Roman Catholicism and Rock & Roll

15 Apr


The Protestant church sometimes claims credit for Jesus rock, but the truth of the matter is that the older version of Christianity, in the form of Roman Catholicism actually beat its Evangelical brethren to the proverbial punch. The first round was fought by a Roman Catholic seminarian by the name of Ray Repp who was a pioneer in helping with the implementation of the Latin Mass into English, in the USA, during the mid 1960’s, after Vatican II permitted it. He used the then popular folk music genre of that time period, to record his 1965 album the Mass For Young Americans. Decades later Christian rock stars as diverse as Phil Keaggy and Undercover recorded his songs. In 1967, a garage rock surf music band from California, called the Electric Prunes recorded the entire Roman Catholic Mass in Latin, as a rock opera and it was released on Reprise Records in 1968. Future famous record producer David Axelrod was hired by Reprise as the album’s arranger and producer. The next year one of the album’s cuts, Kyrie Eleison was featured in the hippie cult classic film, Easy Rider.


The year 1969 was the year that the Roman Catholic church officially sanctioned the use of rock & roll as a liturgical form of music. Chess records vocalist Minnie Ripperton was the lead singer of an experimental rock group called the Rotary Connection who performed the first officially sanctioned Roman Catholic Rock Mass. The event took place in Milwaukee, Wisconson at the Liturgical Conference National Convention in 1969.


One of the bands that emerged out of the 1960’s folk scene and became pioneers of the brand of country/folk/rock that groups like the Eagles and Outlaws became famous for was Mason Profitt. The backbone of the group was 2 brothers, Terry and John Michael Talbot, who used their music to express their spiritual searching which finally culminated in their first Jesus rock album in 1974 titled The Talbot Brothers.


By the end of the 1970’s John Michael Talbot became a Franciscan monk, while he continued to record albums that bridged the gap between the Roman Catholic and Protestant brands of Christianity. He established the only Roman Catholic hermitage for monks in the U.S.A.  officially sanctioned by the Papal authority in Rome. The dozens of albums that he’s released on both Sparrow and his own Roman Catholic label, Troubadour For The Lord have sold millions of copies around the world. Then there’s Tony Melendez and Dion Dimucci and others that I’m either forgetting or didn’t know of. So in conclusion, even though Ray Repp and the Electric Prunes beat Larry Norman and Love Song by 2 and 3 years they didn’t get theologically hung up about it. The thing about Catholics that is different from Protestants concerning rock music has been their attitude towards it. After all it was Protestants that created the Christian rock genre as an alternative to secular rock.

Rock & Roll and Religion

19 Mar

Rock & roll and religion is like oil and water to some, who see foot tapping beats as the entrance of the highway to hell. Then to others the combination is as natural as peanut butter and jelly, as mega churches build massive cathedrals with worship bands that have recording contracts. Ever since Alan Freed coined the term rock & roll and Ike Turner and Bill Haley recorded “Rocket 88” and “Rock Around The Clock,” there has been controversy about the place that rock & roll should have in the life of a Christian. One guilt-ridden musician once asked me if I could see Jesus playing an electric guitar, to which I answered, “Yes, He could have put the parables to music and sung them to the crowd.”

Before there was rock & roll there was Black gospel which was the flip side of Blues. Many of the early gospel singers during the early and mid 20th century played both genres and in some cases were even ministers with churches. One of the earliest gospel rockers, and certainly the most successful was Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She was born in Arkansas in 1915 and her mother was a COGIC (Church of God in Christ) minister. She began performing in church services at the age of 4 and continued to do so in a traveling gospel show. She married a COGIC minister named Thomas Thorpe in 1934 and after divorcing him, used a variation of his name for her stage name.  She was signed to Decca Records and in 1938 she performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City as part of John Hammond’s Spirituals To Swing concert. Her performance was controversial, since at the time women didn’t play guitar and gospel had never been incorporated with blues and jazz in public performances before secular audiences previously. Then she regularly performed at Harlem’s Cotton Club with Cab Calloway. Sister Rosetta’s popularity continued to soar and she was remarried before a crowd of 25,000 people in Washington D.C.’s Griffith Stadium in 1951. Afterwards she performed a gospel concert in her wedding dress.


Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s popularity continued to soar until she recorded a blues album in 1953 and then fell out of favor with her main audience, church going Christians who considered blues the Devil’s music. Her popularity rose again by the time the 1960s brought the rock revolution and a fascination with its primitive music roots. She performed with both gospel and blues stars like James Cleveland and Muddy Waters. Tharpe continued to perform until her death in 1973 at the age of 58, but her legacy lives on in her recording and the proliferation of her performances on YouTube.

A Rock And Roll Altar

23 Feb

My book, Jesus Rocks The World, is specifically about music directed towards, about or somehow related to God, in a Christian sense. However, that in itself is a byproduct of the secular model, which itself was influenced by a more primitive spiritual model through the music created by slaves and their masters, over centuries of exploitation, pain, and suffering. Robert Darden’s excellent book, People Get Ready: A New History of Black Gospel Music, tells the story from the slave’s side.


I didn’t realize how important music was to modern civilization until I was an adult with children of my own who were listening to music. I listened to their music to filter what I wanted them to listen to, until they turned 18 and then turned them loose. At the same time I was always involved in music from a non musician’s point of view, so I observed it as a historian and have seen it involved in the toppling of governments from the U.S.S.R. to Egypt. Concerts themselves resemble church services to the point that they are interchangeable with mega churches featuring worship bands that have recording contracts.


The secular arena is filled with artists that reflect every point of view and musical taste, and over the decades I was present to observe hundreds of them at major concerts in both genres. As a rock and roll journalist I took thousands of photos of the groups to help document what I was experiencing. At home I surround myself with images that I developed and enlarged in my darkroom or had the custom lab print for me. Sometimes I would take a dozen images and cut them up to make a collage, as I recently did with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.


Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are not a religious act, but their music connects with much of the population on a spiritual level. I’ve attended a half dozen of their concerts since 1986, when they toured with Bob Dylan, and photographed the last two times. I decided to create a photo collage out of twenty images from my archive. After I assembled the collage I weighed it down with eight items that were small and had enough weight to prevent the glued foam core from warping during the drying time. When I looked at what I had, I took my digital camera that was one of the weights and took a photo of what looked to me like an altar or shrine. I even lit the candle that I bought one time when the electricity went out.



The LGBT Chapter

17 Feb


            The first well known lesbian Christian to come out of the closet was contemporary gospel music singer Marsha (Carter) Stevens-Pino. Marsha had been a member of one of the earliest pioneer groups of Jesus music, which was a fusion between gospel and rock music in the church in the late 1960s and early 1970s. “Children of the Day” was a quartet comprised of Marsha, her younger sister Wendy, Steve Jacobs, and Marsha’s husband, Russ Stevens. They had been friends in high school and were all involved musically since they were children. Marsha went her separate way, while still loving Jesus as much as when she wrote the Jesus Movement anthem, Come To The Waters  

Marsha’s Website:

Other YouTube videos of Children of the Day and their songs


When I wrote the chapter on LGB&T contemporary Christian music in my book, Jesus Rocks The World: The Definitive History of Contemporary Christian Music, I wondered if it would make my book unpopular with Evangelicals, but so far I haven’t heard any comment on it one way or another.

The LGBT version of Jesus Loves Muhammad

14 Jan

The only reaction that I got about my article concerning “Jesus Loves Mohammad” bumper stickers to help change the negative image of Islam for Christians, at the time of this writing was unsupportive. So I began to think to myself, maybe I was wrong in my assumption that there could be healing between the two faiths, but then I realized that perhaps a different approach was needed. Something that was more politically correct than my previous idea was needed. What is the best way to help the general public to accept new and sometimes unpopular ideas? Then I realized that the best way to make the unpalatable delicious is through humor, especially sit-coms.

Imagine a situation comedy about two gay roommates. One named Jesus Gonzalez and the other Muhammad Abd-al Ankh, who are two first generation children of immigrant parents. Jesus’s parents came to America as migrant farm workers from Mexico, and Jesus was born while they were in Oregon working on a Christmas tree farm in 1989. His father was an itinerant Christian Pentecostal minister who held services for the migrant farm workers, while he worked with them. Jesus grew up moving from one farm to another until his family finally settled in Independence, Oregon when he was 10 years old and his father became the pastor of a Spanish language church.

Muhammad’s parents immigrated to the USA in the late 1980’s from Egypt, because his father was a college professor, who was hired by California State University in Los Angeles to head up their Islamic studies department. Muhammad was born a year after his parents arrived in the USA and he was raised in Alhambra, California, a suburb of Los Angles. He and his family were involved in the local Islamic mosque as he grew up, but his parents were nominal Muslims who rarely voiced strong political opinions.

Today Jesus and Muhammad are two gay room mates who are in love and are attending Oregon State University, in Corvallis, Oregon. Jesus is in his final year of undergraduate studies where his major is Islamic history from the time of the prophet till the present and Muhammad is finishing his history degree in Latino studies since 1492 CE.  They will both graduate in May and afterwards they plan to go on to graduate school and get Doctorates in the social application of their fields of study and create institutes to help the respective ethnic groups integrate into everyday American culture, without forgetting their ethnic origins. They plan to get married immediately after graduation in May 2014.

Yahweh Loves Allah or Jesus Loves Muhammad

6 Jan


  One day I was thinking about the current ongoing war on terror that world civilization saw begin on 9/11. It was a far cry from the anti-Communist war in Vietnam that precipitated a cultural civil war in the USA back in the 1960s. The current conflict is an ongoing event that generates casualties, on a global scale specifically targeting Western Christian civilization. The same guerrilla tactics that the Viet Minh confined to its borders in Vietnam are now being used by Al Queda and its allies on a world wide scale. Communism was a political ideology with a religious fervor that promoted atheism, while Islam is a fully developed world religion that has been around for 1400 years.

            Islam, like Christianity, contains a variety of different factions that differ from each other on a variety of issues. However, the thing that they all hold in common is a belief that the Koran is the the received revelation of God through the prophet Muhammad, just as Christians believe that the Bible is God’s revelation received through its apostles and prophets. Neither Muhammad nor Jesus ever wrote one word of the scriptures that carry their messages, but their words and stories were recorded by their followers.

            Over the centuries that Islamic culture has existed it’s expanded its borders from Saudi Arabia to every part of the earth, just as Christianity has done from Palestine. Sometimes the religions have been at odds with each other to the point of war. So, from the beginning there has been tension between the two faiths; however, most of the time they have managed to co-exist without incident.

            After 9/11 it seemed like all the information that the news reported about Islam was about how blood thirsty and intolerant it was. The central teaching of the Koran that was pointed out by all the Western non-Muslim news pundits was Jihad. To me that was like pointing to the central teaching of the Bible being genocide based on Israel’s directive from God in the Old Testament to cleanse Palestine of everyone who lived there, tribe by tribe. I’ve read the Koran, but I don’t even begin to claim to be an authority on it. At the same time I have a degree in the Bible from a conservative Bible college and do know that the central teaching of Christian scripture is love. God is love and Christians are admonished to love others as God loves them.

            The New Testament book of 1 Corinthians contains the most famous of all Christian teachings on love in the 13th chapter. The apostle Paul wrote a detailed explanation of exactly what love is and how it works. Since the New Testament was written in Greek, and Greek is a very exact language, having different words representing each aspects of a subject. In the case of “love” there were four common Greek words that could be translated as love. The first was “Storgē,” which is familial love, the love of parents towards children and children towards their parents. The second is “Phileo,” which is translated as brotherly love, that is the love of one human being for another. Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love was named after the word. The third  is “Eros,” better known as lust or sexual love. The fourth word is “Agapē,” which is the pure unconditional love of God that gives without any expectation of reciprocation. Agape love is what 1 Corinthians chapter 13 is all about. It’s the love of mankind that Jesus Christ demonstrated by His death on the cross.

            If all this is true, then God loves Islam and followers of Islam as much as Christians. If this is the case then why doesn’t the Christian church express this? Over the years that I was totally committed to Christian evangelism during the 1970s, one of the primary tools used in its implementation was bumper stickers for vehicles. We had everything from “Honk If You Love Jesus” to “I Found It” the slogan that Bill Bright and Campus Crusade were using for their goal of evangelizing the entire world. I think that the Christian church has completely missed an opportunity to demonstrate agape love towards our Muslim brothers and sisters who already respect the person of Jesus Christ. The way to do this is very simple. Just use the same tactics that Bill Bright used in the 1970s and then expand it into the 21st century. What we need today are bumper stickers that read “YAHWEH LOVES ALLAH” or “JESUS LOVES MUHAMMAD.”

Why I Quit Renewing My Ministerial Credentials

29 Dec


The reason why I didn’t renew my ministerial credentials after they expired in 1983 was because I came to the realization that the reason why I decided to become a minister in 1974 could only be fulfilled by leaving that existing model of the ministry. The reason why I entered the ministry was to help people and tell them about the exciting new life I found in Jesus, but by 1980 that enthusiasm and excitement had been replaced by fear. Fear of being a failure as a minister and having to go back and live the life of a working class family man. By the time that the 1980s began, I realized that I had the raw information of 10 years of study and investigation swimming around in my head and I would be a fraud if I stood behind a pulpit in any church claiming that I understood it all and how it integrated with and related to life. I needed time to ruminate on all this information.

I needed to go out into the world and begin putting my theology to the test by putting myself in a position where I had to completely depend on God for everything. I once taught in a Bible study that we must all be willing to stand naked in the wilderness, with no possessions or friends, looking to Jesus as the source of everything. So I left the full time paid ministry and began wandering through my own wilderness as I moved my family cross country, seven times in six years, racking up over ten thousand miles. One time I even had to hitchhike 900 miles with only a suitcase and $10 in my pocket, hoping that a friend in Los Angeles would let me sleep at his house until I found a job and was able to move my family.

By 1984 I came to the realization that I was not politically suited to try and climb the ladder of pastoral success nor was I experientially ready to teach anyone about how to raise their kids and live their lives, since I was in the middle of learning that myself. Giving up the possibility of ever becoming a full time minister in a church again was hard to do, but if God had wanted me to continue to do it, I gave Him every opportunity to make it happen, even afterwards, but He never did. Once I gave up, I began to live my life as the salt that Jesus talked about in the Sermon on the Mount. I re-entered the work force to support my family by first becoming a cook, then an automotive cleaning agent salesman, until I finally ended up getting re-instated to the U. S. Postal Service, where I had worked before becoming a minister.

I hated every minute of having to do jobs that I did not want to do instead of the ministry that I trained for and actually got paid to do for four years. By 1986 we ended up in Salem, Oregon where I transferred my job and worked for the U. S. Postal Service until I retired in 2004, at the age of 56. Along the way I followed my bliss in two areas of my life, first, by creating a family with my wife, life partner, and lover, Kathy. Second, I passionately used photography as a tool to record everything that was important to me along the way.

Because of following my bliss, by the early 1990s I had 7 children and was getting invited to photograph and publish images of some of the most historic music artists performing at the turn of the millennium. At the same time I began to publish articles that I wrote and began to conduct interviews for the Wittenburg Door, the magazine that became my primary teacher of spiritual things after I exhausted the Foursquare denomination’s ability to provide needed information. I was able to get press credentials, free tickets, and even back stage passes on occasion to everyone from the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones to Green Day and Rage Against the Machine. God had opened doors for me that I never asked to enter because I was too timid to try. I learned that God really does lead us if we choose to follow.

As I look back over my life I can see the times that God brought people into my life that I didn’t recognize at that time as being his messengers. There were people who would appear throughout my life to answer my questions, show me direction and act as my guide for a season. When they did appear it was as natural as anything that happened spontaneously, but at the same time it was a completely synchronistic coincidental event. All that was required on my part was to accept the information and invitations that these spiritual emissaries presented me with.

By the turn of the millennium in the 21st century my photography, journalism, and writing landed me writing contracts for encyclopedias, until I finally wrote and published my own two-volume history of contemporary Christian music. Even though I achieved a level of success as a photographer, journalist, and writer, I didn’t consistently make enough money to support myself and my family, so I continued to have a regular job of some kind. After I retired from the U. S. Postal Service and while I wrote encyclopedia articles and my two-volume book, “Jesus Rocks The World: The Definitive History of Contemporary Christian Music” I began to drive a cab three nights a week.

I found that my cab driving was not an ordinary job, but more of a ministry, because it involved helping people from all walks of life in every area of possibility. I was getting paid to do it, but then so do most ministers. As a taxi driver you weren’t expected to be a minister, it was just the job that you performed by driving the elderly, infirmed, drunk, depraved, insane, and other ordinary everyday people. Sometimes you could make a difference in someone’s life and other times you might get ripped off, insulted, or assaulted, but whatever the outcome it was all part of the job. It was the gospel of action rather than a gospel of words spoken from a pulpit. Instead of admonishing people to go out into the world and act as salt, light, yeast, and whatever other metaphors could be used to designate interaction with humanity, I was doing it myself by example. Wow!

Even though I didn’t renew my ministerial credentials, I didn’t abandon theological thought, but continued to study it and discuss it with anyone that was interested. Over the years I talked to thousands of people about every subject imaginable and heard more perspectives than I thought possible. I spent a lifetime ruminating on all the information that I absorbed while preparing for and being in the ministry. I talked to others all the time about my conclusions, which would sometimes bring reactions. Now I understand the ministry better than I did when I was in it, and I realize that I never left it.

I reconsidered my idea of what ministry is, after I transcended the limits of the man-made institution called the church. The word “ministry” is translated into English from Greek and Latin as the word servant, service, slave, and other related meanings. From a first century Jesus perspective, today’s clergy are servants of an elitist social entity like the Pharisees and Saducees were two thousand years ago. The established religious institution that Jesus railed against in his time never stopped existing. They just changed names and mythological stories.  Over the past two millennia, individuals have risen up from every generation to become the Jesus of their age to their own generation, railing against the shallow superficiality of the religious institutions.

At this time I’m at the end of my life and I’ve lived long enough to experience enough reality to test most of the theology that I learned in Bible college, university, and through my own investigations. I was 33 when I first spun my cocoon and the metamorphosis began in 1980. A decade later as the 1990s began, I saw the first ray of light seep into my chrysalis, and by 1997 I completed my metamorphosis and was born again, again, again, again, again, again, again……….



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