Roman Catholicism and Rock & Roll

15 Apr

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.Β  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.

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