Chapter 21: Crossing Over from the
As discussed earlier in this history, scores of young Jesus musicians got their starts through Maranatha! Music and the associated record company started as an outreach of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California. By the end of the seventies, there were around fifty Calvary Chapels which had sprung up around the country, constituting one of the largest "nondenominations" in America. (The leadership shunned the classification which would lump all of the Chapels into the very category so many of its members had sought to escape: denominationalism.)
Each Calvary Chapel was different in its own way, but most of them based their work on ideas from home base. From a national perspective, though, the ministry of the Calvary Chapels continued to manifest itself especially in the excellent music pouring forth from Manaratha! Music and Records, A & S Records, and the related Ministry Resource Center (MRC). Their ministries continued to be very much a part of the cutting edge, daring to experiment in a new forms of music, from praise choruses to rock, from the Kid's Praise children's albums to adult mood music.
The MRC was designed as a training ground and starting-point for new artists and groups. Though not exactly the same, some of the services of the MRC were similar to those offered through the Fellowship of Contemporary Christian Ministries (FCCM). However, the FCCM did not have the same financial base for development as did MRC, and the going was rougher. Since some West Coast ministries often showed little interest in working with organizations or churches from outside their own geographical region or jurisdiction, no strong bond developed between the two organizations.
In microcosm, such duplication of efforts and poor cooperation between individual fellowships was a problem which developed fairly
early in the history of Jesus music and was not yet totally solved in the eighties. In spite of efforts to bridge the chasm, West Coast, East Coast, and Midwest Christianity often found difficulty in interrellating. As large as the United States was, sheer geographical separation made it tough in many cases.
In the FCCM, the populated regions for membership were the Plains and Rocky Mountain regions and the West Coast. Cities in much of the Plains and Rocky mountain states were practically islands, they were so distant from each other. With gas prices leaping to way over a dollar a gallon, travel became more costly, and fellowship through regional and national conferences was more difficult than it had already been. Separated from the rest of the nation by a vast expanse of desert, the West Coast, particularly California, was pretty well an island unto itself, developing a unique lifestyle and form of regionalistic loyalty. In fact, one major West Coast concert promoter shied away from featuring artists from anywhere but California.
People traveling from one part of the country to another often noticed a distinct difference in the musical preferences among Christians, and just who the most popular Christian singers were. While one artist was considered the most popular in one region, he or she would be virtually unheard of in another.
In the Southeast, for example, contemporary Christian music was just beginning to show tremendous growth around the end of the seventies. The region was a latecomer in establishing itself thusly, but once the growth began, it became one of the most active regions for contemporary Christian music and work, especially on the less-publicized street level. Part of that slow start may be attributed to the generally charismatic nature of Jesus musicians, who were suspect in the eyes of the strong Southern Baptist churches of the South. For instance, some Baptist church leaders would not escort their youth groups to the large annual Jesus festivals in Orlando (such as Jesus '80), worried about their young people being proselyted by the charismatic speakers and singers.
East and West had been somewhat pitted against each other in other ways also. Nashville, long recognized as a gospel-music center, faced Los Angeles, where contemporary music developed and flourished. Singing News was published in the Southeast. CCM was published in California. Singing News highlighted southern gospel; CCM highlighted contemporary Christian music. The content of the magazines allowed for coverage of news and music from all parts of the country, but the prominent features generally followed regional lines of patriotism. And each explained that it was because their
region was where things were happening the most. Whether the magazines caused such an East-West mentality or whether they only reflected what already existed is up for debate.
The mention of such problems as the East-West debate or ministry vs. evangelism might to tend to make the reader assume that there were nothing but problems within contemporary Christian music, or that this book dwells on the negative. The fact is, the dichotomies existed and were very much a part of the history, though they were fairly well kept behind the scenes. But such a history as this would not be authentic if it did not observe the differences as well as the smooth-going side of the contemporary Christian music work. Such problems in and of themselves are not negative; in any growth there should be open dialogue and discussion of differences in order to improve upon the future.
On the positive side, there were several factors contributing to the bridging of regional barriers or gaps. Artists were hard at work touring, crisscrossing the country with their musical message. The extensive and commendable work of record companies in getting product out, as mentioned before, also helped. The increased interest among Christian booksellers to give records an honest try put music product in a more prominent position. As a result, music sales increased from 9 percent of total sales in 1976 to 25 percent in 1984, an increase of 250 percent. In the overall recording industry, gospel recordings accounted for 5 percent of the money spent in retail stores for albums and tapes.
Radio stations expanded their music hours, giving more exposure to the artists and their songs. Concert promoters endeavored to bring artists for concerts who would minister to the public. Christian magazines covered more music topics. Record companies helped spread the music by appointing regional sales representatives who could feel the pulse of their own regions of the country and report local trends back to their home companies.
Perhaps one of the most important gap-narrowers on a national scope was the tremendous work done by Christian television. The advent of satellite broadcasts greatly lessened the distances between the various regions of the United States. Ultimately the space-age technology would mean immediate access in virtually every home in America to the best and worst Christian television programming, be it a house trailer in Searchlight, Nevada, a white frame house in Prairie City, Iowa, or a cabin in the Maine woods.
Nationwide radio accessibility showed promise with satellite too. In 1981 the Continental Satellite Radio Network went on the air from WXRI-FM in Virginia, sponsored by the Christian Broadcasting Network.
Top-name personalities were enlisted for the continent-girding network, and high hopes reignedfor awhile. It was a fairly brief, ill-fated flight, however, as the Network failed to sign up enough receiver stations to make the venture financially feasible. Only a year or so later the Network, which featured music in a secular positive pop/Christian contemporary mix, went silent.
Satellite television was a different story. Though gradual, the growing use of video to broadcast the Good News via gospel music showed signs of promise. The PTL Television Network became the first all-satellite network, while CBN used the burgeoning cable possibilities to become a highly respected cable ''fourth network.'' The Trinity Broadcasting Network, based in California, also began satellite broadcasts. Each of these three major Christian TV networks began to feature contemporary Christian musicians and their music for viewers from the Atlantic to the Pacific and beyond.
New horizons had been discovered and explored in 1979 with Hosanna USA, an extravagant concert performed at the Anaheim Convention Center in California, attended by ten thousand people inside and four thousand outside the building. What made this concert unique was its transmission live via satellite nationwide, a first for contemporary Christian music.
The concert, emceed by Calvary Chapel Denver's Tom Stipe, was sponsored by Maranatha! Ministries and featured Kelly Willard, Benny Hester, Leon Patillo, and Denny Correll. Pastor Chuck Smith delivered a ''hosanna message'' to conclude the concert.
Most of the artists featured in that satellite telecast were ''cross-over'' artists, having defected to Christian music following dramatic conversions in their spiritual lives. Benny Hester had recorded a secular album previously, while based in Las Vegas; Leon Patillo had performed as keyboardist and singer with secular group Santana; Denny Correll had been part of the San Francisco Bay Area early seventies rock group Blues Image.
The list of artists crossing over from the secular side of the pop music fence was lengthening at a pace invigorating and exciting for Christian music fans. Many Christians followed secular pop music too, and they were overjoyed to see some of the musicians they had already watched closely add new dimension to their music.
The strongest reaction came when news filtered out, first through fast-traveling rumors, that Bob Dylan had become a Christian. Viewed by many observers and musicologists as the most influential single lyricist of the sixties, Dylan had evidently brought his long-time spiritual odyssey to the cross of Jesus, according to the rumors and later news reports. After talking with pastors of the Vineyard Fellowship in Tarzana, California, Dylan had reportedly
prayed to receive Jesus Christ as Savior. Or, as the secular press was wont to explain, he ''got religion.''
Dylan, always the enigmatic one, so stunned the music industry by this revelation that the occasion even prompted a rushed book entitled, DylanWhat Happened? It was released immediately following a series of concerts in late 1979, during which Dylan seemed to remove most doubts about his conversion, except for those expressed by the most skeptical critics.
In his concerts, Dylan incensed many of his longtime fans, not so much by changing his tune, but by changing his lyrics. A concert review in The Denver Post was typical in its sarcastic tone: ''Now that Dylan's enamored of religion, a charitable review would be 'Christian,' '' it read. His fans were evidently quite content with his continuing his spiritual search and sticking with his old hits in the meantime, rather than settling on something as ''ordinary'' as born-againism.
Dylan appeared on the popular ''Saturday Night Live'' TV show, performing what would become his Grammy-winning song, ''Gotta Serve Somebody.'' That song was chosen to be the first single off Dylan's controversial Slow Train Coming LP, heavy with Christian symbolism down to the cover art, and recognized by some Christian music people as one of the finest rock statements of the Christian faith ever recorded. The vibrant selection of songs on the LP was full of bumper-sticker slogans, which Dylan seemed unmatched in creating. The title song put it as blatantly as could be for a searching world: ''It might be the devil, or it might be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody.''
When reporters tried to get to him for interviews, Dylan was just as elusive and reclusive as ever, prompting some Christians to begin doubting him, further questioning stories about his conversion. Finally in 1980 he consented to an interview with the Los Angeles Times. In it, he freely spoke about his belief in Christ.
Dylan repeated in the few interviews he gave that the music said everything about where he was and how he felt. Even Columbia Records, his label, couldn't seem to get a handle on the new Dylan. How do you market a stern rocker singing about Jesus? It had been a question they had encountered before on a small scale, but never with a giant like Dylan. Seeing his conversion as a sure slice in record sales, it appeared that they more or less let rumors fly unabated about Dylan's rumored subsequent return to practicing Judaism in 1982, following Dylan's attendance of his son's bar mitzvah. He was also reported to have visited the Lubovich Hassidic sect, noted for its work in drawing alienated Jews back into the fold.
To some, it evidently appeared that Dylan's odyssey wasn't over
yet. To others, the speculation was that Dylan was just choosing to keep silent, as usual, rather than grandstanding his religion.
Finally, in 1984, after three postconversion albumsSlow Train Coming, Saved, and Shot of LoveDylan granted an interview with Rolling Stone. He was quoted in giant, headline-style letters: ''I never said I was born again.'' However, the startling quote was taken out of context. The article, though salted with less-than Christian language, confirmed in Dylan's own words his high respect for the Bible and his literal belief in it, especially the Book of Revelation. His confession of never having said he was ''born again'' could have been typical semantical sparring, his true feeling, or somewhere in between. The mystery continued in a sort of Howard Hughes avoidance of the truth.
Regardless of where he stood in 1984, Dylan had helped in the early years of the eighties to add considerable momentum to a crossover movement in pop music. In accepting the Grammy award for ''Gotta Serve Somebody'' in 1980, after singing on the show with remarkable clarity of lyrics, he added: ''I didn't expect this, and I want to thank the Lord.''
Few words, but in that rare televised utterance the 1980 Grammy show took on an unprecedented ''religious'' air. During the first hour of the telecast, there seemed to be an endless procession of people expressing their gratitude to the Lord, giving one the impression that God was alive and well in the music industry. Andrae Crouch and the Disciples and the Mighty Clouds of Joy gospel group brought the audience to their feet when they performed. Later, when Dionne Warwick accepted her Grammy, she gave God the glory for endowing her with musical talent. Several other performers, each in their own way, gave the awards show an unbelievably gospel air. In addition, several personalities who were Christian celebrities were shown on camera, seated in the audience.
One of them was Donna Summer, who had also recently found spiritual renewal through faith in Christ. On her 1980 pop album The Wanderer, the woman credited with perfecting the sultry, sexy disco song had made efforts to clean up her dirty-girl image. One cut on her LP was ''I Believe in Jesus,'' an exuberant song which tended to give more credence to the rumors of her conversion. Later she would appear on Christian talk shows and share more about her faith, while continuing her secular work.
Hot on the heels of the Grammies in 1980, it appeared as if there might be a return to the spirit of the seventies, with songs about heavenly things hitting the charts at a pace unparalleled since
the days of the Jesus movement. ''Gotta Serve Somebody'' had hit the top in many cities. ''All Things Are Possible,'' a double-entendre song recorded by Dan Peek, formerly a member of the pop group America, stayed on the hit charts for several weeks. (This double-meaning music was tagged ''positive pop'' by its proponents, but the term never really took off.)
Paul Davis, the son of a Methodist preacher, scored with a big hit in ''Do Right,'' which began with an unmistakably clear Christian message for pop music: ''I know that He gave His life for me; set all our spirits free.'' Keeping close company with Davis' hit was Bruce Cockburn's ''Wondering Where the Lions Are.'' His first American hit after ten albums in his native Canada was part of an LP project titled Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws. Cockburn was inspired to write much of his poetic, esoteric music by British novelist Charles Williams, a friend of C.S. Lewis. Williams wrote a series of horror stories with spiritual themes.
Other religious and quasi-Christian music on the pop charts in the early eighties included songs such as ''The Good Lord Loves You,'' sung by Neil Diamond, and ''With You I'm Born Again,'' performed by Billy Preston and Syreeta. The latter was a sexy, secular double play on words, using the religious buzzword of the seventies. Preston had always included a gospel song on each of his rock albums, and in 1978 recorded his first of two gospel albums for the Myrrh label. Preston's popularity as a Christian performer was limited among evangelicals, due most likely to his double-meaning hit with Syreeta and a controversial performance in a rock movie.
Christians also had a hand at producing several hit secular recordings in 1980. Michael Omartian, Freddie Piro, Bill Schnee, and Chris Christian all contributed their talents in producing hits.
More specifically within the Christian music industry, there was a roll call of sorts developinga Who's Who of rock and pop artists who were making the crossover in their lives and on the stage.
Not all of the fairly new Christians chose to stay in the secular music business. Many of them determined that too much compromise would be demanded of them that way, or already had been. So they devoted their time to recording and performing Christian music exclusively.
Dion DiMucci, who began singing professionally with a Bronx street-corner oo-wee group named the Belmonts in 1958, gave a poignant testimony in his words and on his album Inside Job, recorded on Word's DaySpring label. Later, during an appearance on a Dick Clark TV special, Dion got his say out to the millions watching.
''They asked me the same question they asked each performer,'' Dion later recalled. ''It was, 'Where are you now?' I looked directly at the camera and said:
'' 'I started out in this business in 1958, and I've seen people reach the top, yet die of miserable, broken lives. By the grace of God I'm sitting here just born. I feel like I've just started. I've never lived! I feel like the Apostle Paul said in Philippians: I count it all rubbish, I count everything I've gained rubbish, for the sheer of joy of knowing Jesus.' ''
Dion's enthusiasm was indicative of the spirit of many of the artists who crossed over into the Christian music scene as the result of their personal encounters with Jesus. ''On that show,'' he continued, ''I had the chance to say it's not in the gold records, it's not in the next party, it's not in the next record contract, it's not in the next relationship, or the next sports car you've got, or the next house you buy, or the next this, or the next that, or your position. I said, 'Your serenity depends on your relationship with God. Your peace of mind depends on God. It doesn't depend on your feelings or your circumstances.' ''
Gary S. Paxton, whose early rock career included working with the Hollywood Argyles of ''Alley Oop'' fame and Skip & Flip, had a similar testimony on one of Dick Clark's ''where-are-they-now'' TV specials. Other legends of early rock and shoo-bop music shared their testimonies on other occasions. Little Anthony Gourdine, who had been lead singer of Little Anthony and the Imperials in the fifties and sixties, was one. ''He's polishing me up and putting me through the faith,'' he said in an interview in 1980, the year he recorded a Christian album called Daylight for MCA Songbird Records.
From the more recent rock scene came Richie Furay, whose recording history included Buffalo Springfield, Poco, and the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band. In 1982 he turned down a recording contract with a major secular label by refusing to soften the evangelistic tone of the songs on the album he was to do. ''I am a servant of the Lord,'' he responded. ''He has given me the reason for being who I am, what I am, and what I'm able to do. I will not compromise.'' After recording a new album of Christian music for Myrrh, he settled into pastoring the Rocky Mountain Fellowship in Boulder, Colorado.
Maria Muldaur, whose big hit, ''Midnight at the Oasis,'' brought her fame in 1974, encountered salvation through Christ as a result of listening to Bob Dylan's Slow Train Coming album. ''The album played over and over in my mind,'' she recalled, ''from beginning to end. The words just pointed to one thing: God.''
After twenty-two gold and platinum albums earned as drummer for Paul McCartney and Wings, Joe English still wasn't satisfied with his life. It was the miraculous healing of his wife following an automobile accident that convinced Joe to accept the Lord.
Added to these musicians and performers were: T-Bone Burnett and Stephen Soles of the Alpha Band and Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue; Jeff Pollard, originally with the southern pop band LeRoux; Roger McGuinn, originally with the Byrds; Rick Cua of the Outlaws; Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind, and Fire; Beeb Birtles and Graham Goble of Australia's Little River Band; Reggie Vinson, formerly of Alice Cooper; Bernie Leadon, formerly with the Eagles; Teri DeSario, whose ''Yes, I'm Ready'' and ''Please Don't Go'' duets with K.C. and the Sunshine Band in 1979 made #2 and #1 on the pop charts respectively; Phil Driscoll, who had left gospel music in the sixties to work with Joe Cocker, then returned to a new gospel career in 1978; Deniece Williams and Donna Summer, who both performed gospel cuts on their secular album releases; and others, including three members of Irish rock band U2, and members of British rock band After the Fire.
Kerry Livgren, keyboardist and co-founder of the rock band Kansas, was one of the more well-publicized crossover stories in the early eighties. Through Jeff Pollard, Kerry learned about Jesus in a new way in 1979 in the rear lounge of a touring bus, on the road between concerts.
''At that point I was very frustrated,'' Kerry recalled later, ''but I didn't realize I was frustrated. Maybe consciously I didn't realize the length I had come looking for something I could really believe in and latch onto as an absolute truth.
''Jeff presented me with some of the basic truths of Christianity, and he was very well-learned in defending Christianity and Scripture. But I simply had never heard it. I found that most of my objections and excuses for not believing in Christ and Christianity evaporated. The Holy Spirit was drawing me into being a believer, and I felt it happening. The sinful part of me wanted to reject it, but I simply surrendered. Just like in warfare, I surrendered, gave up, put up the white flag, and said, 'Okay, you win!' ''
The music Livgren composed for Kansas from that point on showed clear evidence of the changes in his life. In 1980 the song ''Hold On,'' from the Kansas Audiovisions album, referred to the return of Jesus Christ. It was referred to even more boldly in ''Ground Zero'' and others of the seven songs he put on his own album, Seeds of Change, featuring secular rock vocalists singing Livgren's lyrics.
Next would come an autobiographical book, co-written with
Kenneth Boa, also titled Seeds of Change, then a Kansas album called Vinyl Confessions, continuing a pervasive Christian tone. By that time three of the Kansas members were reported to be Christians: Livgren, Dave Hope, and the new lead singer Jon Elefante. But, as in other performers' situations, Livgren finally found too much pressure within his own group as he continued his outspokenness about his faith. In 1984 he and Hope would leave Kansas to be the nucleus of a new band, Kerry Livgren A.D., and record a new album for CBS, Timeline.
The new band made their concert performance debut at Cornerstone '84, a Midwestern Christian rock festival which drew some eight thousand people for its finale.
Chapter Twenty-two || Table of Contents