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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Musicians of the King

         In the late 60s and early 70s I can recall waking early in the morning to prepare to go to classes at high school and college, and as I would have my breakfast I would watch a gospel music program that came on the local Knoxville, Tennessee television station.  The show was hosted by a fellow by the name of Harry Golden and he would present prerecorded clips of various southern gospel artists performing their music.

        At first I found the music to be somewhat annoying with its twangy vocals, but being musically curious as I have tended to be my entire life, I began to be drawn to the music.  The clips ran in rotation and over time I became familiar with the songs and they began to catch on with me.

          My favorite group was the Oak Ridge Boys.  This was several years before they crossed over to secular country music and became huge stars. Their harmonies were pleasant to hear and they sang songs that were well written southern gospel songs.   Then one morning a new clip was presented that was unlike anything that had been previously played on the program.  The song by the Oak Ridge Boys was called "I Wish We'd All Been Ready".   About fifteen years later I would discover that this song was written by Larry Norman, who is sometimes referred to as the "Father of Christian Rock Music".

         At that time, I had no idea that there was any kind contemporary Christian music movement.   I bought every Oak Ridge Boys album I could get my hands on and discovered that their music was not all country gospel sounding, but was influenced by many other styles as well.  This was also when JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR came on the scene.  I wanted there to be a Christian rock music genre and I became a fan of just about any pop song that related to God or Jesus.  It thrilled me when songs like Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" hit the charts and received regular radio play.  But the real contemporary Christian music scene was brewing and I didn't even know about it.

          Fast forward to 1984:  I happened to see a piece on a television news journal program about a group called Petra and the Christian rock music they played.  I had found what I had been trying to find over the past fifteen years.  I began to discover incredible groups and artists that I had never known existed. I amassed a huge collection of Christian music cassettes and vinyl albums, read up on everything I could find about the genre, and began attending many concerts.  After a while I considered myself to be somewhat of an expert on the subject of Contemporary Christian Music.

        By 1988 I had decided to take a break from my traveling life with the road show production I had managed since 1981.  My family and I settled back in East Tennessee and I started an entertainment production company.  Among the ventures I decided to try was promoting a large scale Christian rock concert in Knoxville.  I carefully researched what acts might be the best to put on the show and finally settled upon two giants of Christian rock--Greg X. Volz and Mark Farner.  It would be a blockbuster show that would be sure to be a hit.

          Greg X. Volz had been the amazing vocalist with Petra, the group that had first caught my attention four years earlier.  Greg had left the group to embark upon a solo career and was on the heels of two superb albums.  Mark Farner had been the front man of Grand Funk Railroad, one of the most successful rock acts of the early 70s.  Mark had turned to Christian music and gone solo, hitting the Christian charts with his recordings.   They were both known artists with respectable histories behind them.

        On my limited budget I promoted the show as much as I could afford.  I had secured the Knoxville Civic Auditorium with a good stage and seating for a few thousand people.  I arranged for light and sound companies, catering for artists and crew, union stage hands.  I set up interviews and special musical highlights on the local radio stations and bought radio time and newspaper ads.  Excitedly I looked forward to the concert day.  As the day approached I went to all of my ticket outlets to collect monies and unsold tickets.  I was dismayed.  Only a couple of hundred tickets had been sold.  It appeared that all of the work that I had put into the concert had been in vain and I was about to take a bath on my investment.

I have come to the realization that this post is longer than I had anticipated.  I am going to continue this story in my post for tomorrow.  The Debate Day topic that was originally scheduled for tomorrow will be postponed until a later time.  Be sure to return tomorrow to learn the outcome of my concert experience and my encounters with the artists and with some other artists a few years later.

Do you listen to any Contemporary Christian Music?  Are you a fan?  Who are some of your favorite artists?  If you don't like Contemporary Christian Music, why not?   Do you think that Christian artists are genuine in their missions or do you think they are just in it for the money and recognition?



  1. I love Christian Music, and a lot of other music as well. I grew up listening and singing the Stamps-Baxter quartet music. I have never been into rock very much, but I love country music, along with music found in hymnals (which is normal I guess for someone of my age-almost 77). I do believe that some Christian artists are in it for the money, as well as the fame, but only God knows their hearts and their intentions. I know that the Oak Ridge Boys have always been favorites of mine, along with the Kingdom Heirs. I really enjoyed this blog posting! It speaks to my heart.

  2. To be honest Lee I love all kinds of music, pop, classical , inspirational the lot. (Eespecially Daniel)
    Your post today is right up my street, music has been my life,having had piano lesson from an early age.I look forward to your conclusion tomorrow.


  3. I've always loved the sound of the Oak Ridge Boys - such great voices and harmony.

  4. My experience with Christian music is from listening to my mom's albums over the years as well as listening to my grandmother and great-grandmother singing hymns as they went about their days. Those hymns are so dear to me.

  5. Grammy -- When I was in my teens to about age 40, I really wanted to hear more contemporary music in church but I didn't go to church much during that time anyway. I didn't really start going back to church until after I was in my 40s and found they now were playing more rock oriented music. Now I want to hear the old songs I used to hear as a child and it thrills me when the worship team slips in an old standard. Thanks for your kind words. By the way, do you recall the Harry Golden gospel music show that used to be on in the mornings. Did you get reception from Knoxville where you are back then?

    Yvonne -- I know you are a big music fan. After seeing Daniel on TV the other night and then looking up some of his albums on Amazon, I was surprised about how much inspirational music he does. I guess he would fit the description of Contemporary Christian artist.

    Jemi-- I liked the Oak Ridge Boys a lot when they sang gospel. I stopped listening to them when they went secular country--the song "Elvira" always annoyed me. I'm sure they still have the good harmonies and I guess they still sing some of their old gospel music.

    Cheryl -- I always loved the old hymns when I was a child. Now I've grown to appreciate them again.

  6. I don't listen to nearly as much music as I used to. I think it's because we don't have a CD player in the car now that we have an older model. LOL! My daughter is the one who devours all new Christian music. I do, however, have it on my MP3 player for when I workout. Toby Mac is my workout buddy...but he doesn't know that ;)

  7. OK, totally weird. My comment got eaten in cyber space! Probably went to the same place as the extra sock that never comes out of the dryer. I think I said...

    I don't listen to as much music as I used to, especially since we no longer have a CD player in the car. I do, however, have Christian music on my MP3 player for when I workout. Toby Mac is my workout buddy, even though he doesn't know it :D

  8. Oh, LOL! I just now saw that you have moderation. Feel free to toss out a few of my comments today ;)

  9. Georgiana-- If I didn't have comment moderation on my site, I'd have all kinds of spam and comments in Chinese. I just like to keep my comments relevant to my post.
    I too don't listen to as much music as I used to, so I don't keep up with music like I used to.
    Now it's too much talk radio if I'm listening to anything, or, better, I'm writing and don't want distractions, other than classical music if I'm listening to anything.

  10. I enjoy all kinds of music. My mother introduced me to contemporary Christian music a few years ago, and I do like some of it, but not all. I enjoy the Oak Ridge Boys too! Did you know they named themselves after the secret military installation in Tennessee that was responsible for refining the uranium that was used to win WWII?

  11. rLEE-b ~
    I'm lookin' forward to Part 2.
    I'm always a bit surprised by how uninspired so much of Christian Rock sounds to me. One exception, however, is Joel Chernoff (formerly of a group called 'Lamb'). But I think I've mentioned him to you previously.

    ~ "Lonesome Dogg" McMe

  12. I listen to very little contemporary Christian music. There is so little of it that I have heard that has true theological truths in them.

    I am not a fan.

    Some of my favorite Christian artists are The Circuit Riders, almost any Soutern Gospel group or singer, The Happy Goodmans, Kory Welch, Bruce Haynes, Ken Holloway, The Cathedrals, Blackwood Brothers, etc.

    I don't like contemporary Christian music for the main reason it lacks any biblical theology and rather than "feed" or "soothe" the soul it excites and speaks to the fleshly part of us.

    It would be hard to answer your last question for all singers or artists. Their is a major difference (to me) between ministry and performance. Unfortunately what most people do today is perform, even in the local church. I would say a good number are in it for the money, the fame, pride, self-recogntion rather than truly for the glory of God and the good of believers. That is not say this characterizes all.

    Lest I be called hypocrite, many of the southern gospel songs do not lead me to Christ or to the glorious nature of God, they get my foot tappin and body movin. Many in my gener perform rather than minister.

    This is a tough subject. Worship Wars have been devastating the church for the past 30 years or so.

    You have asked a great yet explosive question.

  13. B. Miller -- I moved to L.A. from East Tennessee, very close to Oak Ridge. I used to drive early morning shuttle runs between the Knoxville Airport and the Oak Ridge laboratories carrying people from all over the world that visited the labs. They also have a pretty good atomic energy museum that recounts the history of Oak Ridge.

  14. StMc -- And a happy St Pat's to ye lad.

    I know you don't have great feelings about CCMusic (I don't really like this label-- weren't Gregorian chants and Bach cantatas contemporary in their day?And when is the music no longer contemporary?) And you have mentioned Joel Chernoff in the past and I checked out his music on Amazon.

    I still think there is a lot of very listenable, interesting, and entertaining music offered by CCM artists. I agree that a lot of it does sound kind of uninspired at times, but so does a lot of music. I think this just belongs to the listener, the mood, and the setting. I won't blanket any genre with how inspired it is because my feelings can change. I can almost always recognize the effort it takes to make the music. Also, primarily I listen to music for entertainment or to fill up empty quiet spaces when I want sound.
    I don't know how much CCM you have actually listened to, but there is probably some that compares vary favorably to artists that you like to listen to.

  15. Greg-- I don't listen to music like used to and I tend to listen to classical more than anything now. CCM has certainly been a controversial topic in the church. Churches have certainly conformed to many worldly things that I don't agree with.

    As far as the CCM, I don't listen to it for the theology as a rule. It merely serves as a substitute for other secular music that I might listen. Though the theology might not be correct I think the intent is general good and the messages are positive. I enjoy music and I appreciate many styles

    Also I think the CCM, the southern gospel, or music in general can serve as a conversation starter or a way to reach otherwise unreceptive people. I have sensed the movement of the spirit in concert settings and heard some very positive messages delivered to a crowd that has been assembled for the purpose of the music. I think it is not too unlike feeding hungry people at a rescue mission and delivering them a sermon. Most of those people just came because their was food to eat, but maybe something they hear will eventually rub off.
    Same goes for the music. If some of the concert attendees are only there because of the music, maybe they'll start to absorb some of the other things they might hear in the concert setting.

    Bottom line I think is that a lot of people--myself include--enjoy music and listen to it. If there is something positive in the words of the music then that's better. What would you rather kids listen to: rap with vulgar violent lyrics and distruction death metal or Christian rock? If those are my choices I'll opt for the latter and hope the influence is good.

    I enjoy your comments Gregg. They are always substantive and thought provoking.

  16. I love contemporary Christian music. It comprises most of the music on my ipod.

  17. I agree, if the choice is between some of the stuff that is out there you bet I'll take CCM or almost anything over it. Yes, conversation starters are a good tool.

    As a rule I have not found a way to even classify rap as music. I say that with a but, but I "accidentaly" stumbled on a rap artist named Shai Linne.

    He is reformed in theology and raps reformed theolgy in his songs. He has one song that is so absolutley doctrinally correct and presented in a rap format that blew me away. The Song is called Mission Accomplished. He has even rapped about Charles Spurgeon.

    If you get a chance look up Mission Accomplished on YouTube. It is more than well worth the listen.

    Do you write any music? I need a tune to some lyrics?

  18. Gregg -- I write songs and have music stored in my head, but no I don't write music-- I wish I did.

    The Shai Linne example you give is a good example of what I was talking about. I listened to it on YouTube and it was interesting.

    I'm like you though about rap -- can't stand it and don't think of it as music. I would not purchase Shai Linne's material nor would I listen to it just for my own casual listening. But there are many people who like his style and if he reaches a few of these then I guess his mission is worth his effort.

  19. I don't know anything about this genre of music. I'm assuming that bottom line it operates like any other business. All those people have to eat. Mostly I listen to jazz, classic rock, and classical. But I also like a lot of new music, too.

  20. Bet that was nerve-wracking. Guess I'll wait until tomorrow for the conclusion...

    I'd ask if you know KillSwitchEngage, but that might be a little too heavy for your tastes. (Secular band with Christian roots.)

  21. I don't listen to a lot of Christian music, although I do enjoy Amy Grant. I like a lot of old 60s and 70s folk music and some of the older Country music. Always enjoy the Oak Ridge Boys.

    To answer your questions, the few Christian/gospel singers I have met personally do seem to be motivated by the Spirit and not the money. Although money is nice. LOL

  22. I think I still have a couple Petra albums somewhere...

    I like the crossover stuff - Switchfoot, 12 Stones...bands like that.

    Remember Stryper? Two Christian albums and then they sold out when they got popular.
    Noboby's perfect!

  23. Hi Lee -

    Oh my, you brought back memories. Do you recall Chuck Girard and his group, "Love Song?" I saw him at a church a few months ago. Talk about nostalgia!

    I'm also a big fan of "The Couriers," a group out of Harrisburg, PA. When I was a teenager, they came to our church every year.

    Thanks for visiting my blog and becoming a Follower. I've become a Follower here, and look forward to getting to know you.

    Susan :)

  24. Alex -- not familiar with KillSwitch Engage, but mainly because I haven't really been keeping up with music over the last decade like I used to. Sounds like some of the music some of the bands that our church youth play in. I listened to some samples and what I heard reminded me of Dream Theatre, a group that I do enjoy. If the instrumentation and the arrangements are good I like it, although I'm not a huge fan of "screaming"--just in moderation.

    Carole -- you should check CCM out. I guarentee you that just about any genre that you like has a Christian counterpart playing the same style of music.

    Maryann -- I guess money is necessary. I'm going to talk about sincerity and motivation in my post tomorrow.

    Diane -- I have a lot of Petra in my collection-- mostly cassettes. And I have a Stryper vinyl. The were quite the rage for a short while.

    Susan -- thanks for checking in. I don't know much about the music of "Love Song" but certainly am familiar with them. They were part of the movement when I didn't know it existed.

  25. I saw the Oak Ridge Boys live in concert many years ago at Mill Run Theater, which has since been torn down. Great show.

    Morgan Mandel

  26. Thanks so much for popping over to my blog. Yours is great but, oh what a terrible tease this post is! I was getting in to your story and then you cut it short for tomorrow! I guess I'm just going to have to come back :P

    I'm relatively new to the Christian music scene. It's only been the last six years that I was exposed to any of it after attending a Christian music festival for the first time. My favourite band is Third Day. Nice and gutsy.


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