David de Sabatino
History of the Jesus Movement
For more information on the Jesus Movement, order “The Jesus People Movement: An Annotated Bibliography and General Resource” – now available.
By most accounts, the Jesus People Movement began in 1967 with the opening of a small storefront evangelical mission called the Living Room in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury district. Though other missionary type organizations had preceded them in the area, this was the first one run solely by street Christians.
Within a short time of these first stirrings a number of independent Christian communities sprang up all across North America. In Seattle, the Jesus People Army was born in response to a vision experienced by evangelist Linda Meissner, who had seen an “army of teenagers marching for Jesus.” On the Sunset Strip, evangelist Arthur Blessitt opened the His Place nightclub and coffeehouse as a 24 hour way station for youth. At the University of California at Berkeley, Dr. Jack Sparks and some other members of Campus Crusade decided to begin a countercultural outreach program called the Christian Liberation World Front (CWLF) directed towards reaching campus radicals.
The ensuing groundswell of activity spawned a number of other developments as well. Realizing the need to open their churches to the hippie generation, many conservative pastors recruited hippie liaisons to their ministerial staff. Both Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel (in Santa Ana, California) with the recruitment of Lonnie Frisbee, and Lyle Steenis of Bethel Tabernacle (in Redondo Beach) with the recruitment of Breck Stevens found their churches radically transformed in the wake of their decisions.
In order to proclaim the message of the gospel, hippie Christians simply adopted existing forms of communication. Mirroring the development of underground newspapers such as the Berkeley Barb, in 1969 evangelist Duane Pederson began publishing the Hollywood Free Paper as an evangelistic tool. Jesus papers with names like Right On!, The Fish, Street Level, and Cornerstone became a fundamental component of each street Christian community.
Another development was Jesus Music, the controversial combination of rock music and the gospel as one of the most effective (and subsequently lasting) institutions of the revival. Artists and groups such as Ron Moore, Love Song, John Fischer, Larry Norman, Randy Matthews, Agape, and the All Saved Freak Band are just a few of the performers that felt the need to communicate spiritual truths through a popular medium. Christian coffeehouses and Jesus rock festivals emerged as the music gained momentum as a popular alternative to the mainstream industry. Contemporary Christian radio shows sprang up as did magazines devoted solely to monitoring the fledgling Jesus Music scene. While many conservative church-goers lamented that Jesus Music was a spiritual compromise, these pioneers maintained that they were combating the negative influence of mainstream rock music. In an attempt to develop an apologetic for their evangelistic efforts they echoed the sentiments of reformer Martin Luther when he asked “why should the devil have all the best tunes.”
Adding to the excitement of the era was the sense that the revival was a foreshadowing of the impending apocalypse. Hal Lindsey’s runaway best seller The Late Great Planet Earth hit upon a deep seated nerve in the public with his combination of biblical prophecy and news events. Lindsey based much of his writing on the premise that the re-establishment of Israel as a nation was a prominent signal that the “countdown to Armageddon” had begun. Coupled with this end times theology was a premillennial doctrine concerning the “rapture of the saints” which taught that prior to the rise of the Antichrist and final war believers would be “raptured” (or ‘caught up’) to escape a time of tribulation perceived as being foretold in the Book of Revelation. Jesus musician Larry Norman’s haunting song “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” touched on this theme:
Two men walking up a hill
and one’s left standing still
I wish we’d all been ready
The revival also spawned a number of extremist groups such as the Children of God, The Alamo Foundation, and the Way International. Although at first accepted and welcomed as more militant and committed street Christian groups, as apologetic ministries such as the CWLF’s Spiritual Counterfeits Project rose to expose doctrinal deviations, these groups were branded as heretical.
Though the revival had progressed for four years, the mainstream media did not really focus on the story until 1971. Though Christianity Today and Christian Life had followed the story from its beginnings in the Haight Ashbury, it wasn’t until 1970 when articles about ‘street Christians’ and ‘Jesus freaks’ appeared in Time and Commonweal. The major breakthrough came in February 1971 when Look magazine printed a story that anyone had described it as anything more than a local California event. This article spawned a virtual cottage industry of press articles, denominational ruminations, television exposes, and films all detailing various facets of what was now being called a “movement.” Ocean baptismal services, exuberant prayer meetings, long-haired evangelists, and Jesus rock musicians were portrayed throughout national magazines like Time, Newsweek, Life, Rolling Stone, and U.S. News & World Report. In 1971 the Jesus People were the religious event of the year while ranking third in Time’s story of the year poll. Alongside the emergence of Black Panthers, hippies, Yippies, Diggers, student activists, Weathermen, and women’s liberationists, the ‘Jesus freak’ was certainly the most curious social phenomena of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.
Although the media’s interest in the movement waned by the end of 1971, there was much evidence that the revival was still going strong. The Jesus People USA, an offshoot ministry of the original Seattle Jesus People Army, would soon find a home in Chicago ministering to street youth. In 1972 Campus Crusade organized Explo ’72 in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas where many of the movement’s top performers were invited to sing. In 1973 former Calvary Chapel pastor Kenn Gulliksen was just starting a string of Bible studies that would culminate in the Vineyard churches.
With Watergate and President Nixon’s promises to end the war in Vietnam dominating the front pages, the counterculture receded thus removing the mission field that the revival had targeted. Where previous efforts of evangelism had been as simple as playing a guitar on a street corner for a group of spiritually interested hippies, the cynicism born of societal fears towards “cults” and their “brainwashing” techniques made evangelism a less fruitful endeavor than it once had been. As the counterculture came to an end, Jesus People groups either disbanded, institutionalized as churches, or stubbornly clung to their countercultural roots. Though the Jesus People Movement had effectively ended by the mid-1970s, there were still a host of churches, parachurch organizations, apologetics ministries, converts, Jesus musicians, independent evangelists, and missionary workers that had been funneled into Protestant and Catholic denominations of all theological skews.
Though the Jesus People Movement remains relatively neglected by mainstream and religious historians, its influence throughout the church was influential. It is our hope that through your participation on this page that we can offer insightful analysis of this period with the knowledge that historical reflection is an important part of our Christian heritage.
David Di Sabatino
PEOPLE & FACES OF THE JESUS MOVEMENT
Arthur Blessitt and His Place – The minister of the Sunset Strip and founder of the His Place nightclub, the psychedelic evangelist came to prominence in the late 1960s after preaching at a local strip club. Blessitt was responsible for Christianizing some of the counterculture’s sayings, including “turn on to Jesus,” and comparing salvation to an “eternal rush.” The local businessmen were successful in getting His place shut down in the summer of 1969 but Arthur chained himself the 12 foot cross in front of the building and fasted for 28 days,— until they got another building just down the Strip that was kept open for two more years. It was open even as Arthur carried the cross across America and felt called of God to go overseas in the summer of 1971. He has continued to do so until the present. Visit Arthur’s website – www.blessitt.com
Lonnie Frisbee – After a short stint with the original street Christian community in San Francisco, Lonnie was recruited by Chuck Smith, then pastor of a fledgling congregation in Costa Mesa, California, to be one of his evangelical liaisons to the counterculture. Frisbee was successful in drawing many to come to Calvary Chapel. During his tenure (1968-1971) as unofficial youth pastor, the church grew from 200 to several thousand members. He was also involved in the Shepherding movement before coming into contact with John Wimber in 1980 where he was integral to the development of the “signs and wonders” theology. In 1993 Frisbee passed away resulting from AIDS. At his funeral he was best eulogized as a Samson figure.
Larry Norman – One of the most popular Jesus music performers, his 1969 release Upon This Rock contributed some of the most lasting anthems of the Jesus People Movement. Songs like “I Wish We’d All Been Ready,” with its theme of expectation for the second coming, and “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music,” with its apologetic for using rock music as a tool of evangelism, did much to bolster Norman as the premier Jesus rock performer of the revival. His trilogy of albums (Only Visiting This Planet, So Long Ago the Garden, and In Another Land, were extremely influential. Though controversy has continued to follow him, Norman has continued to tour and perform his songs throughout the world.
Jack Sparks and the Christian World Liberation Front – One of three founding fathers of the Christian World Liberation Front (CWLF) on the Berkeley campus of the University of California in 1969. A former statistics professor and Campus Crusade worker, Sparks felt the need to begin a campus outreach to left-wing student activists. In 1975 he and a number of other Campus Crusade members made the move into the Eastern Orthodox church. Most recently he has worked on the Orthodox Study Bible while continuing to teach at St. Athanasius Academy.
Linda Meissner and the Jesus People Army – Former staff worker with David Wilkerson’s Teen Challenge program, Meissner founded the Jesus People Army (JPA) in Seattle in response to having vision of “thousands of youths marching for Jesus.” After opening a number of outreaches in other areas in the Pacific Northwest basin, the JPA dissolved when she threw her support to the Children of God who took her with them to England. Disillusioned with her decision, she left the group and settled in Denmark.
Jim Palosaari and the Milwaukee Jesus People – Saved at a tent revival meeting in 1969, Palosaari and his wife Sue joined Linda Meissner’s Seattle outreach before venturing off to begin a similar outreach in the Midwest in 1971. After growing to approximately 200 members, the Milwaukee Jesus People split into four groups with Palosaari’s crew (The Jesus Family) settling in England. While there, the group staged the Lonesome Stone rock musical and founded the annual Greenbelt Music Festival. Returning to the United States, Palosaari established another community in Oregon called the Highway Missionary Society from which the rock group Servant originated. After HMS disbanded, Palosaari continued to work in the CCM business.
David Berg & The Children of God – After taking over responsibility of a Huntington Beach coffeehouse ministry, formerly operated by David Wilkerson’s Teen Challenge Organization, evangelist David Berg and his musically-inclined family by 1968 had recruited a modest number of hippie followers. Berg’s message centered on compelling listeners to make a radical break with society (the “systemites”) by making an “one-hundred percent commitment” to his “Teens for Christ” ministry. Recruits were assured that by this action they would be joining the one true remnant of Christian faith in the last days before the return of Christ.
But because they encouraged teenagers to make such a radical break with society, the group came under the scrutiny of local law enforcement who responded to a number of irate parents wondering where their children were. Charges of “brainwashing” and “kidnapping” ensued. Berg and his group were subsequently chased from their California location and on to the road. Despite these initial rumblings, however, in early 1971 the newly dubbed “Children of God” were still considered orthodox by most, although they were branded as the most radical (and perhaps eccentric) arm of the larger Jesus Movement. The favorable attitude changed soon after, as the charges from parents intensified and some of Berg’s internal writings laced with profanities escaped to the public. After stops in Arizona, Quebec (Canada), and a one in the Pacific Northwest where they took over the main operations of the Jesus People Army, Berg and the Children of God (COG) fled to Europe leaving behind a number of lawsuits and scandals.
As Berg became more reclusive, his doctrinal interpretations became more novel. In 1973 it was revealed that Berg had prophesied that female members of the COG were to recruit new members by offering their sexual services. In a writing entitled “Flirty Fishy,” Berg asked the female members of the COG, “How far would you go to catch men? All the way?” Word of Berg’s deviation from traditional views of Christian sexuality spread like wildfire. An entire cottage industry of apologetics books warned about the COG and their aberrancy despite the fact that their numbers remained under 10,000.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s “The Family of Love” (as they renamed themselves) continued to evangelize with the belief that that the Second Coming of Christ would occur in 1993 as Berg had prophesied. Controversy still surrounds the group as many ex-members have brought forth accusations of sexual abuse and child molestation. Family spokespeople deny the charges. David Berg passed away in 1994 and his legacy is still promoted by his followers (http://www.thefamily.org).
Scott Ross and Love Inn – Seeing the powerful but destructive force rock music could generate from his vantage as a former celebrity disc-jockey, Scott Ross desired to impact teenagers by combining the attractive elements of rock music with positive spiritual messages. In 1968 Ross approached CBN owner Pat Robertson with his vision from which the first Christian rock radio program, Tell It Like It Is, was born. In 1969 Ross opened a community called Love Inn in Freeville, New York where they established a Jesus paper (Free Love) and a record label (New Song) around the talents of guitarist Phil Keaggy. By 1979 Ross left the community to become more involved in the Discipleship movement. By the mid-1980s he returned to CBN where he continues to work.
Chuck Smith and Calvary Chapel – Frustrated by church growth contests and recruitment techniques, in 1965 Smith took over as pastor of a tiny congregation in Costa Mesa, California. While watching hippies gather at Huntington Beach he and his wife were moved to find some way to reach these lost youth with the gospel. In 1968 Smith recruited Lonnie Frisbee and John Higgins to start a drug rehabilitation and commune called The House of Miracles. Smith’s openness to the hippie culture sparked thousands of hippies to come to the church where he functioned as their father figure. Heavily influenced by premillennial interpretation of the Bible, Smith has become one of the leading figures of prophecy books and end-times publications selling thousands of copies of his various texts. Under his leadership, Calvary Chapel has spawned hundreds of similar churches and is cited as one of this half century’s church growth phenomenons.
Ted Wise and the House of Acts community – Converted in 1966 Wise is remembered as the first street Christian converts of the ensuing Jesus People Movement. In 1967 he and his wife Liz (and three other couples) opened The Living Room mission in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. Although in operation for only 18 months, the staffers suggested they talked with several thousand people. Wise and his group also came to live in community, taking the Acts’ account of the early Christians as a literal guide. The resultant House of Acts community, the first Jesus commune of the movement, stood as a model for other similar communities that sprung up all across the continent. After this, Wise was recruited by Ray Stedman of Peninsula Bible Church (PBC) to work with drug addicts and open rehabilitation clinics. He remains affiliated to PBC to the present. (Read a recent interview with Ted)
Jim Durkin and Lighthouse Ranch – In the summer of 1970 while Jim Durkin was experiencing dissatisfaction with his ministry, he was approached by several Jesus People looking to begin an evangelistic ministry to the hippies. Though initially hesitant, Durkin allowed the young group access to one of his apartment complexes helping them establish a coffeehouse outreach program. As the ministry blossomed they looked to him for leadership. He acquired an abandoned coast guard station eleven miles outside of Eureka, California allowing the young Christians to use this as their new home.
Gospel Outreach Lighthouse Ranch, Table Bluff Road in Loleta, CA
They dubbed it the Lighthouse Ranch. By 1972 the group had grown to between 250 – 300 active members. Under Durkin’s oversight the group began to send out church planting teams all over the world eventually calling their growing organization Gospel Outreach. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Gospel Outreach (GO) continued to send out missionary teams including successful campaigns in Mendocino (California), Germany, Nicaragua, and Hawaii. With 100 affiliated churches worldwide the Gospel Outreach network is one of three denominational legacies of the Jesus People Movement.
Victor Paul Wierwille – A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and ordained in the United Church of Christ. Believing that much of the Christian was in error, in 1955 Wierwille founded The Way to educate young men and women in the “correct way of biblical education.” In 1968 Wierwille contacted and recruited two members of the first street Christian community in the Haight Ashbury, asking them to head up Way International training centers in California and New York. The Way International raised the ire of other Christian groups, labelled a “cult” because of their antitrinitarian views. One of the largest of all the extremist groups of the Jesus People movement, by the mid-1970s the organization boasted over 20,000 active members. Wierwille died in 1986 leaving The Way International in a state of disarray having to deal with financial mismanagement, accusations that he had plagiarized some of his writings, and sexual immorality.
Greg Laurie – In 1970 Greg Laurie was profoundly influenced by an encounter with hippie evangelist Lonnie Frisbee who was preaching on the lawn of Laurie’s Newport Harbor High School. After this experience, Laurie was invited back to Calvary Chapel where in 1972 he was offered oversight over a congregation that had been nurtured by Frisbee at All Saints Episcopal Church in Riverside, California. Under Laurie’s leadership the Harvest Christian Fellowship has blossomed into one of the flagships of the Calvary Chapel denomination. In 1990 Smith took his protege and began billing Laurie as the featured speaker for what has become the annual Harvest Crusade meetings. He is noted by some as being the “evangelist of the MTV generation.”
Pat Boone & Duane Pederson
Duane Pederson and the Hollywood Free Paper – Originally a ventriloquist from Minnesota, Pederson moved to California and founded what became the most widely distributed underground Jesus newspaper of the movement called the Hollywood Free Paper. Used as a tool of evangelistic communication the paper’s editors boasted that their largest circulated copy had a printing of 500,000 copies. Pederson wrote a number of books in the early 1970s while serving as pastor of a California congregation. In the mid-1980s he tried unsuccessfully to resurrect the Hollywood Free Paper and eventually followed former Jesus People associate Jack Sparks into the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Hal Lindsey – In 1970 Lindsey left Campus Crusade to begin the Jesus Christ Light and Power Company, a youth oriented ministry on the Los Angeles campus of the University of California (UCLA). Previous to this he had begun to compile a number of eschatologically based sermons publishing them under the title The Late Great Planet Earth later that year. The book became an overnight best seller hitting on a raw nerve of excitement concerning the close proximation of the second coming of Christ. With one eye on the Bible and one towards the daily news, Lindsey’s book enchanted Christians into a wave of expectational end-times frenzy. Launched by the success of his first book, Lindsey was commissioned to begin writing others. In 1972 he published Satan Is Alive and Well on Planet Earth, a book based on the theme of worldwide satanic conspiracies. Lindsey has continued to be one of the leading experts of Biblical prophecy traveling throughout the world and continuing to be a popular conference speaker.
Bethel Tabernacle – One of the obscure hippie churches to gain notoriety during the intense media frenzy in 1971. Drawn into the movement when Pastor Lyle Steenis recruited ex-drug addict Breck Stevens to be the church’s evangelistic liaison to the counterculture. Although the church claimed that over 100,000 people passed through their doors, the congregation never grew to more than several hundred. After Steenis died in a plane crash in 1972, Stevens took over control of the church despite the protestations of Steenis’ widow who may have realized that the young man lacked the necessary maturity. Though he led the church for another 14 years, Stevens committed suicide in 1986.
Toronto Catacombs – In 1968 Gord Morris and Don Rossiter desired to begin a Christian club on the campus of their Toronto high school. After approaching their music teacher who was also a Christian, they formed the Catacomb Club. By 1971 they had grown into a group of 850 and began meeting in St. Paul’s Anglican Church where they held a Thursday night ‘Praise and Worship Celebration’ that at its peak attracted 2,500 enthusiastic teenagers. The core group eventually spawned a church that lasted into the late 1980s.
Explo ’72 – Billed as the “Spiritual Woodstock” or “Godstock,” the Campus Crusade sponsored event featured a number of evangelical leaders and Jesus Music performers in a week long campaign (May 12-17). Featured artists were Love Song, Larry Norman, Randy Matthews, Children of the Day, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson. The week was closed with a sermon by Billy Graham who had recently penned a book affirming his allegiance with “The Jesus Generation.”
John Higgins and the Shiloh Youth Revival Centers Organization – Saved in 1966 after reading the Bible in an effort to disprove it, the former New Yorker started attending the fledgling Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa. Along with Lonnie and Connie Frisbee, John and his wife Jackie were asked to be the elders of the very first House of Miracles communal home in 1968. Under Higgins’ leadership a number of other communities opened throughout the southwestern United States all subsequently dubbed The House of Miracles. While scouting some property up in Oregon, Higgins received a vision to move their various ministries north. Naming this first Oregon communal location ‘Shiloh’ after an Old Testament prophetic passage, the Shiloh Youth Revival Centers Organization (SYRCO) began planting other communal houses throughout the Pacific Northwest. It is estimated that from 1968 to 1978 the SYRCO established 178 locations although no more than 50 houses were in operation at one time. After charges of financial mismanagement and authoritarianism were brought up against Higgins in 1978, he was asked to leave the ministry. The SYRCO battled to stay afloat for the next several years but finally sold their remaining properties and closed operations in 1988. John Higgins moved to Arizona and is presently the pastor of a Calvary Chapel affiliate.
Kent Philpott – As a young pastor and student at Golden Gate Baptist Seminary in 1967, Philpott felt compelled to begin evangelizing in the Haight Ashbury after hearing Scott McKenzie’s song “San Francisco.” Along with his wife he opened a number of communal houses and was a member of a Baptist organization called Evangelical Concerns which funded some of the street Christian activities in the area. Philpott is presently a pastor in the San Francisco Bay area.
David Hoyt – A member of the Krishna temple when first approached by evangelist Kent Philpott in the Haight Ashbury, Hoyt had a powerful conversion experience and worked towards opening numerous Christian communes. In 1970 he moved to Atlanta and opened Upper Streams and the House of Judah before being the first Jesus People leader to align with the Children of God. Hoyt left the COG after their exodus to Europe. While in England he teamed up with former Milwaukee Jesus People leader Jim Palosaari and his crew. Hoyt is currently writing a book about his experiences.
Don Williams and the Salt Company Coffeehouse – Having just obtained his doctorate from Columbia University, Williams became the youth pastor of Hollywood First Presbyterian Church. Feeling a “Call to the Streets” (the title of a book he wrote on his experiences in the JPM), he began a coffeehouse ministry called the Salt Company where many notable Jesus Musicians played. The church also sponsored a Jesus paper and a couple of communal homes for new converts. Wrote a book on his experiences called “Call to the Streets.” After the JPM he taught at Claremont MacKenna College before becoming involved in the Vineyard movement.
Connie Frisbee – While living at a number of hippie communities, Connie became acquainted with and eventually married Lonnie Frisbee. In 1968 they became the fifth couple to live at the House of Acts community in Novato, California where she helped out with the daily routines of making soup and preparing the storefront mission for the regular stream of guests. Though the two were divorced in 1973, Connie remarried and is presently living in Auburn where she shares her experiences with troubled youth.
Sandi Heefner, Judy Doop, Liz Wise, and Sandy Sands – The wives of the four men who organized and ran The Living Room storefront mission in the Haight Ashbury and The House of Acts (the first countercultural Christian community of the revival). Although Ted Wise usually gets credit for being the first convert of the Jesus People Movement, it was Liz’s going back to church which really began the desire to search the Bible. Like many unsung participants of the Jesus People Movement, these four women deserve credit for doing the behind the scenes work at The Living Room and House of Acts.
Kathryn Kuhlman – A charismatic healing evangelist who briefly embraced the Jesus People as they became front page news. Kuhlman befriended a number of converted hippies from Calvary Chapel and was convinced to do a number of her “I Believe in Miracles” television shows with them as the main guests.
Edward E. Plowman – As editor of Christianity Today, Plowman was one of the first to report on the emerging ‘street Christians,’ and follow through with many subsequent stories and editorials on the Jesus People as they progressed into a movement.
Glenn Kaiser – Was a young hippie blues guitarist in Milwaukee when he made contact and subsequently joined a community of Jesus People while they were holding revival meetings in the early 1970s. Was the focal musician in one of the community’s two rock bands (named Charity) which eventually was renamed Resurrection Band. After two custom cassette projects the band released their first album entitled Awaiting Your Reply in 1978. Beyond his duties as lead guitarist, songwriter, and vocalist for the band, Kaiser has been an uncompromising voice within the CCM industry and larger evangelical movement. Still serves as a pastor to the Jesus People USA community in downtown Chicago, Illinois where the Jesus People Movement continues.
Martin Meyer ‘Moishe’ Rosen – While in California as the leader of a missionary organization to Jewish people, Rosen befriended a number of Jewish hippie converts in the late 1960s. He subsequently founded the Jews for Jesus organization which gained a lot of media attention in the early 1970s for their confrontational style of evangelism.
David Rose – Young charismatic hippie who converted and was later influenced by Jack Sparks of the Christian World Liberation Front. Compelled by a vision to open a mission to teenagers in the midwest, he returned to Kansas and opened the House of Agape. By the early 1970s their efforts had spawned a well attended church out of which came the music of Paul Clark and The Hallelujah Joy Band. After joining a mission team to the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Rose ventured to Israel where he functioned as the church’s overseas missionary for a number of years. Rose presently runs a successful Hollywood video production company.
Mario Murillo – Pastor who directed Resurrection City, a Pentecostal styled ministry and outreach geared towards presenting the gospel to radical activist leaders at the University of California at Berkeley campus. His ministry continues today and he also has a popular bible study on Christian TV.
Top 50 Collectible Jesus Music Albums of All Time
It could be argued that the synthesis of popular music and the gospel stems back as far as the Great Reformer, Martin Luther who queried as to ‘why the devil should be allowed to have all the good tunes?’ The genesis of blues, soul and black gospel styles all have their roots in the music of early black work songs which were by nature overtly spiritual. Though the rock’n’roll music of this generation has degenerated taking on the perverse themes of nihilism, permissiveness, and violence, there is evidence to support the claim that rock music was given its formative impulses from rudimentary spirituality. Thus, when you hear Larry Norman lament that ‘rock’n’roll music originated in the church’ you can rest assure that he is correct.
In the late ’60s when rock music became the voice of the burgeoning youth populace the rock media tended to focus on the shocking stories of those pushing the envelope of experience. Although many were offering positive messages, the deaths of Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Keith Moon and others were much more news-worthy. Though the music of the late ’60s is more remembered for its anti-establishmentary themes, there were a gamut of musicians who spoke of salvation through another means.
The Jesus People Movement among the counterculture hippies was the background from which most of the following albums emerged. Though the production is at times not up to present standards, the spirit behind the music indicates a freshness and verve that capture the essence of experiential Christianity.
The following is an admittedly subjective list of Jesus Music albums. This list concentrates on roughly a 15 year period (1965 – 1980), so there are some collectible CCM lps that obviously won’t be included. Albums were picked for both their quality and their market value. Thus, if your favorite album doesn’t appear, please remember this reflects my personal tastes more than anything else. It is my hope that you will find some (or all. . . good luck) of these gems in your searching. They represent a formative time that many CCM fans know little or nothing about. I hope you are enriched by this music as I have been over the years. Maranatha! – David Di Sabatino
Agape – Victims of Tradition (Renrut, 1972)
I am admittedly biased on placing this one first (seeing as we are responsible for reissuing both of Agape’s albums on CD), but it definitely deserves to be here. This is the 2nd of Agape’s lps and is a more progressive lp than the first adding jazz keyboardist Jim Hess to the already tight musical lineup. Fred Caban on lead guitar and vocals, Mike Jungman on drums and Jim Peckhart on bass make up the rest of the band.
Wilson McKinley – Spirit of Elijah (Voice of Elijah, 1973)
The members of Wilson McKinley were saved as the result of the ministry of Carl Parks, one of the leaders of the Jesus People Army in Seattle. The Jesus People Army was the vision of Linda Meissner, a former staff worker of David Wilkerson’s Teen Challenge ministry, who saw ‘an army of young people marching for Jesus.’ While on crusade through the Pacific Northwest, the members of the band wandered into a park to heckle Carl Parks’ preaching. They ended up becoming Christians and becoming the JPA band. Though the quality is admittedly sub-par, the band has elements of the west-coast guitar scene.
Randy Stonehill – Get Me Out of Hollywood (Phonogram, 1973)
In this list because of its absolute scarcity. In 1973, or thereabouts, Randy left California to search out a recording contract in England. He recorded this over there and scrapped it just before release. The story is that most of the copies were destroyed, but a few survived and are floating around out there. Album includes the song ‘Vegetables’ which ended up being included in the Lonesome Stone Musical performed by The Sheep over in England as a part of Jim Palosaari’s wandering Jesus People group. Good luck finding copies of this album.
All Saved Freak Band – Brainwashed (Rock the World, 1975)
Interesting story. This was a communal group of Jesus freaks from Ohio who revolved around the leadership of Larry Hill and included former lead guitarist for Pacific Gas & Electric, Glenn Schwarz. The group became intensely prophetic and apocalyptic, believing that their group was the sole remnant of Christianity. The band had 3 other albums, one of which also appears on this list.
Out of Darkness – same (Key, 1970)
English band sounding very much like Jimi Hendrix. A live CD of their music was just reissued by Plankton Records in England called the Celebration Sessions.
Azitis – Help (Elco, 1971)
The rumor is that this band won a music contest to record an album, but could only do so if they changed their lyrics to Christian themes. A really startling story because the content is very strong and seems to be penned by someone who is on the ball. Other than that, it is an excellent psychedelic album.
Water Into Wine Band – Harvest Time
Don’t know a heck of a whole lot about this band or this album except that it is English folk rock and was sold solely at the first Greenbelt festival in 1972. It now sells for over $750. By virtue of its price alone it merits inclusion in this list. Yikes!
Larry Norman – Street Level (One Way, 1971)
One of the three albums he and Stonehill recorded with the money given to One Way by Pat Boone. There are two different versions of this lp (and numerous different label and numerical permutations). The more rare version is the ‘Gold Label Underground Edition’ which has songs from the musical ‘Lion’s Breath.’ The more common version includes one side of a live concert recorded at Hollywood’s First Presbyterian Church which ran a nightclub called the Salt Company. Larry got into some trouble with the hierarchy of the church after singing the song ‘Right Here in America.’
Harvest Flight – One Way (Destiny, 1971)
Led by Evan Williams, who later went on to be in Phoenix Sonshine. Album includes excellent rendition of then popular ‘One in the Spirit’ (“. . .and they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”).
The Exkursions – same (custom, 1971)
Chicago based psychedelic blues band with heavy fuzz guitar sound. Led by Mike Johnson who later went on to record solo projects and even earn songwriter of the year award. Band broke up because the other two members wavered in their faith. Since a number of sealed copies were unearthed last year, the value has gone down.
Earthen Vessel – Hard Rock / Everlasting Life (NRS, 1970)
Hard rock garage band with heavy fuzz guitar and female lead vocals.
Wilson McKinley – Heaven’s Gonna Be A Blast (Voice of Elijah, 1973)
Their first real studio album after two earlier releases that were rather low budget. The group became Christians almost en masse when Linda Meissner’s Jesus People Army troupe set up an evangelistic rally in High Bridge Park in Spokane. The group became the musical arm of evangelist Carl Parks’ Voice of Elijah community.
Last Call of Shiloh – same (Last Call, 1969)
Affiliated with the Jesus People Army group out of Idaho. This release is among the earliest Jesus rock albums.
Randy Stonehill – Born Twice (One Way, 1971)
Released along with Larry Norman’s Street Level and the Son Worshipers soundtrack on a very low budget. Three versions exist of this album. The most common one includes the song ‘Christmastime’ which is a cut tempo of the same song that Larry included on So Long Ago The Garden. The more rare version includes ‘He is A Friend of Mine’ instead of ‘Christmastime’ which is a lyrically altered version of a Byrds tune. The final and most rare version is a mispressing which has the same live concert pressed on both sides.
The Sheep – Jeesus Rock (Finnlevy, 1972)
The original Milwaukee Jesus People group split into three camps; the Jesus People USA (Resurrection Band), Bill Lowery’s ‘Christ is the Answer’ ministry and a group that went over to Europe to evangelize. The Sheep were involved in the latter group and recorded this first album in less than 12 hours. Some songs are actually sung in Finnish. Very hard to find.
All Saved Freak Band – My Poor Generation (Rock the World, 1973)
Their first lp dedicated to two members of the Church of the Risen Christ community (Randy Markko and Tom Miller) who died in a car crash on the way to a concert.
Vindication – same (custom, 1974)
Trio of high school students doing what is referred to as ‘monster rock.’ A company in the Midwest is putting this album out on CD and reissuing it on vinyl.
Agape – Gospel Hard Rock (Mark, 1971)
Their first lp with a more straight ahead blues rocking feel. Only a trio at this juncture.
Mustard Seed – same (Spectrum, 1971)
Larry Norman – same (Starstorm/Rhema, 1977)
This album is actually one of his that is worth the hunt. Released only in Australia (on either Starstorm or Rhema labels) it has different versions to some of the songs from ‘So Long Ago The Garden’ and a long version of If God is My Father.
Phil Keaggy – Love Broke Thru (New Song, 1976)
Jointly produced by Michael Omartian and Buck Herring it is a much more aggressive album than Keaggy’s first release. The album contains the studio version of the most requested Keaggy composition entitled ‘Time’ and includes the first recorded version of the classic song ‘Love Broke Through’ which was penned by Keith Green, Randy Stonehill, and Todd Fishkind.
Joshua – same (Impact, 1973)
Good hard rock with some more mellow moments. Includes a great cover of Larry Norman’s “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.”
Larry Norman – Bootleg (One Way, 1973)
Double album with many various label colors and numbers. An odd collection of songs and interview sessions that capture the essence of the Jesus movement and Larry’s role.
The Sheep – same (Myrrh UK, 1973)
Their second release, this group was one of the two bands to emerge from the Milwaukee Jesus People group (the other was Resurrection Band). The Sheep were under the leadership of Jim Palosaari’s group which headed overseas to Europe to evangelize throughout Finland, Sweden, and eventually in England where they produced and performed the musical Lonesome Stone.
Wilson McKinley – On Stage (custom, 1971)
This album goes for a lot of money because of its scarcity, but its production quality is really poor. Apparently, unbeknownst to the band, their manager recorded the concert on a cheap tape recorder and later released it without any further mixing.
Ron and Bill Moore – Lo and Behold (Martin, 1969)
Included here because it is probably the very first indigenous Jesus music album ever recorded. Ron went on to record a number of his own albums on his homespun label Airborn. He also produced and helped a number of other artists get their start in Christian music such as Mark Heard whose original album was also released on Airborn.
The Son Worshipers Soundtrack (One Way, 1972)
This is the soundtrack for a movie piecemealed together by Bob Cording and Weldon Hardenbrook and distributed through Larry Norman’s One Way label. It is a half hour documentary of the Jesus People Movement featuring interview footage, some great moments on campus at University of California at Berkeley, some Calvary Chapel scenes shot of the early days at Calvary Chapel. The movie includes footage of Jack Sparks (of the Christian World Liberation Front), Duane Pederson (of the Hollywood Free Paper), the preaching of Os Guinness, some interview footage of Jesus freak evangelist Lonnie Frisbee interspersed with some music. The soundtrack is taken verbatim from the movie and is not worth the money that people are asking, but it is somewhat collectible.
Resurrection Band – Awaiting Your Reply (Star Song, 1978)
One of the best releases from the Chicago based musical band of the Jesus People USA community. The band was originally called Charity but changed its name to Resurrection Band in the late stages of 1972 after the four-way split of the original Milwaukee Jesus People community led by Jim Palosaari. The JPUSA community still lives in Chicago doing very much the same things that they were doing back in 1972.
Fraction – Moonblood (Angelicus, 1971)
This is an absolute killer album! If you can get a hold of a taped copy you will absolutely be blown away. When copies come up for sale in collector’s circles they go for over $1500.
Overland Stage – same (Epic, 1972)
A group of North Dakota Jesus freaks who were slammed by Rolling Stone in their first record review and were never heard from again.
Jesus People – Live at the Hollywood Palladium (Creative Sound, 1972)
Includes a couple of live tunes by JC Power Outlet and the Morning Star Gospel Rock Band. The concert from which some of these tunes were taken from was put on by Duane Pederson and the folks behind the Hollywood Free Paper.
Arthur Blessitt and the Eternal Rush – Soul Session at His Place (Creative Sound, 1972)
A kitschy album of rock music from the Eternal Rush (a band made up of ex-dopers) and sermonizing from Arthur Blessitt, the self-proclaimed minister of the Sunset Strip.
Agape – Live in 1973 (Renrut, 1973) 8-track only
Not too many people are aware that this even exists. . . but it does. If you got an 8-track player and you can find a copy, then you have something that not too many people own.
Jeremy Spencer & Children of God (CBS, 1972)
Former guitarist with Fleetwood Mac just up and left the band one night in Los Angeles. When the members finally found him, Jeremy had changed his name and joined the radical cult group who emerged from a Teen Challenge coffeehouse in Huntington Beach. Spencer still does all the group’s music and has released number of COG projects over the years.
Larry Norman – Only Visiting This Planet (Verve, 1972)
The most popular of all CCM albums ever released. Low on this list because of its availability.
All Saved Freak Band – Sower (War Again, 1980)
The final record released by the ASFB although it was recorded much earlier. By 1980 the group’s apocalyptic views had forced their retreat from any contact with mainstream society. In the commentary included with the album the group outlines the five visions that group leader Larry Hill had received between 1965 and 1971 about the impending end-time war which would come as divine judgment upon America because of her sins. By the release of this album, the group had disbanded due to internal conflicts concerning overly excessive child discipline and authoritarian leadership. Hill and a few remaining members are still located on the church’s property in Orwell, Ohio.
Paul Clark – Good to Be Home (Seed, 1975)
This album just sounds like they were having a good time recording it. Includes Phil Keaggy.
Larry Norman – Upon This Rock (Capitol, 1969)
Reported to be the first Jesus rock lp in existence, but there are a couple of lps that predate it. It also must be stated that Larry Norman was not the only one doing Jesus rock at the time, but he did have the widest exposure because of his contract with Capitol. And, to be fair, his music effectively captured the essence of those days. The album stands as one of the great legacies of the Jesus People Movement.
Because I Am – same (Clear Light, 1973)
A various artist album including a band called the ‘e’ band which featured future Petra singer Greg Volz.
The Everlastin’ Living Jesus Music Concert Maranatha! Music, 1971)
The Everlastin’ Living Jesus Music Concert Maranatha! Music, 1971) The very first record that Maranatha! Music, a subsidiary company of Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, ever released. Maranatha!’s first two recordings (The Children of the Day’s first album being the other one) initially sold 25,000 copies propelling the company into worldwide prominence in the area of contemporary Christian music. Musically, many of the Maranatha! groups patterned themselves after the stylistic lead of Love Song which was laid-back country rock sound although there were some exceptions (i.e. the jazz-rock of Sweet Comfort or the unique sound of the Children of the Day). Maranatha! Music also stressed the equation of music and ministry as more of an emphasis than the exploration of artistic creativity.
Love Song – Feel the Love (Good News, 1977)
Double lp released after the band had broken up. Between 1971 and 1976 Love Song was the most popular of all the Jesus music bands obtaining a lot of exposure with their allegiance to Calvary Chapel.