Saturday, February 18, 2023

More About the Jesus Music: Pioneers

Part 6 of my series on the Jesus Movement as I experienced it in the early 70's in Southern California.  It's in anticipation of the release of the movie, "The Jesus Revolution".


 Little did the bands and solo artists that emerged from the early days of the Jesus Movement realize that they were the start of something that has lasted more than 50 years.  While much of the evangelistic fervor and zealousness for the return of Christ has lessened, the music grew.  Today CCM (the eventual result of the Revolution's musical expression) is what must be a multi-billion dollar business.  Frankly, some of that is good news, some not so much. But, that's my opinion.  I remember a simpler time when money, record labels, contracts and celebrity were not a motivators.

And in the beginnings of the movement not all music came from unknown kids practicing in garages. That's  not at all to say what they did was inferior.  But, there were some leaders of the movement's music who had previously been successful in the secular world of rock and folk music.  So successful that they had "charted" before turning to Christ and devoting their talents to spreading the Gospel.  Here are three  examples.

Chuck Girard (whose story, along with the other members of Love Song is told in the movie) had been a member of the quartet "The Castells", who in 1961 charted with the love song "Sacred".  Then in 1964 he joined a new group called "The Hondells" and again charted with the hit "Little Honda" (written by Beach Boys Mike Love and Brian Wilson).  Here they are on the TV show Shindig - I remember watching this! Chuck's conversion came at Calvary Chapel in 1970.

Barry McGuire was a member of the popular mid-60's folk group "The New Christy Minstrels".  He sang lead on their biggest hit song "Green, Green" (1963).  And then he went solo with a huge hit "The Eve of Destruction" (1965).  Later he performed for a year in the Broadway musical "Hair".  Then, in 1971 Barry met Jesus and everything changed for him.  My kids' generation will remember his album "Bullfrogs and Butterflies".  And in 1980 I sang Barry's part of Peter in the Jimmy and Carol Owens' musical "The Witness" in our Tulsa church.

Larry Norman, with the psychedelic band "People!" scored a major hit song with "I Love You", shown here on American Bandstand in 1968.  A Christian since childhood (in a Southern Baptist home!) he became fed up with the rock culture and devoted himself to spreading the Gospel with music, not without controversy!  Larry's style and lyrics were more confrontational than winsome, and he endured plenty of criticism.  Yet, by most he is considered the "father of Christian rock music", putting out his first Christian album, "Upon This Rock" (on a secular label) in 1969.  Here's a great example of his lyrical style in "Only Visiting this Planet". 

The music of the early days of the Jesus Movement reflected a much simpler time, sans managers, arenas, light shows, marketing and for the most part radio play.  They mostly played in churches (that would allow them) and coffee houses without contracts, maybe getting a few bucks in "love offerings".  But the little they received would get them on to their next gig, often in broken down old vans!  Nancy Honeytree, another Jesus people musician wrote a great song about those days called "Pioneer".  Then I found this video of part of her story that I found so telling of the idea of simplicity in representing the Lord.  We could use a revival of that spirit.  They truly were trailblazers.  And today so many of our churches' music (including mine) is indebted to what they started.

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