Category Archives: Music

#296: Found Free Lost

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #296, on the subject of Found Free Lost.

I first encountered Found Free when they played at Gordon College, probably in 1975 or ‘6.  I was in the cafeteria (I have previously mentioned that Gordon did not have an auditorium, and the chapel was not large enough to hold the entire student body, so large gatherings were always in the cafeteria or the gym) in advance of the show, while they were setting up, and I approached their guitarist, Wayne Farley.  I approached him because he was playing what I still on some level consider the “Holy Grail” of instruments, an electric guitar that sounds like an acoustic when amplified.  I asked him what it was, and he gave me an unfamiliar brand name; I believe he said it was from Australia.  I failed to remember that information, partly because on my paltry budget everything was too expensive to consider.

My good friend Jeff Zurheide walked out of that concert, and I understand why, although it might be said that he lacked patience.  The band had a well-organized and well-performed show designed for college campuses generally which began with covers of secular oldies coupled with nostalgic reminiscences to draw in the audience, and then eventually shifted to delivering the gospel message with a few Christian covers and originals.  Jeff was not interested in hearing a secular music concert, and did not anticipate the shift; I stayed to see what they were going to do, although I don’t know why I expected something different.  They were talented.

A couple years later I was out of school and out of work, and I heard they were auditioning for a guitarist.  I arranged an audition.  I had lunch with David Michael Ed, keyboard player and vocalist, and then played for him and vocalist Keith Lancaster, but my fate was sealed at lunch when they learned that I was married–it had been their plan to find someone who could share an apartment in the city with Keith, and so keep expenses down.  They said that my playing and singing were certainly good enough (although I am not at all satisfied myself that I could have replaced Wayne Farley, whose departure from the band had occasioned this opening), but they couldn’t afford my wife.

I often wonder what might have been, but I doubt I could have saved them, as sad as that is.

They did give me a copy of their recently released Greentree Records album Closer Than Ever, saying that I apparently did not know what they sounded like at that point (which was correct, as they had changed significantly in the couple years since I’d heard them).  It was a well produced album with good but not great songs, and the vocal work was very impressive.  I remember many cuts from that disc, but not many of them have been preserved on the web.  Ed’s song I Won’t Turn Back was a gentle opener, but Stone Heart exemplifies the processed sound typical of the LP.  Lancaster’s Do You Want Him? is a gentle call, and Starlight Praise has been described by someone as “brassy gospel swing”.  Touched by Love closes the first side with a bouncy touch, and the B side opens with the title track, smooth and a bit schmaltzy.  Farley contributed the track Still Up Walkin’, a song that prefigures his complicated compositions which appear later elsewhere.  I always liked Lancaster’s Stained Glass Window, but I don’t remember the closing song If You Know by Ed.

I know a few facts that come next, but not the sequence in which they came.  David Ed and his wife Joy separated, and both left the band.  They never actually found a guitarist to replace Farley, but instead found a new bass guitarist and shifted their former bass guitarist to guitar.  I think Lancaster took over on keyboards, and they put together an impressive array of musicians that filled the stage.  I managed once again to catch them in concert, as they released another album–sort of.  They had apparently lost their contract with Greentree, and it was pretty obvious that Sparkal Records was a vanity label, that is, they had produced their own album and paid to have it pressed.  We had a copy at the radio station, and I had my own copy, and it was a superb album throughout, under the title Specially Purchased, Individually Wrapped.  However, it failed to find national marketing, and was the last gasp for the band.

Still, I remember some great songs from it, including Front Lines, I Need You Lord, Just Like a Child, Don’t We Need to Know, and of course the title song, Individually Wrapped, about being who God made each of us to be, instead of trying to copy what someone else is doing (in which they humorously copy several other artist styles in the midst of a group rap).  Not a one of those was found in online video, which is sad because I think it some of their best work.

On an only loosely related subject, I would later try out for a guitar and vocals spot in a band called Daybreak.  They lived together and worked out of a farmhouse somewhere in Pennsylvania, and became the go-to people for festival sound systems, but they never told me why they didn’t take me.  They were so insignificant that their discography isn’t published online that I could find (there’s another band of the same name around the same time), but the song I most liked from them was the a capella novelty title track from the one album I ever saw, You Can’t Stand Up Alone, and it appears that there must have been an earlier LP, from which the title track After the Rain is online.  I don’t know–I think I could have helped them, but I am impressed with their vocal work on other videos.  Probably I’ll never know what they didn’t like about me.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.
  5. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
  6. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch.
  7. #244: Missed The Archers.
  8. #246: The Secular Radio Hits.
  9. #248:  The Hawkins Family.
  10. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist.
  11. #252:  Petra Means Rock.
  12. #254:  Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands.
  13. #256:  Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive.
  14. #258:  British Invaders Malcolm and Alwyn.
  15. #260:  Lamb and Jews for Jesus.
  16. #262: First Lady Honeytree of Jesus Music.
  17. #264:  How About Danny Taylor.
  18. #266:  Minstrel Barry McGuire.
  19. #268:  Voice of the Second Chapter of Acts.
  20. #272:  To the Bride Live.
  21. #276:  Best Guitarist Phil Keaggy.
  22. #281:  Keith Green Launching.
  23. #283:  Keith Green Crashing.
  24. #286:  Blind Seer Ken Medema.
  25. #288:  Prophets Daniel Amos.
  26. #290:  James the Other Ward.
  27. #292:  Rising Resurrection Band.
  28. #294:  Servant’s Waters.

#294: Servant’s Waters

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #294, on the subject of Servant’s Waters.

I have this story fairly reliably from the mouth of one of the band’s founding members.  They were one of the Christian rock bands of the day, going from church to church and religious rally to religious rally in their tour bus.  One day on their way to somewhere the bus broke down.  They limped it into the first parking lot they found, which happened to be a bar.  Using the phone there (remember land lines?) they informed people that they were stuck and determined that they could get someone out to repair the bus the next day, but were just going to have to stay where the were for the night.

The proprietor suggested that as long as they were stuck there anyway, he would pay them something to play in the bar that night.  They weren’t going anywhere, and a bit of money toward fixing the bus would certainly be welcome, so they accepted his offer and set up their equipment on his stage.  They opened their set with the one secular cover they knew–I’m afraid I don’t now remember whether it was Johnny Be Good or Sloop John B, but it was the only non-original song they knew.  Having finished it, they kind of stared at each other for a moment, and decided there was nothing for it but to push forward with their all-original Christian rock repertoire.

They were well received.  They continued on their tour the next day, but they had discovered something, and they began shifting what they were doing to take them more and more into secular venues, places where people actually needed to hear the message.

I didn’t know all of that, but I knew that Servant was one of the legends of the time, taking Christian rock music into secular venues.

Their album Shallow Water reached the radio station shortly after I did, and I would not have guessed it was their first; it is, at any rate, the earliest to appear on official discographies.  It is well constructed and well performed throughout, sounding more like the work of seasoned artists who know what they’re doing than a debut.  The opening title song set the tone for a ministry that challenged Christians to give up comfortable lives in favor of radical ministry.  Other songs on the same theme included the somewhat gentler Rich Man, and the powerful and memorable Cup of Water.  It closes with the upbeat Fly Away.  Throughout the mix of multiple vocals with powerful rock instrumentation gave them a distinctive and powerful sound.

I have fewer memories of Rockin’ Revival, which came out two years later, but Ad Man attacked the dangers of modern commercialism (“The ad man is the prophet of the century, making all his profit off of you and me”), and it closes with the fun and encouraging I’m Gonna Live.

They did it again with World of Sand, with songs like New Revolution, but the favorite song on this was the gimmicky tribute to Christian rock music, Jungle Music, whose insider references in the closing dialogue montage included people like Larry Norman, Resurrection Band, Daniel Amos, DeGarmo & Key, Barnabas, Petra, Fireworks, Sweet Comfort Band, and themselves.

When they released Caught in the Act of Loving Him, I had the opportunity to see them live.  They not only put on a dynamic musical performance, they put on a complete show.  The lights were synched with the music, including flash pots and lasers.  The male lead vocalist trained as a gymnast and was in constant motion including standing flips on stage.  They were engaging on every level.  Meanwhile the songs continued to challenge, including the memorable Now Is the Time and perhaps my favorite, the album opener Burning Bridges (“…give me light”).  Critics suggest that with this album Servant was transitioning from headbanger rock to new wave, which is more than I know.  I only know that they continued to be one of the best acts in Christian music, and one of the most challenging music ministries out there.

I never heard anything from them after that, but their discography shows only two more albums, the last in 1985.  There was also an album in the midst of this entitled Remix, and when I asked them about it in an interview they said please don’t buy it, as it was released by a record company that they had just left who decided to try to profit from their popularity by doing (often poor) remixed versions of a number of their songs and putting them on a new album just as World of Sand was hitting the market.

Apart from that one album, I never heard anything from Servant I wouldn’t recommend whole-heartedly.  It’s easy to forget just how good they were.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.
  5. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
  6. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch.
  7. #244: Missed The Archers.
  8. #246: The Secular Radio Hits.
  9. #248:  The Hawkins Family.
  10. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist.
  11. #252:  Petra Means Rock.
  12. #254:  Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands.
  13. #256:  Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive.
  14. #258:  British Invaders Malcolm and Alwyn.
  15. #260:  Lamb and Jews for Jesus.
  16. #262: First Lady Honeytree of Jesus Music.
  17. #264:  How About Danny Taylor.
  18. #266:  Minstrel Barry McGuire.
  19. #268:  Voice of the Second Chapter of Acts.
  20. #272:  To the Bride Live.
  21. #276:  Best Guitarist Phil Keaggy.
  22. #281:  Keith Green Launching.
  23. #283:  Keith Green Crashing.
  24. #286:  Blind Seer Ken Medema.
  25. #288:  Prophets Daniel Amos.
  26. #290:  James the Other Ward.
  27. #292:  Rising Resurrection Band.

#292: Rising Resurrection Band

When I first arrived at the radio station early in ’79, I had heard of Resurrection Band.  They were known to be the cutting edge of Christian rock music at that time.  However, I had never heard them.  My first exposure came when our program director handed me the recently arrived copy of Rainbow’s End and told me we were never going to play it, so I might as well take it home and enjoy it.

I’m sure I listened to it once.

I don’t think I would say it was too much for me.  Rather, the distortion levels were so high that I couldn’t make much of it.  Wendy and Glenn Kaiser shared the vocals, and they both had very gravelly voices.  I often thought Wendy sounded a lot like Janis Joplin, although I’ve read others say she was reminiscent of Grace Slick.  I never cared for Joplin’s voice, and Wendy’s grated on me similarly.  Its best feature was that it blended well with Glenn, who although rock-rough was easier to hear.  When I try to think of the band’s typical sound, I always recall Wendy’s song Area 312, a somewhat cryptic reference to living in Chicago (312 was the Chicago telephone area code–remember those?).

I met Glenn sometime in ’82 at a local concert, where he gave me a copy of the DMZ album about a week before the record company released it.  I immediately fell in love with No Alibi; it is still my one go-to Rez Band song, and I have a good story for it.  You’ll remember that our station management had trouble with the concepts of Christian Contemporary and Rock Music.  The first time I played this song on the air I did so with some trepidation, concerned that we were pushing the envelope beyond what the management would accept.  In the middle of the song the general manager walked into the studio and said, “What is this?”  A bit nervously I replied that it was No Alibi from Resurrection Band‘s newly-released album DMZ.  She said, “Those are great words,” and turned and walked out of the studio.

I believe I said, “Yes!” in a most emphatic way.  It is a fabulous song.

I next encountered Glenn at Creation (’82, I think), where Resurrection Band was leading Sunday morning worship with songs like I Need Your Love.  I was backstage with Jeff Duffield, who with his wife Sue toured the church circuit with a Gaitheresque Inspirational/MOR sound.  He commented to me that he simply did not understand how music like this could be used for worship, yet it was obvious that the people in the crowd had hands raised and eyes closed and were singing along with their focus on Christ.  A few minutes later Glenn came our direction, and I mentioned this to him.  He recounted being at a festival on the west coast where one of the artists was a Christian punk rock band.  As he listened from back stage, he was thinking, “Lord, how can You use this?  How does this glorify You?”  Yet as he looked out at the crowds, he saw that the band was reaching the audience–and he felt so convicted, because he was passing the same kind of judgment on the new musical styles that had been passed on him.

I have had contact with Glenn over the internet sporadically since then.  Wendy turned her attention to raising their family, and Glenn shifted to Christian Blues with The Glenn Kaiser Band.  They’re leaders in the Jesus People USA organization in Chicago.

One does not stay the leader forever, though.  Not long after DMZ came to us, we received a single–a six minute single on, if memory serves, a ten-inch disc–from a new band called Barnabas, under the title Waiting for the Aliens, from their forthcoming album Approaching Light Speed.  I believe we played it once, just so our listeners would know it was out there–although it was very good and very well done.  Rez Band had blazed the trail for such bands to follow, and more would follow in the years ahead.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.
  5. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
  6. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch.
  7. #244: Missed The Archers.
  8. #246: The Secular Radio Hits.
  9. #248:  The Hawkins Family.
  10. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist.
  11. #252:  Petra Means Rock.
  12. #254:  Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands.
  13. #256:  Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive.
  14. #258:  British Invaders Malcolm and Alwyn.
  15. #260:  Lamb and Jews for Jesus.
  16. #262: First Lady Honeytree of Jesus Music.
  17. #264:  How About Danny Taylor.
  18. #266:  Minstrel Barry McGuire.
  19. #268:  Voice of the Second Chapter of Acts.
  20. #272:  To the Bride Live.
  21. #276:  Best Guitarist Phil Keaggy.
  22. #281:  Keith Green Launching.
  23. #283:  Keith Green Crashing.
  24. #286:  Blind Seer Ken Medema.
  25. #288:  Prophets Daniel Amos.
  26. #290:  James the Other Ward.

#290: James the Other Ward

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #290, on the subject of James the Other Ward.

I have several times asked myself why I listed James Ward for an article of his own, instead of grouping him with the batch of male vocalists in one article still to come.  Part of the answer, I think, is that my cousin the Reverend Peter Grosso would probably kill me if I overlooked or minimized this artist who is, I understand, a friend of his, but part of it is that his Mourning to Dancing album is among my favorites, so he has at least earned that much from me.  I also heard him live once, but that’s part of the story.

One of three known covers of Ward’s Mourning to Dancing LP

It is of course not uncommon for persons with the same surnames to be unrelated, and although James Ward has the same name as Matthew Ward of Second Chapter of Acts, same as the maiden names of Matthew’s two sisters Annie Herring and Nellie Greisen from that same band, it does not appear that they are related; at least, no one ever suggested this, and in the entertainment world you usually do hear about such connections.  The Ward family of Acts appears to have been west-coast based, while James was on the east coast.  I know this because Peter, my cousin, apparently knew him through a New York state area summer camp called Peniel.  Sometime, possibly when I was still in high school (graduated in ’73), certainly before I got to Gordon (started in ’75), he was waving an album in front of me and raving about it–as “raving” as my soft-spoken older Presbyterian cousin ever raved.  Somehow, I don’t think he played any of it for me, and I can’t tell you anything about the sound, but my recollection of the cover was that it was that of a low-budget self-produced release, and in perhaps my own youthful hubris I was not impressed.

When I was at Gordon College, Peter was at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary right up the road (the official connections between the two schools were finally and formally dissolved during my first year there), and when Ward played in our cafeteria (we had no auditorium, and the chapel wasn’t large enough to hold the entire student body) with his band Elán, Peter came.  After the concert, Peter wept.

I, a musician in my own mind, found the concert interesting and enjoyable.  Elán was an avant-garde jazz band that did a lot of atonal and non-metered instrumental music.  They were very good at it.  I don’t know that I would have bought an album had they offered one, but it was the sort of music a composer should hear at least once so he has some idea of what’s beyond the traditional boundaries of music.

Peter was a pastor, in training, and his memories of the performances of James Ward were that they ministered.  Elán did not minister; they performed, and they talked about how they achieved some of the effects, like a song that really was a musical version of an impressionist painting of a sunrise.  For Peter, every good thing about a James Ward concert was lost.

Perhaps half a decade later, when Mourning to Dancing was released, Ward commented in an interview that people “didn’t understand” Elán.  I thought at the time that he was wrong, at least that in relation to his earier fans–such as Peter–it wasn’t about whether or not they understood the music, but that they missed the ministry.  I once sat on the edge of a conversation between some listener who had opinions about the nature of music (possibly reflecting Francis Schaeffer’s work) and some Christian musician who had grown up in church (and it may actually have been Ward after that concert) in which the musician was attempting to elicit from the listener an explanation of what made particular kinds of music “Christian” or “not Christian”.  As a composer, I am inclined to agree with the musician:  if modernist tonalities communicate what I want to say, they are Christian to the degree that I am communicating a Christian messsage through them.  However, if I have placed this conversation correctly in my memory, both parties were missing that critical element:  it isn’t whether the music fits a particular style or mold, but whether it is communicating a worthwhile message.  Pendereki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima is one of the most discordant atonal non-metered pieces ever written, but it communicates something significant.  There is no particular reason why avant-garde jazz could not be a medium for a Christian message.  The problem with Elán was that it wasn’t.

Peter and I never talked about Ward again.  He left Gordon-Conwell for a pastorate in Pennsylvania, and I became a Christian disk jockey in southern New Jersey.  Thereafter we were rarely at the same family gatherings, and the matter never arose.  However, I received Ward’s Mourning to Dancing album at the radio station, and the spare copy went into my collection and was much enjoyed here.  It is the kind of album that has no losers on it, and which is best heard straight through.  From the opening strains of Highway (reminiscent of the the Elán days until the verse shifts into light rock), the album gives insights into the life of an on-the-road Christian musician along with solid Christian songs such as Hold Up My Hands (no online video found), Who Can Separate Us (again, no video found), and then the mellow title song Mourning to Dancing.  The “B” side began with another glimpse into the life of the musician, Late At Night Again (again, no video), and the intriguing Holy Observer (need I say it?), then Gotta Get Home (“…to her own bedroom….”) (again), in which the life on the road includes that he traveled with his wife and young daughter.  The bouncing Precious Is Your Mercy follows, and I am really disappointed at just how many of these are not available online, but the final song, the wonderful So His Honor, was covered by the band Truth in this recording.

I find myself very confused as to why I recognize the cover of his next album Faith Takes a Vision, but none of the titles are familiar and the music is barely so, despite being very good.  Maybe it was just that I didn’t get a copy so it slipped into forgetfulness.  Listening to the vaguely familiar Not How, Maybe I’ll Trust You Now, Take Hold, Don’t Blame It On My God, and others, I can’t help feeling that I missed something good.

Those were the only albums I heard; I wish I had heard the one Peter had, which does not appear in online discographies, although I don’t know the title and barely remember the cover.

I feel I should mention that Ward’s talents lie in his musical compositions and lyrical content.  His piano work and arrangements are always solid.  His voice, though, is unique, and it would be easy to fault him there.  He does his own backup vocals quite well, but it would be difficult to imagine someone else blending with him.  He is in the category of singer-songwriters carried by the strength of their songs rather than their singing.  That’s not, from me, a criticism.  I just sometimes notice the flaws in his voice, as one does often with other popular singer-songwriters.  I like it overall; it’s expressive.  It certainly is not operatic, and probably wouldn’t win any television competitions.  Yet it makes for comfortable listening.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.
  5. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
  6. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch.
  7. #244: Missed The Archers.
  8. #246: The Secular Radio Hits.
  9. #248:  The Hawkins Family.
  10. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist.
  11. #252:  Petra Means Rock.
  12. #254:  Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands.
  13. #256:  Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive.
  14. #258:  British Invaders Malcolm and Alwyn.
  15. #260:  Lamb and Jews for Jesus.
  16. #262: First Lady Honeytree of Jesus Music.
  17. #264:  How About Danny Taylor.
  18. #266:  Minstrel Barry McGuire.
  19. #268:  Voice of the Second Chapter of Acts.
  20. #272:  To the Bride Live.
  21. #276:  Best Guitarist Phil Keaggy.
  22. #281:  Keith Green Launching.
  23. #283:  Keith Green Crashing.
  24. #286:  Blind Seer Ken Medema.
  25. #288:  Prophets Daniel Amos

#288: Prophets Daniel Amos

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #288, on the subject of Prophets Daniel Amos.

When I arrived at the radio station and first encountered the self-titled 1976 debut album from Daniel Amos, my reaction was, why have I never heard of these guys?

Not that they were the top of my list of favorites then.  They were the sort of southern country rock typified by The Eagles, and I have always joked that The Eagles were a country band (because they rank among my wife’s favorite rock bands, and she declares vehemently that she hates country music).

On review, I remember The Bible.  However, the song that sticks with me, the one that decades later I still sing sometimes when I’m driving in the car, is the nineteen-forties jazz-styled novelty Skeptic’s Song.

I never heard the follow-up Shotgun Angel, but they moved away from the southern fried rock sound with Horrendous Disk, an album I think I never heard because the program director decided it was too extreme for our format at the time.  I do remember seeing it, but that isn’t much help.

I’m not sure whether they were influenced by Mark Heard (we’ll get to him eventually) or whether they were reaching the same conclusions independently, but their next album was something called ¡Alarma!, volume one of three in The ¡Alarma! Chronicles.  The songs were Alternative Rock and New Wave, the target audience the secular listeners of Europe.  It was set up as something of a rock opera type album, and its liner notes went for enough pages almost to qualify as a novella, telling the first part of a story which had me lost and confused.  I more vaguely remember the second volume, Doppelganger, and am sure I was out of the station before Vox Humana was released.

I’m guessing that it must have worked somewhere, because they not only managed to release all three volumes (albeit on three different labels), they continued releasing albums in spits and spurts up through last year’s Ten Biggies From Beyond.  I was impressed by the quality and direction of their work, even though very little of it actually appealed to me.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.
  5. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
  6. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch.
  7. #244: Missed The Archers.
  8. #246: The Secular Radio Hits.
  9. #248:  The Hawkins Family.
  10. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist.
  11. #252:  Petra Means Rock.
  12. #254:  Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands.
  13. #256:  Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive.
  14. #258:  British Invaders Malcolm and Alwyn.
  15. #260:  Lamb and Jews for Jesus.
  16. #262: First Lady Honeytree of Jesus Music.
  17. #264:  How About Danny Taylor.
  18. #266:  Minstrel Barry McGuire.
  19. #268:  Voice of the Second Chapter of Acts.
  20. #272:  To the Bride Live.
  21. #276:  Best Guitarist Phil Keaggy.
  22. #281:  Keith Green Launching.
  23. #283:  Keith Green Crashing.
  24. #286:  Blind Seer Ken Medema.

#286: Blind Seer Ken Medema

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #286, on the subject of Blind Seer Ken Medema.

I had heard of Ken Medema, and even heard one or two of his recordings.  He was the Christian version of the blind piano player singer-songwriter, and was a dynamic performer by all accounts.  It was said that when you spoke with him personally, his sense of space was so good that he appeared to be looking directly at your eyes.

When his best of collection, Ken Medema’s Finest…Lookin’ Back, reached us at the radio station around 1980, I recognized at least two of the songs.  One, which closes the collection, was the title song of his debut album, Sonshiny Day (yes, there is a pun in the spelling).  It was what we would have called Contemporary MOR–a technical term in the industry for “Middle of the Road”, the stuff of adult contemporary radio stations and inspirational radio in Christian circles.  It was strongly jazz influenced, but without being Jazz, and his piano playing was always as good as anyone.

The other familiar song is probably his signature piece, the one known by most people who have ever heard anything by him, although it is almost more a dramatic performance than a song.  I’ve seen someone do interpretive dance to Moses, and although I don’t think I could ever do the entire song, I find myself singing fragments of it from time to time.  It is one of those songs you really should hear at least once in your life.

We later received a quiet relaxing solo album, mostly just Ken, his voice and his piano, entitled Sunday Afternoon.  I found a discography for it on his own site, but nowhere else, and I find no videos of the songs I remember–particularly the title song which opens and closes the album (“I know the feeling will not last, ’cause Monday’s comin’ soon, and How can I hang on after Sunday’s gone, how can I hang on to Sunday afternoon?”), and the dynamic On Jordan’s Stormy Banks (“…I stand and cast a mournful eye to Canaan’s fair and distant land where I shall never die.”)  It is a wonderfully relaxing recording throughout.  It ranks among my favorite quiet albums.

Born December 7, 1943, he is reportedly still here and still performing.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.
  5. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
  6. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch.
  7. #244: Missed The Archers.
  8. #246: The Secular Radio Hits.
  9. #248:  The Hawkins Family.
  10. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist.
  11. #252:  Petra Means Rock.
  12. #254:  Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands.
  13. #256:  Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive.
  14. #258:  British Invaders Malcolm and Alwyn.
  15. #260:  Lamb and Jews for Jesus.
  16. #262: First Lady Honeytree of Jesus Music.
  17. #264:  How About Danny Taylor.
  18. #266:  Minstrel Barry McGuire.
  19. #268:  Voice of the Second Chapter of Acts.
  20. #272:  To the Bride Live.
  21. #276:  Best Guitarist Phil Keaggy.
  22. #281:  Keith Green Launching.
  23. #283:  Keith Green Crashing.

#285: An Expression of Gratitude

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #285, on the subject of An Expression of Gratitude.

I need to thank a lot of people.

The complications include that I do not know who you all are, and I’m not sure of the propriety either of naming those whose names I have or contacting you personally.

Thus I am thanking you all, however many of you there are, through this web log post.

This arises from the fact that I recently had a myocardial infarction–a heart attack–which put me in the hospital.  I posted that in this Facebook post, and somewhere about twenty responses down I posted again with news of the Friday and Monday procedures, and my Tuesday discharge and such.

Many of you sent what I guess would be called “good wishes”, that is, comments, messages, whatever, hoping that I would get better.  Thank you.  I have done so to a significant degree, although I am still a bit weak and officially convalescing (and my wife has already scolded me for overworking once she knew how much I did yesterday, the day after my discharge, but someone had to get the boys to work and someone had to pick up my prescriptions, and more often than not I find that someone is me, particularly when she is working a string of night shifts, driving herself for the first time since her broken hip, and needing to sleep during the day).  So I am not fully recovered, but I am back at work.

Many of you prayed, and for this I am particularly grateful.  You have, of course, obligated me to let you know about the answers to your prayers so that many of you can give thanks to God for the grace extended through the prayers of many of you (cf. II Corinthians 1:11).  I have largely done that in the Facebook post.  I am not out of the woods entirely–I have a bag of new medications (and of all things the pharmacy couldn’t fill the “aspirin” prescription (chewable baby aspirin–how could they not have that?), so someone has to go back for it today), and I have two appointments for a cardiac stress test and a followup to decide what the test results mean.  Those are in the second week of March.

At least two of you made a point of spreading the word of my debilitation, and of encouraging people who at least know who I am to support me financially during this time.  That has resulted in a few gifts of significant amounts through my PayPal.me account–the first real activity there since it opened, and enough to pay for this bag of prescriptions and a bit more.  I have not seen any new Patreon patrons yet, but Patreon’s notification system is sometimes wonky so I’m going to include mention of that–because I am grateful to those of you who have made an effort to keep me going, and thankful to God that you are there, to those who contributed and to those who encouraged others to do so.

I’ll extend these thanks to those who have been meaning to send a bit of help my direction and simply haven’t yet done so; I know what that’s like, as there are often times when I have something I need to do soon that goes for days or weeks or even months before I manage it.  So thank you for the prayers and support you are going to send in the future.  You really do make a difference.

As the picture says, thank you.

#283: Keith Green Crashing

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #283, on the subject of Keith Green Crashing.

As we already covered (in web log post #281:  Keith Green Launching, linked below), Keith Green had two excellent and successful Christian albums without a weak song on them.  Now he produced So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt, of which the somewhat goofy title song was an instant hit.  There were several other excellent songs on this album as well, such as Pledge My Head to Heaven, Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful, and Grace By Which I Stand.  However, whether it was because they weren’t quite as good or because by the early eighties the Christian music field was starting to get more crowded, it was not the music on this album that made it significant.

When Keith delivered the masters to his company Sparrow Records, he told them he did not want them to sell it–he wanted it to be given away, to anyone who requested it, for whatever they chose to give, even if it was nothing at all.  He thought it more important to get the music into the ears of people than to worry about paying bills, and was confident that the contributions would cover all the costs of the record.

Sparrow didn’t see it quite the same way.  They were certain that donations would cover the costs of Keith’s record, but that’s not how the music industry worked, even in the Christian field.  The problem wasn’t whether those donations would cover the costs of distributing Keith’s record but whether there would be what we would call profits–a dirty word for some, but an essential facet of the way the system worked.  You see, when Keith made his first album, Sparrow Records took a chance, advancing a considerable sum of money to pay for professional level production of an album by an unknown artist which might be completely lost.  Sparrow was still in the business of finding and funding new artists, paid for from the profits from the established artists, and a new album from Keith Green was a guaranteed best seller which would provide a lot of money for that purpose.  Keith was taking that away from them, on the grounds that he thought he should be able to give away his record free if he paid them the cost of producing it.

A compromise was reached.  In the United States, Egypt was released by Pretty Good Records; Sparrow handed the standard distribution channels–record stores, radio promotion–and all overseas releases.  Keith and and his wife Melody set up an organization to mail copies to anyone who wrote to them requesting one, putting the donations toward costs and future recordings.  In a sense, he had cut himself off from helping any other Christian artists; in another sense, he had focused his ministry on reaching the listeners.

Two years later he released Songs for the Shepherd, which was a good but not remarkable recording, again through Pretty Good Records with Sparrow’s assistance.  Several other Keith Green albums would be released in the years to come, but this was the last one he would see.  That year, 1982, he had visitors at the ranch where they ran everything, and wanting to show them all they were doing he took them up in his private airplane.  The plane was already heavily loaded with records and literature that went to concerts with him, and the number of passengers exceeded recommendations, and it crashed killing all on board.  Melody was not on that plane.

Many in the Christian music world were upset; many said that apparently God had decided to take Keith home.  That was not the unanimous opinion.  At least one Evangelical author at the time wrote to say that Keith died because he broke God’s law–in this case, God’s Laws of Aerodynamics, trying to fly a plane that was overloaded.  If, he argued, you violate the laws of God, the end is death, and sometimes it comes swiftly, as it did here.  This is on some level a bit ironic, because Keith often veered toward legalism–his The Sheep and the Goats misses the point of that parable, and Glen Kaiser (of Resurrection Band) informs me that more than once others in ministry felt it necessary to admonish him on that point.

I cannot begin to guess who is right.  I know Keith has been missed since, and that he would have continued as a popular and successful artist, but it seems likely that, as with quite a few of those we have already covered and will cover yet who were huge then but are barely recognized now, he was probably past the zenith of his career and on the slow decline.  Those first two albums are still among the best Christian music has ever produced, and it is doubtful that even he could have surpassed them.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.
  5. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
  6. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch.
  7. #244: Missed The Archers.
  8. #246: The Secular Radio Hits.
  9. #248:  The Hawkins Family.
  10. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist.
  11. #252:  Petra Means Rock.
  12. #254:  Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands.
  13. #256:  Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive.
  14. #258:  British Invaders Malcolm and Alwyn.
  15. #260:  Lamb and Jews for Jesus.
  16. #262: First Lady Honeytree of Jesus Music.
  17. #264:  How About Danny Taylor.
  18. #266:  Minstrel Barry McGuire.
  19. #268:  Voice of the Second Chapter of Acts.
  20. #272:  To the Bride Live.
  21. #276:  Best Guitarist Phil Keaggy.
  22. #281:  Keith Green Launching.

#281: Keith Green Launching

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #281, on the subject of Keith Green Launching.

We come to someone whose perhaps brief footprint in the Christian contemporary music world was huge, so big in fact that we’re going to cover him in two articles.  Keith Green might have been a footnote in the history of contemporary music, a one-hit wonder in the 60s who recorded a few singles for Decca and one for ERA, one of which charted at some point.  Then, as he was facing the frustration of already being a has-been in a field in which maybe he never was, the Christian musicians of the area met him and brought the young Jewish boy to faith in Christ.

He embraced his new faith strongly, and became something of a prophetic voice in contemporary Christian music, challenging believers to live the lives they claimed in words.  In 1977 he released his first album, several of the songs co-written with his wife Melody, For Him Who Has Ears to Hear, packed with powerful, challenging, and excellent songs, beginning with You Put This Love In My Heart, continuing with I Can’t Believe It, Because of You, and When I Hear the Praises Start, and as the first side ends with the playful He’ll Take Care of the Rest, things get even better.

Side two opened with Your Love Broke Through, the song he co-wrote with Phil Keaggy and Randy Stonehill, and then the genuinely fun song No One Believes In Me Anymore (Satan’s Lament), which is not a lament at all but the devil’s boast that he can work without being recognized.  This is followed by the heart-breaking Song to My Parents (I Only Want to See You There), then Trials Turned to Gold, and the album concludes with his rousing rendition of Annie Herring’s famed Easter Song (the only version of which I am aware that has the second verse lyrics he sings).

This was only the beginning, but every song on that first album was a classic–and he would follow it in the next year with No Compromise.  This opened with the soft rock Soften Your Heart, then the heart-rending Make My Life a Prayer to You, written by his wife Melody.  This is followed by the album’s fun song, Dear John Letter (To the Devil), then back to the heart-rending How Can They Live Without Jesus?.

The flip side opens with the tearful and demanding Asleep in the Light, which on the original segued electronically into My Eyes are Dry, which faded in over the fadeout of the other, and then faded out.  I am persuaded that it was a mistake in later releases to separate these two songs, as Keith clearly intended them to be heard together that way.  After this heavy opening, it lightens with the rocky You!, and then another heart-felt song, I Don’t Wanna Fall Away From You (interestingly covered by Petra on their Keith Green tribute album).  The bouncy Stained Glass gives a bit of relief before the intensely challenging To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice.  He then does a cover of the Jamie Owens (Collins) The Victor, which was her break into the Christian music field as the song gained popularity and was also picked up by The Second Chapter of Acts, who along with Phil Keaggy were part of Keith’s recording, and wraps the album with Altar Call, a closing call to salvation.

There wasn’t a weak song on two albums, and Keith was one of the stars of Christian music, but things were about to change significantly.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.
  5. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
  6. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch.
  7. #244: Missed The Archers.
  8. #246: The Secular Radio Hits.
  9. #248:  The Hawkins Family.
  10. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist.
  11. #252:  Petra Means Rock.
  12. #254:  Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands.
  13. #256:  Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive.
  14. #258:  British Invaders Malcolm and Alwyn.
  15. #260:  Lamb and Jews for Jesus.
  16. #262: First Lady Honeytree of Jesus Music.
  17. #264:  How About Danny Taylor.
  18. #266:  Minstrel Barry McGuire.
  19. #268:  Voice of the Second Chapter of Acts.
  20. #272:  To the Bride Live.
  21. #276:  Best Guitarist Phil Keaggy

#279: My Journey to Becoming a Writer

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #279, on the subject of My Journey to Becoming a Writer.

This is a response to a question asked by Georgia Bester on the Christian Music Network Musician’s Corner at Facebook, which reads:

Hello [emoticon omitted]
For those of you in writing ministry. I would love to hear about your journey. How did you know for sure that this is where the Lord wanted you?

That link probably does not work if you do not belong to that group, as it is a closed group, but that is her entire post.

Uncertain exactly what she meant, I asked for clarification, specifically whether she was talking about songwriting or bookwriting, and she answered:

Christian Author+-songwriter

–which I take to mean both books and music.  I write both, and there have been separate but connected paths that brought me to them.

By the time I was twelve I had settled in my mind that I would be a professional musician, in the popular vein.  I already played piano, clarinet, oboe, saxophone, ukulele, and I think fife and recorder, and my singing was noteworthy–my kindergarten teacher had identified me as her “little songbird”.  I could hold a part in a choir, and had a significant range for a boy.  I had even tried writing music, but none of it was any good, and it was frustrating.

I was introduced to another boy my age (John “Jay” Fedigan) who played the guitar, sang, and wrote songs.  Working with him I learned how he wrote songs, and started doing so myself.  Because in order to play keyboards with him I was going to need to know what he was playing on the guitar (and he was clueless when it came to notes and chords) I learned to play the guitar.  Before I’d finished high school I’d added bass guitar, tuba, flute, and several other instruments to the list, but I got good on playing the guitar, singing, and writing my own songs.  This was the late sixties/early seventies, so these songs were all love songs, usually sad, or protest songs.

The Jesus Movement hit our town in a big way.  I actually had become a Christian when I was thirteen, in 1968, but it hadn’t had a lot of impact on my life because I’d always been a reasonably decent churchgoing kid.  The Jesus Movement was something different, people for whom faith was the center of their lives in a real way.  I got dragged along the edge of this, and became more involved, and realized that the songs I was writing weren’t really worth singing, in a message sense, so I started to shift more toward writing Christian songs, and by 1972 (middle of junior year high school) that’s pretty much all I wrote and all I sang.  (I did write a piece for my high school band, and a setting of the Lord’s Prayer which my high school chorus performed, and of course performing with school groups I did the music chosen by the directors.)  The band that had been a precision rock band called BLT Down became an evangelistic Christian vocal rock band called The Last Psalm, and for a couple years made a splash in coffeehouses and colleges in northern New Jersey.

I went to college and decided to major in Biblical Studies (rather than music) because I thought having that degree would open more doors for music ministry than the other.  I did take a music theory class, but I also took a creative writing fiction class, mostly because it sounded interesting and I imagined that I might one day write the next major Christian fantasy novel, akin to Tolkien’s work.  I played in a couple of bands, including Jacob’s Well and Aurora, which sometimes included some of my songs in the repertoire.

Coming out of college I mostly spun my wheels for years trying to get some traction.  My wife’s theory was that I would get a good paying job with my college degree and pursue music on the side until it reached the point that it paid for itself.  That never happened.  Instead, the Lord worked some strange circumstances to land me on the air at a small but important Christian radio station (it had been the twelfth most important Contemporary Christian/Rock radio station in the country shortly before I arrived, despite being in the sticks and reaching part of northern Delaware as its primary audience–no offense to people in Delaware, but it’s not one of the top markets in the country).  I did some solo concerts with teaching included and continued to write songs for them.  I met a lot of people in the Christian music world, but by this point my recording equipment had died and I had no recordings to give them and no spare money with which to repair the recorders.

During this time I headed up a project to launch a radio station news letter, and wrote much of the content for it.  We had it printed by a local newspaper, who traded printing costs for advertising time, and so I became acquainted with the associate editor of The Elmer Times.  In our chatting we hit an idea by which I would write a few pieces of political satire for his paper, under the byline M. Joseph Young, so that it wouldn’t be obvious that this was written by the DJ on the local Christian radio station.  I think two were published, and I might have copies of them buried somewhere.

After five years I parted ways with the radio station; God had in essence told me it was time to go, and I was so burnt from the struggle I didn’t ask where I was going.  That turned out to be nowhere fast.  I was asked at this time to head a band called TerraNova, which I did for a couple years, but a guitarist who came to us very humbly then made himself indispensable then fell apart and quit pretty much put an end to that.  I was going through jobs fairly quickly, four jobs in two years none of them going anywhere, and my wife, who finished her nursing degree, said I should go back to school.  I could tell you about the very strange search for continuing education and how I wound up going to law school, but suffice it that I did, and graduated with a Juris Doctore and a mountain of debt, only to be denied admission to the New Jersey Bar because of the debt.

While I was trying to resolve this problem, I was asked to help a friend of a friend who was trying to write a role playing game.  I was good at role playing games and good at writing; he was quite creative and had a core of excellent ideas for the game, but he was a terrible writer, had no head for game mechanics, and was very disorganized.  We collaborated, and after five years of work and personal tension he dropped out and left me to publish Multiverser:  The Game.  I kept the nom de plume M. Joseph Young for that project, and for most of what came from that.

I attempted to launch another band, Cardiac Output, which played a bit locally before the pressures and problems of my family life created by the combination of the debt and the fact that getting a law degree wasn’t solving anything was too much and the band collapsed.

In order to promote the game I started writing web pages, first as my own sites.  I wrote on multiple topics–Bible materials, but also role playing game stuff, time travel pages, some stuff on law and politics.  My own originally several web sites grew (eventually I consolidated them into one huge site, M. J. Young Net) and I was invited to write material for other web sites, most of it role playing game stuff, but some on other subjects.  I was occasionally paid small amounts for these.

The company that published Multiverser got a crazy idea to create a comic book based on the concept, and it fell to me as the company’s chief writer to create the characters and stories.  I had written enough for three issues (six stories, two for each of three characters who would rotate) when the tiny company’s art department said it couldn’t be done without increasing the size of the department sixfold, so the stories got shelved for a few months–and then I suggested that they could be turned into the beginning of a novel.  The company agreed, and eventually published Verse Three, Chapter One.  A lot of what brought that about is discussed elsewhere.

Something had been nagging at me ever since TerraNova had dissolved:  a lot of Christians had come to Christ and were never told what to do next.  I felt that a need existed, and in very short order wrote What Does God Expect?  A Gospel-based Approach to Christian Conduct.  The company that published the novel did not want to get the image of being a “Christian” book publisher, so I talked to a lot of people about it, and wound up self-publishing it.  This was followed by two more short books.

Laced into this, when I was at the radio station I became aware that one of the most Christian games I had ever played was being attacked by Christians, and so I spoke in defense of the game on the air, and put together notes for what might be an article.  A few years later I wrote that article, and tried to find a magazine interested in publishing it, but I’ve never been good at self-promotion so it didn’t go anywhere.  When I started putting things on the web I finished that article as Confessions of a Dungeons & Dragons(tm) Addict, and it caught the attention of Reverend Jim Aubuchon, who was co-founding an online group then called the Christian Role Playing Game Association.  He invited me, I wasn’t interested, again circumstances intervened and I was just about forced to join.  I was then asked to head a committee, and from that told that put me on the board of directors.  The group changed its name to Christian Gamers Guild, and the Vice President and the President both resigned in short order, the Chaplain decided that that made him President, and we needed a Chaplain, so he asked me to fill the slot just until we could finish the group’s constitution and hold elections.  I’d never won an election for anything in my life, and as far as I could see the Chaplain didn’t really do anything, so I figured I could wear the title for a couple months and then someone would replace me.

After those couple months there was an election, and I was nominated and elected to continue in the position.  After wearing the title for a couple years I decided that I ought to do something, so I started writing a monthly column entitled Faith and Gaming.  (I had also simultaneously started writing a weekly column for one of the role playing game web sites, Gaming Outpost, entitled Game Ideas Unlimited.)  I wrote this series for four years, disrupted by a computer crash.  People occasionally asked me if I was going to write more, or if I was going to put the material in a more accessible format, so I self-published Faith and Gaming.  A few years later a publisher in the industry approached me with the suggestion that they could republish an expanded edition with a few other articles I’d written on the subject in other venues, and I agreed.

In the end, I write and I compose because it’s what I do.  Much of what I write and all of what I compose is Christian, but then, that’s because I am Christian, and even when I’m writing about law or politics or role playing games there is a degree to which my Christianity is part of that–C. S. Lewis once commented that the world did not need more Christian books, but more books by Christians.  I’m not persuaded that he was right, as Christians need Christian books, but I think he was onto something with the notion that if the best books on secular subjects are written by Christians, unbelieving readers are going to find traces of the faith reflected in those books, undermining their unbelief.

So Georgia, if you’re asking how I knew God had called me to write, I don’t know that I ever really gave it much thought.  Writing is not one of the ministries; it’s one of the tools of ministry, and if you’re called to ministry and you can write, you’ll probably find yourself using writing as one of the tools of that ministry.  I write because I cannot help writing, and I sing and compose because I cannot help doing so, just as I teach and explain because it is innately part of me to do so.  If you are called to something, you will find yourself doing it, or doing something like it, without thinking about it.

I know this has been long, but I’m going to close with a few links to other articles you might find helpful on the issue: