Chapter 5: Little Country Church

With the popularity of Jesus as the subject of secular songs increasing in the early 1970s, it would seem that early Jesus musicians would have had excellent opportunities to have hit records, too. Such was not the case, however. Most of the songs which were hits were attempts by secular record companies to cash in on a fad. Very few stations even auditioned the music on the religious labels. Secular radio programmers said the music was too religious, while the religious programmers said it was too worldly. The records of Jesus-music performers was either trashed or given away.

   Though the issue against Jesus-rock music was a moral one for many concerned adults, it was far from that for the youth. It was an excruciating dilemma. Antirock evangelists were stirring up adults against Jesus rock, while many of the youth were trying to explain to their parents that rock music did not cause them to fall into evil habits as the evangelists warned.

   Larry Norman wrote the rallying song for the Jesus-music fans, ''Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?'':

I want the people to know

That he saved my soul

But I still like to listen to the radio

They say ''rock and roll is wrong

we'll give you one more chance''

I say I feel so good I got to get up

and dance

I know what's right I know what's

wrong, I don't confuse it

All I'm really trying to say is

Why should the devil have

all the good music

I feel good every day

Cause Jesus is the rock and he

rolled my blues away.

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   In the Southern Baptist churches a point well-made by a preacher would receive a hearty ''Amen!'' from someone in the audience. In the world of the 1970s, the musicians became the ministers, and their points well-made in song earned an abundance of ''Right On!'' exclamations and plenty of approving applause from thousands of teens.

   But the applause often wasn't so much for the performer as it was an outward manifestation of their free expression. Someone was finally saying it as they believed it. When the applause began, Larry would point his index finger upward as if to say ''Give God the glory, not me.'' The teenagers quickly caught on, and the one-way sign became the flag of the Jesus movement.

One way, one way to heaven

Hold up high your hand.

Follow, free and forgiven,

Children of the Lamb.

   With his long, straight blond hair, his incisive lyrics and his gutsy rock tunes, Larry shocked just about every adult who came into his path. Enigma though he was, he carried the Good News of Jesus via a medium which was readily understood by the young people.

   Larry had been playing musical instruments since he was three. His first guitar had been slipped under the bed to hide it from his father. Being a musician was not exactly the most respectable or profitable job in the eyes of his dad, but to Larry it was just about everything.

   By the time he was a teenager, Larry was singing in his San Jose, California, neighborhood with other musical friends. His band, People, managed a fair degree of success in the Bay Area, and Capitol Records signed them. Their first recording, ''Organ Grinder,'' was not a rousing success, but their second was. ''I Love You (But the Words Won't Come)'' sailed to the #14 position on the national hit charts in April 1968.

   Larry was already a Christian when the hit came. He was already a bold young man, too, wanting to alert people to the truth in

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unorthodox ways. So he and the band titled their first album We Need a Whole Lot More of Jesus and a Lot Less Rock and Roll. But when Larry wanted a picture of Jesus on the cover, Capitol put the proverbial foot down. It was much too risky and not commercial enough. The LP, with the modified, unimaginative title of I Love You, and a photo of People on the cover, was released.

   On the very same day, Larry broke with the band. He went on to do his own creative ''thing,'' doggedly determined not to let ''commercial'' strictures stifle his creativity and his desire to sing about Jesus.

   Only a year or so later Capitol Records invited Larry back to do a solo album. The result was Upon This Rock, one of the first American Jesus-rock albums. Though the album never made a hit, it did affect the lives of numerous young people who heard what Larry said in his songs. A good example of those people affected was Kurt Dillinger, then a young Michigan resident.

   ''I had rebelled severely against my church and its doctrinal teaching,'' Dillinger recalls. ''I had turned to peer pressure, drugs, and similar things in order to be popular. At that time there was a big Christian movement throughout the United States. Many friends of mine tried to show me that living in Christ was the only way for me to live.

   ''Music had influenced me greatly as to the direction my life was going, and my idea of Christian music was pretty well warped. I thought that to be a Christian you had to fit into the mold that was already set for musicians at that time.

   ''The people who were leading me to Christ had Larry Norman's album Upon This Rock. They had opportunities to share that album with me. I automatically related to Larry Norman, because he seemed to rebel against most Christian music, and was sort of the pilot for Christian rock. Larry seemed to be really speaking a solid message, something that wasn't redundant or being overdone all the time. It was new and refreshing. I don't really think it was the lyrics that got to me as much as the way Norman was free to explain things in his words. They weren't the typical hymn-type songs. I had always thought that music of the Christian world was the hymns or the quartets or some of the music which made me feel like I was going to a funeral every week. Larry's music was lively instead.''

I ain't knocking the hymns

Just give me a song that has a beat

I ain't knocking the hymns

Just give me a song that moves my feet

I don't like none of the funeral marches

I ain't dead yet.

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   ''I believe that Larry Norman's album had direct influence on my decision for Christ,'' Kurt continues. ''At that time, I turned about and went directly in the opposite direction that I had been going. After that, his songs encouraged me to bring music into the church, into our youth group. The group grew, and seventy people came to know Jesus. It was because of the freeing power that Christ has, and Larry letting Christ use him through his music.''

   Upon This Rock wasn't Larry's only Jesus-rock album in the early years. Larry produced two albums in 1969 for his own One Way record label, Street Level and Bootleg. The music on all three of the Norman albums was definitely on the fringe of understanding for adults, but the teens grabbed every word. ''Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation,'' ''Right Here in America,'' ''One Way,'' ''Let the Lions Come,'' ''UFO,'' and ''Why Don't You Look Into Jesus'' became the bootlegged songs of the underground church.

   The words of Christ in Luke 17:34-36 concerning the Second Coming were Larry's inspiration to write ''I Wish We'd All Been Ready,'' which would become his most popular Christian song. Unlike most Jesus music, the song was a lamentation.

Life was filled with guns and war

And everyone got trampled on the floor;

I wish we'd all been ready.

Children died; the days grew cold

A piece of bread could buy a bag of gold;

I wish we'd all been ready.

There's no time to change your mind

The Son has come and you've been left behind.

   ''I Wish We'd All Been Ready'' became the anthem of preparation for Christ's return. Teenagers picked up the sorrowful ballad, campfire groups sang it, and soon church youth groups were singing it and trying to teach it to their parents.

A man and wife asleep in bed

She hears a noise and turns her head; he's gone

I wish we'd all been ready

There's no time to change your mind

The Son has come and you've been left behind.

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   A trademark of the Jesus movement was the cry ''Jesus is coming soon!'' Perhaps never since the Apostle Paul's warnings of Christ's imminent return had there been such an electric air of expectancy. Rev. David Wilkerson was sharing his visions and telling congregations that his ''bags were packed.'' Hal Lindsey was shocking the world with his revelations of coming events in The Late Great Planet Earth, which would become reportedly the best selling book of the decade.

   The eschatological fervor of the Jesus movement ran especially heavy at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California. Pastor Chuck Smith, whose Pacific Ocean mass baptisms were given national publicity, formed a new ministerial outreach called Maranatha! Music. The meaning of maranatha is ''The Lord cometh.''

   Maranatha! Music released its first album in 1971. The Everlastin' Living Jesus Music Concert was an immediate sellout among the Jesus people of California, and numerous copies drifted eastward. Friends mailed other friends copies of the albums, and those who received the records were quick to play them for their friends at first chance.

   The cover of the Everlastin' Living Jesus Music Concert album, which later became known as Maranatha! 1, featured the words of Psalm 150:

Praise the Lord  Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Hallelujah!

   Everything in the Jesus-movement years crackled with joy and exclamation; the true Spirit of the Lord was manifest in the young people. For the first time in that generation of wars, riots, and tumultuous unrest, the young people were being offered the love and peace of Jesus on recordings which could be played over and over, ministering in their own special language.   

   In the earliest days of Jesus music, there were scattered albums of folk or rock music which had been recorded by specific groups on their own labels. The greatest problem for these musicians was

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getting their own albums publicized and distributed nationally as well as locally. Otherwise, thousands of the artists' records were doomed to their garages and bedrooms.

   More than anyone else, Bob Cotterell enabled these musicians to minister through their records. Bob was a Californian who in 1966 formed Creative Sound, a record production company and distributor which was responsible for disseminating most of Jesus music's earliest albums. Creative Sound's 1972 catalog listed a wide array of Christian folk music and Jesus rock: The Everlastin' Living Jesus Music Concert and The Children of the Day's Come to the Waters, Maranatha's first two recordings; Jesus Power, one of Jesus music's first sampler albums; Truth of Truths, a rock opera based on Bible stories; The  Armageddon Experience, Campus Crusade's contemporary troubadors; Jesus People, a live Jesus music concert; Soul Session at His Place, recorded live at Arthur Blessitt's Sunset Strip club; Street Level, Larry Norman's first album; Born Twice, Randy Stonehill's debut; Songs from the Savior from Paul Clark; Agape, by the first hard-rock Christian group; and scores of other recordings. Without Bob's vision, many of the earliest Jesus-music recordings would have never left California.   

   One of the musical groups on the first Maranatha album was Love Song. Their music had been a bit more raucous in days past, but by the time of The Everlastin' Living Jesus Music Concert, it had already become some of the most popular Christian music to be written in the 1970s.

   Lovesong's members had met each other through their participation in various other music groups. Jay Truax recalls meeting Chuck Girard for the first time while Jay was working in Salt Lake City as part of the rock group Spirit of Creation. "When I first met him in 1967," Jay recounts, "Chuck had just come from Los Angeles. He'd had a couple of hit records before, like 'Little Honda' with the Hondells, and 'Sacred' and 'So This Is Love' with the Castells.

   "He'd been singing and playing music for a long time, and I was just playing in night club situations. I had no direction to my music. I was kinda earning money. We were both wanting a changea fresh direction in our lives. Some sort of goal."

   Jay and Chuck started off together. Not much later a friend of Jay's in Las Vegas had stopped playing music and had gone into full-time study of the Bible. Jay and Chuck responded to the friend's suggestion to "get into the Bible." They left just about everything behind, including old friends.

   Jay recalls how people looking for answers and wanting to

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experience God's love began ''accumulating'' at their house in Pasadena.

   ''This is where Love Song came about,'' added Jay. ''It was basically to share God's love. We went into bars and everything. We had some songs about Jesus and about other things. We were radical, man. We'd get kicked out of bars, and no one could even relate to us at that point.''

   For the next three years they went through all kinds of changes. Chuck read in Luke 18:18-25 the story of the rich man who was told to sell everything he had in order to follow Jesus. Jay and Chuck followed suit, sold everything, and went to Hawaii—the place where they ''would never grow old.'' Their studies of Eastern philosophies became more intense.

   ''It started out Jesus and the Bible,'' they recollected, ''and our minds took over from there. We never really learned how to walk in the Spirit. We tried to reach up to God instead of having him reach down to us.''

   Chuck recalls his stay in Hawaii. ''I went to the out-island of Kauai and lived in tents, or anywhere else I could find. I became a sort of 'holy man.' I sat on a rock for five or six weeks, and gradually I began to feel a sense of doing nothing for everybody.''

   Chuck returned to the States, and while in Las Vegas he was arrested for possession of LSD. Meanwhile, news had filtered to him about the events and people at Calvary Chapel in California. Chuck finally decided to visit the Chapel. ''When I came in that night, it was in the little sanctuary, before they had the big tent. It was a very cozy and warm atmosphere, and the people were all singing praises to God. It was a real feeling of love. I was twenty-six or twenty-seven by this time, and I wasn't too much into the emotional carryings-on, but I could perceive emotions of a true nature. I was mentally and emotionally affected. The whole thing just hit me. I really could feel a genuineness in those people. I felt they really did know God. All the other people I'd talked to were always talking about a God that they had to attain, instead of the more personal concept of having him right now.

   ''I'd heard about Lonnie Frisbee,'' continues Chuck. ''He was the hippie preacher there, and I was a little disappointed when Chuck Smith came out to preach that night. Chuck was an older man, but I decided to hear him out. He came out with this big grin and the whole thing was barraging me with images. What is this guy's trip? He doesn't look like the usual guy—the sober thing happening, with a robe and everything! This was more like a mellowed, relaxed atmosphere.

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   ''He just started rapping. It was different. It wasn't like reading a portion from the Bible and then saying a bunch of words. It was like he was sharing someone he knew—Jesus Christ. He wasn't telling me about a God I'd someday find; he was telling me about his personal Friend. He laid all the gospel down.''

   Girard's walls crumbled. He didn't make a decision for Jesus that night, but it wasn't long before he yielded; likewise, Jay Truax, Tom Cooms, and Fred Field. The enthusiasm of these four new born Christians was hardly containable. As Chuck recalls, almost immediately they composed several songs expressing their faith.

   ''We didn't have all the right doctrine, but Pastor Chuck and Lonnie liked the songs, and pending a few changes in the lyrics, they invited Love Song to perform at the Chapel. All the gunk went away, and we revamped the lyrics to make them minister.''

   Love Song's increase in popularity was meteoric from then on. More and more requests for their concerts came into the offices at Calvary Chapel. Their songs, ''Little Country Church,'' ''Two Hands,'' ''Front Seat, Back Seat,'' ''Maranatha,'' and others were played and replayed. They drew more and more teenagers to a personal relationship with the Christ who had seemed so unattainable to even Chuck, Jay, Tom, and Fred such a short time before.

   With the help of fellow-Christian Freddy Piro, Love Song again put their music on record. This time it was a more polished group than had been on Maranatha's first album.

   Love Song, the title of their first complete album, was the premiere release on the Good News label. The 1972 record smashed through all kinds of barriers which had been set up around contemporary Christian music. Love Song's soft-rock album began going places where no Jesus-music albums had ever been. In Wichita, Kansas, the album became one of the city's top sellers in the rock record stores. In the Philippines, the title cut, ''Love Song,'' became the number one single for the nation—and most of the Filipinos didn't even know Love Song was a religious music group!

   In 1973 a seemingly impossible feat was accomplished by Love Song. Four long-haired musicians whose roots were deeply imbedded in rock and roll had produced an album of Jesus music and had seen their recording become the top religious album of the year.

   Love Song went on to record a second album, Final Touch, in 1974. The title was appropriate, for the group went on one last national tour and disbanded. The individual members went their own ways, although a few times several of them wound up partners in other music groups.

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   In addition to Love Song, numerous other young musicians developed at Calvary Chapel in the early seventies: Debby Kerner, Ernie Rettino, Children of the Day, The Way, Country Faith, Karen Lafferty, Good News, Mustard Seed Faith, Blessed Hope, Gentle Faith, Selah, Kenn Gulliksen, and more. The list seemed endless.

   In addition to the worship services at Calvary, there were Saturday night concerts held for the young people. The first such concert took place at Milliken High School in Long Beach. Tom Stipe, who ministered at the concerts, recalls those Saturday nights:

   ''We started holding the concerts,'' he remembers, ''when Calvary Chapel had grown to the size that it needed a new building. Actually, the first few were on Friday, then we moved them to Saturday. A couple of thousand people could be seated in the tent, so we wanted to have the concerts as often as possible. At that time there was the phenomenon of creativity beginning to take place that was bringing about all of the new California music groups. The Saturday night concert platform in the tent was really a greenhouse for the growth of those groups.''   

   Rock, folk, and country Jesus music made up only a part of the songs emanating from Calvary Chapel and other such churches and fellowships nationwide. There were the praise songs and Scripture songs, too—simple choruses which either stood by themselves or were drawn from some of the Jesus songs: Karen Lafferty's ''Seek ye First''; ''Heavenly Father'' and ''Thy Loving Kindness,'' from Lutheran Youth Alive; ''Holy, Holy, Holy,'' by Tom Coomes, which he recalls writing after his ''first time through the Book of Revelation.''

   Meanwhile, out of the Love Inn community in Freeville, New York, drifted the choruses written by Ted Sandquist—''Lion of Judah,'' ''My Son and My Shield,'' and ''All That I Can Do.'' Pat Terry, along with two Smyrna, Georgia, neighbors, formed the Pat Terry Group, and wrote ''I Can't Wait,'' a chorus sung around many a campfire before nearly anyone knew who had written it:

I can't wait to see Heaven

And to walk those streets of gold

I can't wait to check into my mansion

And get my sleeping bag unrolled.

Tell me how it's gonna be'

Read it from the Bible again

I can't wait to see Jesus

'Cause Jesus is coming again.

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   Songs also came from Candle, affiliated with the Agape Force in California. They joined the new simple Scripture choruses going around from town to town as Christians traveled. In a very real sense, their praise choruses and the Scripture choruses were the folk music of the young American Christians.

   Tom Coomes, who later became part of Love Song, remembers the impression the Scripture and praise music made upon him the night of his very first visit to Calvary Chapel. ''I knew each line even before it was sung. I wasn't used to simple music like this, but it blew me away! It was music which drew people into the Lord's presence! I loved it.''

   Here was a rock musician, on the eve of being sentenced for a drug charge, a young man who had been to church very few times in his life. Yet here he was, soaking up and enjoying the songs of a most simplistic nature, almost childlike. What was the magic? Both the praise songs (taken from the Jesus music of the day) and the Scripture choruses (simple, easy-to-learn lyrics, often lifted directly from the Bible) were no more than 1970s cousins of the ''Singspiration'' choruses of the fifties and sixties.

   For the most part people such as Tom, who had never been exposed to Christian fellowship, found the aura of love in the midst of congregational praise an exhilarating, if not awesome, experience. Their lives in the dog-eat-dog world outside had told them that true love was practically unobtainable, and yet they saw and felt love in the songs being sung. All the "press" given to Christianity was contrary to what happened in a service like that! Where was the hellfire and brimstone? Where were the money-grabbing preachers who cared about nothing but taking up the offering? These people were downright enjoying themselves! And look at their hair! It was long! And look at all those bluejeans! This must be heaven!

   Facetious though it may sound to someone who has been raised in a true Christian home, this was the revelation of the many young people who found worship in Scripture songs so beautiful, even though in the outside world their sense of dignity and professional rock-music pride would abhor such simple, "emotional" music.

   But perhaps the most redeeming feature of the praise music and Scripture music was its ability to draw the two sides of the generation gap together. The adults might not like Jesus rock, but they could tolerate and even enjoy the Scripture choruses. The young people had little trouble with the age-old, "antique" Scriptures when they were put to pleasant music which was easy to learn. Because of those reasons and more, praise/Scripture musiceven though not uniquewas very important in the history of Jesus music.

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It provided common ground on which the old people and the young people could stand together as they raised their hands and voices to praise the Lord with "vertical" music. All attention was on the Lord. As one of the popular praise songs said, they were "one in the Spirit" and "one in the Lord."

Chapter Six  ||  Table of Contents