Introduction  1979-1985


I was one of the rock generation. I can still remember "borrowing" my father's turquoise transistor radio (the first such radio I had seen) when he brought it home one day. I don't know if he ever had a chance to use it again after that day either, because everywhere I went thereafter I had it with me, next to my ear.

   The music on that radio was usually rock and roll: "Peggy Sue" by Buddy Holly; "Bird Dog" by the Everly Brothers. Why I was attracted to the rock station I can't really say. I had my choice of country, religious, mood music, and rhythm and blues. But as an adolescent, even though I didn't like all of the rock and roll, I guess I was drawn to the energy and excitement which rock music carried inherently.

   Bill Halley rocked with his Comets, Elvis Presley rolled out a song about his "Teddy Bear," Jerry Lee Lewis sang about "A Whole lotta Shakin' Goin On." Rock music (even the mellowest of rock ballads) became the headache of older Americans. Rock was crude to the older folks, but definitely "cool" to the young people.

   The furor over rock and roll music started in the fifties and never really abated until the late sixties and the early seventies, when adults simply got tired of fighting it. By then the "beautiful music" of the adults ironically was very often music written and originally performed by rock musicians such as Elvis and the Beatles. When drums and rock rhythm were added to orchestra recordings, the adults somehow didn't seem to mind it as much as they had originally.

   I also grew up "in the church." My parents took the whole family to church each week, and I know my personal faith is now as


strong as it is because of the Bible study, the worship, and the fellowship I enjoyed there.

   Unlike many peers, to whom such music was at the least ''foreign,'' I enjoyed the music of the church. By the time I had reached my high school years, though, I began to yearn for contemporary music which conveyed my faith in Jesus. I wanted music I could share with my unchurched friendsmusic which wasn't strange to them.

   I first experienced such music in the form of Christian folk songs, sung on Thursday nights at a ''Christian hootenanny'' across town from where I lived. While the guitar players  and washtub bass ''experts'' accompanied, we sang songs which I'd sung many times at church fellowships and socials''Do Lord,'' ''When the Saints Go Marchin' In, ''Give Me Oil in My Lamp''but for some reason they took on a vitality I had never experienced in them before. Somehow with the guitars and basses I didn't feel as embarrassed asking my out-of-church schoolmates to join us on Thursdays.

   My next encounter with Contemporary Christian music came a few years later when I attended the World Baptist Youth Congress in Berne, Switzerland. A smartly uniformed youth choir performed a new musical entitled Good News before the six thousand delegates. Good News utilized folk music mostly, but even went so far as to put in a few semirock licks which would then and for months to follow drop the jaw of many a staid church member.

   Next, it was through a subscription offer in Campus Life magazine and membership in Word, Incorporated's Young America Record Club that I began amassing a collection of every contemporary and quasicontemporary Christian music album there was. The names of the performers seem quite tame now: Cliff Barrows and the Gang, The Melody Four Quartet, The Teen Tones. But at the time they were a big step in the direction of new music for Christian young people like myself.

   In 1970 a singer named John Fischer came through my hometown of Tampa, Florida, while touring with evangelist Leighton Ford. I was excited about the music he had performed, so I introduced myself and we spent an afternoon together discussing what he kept calling ''Jesus music.'' I liked the expression, and I immediately caught on to using it, just as hundreds of other young people around the country were already doing.

   I kept hearing the words ''Jesus music'' more and more frequently. When a group known as the Pilgrim 20 from Wichita, Kansas, sang it in a Tampa church recreation hall they called it


''Jesus rock.'' When a group known as the Spurrlows came through town for a performance, it was ''sacred music with a new flair.'' But it was all Jesus music to me.

   Those are recollections of my first impressions of a music style which would greatly influence my life. While I was delving deeper and deeper to find more of this exciting, fresh music, thousands of young people across the country were writing it, discovering it, singing it, and sharing it.

   During the years covered in this book, I had the good fortune to live in Florida, Kansas, California, Texas, Colorado, and Europe. Living in these geographically diverse areas provided grand opportunities for me to observe what was happening in Jesus music and to be an active part of it all. Thus this history of Jesus music and the Jesus movement is a history as I saw it and often participated in it. That is why I occasionally lapse into the first person in the pages that follow.

   In 1968, when I first began collecting my Jesus-music records and dreaming of what contemporary Christian music could be and could accomplish, I had no idea it would grow as fast as it has. The growth has been literally stupendous. Now that it has grown, it's time we learned from the zealousness of the young people in the early days. Even more important, we need to see where, in certain instances, our priorities have been turned topsy-turvy. I hope we can learn from looking back, taking stock, and then moving forward with a renewed vigor and perspective.

   Rock music about Jesus hasn't really found favor with adults any more easily than did secular rock. But regardless of one's stance in the question of Jesus-rock musicpro or conthe fact remains that rock music has had the ears of the nation's youth since its inception. Likewise, Jesus music has emanated from people for whom rock music has been a natural language. It has communicated, often where no other language has.

   By the time of the writing of this book, there were so many people involved in contemporary Christian music, there was virtually no possible way to chronicle or credit everyone who had a part. Quite honestly, that was the most frustrating part of writing the book. There is a natural tendency for us to venerate the well-known performer and pass over or simply forget the lesser-known musicians who have done the Lord's work just as diligently, but in less visible ways or perhaps on a local basis. In fact, in some cases they were the hardest workers.

   For every well-known musician, there is a lesser-known roadie who assists in setting up concerts. Likewise, there is also a person to


invite that musician to perform the concert, radio broadcaster to publicize and advertize the concert, people to get the musicians to and from the airport, records company personnel to release and record his albums if he records, personnel to promote and publish his music, and so forth, not to mention supportive brothers and sisters praying for him, and the audiences who listen to him and buy his albums if any are available.

   Thus, at times I have spent more time describing the work of people "in the wings" than the people "in the spotlight," for this is mainly a history of the work done by people glorifying God through Jesus music, not necessarily the people doing it. Most of the musicians would agree that their names are not so important as the lives changed by their music.

   I wish to thank a few of the "anonymous" and better -known people who have helped me through the years in various ways: Dallas Albritton, and Mosie Lister for introducing us; Victor Salem; Henry Webb; Daylon Rushing; Herb Hunt; Dan Vap and the others who helped me with Rock in Jesus  magazine; Billy Ray Hearn; Larry Norman; Mark Puckett; John Grable; John Styll; Erwin Hearne; Bob Freeman; Gary Dick; Freedy Piro; Bob Cotterell; Jack Bailey; Robbie Marshall; and of course, my parents, Frank and Doris Edmonson. Their encouragement, help, and exhortation were invaluable and still are greatly appreciated. Also, I deeply appreciate the many people who have so generously supported my radio show, ''A Joyful Noise,'' since it began in 1970.

   I owe unending thanks to the scores of people who, in private interviews or casual conversations, helped me so much to recall the important people, places, dates and events which make up the history of Jesus music.

   My appreciation also goes out to Lou and Peggy Hancherick of Harmony magazine for their inclusion in the magazine of my articles on the history of Jesus music. Many thanks also to Dan Hickling, publisher of the Foreversong Journal.

   Also, a big thank you to the many people at Word, Incorporated, from the warehouse to the front offices, who made my three and one-half years there so memorable and enjoyable. The biggest thank you of all goes to my wife Debbie, who ''inherited'' the book, which was in the process of being written when we were wed. Her suggestions were invaluable, her patience was unbelievable, her tolerance was insurpassable, and her assistance, especially those final nights of getting the book finished by working all hours of the night, were the ultimate in selfless giving.



A history is an amazing phenomenon. In preparing one, such as this book, by the time the writing is completed, the text itself is history! Within the span of just the few weeks between the time of submission of the manuscript to the publisher and the time it is sent to the printer, there have already been countless new developments and events which need to be chronicled.

   That's what had happened by the time the preceding paragraphs were written. And now, history literally repeats itself as I write these few additional paragraphs exactly six years later.

   Since the typewriter coughed its last gasp at the end of the book's last chapter, singer Amy Grant has performed to sellout crowds at Radio City Music Hall, and she has been featured in Life magazine. Petra has completed the most extensive Christian rock concert tour in history, performing before 429,000 people in 166 concerts on two continents. Word Records has announced that both Grant and Petra will be having their next albums released on Christian labels and the secular A & M label, in a major secular distribution pact. Bullfrogs and Butterflies by Candle has been awarded a gold record, making them the first group in gospel music to win two such honors. Meanwhile, Candle and all of the Agape Force gang mentioned in one chapter of this book have relocated from Lindale, Texas, to Tacoma, Washington.

   Compact discs, the latest audio revolution, have been introduced by Benson, Sparrow, and Word Records. Christian rock releases are coming out at an unprecedented clip, on Myrrh, Refuge, Exit, A & S, Heartland, Patmos, Enigma, and at least a score of other labels. By the time the Music Comparison Chart in the back of this book was completed, the labels had come up with at least two dozen more artists who had been waiting in the wings. And, sure enough, rock was beginning to show up on Christian radio with much more regularity than had been predicted.

   And the beat goes on . . . .

   History is to be enjoyed and learned from. I hope that the reading of this one will provoke thought, prompt reassessment and renewal, enlighten the novice, rejuvenate the discouraged, and most of all, glorify God.

   There must be a few names added to the list of my thank yous from a few years ago, people who have provided inspiration, help, and just good, old-fashioned friendship: Jan Dennis at Crossway Books, who was always open to new concepts and shared indispensable discussion; Bob Larson, who confronted and challenged me in some tight times; Thom Schultz and everyone at Group magazine and the National Youth Congresses, for making me a part; Tom Green, for his sagacious advice (''Don't quit for your convictions; get fired for them!''); Will McFarlane and the Muscle Shoals folks, for sharing their contagious enthusiasm; John and Candi Staton Sussewell, for their open doors, for their exuberance, and for being there at the right time; Paul Wilkinson, Leen LaRiviere, Marc Brunet, Steve Vaughn, Jose de Segovia, and Luis Alfredo Dias, for the armchair trip around the world; Danny Taylor, for the trip through the past and the present; Earl Paige at Billboard, for his precious counsel; Bob Payne, Bill Scarborough; Chuck Clements; and those always-anonymous ''and others.'' My thanks also to the people at the record companies who made themselves available, and as always, my wife, Debbie.

   Most of all, thanks to my Lord, who has placed me in such a fascinating variety of vantage points from which to view contemporary Christian music. As always, the Lord has been my light and my salvation.


Birmingham, Alabama

Chapter One  ||  Table of Contents