Tuesday, August 12, 2014

#78 HIGHER POWER by Darrell Mansfield (1979)

HIGHER POWER - Darrell Mansfield (1979)
Maranatha! Music ‎– MM0055A
There have been a number of prolific Christian blues players over the years. Glenn Kaiser, Larry Howard, Will McFarlane, and Sleepy Ray McDonald immediately come to mind. Larry Norman, Danny Daniels, Rob Frazier, and Greg Chaisson have also released full-length blues albums. Mark Farner, Mark Heard, Rex Carrol, and Ashley Cleveland have recorded some great blues tracks here and there.
Even groups like DeGarmo & Key, the Lost Dogs, and the 77s have gotten in on the act from time to time.

But when it comes to the blues, there’s one gentleman that stands head and shoulders above the rest. His name is Darrell Mansfield. He’s the Dean of Christian Bluesmen.

But Mansfield’s influence is not limited to the CCM world. He was inducted into the Hohner Harmonica Hall of Fame in 1980 and is the “Ambassador to California” for the Blues Hall of Fame. The man plays a blues harp as if his hair is on fire (and he’s got a lot of hair). Humble and soft-spoken when not on stage, Mansfield becomes an absolute powerhouse when playing in front of an audience.

Like so many others, Darrell Mansfield got his start in music by singing and playing guitar at weekend parties as a high school student. “No one [else in the band] could really sing very well,” he recalled. “I was the only one not drinking or doing drugs! Music was my high. I didn't need anything else to go with it."

He started singing in bars and clubs in Orange County and ended up in a band called Free Flight with a buddy named Dennis Carothers. It was Carothers’ mother who witnessed to Darrell about Jesus. “She gave me a Bible, prayed for me and said something I will never forget,” recalls Darrell. “When she handed me this Bible, she said, ‘Don’t take my word for it; take God's Word for it.’ And she marked the Gospel of John.”

In 1972 Darrell surrendered his life to Christ and began attending Bible college. During this time, he attended Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, California to sit under the teaching of Pastor Chuck Smith. Eventually, Mansfield’s musical talent was discovered and he received a little help from one of the founding members of Love Song. “I wrote some songs and Chuck Girard offered some studio time to me for free up at Mama Jo’s, which was one of the first independently owned and operated recording studios in North Hollywood,” he said. “Everybody was recording there at the time, including Ambrosia, Andrae Crouch, and Love Song.”

In 1974, Mansfield teamed with Don Gerber, Paul Angers, Steve Kara, and Henry Cutrona to form a Christian country rock band called Jubal. It was an influential group, but typical of the acoustic-oriented Jesus Music bands that were birthed out of Calvary Chapel in the mid-70s. To avoid confusion – there was another group called Jubal’s Last Band – the group changed their name from Jubal to Gentle Faith. They released just one album in 1976. [Jubal’s Last Band decided to change their name as well. They became Daniel Amos.]

“We toured all over the US, Canada, and eventually England,” said Mansfield. “Our first concert in England was at Royal Albert Hall in London in 1976, where The Beatles had played for the Queen in 1964. That next year I left Gentle Faith and began my solo career. I recorded and released my first solo LP called Higher Power.”

Higher Power came at a transitional time, just as the purity and innocence of the Jesus Movement were giving way to the more business and radio-oriented CCM industry. It was also a time when many artists felt more freedom to explore a harder musical edge and to push a few of the boundaries that had previously been in place.

Side One begins with a rocker called Children Don’t Run, one of four songs on Higher Power that were written or co-written by the late Denny Correll. The song features some nice harmony guitar leads, a harmonica solo, and a chorus that is written from the perspective of God Himself, imploring us to stand firm in the faith:

Children don’t run, there’s no place you can hide
Children don’t run, I’m always by your side
Children don’t run, I’ve got so much to share
Children don’t run, your burdens I will bear
And to show I care, My kingdom I will share

The Prize, a song of devotion, is one of the album’s two ballads. Mansfield’s singing bears an uncanny resemblance to B.J. Thomas on this song. It’s something that I remember noticing even as a teenager. Nothing wrong with that, mind you (after all, Mr. Thomas has made a darn good living with his vocal cords over the decades), but it is interesting, nonetheless.

Next up is one of the album’s standout tracks, and a true precursor to what the future held for Darrell Mansfield. That’s All Right was a full-on blues song, providing a great platform for Mansfield’s harmonica playing. Lyrically, this “testimony song” proclaimed the singer’s faith in Jesus and his love for the Word of God in no uncertain terms. Mansfield says he’s “got Jesus on the brain,” and makes no apologies to friends who disagree or have chosen another path.

Wrapping up Side One is the end-times anthem He Has Overcome, co-written by Mansfield, Correll, and keyboardist Skip Konte. Apocalyptic imagery abounds in a song that’s even more relevant today than in 1979:

There’s a feeling going through the air
Question is where do we go from here
A revelation for mankind to see
A study into all the prophecy
Say there’s some storm clouds gathered up ahead
The battlefields, well, they’re turning red
Soon we’re gonna be with our King of kings
In all His glory for eternity

Well, you see, there’s a coming tide
When it’s here there’ll be nowhere to hide
Look to Heaven and you will see
The Lord will lead us on to victory

He has overcome
And the victory has been won

Anthony Dean’s extended guitar solo was a real treat. Mansfield would go on to record an epic, 8-minute version of this song on the album Mansfield & Co., released in 1995.

Side Two begins with a blues classic titled, oddly enough, No More Blues. Konte’s piano and Dean’s lead guitar team up with Mansfield’s voice and blues harp to make this song an uproarious joy to listen to. It’s the kind of song that a lot of us would later enjoy so much at those late night “blues jams” at the Cornerstone Festival in Bushnell, Illinois.

Next came an upbeat rocker titled Love Conquers All. The song begins with a warning that as tribulation grows, we will one day have to declare which side we’re on and fight for what we believe in. But the chorus cautions the listener to remember that “love conquers all.” My brothers and I used to cover this one for a time. It was another Denny Correll composition with a nice, catchy, sing-along chorus – the kind that sticks with you.

Giver of Life is a song that explores the depths of God’s grace. It’s a testimony song with lyrics penned by Gregg Eckler, Sam Scott, and Darrell that beautifully express his gratitude to the Lord for rescuing him from sin and self:

Can a man go so far in this world that the love of God cannot reach him?
Can a man say anything deep in his heart he can really mean?
If a man goes on falling, yes, day and night
And the Giver of Life can’t lead him to light
Then I don’t understand
And I don’t know God’s grace at all

But I know Who I have believed in
And I’m persuaded that He’s able to keep me
I was that man who believed His plan
And the Giver of Life, well He led me to light

You were so understanding and so undemanding on me
Thank You, Lord
It was so kind of You to help pull me through
When I could barely see
And though I keep on falling, yes, day and night
You show me the way, You give me Your light
‘Cause You’re the Giver of Life
You lead me to light.

Guitarist Steve Kara teamed up with Darrell to write Every Night, Every Day. It’s another high-octane rocker that celebrates Mansfield’s love for and devotion to the Lord. The chorus declares:

Every night / Every day
I’m gonna live my life by everything You say!

The album concludes with the title track, an uptempo rock song that was later covered by The Imperials. Darrell’s recording of Higher Power was played a little faster and lacks the polished production of the Imperials’ version. But in hindsight, this song was really important in that it pointed to some painful struggles with which Mansfield had wrestled for a long time, and with which he would wrestle for many years to come. I’m talking about clinical depression as a result of a chemical imbalance. It’s been so bad at times that Mansfield has made three unsuccessful attempts to take his own life over the years, the first time in 1971. He is now a vocal advocate for people who are facing mental health issues. Knowing the backstory makes these lyrics from Higher Power especially meaningful:

Oh, that sweet surrender
In my darkest hour
Letting go, submitting to my Higher Power

As the misty morning of our lifetime disappears
We look unto the afternoon, golden in our years
Oh, it’s supernatural
Heaven can be ours
When we turn it over to God’s higher power

Inside lies the fury of a thousand waterfalls
They thunder down the river as the mighty ocean calls
Can’t you see it rushing, closer every hour?
It’s letting go, submitting to the Higher Power

Three of the greatest bluesmen to ever play the blues:
L-R: Larry Howard, Darrell Mansfield and Glenn Kaiser

Mansfield would end up spending two years in the Atascadero State Hospital in Central California as a result of total burnout. He and his wife Cheryl had seven children and he felt a constant pressure to be on the road, not only ministering to people but also providing for his family.

“We would take Chuck Smith’s tapes on the road and listen to them. I knew I had to give more than just my testimony,” Mansfield said in an interview with Safe Worlds IPTV. “God was calling me to be a ‘musicianary.’ I was using music as a pulpit, a platform to preach the Gospel. Thousands would come to hear us and then give their lives to Christ. It was awesome. But I was absolutely drained. Looking back on it now, I was really being like Martha in the Bible. I was running around serving Jesus, but not sitting at His feet like Mary did. I really burned myself completely out.”

Darrell Mansfield went on to record over 30 albums and has played with some of the biggest names in music. His blues collaborations with Glenn Kaiser and Larry Howard are must-haves. And he does continue an active tour schedule. But things are different now.

“I am still doing concerts and preaching,” he said, “but now I'm learning to say no and I am not overextending myself. Now when I do teach and preach, I preach mental health along with spiritual and physical health. We are a three-fold being and if one gets imbalanced, it affects the other and we can't be effective for Christ if we are not spiritually, physically and mentally sound. We need to know those things and be in tune. So I am just thankful and praise God.”

“When I minister now, I get people to come up to me and hug me. Many, in tears, say, ‘Thank you for making me feel that I am not a second-rate citizen of heaven because I suffer from mental problems. You've encouraged me.’”

Darrell Mansfield today

As for Darrell’s advice to others?

“Don't be ashamed if you have a mental illness,” he says. “You are not a second rate soldier for Christ. It's an illness; it’s a disease, just like diabetes, and it needs to be treated. People need to know that when they get into a state of depression, there is help available.” He went on to say, “Your illness is not a lack of faith, spirituality or commitment. It's a medical chemical problem.”

Glenn Kaiser has often said that 57 of the 150 Psalms are Psalms of lament, hurt struggle…blues! I guess you could say that King David was Christian Music’s original Bluesman. I’m glad that beginning in the 1970s a man named Darrell Mansfield picked up that torch and began to run with it. Despite severe adversity, he has taken the Gospel beyond the four walls of the Church to a hurting, needy world. And he has remained faithful.

Fun Fact: The drummer on the Higher Power album was John Mehler of Love Song.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

STEVE ARCHER Live in Greenville, SC: August 10

Steve Archer
I'm going to "break format" with this post and announce a special concert opportunity. 

Steve Archer will be ministering at my home church - College Park Worship Center in Greenville, SC - on Sunday, August 10. Two services - 9 & 11 a.m. 

Of course, if you're even a semi-regular reader of this "Top 100" list, you probably already know that Steve Archer is a "Jesus Music" pioneer as the lead singer of the groundbreaking group The Archers, touring and recording throughout the decades of the 70s and 80s. During Steve's years with The Archers, he sang at the White House, at Disneyland, and on Grammy Awards telecasts. He, along with brother Tim and sister Janice, was a Dove Award nominee and a Grammy Award winner. They even had their own television program for awhile. I'm not sure of this, but I think that in order to get saved in the 70s, you had to be an Archers fan. [Our fact checkers are working hard to verify that even as I type.] The Archers are remembered for such songs as It Wouldn't Be Enough, Stand Up, Fresh Surrender, and many, many more. 

Steve (R) singing with Tim and Janice

Steve Archer also launched a successful career as a solo artist in the 1980s. His instantly recognizable voice became a staple on Christian radio with songs such as Through His Eyes of Love, Safe, and If You Were the Only One.

Today, Steve Archer lives in Texas and continues to minister across the country, maintaining one of the most enduring careers in Contemporary Christian music.

It is a special privilege to welcome Steve Archer to my home church in Greenville, South Carolina on Sunday, August 10. Come join us! Visit www.collegeparkchurch.org for details.

Just for fun, let's take a trip down Memory Lane with the Archers...

An early promo shot of the "Archer Brothers"

Steve and Tim sign with Ralph Carmichael's Light Records as their proud father looks on

This was an early 70s version of the group with Nancye Short (L) and Billy Masters (R) joining the brothers.

Mid 70s. That young lady standing in the middle is none other than...Kelly Willard.

Steve and Tim were joined by sister Janice in the mid 70s.

Steve (R) with producer Chris Christian, after beginning a solo ministry

Steve Archer

Steve Archer has spent his entire life sharing the Good News of the Gospel through music.

A recent photo of Steve, Janice and Tim

OK, that was fun. Now, back to your regularly scheduled "Top 100 CCM Albums of the 1970s" countdown...