The Steve Miller Band

2 Jul

Steve Miller 2003 #1  Steve Miller 2003 #2

I was sitting in my archive room lined with shelves containing boxes of slides, negatives, prints, and digital images from my entire 67 year life. On July 4th I’ll be 68 years old and currently spend more time reminiscing past events than I do participating in new ones. I’ve spent a lifetime collecting images taken of me and my family as well as ones that I took of them along with everything that took place around me. So if I don’t make use of them at this stage in my life, I never will. This blog is dedicated to Jesus Music and the 2 volume book that I wrote about it, which Praeger published in 2012, but at the same time, I write about secular issues and artists that I classify as spiritually important for one reason or another.

Steve Miller 2003 #3  Steve Miller 2003 #4

Today, I want to talk about Steve Miller, the baby boomer musician that is a seminal baby boomer rock star. He was one of those guys who happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right interests and mentors to nourish him. By the time that the San Francisco sound, via Haight Ashbury through the Fillmore and Avalon Ballrooms along with the Monterey Pop Festival, made headlines across the country he had his foot in the door. Miller grew up in Wisconsin where he was exposed to Chicago blues and the guitar, before his doctor father moved the family to Texas. Les Paul, the guitar genius, happened to be a family friend who gave Steve lessons.

Steve Miller 2006 #1

Steve met Boz Skaggs in Texas and they ended up forming the Steve Miller Band that played in San Francisco with Miller, Skaggs, Jim Peterman, Lonnie Turner, and Tim Davis. They gigged for the hippie crowd and ended up backing up Chuck Berry at the Filmore, after Jefferson Airplane, the headlining group failed to cut the mustard, according to Miller. The Steve Miller Band got a recording contract and began to produce albums. The first was “Children of the Future,” which was a spacey psychedelic album that could accompany an acid trip. The next album was “Sailor,” which was a harder rocking album that included the radio hit, “Living In The USA,” along with some psychedelic numbers. If you want to hear a concert from this era in 1968 click on this link: (1968)

Steve Miller 2006 #2

Steve Miller 2006 #3

By 1969 I was out of the army, after being drafted in 1966, and was attending college on the GI Bill. Since college was the breeding ground for all aspects of the counter culture, I had my opportunity to decide which faction to join. The SDS (Students For A Democratic Society) were declared illegal and outlaws, so I never considered them, but instead fell in with all the other returning veterans, that were embracing the hippie movement. Ironically the hippies were also involved in illegal activity, but it wasn’t destructive, but simply mind expanding. Easter weekend 1969 I was off from school so I drove to Chicago, which was under 300 miles and took less than 5 hour to drive to, on the I-94 expressway. When I arrived, I stayed with my army buddy, Bob Duran, who was discharged a month before me.

Steve Miller 2006 #4

On Saturday night we smoked some weed that I brought with me and hit the blues clubs in the Chicago Old Town area. In the window of one of the clubs was an advertisement for a concert at the Aragon Ballroom on Easter Sunday afternoon with the “Iron Butterfly” headlining and the “Steve Miller Band” opening. We talked about it and decided to check it out the next day. I had already seen the Iron Butterfly at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit, around Halloween 1968 and was somewhat impressed by their performance.

Steve Miller 2012 #1

On Easter Sunday, we headed to the Aragon Ballroom, with Bob’s friend driving. When we got there, it was an hour before the concert started, but there were tickets available and it was first come first serve concert seating. We got in line, behind about 30 or 40 people and while we waited I pulled out 2 capsules of mescaline that I told my friend Bob that I had. He already told me that he would take a hit and his friend would be our chaperone and designated driver. So we each took one and swallowed it, using a stick of chewing gum to provide the saliva. Normally, it would take about 90 minutes for the peak of the trip to happen, but I knew that we would be seated in about 45 minutes.

Steve Miller 2012 #2

After we were seated and got situated there was an announcement that there had been a bomb threat and everyone was to immediately evacuate the building. People immediately got up and began to quickly walk to the exit. Bob, his friend, and I sat there and since 2 of us were starting to get stoned, we weren’t that concerned and besides we’d seen live artillery fire in the army and weren’t that worried about some amateurs, who were probably bluffing. So when everyone left, we stayed and moved to the first row, center stage. After about 10 minutes everyone returned and sat in all the seats around us, but nobody ever said anything to us about where we were sitting.

Steve Miller 2012 #3

By the time that the Steve Miller Band began their performance, we were peaking on the mescaline and their performance was augmented a thousand fold. There were only 3 members of the band at this time, who were Lonnie Turner on bass guitar and Tim Davis on drums. Their performance was tight and their musicianship was phenomenal. The power trio was popular at the time with bands like Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience topping the charts. After we were completely blown away by their hour long performance comprised of songs that I had never heard before, other than “Living In The USA,” the Iron Butterfly took the stage.

Steve Miller 2012 #4

The Iron Butterfly was good, but I enjoyed the Steve Miller Band more and since we attended a matinee, there was going to be an evening performance also, which immediately followed. Almost everyone got up and left after the Butterfly played their 17 minute long hit, “In A Gadda Da Vida.” Their act had a gimmick, which was an early pyrotechnic grand finale at the conclusion of their signature song. the front of the stage burst into flames as they concluded their set and we sat in our seats, still numb from the mescaline.

Steve Miller 2012 #5

Nobody asked us to leave, so we sat in our front row center stage seats, as a new crowd began to fill the chairs that were set up in front of the stage on the dance floor. We were blown away a second time by the Steve Miller Band’s incredible performance. Steve talked about their upcoming new album called “Brave New World,” and played songs from it,. The ones that I remembered at the time were “Kow Kow,” “Seasons,” “Mercury Blues,” and “Space Cowboy.” When I got back to Detroit, I went to the record store and bought all 3 of Steve Miller’s albums.

Steve Miller 2012 #6

Over the next 3 years I saw the Steve Miller Band perform another half dozen times at various venues around the Detroit area including Meadowbrook, the Eastown theater and University of Michigan. Then in 1971 I moved to Los Angeles, California from Michigan and became a born again hippie Jesus freak and broke all ties with secular music, which I now viewed as a tool of Satan. I destroyed or sold all my secular albums. Ironically, the last secular concert ticket that I purchased before destroying my collection of 300 record albums, was for Steve Miller at the Palladium on Sunset in Los Angeles.

Steve Miller 2012 #7

The night of the concert, my wife Kathy and I went to the Palladium, but were convicted, so we sold the tickets to someone for half price. When the guy we sold the tickets to heard the reason, he tried to give me back the tickets and told me that I was being too extreme in my Christian belief. I stuck to my views and after we left, we attended a Friday night home church that I knew of, run by some Jesus freaks. For the next 15 years I only purchased and listened to Christian rock music and sometimes even questioned that.

Steve Miller 2012 #8  Steve Miller 2012 #9

Over the years, I would hear new Steve Miller songs, playing over PA systems, that I immediately recognized, even though I never heard them before. By the late 1980s, I was living in Salem, Oregon and my views on music had mellowed enough to allow me to attend an occasional secular concert. In 1988 Steve Miller came to the newly constructed L. B. Day Amphitheater in Salem, so I attended with a friend that I worked with. After that I took my oldest son, Michael to see Miller at Portland State University In 1990. By the mid 1990s, ironically I was a freelance rock and roll photographer photographing everyone from the Grateful Dead to the Rolling Stones for Ticketmaster and a variety of music magazines. I covered many Steve Miller concerts and reviewed them for a variety of publications, including Blues Revue and Blueswax during its publication life.

Steve Miller Crop #1

All in all, I’ve probably seen more live Steve Miller performances than any other artist, and have turned many other people on to him. He isn’t a gospel or Jesus music artist, but he has done as much to propagate joy and love as that genre has. If you want to see some performances of the band click on the links below. The photos were taken at 3 different concerts. The first was in 2003, at the Waterfront Blues Festival, in Portland, Oregon. The second was in 2006, at L. B. Day Amphitheater, that I took my oldest daughter Rachel too, who later fronted a blues band.

Steve Miller

The third was the last time that I saw the Steve Miller Band, in 2012 when I covered the Portland, Oregon Waterfront Blues Festival for Blues Revue and Blueswax. Coincidentally, my army buddy Bob Duranl who moved from Chicago to Post Falls, Idaho, was visiting and attended the Blues Festival with me. That year Steve was wearing a white shirt and the guy that we were standing next to was passing around joints of marijuana that were as large as cigars, as soon as the concert began. I became so intoxicated by the fumes that I flashed back to that first concert back in 1969, and I began to hallucinate, as tears rolled down my cheeks and I had to dry my eyes so I could focus my camera. (1989) (1974)

Gay Marriage Upheld by the Supreme Court

26 Jun

Jesus Rocks The World Volume 1 Cover

Gay Marriage upheld by the Supreme Court: Friday, June 26, 2015


When I wrote “Jesus Rocks The World: The Definitive History of Contemporary Christian Music,” I debated about whether or not I should include a chapter on LGBT contemporary Christian music. The reason why the issue even came up was quite accidental. When I compiled all my research in the form of interviews, articles, essays, and whatnot, I began to categorize it to fit the appropriate chapters. As I whittled everything down I had a file left over that contained fragments of interviews, articles and other items relating to the Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual and Transgender community. Being a heterosexual myself, who was happily married for over 40 years, with 7 children, I had no axe to grind about sexual preferences. However, as a journalist, I was compelled to consider the fact that I had 15,000 words in a file on the subject and my average chapter only contained 5,000 words. Therefore if I edited the material, I would have another chapter.


At the same time, my religious background rejected the possibility of anything being accepted by the church other than a celibate gay person. Sure you can be gay, but you can’t ever have sex, unless you get married as a heterosexual. Then I read my research on Ray Boltz, who was married with children when he just couldn’t take playing the act anymore in 2008. At the same time I was reading about Marsha [Carter] Stevens-Pino, who I also interviewed in 2008. I saw her perform with Children of the Day, from Calvary Chapel – Costa Mesa, back in 1971 and a number of times afterwards, until she became the first Christian performer to come out of the closet in 1979. Check her out at her website: The best way to get the full picture as it relates to CCM is to read my book, “Jesus Rocks The World: The Definitive History of Contemporary Christian Music.”

There are those who feel that this is a further sign of the disintegration of morality in America. At one time I chose to take sides in that argument, only because it was required of me to keep my job at the time, but once that was no longer an issue, I ceased to care. The way that I feel, sexuality is a personal and private issue. I don’t find legality in marriage to be an issue, unless the entire nation becomes homosexual and ceases to have children to pay into social security to support their parents and propagate the nation. I suppose that is the ultimate fear that exacerbates the paranoid rantings of some of the public mouths.

Book Review of “Nothing But Love In God’s Water”

18 Jun

Darden 001

I was preparing my blog entry for Robert Darden’s latest book, “Nothing But Love In God’s Water: Black Sacred Music From The Civil War To The Civil Rights Movement,” when insanity burst into reality here in America again. A 21 year old mentally deranged, hate filled, white man attended a Bible study at historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in Charleston, South Carolina, where he shot and killed nine Black parishioners, including their pastor. The evil that perpetrated the tragic murders was of the same ilk that produced the pain and sorrow that resulted in the pre-civil war spirituals that Darden’s book is about.

Robert Darden’s book, “Nothing But Love In God’s Water,” is a historical document that is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the roots of American Black gospel, blues and jazz. The book’s subtitle is “Black Sacred Music from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement,” but the creation of that music pre-dates the civil war. The period of time from the arrival of the first African slaves to North America until the end of the American Civil War was the incubation period that produced the genesis and evolution of what came to be known as “the spirituals.”

“The old songs are our collective consciousness, perhaps even in our genes. They are our spiritual chromosomes. They make us who we are as a people.” — Gloria Scott

Originally the spirituals were protest songs that brought hope to the slaves as they suffered the forced servitude of their daily lives. . Songs like “Go Down Moses,” “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” “Steal Away,” “Wade In the Water” and “John Brown’s Body,” which became “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” sang of escape and freedom and used biblical imagery to rail against the injustice of their position. The songs were coded messages that transported information from one plantation to another in plain sight. The melody of the songs remained consistent, but the lyrics changed according to the message that they were bringing.

The period of time between the “Emancipation Proclamation” and the birth of the “Modern Civil Rights Movement” became the crucible where the “Spirituals” were transformed into gospel, blues and jazz entered the mainstream. White society in general began to attend concerts performed by Colored Jubilee groups that sang spirituals after the Civil War, which led to the creation of Minstrel shows as the dominant form of entertainment during the last half of the 19th century. Darden then explains the way that minstrelsy then evolved into vaudeville.

Darden demonstrates how the jubilee groups and minstrel shows featured genuine and watered down spirituals, first sung by mixed sex jubilee groups, but later evolving into all male barbershop quartets. Darden explains that until the turn of the 20th century barbering was a black trade, so all quartets were Negro. He presents the birth of the street minstrel’s, like Blind Willie Johnson and Blind Willie McTell who were recorded and bridged the gap between the spirituals and the blues. The “Great Migration” North, follows, as major cities like Chicago, Detroit and Harlem NY, become destinations for a better standard of living, creating a renaissance of Negro music, film and literature.

It wasn’t until after the 1st World War, that the Labor Unions began to accept Black workers for menial jobs, while at the same time annexing their music including the spirituals for inspiration.

“A singing army is a winning army, and a singing labor movement cannot be defeated.”   — John L. Lewis

Darden points out that it was the labor unions embracing the black workers and their music that led to the further development and acceptance of Negro music. That same music eventually became the inspiration that led to the formation of the civil rights movement in the 1950s. The worker’s rights movement as advocated by the IWW or Wobblies, from the beginning of the 20th century used music to carry its message. It was during this phase that Negro songs of protest were brought to the ears of White society in general.

It was the intertwining of unions songs of Joe Hill and Ella May with Negro Spirituals that gave birth to modern day folk music. Poet Carl Sandburg considered the spirituals poetic and included some in his books, which helped transform them further into the voice of the masses. “Nothing But Love In God’s Water” is a fascinating book that will expand the reader’s knowledge and understanding of the way that Black sacred music developed into one of the most influential music forms in the world, by transforming an entire nation through Biblical imagery.

Dog The Bounty Hunter Speaks.

10 Jun

Today the news is filled with reports about 2 fugitive convicted murderers who escaped from prison in New York state of the USA. Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34 are on the lam and there is a nationwide manhunt for them, to distract us from ISIS, the Ukraine, riots and police brutality for a couple of days.

Television programs have Dog the Bounty Hunter giving his opinion on what will happen next.Back in the day when I was doing interviews for the Wittenburg Door magazine, I interviewed Dog The Bounty Hunter. Ironically it was his first interview after loosing his show for using the “N” word in a recorded telephone conversation, but it was one of the last interviews that the Wittenburg Door published. It’s still up on their web site. Check it out.


21 May

King of the Blues

BB King #3

By:  Bob Gersztyn

Over the decades I’ve had a number of opportunities to see B. B. King perform beginning in 1969. The King of the Blues passed on from this life on Thursday May 14, 2015 after 89 years of life beginning September 16, 1925. He was born the son of a sharecropper on a cotton farm in Mississippi. He learned to play guitar when he was 12 years old and like most of the youth of that era, he sang in the church choir. Kings older cousin was Bukka White the legendary bluesman who he learned from until T Bone Walker turned him on to the electric guitar. The last time that I saw him perform was in 2011, when I reviewed the show for Blueswax/Blues Review magazine that I was an associate editor with.

Curtis Salgado #1

It was a rare opportunity to see the legendary King of the blues on Sunday November 20, 2011, at Keller Auditorium, in downtown Portland, Oregon.   The concert began at 8:00 PM when Curtis Salgado opened the show for B. B. King and lit up the city of Roses with an hour long set. Then punctually after 30 minutes, the lights dimmed at 9:15 P. M. and B. B. Kings 8 piece band took the stage and began playing their introductory number.  James “Boogaloo” Bolden led the band and played trumpet, as he scurried around the stage indicating who was to perform.  Each band member took a turn in soloing beginning with Walter King and then Melvin Jackson on sax.  Stanley Abernathy stood front and center and blew his trumpet, until Charlie Dennis stepped forward and wailed on his guitar, using B. B. King’s signature sound.  Reggie Richard thumped out a bass solo, and the band rolled into “Manhattan Blues” with Ernest Vantrease demonstrating his keyboard prowess and Tony Coleman mercilessly pounding the skins, until Bolden took a solo and then the rest of the band joined in preparing the way for the king.

I remember the first time that I saw B. B. King perform on Labor Day weekend in 1969, 2 weekends after Woodstock.  The concert was at the Eastown theater on the East side of Detroit, with Savoy Brown, a new English blues/rock band opening the night.  The show featured 2 blues guitar legends, Albert King and B. B. King, during a time when white middle class American youth were discovering the blues.  The Butterfield Blues Band, Cream and  Jimi Hendrix, had piqued everyone’s ears for the blues, but this was the real thing.  B. B. King had just recorded “The Thrill Is Gone” in June of that year, so he showcased it at the show.  Over the ensuing decades I’d periodically see him. perform, but hadn’t done so for a while, so I was excited to see him again.

King was escorted onto the stage wearing a black sequined tuxedo that reflected the colored lights as he stood at the foot of the stage gesturing to the crowd before he took his seat and donned his Gibson. After he got situated he greeted the audience and told them that he was happy to be in Portland playing for them.  “I’m an old man,” B. B. said, “I just made 86 about 3 weeks ago.”  Then he dove into “I Need You So” with an enthusiasm that transcended his age as he impeccably belted it out.  The band flawlessly accompanied the master with a skill that bellied the fact that some of them went back to the old days.  The song ended in a crescendo of brass leaving B. B. telling the audience about the old days, when some of his band members played with Duke Ellington and were stealing women.  When he talked he had a wry expression that turned into a comical caricature that reminded me of Bill Cosby, as he offhandedly mentioned the name of James “Boogaloo” Bolden, the bandleader as a primary offender.

BB King #2

Big Bill Broonzy and Charles Segar’s classic, “Key To The Highway” began with B. B. picking out the tune on his Gibson for a few bars before he grabbed the microphone and began singing, “I got the key to the highway.”  He broke into a guitar solo as an introduction to all the band members performing short solos.  Finally Tony Coleman brought down the house with his thundering drums as B. B. turned to the microphone to finish the song by asking for “one more kiss,” as he wailed, on his guitar.    King kept up a continual banter with the audience in between songs, on a variety of subjects, including his home state of Mississippi.  “Back in Mississippi this time of the year we’d be picking cotton,” he told the audience as he introduced Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Please Keep My Grave Clean.”

“When Love Comes To Town” was performed as a duet by U2  and B. B. King in the1988 documentary of the group’s U.S. tour called, Rattle & Hum.  It was the next song that the band broke into and played until B. B. broke in and began picking the tune in the familiar style that made him Rolling Stone’s #6 greatest guitar player.  He played the song nearly as good as he did the last time that I saw him in the 1990’s, although the solo was somewhat shorter.  He still had the ability to fluidly bend his strings and squeeze a vibrato from his guitar.  His voice was strong and clear as he forcefully articulated the lyrics and their powerful gospel message.

“I was there when they crucified my Lord I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword I threw the dice when they pierced his side But I’ve seen love conquer the great divide.”

BB King #1

By the time that the song was concluding the entire audience rose to its feet clapping time in the packed out auditorium, which turned into thunderous applause when the song concluded.  The subject for this interlude was hearing, and B. B. explained that what’s really bad about not being able to hear well is that you think everyone is talking about you.  Then he broke into the mysteries of sexual attraction as he explained to the audience.  “When we’re young we try to talk to the older ladies, but when you’re old you talk to the young ladies.”  Then after another 5 minutes of diverse dialogue that concluded with a comment about how at 86 he now looks at young men and thinks to himself, “I used to be able to do what they can now.”  B. B. began playing his early composition “Rock Me Baby,” until the crowd began singing along.  As the song concluded and the audience clapped in approval someone yelled out to play, “The Thrill Is Gone.”

“I can do it now or later, whatever you want,” King responded, and then immediately broke into “The Thrill Is Gone,” with the band following.  The band was impressively adept at being able to follow B. B. in whatever direction or change that he chose to take.  He dedicated the next song to all the young men who were in love, or wish that they were, but before he could begin it, he changed direction and began to talk about how one year they made 342 one nighters and they made them all.  This led into some comments that he made about Phyllis Diller, and then he promptly acknowledged that most of the audience probably didn’t even know who Phyllis Diller was.  Just before he began playing “Guess Who,” King complimented his band and told the audience that he depended on their youth to carry him.

Around 10:30 P.M. King was telling the audience that he had a good time and would like to come back for another show some other time. Since it was Thanksgiving week he sang “Merry Christmas Baby” and peppered the lyrics with sarcastic changes where he would replace words like paradise with misery, along with the inherent sarcasm of the lyrics and melodic structure.

BB King #4

“I haven’t had a drink this evenin’ baby,

But I’m lit up like a Christmas tree.”

By the time that King’s performance was concluding it had a quality to it that was somewhat reminiscent of a Pentecostal church service without speaking in tongues and fainting in the spirit.  He wished the audience a Merry Christmas and elongated his goodbye, until the band broke into “You Are My Sunshine,” at his lead.  Then they played happy birthday to someone in the audience and just before he said goodnight B. B. told the audience that he would sing 10 autographs.  He stood at the foot of the stage where some people would offer everything from posters to sheets of paper to receive his imprimatur, while everyone else filed out.  I was 22 the first time that I saw B. B. King in 1969, and now I’m 64, but the message that he has spoken to me through the decades has been the same. Understand that life is a journey, that is sometimes joyous and othertimes painful, but the things that keep you going are music, a sense of humor and love.

How The Jesus Movement Really Began

14 Apr

Bob Gersztyn 1978 #2

Way back in 1978, when I was the associate pastor at the Highland Park Neighborhood Church in the North East Los Angeles barrio known as Highland Park. It was home for the Avenues Mexican gang that sprayed graffiti in the alley behind the church, but we also had Jesus music concerts in the pioneer Agape Inn coffee house. Then in 2008, when I was still a contributing editor and staff photographer for “The World’s Only Christian Satire Magazine,” the legendary “Wittenburg Door,” I began writing a history of “Contemporary Christian Music,” for Praeger publishing Co. This is how it developed as I wrote and communicated with my editors, until 2011 when I completed it.

Table of Contents:

Preface: What Is CCM? An essay that explains what CCM is to readers who may not be familiar with the genre, and brings them up to speed.

Part I: Prelude – Setting the Stage.

Chapter One: The Baby Boomers 1946-1964. This chapter sets the stage for the birth of the counterculture, and the coming of age of the first batch of Baby Boomers, as they graduate from High School. It covers all the significant cultural, political, religious, and social issues that made up this time period.

The first of the “Baby Boomers” were born in 1946 to returning World War II veterans. Those same soldiers fought Germany and Italy in Europe and Africa, along with the Japanese in the South Pacific. Harry Truman, the man who okayed the nuclear annihilation of two cities in Japan, was president. The returning veterans were happy to find work, after living through the joblessness of the “Great Depression” prior to going off to the work of war. From the auto plants of Detroit, to the steel mills of Pennsylvania and the oil wells of California, Oklahoma and Texas, there was plenty of work. For those that preferred a pastoral setting to that of a bustling city, there was an infinity of fertile farmland in between the coasts to feed and employ the growing population.

The first memories of that early batch of “Baby Boomers” were formed through the lens of a new technological influence, the television set. President Dwight D. Eisenhower expounded on the Communist threat and the American Dream, while Walt Disney marketed everything from Davey Crockett to Mickey Mouse and taught the young sponges to dream. Most everyone had Sunday off from work, and all but drug stores, movie theaters, bars and businesses related to the recreational industry were closed. For most citizens of the USA, Sunday mornings were either spent in church or watching religious programs on television.

UFO sightings, beginning in 1947, were part of early childhood memories. From flying saucer crashes in Roswell, New Mexico, to floating lights in Adrian, Michigan, earth’s attention was drawn to the sky and the possibility of extra terrestrial life. Movies like “This Island Earth,” “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” and “I Married a Monster From Outer Space,” and authors like Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlien speculated the ramifications of human encounters with alien life forms and space travel.

Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD), was first discovered in 1938, at the beginning of WWII, by Albert Hoffman, a chemist, working for Sandoz Laboratories, in Basel, Switzerland, on a cure for morning sickness during pregnancy. The psychedelic mind expanding entheogen was used by the US government in mind control experiments under the CIA’s MKULTRA program, during the 1950s and into the 1960s. The drug played an important part in shaping the Boomers’ vision of reality and spirituality. Especially after receiving positive endorsements by recognizable members of society, like the actor, Cary Grant and the publisher of Time/Life, Henry Luce.

Pope Pius XII led the Catholics while Billy Graham donned the Protestant leadership mantle and ultimately became the Protestant counterpart to the pope. War broke out again, this time in Korea, with our new enemy, the atheist Communists, who now controlled North Korea with the help of the Chinese hoards, led by Mao Zedong. The hot war in Korea ended, but the cold war with Communism continued and Nikita Khrushchev led the USA’s second arch enemy, the “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics” (USSR), and pounded his shoe on a desk in the United Nations assembly.

A new musical form was born in the early 1950’s known as rock & roll. Pioneers like Ike Turner and the “Kings of Rhythm” along with Bill Haley and the “Comets” recorded the first 45 RPM records of the new genre. The sound was derived from the merger of White country and bluegrass music with Black blues, gospel and R&B. It was hard to distinguish whether the performers were Black or White by just listening to the recordings. Some of the early Black pioneers were Little Richard Penniman, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, and Bo Diddley.
Bo Diddley (Ellas Bates), like so many of the pioneers of rock & roll received his early musical training in the church. When Bates was asked about why so many of the early rock & roll artists were involved in churches when they were younger, he responded with “That’s where we learned how to do something…but I wasn’t playing no Rock ’n’ Roll in it then. My pastor of my church was Reverend Smith and the man who took care of the music part was the professor O. W. Frederick, Oscar Frederick, and he taught me violin, so I played classical music for twelve years. Nobody influenced me to play classical music. I saw a dude with a violin and a stick and that looked really cool, you know? And my church got together and took up twenty-nine dollars and that’s what it cost back then. Twenty-nine bucks was a lot of money back then. You could get a sack of potatoes for like damn near ten cents.”

Their White counter parts, like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, and Dion Dimucci came out of their respective churches. Dimucci was one of the early White rock & roll stars. He was raised a Roman Catholic, in New York city, where he formed Dion and the Belmonts, after Belmont Avenue, in the Bronx. The style of rock that they performed was doo wop, the vocal harmonizing style of Black music that originated in Baltimore, New York, and Philadelphia , and it was 1957. He narrowly avoided death, by passing up on the opportunity to fly with Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper on their ride to eternity in 1959. In a 2006 interview about the different messages of Blues and Gospel music Dion explained –

“A lot of Blues music seems like it’s moving away from God, or the center, and Gospel music is moving towards it. It’s embracing a higher reality. When you look a little closer, the way that I define it or explain it is that the Blues is the naked cry of the human heart, apart from God. People are searching for union with God; they’re searching to be home. There’s something in people that seeks this union with their creator. Why am I here? Where am I going? What’s it all about? Who am I? All this kind of stuff, but the Blues is a beautiful art form. It’s incredible that you could express such a wide range of feelings. You could use it to sell hamburgers or cars, or to cry out in sorrow, or joy. You could express yourself totally within the Blues. So there’s some kind of connection, but if you ask me exactly what it is, I think that it all comes out of the same place, so to speak.” (1), (2).

Christian recordings were a marginal esoteric branch of the music industry produced by Christian record companies, like Benson Records. In 1951, Jarrel McCracken, a graduate of Baylor university, in Waco, Texas began what was to become an important record label for the Jesus movements music – “Word”. Southern Gospel was the dominant form of Protestant Christian music at the time, in White society. Christian music was just as segregated as the rest of society, so Black gospel had its own record label, “Vocalion”. Most Christian music was marketed by Christian bookstores. In 1950 the Christian Booksellers Association was born, and included about 2 dozen stores.

Racism was the law of the land, in the form of Jim Crow, and enforced segregation. It existed throughout the country in one form or another. Some states, like Oregon, simply made it against the law for Negroes to move there, while others like Michigan, simply designated what areas they could live in, or gather. The Southern states, like Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi had perfected segregation, and had separate facilities, including restaurants, bathrooms and drinking fountains for Negroes. The mixing of the races in the music bled over into other areas. After education was integrated, in 1954, through Brown vs. the Board of Education, in Kansas, the floodgates were opened.

Elvis Presley was the breakthrough act for rock & roll to hit the mainstream. After being televised on some of the top TV programs in the mid 1950s, including “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts,” “The Milton Berle Show,” “The Steve Allen Show,” and finally, “The Ed Sullivan Show,” he became the most popular entertainer in the USA and ultimately the “free world”, during the last half of the 20th century. Interestingly, Presley was a frustrated Southern Gospel singer, who signed with Sam Phillips and Sun Records, after failing an audition with Jim Hamill and Cecil Blackwood’s Southern Gospel group, “The Songfellows”. At one point Presley’s popularity even eclipsed Senator Joseph McCarthy’s National Communist witch hunt headlines.

The fear of communism and nuclear war were further exacerbated by films like “Invasion USA” and “On the Beach”. One of the pop culture trends in the 1950s was to build a bomb shelter for the family. Using the same technology that launched destructive nuclear warheads, the USA and USSR began a space race, in 1957, after the Russians launched Sputnik 1. Soon the space race escalated from launching dogs and monkeys to humans, into orbit around the earth.

Beatniks and the “Beat Generation”, in the 1950s preceded the counter culture “Hippies” of the “Baby Boomers’ ” 1960s revolution. Two of the leading literary icons of the “Beats” were poet Alan Ginsberg, the author of “Howl,” an epic poem about man’s disconnection with his environment, and his novelist compatriot, Jack Kerouac, author of “On the Road”, and other equally hip tomes. They wrote about the rift between the human soul and the industrialized world that the 20th century had produced.

Preceding the Beats were the Industrialized Workers of the World, also known as the Wobblies. They were union activists, who used literature, folk music and blues to carry their message. One of the martyrs of the movement was an immigrant named Joe Hill, who was executed in 1915. Singer songwriter, activists like Woodie Guthrie sang about Joe, and the plight of the working man. Even authors like James Jones wrote about economic injustice forcing the poor to join the military as their only option to poverty, in his novel “From Here To Eternity”.

By the 1950s the big three auto corporations, GM, Ford, and Chrysler, along with major supporting industries from the rail road and trucking to steel production, were unionized. This resulted in wildcat strikes that sometimes turned violent, as the unions demanded better wages and working conditions. As wages got better, the rural Southerners, both Black and White began immigrating to the larger industrial cities, like Detroit and Cleveland, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Although the cities were segregated, there was a mixing of the races at the workplace, and sometimes in recreation.

The Civil Rights movement began with the passing of “Brown vs. the Board of Education” by the Supreme Court, May 17, 1954, calling for the desegregation of public education. In 1955 Rosa Parks started the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, that brought Rev. Martin Luther King to his leadership role, as co-founder of “The Southern Christian Leadership Conference”. In 1960 Ella Baker founded “The Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee” (SNCC), which was the beginning of an expression of what became known as “Black Power”.

American Bandstand, hosted by Dick Clark in Philadelphia, via the television set, became the first national TV show to showcase rock and roll and its culture, in 1957. By the end of the 1950s, Elvis was drafted into the army, and a tragic air plane crash claimed the lives of three early rock stars, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper. In 1960, Chubby Checker released a cover of Clyde McPhatter’s song called the twist, which initiated a dancing craze, that got unhip white people shimmying and shaking on the dance floor. It was even reported that President Kennedy did the twist in the White House. One of the major unexpected results of this new musical phenomenon was the integration of American society.

If rock & roll was the soul of integration then folk music was the mind. By the early 1960s the Black rock & rollers were marginalized, and top 40 AM radio stations played pop rock that had lost its earlier edge. Fabian and Franky Avalon replaced Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. As rock & roll was on the descent in the late 1950s, folk music began its ascent. Folk music was inspired by Woody Guthrie and his student, Pete Seeger, whose career was put on a temporary hiatus when he was blackballed by Senator Joseph McCarthy as a Communist.

The Kingston Trio was the first major act of the new folk genre, to receive national recognition and air play. After them came the Limelighters, The Highwaymen, Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul and Mary. The music was acoustic in instrumentation, and used guitars, mandolins and banjos. It employed a wide range of vocal styles, both solo and in harmony, and its lyrics dealt with gritty subject matter. Topics like adultery, exploitation, murder, robbery, swindles, extraordinary exploits, and broken promises told stories that captivated its audience.

Peter, Paul and Mary were made up of Peter Yarrow, Noel Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers. Their debut album in 1962 was inspired by the same social, cultural, and political tradition that Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger followed. Their first hit off the album was “If I Had a Hammer”, by “Weavers” Pete Seeger and Lee Hays, who first recorded it in 1949. They represented the musical conscience of the nation, supporting the struggling civil rights movement and the anti-Viet Nam war faction.

At one point folk music so upset the status quo, that the city of New York banned folk singing in Washington square, which precipitated a protest that successfully, reversed the decision. Popular folk singers of the day participated in the civil rights movement, and sang about it’s struggles. The biggest folk ensemble of the 1960’s, the “New Christy Minstrels” performed at the White house for president Lyndon Baines Johnson.

This thought provoking music reflected the mood of the country, as it continued in the Ideological war with the Soviet’s. There were multiple Cold War confrontations with Communism, in the early 1960’s, from the Marxist conversion of Cuba, the crisis with Russia, over nuclear warheads in Cuba, the “Bay of Pigs” fiasco, the invasion of the Dominican Republic and US military involvement in Viet Nam.

Barry McGuire began a solo career in 1960 after he purchased his first guitar. He spent some time in the Navy, and got into Woodie Guthrie, Ledbelly and Pete Seeger until he started gigging at Santa Monica bars, until Peggy Lee discovered him, and got him a recording contract. In 1962 he joined Art Podell’s group, the “New Christy Minstrels” as the lead singer. He wrote and sang lead on the group’s biggest hit 45 rpm single, “Green, Green”, and eventually went solo again, which produced the biggest his of his career, when he recorded P. F. Sloan’s song “Eve of Destruction, in 1965.

Black music groups began receiving more air play, on White radio, after groups like the Mills Brothers and the Inkspots broke the ice, back in the 1930s. By the 1950’s when Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry came on the scene, the White market was being integrated by Black music. Columbia records producer, John Hammond signed a Black Gospel singer from Detroit, Michigan, named Aretha Franklin in 1960. At the same time Detroit produced the most important Black record label of the 1960s, when Berry Gordy established “Motown” records with Smokey Robinson singing “You Got To Shop Around“.

Sam Cooke was 1 of 7 children born to a Baptist minister in Clarksdale, Mississippi. After the family moved to Chicago he became part of the family’s singing quartet, and by 1950, at the age of 19, joined the “Soul Stirrers”, a black gospel group. Through his success with the “Soul Stirrers”, on Specialty records, he achieved fame and fortune within the gospel community. He signed as a secular artist with Keen records where he had his first hit, with “You Send Me”. He started his own record label, SAR, and finally signed with RCA, where he had a string of hits, until his death in 1964.

In an interview in 2002 Clarence Fountain, leader of the “Five Blind Boys of Alabama”, who was a contemporary of Sam Cooke, explained – “We had plenty of chances to go with rock & roll. We had plenty of chances for doing the things that all the rest of the people had done. We could have did that too, but we didn’t want to. I was in the studio with Sam Cooke when he signed his contract. The man offered me one just like he did him. But I turned it down because that ain’t what I told the Lord I wanted to do. I wanted to sing gospel.” (8)

After his discharge from the army, Elvis Presley became a movie star, only singing songs in his own films, that he starred in, with titles like “Blue Hawaii”, “Follow That Dream” and “Kid Galahad”. His impact on music now wasn’t from his style and manner of performance, but from the direction that he took. Music films, featuring artists like the Beatles and Bob Dylan would soon begin to make their way to the screen, as an important way to satisfy and create fans.

The 1950s ended on a sour note, as Fidel Castro established a Marxist government in Cuba, after taking power, and became an ally of the Soviets. The next conflict with the Communists occurred when U2 spy plane pilot Gary Powers was shot down over Russian air space. Everyone was ready for a change, when a youthful looking John F. Kennedy became the first Roman Catholic president elected, and ushered in an era of optimism, along with the Peace Corps. Kennedy’s inaugural speech in January 1961 set the tone of his administration when he said – “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Mylon LeFevre was a member of his parents Southern gospel music group, “The Singing LeFevres”. “The LeFevres” were pioneers of Southern gospel music, and owned their own recording studio, as many of the early groups did. They also embraced the potential for ministry using the new medium of television. While Mylon was in the army he wrote a song titled “Without Him”, which was recorded by Elvis Presley, and over 100 other artists. (2), (3), (4) Mylon formed a secular Southern Gospel Rock group named after himself, and spread the gospel in secular venues, through his music, in the late 1960s.

The next major breakthrough that would change the social structure of country was the advent of the FDA approved birth control pill, which began the sexual revolution. Sex of course had always been popular, or there wouldn’t be a human race, but sex without the consequence of pregnancy never had been readily available before. This liberated women, as they never had been before, which in turn augmented the women’s rights movement.

The Roman Catholic Church convened Vatican II, in 1962, to discuss the birth control pill among other issues of the day. Pope John XXIII was in office at the time and at least four future popes were council members. Some of the key issues that impacted church members were, no longer requiring them to abstain from eating meat on Friday, allowing the mass to be spoken in the language used by attendees and economic justice.

In an interview in 2006, Bruce Cockburn explained the impact of Vatican II on the world in general: “I think that there is, but it’s hard to access. One of the things that happened in the 1960s was Vatican II, in which Pope John XXIII convened all the bigwigs of the Catholic church to decide what the destiny of the church should be and what role it should play in the modern world. It was decided at that time that the church would be the church of the poor. It was decided that I think because the vibe of the sixties, the kind of philosophy and energy that was flowing around. It flowed through the clerics as much as it flowed through everybody else. I mean it was just in the air. It touched everybody, whether they wore the uniform or not…of the hippie movement I mean. As a result of Vatican II the church began to teach people in Latin America to read. As a result of people in Latin America learning to read they started trying to overthrow the governments that were keeping them poor and malnourished and not getting medical attention and all sorts of stuff. Many church people became supporters of that kind of social change, and we’ve been living with the result ever since.” (6)

Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the earth, as the Berlin wall was erected. Freedom riders descended on the segregationist South, from Washington DC, as students begin protesting everything from nuclear testing to the escalating war in Viet Nam. The CIA conducted experiments, under the code name MK Ultra, to find out the potential of psychedelic drugs like LSD, for mind control. Ken Kesey, a Stanford graduate student in creative writing was given LSD and wrote “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.

At the turn of the decades, with Elvis in the Army and rock & roll on the decline after the payola scandal ruined the career of New York DJ Alan Freed, and nearly derailed Dick Clark’s American bandstand, squeaky clean Pat Boone was the top pop star in the US. Boone was a descendent of American frontier pioneer, Daniel Boone. He began his singing career in the 1950s, when he was a college student, and recorded sanitized versions of what was then called race music. He had hits on the radio with songs like Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That A Shame” and Little Richard’s “Tutti Fruiti.” He drew criticism from both sides, when some accused him of trying to pollute White society with Black music, while others claimed that he was exploiting Black songwriters by capitalizing on their compositions.

The human space barrier was cracked for the USA, when John Glenn orbited the earth in 1962, and the first communications satellite, “Telestar” was launched by AT&T, which producing a radio hit for the “Ventures”. “Silent Spring” one of the first books, voicing concern for the environment was published by Rachel Carson. Students begin protesting more loudly, as they supportted the civil rights movement, and began speaking with a louder voice, through the Free Speech movement in California and the forming of “Students For A Democratic Society” (SDS), in Michigan. At the same time Bob Dylan released his debut album.

Another genre of music, who’s popularity was waning in the early 1960s, was known as doo wop. Groups like “Little Anthony and the Imperials,” “The Drifters,” “Dion and the Belmonts,” and “The Coasters” were some of the top groups. The Castells, with lead singer Chuck Girard, had a couple of top 40 hits with “Sacred” and “So This Is Love”.

“I was pretty much a straight-laced young guy. I was into the music thing. I wasn’t really much of a student but I wasn’t really into religious activity or spiritual curiosity in those days. I was more into the music thing, I got bit with the music bug about junior high school years, and by my senior year in high school I had put together a little vocal group. I’m old enough to where I go back to the doo-wop days in 1961.” (7)

Soon afterwards Girard began working as a studio musician. and collaborated with Beach Boy producer, Gary Usher, and sang lead on Brian Wilson’s hit composition about a motorcycle, called “Little Honda” by the “Hondells”. Motorcycles would play an important part in the 1960s, through the “Hells Angels” motorcycle club, led by Sonny Barger president of the Oakland, California chapter.

Civil rights was the dominant issue during much of the early 1960’s, along with the escalating conflict with Viet Nam. Bob Dylan wrote and recorded “Blowing In the Wind”, which not only became a top 40 hit when Peter, Paul & Mary recorded it, but an anthem of the civil rights movement. Pop art took the stage and graphic television images of self immolating Buddhist monks in Viet Nam burnt themselves into the brains of the beholders. Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert were fired from Harvard, after their research with mind expanding drugs like psilocybin, mescaline and LSD got out of hand.

President Kennedy’s proposed civil rights legislation is punctuated by violence, including the death of Medgar Evers whose murder Bob Dylan wrote a song about, and four black girls that were killed in an Alabama church by a bomb blast. At the same time the UK, US, and USSR sign an above ground nuclear test ban, as women officially find out that they are discriminated against, through a commission’s finding and a US supported coup condones the murder of president Ngo Dinh Diem.

President Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas by Lee Harvey Oswald, who in turn is assassinated by Jack Ruby, and Lyndon Baines Johnson is sworn in as the new president. President Johnson declares an “unconditional war on poverty”, and signs into law, the “Civil Rights Act of 1964. “Dr. Strangelove” is released and the Beatles come to America, appear on the Ed Sullivan show, while “I Want To Hold Your Hand” is number one on the radio charts.

Chapter Two: From Jesus Freaks to Jesus People (Both Secular and Christian Counter Culture). Chronicling the birth of the Hippie counter culture in Northern California and how it affected a revolution of thought among all the youth of America, through drugs, music, politics and religion. Pioneers like Chuck Girard, Phil Keagy, Mylon Lefevre, Barry McGuire, Larry Norman, and the Talbot Brothers performed music in secular venues that reflected their spiritual quests.

Part II: A Historical Overview of Contemporary Christian Music.

Chapter Three: The Birth of Jesus Music – The late 1960s to 1971. The Edwin Hawkins singers, Norman Greenbaum and “Jesus Christ Superstar” producing top 40 secular radio hits about Jesus, making Jesus cool. The birth of Christian coffee houses and night clubs, Ralph Carmichael’s Light Records, and Andrae Crouch.

Chapter Four: The Birth of Contemporary Christian Music – The early 1970s. Independent record labels, church becomes a venue (e.g. Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa) and the first Christian rock stars – Children of the Day, Love Song, Randy Matthews, Larry Norman.

Larry Norman and his contemporaries, like Mylon Lefevre, Chuck Girard, and Randy Matthews, did for the Christian Church what Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones did for secular society. They introduced their audiences to the Black influence in White music. The church was being integrated, from the inside out.

Chapter Five: The Floodgates are open 1972-1979. More Christian rock stars come on the scene – Daniel Amos, Amy Grant, Keith Green, Mustard Seed Faith, Petra, Phil Keagy, Second Chapter of Acts, Randy Stonehill, John Michael Talbot, Terry Talbot, etc., etc.

Chapter Six: Conversions and defections from secular music validate the genre – Bruce Cockburn, Richey Furray, Al Green, Barry McGuire, Van Morrison, Leon Patillo, Dan Peak, Noel Paul Stookey and Bob Dylan. The Jesus movement is buried by the Moral Majority.

Chapter Seven: The Maturation of CCM – The 1980s. Contemporary Christian Music produces its first crossover superstar – Amy Grant. The multiplication of the genres within the genre – The Alarm, The Blind Boys of Alabama, The Call, Dion Dimucci, Benny Hester, Kings X, Newsboys, Twila Paris, Undercover, U2 etc.

Chapter Eight: CCM Becomes Mainstream – The 1990s. Carmen, Steve Curtis Chapman, dc Talk, Kirk Franklin, Jars of Clay, Rich Mullins, Point of Grace, Michael W. Smith, Jaci Velasquez, delirious?, and worship music.

Chapter Nine: The Expansion of CCM – The New Millennium. The Blind Boys of Alabama, Family Force 5, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Kutless, Lifehouse, MxPx, P.O.D., Six Pence None the Richer, Switchfoot, and Third Day. CCM magazine stops hard copy publication and redefines what Contemporary Christian Music is.

Chapter Ten: Jesus Music Festivals. Just as Jesus music groups followed on the heel’s of secular rock, so did Jesus Music festivals. The ICHTUS festival in 1970 was a direct reaction to the Woodstock festival in 1969, and today there are hundreds of Christian music festivals all over the world featuring every genre and catering to every spiritual taste.

Part III: Interviews with ten CCM pioneers, legends and stars.

Chapter Eleven: Andrae Crouch.

Chapter Twelve: Chuck Girard (Love Song).

Chapter Thirteen: Randy Stonehill.

Chapter Fourteen: Marsha (Carter) Stevens-Pina (Children of the Day).

Chapter Fifteen: Pete Furhler (The Newsboys).

Chapter Sixteen: Dion Dimucci.

Chapter Seventeen: Clarence Fountain (The Blind Boys of Alabama).

Chapter Eighteen: Barry McGuire.

Chapter Nineteen: Bruce Cockburn.

Chapter Twenty: Charlie Lowell (Jars of Clay).

Chapter One:

1. * Blueswax Interview by Bob Gersztyn. February 15, 2006
* Wittenburg Door Interview By Bob Gersztyn May 2007. (4 November 2008)

2. Dion Dimucci Interview . By: Bob Gersztyn, in Blueswax. (2 February 2006)

3. Banville, Scott. “The LeFevres“, “Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music”, edited by William McNeil. Routledge 2005.

4. (6 November 2008)

5. Powell, Mark Allan. “Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music”, Hendrickson Publishers 2002.

6. Bob Gersztyn. Interview with Bruce Cockburn. Folkwax, November 16, 2006. (November 12, 2008).

7. Bob Gersztyn. Interview with Chuck Girard. Submitted to the Wittenburg Door 2007.

8. Bob Gersztyn. Interview with Clarence Fountain of “The Blind Boys of Alabama”. The “Wittenburg Door”. May/June 2003.

The Tommy Coomes Interview Part One

28 Mar

Tommy Coomes

The Tommy Coomes Interview Part One
By: Bob Gersztyn

Tommy Coomes #1
Tommy Coomes is a founding member of Love Song, a pioneer Jesus rock band whose nucleus formed in 1970. By 1975 they broke up, but Coomes was also co-owner of Maranatha Records along with Chuck Smith’s nephew, Chuck Fromm. He helped produce albums and had his own projects over the years, along with an occasional Love Song reunion. I did this interview on March 18, 2010, 4 months before I photographed a stop on the band’s West Coast reunion tour at a Calvary Chapel in Vancouver, Washington. I got to know the band in the early 1970s when they performed at my church in Los Angeles a few times. I was the emcee of the coffee house ministry and introduced groups and delivered a short message and altar call at the end. When Love Song went on a world tour to the Philippines in 1973, my senior pastor LaVerne Campbell accompanied them as part of the team. My first assignment as a freelance photographer was to shoot Love Song at a Coffee House in Alhambra, to use in promoting their trip to the Philippines. I included a couple of the shots from 1973 that weren’t used.
Tommy also became the music director for the Billy Graham organization, as well as Promise Keepers and has his own band, the Tommy Coomes Band. The purpose of this interview, as I told Tommy, was to get firsthand information about how CCM (Contemporary Christian Music), then known as Jesus Music, first began, for my book. “Jesus Rocks The World: The Definitive History of Contemporary Christian Music, vol 1&2.” The book was published by Praeger in 2012. After talking with Tommy for a few minutes about my involvement in the Jesus movement and some of the people that we both knew the interview began.

Love Song 1973

Bob Gersztyn: I appreciate you taking the time to from your busy schedule to talk to me. I’m glad to be able to reminisce about some really good times and friends that we both had in that era.

Tommy Coomes: Well that’s very helpful and what a fascinating background you have. LaVerne Campbell is one of my favorite all time people. I never knew him really well but the last time that I saw him was probably 20-25 years ago in Atlanta I spent a day and a half with him and stayed in his house and thought that he was a wonderful guy. He really cared about people a lot. Is he still alive?

Bob: No, he tragically died from a horrible cancer, along with his wife. There is some speculation about the school that they transformed into a church had radiation or something that even affected some of the elders who also died of cancer, but it’s never been confirmed. It was a very sad thing. He was a great guy and was one of the kindest and caring persons that I knew. He was my pastor for 2 ½ years and my prototype for what a follower of Jesus was. Nobody else compared.

Tommy: I would agree. One of the things we did with him when we were bopping around and I was just doing whatever he was doing and he had a very busy schedule, but God put this young kid in his heart who was a homosexual that worked at a clothing store in Atlanta, where it was a hotbed for that lifestyle. He stopped in just to say hi to him. It wasn’t like he came to put him in a head lock and say, hey I know that you’re gay, but he just wanted to say, hey, how are you doing? I just thought that was very pioneering, back in those days. I just thought, this guy knows something that most people I know, just don’t know. How to be gracious to people and not try to put them in a head lock and preaching to them. Let’s get going with the interview.

Bob: The first question is how many Maranatha! compilation albums were there all together. I have 5 myself.

Tommy: There were 7. I’m not sure that I can tell you what year it was, but it was around 1978 that [the last one] was released. The first 4 were the most powerful and most widespread and they also had some really good songs on it. It was a way to not send a group into the studio to do a whole album. It was a way to capture one song and get them out there quickly.

Bob: How and when did Maranatha! begin? And talk about your involvement with it.

Love Song

Tommy: I love what God did in that era. I think it’s part of why Chuck Smith Sr.’s philosophy of ministry has developed the way it has. God was already doing something, he wasn’t attempting to start something to see if God would bless it. The work of all these young people coming to Christ was already going on. It was something that God nourished. Nobody can take credit for that. It’s a work of God. It wasn’t just at Calvary Chapel (Costa Mesa, California) obviously. It was El Paso, Texas, Seattle, London, a little bit, Kansas City, Dallas, Ft. Worth. I’ve heard Dr. Edwin Orr, who is considered the world’s foremost authority on revival history. He would say that the Jesus movement wasn’t really a revival, it was really in another category that was literally a people movement, where it didn’t affect all of our society, per se, but hundreds of thousands, between half a million and several million people, you might know better than me. Mostly young people, but then their whole family was pulled into the kingdom. So that was already going on, in the context of the Jesus movement.
I came to Christ in March of 1970 and all the guys in Love Song came to Christ at the same time. Shortly after that it was like an explosion and they kept expanding the church. Chuck Smith is from a full gospel background. He’s not unaware of when God is moving and what it looks like. One of the things that I love about pastor Chuck is that he just wasn’t into kind of artificially propping that up or help God. Something special was happening down here because TIME magazine was coming down because it was getting a lot of news media.
The church was small, when I first went there I thought that there were about 200 people, although might say that it was 350, but it was a small, little tiny church. All of a sudden you had all these people were coming into the church to check out what was going on and all these groups start getting born. Groups like Love Song, The Way, Children of the Day, Daniel Amos and then you had Debbie Kerner, Ernie Rettino and you had all these groups start showing up with the songs they sang. It was very natural that within weeks literally, somebody would come up to us afterwards and say I’m the chaplain over at juvenile hall in the Orange County jail system and I’m wondering can you come and play for the prison system. In another case someone say’s hey I’m at this Presbyterian church out here in Orange and we’ve got this church youth group and I believe it needs what you’ve got, can you come and do our church on Sunday morning. Those things began to happen and pretty soon it’s can you come and do Northern California and things like that. The guys in the group didn’t have any money, we were lucky to have a car and some equipment. We were all about ministering day and night and responding to those requests. So pastor Smith said I need to get these kids some gas money to get from place to place. We’ve got all these songs. I literally got a call one night saying all you guys are going to be involved in an album at a little studio that has 4 track recording called Buddy King’s and you’re all going down there to record your songs. That’s how I found out about it.
So all of a sudden that was “Maranatha! 1.” Chuck Girard was involved in taking over production once mastering started and he wound up finishing the album. If I remember right, there was supposed to be no more than $4,000 but wound up being $44,000 or $48,000, when it was done in 1970 and it came out in 1971. I didn’t find out until 20 years later, that Chuck Smith started it as a practical thing. You know, let’s put out an album and then the kids can sell them when they go places and they’ll have money to pay for the gas, because a lot of the time these churches are giving them nothing, but in the places that they’re going, there is nothing to be given. So what happened with that album when it first showed up, the first boxes of albums, we put them in Sunday School rooms at Calvary Chapel. By that time we may have been across the street, I’m not quite sure. I remember seeing the album on the bigger lot across the way there, but it came out in 1971. Then somebody said that we need to incorporate this, saying that it’s non-profit and that turned into, well hey, we’ll get some money coming back from these albums and let’s send another group in like Children of the Day. Let’s have them record their album. So it was a very humble beginning. It was not designed to be a record company. It was designed to just be a practical way to fund some of the ministry that was already happening.

Bob: So how did you end up in Love Song at Calvary Chapel, personally?

Fred Field 1978

Tommy: I came back from being in the army. See I went in the army in 1967 and got out in March of 1969. Before I’d gone into the army, I was playing music with Fred Fields, one of the original members of Love Song and another man named Chuck Butler, who was a great singer. We played in bands together in high school and going into college and we all got drafted about the same time. The very night that I got home from Germany, I got a call from Chuck Butler or Fred Field saying, hey, you have to come with us down to this club and hear this guy and I think that the band was probably called Love Song, playing in a bar on 19th Street. A little bar called the happening on 19th Street in Costa Mesa, California. I went down there and they told me about some of the musicians that were in the band that were friends of mine that I’d taken guitar lessons from, like Jesse Johnson or Larry Britton and Denny Corral, a long time friend, who was playing bass in there.
There’s this guy, Chuck Girard, I’d never heard of before. In context you have to remember, it’s like when you were a kid growing up playing, you’re going to go see other players. You’re going to go see the hot bands. So that was the context before I went into the army. I’d go see Denny Corral playing with this band called 5th Cavalry, he was definitely in with them and another band called the Vibrants that was playing at a place called the Cinnamon Cinder, in Long Beach, where I used to see Larry Britton and Jesse Johnson play, so these were people I knew. So I went to see this band. I’ve been gone for two years overseas and I come home and the first night I see this band and here’s Chuck Girard and 2 of my friends playing that I know and I’m going, wow what a great band wow what a great singer, wow, great songs.

Chuck & Tommy
That’s how I first met Chuck Girard. Now over the course of a year there’s a lot of movement between Southern California and Salt Lake City, where John Mehler lived and Jay Truax was living. They were in another band called Spirit of Creation. It was a great power trio with another guy Jeff Frarrer, I think it was F-R-A-R-R-E-R, I’m not positive on that one. Truax is T-R-U-A-X. John Mehler, M-E-H-L-E-R. They had this incredible band, it was the best band in Salt Lake City and somehow they came out for a visit and Jay and Chuck Girard had known each other before I knew either one of them.

Jay Truax
It’s interesting that Chuck Butler, Fred Field and Jay Truax all grew up in Downey, California, playing in local bands. So we’re just a bunch of kids. You try to be great musicians, going to see other bands and everybody is trying to make hit records. We’re all just trying to be good musicians. Somehow I run into Jay Truax when he comes into Costa Mesa. I think that I met him at Chuck Girard’s little house on Bay Street, I think that’s probably what it was on Bay Street in Costa Mesa. So I’m coming to see these bands and I remember meeting Jay at Chucks house one time and someone said that they were from Salt Lake. Next thing I know, Fred Field, one of my best friends, he takes off and he goes to Salt Lake City and I get a call from him saying, “dude you got to get up here, we’re opening for “Three Dog Night” and we just opened for the “Grateful Dead” last night. So I’m going, holy cow what is going on? So I literally hitchhiked out to Salt Lake City.

Power Trio
Now this is a long story, but I don’t think that anyone’s ever told it before. So I hitch hiked out to Salt Lake City and ended up living with Fred and the drummer John Mehler from the “Spirit of Creation.” So there is a lot of back and forth movement between Salt Lake City and Southern California, where most of the guys were originally from.
Moving forward a little bit, a lot of these bands started breaking up or going through hard times. Really, what happened was several of us had drug busts. I was busted along with Chuck Butler and Fred Field and a new discharge from the army in Newport Beach, for marijuana possession, late one night in Corona Del Mar. We wound up all living together in this house on the top of Baker Street in South Laguna, California and it’s like the remains of 2 groups. So all of a sudden, I’m living with Jay, Chuck, Fred and a drummer named Bobby Gadoti and a great organ player, Dave, I can’t remember his last name all of a sudden. There were 8 of us living in this house in South Laguna.

Love Song Leader Chuck Girard
Then Chuck Girard and another guy who was living with us was going off to Salt Lake City and they got busted in Las Vegas. So all of a sudden life was caving in on us. We’re all living together, playing together and by now we’re called the Laguna family band. We’re playing at the Hotel Laguna just to make ends meet. We were continuing to write songs, but things were on a downward spiral, but the interesting thing is, everyone is on a spiritual search. That was a good thing.
You remember Timothy Leary and his clan, people who lived right up the canyon and were involved in that kind of artistic, we thought, forward thinking, enlightened groups of people or trying to be enlightened. There were people reading everything there is to read about spiritual things, Eastern religions, and meditation. We were all vegetarians. We really in our own way, in the natural were trying to pursue finding what’s true? What’s truly spiritual? It really wasn’t all drug related things. There really was a lot of good things with people trying to find out. We weren’t complete druggies or something like that, but we were musicians trying to pick up any clues about where to make a dot connection and how to be a good person and these kind of things. They are very strong natural drives, I think for a lot of people. It was not uncommon at all. It was very common for that era, for that time. It was going on all over. The whole world was in an upheaval about that there’s gotta be something more kind of quest.

Chuck's Side
So while we’re living in South Laguna around Christmas time, before Christmas, a girl that we’d known in Salt Lake City named Sandy Love, spelled just like it sounds. She came to visit and brought us a book. She told us very, very briefly that her life was different now, every day since she met Jesus Christ. She had a pretty desperate situation beforehand. Then she said that there were some people, like us, who were living in this kind of Christian commune up in Newport Beach, some place called the Blue Top and it was a 14 room, if I remember right, old motel. It was 2 story and got destroyed in a flood and a Christian realtor named Ed Riddell, I believe, owned.
As young people would get saved and had no family connections to make a transition into a clean environment where you could study the Bible, work and go to church and you’d kind of change your entire life, leaving the past behind, you could move in there and be a productive part of it. It wasn’t a commune like a hippie commune, but was highly organized and was based around living the life of Christ. Lonnie (Frisbee) and Connie were the elders of the little commune and lived in the back. My future wife, Shelley was living down there as well. She was one of the elder women there, watching out for some of the younger girls.
So Sandy Love drives several of us. Me and Fred and somebody else I think whose house it was and she drives us over. She tells us about this person and about Calvary Chapel. This little church where wonderful things were happening. It’s got this hippie preacher and they teach the word of God. This was all completely foreign to me. Completely! My father was a Catholic and my mother was a Protestant and it was against the rules, the family house rules, to ever to talk about religion or politics in our house, because these are the 2 things that send people into controversial discussions. Plus, they couldn’t agree about that, so I knew nothing about the Bible and knew nothing about church.

Love Song  #1
The only church’s that I went to were a little strange. As far as my first church experiences they were either deader than a door nail, going through a ritual that I couldn’t understand or wild and crazy and I’ve got to get out of here. So I didn’t have much to go on. I had no Biblical information, no positive church background, but in fairness to this gal, she had kind of an intriguing story.
We went to this commune late one night and found out that it was too late, but we found out where it was and she told us about Calvary Chapel. And about a month later, if I remember right, we were in this house in Laguna Beach. Fred Field has come to Christ because he read a 4 Spiritual Laws or a Chick tract. Something like that. He accepted Christ, and the other part of the story is that reading this book that Sandy Love left. This book by John Sherrill perhaps. About 1969, late 69, that would be at Christmastime. He’s reading this book called they speak in other tongues and it was about the Baptism with the Holy Spirit and the cost. Since I had come from a Catholic background and had never read the Bible either. To Be Continued….

Love Song Zoom


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