Greetings from California
- Thursday, June 24, 2004
East West drummer Bob Vergura explains, “We got hooked up with TV shows like ‘Blue Torch’ on Fox Sports and on USA Network’s ‘FARMCLUB’ because we lived in SoCal. You have access to industry people who you would not have living elsewhere.”
The Start of a Scene
As home to the “Jesus People Movement,” California is often called the birthplace of Christian rock. Looking back to the late ’60s, the movement started in a small evangelical mission in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district and proceeded to spread throughout the country. The movement significantly reached out to disenfranchised hippies who, once involved, simply added a gospel message to the rock music they were already playing. Dubbed “Jesus people music,” the early California scene included Love Song, Phil Keaggy, Randy Stonehill, the Eternal Rush, Jeremy Spencer & the Children of God and, of course, Larry Norman, whose ’69 Capitol Records disc, "Upon this Rock," is considered the quintessential breakthrough classic. As evidence of the music’s popularity, there was even a "Jesus People Live at the Hollywood Palladium" album by ’72. Later West Coast acts included the immensely popular Sweet Comfort Band and alt-rock pioneers Daniel Amos.
“Being progressives from the ‘land of fruits and nuts,’ we just didn’t and don’t know any better,” says Daniel Amos singer/principal songwriter Terry Taylor about the state’s forward-thinking bent. “Cultural changes in fashion, music, art, politics, etc., for good or ill, usually explode here and in New York first and then leak out like water through a slow sieve to the rest of the country. Since California has always been on the cutting edge of cultural changes and social upheaval, it makes perfect sense that its Christian artists, emboldened by their own indigenously creative climate, would mirror their secular counterparts.”
Thanks to progressives like Taylor, the scene continued to grow and reached a “golden age” of sorts in the ’80s. During this time, Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa featured huge, free Saturday night concerts; popular bookstores like Joybells and Maranatha Village hosted record release events; and many of the major Christian labels were still in California and featured significant West Coast talent. Likewise, the Orange County television network TBN launched the first-ever Christian rock video show, “Real Videos”; and SoCal had quality Christian radio, KYMS 106.3 FM, playing rock and alternative on weekend programs.
With so many opportunities, countless new bands emerged, offering a variety of progressive styles. Such artists include Undercover, Uthanda, the Lifters, 411, The Choir, Common Bond, Vector, Adam Again, Point Blank, Crystal Lewis, The Crucified and a host of metal bands like Neon Cross, Barren Cross, Red Sea, Tourniquet, Jordan and Holy Soldier. As bands multiplied, a host of progressive labels followed suit, such as Glasshouse, Vineyard, Pakaderm, Metro One, New Breed, Narrowpath, Ocean, Broken/Brainstorm and later Rescue, Patriot/Rugged and the once-indie Essential Records.
Regarding the West Coast’s progressive edge, Crystal Lewis recalls, “The California scene has always been a catalyst for the new — and not just Christian music. Orange County spawned several bands that went on to be huge successes, like No Doubt, Sugar Ray and Social Distortion, to name only a few. I think once up-and-coming artists see something happening to others in their same field and in their own backyard, they gain inspiration and encouragement. That keeps the scene evolving and growing.”
Before beginning Metro One Records with her husband, Lewis was signed to Frontline Records, arguably the most prolific modern music label of the time. The Santa Ana-based company helped propel several new genres into the Christian marketplace with such SoCal artists as speed-metallers Deliverance, industrial rockers Mortal and reggae-infused Christafari. Bay Area artist Jon Gibson even introduced MC Hammer to the world with his ’88 album "Change of Heart." Other California-based Frontline artists included the Lifesavers, the Altar Boys, Bloodgood, Shout, Vengeance and later Mad at the World and the Scattered Few. Frontline also played a role in developing early Christian hip-hop by releasing such Texas-based rappers as P.I.D. (Preachers In Disguise) and the late D-Boy.
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