Monday, June 29, 2009

Jesus Music

I mentioned Don Rakestraw in an earlier post. He and my sister Jennie were getting serious about each other, so he was around a lot. He and I had learned a bunch of Neil Young and CSN&Y tunes. "Harvest" and the first CSN album especially. I was also listening to a lot of George Harrison. I loved the 3-LP "All Things Must Pass." We learned some of those tunes. Now that he and I were both real sold-out believers, we started looking for a way to put this interest to some kind of spiritual use. We started with a medley of "Heart of Gold" and "Wayfaring Stranger" that we did in church. Don played guitar and sang harmony while I played harmonica and sang lead. It all went over really well. Later we did Harrison's "Hear Me Lord" and "Here Comes the Sun."

It was early 1972 and our area was hit by several waves of revival. The Asbury Revival of 1970 coming down from Kentucky, the Jesus Movement from the West Coast, the Charismatic Movement from everywhichaway, and a local revival at First Presbyterian Church here in Gadsden that spilled over into a prolonged Campus Crusade influence. Our group was more influenced by the Asbury and Jesus Movement than the others, but there was a lot of cross-pollenization.

Anyway, about that time, Don and I "invented" Jesus Music. We thought we should adapt or write songs in our style of music to the service of God rather than mammon (or self). We took a set of songs to a battle of the bands at Gadsden State Junior College only to be surprised (and delighted) to find another group of long-haired Jesus Freak acoustic musicians at the hall. They were from Albertville and they had a coffeehouse. We checked it out loved it. We had a couple of guys with us who got all excited and rented a building in Gadsden. So now we had a coffeehouse, too. The guys from Albertville would come down and play at our place and we'd play up there. Steve Richey and Rick Trussell became good friends of ours. (I still see Rick fairly often. He hangs out with us at the Vineyard from time to time.)

So, with a coffeehouse, we had a regular gig at a time and place where, spiritually, a lot was going on. Our duo was expanding into a band while we were expanding our repertoire by writing our own songs. The stuff I wrote musically reflected what I was listening to from Neil Young to The Who to the Allman Brothers.

Then we started hearing what was already out there--the "real" Jesus Music. Paul Clark, Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Malcolm & Alwyn, Love Song, then Second Chapter of Acts, Keith Green, Randy Matthews, Terry and John Michael Talbot. The list grew with Honeytree, comedian Mike Warnke, Phil Keaggy, and more and more and more. We started seeing guys from our own part of the country--Pat Terry, Don Francisco--releasing albums and touring. In order to make this music available, we started selling the records in our coffeehouse. We never had any coffee in our coffeehouse, but we always had a lot of great music.

At the same time, we were becoming aware of a plethora (si, jefe, a plethora) of local talent. Some of the best songwriters and musicians ANYWHERE. The talent was amazing. It really was as though God just poured something out nationwide and it was everywhere. I loved going to concerts and hearing the big name guys do their stuff, but I would just as soon sit in a small room and hear Barry Goss, Arnie Sanford, Dan Noojin, Nori Kelley or Don & Jennie Rakestraw do theirs. It was that good.

The coffeehouse (Free House) became an organization (Christian Brothers) that sponsored concerts and festivals. Our first series of concerts was the 1976 No Jive, Jesus Is Alive summer series. We had two or three all-day outdoor concerts at the ampitheater downtown featuring the best of local talent, and there was a lot of great local talent. Psalm, Dan & Chip, the Waddels, the Christian Brothers Band (the band that evolved from Don's & my duo--only now I was playing electric). Wendell Miller and friends in Birmingham began to sponsor concerts there and, following our 1977 Falls Festival, we were touring with Terry Talbot and doing sound for just about all the Contemporary Christian concerts in Bham, Atlanta, to Chattanooga areas, and some well beyond that. We had a chance to work with a lot of these Jesus Music heroes. I toured with Terry Talbot for about a year. We did sound for everybody on the above list (paragraph 5) except Norman and Stonehill.

Of course we were influenced by all this great music. I'll have to say that my greatest influence from Jesus Music was not all that musical. What I got was freedom. We could musically express ourselves in our own "language" and it was legit. I also saw that Christian albums did not have to be poorly produced and that the musicianship could be second to none. I lost of a lot of the cultural inferiority complex I had experienced as a young believer wondering if it was okay to play a distorted electric guitar or (gasp!) slide guitar or do a blues tune. There was some guy, Larry Something, who was preaching nationwide about flatted sevenths and backbeats being of the devil and encouraging bonfires of secular LPs. I remembered filling out my Moody Blues collection from a group of albums that were supposed to hit the fire. I asked, so it was okay. But there was still so much to learn about aesthetics and Christianity.

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