Contemporary Christian Music


Contemporary Christian Music

I met someone interesting a while back and I discovered last summer that she had something unsuspected lurking in her past – around age 19 / 20, she was enticed into studying the Bible and going to church!  But not just any church – the mighty Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, CA – home of Maranatha Records!

When I was 20, going on 21 – I was rehearsing a rock band, recording an album, playing concerts, going to Europe…I had a car and a job; I was drinking and misbehaving!

Maranatha Records interests me on a variety of levels – it’s a Southern California company / phenomena, their records all look & sound very professional – and some of ‘em aren’t too far off of the mark of ‘real music’!  The record distributor that I worked for owned a chain of hippie record stores (“Licorice Pizza”) – I distinctly remember the Costa Mesa store requesting to carry the full line of Maranatha LP releases, insisting that they could REALLY sell ‘em!

I suppose I should remind readers that Calvary Chapel was also once the home to “Hippie Preacher” #1, Lonnie Frisbee (who my friend knew – telling me that he was, in fact, VERY charismatic!) – try to see the documentary “Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher” – interesting stuff!

Where do I intersect Contemporary Christian Music (CCM)?  I didn’t mind the early 70’s wave of J.C. inspired pop / rock music:  “Jesus Christ Superstar” (the original version, of course – with it’s cast of progressive rock greats), the Broadway show “Godspell”, Norman Greenbaum’s eternal hippie anthem “Spirit In The Sky”, the mighty Edwin Hawkins Singers “Oh Happy Day”, “Put Your Hand In The Hand Of The Man…”, “One Toke Over The Line” etc.

Long story short:  my friend was enticed to join a Bible study group; this group lead to the Calvary Chapel; being an outstanding 20-something, my friend got invited to join a “special” Bible study group that was unauthorized by the church: one for the Maranatha musicians!  She described it as a “Secret Club”!  Soon she was going to their concerts, had “Guest List” status – and began to make her way through the not-uncomplicated world of working, faith-based musicians.

She told me that at times it seemed to her that the same people showed up week after week to the concerts – going against her basic beliefs, she was “miffed” whenever she got left off of the “Guest List”!  I asked if she ever observed any traditional rock ‘n’ roll antics, such as “Hanky Panky” between the musicians and fans – she said “No.  The church would’ve come down really hard on that”.

The church paid attention to what the faith-based rock musicians were up to?  I was told there was even a “5 Mile Rule” (which wasn’t invented for musicians, but it certainly  would’ve applied!) – you can’t go in a bar and ‘get drunk’ within 5 miles of the church; You must set a good example!  Don’t “Stumble” your brother!

One of the bands my friend encountered was called Daniel Amos (“The Beatles of Contemporary Christian Music!”) – I knew they were a California band, but hadn’t quite realized they directly came out of Calvary Chapel / Maranatha in south Orange County, only a few miles from my home!  I guess I applied record distributor knowledge and thought anything “Christian” came from Benson in Texas!

While researching this story, I was curious about “When did CCM start?”  I found that my instinct wasn’t so far wrong – The Lively Ones were a Christian rock band circa 1970, and they came from Texas!  (And in 2011, their 1970 LP on the Word label has been re-issued on CD in Korea, of all places!).

No discussion of CCM is complete without mention of Larry Norman.  Norman was a California 60’s rocker who flirted with major label success, while insisting on faith-based rock music.  His 1969 “Upon This Rock” (on Capitol) is a CCM “Classic” LP!  Very respectable 1969 “rock music” (and on CD, too!).  I recommend the DVD “Fallen Angel – The Outlaw Larry Norman” for the whole story.

There are a number of music business people / artists who I never really had any idea were “faith-based”:  Brent Bourgeois had a wonderful Sacramento-area band called Bourgeois Tagg (on Island Records), and he went on to be the head of Artists & Repertoire for Word Records!  The only thing I ever knew about Bruce Cockburn was his song “If I Had A Rocket Launcher” – I never knew he dabbled in CCM.  T-Bone Burnette, Sam (Leslie) PhillipsAndy Pratt (“Records Are Like Life”)…the known CCM quantities are people like Phil Keaggy (Glass Harp), The Call (a Santa Cruz band whose LP’s I used to see), Amy Grant (who successfully went from Christian to secular), the late Keith Green, King’s X (whose videos I saw a lot of), Barry “Eve of Destruction” McGuire (who started with the New Christy Minstrels), and Ah! The glorious Stryper – who are completely unforgettable…and absolutely awful!

So, if you recognize anything at all that I am mentioning today, you’ve had your fingers in the CCM rock & roll pie.  Merry Christmas!

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