“What If God Was One Of Us?” was a top 40 radio hit in 1996 and catapulted Joan Osborne into the position of being one of Americas top female vocalists. It was a time when female vocalists were making as big an impact on the music charts as their male counterparts. Artists like Tracy Chapman, Sheryl Crow Sarah McLachlan brought the feminine side of transcendence back into the musical mix like it was when folk and rock touched through the music of Bob Dylan and the Byrds. Back then artists like Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and Carole King represented the feminine mystique.
So when “One of Us” hit the charts against all odds, because of its religious content and message, it drew attention like the siren’s did Odyseus. Eric Bazillian of the 1980’s new wave band the Hooters wrote the song to capture the heart of a girl, who later became his wife. The story reminded me of how Randy Stonehill wrote “King of Hearts” as a result of failing to write a love song directed to the girl of his dreams and later changed the direction to the almighty diety that most people call God, The Wholly Other or the unspeakable glory known in the Bible as the Tetragrammaton. Bazillian and another former Hooter, Rob Hyman discovered Osborne singing in a bar and decided to record her, so they put together a band that they performed in and recorded an album that they primarily wrote the songs for. The album showcased Osborne’s incredible vocal range that established her as one of the best female vocalist’s in the country, if not the world.
Osborne is a blues singer, but at the same time she has an expanded perspective on music that delves into a spiritual dimension as deep as gospel, but from an Eastern perspective. Even before she caused a theological firestorm, when “One of Us” became a top 40 hit and she got 5 Grammy nominations, she was a student of Sufi devotional music, called qawwali. Sufism is Islamic in origin, resulting from 11th century Persians immigrating to the region that became known as Pakistan, but was then India. It is mystical and introspective in nature and the purpose of the music is to achieve transcendence beyond sexuality. That was back in 1996, when “One of Us” was still a top 40 radio hit.
So now fast forward 18 years and Osborne isn’t backed up by her bar band that accompanied her for her Relish tour, but the Holmes Brothers a black gospel group that she helped produce albums for as well as appearing on them and vice versa. The Holmes Brothers took the stage and performed “Amazing Grace” as their opening number and then did 2 others before Osborne joined them. Once she hit the stage and opened her mouth, the heavens opened and she covered everything from the Grateful Dead to Ike and Tina Turner, with as much passion and transcendence as Ustad Fateh Ali Khan.
Utube videos of “One of Us”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mc_QQIPQ2e8
kickstarter Qawwali Sufi project: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1458900925/sufi-qawwali-a-documentary-by-fanna-fi-allah
Once again I am going to change the concept of this blog as it evolves just like my life did. Everything takes on a life of its own if you let it, or should I say, if you choose to walk down all the paths that open up to you after you knock on their portals for entry. My path took me from rock & roll to only Christian music and then as the heathen rock & rollers became born again back to rock & roll again. So why not present reports of secular concerts and events on this blog as well as Christian ones.
This past weekend I have been covering the Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland, Oregon and as we all know, the blues has its roots in gospel. In the early days of the 20th century many blues artists were ministers and sang gospel for the Lord on Sunday after singing blues for the devil on Saturday night. One of the first groups that I saw perform at the festival were one of the headliners, Los Lonely Boys. The band is made up of Henry Garza lead guitar, Jojo Garza bass and Ringo Garza drums. They rocked the house down with their powerful set and later performed with Los Lobos during the latter’s set.
The band is from Texas and was their fathers backup band from childhood into their teens. They’ve won a Grammy and had a hit record on the charts called “Heaven,” off their first album. To find out more about them, check out their website at: http://loslonelyboys.com/ For information about the Waterfront Blues Festival, go to: http://www.waterfrontbluesfest.com/ .
The first time that I saw Carolyn Arrends was in 1996 when I was covering a Jefferson Starship concert in Portland, Oregon at the
Aladdin theater for a Deadhead publication called Duprees Diamond News. She was the opening act and I knew nothing about her, but
as soon as she began to perform I sensed something different about her music. By the lyrical content of the songs and the musical
presentation I concluded that she was a Christian and talked to her briefly during intermission before Jefferson Starship came on. My
suspicions were confirmed and I became a fan. Since that time she’s released 10 albums and written 3 books. At this time she is
working on a new project on Kickstarter to raise money to produce a Christmas album. Her official website is at :
and her kickstarter page is at:
Last Thursday I went to the Aladdin theater up in Portland to see the Johnny Clegg Band. It was the first time that I’ve seen a South African rock star. Johnny’s son Jesse opened the show with an acoustic set as I began to take photographs.
I was originally just going to go to the concert with my friend Joe for enjoyment. However, a week before the concert I contacted Johnny Clegg’s publicist to request a photo pass and a ticket for a writer friend, which turned it into a working concert instead of just enjoyment.
I stood at the foot of the stage and shot images for the 1st 3 songs, like usual, but then, because of my photo pass I got in the building before the crowd and picked the best seats in the balcony. The Aladdin only holds a little over 700 people, so every seat is a good seat, but the front row, center stage in the balcony is the best. It gives an unobstructed view of the stage for photographs at exactly the right descending angle.
I talked to half a dozen people while we were waiting for the show to begin. Some of them were originally from South Africa. Everyone that I talked to had been to Johnny Clegg concerts before, reaching back into the late 1980’s when he first came to the United States. The age of the crowd ranged from the mid 30’s to senior citizens.
Jesse Clegg came on promptly at 8:00 P.M. and talked to the crowd in between songs about how he normally played electric guitar with a full band, but was doing a stripped down acoustic version for his first American tour. After a 30 minute set of excellent renditions of his Platinum album recordings he concluded his set.
After a brief period to reset the stage, the Johnny Clegg Band took the stage as Johnny sang and danced through a 90 minute set. He talked about his beginnings during apartheid and the danger involved in even attending a concert with police surveillance and arrests common place. Clegg is an anthropologist with an interest in the way that traditional primitive music blends with modern sounds and instruments.
Becky Garrison wrote an article about the concert for The Examiner.com at http://www.examiner.com/article/john-clegg-brings-down-the-house-portland-oregon that uses 20 of my images from the show for a slideshow.
Taxi Guru, a new taxi cab website that just published one of my taxi cab articles. Their other site taxi fare finder published one of my articles last year. They are all based on my blog at the transcendent taxi cab.
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.