Chapter 2: He's Everything to
During the early sixties, folk songs were one of the most popular forms of music. While Chubby Checker was twisting and Bobby Rydell was singing ''Wild One,'' folk-music ''hootenannies'' were becoming the Friday-night fare on college campuses. Some songsters traveled to the remotest parts of the Appalachians in search of more folk songs that could be recorded, introduced to the public, and in many cases exploited. But while the raw folk music was touching a limited audience with songs of unrequited love and bluetail flies, needles and pins were being woven into the fabric of the more public folk songs of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Ian and Sylvia, and Peter, Paul & Mary. Theirs were the folk songs of protest lamenting the woes of the younger generation as the gap began widening.
Though folk music was just about the simplest and most innocent form of music in America, the protest songs caused nearly all folk music to fall out of favor with the adults. In their eyes, all of it was lumped into one unacceptable category. Folk music was for beatniks and hippies, not respectable people.
Most churches of America continued with the hymns and many allowed their own style of folk music, though it was not recognized as such. The fellowship choruses such as ''Do Lord,'' ''Say 'Amen,' '' ''Give Me Oil in My Lamp,'' and ''I've Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart'' were the most contemporary of all Christian songs. They were used in Sunday-night fellowships and at camp, but hardly ever in the churches' sanctuaries. In the actual Sunday services the music was most often a selection of hymns ranging anywhere from ten to three hundred years old. Usually, the ''special'' music in each week's services was either of a country gospel or operatic nature, depending on the size, geographical area, and denomination of the church. Folk music was new and virtually untried.
One of the earliest denominations to utilize modern folk-style music was the Catholic church. The more liberal Catholics were working on the infusion of folk music into the church liturgies. As early as 1964, Ray Repp produced a ''folk mass,'' something completely new to the church scene. Repp's Mass for Young Americans was a forerunner of numerous folk masses which would be performed around the nation in a sweep of the Catholic churches. Christian folk records began to come out of the Catholic church also. FEL and Avante Garde were two companies which built up entire lines of Christian folk-music recordings.
Youth for Christ (YFC), a Christian teen organization, also had its own spokesman for contemporary Christian music during the early 1960s. He was Thurlow Spurr, who had originally formed a group known as the Spurrlows to minister at a local YFC rally in Winston-Salem, North Carolina:
Earlier I had heard Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians in concert, and I was completely knocked out by the beautiful sound of the orchestra and singers. I knew then that I wanted to do something like that except I wanted to do it for the Lord.
It wasn't too much later that Thurlow put the Spurrlows on the road full-time. The work of keeping the group touring led Thurlow to leave YFC in 1960.
The Spurrlows created smooth harmonies and modern arrangements to favorite hymns, traditional songs, and occasionally new music. As the years progressed, the style of the music they performed paralleled more and more of the current popular styles in secular music; the group developed an increasingly contemporary sound. By the late sixties, they were mixing in rock numbers at a regular pace.
Much of the support for the Spurrlows in the early sixties came from the Chrysler Corporation, which sponsored the group as they toured high schools all over America, promoting drivers' education and safety. They did their Chrysler work in school assemblies by day, and performed both secular and Christian contemporary music in local churches and auditoriums by night. More than a million people heard the Spurrlows each year.
Cam Floria, who worked with Youth for Christ in Portland, Oregon, developed a group very similar to the Spurrlows. Cam's group, the Continentals, developed their own tour patterns, and by
the early 1970s they were literally spanning the globe with contemporary Christian music.
The Continentals and the Spurrlows were in reality made up of numerous teams, all using the parent names, each touring different geographic regions in America and abroad. Groups such as the Continentals did much more than just convince adults to listen to pop music styles. They provided training for the singersnot just in performing, but in living in group situations and in relating their faith to others. As one leader described it, the objective was not to be selective in finding the most spiritual and the most professional singers and put them on tour. Ron Bowles, who directed several of the Continental tours, added, ''The idea was to enlist those young people who were interested in growing first in their faith, then in their musical proficiency. The singers and musicians in those groups, however, were still above average because of the intense training they went through prior to their tours.''
Ron explained why he felt the group experiences were invaluable. ''People, he said, ''were originally against the idea of contemporary Christian music because they had never heard it performed well. So, they were thinking the music was bad rather than the performers.
''One of the ways in which the Continentals were an asset was the way they brought quality performance of contemporary Christian music into the church. People were able to see it inside the church and see that it did have an effect.''
Many of the members of the Spurrlows and the Continentals later went on to form their own local groups. Very often, their concerts were the first taste churches had of anything related to the music of the 1960s and 1970s.
Both Thurlow Spurr and Cam Floria were aided in their endeavors by Ralph Carmichael, who would eventually record both groups on labels which he worked with or owned. Carmichael's crusade to contemporize Christian music had begun as early as 1947.
''Way back then,'' Carmichael explains, ''there was a rhythmic sound that people were listening to on their radios. Just a gentle bass and then a backseat on the guitar was all there was to it.
''We had music that could be played on keyboards that fit into those tempo slots, but the minute you put the bass and guitar and drums with it, and got it to where it was the sound the populace was listening to, then the church folk took exception to it. They would listen to it so long as it wasn't church music, but then they would come to church on Sunday and it had to be just the keyboards again.
''I couldn't figure that out,'' Carmichael continues, ''because I
I knew that I liked the sound. I loved the strings. I loved the pulse, the rhythms. I didn't understand why we were always having to sing in half notes and quarter notes and whole notes. You could never use the strings, the brass, the woodwinds."
Carmichael began to search for ways to make those sounds and use them in the Christian field. "How can you sing about the joy of the Lord," he pondered, "when you can only use the organ or the piano? You couldn't sing about the joy of the Lord using instruments like in the old Testamentthe drums, the cymbals, the sackbut, the stringed instrument, or the loud-sounding brass! It didn't make sense to me! Did God change His mind somewhere between the Old Testament and the New Testament?"
When Carmichael was about eighteen, his ideas started to develop and his experimentation with sound began. When he was twenty-one, he organized a band and traveled on holidays.
"We would get thrown out of churches," he recalls. "We had it all therefour trumpets, four trombones, five saxes, rhythm, and sixteen male singers. Things really started to happen when we went on television.
"We began to be accepted using strings and a moderate beat, too. There were several years when everything was comfortable because we had fought that battle and they were listening to the strings. I had made an album entitled 102 Strings, and we were doing big things with big choirs."
Just when Carmichael had "won the battle," secular music began changing, making a turn toward rock. "Some musicians made that transition," Carmichael adds. "By that time I had started to do some secular things. I was experimenting and learning my lessons, always hoping that what I learned in the secular field I could bring over and use in the Christian field.
"I didn't like rock. My daughter used to buy rock records and I would break them. I remember the day I went out to my car and I found her station on! We developed this 'her' station/'my' station syndrome. She would play the rock and I wouldn't play it. I would play only my station. I wouldn't even let her buy rock records with her allowance.
"Then one day Roger Williams called and asked, 'Can you write rock?' Well, of course that was getting into my pocketbook, so I said yes, and hung up the phone asking myself, 'Why did I say that?'
"Roger Williams isn't a rock musician, but things were happening in the commercial field with the influence of rock, so we did a record with a moderate rock beat. It was even eighth notes, if that made it rock.
''The song was 'Born Free,' and it was a hit! So my daughter
came home from school one day and she had bought Born Free, as did about two or three million other people. She flipped the album down and said, 'Is that the same Ralph Carmichael that doesn't like rock?' She had caught me!"
Carmichael continued to experiment. Soon Billy Graham began production of a film entitled The Restless Ones, an evangelistic thrust into the youth scene via film. Carmichael was asked to compose the score. Although by today's standard the music would seem tame, it caused waves among the conservative churchgoers because of its contemporary nature.
"I saw the film and it was so relevant," Carmichael recalls. "The message hit right where people lived. I thought to myself, 'Dear Lord, I hope I can do something more than just the hearts and flowers and the strings and oboe and that kind of thing. Let me do something that really says something to the kids.' So we went in and did a score with a fender bass and drum added to everything else. 'In the stars His handiwork I see. . . He's everything to me.' "
The fact that The Restless Ones had been produced by the Billy Graham Association tended to ease the worries of the dubious. The film was quite a success at church and youth-group showings around the world. The music from the film, especially ''He's Everything to Me,'' is still sung in churches today, many of those churches the same congregations which earlier would not allow it.
Not long after Carmichael had finished the soundtrack of The Restless Ones in 1965, Bob Oldenburg, Billy Ray Hearn, Cecil McGee, and a few other cohorts composed the first of at least a score of Christian folk musicals which soon would inundate the churches and religious bookstores of the nation. The first musical was Good News.
"What really sparked the idea," recalls Hearn, "was the big movement at that time toward the big road shows like 'Up with People.' We saw a lot of our church kids leaving the church to join up with groups like that.
"So a bunch of us got together during Recreation Week at the Baptist Assembly in Glorieta, New Mexico, and asked ourselves why we couldn't develop our own 'Up with People' music. We decided to write some music like that by the next annual Recreation Week.
"Meanwhile, we got together a bunch of kids who were there at Glorieta, and some guitars. We started working on some known spirituals and folk songs, and doing some hymns in a folk style. There were about eighty kids, about twenty guitars and a bass, but no drums. That was still a little far out."
The youth performed for the Recreation Conference audience
in 1966. In 1967 the men completed Good News, which was performed for the first time at Glorieta, and shortly after that at the Ridgecrest Baptist Assembly in North Carolina. In 1968, the musical was performed by one thousand three hundred young people and a fifty-piece orchestra at the Southern Baptist Convention in Houston. From there, Good News fever took over.
Kurt Kaiser, a composer who worked at Word Records in Waco, Texas, flew to Houston to see the musical. Kaiser and Hearn then phoned Ralph Carmichael and discussed the possibility of composing more Good News-type musicals. All three men saw that music such as that in Good News was what the churches and the young people needed.
''We discovered that there was a great gulf developing between the youth and the traditional church,'' Carmichael remembers. ''There were very few youth choirs. The church didn't like the kids' music, and the church didn't like the way the kids were dressing. They didn't like their hair styles, and the gulf was growing wider and wider. The churches were making the kids more and more uncomfortable. There were a lot of influences, but the result was that we decided to try something for the kids.''
Carmichael and Kaiser then began writing Tell It Like It Is. Billy Ray Hearn moved to Waco and joined the Word staff to promote the musical, and in 1970 Tell It Like It Is was released as a record and music folio.
''The gospel was very plain, but the music was those even eighth notes,'' Carmichael adds. ''Different choir directors started to see the potential, and youth choirs started growing. One lady who wrote to me said she had two or three kids who would meet with her on Saturday afternoons. She played Tell It Like It Is for them, the kids had become involved with it, and six months later there were forty kids in the youth choir. This happened over and over. I think we ultimately sold something over a half million of that $2.98 music folio, Tell It Like It Is.''
Carmichael and Kaiser then progressed to other musicalsNatural High and I'm Here, God's Here, Now We Can Start. The two composers gradually pulled away from the ''folk'' category of the earlier ones and began writing them in a contemporary, quasirock style. Not all of the later musicals, however, met with the success of Good News and Tell It Like It Is, probably for two main reasons. First, the impact of musicals was lessened by a sudden flooding of the market by more and more of the same. Second, many of the follow-up musicals were hastily prepared and too closely resembled their more successful and better predecessors.
Other notable musicals, however, were Otis Skillings' Life and Love, and Jimmy Owens' Show Me, which was performed in the spring of 1971 at Disneyland, as well as in hundreds of churches. Later Jimmy and his wife Carol would team up to write Come Together, If My People, and The Witness.
Composer Owens met with considerable opposition in the late sixties, as did the other writers who wanted to introduce contemporary music styles into the church. By 1972 he had found the going somewhat smoother but still difficult.
Said Owens in an interview at that time, ''For the first time since right after the Civil War we are able to use contemporary music in the church. All through history there have been periods when the church would for a time speak the language of the people with its music, and then the music would become crystallized. The world would continue to grow while the church would hold sacred the styles that had evolved to a certain point. The attitude was like 'If it was good enough for our grandfathers, it's good enough for us. No one can change it. If you change it, you get kicked out.'
''The first guy who tried part-singing in church,'' Owens continued, ''was excommunicated and his soul consigned to hell because they only sang in unison then. I could give example after example all through church history of that type of thing, which stems from not being open to the Spirit.
''The Salvation Army Band is a good example. The Army was founded by General Booth, and at the time the brass band was the hottest popular music of the day. Every little town had one, and every little town said, 'our brass band is better than your brass band.' You could put a brass band on a street corner and draw a crowd immediately.
''That's what the Salvation Army did because that was the pop style of the day. But, as one Salvation Army major said to me a few years ago, 'All progress ceased at General Booth's funeral,' '' Owens added. ''Everything crystallized, and anyone who dared change it was changing 'holy tradition' that had come down through General Booth. So the brass band continued on until it was no longer acceptable to the general public. There are still people who love brass bands, but the brass band has become a sort of mockery of the Salvation Army.
''Within the last ten years,'' Owens concluded, ''there have come up leaders within the Salvation Army who have seen that we have to be bold and we have to change things. If Booth were still alive, progress would have continued; it wouldn't have stopped at the
brass band. General Booth was a visionary who would have been using rock music by now.''
While thirteen hundred Salvation Army units still existed around the country playing the traditional instrumental hymns in 1973, a few rock groups sponsored by the Army began showing up in the Midwest and Canada. In England, Joy Strings, a Salvation Army contemporary music group, had released a record album as early as 1965.
According to a February 1973 article in Right On!, the few Army rock groups had caused some disgruntlement with the more traditionalistic, old-guard members, ''who wonder at the merits of using rock music in the salvation of souls.'' The rock groups were composed of guitarists, an organist, a drummer, five singers, and a large brass section (keeping up the family tradition), sending forth the music in the vein of then-popular rock groups Blood, Sweat and Tears, Lighthouse, and Chicago. The article quoted the Army's supervisor of the rock band as saying, ''It's not the type of music, but the saving of souls that's important.'' One Army major stated, ''We've found that direct person-to-person relationships are most effective, and the way to get to the kids is through their music.''
Another Army officer working in the New York area recalled General Booth's statement that he ''would use the devil's own tune if it would turn one soul out of darkness.''
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