This week I want to veer off course a bit from my usual topics to discuss the band who, in my humble opinion, broke all the barriers for the contemporary Christian Bands we enjoy today. That band is none other than the incomparable, Petra. First formed in 1972 Petra endured the abuse of the would be Christian Music Police and holy music standard bearers as they incorporated “worldly” rock music into a ministry that reached tens of thousands and still touches lives today through the stamp of approval by the Holy Spirit.
I was blessed to see Petra live in 3 concert tours-More Power To Ya, Not of This World and Beat the System. I was blown away at their talent, the special effects uncommon to a “Christian” concert, but more importantly their passion for ministering the message of Christ through their music. Though Petra has evolved and had many versions due to members coming and going, to me Petra will always be the founder, Bob Hartman on lead guitar, Mark Kelly on Bass, Louie Weaver on drums and the golden voice of Christian Rock, Greg X. Volz on lead vocals. These four men would be my Mount Rushmore of Christian Rock, and if we had our own CCM Hall of Fame, they would be the face of the brand.
In the late 60’s and early 70’s a movement out of Southern California emerged that would come to be known as Jesus Music. To many this was just a bunch of Woodstock like young Christians playing soft rock/pop music to the likes of Larry Norman, Barry McGuire, Love Song, Second Chapter of Acts (another of my all time favorites I’ve seen multiple times) Randy Stonehill and the late Keith Green. They drew little attention because they created little controversy. But out of this movement came a belief that there was a large demographic of young people who not being church attenders, were not hearing the Gospel through traditional methods but were responding to this new music movement. Out of this movement one of the bands formed was Petra. Most churches refused to allow Petra to playing in their churches, voicing strong opposition to using the world’s music in worship or ministry. Christian radio stations refused to play their music on the air-only a select few campus stations dared to “Beat the System”. Yet Petra moved forward unintimidated and their popularity began to grow through their work in local coffee houses and word of mouth.
But is was in the 80’s that the Petra I came to love exploded onto the scene. It was then that they introduced synthesizers and keyboards into their Guitar rock genre, and a custom designed stage that resembled one of the space ships on their album covers, as well as special effect lighting. Imagine the convulsions the church police were having over a Christian band concert looking like an Aerosmith concert! While wildly popular and well received by those the Lord had laid on their hearts, it was not unusual for the band to arrive at a venue and be greeted by protesters with signs telling them they were going to hell because of the music they played. We may find it hard to believe that going to a typical Third Day experience would garner any such response, but this was the reality for a band breaking all traditional barriers at the time. Because of the theory that many rock groups were incorporating backward masking messages into their recordings (a message heard when an LP is played in reverse) there were actually “ministers” playing Petra albums backwards and suggesting to churches that there were demonic messages there if you listened closely. This ridiculousness caused Petra to actually record a back masking message intro to one of their songs Judas’ Kiss. Played forward it actually sounds demonic but the message played backwards says “why are you looking for demons when you should be looking for the Lord?” What a brilliant way to respond to their critics. To Petra music fans that backward message is immediately recognized to the beginning of one of their greatest hits.
Petra went on to receive ten Dove Awards, the Christian alternative to the Grammys. And they also received thirteen Grammy nominations, receiving four. They released 20 albums with sales of over 10 million worldwide. I can’t begin to elaborate on their discography but they will be forever known for such greats as The Coloring Song, Why Should the Father Bother, More Power To Ya, Not of This World, Grave Robber, Praise the Lord, Beat the System, Blinded Eyes, Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows, Occupy, Second Wind and soooo many more! To me it is a shame that many of our young people today will never be exposed to such great music from a band instrumental (pun intended) in breaking through the ceiling for the bands they do listen to now. Mercy me, DC Talk, Newsboys, Third Day and the likes would not be here if it were not for bands like Sweet Comfort, Love Song, Resurrection and yes, my favorite, Petra. When I hear the mature Christians among us speak on how the Holy Spirit only moves through “church” music I want to regurgitate at their ignorance. Having played in Christian bands myself from High Schools to Prisons, I can testify that there is no such thing as unholy music when God and His agenda and will are involved and made welcomed. Many of the pioneers of CCM have already gone to their reward. How I would love to introduce the generation of my kids and grandkids to the music of Classic Petra so that they too can develop a love and appreciation for what the band endured and accomplished through their obedience and perseverance, and the call to accept their savior Jesus Christ at the end of every concert!
As I post this I join in celebration of the reward another of our great CCM Pioneers is finally receiving. Andrae Crouch suffered a heart attack this past weekend and has entered into his final rest. I was privileged to see Andrae and the Disciples when I was younger. As with this post volumes could be written on the ground-breaking contributions he too made to the Christian music scene. He will be greatly missed but his music will live on as one of the most re-recorded Christian artists of all time! Eternal Memories Brother Andrae.