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Monday, March 28, 2011

Why Should the Devil have all the good music? Larry Norman and Christianity

Larry Norman is sometimes credited with beginning Christian Rock Music.   That is not necessarily so, since Petra and Randy Stonehill were contemporaries and Norman Greenbaum had written a kind of a Christian Rock song...no one can say if he really deserves the credit for creating the genre, but he certainly gave it a kick in the butt! Meanwhile Phil Keaggy played with Glass Harp as a teenager in Carnegie Hall but he turned towards God music.

Once these pioneering artists found that there was a generation of Christians who also were connected to rock music then Petra and White Heart and other early bands suddenly were joined by hundreds of newcomers.  Phil Keaggy and Bob Hartmann and Rex Carroll and Dennis Cameron (of Angelica) and Tony Palacios (Guardian) were among the best guitarists in the world but they were making Christian music.  Unfortunately most of the recordings of acts from the 70's up to early 90's were youtubed from analog sources and are rather low tech.   This is a kind of reminiscence of the days of Christian Rock.

Larry died in 2008: 

Singer Larry Norman dies

February 26, 2008

Christian music veteran Larry Norman, a pioneer in the American Contemporary Christian Music scene, passed away at the weekend after a long battle with heart problems. He was 60.

Norman is credited as being the first musican to combine rock music with Christian lyrics and was affectionately known as the Father of Christian Rock. Norman quickly found himself blacklisted by churches and Christian music stores for being too radical and hard to handle.

This changed years later as a new generation of Contemporary Christian musicians such as Randy Stonehill and Keith Green emerged inspired by Larry's love for sinners, unchurched people and his stand for the things Jesus stood for.

Links to Larry Norman (8.4.1947 - 24.2.2008) - Official Website
- Myspace Tribute Page
- Wikipedia  (quite hostile to Norman, warning)

Video: Larry Norman performing
'Why should the devil have all the good music?'



This is what his band sounded like back in the day...


Actually, Larry Norman began his "big time" music career touring with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin as part of The People after having played locally and regionally with other groups.  He got his own recording contract but his Christian convictions got in the way.   So he ran away from the music world and began living on the streets of Hollywood witnessing to people and sometimes playing and singing for them as well.

Around the time of the first video, Larry Norman came to the Alivefest in Ohio, a weeklong camping and concerts and seminars that was held close to Massilon, Ohio, of NFL fame.   Thousands of people poured into the campgrounds, and among them were me and my youth group.   We set up a camper van and four big tents and an awning and settled in.   It turned out that we would hear the testimonies of two former secular rockers, Phil Keaggy and Larry Norman, and also hear the very last concert by Phil's old band, Glass Harp, with all the original members.   It was also one of the last concerts for DC Talk as they were in the process of splitting and other very popular groups like Skillet and Third Day played there.   Many times there were at least three things happening at once, with seminars and two stages for concerts set up, plus a waterpark and basketball courts and a big lake.   I had to be sure to enforce a "buddy system" so that every teen had at least one other group member with him or her no matter what.  We didn't lose anybody, in fact we managed to inherit a "stray" teenage boy and a couple of college guys who wanted to share our awning and throw some food into the kitty in exchange. 

I'll never forget those few days.   One thing that stand out in my mind is the sorrow you saw in Larry Norman's eyes as he talked about Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.   He did say he was inspired to write, "Why Don't You Look Into Jesus" after a short conversation with Janis at the end of which he told her she'd die if she didn't stop drinking.   Both Joplin and Hendrix were dead within a couple of years of that tour.

Larry Norman was all set up to be successful in music but he ran off and lived on practically nothing because he thought it was what God wanted him to do.   So one day Larry was praying and he believed God asked him why he wasn't singing for Him anymore?   So Larry began working on rock operas and records and moved from project to project, label to label, never really being concerned about making money but just seeking to do what God wanted him to do.   Some would say he wasted an enormous talent, others would say that his work paved the way for a new generation of Christian rockers to come along and become popular, sometimes even wildly popular, like Jars of Clay:





The once-popular genre Christian rock has pretty much died.  Then again rock in general has been replaced by a more pop style of music along with rap and various indie emo and punk and etc. stuff.

I like this version of one of Larry's songs by Holy Soldier:



Or this one by Geoff Moore and The Distance from the 80's with Larry Norman showing up at the end.



Actually Geoff Moore was better in the 90's:



Here is Phil Keaggy a few years after turning to Christian rock:



Phil Keaggy from 2009:



Cool how he makes every sound and records portions of it before your eyes and crafts it all together. He did that back at Alivefest as well. Very cool!

Phil Keaggy and Glass Harp in 1972.





I will share a few youtubes I can find of some of my favorite God Rockers of the past after this one. Those who try to understand me should know this. I wear a ring around my finger and I have a heart that is stamped "Jesus." I have vowed to be faithful to my wife and my family as best I can and especially I am determined to be faithful to my God. Simple as that.



Whitecross. Rex Carroll could SHRED! They weren't just rockers, they also went on mission trips.





White Heart. Another group I propagandized teenagers with. I loved taking my youth group to concerts to sing along and get excited and camping to build relationships and teamwork and sometimes random dumb things like long-distance water balloon toss and that kind of thing.



Guardian was a remarkably talented band who sang in English in the States and in Spanish when they toured farther south.





They did some recording in lowtech surroundings!



The Newsboys: I think we went to three or four of their concerts.



The last of the classic group with Peter Furler. Now they are fronted by Michael Tait of the late, lamented DC Talk.



Very old footage of Petra.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Wikipedia (quite hostile to Norman, warning)"

Where's the hostile part? I was looking for something juicy, and all that's there is boring old objectivity.

radar said...

Gotcha to look!

If you spent time talking to Larry, his version of the time spent with the secular artists and the early days of his Christian rock days are at odds with wikipedia. Now of course no one can interview him at all. I could see that the writer of the article was not terribly fond of Norman and a few accusations and innuendos are to be found. Larry was so upfront about what he had done both right and wrong that I believed (and still do) his version of how things went down.

Anyway I was really blessed to hear the story firsthand and I know he is in party mode all the time now!

Anonymous said...

Um, the article wasn't written by one person, and I can't find any hostility in the article. Where are these accusations and innuendos you mention? Seriously, where's the hostility, could you point it out to us?

Anonymous said...

And, just out of curiosity, did you add the "(quite hostile to Norman, warning)" part? Because it's not in the article that you pasted here.