Frank Gutch Jr: The Beginnings of Christian Rock— erm, Contemporary Christian Music, plus Notes…..

FrankJr2Yep.  Braindead again.  After struggling for four days and working my way through four— count ’em, four starts, I find myself without a column and already an hour past deadline.  How do these things happen, I keep asking myself, but they do and when they do I wish I was drinking again.  Back in the old days, if I couldn’t get something down in a certain period of time I would pop a cold one and before the six-pack was done, I didn’t care anymore so I would type until it looked like there were enough words (or I couldn’t see the keys anymore) and would hit ‘send’ and to hell with it, you know?

head-explodingThing is, some of those were my best received columns, people I didn’t know from Adam sending comments which made me read what I’d written just to make sure it was me who wrote it.  I seem to think better when I can’t— think, that is.  The thing that is really disturbing, though, is that those efforts actually look like they had been edited— fewer typos and grammatical errors and damned if some of it didn’t even make sense.

But that’s not the case tonight.  I’m not drinking, not even caffeine, and the brain has been on full stop with little hope of even a jumpstart.  And I’m plain running out of old articles and reviews I had written back in the Stone Age to toss in.  Let me tell you when I say that I’m stretching it here.  I’m going to give you a rundown of Christian Rock from a young 26- or 27-year old perspective because that is how old I was when I wrote this.  Like I said.  The Stone Age.  There is a disclaimer at the end which should tell you how ancient this piece is.  Maybe I was a bit more positive about music back then, but what the hell.  Youth does that to you sometimes.

Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music…..

LNormani don’t dig the radio
i hate what the charts pick
rock and roll may not be dead
but it’s getting sick

all over the world
disc jockeys sound the same
and every town i play
is like the one from where i came

(from “Reader’s Digest” by Larry Norman
© 1972, Strawbed Music.
reprinted with kind permission of
Street Level Management)

It’s not news. It’s truth. Rock & Roll is sick and disc jockeys do sound the same and concert crowds are indiscernible and, believe it or not, it’s our own fault. We were warned. The late Ralph Gleason in the midst of the growing San Francisco music scene of the late ’60s devoted a number of columns in Rolling Stone magazine to just such warnings. A co-founder of RS (a publication originally intended as an alternative to the “straight” media), Gleason saw in the music scene a hope for the future— not just of music, but of the whole of society. It was a movement cohesed by a common cause and led by outcasts of regular society: musicians. To Gleason, the movement was one of a few hopes to stop (or at least, stall) the corporate machine, a machine threatening all forms of individuality and value. It was up to the people, all the people, but especially the musicians, for they held the key to the subculture. They, in the end, would determine which direction the subculture would move.

And they have— at least, on the surface. The Jimmy Pages and the Jeff Becks and the David Bowies and the Eric Claptons have led the way, but maybe in the wrong Ralph Gleasondirection. They have allowed the subculture in which Gleason saw hope to be assimilated by the very enemy against which they had banded. Rolling Stone has disintegrated into nothing more than a leader of the “straight” media; the “leaders” in rock have opted for the flashy lifestyles and the big bucks; radio stations are being bought and sold by corporate giants, most stations having already moved to a Top 30 format indirectly controlled by various financial pressures; and the “involved” members of the subculture have been brainwashed by those same corporations. All in all, things look none too good for Gleason’s ideals.

One might ask what has happened to Gleason’s music of, by and for the people, if it ever existed. What happened to those musicians who purportedly felt a responsibility beyond that of filling their pockets with profits? Just where the hell are those politico/musical leaders who at one time supposedly gave youth something in which to believe? Are they gone? Did they even exist?

religiousrockguitarsThe answer is, yes, they did and, yes, they do. Surely not in the mainstream of rock music as bought and sold by corporations, but in a substrata of grass-roots movements overlooked by both the Industry and the Media. The street band is a prime example, having gained a subcultural foothold through such fanzines as Back Door Man, Trouser Press, New Order, and BOMP. Another is the feminist movement, spearheaded by an ineffective-by-comparison, effective-by-design record label, Olivia. Yet another, and possibly the largest subculture rock music movement (and, as a result, the most accessible) revolves around a lifestyle-become-way-of-life, Christianity.

Jesus Rock, as it was originally called, is hardly new. It has been around in one form or another for close to a decade. Its roots are in folk (remember press reaction to the folk mass?) and R&B and gospel, but trading acoustic instruments for electric changed everything and, eventually, the Christian rock movement grew wheels.


Most Christian rock historians point to the Edwin Hawkins Singers as the first to put Jesus on the charts. Their 1967 hit, Oh Happy Day, while not exactly rock, shot up the pop charts and established a precedent for others. Warner Brothers Records, at that time a prime mover in the record business, took a calculated risk on Lawrence Reynolds and came up with a hit, Jesus Is a Soul Man. Though it reached only #28 on the national charts (Oh Happy Day had peaked at #4), it proved that Hawkins’ hit was no fluke. A trend was developing. Jesus was no longer taboo.

A few others found their way onto the charts with Christian-oriented tunes, but the real breakthrough came in 1969. Blind Faith, headed by a mysterious Eric Clapton, cut In the Presence of the Lord, a cut which served to bridge religion and rock, once and for all. From there, the pieces began to fall together. The ByrdsJesus Is Just Alright hit the charts and was one of three religious tunes on the Easy Rider soundtrack LP. Pacific Gas & Electric‘s Are You Ready? jumped to #14 nationally and other rock personages took time out to record one or two religious songs on whichever album they were recording at the time.

Chart action was hardly all there was to the movement. Broadway made its impact with what could arguably be construed as Christian musicals, Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell. Many hard-line Christians looked upon them as sacrilege while others thought them nothing more than the voice of youth. Many non-Christians found them entertaining. Jesus became, indeed, a superstar to a large segment of the younger set.

And there were the one-shot, virtually unknown treks into the world of religion. The Beach Boys, for instance, needing a B-side for their Christmas single Little Saint Nick finally decided on a version of The Lord’s Prayer. Dick Monda, a writer/singer not noted for religious leanings, dabbled a little with a few cuts on his Truth Lies Magic & Faith LP and later wrote Dammit Isn’t God’s Last Name for Frankie Laine. Columbia Records, taking a chance, backed a few religious releases, most notably Bubba Fowler‘s Along Came Bubba and an album by a duo known as Good News (whose LP was advertised in Rolling Stone with the line, “GOOD NEWS. GOD IS NOT DEAD.”). Johnny Rivers recorded what is becoming a classic on his Homegrown album, Think His Name. And the list goes on.

To chronicle the strayings of rock musicians into the world of Christianity or Christians into the world of rock is an incredible task. Until someone does just that, we are left with a limited number of publications delving into religion-as-rock and vice-versa.


The forerunner of those came out of Wichita, Kansas in 1971. Called Rock-n-Jesus, its existence at present is doubtful but its success is not. If nothing else, it proved that there was a market for Jesus Rock (if market be the proper term). It also gave impetus to another publication, “the Billboard of Christian Rock”, Harmony Magazine. Printed in Harmony, Pennsylvania, Harmony was originally intended as a voice for the Christian side of rock. It has since developed into a trade magazine of decent quality, one which gives mention to whatever is happening on the Christian rock scene. (Those interested should inquire at Harmony Magazine, Box 218, Harmony PA 16037) (Ed. Note:  Obviously no longer in existence)

As with all scenes dealing with music, there are concerts. The most notable of these relating to Christian rock happened in Dallas, Texas in 1972. Called Explo ’72, it presented such performers as Barry McGuire, Andrae Crouch and the Disciples, The Archers, Danny Lee and the Children of Truth, Randy Matthews, and Larry Norman. When the dust cleared, it was estimated that between 150,000 and 200,000 people had invaded Dallas’s Lee Park and the Cotton Bowl to hear the music and the message. Whereas there has been no concert of such magnitude since, it has served as a blueprint for Christian music festivals held each summer throughout the States.


As stated earlier, Christian Rock has been around for awhile and has had time to develop. At first, the majority of musicians were carry-overs from the secular rock sect, some disillusioned with the music business and some there to convey a special message. Regardless, they all moved in the same direction and, besides the message, were the key to and the core of the subculture which was developing.

Peter Green & Jeremy Spencer

spencergreenPeter Green and Jeremy Spencer are most noted for their contributions to an early and not overly popular Fleetwood Mac. Both had spent time with various musicians on the British blues front prior to Fleetwood Mac and had gained a certain notoriety. That notoriety would be greatly enhanced at the end of their involvement with the band.

While FM had begun to gain a foothold on the States in the late ’60s and early ’70s, a simple glance and one could tell that all was not well within the band. Green’s last year with the band was marked by occasional comments to the press which raised more than a few eyebrows. He was obviously fast becoming discontented with the world. It appeared that the grind was wearing him down. Just prior to Then Play On, FM‘s eagerly anticipated first LP for Reprise Records, waves appeared on the British shores. A Rolling Stone report stated that a rock opera of sorts was in the making, a collaboration between Green and Spencer. It would be an “orchestral/choral” project which would tell the life of Jesus. Eyebrows in the Music Industry raised. Religion was hardly the band’s past strength. Spencer eased pressure by stating interest in religious epic music. Green remained silent. The project was dropped.

thenplayonThen Play On was released at approximately the same time as Jeremy Spencer‘s first solo LP, both to vary little hoopla from the music press. The band undertook a tour of the States to promote the album and, shortly thereafter, Green was gone. Fleetwood Mac, it was rumored, no longer served his purpose. Green was forced to pursue his music as a solo, not only for the music, but for his beliefs.

Spencer stayed on, but his departure was also eminent. His interest in religious epic music had blossomed into deep religious convictions. During the next US tour, Spencer exited. In Los Angeles, in the middle of the tour, he just disappeared. He was finally located in a religious commune, but efforts to convince him to return to the band were fruitless. The remaining members called Green and after assurances that he would not be expected to stay with FM after the tour, he agreed to fill in. He flew to L.A., played the few dates left and returned to England. Once there, he took various jobs to survive, returned to music for an almost nonexistent part on a Troggs album, then faded from the scene.

Spencer, upon joining the commune in L.A., had virtually given up all of his worldly possessions for a more spiritual lifestyle. He worked quietly within the framework of the commune for a short time. Then, after coaxing from his brethren, he formed a band to promote Christ: The Children. Songs were written, the band rehearsed, and record labels contacted. Eventually, Columbia brought them into its fold. An album was recorded and released, titled simply Jeremy Spencer and The Children. It met with little positive response, despite the quality of music. The Children eventually went the way of the world and have also disappeared.

Phil Keaggy

keaggyPhil Keaggy is the kind of musician that music enthusiasts love and writers hate, mainly because there is constant danger that the truth, if not handled carefully, sounds more like a press release than a real item. To say that Keaggy is a great guitarist hardly stretches the truth, but we’ve heard it so many times regarding musicians of mediocrity that we’ve become skeptical. But even among skeptics, he is considered among the best. He is that good.

To hear Keaggy tell it, one would think that he was just another average guitarist. In interview after interview, mostly with Christian publications, he has avoided praise. During one such interview (with Harmony, Vol. 1, No. 6), he responded to a statement that playing like he did without the use of a middle finger on his picking hand (he lost it in an accident involving a water pump) with, “I’m not amazing at finger-picking. I use my thumb, my forefinger, my ring finger and my little finger, and I just try to use them the best I can.”

Keaggy’s musical career began when he was in the eighth grade with a group called The Squires. All of the other Squires had already graduated from high school. He was The Kid. Two years later, he joined The New Hudson Exit, who afforded him his first recording experience. The band recorded an LP for Date Records, but it was poorly handled. It bombed. (An interesting aside: During the early phases of NHE, a pre-James Gang Joe Walsh auditioned for the band. Purportedly, Keaggy was impressed and wanted him in, but the others nixed him, thinking him “too dynamic.” Their paths would cross again when Glass Harp was brought in to replace The James Gang as house band at a popular Kent, Ohio watering hole.).

When the New Hudson Exit disbanded, Keaggy moved to California with his sister. Seven unhappy months resulted in a request to be allowed to return to Ohio to be with friend John Sferra. Permission was granted. Directly upon his return, Keaggy and Sferra began putting together ideas which they hoped would culminate in a band of nine or more pieces. Things never quite came together, however, and it was about a year and a half later that they finally found someone with whom they wished to play: bassist Dan Pecchio. Glass Harp was born.

glass-harp-1970Originally, Glass Harp had one aim in life— to make it in the rock world. Soon, though, through a series of incidents much too involved to go into here, Keaggy became a Christian. Keeping the balance between the secular and spiritual worlds of music was a daily chore, but also a challenge. They were a band, and a good one at that, the music good enough to override any objections from their soon-to-be secular label, Decca. They signed a three record deal and were on their way to the top.

Their first LP, titled simply Glass Harp, was their most obvious studio effort. Producer Lewis Merenstein had ideas about the band (some say that he was afraid the trio would not be able to fill out the sound without help) and called in reinforcements in the form of a string section. Throughout the LP, strings filled in and sometimes dominated the electric instruments, yet the band played on. Only two cuts were blatantly Christian-oriented and those were changed at the last minute. Keaggy stated that he was forced to change the lyrics to Look In the Sky and Can You See Me simply due to the fact that he could not sing that which he did not believe. Thus began Keaggy’s as-yet illustrious Christian recording career. (On a side note, it was during the recording of this LP that Jimi Hendrix happened upon the band while recording at Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios. During a later appearance on The Dick Cavett Show, he made a statement regarding Keaggy and his unique guitar stylings. Cleveland’s Plain Dealer picked it up and it passed from paper to magazine and the Keaggy persona grew)

The next two LPs were, in a vague way, an indication of growing schisms in the direction of the band. Sferra and Pecchio continued writing their songs as before, but Keaggy felt that he should more and more use his music to minister. His songs reflected his growing Christian faith. Synergy, Glass Harp‘s second LP, is the closest to live sounding of the three. The band went to New York largely unprepared to record and the results were somewhat raw. Fourteen tracks were laid down, ten of which made it onto the LP. According to Keaggy, the Synergy sessions were among the roughest he’s encountered. It Makes Me Glad, the third LP, was forced when Decca refused a live taped performance of the band recorded at Carnegie Hall. (This album has been released since that time)  The label did not think it measured up, tabled the session and pointed out that the contract called for one more album. Keaggy had already told Sferra and Pecchio of his plans to leave the band. They finished the requested album and shortly thereafter, Keaggy went solo. For a short time, the remaining two attempted to keep Glass Harp alive, but it soon became obvious that Keaggy was too much a part of the band for it to continue. Sferra returned to playing with musicians around his home state of Ohio and Pecchio surfaced later as bassist and vocalist with The Michael Stanley Band.

keaggywhatadayShortly after leaving GH, Keaggy played a short stint with a group called Love Song, then regrouped and began piecing together a solo LP. He had a suitcase full of songs, many written during the GH years but not recorded because of blatant religious context or just not making the cut. Sometime in 1973, he began recording What a Day. Due to lack of finances and problems co-ordinating the project, it was not released until June of ’74 on a label (New Song) headed by friend and DJ-turned-minister, Scott Ross. It was an immediate Christian success. While working the LP, Keaggy spent a short time playing the Christian coffeehouse circuit with fellow guitarist Peter York. Both became involved in a touring band headed by Paul Clark. Keaggy was also quickly becoming one of the most sought after session guitarists in the Christian recording field.

Keaggy set to work on songs for a second solo LP around the end of ’75. Buck Herring, 2nd Chapter of Acts‘ producer and engineer-extraordinaire, asked for a demo. Nineteen tunes were recorded and mailed. According to Herring, the tapes sounded like What a Day, Part II. Criticism, yes, but apparently valid. Herring was as objective a critic as Keaggy could want and he evidently appreciated the honesty. Keaggy asked Herring to produce his next LP and discussions ensued. The result was Keaggy’s most commercial effort to-date: Love Broke Thru. The sessions included Michael Omartian, Leland Sklar, Jim Gordon, Larry Knechtel and others. The sessions, thanks largely to Herring’s touch, were magical. The LPs ascent onto the charts of Christian rock was automatic. The Music Industry’s ambivalence toward Keaggy and Christian music had given him direction. Keaggy has not looked back.

John & Terry Talbot

masonproffitA few might remember the Talbot brothers as one-time leaders of Mason Proffit, a group on the edge of country rock. They had formed around the beginning of the ’70s, scored a recording contract with a couple of small labels, Happy Tiger and Ampex, and released a couple of decent records. Most critics, however, found them wanting. More than one pointed out a lack of direction and production on the projects and, in spite of the mild success of an early track, Two Hangmen (released by Happy Tiger Records in the early days of FM Underground radio), the band seemed to founder. Regardless, the band toured to decent if not overwhelming crowds.

Someone with Warner Brothers Records eventually noticed and signed the band. Their first WB LP, Rockfish Crossing, was MP‘s most successful album critically, but again, few sales. The followup, Bareback Rider, fared no better. Airplay was nonexistent. In a move to support the flagging LPs, Warner Brothers purchased the two Happy Tiger LPs and packaged them as a two-fer, hoping the low price and the Two Hangmen track would put Mason Proffit on the boards. When sales failed to follow, the band split up and the Talbots went their own way.

The+Talbot+Brothers+103386John and Terry Talbot, in the two Warner Brothers efforts, had both showed leanings toward Christian rock. It followed that their next project would lean in that direction as well. They signed to WB for one “test” album and after recording, titled it simply The Talbot Brothers.   No matter.  Warner Brothers, in typical fashion for a company growing beyond its means, tossed it against the wall. It didn’t stick. The Talbot Brothers were doomed. One tour to support the LP, taken on totally by John and Terry, was a financial bomb. They separated.

John moved into the Church and began teaching. Terry, with rock music in his blood, teamed with a Christian garage band known as Branches and played in churches, coffeehouses and the like. Eventually, they took the name Mason Proffit. Terry approached John about joining, but John refused. Later, he reconsidered and Mason Proffit was once again a reality, this time a Christian rock band. Negotiations began once again with WB. MP went into the studio with Al Perkins to cut demos. The results, never to my knowledge put on vinyl, are a mystery. No one involved with the project seems to have acknowledged it, one way or another. WB, for their part, didn’t bite and once again, Mason Proffit was toast.

At that time, John and Terry each decided to follow their own paths. Each began performing solo, mainly in a ministering vein. Once again, it was from church to coffeehouse to gathering to church. The exposure gave light to their individual talents and when Sparrow Records came on the scene, the Talbots were ready. Each went into the studio again to record: Terry with Al Perkins and a handful of sidemen, John alone. The results were impressive enough to warrant Sparrow’s contacting WB about the possibility of reissuing The Talbot Brothers LP. A deal was cut and Sparrow released it under the title, Reborn.

All three Sparrow albums met with overwhelming response from the Christian rock world. The Talbots had finally found their niche. Subsequent solo LPs were released, again favorably received, and it looks as if John Talbot and Terry Talbot will be around for years to come.

Michael Omartian

Michael Omartian began his musical career in Chicago. After a number of years honing skills on the keyboards, he was convinced that he could make it as a session man but the studios in Chicago had their pick of the best, so he worked clubs and sidelined as a sales rep for a large company until something opened up. The work was hard, the hours long, and when the mere mention of a move to Los Angeles was dropped, he packed his bags. Once in L.A., he went to work right away as a session man and never looked back.

omartianwhitehorseSoon, he was writing and working on his own material. He shopped for a label and Dunhill bit. His first LP, White Horse, was released to thunderous silence and sat on shelves collecting dust. In spite of dismal sales, Omartian began work on a second album, to be titled Onward, Onward. In the middle of recording, Dunhill thought twice and dropped him from the label.

Omartian, in spite of the setback, continued working on the project and eventually came out with a finished album. Myrrh took the finished product, now titled Adam Again, and quick-released it. Response among Christian rockers was substantial, though not overwhelming. Still, Myrrh felt strongly enough to purchase the White Horse LP from Dunhill for re-release and, as with the Talbots, the move from secular to Christian was seamless.

Omartian’s real worth, though, still seems to be in the studio. As a studio keyboardman, he is much in demand and has worked with acts such as Phil Keaggy, the Second Chapter of Acts and a host of secular and religious artists. As a recording act, himself, only time will tell.

Buck Herring & Al Perkins

For every phase of secular rock, there is beginning to be a Christian counterpart. Phil Keaggy is becoming the much sought after guitar session man; Larry Norman has insight comparable to Dylan; The Way, Daniel Amos and Harvest are taking country rock into the Promised Land; and Buck Herring and Al Perkins are working the producer’s chairs.

2ndchapterHerring’s musical past is vague. As far as I can gather, he surfaced pretty much with the 2nd Chapter of Acts, a vocal trio which includes his wife, sister-in-law and her husband. As producer and engineer with that group, he has placed them among the top performers of Christian rock. Handling each song as if it were to be a hit single, he brings out the best in the group and on vinyl it shows. Production on the first two LPs turned a decent vocal trio into a dynamic rock force. Of course, Herring did not do it alone. Wife Annie’s songwriting and voice and the musicians gathered for the sessions surely helped. Still, listening to the albums carefully, one gets the feeling that the music would be quite different without his efforts. The first LP, Footnotes, showcased Michael Omartian‘s synthesizer to the Nth degree and the balance between band and voices is stunning. The second, In the Volume of the Book, utilized a host of musicians in a similar, tasteful manner. Most notable is his use of Phil Keaggy‘s excellent guitar work. At the time of this sitting, Herring is reportedly finishing up a third 2nd Chapter LP.

In addition to the 2nd Chapter works, Herring found time to produce the latest Keaggy effort which, according to Keaggy, was as much a Buck Herring project as it was his own. A listen to all previous Keaggy works confirm that statement. For one thing, Herring placed Keaggy in the studio with regular studio musicians, a first for him. For another, selections chosen were not all Kaeggy-penned. Herring seems to have been trying to find a balance and from what the critics have said thus far, he was successful.  Al Perkins began his recording career with a little known band called Shiloh. Their one LP was decent and no more, but they gained pseudo-legendary status for their lineup, which included Perkins, Jim Ed Norman (who went to the much underrated Uncle Jim’s Music before becoming arranger for The Eagles), Don Henley (Eagles). Perkins himself went to the Flying Burrito Brothers before joining Manassas. It was during his time with Manassas that he became a Christian and when work with that band was over, a sideways move to the Souther Hillman Furay Band was natural. Life with SHF was a bit short-lived, but Perkins was not without work. Studios still called. And bands.

maranathaOne such band came through Perkins’ association with a new ministry out of Southern California known as Calvary. They had developed a musical wing, Maranatha!, through which they were hoping to market bands as well the the message. It turned out that The Way needed a producer, so Maranatha! connected them with Perkins and the decision was made to record. The result, Can It Be?, showed not only the marketability of Christian rock, but Perkins’ talents as producer. It has since become a record next to which Christian country rock bands measure their music. Since, Perkins has worked on numerous Christian projects, both as producer and session man: the previously mentioned Talbot Brothers demo tapes, albums by Daniel Amos, both solo efforts by Terry Talbot, a demo by Jonah (a band which features Bob Tome, the guitarist who at one time was rumored to have been the replacement for Keaggy in Glass Harp), and a fine under-produced by design LP by Harvest. And it is obviously not the end. Indeed, it looks as if his work has just begun.

Larry Norman

Larry Norman, seemingly more than any other, is responsible for the rapid expansion and growth of the rock side of Christian rock. His influence is marked in that he allowed (indeed, forced) rock into Christian music and did it with Dylanesque peoplelpflair. More than once, the Christian world was told that rock was Christ’s music, make no mistake. By Larry Norman, in fact.

Norman’s recording career began with a San Jose group called People, who signed a major label deal in the ’60s with Capitol and scored a Top Ten hit with I Love You, a cover of a Zombies‘ tune. It brought as much trouble as happiness. For trouble, I should substitute reality. Norman, riding the wave, began to see the world as it really was: idolatrous teenyboppers camping on the bands’ doorsteps, human propensity to be “seen with,” drugs, sex and other not-so-niceties. Add to that the fact that the musical world refused to take People seriously and you have a dichotomous situation which surrounded many bands of the era. The bottom fell out quickly. The band found no success after I Love You dropped from the charts, certain members of People became involved with Scientology and Norman felt more and more isolated. Whether forced by the other People members or not, Norman finally left the band for mellower pastures.

He knocked around on his own for awhile, living what looked to others like the lifestyle of a cut-and-dried “Hippie,” but was as much searching as living. He worked on songs, played with other musicians and approached a few record companies. Capitol, Norman’s old People label, saw something and allowed him to record what became a classic. Titled Upon This Rock, it was Norman’s springboard into Christian music. Response was mixed. Many traditionalists thought the ideas as portrayed were dangerous to the doctrine of the church. A number objected to rock ‘n’ roll simply because it was an instrument of the devil. Others objected to Norman’s hard-core realism, thinking his view had no relation to “real” Christian life. Norman stood his ground against both the Industry, who wanted more sales, and the conservative religious faction. It was truth, he felt. That was enough.

A street movement of sorts was taking form at the time among young Christians, a sort of parallel to the hippies. Norman saw it, became involved with it and tried to help organize it. The idea of doing it on his own, on “their” own, was intriguing. Out of it came his own record label (One Way), management company (Street Level) and two albums (Street Level and Bootleg). Unfortunately, Norman’s vision of the movement never really catalyzed. People who formed the core of the movement one by one began adopting the ideals of the traditionalists and, to one degree or another, the movement dissipated.

Larry Norman - Only Visiting This PlanetNorman threw himself into his music once again. He began work on a dream project, a trilogy. In his head, each segment would cover a period in the Christian world: the past, the present and the future. The present presented itself first as Only Visiting This Planet. MGM/Verve heard the music, liked it and thought it edgy enough to appeal to both Christians and the secular world alike. Basically, it was a Christian’s look at a transient, secular life, a sci-fi approach to what we all experience. Musically, it varied from crunching rock to Dylanesque word poems to mellow acoustic. Always, the lyrics were Norman’s view of Truth. Truth, with Norman, has always been essential.

Next up: The Past. The cover art alone of So Long Ago The Garden isolated many Christians: snakeskin glitter boots and an apple missing a bite on the back, a somewhat naked Norman with picture superimposed on the front. The music, a little more blatantly Christian, isolated non-Christians. Still, it contained a Norman-ly honest look at the religious and secular past through Larry Norman songs, critically acclaimed and not. It also tanked. As with Planet, it is very much sought after these days.

The Future is covered on a recently released album on Norman’s new label, Solid Rock. Titled In Another Land, it marks Norman’s thoughts and expectations of the life hereafter. The most produced of the trilogy, it possibly reflects Norman’s musical view of what will be, replacing Planet‘s harsh lyrics and raunch with strings and studio effects: a happier time, maybe. It has so far sold well within the Christian circles and has received decent grass roots response. If nothing else, it proves that Norman and his views are still very much alive.

Truth be told, Larry Norman has pretty much isolated himself from most other Christian rockers. He has, from the beginning, rejected the all-in-white, ain’t-life-grand-because-we-found-the-way attitude for the realism the world affords most of us: hunger, pain, greed, etc. His method has always been to attack any problem at its greatest strength, with truth. He is not God, he always points out. But he knows Him.

*Disclaimer: In the late-’70s when this was written, I was a young, brash idealist under the influence of music and had no idea what I was doing. There was no Internet, I didn’t smoke dope and couldn’t get a date, so I locked myself in a room for a week and doused myself with huge doses of music, Christian and otherwise, and hammered this out on an old Sears portable typewriter. I uncovered it just last week during an archaeological dig in my bedroom and have faithfully reproduced it here. It should be taken in context. There may be errors, but whatever those may be should be offset by the information provided, most of which I don’t remember writing. For those who may wonder, yes, I do like Christian Rock and, no, I am not a Christian. But like I always tell my friends: It’s hard to argue with good music.

Like it says, I don’t remember writing this at all.  Most of my articles back then were fueled by anger and disgust at a music industry which failed, as far as I could see, on most levels.  Not long after writing this, I started working record retail and became somewhat buried by the industry, myself.  I’m much older now.  In fact, I’m a fossil.  Sad thing is, I sometimes don’t feel any wiser.  I still listen to the music, though.  I have a whole row of Phil Keaggy albums on my shelf.  In fact, I have albums by everyone mentioned in this piece and love them all.

Next up, a look at musicians who tripped off this mortal coil this past year.  Stay tuned…..

Music Notes smallNotes…..  It’s The Season, isn’t it?  So why not get in the spirit?  Here is an outstanding Christmas track from a lady I have come to love.  I mean, what with all of the lame attempts at Christmas songs which don’t even capture an iota of what Christmas is, this is a real breath of fresh air.  Ladies and Gentlemen, Maxi Dunn.  And if you hear what I hear, it’s time you checked out this year’s album, Edmund & Leo.

I have always been a sucker for the rolling bass lines and rhythms, especially when the vocals are crisp and clean.  Here is one of my favorites done by The Netherlands’ MaRain:

Coming very soon:  a new No Small Children album.  When approached by the press— erm, me—  regarding the songs, the band said this:  “(There will be) ten to eleven songs not included on the Dear Youth EP.  …a few we’ve released as singles but no repeats from the EP.”  That, my friends, is excellent news.  In other words, we are in for a perfect storm of Childrenness, No Small-wise.

While the song above will not be on the album, it is available on the band’s Dear Youth EP and contains a thought we should all pass along, especially to those who believe they are not worthy.  Written by Jilly Blackstone, may she rest in peace.

Glitterbeat Records is all over the place when it comes to genre.  They are backing international acts like crazy, the most successful at this time being Mali’s Tamikrest, but they have artists on the fringe as well.  Such as Gary Heffern & Beautiful People and a lady who has shades of Marlene in her voice, Andrea Schroeder.  Here is a preview of Andrea’s album to be released after the first of the year— Where the Wild Oceans End:


Frank’s column appears every Tuesday

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DBAWIS_ButtonFrank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.” 

One Response to “Frank Gutch Jr: The Beginnings of Christian Rock— erm, Contemporary Christian Music, plus Notes…..”

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