves was to do an album of songs relating his love for Christ.

   ''I just wanted to cut Christian music, but I think that happens so many times with new Christians. If they have a certain career going, they think that God wants them to quit it and do only religious things. I talked to my pastor about it, and he reminded me that a lot of people's ministry is not in a church. I began to realize that if I would just give my testimony at the end of my show, and just as God would have me say it, what a ministry that was!''

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   So B. J. signed with Myrrh Records to record Christian music, but he also secured a contract with MCA Records to continue singing pop music, too. His first Myrrh album became one of gospel music's all-time best-selling albums, and his first post-Christian pop single, ''Don't Worry Baby,'' became #17 in the nation in 1977.

   B. J. had become a true success. Not by his thirty-two million plus records, he would remind you. It was his yielding to Jesus Christ that gave him a new lease on life. Like other big-name entertainers, he became stronger in Christ, but his strength would continue to be taxed as he ministered in the world and to the world. His entire life became a stage, and people were watching every move.

   ''I don't wanna be a super star. All I want to do is shine with the light of Jesus,'' a Christian hit of that era, well summarized the goal of B. J. and other born-again musicians.

   Along with the new ''acceptability'' of Christianity, Christian music began to flourish at an even more astounding rate in 1977. The world was beginning to take more notice of the music as a result of increased product, promotion, publicity, and the people's genuine search for spiritual values in their lives.

   An aggressive push by Christian record companies finally began to get record albums to the front of Christian bookstores instead of ''back behind the greeting cards.'' Some Christian bookstores became known as ''book and record stores.''

   Likewise, the availability of good Jesus-music albums increased at an amazing rate. At Word, Incorporated, in 1975 about 5 percent of the recorded product sold was contemporary. Only three years later, the amount had increased to 60 percent.

   As record companies began producing more product, more radio stations were able to go on the air with full-time contemporary Christian musicstations such as WINQ in Tampa/St. Petersburg, KBRN in Brighton/Denver, KFKZ in Greeley/Ft. Collins, KQLH in San Bernardino, KBIQ in Seattle, WYCA in Hammond/Chicago, and numerous others who joined the Jesus-music radio pioneers. There were more and more newspapers and magazines giving attention to contemporary Christian music, too. Gospel Trade, Singing News, Harmony, Cashbox, Record World, Billboard, and Contemporary Christian Music all featured articles and charts on Jesus music.

   In 1977, Myrrh Records kicked off a sales promotion campaign which would bring Jesus music into greater prominence than ever before. The $75,000 campaign was run with all the noise and glamour of a movie premiere in Hollywood. Giant posters, sample records

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in magazines, radio commercials, and special displays prompted Christian book and record store operators to carry more Jesus music. ''The music is today, the message is forever,'' the banners announced. It was Jesus music's biggest advertising boost in its nine-year history.

   By the time of the Myrrh campaign, the label had the largest roster of contemporary Christian artists in the country, including many musicians who had been major contributors to Jesus music's history: Malcolm & Alwyn (two of the first British musicians); Michael Omartian (respected Hollywood record producer and keyboard artist); B. J. Thomas; Honeytree; the 2nd Chapter of Acts; the Pat Terry Group; Randy Matthews; Limpic & Rayburn; Bob Ayala; Chris Christian; comedian Mike Warnke (more or less the chaplain of the Jesus-music world); David Meece; Lily Green; and several other artists and groups. Myrrh and the labels distributed under its banner provided some of the best opportunities for musicians to communicate the gospel via Jesus music on record.

   Myrrh also distributed several independent labels' recordings: Solid Rock (Larry Norman's label); New Song (Love Inn's label); Good News (pioneer Jesus-music label); Messianic (Lamb's label); and Seed (Paul Clark's label). Word, Myrrh's parent company, also distributed a good deal of Jesus music on Light, Lamb & Lion, and NewPax Records. Even the more traditional Word label fared well with contemporary Christian music fans through artist Evie Tornquist. Evie's music, like that of the Imperials and Andrae Crouch, tended to break down the barriers between ''traditional,'' inspirational,'' and ''contemporary'' Christian music. People of all ages found their music uplifting and enjoyable.

   Word, Incorporated was not the only company pushing hard to promote Jesus music. Billy Ray Hearn, who had been with Myrrh Records since its inception, had left Myrrh and Texas to begin the new Sparrow record label in California. Most notable of Sparrow's early releases was Keith Green's first album, For Him Who Has Ears to Hear, which became one of the top three contemporary religious albums in 1977 and 1978. Also joining the Sparrow roster were Annie Herring, brothers John and Terry Talbot, Barry McGuire, Janny Grine, Danniebelle Hall, the 2nd Chapter of Acts, and Scott Wesley Brown. Sparrow also distributed Birdwing, Spirit, and Neworld Records.

   In Nashville, Benson Publishing Company, whose Impact label had reinroduced Larry Norman's Upon This Rock and other albums to Jesus-music fans in earlier years, had reentered the contemporary music scene via Greentree Records in 1976. By 1978, their release

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schedule picked up radically, with everything from Reba Rambo Gardner's Streisand-style albums to Dony and Joy McGuire's Christian disco music. Greentree also released albums by Tim Sheppard, Dallas Holm & Praise, and others.

   In Kansas City, Tempo started a contemporary label, Chrism, featuring music by a long-time Jesus music group, the Hope of Glory. In Pasadena, Texas, Star Song Records was born. In Costa Mesa, California, Maranatha! Music continued adding more artists to its roster. Likewise, other independent labels began springing up all across the country, providing more and more Jesus music for the masses. Jesus-music fans had never had it so good.

Chapter Fifteen  ||  Table of Contents