Randy Stonehill's unUsual Suspects!
In the early days of the often-called “Jesus Movement”… Randy Stonehill collaborated with many of the most vital and important voices in the Christian music scene. Here’s a brief run-down of the cast of characters and Randy’s own ruminations on what they mean to him.
Hailed as the grandfather of Christian rock, Larry Norman was certainly no stranger to controversy when he dared sing folk and rock songs about Jesus clad in old blue jeans and donning long blonde hair. His distinctive voice, unending mystique and overall personality helped to galvanize the often tribal Christian rock scene in the late sixties.
In addition to recording some of the most important records in the history of Christian music (Only Visiting This Planet, Upon This Rock, In Another Land), Norman also wrote songs that served as the anthems of the Jesus Movement. But one of his most significant contributions to Christian music was certainly the cultivation of a young fellow Jesus freak named Randy Stonehill. Larry Norman led me to the Lord in 1970. He was a mentor and a partner as well as being the most articulate spokesman for this new musical/spiritual hybrid.
Keith called me up in the middle of a busy afternoon in 1976. He said, ‘Randy, Todd Fishkind came over to do some co-writing, and he played me the most beautiful chorus melody I think I have ever heard.’…And Keith said, ‘Randy, you’ve got to come over right now, because I’m working on the verse melody, but God told me you’re the guy that’s going to write the lyrics. He’s going to do mighty things with it. It’s going to go all around the world. So I got in the car, I drove to the house, and as I pulled up into the driveway you could hear the music wafting out onto the front lawn. Which is interesting, because his music room is all the way at the back of the house. But he was wailing and flailing, and it was so intense that you could hear the music even if you were standing on the front lawn. So I walked up to the porch, and Melody [Green] opened the screen door, and she had this kind of sweet, bemused look on her face. She hugged me hello and she pointed down the hall, and she said, ‘He’s waaaiiittting.’
We loved him, but he was so unique and he could be like a bull in a china shop. He was like a hurricane you almost had to brace yourself for. “I said, ‘All right, what about this? (singing) ‘Like a foolish dreamer trying to build a highway to the sky,” his arms shot up in the air and he went, ‘Yeeess! Praise God! See? I knew you were the guy!’…I ended up writing most of the lyrics to that song that afternoon; he just trapped me in the music room for about three hours, I couldn’t even go to the bathroom. He’d just go, ‘No, no, no, come on, you’re on it, you’re on it. How’s the second verse go?’ And he’s throwing a line or two from time to time, but basically he was just staring at me with a yellow legal pad and a pen, and a big smile on his face.”
He had told me on the phone before I ever started working on the song, ‘Randy, God is going to do mighty things with this song, and it’s going to go all around the world.’ And after we wrote it and Phil Keaggy did the first recording of it, we watched in delight and in amazement as God did take it all around the world. It became a Top Ten hit in Australia, it opened ministry doors for me all the way down to the bottom of the world. It was recorded again and again down through the years over and over by various artists and it’s still being re-recorded to this day. I’m convinced that was not because Keith and I were so talented or cool, but I really do believe that God in his largesse allowed two young Christians to frame in music that pivotal moment in a person’s journey when the wind of the spirit comes blowing in and God’s love breaks through.”
Widely recognized as one of the greatest guitarists in the world, Phil Keaggy remains an active recording and performing artist. He first came on the scene in the late sixties with the mainstream rock group Glass Harp, a band who developed a significant following over the span of just a few years recording for Decca Records. Keaggy embraced Christ and enthusiastically joined up with the underground Christian music community. After launching his successful solo career in 1973, he subsequently lent his significant talents to Love Song, Keith Green, 2nd Chapter of Acts and others.
The title track of his 1976 album, Love Broke Through, was co-written by Randy Stonehill and Keith Green.” Keaggy’s talent has been recognized worldwide by writers, musicians and critics.
The Keaggy & Stonehill duet “Who Will Save The Children” was a huge Christian radio hit and raised awareness of a difficult subject matter at a time when Christian radio often avoided any controversy.
In the late eighties he released what many considered to be his best album, “Sunday’s Child”, which included band mates Russ Taff, Randy Stonehill, and others. Keaggy & Stonehill toured the US in 1989 with a full band dubbed the Keaggy-Stonehill Band. Phil Keaggy is such a great talent and a dear friend. We’ve been playing Beatles songs together in back-stage dressing rooms for thirty years. It would have been a real dis-service all the way around not to invite him to join me on “Thats The Way It Goes” and “We Were All So Young”.
As the voice delivering one of the most important protest folk songs of the 60s, there were few participants in the early Jesus Music scene as high profile as Barry McGuire. First establishing himself as a member of the extremely successful folk group The New Christy Minstrels, and then scoring a major hit with Eve Of Destruction, McGuire was a household name when he came to Jesus in the late sixties. Though he would write and record several influential records in the seventies, he also had a massive influence as an encourager and mentor to the up-and-coming Christian musicians. Barry McGuire is a hero of mine. Barry has taken time to encourage me at different points in my career.
I think its a testament to spiritual authenticity that he’d try to encourage a younger artist. Its a real blessing when you find that your role models are the ‘real deal offstage as well as on.
NOEL PAUL STOOKEY (of PETER, PAUL & MARY)
Noel Paul Stookey was one-third of the most successful folk group in the world, Peter, Paul and Mary. His song The Wedding Song; There Is Love remains one of the most frequently performed wedding songs in the world. Stookey accepted Christ in the early seventies and launched a solo career in which he explored his faith in music. He continues to tour and record with Peter, Paul and Mary, who have never lost the popularity they enjoyed in the 60s. Artists like Noel Paul Stookey inspire me as a songwriter. Noel Paul Stookey whas been a great encoragement to me.
ANNIE HERRING (of 2nd Chapter of Acts)
Annie Herring, along with her brother and sister formed the wildly successful, enormously influential band 2nd Chapter Of Acts in the early seventies. As teenagers they became one of the most popular groups in the emerging Christian music scene, and their popularity only grew through the 70s and the 80s. Annie Herring, as well as the other members of the band, branched off into solo work long before 2nd Chapter of Acts closed up shop. Annie Herring has the voice of an angel and heart after Gods own. I remember first hearing her at a bible study in Hollywood back in 1971. Ever since then Ive always thought that hers was one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary Christian music.
If you were a fan of Christian music in the early seventies, specially in southern California, there was no band bigger than Love Song. Though their success centered out of the thriving Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, CA, their impact was felt around the US and the world. Songs like Love Song, Little Country Church and Sometimes Alleluia became anthems for the Jesus Movement, landing the band right smack at the forefront of a musical and spiritual revolution.
Though lead singer Chuck Girard had tasted success with The Hondells years earlier, it did not compare to the scale of the Love Song phenomenon. Some theorize that there might not be a Christian music scene if not for Love Song and the vision, courage and talent of their members, Tommy Coomes, Chuck Girard, Jay Truax, Fred Field, and Bob Wall. (Incidentally, the Love Song legacy continues to this day. Chuck Girards daughter Alisa is a member of the hugely popular Christian pop group Zoe Girl.) I can remember opening concerts for Love Song at Calvary Chapel when it was just a big circus tent in an open field. Their great vocal harmonies were captivating. I truly feel honored that they would all assemble to perform on my song. (In return I will be going to each of their homes to do the yard work!)
Phil Madeira is certainly one of the most influential Christian musicians no one outside the business has ever heard of. His history in Christian music can be traced all the way back to the earliest days of the Jesus Movement when he played in various bands and backed up artists like Larry Norman. He was a featured member of Phil Keaggy’s band on the Emerging record and has remained a constant contributor to various projects ever since.
A true multi-instrumentalist, Madeira began as a drummer and then became one of the most sought after Hammond B3 Organ players in Nashville, lending his incredible sound to albums by Amy Grant, Emmylou Harris, Rich Mullins and many more. Having recently mastered a slew of various stringed instruments, including lap and pedal-steel guitars, sitar, dobro, mandolin and anything else that one might find on a country record, Madeira has been enlisted as a sideman for many groups. He is also emerging as a successful producer and has a long list of hit songs as a writer.
Phil Madeira has worked on several of my records over the years. He’s such a versatile and creative musician that his contribution to ‘sweetening the tracks is all but indispensable. His instinct for picking the right instrument and approach for each song just knocks me out. – RS work!)
By remaining firmly ensconced on the bleeding edge of Christian rock’s stylistic continuum, Michael Roe has had an enduring and indelible influence on hundreds of artists and thousands of fans. First as the front man, vocalist and guitar slinger for the alternative Christian group The 77s, and more recently as a solo artist and a member of The Lost Dogs with Terry Scott Taylor (Daniel Amos,) Derri Daugherty (The Choir,) and the late Gene Eugene Andrusco, Roe often serves as the rock and roll conscience of the Christian music underground.
As active as he has ever been, with all of his major artistic avenues still producing new material, Roe continues to influence new and old fans alike. Mike Roe is such a primal natural talent that I knew he would fit right in on the Edge Of The World project. As it turns out he lives five minutes from the studio so we had fun hanging out and experimenting with the songs.
First as the massive voice behind many of The Imperials biggest Christian hits in the late seventies and early eighties, and then as a power-house solo artist on his own, Russ Taff’s soulful voice and artist’s heart had a resounding impact on Christian music. Many of Christian musics most lasting songs, like O Buddha, Water Grave, Trumpet Of Jesus, and Medals feature Taffs unique style.
Russ Taff came onto the scene a bit later than some of the ‘old garde artists but he certainly helped to popularize Christian music and broaden the audience. He has a great heart and a voice as big as a house. Hell step up to the microphone to do a vocal and when hes done you’ll need new plaster for the studio walls!
Singer-songwriter Sara Groves has had an enormous impact on the Christian music scene. With a strong sense of purpose, a unique and compelling voice and an unswerving commitment to make art that matters, Groves stands out in the modern Christian pop scene as an artist with more than a few similarities to her musical and spiritual forbearers of the Jesus Movement.
Sara Groves involvement on the Edge Of The World project is one of those unexpected rewards that come from having been in music ministry for thirty-one years. I heard her music for the first time during a GMA Week in Nashville.
I was really moved by the depth of her songwriting and the expressiveness of her voice. When I contacted her with the invitation to do some singing I learned, to my surprise, that she had been listening to my music for years and it had been somewhat influential on her own music. When I hear artists of her caliber it rekindles my hopes for the future of Christian music.
BOB KILPATRICK (Co-Producer)
As the writer of the simple, yet classic praise song Lord Be Glorified, Bob Kilpatrick has already contributed significantly to the Christian music family. As the founder of Fair Oaks Records, however, he is poised to contribute even more. As one of very few labels geared towards releasing quality music for discerning listeners, Fair Oaks is already filling a niche that needed filling.
In addition to his role as president of Fair Oaks, and his work producing and nurturing artists, Kilpatrick is adjunct professor of the New Music & Ministry program at Bethany College in Sacramento. Bob Kilpatrick and I started casually sharing song ideas in the pre-production phase of the Edge Of The World project and discovered that our artistic chemistry was a real match both as writers and producers.