In the late 1960s and early 1970s, when many serious hippie seekers in America came to the end of their road, they found Christ waiting for them.
But having these 'long hairs' come to Christ proved problematical for many conservative evangelical churches, where rock 'n' roll was usually regarded as being inherently and irredeemably satanic, never mind the sex and drugs.
Among these converted American hippies were a raggle-taggle group of mainly teenage and 20-something musicians who founded their own ad-hoc niche genre, Jesus Music, which went from cottage industry to big business by the end of the decade, changing its name to Contemporary Christian Music (CCM).
In the UK the situation was slightly different. Inspired by the music and albums made by their American peers, young Christian musicians produced music that was mostly seen as a means of evangelism or pre-evangelism rather than artistic expression. But what has happened to the American and British musicians whose records and concerts shaped the listening habits of the current generation of 40- and 50-something Christians?
Malcolm and Alwyn
Alwyn Wall used to be half of the popular Nottinghamshire singing duo Malcolm and Alwyn with his friend Malcolm Wall. They recorded two albums, 'Fool's Wisdom' and 'Wildwall' before going their separate ways. Both men are now senior pastors at Calvary Chapel churches; Malcolm at Merritt Island, near Cape Canaveral in Florida for 20 years, and Alwyn in Westminster, central London since 2000.
Alwyn recalls, "The 1970s was a special time. No doubt about it. When Malcolm and I started there was nothing really happening that young teens of 17 and 18 could relate to. We just fell into it. The folk music style was all we knew at the time, and the only others doing what we were doing at the time seemed to be Graham Kendrick and Trinity Folk, who then became Parchment. It was all brand new.
"We never dreamed that we would make an album, never mind two. They were musical snapshots of what was happening. We had no agenda to become anything - we had found Jesus and wanted to communicate that to the rest of our generation. It was the era of the musicals Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar, and there was a sense of people wanting to know answers and ask questions.
"But now in society the culture has changed. Then it was the Beatles saying 'All you need is love' and 'Give peace a chance' and the youth culture was very aware of spiritual things. That's not what's going on now."
American country rocker Terry Talbot, who along with his younger brother John Michael, founded and fronted Mason Proffit, a band whose sound was appropriated by the Eagles, sees the time as an "interesting chapter of true revival". But as the 1970s progressed, love and peace idealism faded from a Western society facing social unrest over American involvement in Vietnam and high inflation fuelled by rising oil prices and unrest in the Middle East.
I wish we'd all been ready
Among young evangelicals was the widespread belief that Jesus would soon return to earth. This sense of apocalyptic urgency was captured brilliantly in 1969 by the-then 22-year-old Larry Norman in his song, 'I Wish We'd All Been Ready'. The song foreshadowed - or possibly inspired - Hal Lindsey, a former tugboat captain in New Orleans, to write 'The Late, Great Planet Earth' the following year. This book, which linked current events such as the creation of the nation of Israel in 1948 to Old and New Testament prophesies and predicted Christ's imminent second coming sold more than 20 million copies. By the end of the decade it was the most read book by Christians in America besides - and beside - the Bible.
'I Wish We'd All Been Ready' was on Larry's debut album, 'Upon This Rock', the record that kick-started the Jesus Music movement. But although regarded as the godfather of Jesus Rock, the Texas-born iconoclast insists he was not part of the scene. "I was never really a Jesus freak," Larry says. "I didn't really fit the profile of the Jesus Movement followers. I'd been an active and activist believer since the 50s, so I wasn't one of the new converts with neurotic, hippie theology."
He feels the world now is in a "much, much worse" state than it was in the 1970s, when he recorded his outstanding trilogy of albums - 'Only Visiting This Planet', 'So Long Ago the Garden', and 'In Another Land' - full of Dylan-meets-Jagger rock 'n' roll sensibility, caustic wit, and social and political comment. Larry says, "I can see a social collapse coming as America submits to more of a totalitarian government. The Bible says that we should fear not. That God hasn't given us the spirit of fear – but of power, and love, and a sound mind. But many people in the USA are so fearful that they are relinquishing their civil rights as quickly as our Congress moves to take them away from us."
But it hasn't all been faith, hope and royalties for Larry over the past decade. His health deteriorated to such an extent that four years ago he had to undergo quadruple heart bypass surgery. Larry has not made a full recovery and still has large medical bills to pay. To help him, Alan Gibson, a computer businessman based in Leeds who used to promote CCM concerts in Northern Ireland, has set up a website at www.larrynorman.uk.com to sell Larry's CDs in the UK and Europe. All profits go directly to paying Larry's bills.
When I ask how he is, Larry says, "Oh, much better than I expected but not better than I hoped."
Rediscovering Jesus music
During the 1970s he worked with Randy Stonehill and founded the Solid Rock record label to encourage like-minded Christian musicians to take their music and art into the world. But by the end of the decade the label was in disarray, Larry's and Randy's friendship had waned and Randy spent the next 12 years recording on Word Records' Myrrh label.
But Randy is still making albums. His most recent, 'Edge Of The World', has a song, 'We Were All So Young', in which he looks back at the early days of Jesus Music. On it Larry and Randy sing together for the first time in three decades, and other contributors include Phil Keaggy, Barry McGuire, Noel Paul Stookey of folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary fame, Annie Herring of Second Chapter of Acts, and members of the hugely influential southern California soft rock band Love Song.
Randy, who lives in southern California and still performs concerts across the States, says of the 1970s, "I'm struck by God's incredible generosity. The fact that He would call us and use our ragged 'lives in process' for His eternal purpose is staggering to me. When I look back at those years I recognise that blessing very clearly. It's like I said in my song … we were all so young."
And as they get older their albums are getting increasingly hard to find. Since CDs were introduced in the mid-1980s and vinyl records phased out, the re-issue market has been an ever-important engine driving and sustaining mainstream record companies. For years Christian labels have been criticised for following mainstream music, yet one thing they have slow to do is capitalise on their back catalogues. As a result, while children can discover and enjoy the music their parents listened to as though it has been released for the first time, when it comes to Jesus Music and CCM, truly there is a generation gap.
Perhaps many Jesus Music records produced in the 1970s simply don't stand the test of time, but listeners won't know because the albums have been so long out of print. Recently, however, Kingsway in the UK dipped its toe in the water by re-issuing on CD 1970s recordings made by the folk trio Parchment and Northern Irish favourites Mary McKee and The Genesis.
So how about re-releasing key albums from the decade by the likes of Fish Co, who influenced a young U2, Garth Hewitt, whose 'Love Song for the Earth' was made with members of Fairport Convention, or even Cliff Richard's 1978 rock gospel album, 'Small Corners'? John Pac, who has been managing director of Kingsway since 1991, and was a member of Parchment in the 1970s as well as producer of albums such as Fish Co's 'Can't Be Bad', acknowledges that "there is great value in having the history of the movement available".
But the past is painful for some. Apart from taking part in a mini-reunion with other Jesus Music pioneers in 1997, immortalised on the live album 'First Love', Randy Matthews has all but abandoned the CCM scene. He now works at a resort in south Florida, entertaining tourists as Red Beard the Pirate.
Despite an initial positive response, Randy declined to be interviewed for this feature. But he has been quoted as saying of his life now, "Nobody here knows I made records. I'm not very visible and I don't mind that a bit."
He also admits to being perplexed that CCM had such a low appreciation of its roots. "I wish we could recognise our pioneers a little bit more. Even secular rock 'n' roll does that. It kind of hurts."
Chuck Girard agrees. A key player in the Jesus Music movement, as a hippie convert from southern California in the early 1970s, he founded Love Song with some other newly converted hippie friends. He is scathing about the CCM industry's "great failure" of not supporting older artists "who have lived long and still have much to say. Secular artists are afforded such respect, and many are winning more accolades in their old age than when they were young, such as Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan".
Now 62, Chuck is angry about the general state of CCM in the US today and feels it has squandered much of its legacy. "In my opinion, the industry has really lost spiritual spark. Our music was driven by passion for souls, and a belief in changing lives through the music. Christian record labels were created to spread the message of Jesus through this new music that was birthed through personal relationship with Christ.
"The music business today is largely driven by demographics, finding 'radio-friendly' songs which don't necessarily have much content, and other business considerations. The younger artists who do start out with some passion, often have it sucked right out of them by the prevailing trends, competition, and the abiding feeling that they better not rock the boat."
One English musician who has rocked the boat for most of his career is Garth Hewitt. Like the late Johnny Cash, Garth has never flinched from speaking up on behalf of poor and downtrodden people who live in war-torn parts of the world. The ordained Anglican minister, who travels the world supported by the Amos Trust charity, points out that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave Christians the mandate to do this. "This is what the gospel is about - and gospel means 'good news for the poor'."
Judy Mackenzie Dunn, who, in the 1970s worked with keyboardist Dave Cooke in the duo Mackenzie Cooke, now lives in south Croydon and is worship leader at Purley Baptist Church. She recently recorded, 'Switched On', an album for children on ICC Records produced by Paul Field, formerly of Nutshell.
Judy recalls how she was encouraged by the likes of Arts Centre Group founder Nigel Goodwin to perform in pubs and clubs and "to do good art and take it to places where people can hear it". She adds, "The purpose of the whole music movement of the time was evangelistic, but in reality concerts were mostly populated by Christians".
Judy says it was quite hard to be a Christian musician as churches were not as accepting of them as now. Phil Keaggy, too, urges caution against too much rose-tinted nostalgia for what, he says, was at times a very difficult period of his life.
Now 54, the softly-spoken guitar virtuoso says, "As much as I appreciate the 'wisdom' with the years, I do miss those times. There was a sense of innocence and abandonment to the Gospel. There is still that in hearts on fire for God.
"It was not all rosy though. We were challenged, at times, by very conservative folks about the legitimacy of Christian rock music. We were caught up in the wonder of God and His Son, and really truly desired to make noise about this Good News. We were speaking our generation's language musically, having been brought up on the music of our culture and times."
Since being dropped by Word in 2001, Phil has set up his own independent label and made a number of instrumental albums and three rock albums with his band, Glass Harp, which reformed several years ago. He still tours extensively and is presently visiting England.
John Fischer, another pioneer, who lives in Laguna Beach, California, and is now a theologian, cultural commentator and bestselling author, looks back on the early 1970s with great affection and mixed feelings. "I would call it the Innocent Age. We were going to save the world with our guitars," he says, adding that "never in my wildest dreams" did he think the world would still be around 30 years later.
"We were going to preach the gospel for a couple of years and Christ would take us home. As you know, Larry Norman wrote a song to leave behind when we left. As you also know, that song's idea has now spawned a multi-million-selling book series which seals my personal distaste for what has happened to the truth since a Christian market formed to babysit it."
John says his fellow Jesus Music pioneers are "struggling mostly" and that in hindsight the 1970s was "unreal, like riding a spiritual wave; everyone wanted to know about Jesus". He then adds, "Mel Gibson's movie ('The Passion of the Christ') made me wonder if we were on the verge of something similar. I think it's about five to ten years away. But it's coming again in some form."
?Selected 1970s Jesus Music discography
- John Fischer – 'Still Life'.
- Fish Co. – 'Can't Be Bad'.
- Chuck Girard – 'Chuck Girard', 'Glow in the Dark', 'Written on the Wind'.
- Garth Hewitt – 'Love Song for the Earth', 'I'm Grateful'.
- Phil Keaggy – 'What A Day', 'Love Broke Thru', 'Emerging', 'How the West was One' (double live CD with the Second Chapter of Acts).
- Liberation Suite – 'Liberation Suite'.
- Love Song – 'Love Song', 'Final Touch', 'Feel the Love'.
- Judy Mackenzie – 'Peace and Love and Freedom'.
- Malcolm and Alwyn – 'Fool's Wisdom', 'Wildwall'.
- Randy Matthews – 'Now Do You Understand?', 'Eyes to the Sky'.
- Larry Norman – 'Upon This Rock', 'Only Visiting This Planet', 'So Long Ago The Garden', 'In Another Land'.
- Randy Stonehill – 'Get Me Out of Hollywood', 'Welcome to Paradise', 'The Sky is Falling'.
- Terry Talbot – 'No Longer Alone', 'Cradle of Love'.
- John Michael Talbot – 'John Michael Talbot', 'The New Earth'.
- Various artists – First Love: This double CD is from a get together in 1997 of Barry McGuire, Andrae Crouch, John Fischer, Jamie Owens-Collins, Honeytree, Paul Clark, Randy Stonehill, Darrell Mansfield, the Second Chapter of Acts and Love Song.
- A number of Jesus Music musicians sing alongside their contemporaries on the 2002 tribute CD to Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson. 'Making God Smile' (Silent Planet Records), features Phil Keaggy, Randy Stonehill, Terry Taylor of Daniel Amos and Phil Madeira, alongside Third Day's Doug Powell, Kevin Max of DC Talk, Kate Miner and Riki Michele, among others. Well worth finding.