Friday, October 21, 2016

#45 KEEP ON SINGIN' by Andrae Crouch & the Disciples (1971)

KEEP ON SINGIN' by Andrae Crouch & the Disciples - 1971
‎Light Records - LS-5546-LP
From start to finish, Keep On Singin’ is filled with Motown pop songs, making it the aural equivalent of any greatest hits package by Smokey Robinson, the Four Tops, or the Temptations. But at the time the album came out, these weren’t greatest hits – they were all new songs, twelve potential blockbuster singles that, due to the ignorance or bigotry of general market radio, the Jesus people got to keep all to themselves. The wonderful bouncy title track and the ultimately classic I’ve Got Confidence were in keeping with the sort of Christian pop that [Ralph] Carmichael had aimed for with He’s Everything to Me, only better. Take A Little Time, with its unforgettable “Thank You, Lord” chorus, is a soulful worship song, unlike anything that youth raised in white churches with funeral-dirge liturgies had ever heard before. Remarkably, one of the most ignored songs on the album, when it was released, was the less hooky closing song, a slowly building ballad called, simply, My Tribute. Eventually, that song would come to be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most recorded Gospel song in history (over 3,000 versions). In more ways than one, it became Crouch’s signature tune: To God be the glory for the things He has done.

-Mark Allen Powell
Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christin Music

I’ve never hesitated to criticize Mr. Powell for bringing his personal theological and political opinions to bear in what is purported to be an ‘encyclopedia’ – a reference volume. But neither have I been hesitant to praise him when he gets it right.

And this time, he pretty much nailed it.

Without Keep On Singin’ the racial integration of ‘white Christian music’ and ‘black Gospel music’ might never have happened. And we might all still be attending racially segregated churches on Sunday morning. OK, maybe that’s hyperbole…but you understand my point. Keep On Singin’ was a big deal.

Before getting into the record itself, let’s talk a little bit about how this wonderful group came into existence in the first place. We dealt with Andrae’s childhood and early life here. He was born and raised on the second pew of his daddy’s church, so to speak, and had received what he called “the gift of music” in a supernatural way at the tender age of eleven. After that, Andrae started playing the piano for his dad’s church services, state-wide meetings, and youth rallies. It wasn’t long before the Crouch Trio was born – a group comprised of Andrae, twin sister Sandra and older brother Bennie. “Sometimes people would give us money, but Mom and Dad would always take the money and buy us shoes or something like that. Dad would always remind us, ‘You’re doing it for the Lord and you remember that!’”

At this point, Andrae revealed in an early autobiography (Through It All written with Nina Ball) that he started a “kickin’ choir” at his dad’s church. The choir (which only had about 10 members but sounded like 50 according to Andrae) would play at denominational meetings in the state of California (the Crouches were part of the Church of God in Christ denomination or COGIC for short). It was at one of those meetings that seven members of different congregations came together and formed a group called The COGICS. Not exactly a catchy name for a singing group…especially if you were not familiar with that particular black denomination, but that’s what they settled on.

The COGICS were invited to play at various church meetings and colleges. One day they were invited by Ron and Sonny Salsbury to play at a Nazarene college in Pasadena. Sonny wrote Christian folk musicals for young people at that time; Ron, of course, went on to form the pioneering Jesus rock group JC Power Outlet and later was one-half of Pantano-Salsbury before answering the call to full-time pastoral ministry. He passed away earlier in 2016. I can only imagine that the intersection of the Crouches and the Salsburys was “a God appointment.”

“I became good friends with the Salsburys,” Andrae said, “and loved the whole family. Their friendship and hospitality meant a lot to me.”


The COGICS numbered Andrae, Sandra, and the great Billy Preston among its members. Preston went on to fame, of course, as a collaborator with The Beatles and through a solo career of his own. Preston left The COGICS to play with Ray Charles. Another member, Edna Wright, went on to sing lead with The Honeycombs. Still another member, Gloria Jones, became a writer for Motown. No way this group was going to be able to hold together. After one album and numerous awards, The COGICS was history.

At that point, Andrae actually seriously considered studying to become an elementary school teacher. [Thank you, God, on behalf of the entire body of Christ, for intervening.] Andrae’s musical involvement at this time had dwindled back to leading a choir for his father’s radio broadcasts. One of the choir members – a tall, slender man with hazel eyes and a particularly soulful singing voice – caused Andrae to take notice. Crouch remembered having sung with this guy in a high school choir for a Christmas cantata. Andrae approached him after a service one night and said, “Hey, man, you ought to come around more often. Maybe we could sing together. I think maybe God could really use us.”

His name? Bili Thedford.

The next Sunday Bili was back. He walked the aisle and surrendered his heart and life to Jesus right then and there. Andrae jokes that the single girls in the church were especially happy to see this new good looking brother come into the fold.

About six months later, Andrae said he was sitting in another service when he noticed a young man who was eyeing the clock as if he was getting ready to leave. God spoke to Andrae and directed him to go and speak to the young man. Andrae slipped out a side door and waited. Sure enough, the young man came walking by a few minutes later. Andrae called out to him, “Hey, man, it’s really good of you to come out. What’s your name?”

Perry Morgan,” he answered.

Andrae made an appointment to visit Perry and led him to the Lord right there in his home.

After that, Andrae, Bili, and Perry began to hang out together; it was only natural that these gifted brothers would begin to harmonize. After learning three or four songs together, the Salsburys invited them to come and sing at Pasadena’s First Church of the Nazarene. “Hey, you guys – let’s call ourselves the Disciples and go over there and sing,” Andrae suggested. And so they did.

Andrae Crouch & the Disciples in the late 60s
L-R: Andrae, Sherman Andrus, Perry Morgan, an unidentified guitarist,
Bili Thedford, and an unidentified drummer 

AC&D: Perry Morgan (L), Bili Thedford (Top),
Sherman Andrus (R) and Andrae Crouch (Bottom)

Three months later, Sherman Andrus was added to the group’s roster, and a musical entity was born that ended up changing the world for Christ: Andrae Crouch & the Disciples.

Ralph Carmichael

It wasn’t long before the Disciples came to the attention of a very consequential figure in the early days of Jesus Music – Ralph Carmichael. Carmichael (dubbed “the Grandfather of Contemporary Christian Music” by Mark Allan Powell) took great risks and blazed new trails in the 1960s in order to deliver the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a new generation in a new way… with a sound that they would find intriguing and appealing. He is said to be one of the first Christian music establishment figures to embrace the Jesus Movement as an authentic move of God. He founded Light Records in order to give voice to artists who were “singing a new song.” Enter Andrae Crouch & the Disciples.

Let’s go back to Powell’s Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music for more on the unlikely pairing of Ralph Carmichael and Andrae Crouch:

The irony, in retrospect, is striking: Carmichael’s Lawrence Welk-style Big Band renditions of Gospel standards are perhaps the whitest sounding Christian music ever put on record. Yet it was Carmichael who brought one of the most influential African American artists of the rock era to prominence. For that is what Crouch would prove to be – not just the transformer of Gospel music, but a major influence on secular music as well. Though he has never been profiled in Rolling Stone or any of the other staples of rock journalism, one would be hard pressed to find many African American performers – from Michael Jackson to Lenny Kravitz to George Clinton to Lauryn Hill – who do not cite Andrae Crouch as a major influence. But in 1968, when Crouch set out to change the worlds of traditional Gospel and rock and roll, his main ally was an old white guy with no apparent connections to, experience with, or interest in, either.

Carmichael had heard two different tapes of Andrae before deciding, “I’ve got to find out who this guy is.” After a phone conversation, Carmichael set up a 2-hour recording session and made the group feel very much at ease by placing no restrictions on them. “When Ralph said anything we wanted to do would be good, that caused us to relax and really started off our ministry,” Andrae recalled.

The group, which by now included Mexican-American Ruben Fernandez, released Take This Message Everywhere on Light Records in 1968. In the album’s liner notes, Ralph Carmichael says the record is “a fresh, new sound geared to the new generation.” Alas, it was not. Not really. The album wasn’t very innovative, and the guys in suits-and-ties on the original front cover looked a lot more like a Southern Gospel quintet than a Jesus rock band…but it was a start. And, more than anything, it was noted for introducing the world to a song called The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power. This song, written when Andrae was just fourteen years old, has been sung the world over and is now included in hymnals.

Which brings us to our featured album, and the sophomore release by Andrae Crouch & the Disciples. Sherman Andrus had moved on to The Imperials (and in so doing integrated the buttoned-up, lily-white world of Southern Gospel music!) and Ruben Fernandez was gone as well. The Disciples were now a “mixed group” that included a young lady by the name of Tramaine Davis (later Hawkins). With the personnel changes and the atmospheric winds of change that were blowing as a result of the Jesus Movement…the stage was set for God to do something big with Keep On Singin’.

The album begins with an absolute classic featuring Perry Morgan: I Don’t Know Why Jesus Loved Me. It’s a song I’ve heard hundreds of times and as I listen to it again I’m getting emotional, and it’s almost impossible for me to remain objective. This is one of the earliest songs that I learned to play for my younger brother to sing in church. Childhood memories come flooding back. The song was a perfect melding of music and message, and it was immediately received by audiences everywhere, opening tons of doors for the group.

I don’t know why Jesus loved me
I don’t know why He cared
I don’t know why He sacrificed His life
Oh, but I’m glad
So glad He did

He left His mighty throne in Glory
To bring to us redemption story
Then He died and He rose again just for me
Oh, but I’m glad
So glad He did

The reach of the song was amazing… a quick YouTube search will reveal an elderly Jimmy Swaggart singing it in his church with a full worship team. It worked as a concert number for AC&D, and it worked as a worship chorus for youth group meetings or church services. Andrae’s confidence and boldness at the piano are evident here.

The title track exhibits a joy and an exuberance that is contagious. They might be singing about ‘marching’ and ‘fighting’…but they’re having a great time doing it! A tight horn section supports the track as these young black singers give their white audience a taste of what Sunday morning might sound like across town. Keep On Singin’ is a great example of how Andrae made Christianity attractive. He had a knack for making religious faith sound less like a list of rules and more like a party!

The seed for the song Keep On Singin’ was planted when Andrae and the group participated in several overseas missions trips with the likes of Dr. John Haggai and missionary Sam Sasser. Andrae finished the now-classic song on the way home from a trip to some South Pacific Islands. “I was sitting in a church in Hawaii and I wrote the words down on the back of a program,” Andrae recalled. “It was a rather conservative church and what really broke the ice for us there was my writing that song. I told the congregation, ‘I know we’re supposed to be singin’ a concert, but I just wrote a song on the back of your church program, and I want you to sing it with me!’”

I’m gonna keep on singin’
I’m gonna keep on shoutin’
I’m gonna keep on liftin’ my voice
And let the world know Jesus saves

So many lonely people all over the world
The blessed words of Jesus they have never heard
If I don’t go
If you don’t go
If we don’t go
How will they know

I can’t keep it to myself
I’ve gotta tell somebody else
I’m gonna keep on liftin’ my voice
And let the world know Jesus saves

“We had just toured the Far East, Europe, and the South Pacific during the prior three months,” Andrae remembered. “The Lord impressed every word of that song upon my heart.”

The informal (dropping the g’s) and hyper-evangelistic nature of the lyrics dovetailed very nicely with the central thrust of the Jesus Movement exploding in Southern California at the time. Andrae Crouch was in the right place at the right time. Inclusivity was also a focus of the Jesus Movement, and Andrae hit on that theme as well when he sang toward the end of the song…

The whole world has got to know
Jesus saves
Everybody’s got to know
Jesus saves
The black man has got to know
Jesus saves
The white man has got to know
Jesus saves
I’ve got to let the world know
Jesus saves

The song lasted just 2 minutes and 45 seconds…but that was enough. It was an evangelistic shot heard ‘round the world.

Next up was a “backslider’s lament” titled I’m Coming Home, Dear Lord. The song employed standard Motown, R&B production values of the era and featured Bili Thedford and a young Tramaine Davis. Tramaine was only a Disciple for a short time, but made quite an impact, singing a lead part on the group’s first-ever single, Christian People (released on Liberty Records in 1970 and nominated for a Grammy), and making the most of her solo on I’m Coming Home, Dear Lord.

The fact that Andrae Crouch never married has been a curiosity to many. He may never have been a husband…but he was definitely in love at least once. In the book Through It All, Andrae displays an incredible degree of vulnerability by discussing how he felt about Tramaine Davis. Referring to her as a “beautiful, black-skinned girl with a large natural and big eyes,” Andrae writes in the book, “I was in love and wanted to get married, but I was afraid of losing my independence.” He writes of valuing the freedom he had to set his own schedule and his fear of losing that freedom. He also complained that the other group members would tease him whenever he spoke of marriage. “More than losing my independence,” he said, “I was really wanting God’s direction – realizing that the right mate could magnify and develop God’s will for my life but the wrong person could be a hindrance.”

Well, apparently it just wasn’t meant to be. One Saturday Andrae learned that Tramaine had suddenly quit the group – and she had quit him as well. Perry Morgan heard through the grapevine that she had signed on with another group and would soon be going overseas on a tour. “For two days at Los Angeles International Airport, I checked every flight to London,” Andrae wrote in Through It All. “I’d say, ‘I have an emergency. Is there a real pretty black girl on that plane, about five-feet-four with big eyes and a big natural?’ I’d wait for them to check and bite my fingernails. ‘No,’ the flight attendant would reply, after checking. My heart was just bleeding as Sandra drove me home from the airport.”

Andrae says he was so heartsick he couldn’t sing; he was unhappy, negative, bitter and numb all at the same time. It was bad enough that he was strongly considering canceling a concert tour.

At that point, God intervened.

I don’t know how you feel about “personal prophecy” or “receiving a prophetic word,” but I have experienced it many times in my life and believe that it is fully endorsed by Paul’s New Testament writings. Well, Andrae got a call from an old friend who normally called just to chat or to suggest a guys’ night out. But this call was different. The friend was former Major League Baseball player Albie Pierson, and he called Andrae with a word from the Lord.

Keep in mind that Albie Pierson knew nothing of the situation regarding Tramaine Davis. “Andrae, I’d like to tell you something in the Spirit that the Lord told me,” Albie said. He continued, “The Lord says, ‘My son, I understand your loss and your grief. But I want you to know that I’m right by your side… My son, fresh grass does not always grow in an abundance on the mountaintop, but many times it grows in the valleys. Go on your tour. Be encouraged, for I am with you.”

Andrae said his eyes filled with tears and he was hardly able to speak. He thanked Albie, then called his manager and said, “Tell the group everything’s cool. We’re going on.”

Tramaine Hawkins

At that point, he went over to the piano and wrote a song about thanking God for the mountains and the valleys, and for the storms he’d been through. It was called Through It All and it became one of his most loved songs of all time (recorded on the album Soulfully).

For her part, Tramaine Davis became Mrs. Tramaine Hawkins and joined her husband’s group, The Walter Hawkins Singers. She went on to a tremendously successful solo career in the black Gospel field. Divorced from Hawkins and remarried to Tommie Richardson, Jr., she now weirdly calls herself, simply, Lady Tramaine.

By the way, Tramaine’s abrupt departure cleared the way for Andrae’s twin sister Sandra to join the group as a full-time member. She had actually dropped out of church and had been “walking far off from the Lord” as we used to say. Sandra had even landed a gig as a tambourine player and backup singer for Diana Ross at the Coconut Grove. But when she rededicated her life to Christ, she knew she needed to be a Disciple.

L-R: Bili Thedford, Sandra Crouch, Andrae Crouch, Perry Morgan

Rounding out Side One of Keep On Singin’ were two songs that were led vocally by Andrae and focused lyrically on the person and ministry of Christ. One was a bouncy, up-tempo testimony song titled Along Came Jesus, and the other was a smooth ballad with a bumper sticker title – Jesus (Every Hour He’ll Give You Power). The latter owes its musical inspiration at least as much to Southern Gospel music as to Black Gospel, demonstrating again that Crouch had a knack for being comfortable in different musical spheres.

Keep On Singin’ was produced by Bill Cole; the songs were arranged by Andrae and Clark Gassman. The record was pressed at Capitol Records Pressing Plant in Los Angeles. It’s been released under four different covers at various times. The cover photo for the original release was taken by Howard Anderson III.

Side Two opens with a classic song that would be on any short list of greatest hits by AC&D: Take a Little Time. This anointed track employs a re-telling of the Scriptural account of Jesus healing the ten lepers. But in the 2nd verse, Andrae sang in abstract terms about being healed himself from sickness, not realizing that he would soon be at death’s door.

He dedicates an entire chapter to this episode in the autobiography Through It All, written with Nina Ball.

It happened shortly after the group returned from an overseas trip. It started with a fever and flu-like symptoms and later included sores on Andrae’s lips and tongue, and inside his mouth and throat. Miraculously, when he would take the stage to sing and minister, he could function normally. But any other time the pain and nausea were becoming unbearable. He lost a tremendous amount of weight and even began to lose his fingernails; all the while doctors couldn’t determine what was wrong. Eventually, he had to stop performing. During this time Danny Lee (an often unsung Jesus Music pioneer with Danny Lee & the Children of Truth) filled in for Andrae in some concerts. Andrae’s situation worsened. His eyesight and hearing were diminished and pain pills ceased to be effective; he was beginning to lose the will to live. At about this time, Andrae’s parents, Pastor Benjamin and Catherine Crouch laid hands on their son and touched Heaven as only a mom and dad can. Andrae says he knew in that instant that he would be alright. “I was overwhelmed by faith in God,” he recounted. “I’d never been healed before! I looked over at Momma and whispered, ‘Don’t ask Him anymore. I’m healed. Just thank the Lord with me.’”

But before he got better, he got worse. Back to the hospital he went. 

A team of medical professionals at UCLA Medical Center determined that Andrae had most likely been exposed to an African disease that was causing fever, ulcers, dehydration, and claiming lives at the time. Andrae refused IVs and insisted that God had healed him, walking by faith, not by sight. “I’d claimed my healing, released my faith,” he said. “I believe you can have assistance from doctors, but regardless of what they do, it’s still the Lord that does the healing.”

Andrae insisted on going home; doctors reluctantly agreed but warned his mother that he probably wouldn’t be able to hold food down for 6 to 8 weeks.

On the way home from the hospital, Andrae asked his mother to boil a chicken – a “gospel bird,” as he called it – and to break it up into tiny pieces. She did. With every bite, Andrae would say, “In the name of Jesus, I eat this.” He kept at it until he had eaten the whole chicken, one tiny bite at a time. “I’d get up every so often to look into the mirror,” he said. “I could almost see those sores shrinking.”

In 24 hours they were gone. After another day, the fever was gone as well.

This testimony lines up with something that my minister father has taught for years, which is that miracles are instantaneous, but healing can be progressive. Andrae’s healing didn’t come at once. But his faith took hold and never wavered. And the healing did come.

 “The following Sunday, after three days of rest, I was happy to be going to church,” Andrae remembered. “I had to pin on my pants since my size 36 waist was down to 31 inches. I played the organ while the congregation was singing, There is Power in the Blood. I tried to keep my composure but I couldn’t. I left the organ, put my hands up in the air, and started spinning around like a top. The people formed a circle around me and began praisin’ the Lord with me!”

A little later, Andrae remembered something he’d been told by a lady named Audrey Mieir. “Andrae,” she said, “you are going to have to go through every song you write because God is using you to bring out things people want to express. But as you write about these experiences, remember one thing, your song might come first or vice versa.”

So God allowed (!) Andrae to walk out the very personal nature of the message contained in Take a Little Time

When I was sick
And the doctor said I couldn’t get well
The Lord healed my body
And today I am able to tell

I just want
To take a little time right now
And thank the Lord
For all He’s done for me

Thank You, Lord
I just want to thank You
I just want to thank You

My personal favorite rendition of this song actually comes from the double LP Live in London… but audiences first heard this great song on Keep On Singin.’ And God is still using it today. I remember playing it for a worship leader friend of mine to sing in a church service just about a year ago. The message of God’s healing power and the need for our humble gratitude has no expiration date.

Whatcha Gonna Do has a Fifth Dimension-like quality and was a bit of a novelty. Not sure if the evangelistic/invitational message works with the music style of this track. It has sort of a creepy 70’s ending, drenched in reverb.

The next two tracks are Hall-of-Fame worthy.

I’ve Got Confidence has been recorded by everyone from Elvis Presley to Tennessee Ernie Ford to the Booth Brothers. My personal favorite cover of the song was by The Imperials and featured an unforgettable performance by the former Disciple himself, Sherman Andrus. But the original recording of I’ve Got Confidence can be heard right here on Keep On Singin’

When trouble is in my way
I can’t tell my night from day
When I’m tossed from side to side
Like a ship on a raging tide
I don’t worry, I don’t fret
My God has never failed me yet
Troubles come from time to time
But that’s all right, I’m not the worrying kind because

I’ve got confidence
God is gonna see me through
No matter what the case may be
I know He’s gonna fix it for me

After telling Job’s story from the Scriptures in the song’s second verse, Andrae makes it personal again…

Some folks wonder how I can smile
Even when I’m goin’ through trials
They say Andrae, how can you have a song
When everything is goin’ wrong
I don’t worry, I don’t fret
My God has never failed me yet
Troubles come from time to time
But that’s all right, I’m not the worrying kind

Andrae sings this classic song with great feeling and conviction.

And then there’s My Tribute. Bili Thedford is featured on this song that, by any measure, is a modern sacred music masterpiece.

For some reason, I’ve always thought of it as sort of a mirror image of Frank Sinatra’s My Way.

Frank sang: I’ve lived a life that’s full / I’ve traveled each and every highway / But more, much more than this / I did it my way…I planned each charted course / Each careful step along the byway / And more, much more than this / I did it my way…Through it all, when there was doubt / I ate it up and spit it out /I faced it all and I stood tall / And I did it my way

Meanwhile, Andrae wrote: All that I am and ever hope to be / I owe it all to Thee…Just let me live my life / let it be pleasing, Lord, to Thee / And should I gain any praise / Let it go to Calvary…With His blood He has saved me / With His pow’r He has raised me / To God be the glory / For the things He has done

A very short list of artists who’ve covered this great song would include Marilyn McCoo, Phil Driscoll, Israel Houghton, Darlene Zshech, Crystal Lewis, Nicole C. Mullen, and Sandi Patty. It’s in hymnals, and deservedly so. The song even has its own Wikipedia page!

Now…this version of My Tribute on Keep On Singin’ is not the best. To me, Thedford is a little tentative and pitchy, the horns are buried in the mix, and the background harmonies are way too hot. And the fake applause SFX at the end…um, why? Much better recordings are to be found on Andrae’s Finally album and on a tribute album (Tribute: The Songs of Andrae Crouch). This is the third time in this post that I’ve said This is not the best version of this classic song! Doesn’t matter, though. They appeared here first…making Keep On Singin’ a historically significant album.

Again, in the interest of full disclosure, it’s hard for me to be objective about some of these songs due to personal experiences. I’ve Got Confidence was one of the first songs my brother and I ever sang in church together as youngsters, and I played piano as a teenager for my Dad to sing My Tribute in churches across the country.

The album should’ve ended on the high note of My Tribute. Instead, a Country Gospel song called I Must Go Away seems like an out-of-place, last minute add-on. It’s fine…it just should have been pitched to Evie or the Downings. Or maybe the Lanny Wolfe Trio. But that’s OK. This LP was an instant classic on the strength of five songs: I Don’t Know Why, I’m Gonna Keep On Singin’, Take A Little Time, I’ve Got Confidence and My Tribute (To God Be the Glory).

The polish would come later on records like Take Me Back and This Is Another Day; there was definitely a lack of sophistication and slickness on Keep On Singin’. It was old school. And for most of us, it was our introduction to a man whose life, talent and ministry would turn the world upside down during the 1970s.

A lot of white Christians had no idea they could worship God to funk and soul music until Andrae Crouch and the Disciples invaded their world. Andrae’s contributions as a racial bridge-builder cannot be overstated. In the book Through It All, Andrae recounts instances of terrible treatment and discrimination that he and the group suffered at the hands of fellow believers in the late 60s and early 70s. But he never allowed himself to become bitter…he never lost sight of what God had called him to do...and he never lost his sense of humor.

In Through It All, Andrae tells a story about being asked to sing at an uptight, conservative church that was without a pastor. When they introduced him, he told them he was glad to be there to worship with them, and that he was happy to announce that he had just been appointed their new Pastor! He says the people stared at him like he was crazy, then a loud murmur went through the all-white congregation.

Andrae just looked at them with a twinkle in his eye. Then he smiled and said, “I’m just messin’ with y’all.” The audience broke up in laughter.

“I feel sorry for a person that lets prejudice get in his way so that he cannot receive a blessing just because the package is wrapped up a little differently,” Andrae wrote. “I’m just praying that God will develop some people so they’ll see that God is black sometimes, so to speak, and that He is white sometimes. He really is no color at all, but His vessels are many different colors. I want to be an example to everyone regardless of age or race.” And he certainly was.

Andrae Crouch passed from this life on January 8, 2015. He belongs to the ages now. And the words of the title song of this album were prophetic. He said he was going to keep on singing, shouting and lifting his voice to let the world know that Jesus saves.

He did exactly that. And he did it in such a way that he will never be forgotten.

Thursday, October 13, 2016


Jonathan David Brown
You may not know the name Jonathan David Brown, but you’ve probably been entertained, influenced, and inspired by his talent. Brown was one of the most prolific producers of Jesus Music and CCM from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s. He worked as a producer and audio engineer on projects by such artists as Petra, Steve Taylor, Daniel Amos, Bob Bennett, David Meece, Mark Heard, Gentle Faith, Tom Howard, Russ Taff, Kelly Willard, Andrae Crouch, Jamie Owens-Collins, Michelle Pillar, Servant, Morgan Cryar and many others.

Tragically, Jonathan David Brown passed from this life on September 27, 2016 in Ozark, Missouri. He left behind a wife and five children. He was just 60 years old.

Brown was born on November 20, 1955 in Oklahoma City. Some of his earliest memories were of crawling around on the floor of his grandfather’s music store in Oklahoma City, listening while his grandfather tuned pianos. Music was a huge part of Jonathan’s life from a very early age. “My father started out to be a concert pianist and transformed into an entertainer, music minister, Gospel quartet pianist and teacher,” he remembers. “I grew up with him communicating music to me. My grandfather taught me guitar from the time I was eight years old. Then I studied drums and percussion for four years from Johnny Johnson, who taught at my grandfather’s store. He also taught Bill Maxwell.”

From the time Jonathan was eight until he turned fifteen, he performed with his father in numerous gigs – everything from company Christmas parties to Jaycees conventions to the Dale Evans Rogers Home for the Mentally Retarded. “My father could make 10,000 drunk Jaycees pay attention to us,” he recalled. “I played drums and banjo. We had a regular gig at Shakey’s Pizza Parlor five nights a week!”

From there, Jonathan spent his weekends playing drums and keyboards with several bands in his teens, including The H.I.S. Men, The Perfect Combination and Blues Road Junction. He credited all of these musical experiences with forming his eventual direction as a record producer.

SETH at Bethany Nazarene College in 1974

At the tender age of seventeen, Jonathan David Brown was ordained “by the Holy Spirit” as a minister. Not long after, he became part of an early Jesus Music group known as Seth. Seth recorded two albums on the Shalom label. Kelly Willard (then Kelly Bagley) and Keith Edwards (later Amy Grant’s drummer and sought-after session player) were also part of that group. The music of Seth was sometimes compared to that of The Carpenters, James Taylor and Crosby Stills and Nash. Seth wound up an opening act for The Archers. When asked about his time in Seth, Jonathan said, “We toured the country for two years, playing everything from street ministry coffee houses to Saturday night church concerts.”  

After Seth, Jonathan David Brown switched gears. “When I moved to L.A., I gave up the ministry to minister to ministers,” he said, somewhat confusingly. “This inadvertently made me a modern-day Jonah, avoiding my original calling in lieu of a more ‘comfortable’ career.”

Well, that “more comfortable career” resulted in a whole lot of wonderful music. But we’re getting ahead of the story. Let’s back up a little bit.

JDB at Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa in 1978

After graduating high school, Brown was offered a full scholarship to Oral Roberts University which he turned down in lieu of a job at Mama Jo’s Recording Studio in North Hollywood. He had married his high school sweetheart, Tammy, and the two of them set out for sunny Southern California. Jonathan paid his dues by working at Mama Jo’s for $25 per day for an entire year. He rubbed shoulders with artists such as Alan Parsons, Ambrosia, and Al Stewart. He also served as a second engineer for a very talented man by the name of Bill Schnee. “Schnee had an unbelievable career during which he worked with everyone from Three Dog Night to Melissa Manchester, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, and zillions of others,” Jonathan recalled. “He taught me how to trust my ears, use tube microphones, and when to know that I was struggling too hard.”

Brown went to work for Maranatha! Music and was heavily involved in the planning, design and building of Maranatha’s recording studio. It’s been said that every part of that studio had Jonathan’s fingerprints on it. After working on albums such as Sail On Sailor by Mustard Seed Faith, Shotgun Angel by Daniel Amos, and Kelly Willard’s Blame It On the One I Love, Jonathan David Brown was off and running.

Jonathan David Brown working on the album "Shotgun Angel" by Daniel Amos

“I first met Jonathan at Good News Recording Studio in the San Fernando Valley,” remembers Oden Fong of the group Mustard Seed Faith. “I immediately saw his genius and talent and marveled at him! One day Jonathan took albums by myself, Bob Bennett and Kelly Willard and walked into KNX-FM, a secular radio station, and humbly inspired the program director to listen to them. They ended up playing several of our songs in their regular rotation, ministering to their secular audience. I would hear my voice and songs in the supermarket. I marveled at God’s hand in this!”

Jonathan David Brown in the studio with Twila Paris, Matthew Ward and Greg X. Volz

Brown’s voluminous body of work is impressive, but he is perhaps remembered most for his work with the band Petra.

Of course, Brown had heard Petra’s groundbreaking 70s albums on Myrrh Records and had seen them play live in 1979 at Knott’s Berry Farm in Orange County, California. But he didn’t meet Bob Hartman and Greg X. Volz until Darrell Harris and Wayne Donowho, co-owners of Star Song Records, introduced the men and asked Jonathan to record Never Say Die.

The album marked a huge turning point for Petra.

“Prior to Washes Whiter Than, Petra had what I would consider to be ‘underground fame’ among the newly-converted rockers listening to Jesus Music,” said Brown. “Washes Whiter Than delivered them up to Christian radio for the first time with Why Should the Father Bother? So the first thing Darrell and Wayne played for me after that record’s nominal success was a demo of The Coloring Song. They knew it was a smash, and I agreed. Greg X. Volz added the juice necessary to catapult the band into the 100,000 sales club.”

The song was a huge success. Jonathan remembered: “Why Should the Father Bother cracked open the door. The Coloring Song blew the wall down.”

Brown was hired to work with Petra because he had enjoyed some success with bands – Sweet Comfort, Mustard Seed Faith, Daniel Amos – and he understood radio.

Brown was at the helm for two of the greatest arena rock albums ever recorded: 1982’s More Power To Ya and 1983’s Not Of This World. He remembered working with Greg X. Volz (who became a life-long friend) with melodic interpretation and phrasing. “Bob [Hartman] just let Greg and me do what we needed to get Greg’s best performance – everything except choose the right key,” Brown revealed. “We were stuck with ‘guitar keys,’ which sometimes made Greg, in spite of his range, have to pull up his shorts! I didn’t like the dog whistle frequencies. They probably wore Greg out, and me trying to get them on tape. But hey…at least nobody had to use a capo!” More Power To Ya, in particular, is remembered as an amazing record; Brown has called it “the most fun record” he ever made. It was recorded in Uvalde, Texas in a studio on an 18,000-acre ranch in the West Texas desert, where scorpions roamed freely.

Jonathan David Brown was also responsible for a classic moment not just in Petra’s career, but in the history of Christian rock and roll: the backward masking on the front of Judas’ Kiss was his idea. It was actually spoken by Petra keyboardist John Slick in case you’re wondering. Brown was quite fond of Slick, an often underrated and overlooked keyboardist. “John Slick was perhaps equally as talented as John Lawry,” offered Brown. “He could make a musical silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”

This 'Mailgram' will give you an indication of how record company executives
appreciated the talents of Jonathan David Brown 

For all the credit Brown receives for Never Say Die, More Power To Ya and Not Of This World, he also receives criticism for his part in the schism that led to that particular incarnation of Petra blowing apart. His decision to replace drummer Louie Weaver and bassist Mark Kelly with a Fairlight synthesizer opened up some wounds that took a long time to heal. Beat the System was a great album, but it was a departure…definitely a nod toward what was current and trendy in 1985. It is remembered quite fondly, of course, by Petra fans, but doesn’t necessarily hold up as well as some of the band’s other works from the 1980s.

After the live album in 1986 (Captured in Time and Space), Brown and Petra parted ways. As did Volz and Petra. By this time, Jonathan David Brown and Greg X. Volz were close friends, so Brown helped Volz record another great record, The River is Rising, and several others after that.

Greg X. Volz

Brown’s career as an audio engineer and producer was obviously a huge success. Sadly, his first marriage was not. He was divorced from his first wife in 1985. She went on to work as a secretary for Sony Music Nashville.

Jonathan David Brown later remarried: “I decided Rachel and I should be ‘just friends’ at first – you know, ‘brother and sister in the Lord.’ That’s obviously not what destiny had in store. We married May 2, 1987. She is my partner for life, Yahweh willing…and I think He is.”

Brown’s tremendously fruitful career as a producer and engineer came to an abrupt and shocking halt in 1992 when he was convicted and sentenced to a 27-month federal prison term and fined $10,000 for accessory to a conspiracy to violate civil rights and perjury, when he helped a man hide from authorities after a drive-by shooting of a Jewish synagogue in Nashville. Articles in Brown’s apartment indicated membership in a white supremacist group.

Oden Fong

“These charges that Jonathan became part of the KKK and did some prison time for harboring a man who shot up a Jewish synagogue…this was true,” laments Oden Fong. “When I heard about his adventures into this strange way of thinking, I was not surprised. Nothing about Jonathan’s thinking process was ever ‘normal.’ He was brilliant and emotional, but was also able to get off-base and delve into wackiness. Those things didn’t move me to dismiss or discard my friend. Jesus never gives up on us, does He? He puts up with our junk, so should we not be patient with others?”

Indeed, Brown often dabbled (or dove into) beliefs and doctrines that were decidedly out of the mainstream. He took “the vow of the Nazarite” in 1989 for spiritual and physical strength. And he later became the first known “Sabbath keeper” to begin the practice of counting the Sabbath from the New Moon day rather than using the modern seven-day week. It’s known as the Lunar Sabbath movement.

In the process of researching this post, I discovered a comment board online that featured a brief interaction between Jonathan David Brown and the self-appointed Christian investigative reporter Jon Trott (who’s seemingly always at odds with somebody about something). Brown’s reply to Trott was very revealing:

“You have no idea what I believe, only what others have said. I am merely a servant of Yahweh – nothing more. And in fact, the modern churches have given only lip service to Yahweh’s laws, which is why the nation is in the shape it’s in. They have filled their plates with unclean food and have brought about this fury. Even so, we must be patient with all who claim to belong to Him that we might remain on the path of righteousness.”

JDB in the studio with Glen Campbell

After serving his prison term – which he referred to as his ‘federal sabbatical’ – Brown released an album titled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and continued to work in music, lending his talents to projects by Karen Lafferty, Kelly Willard, Glen Campbell and others.

His spiritual and political views left many scratching their heads, but his talent was never in question. “The stuff that Jonathan produced and engineered, sonically and everything like that, he was a genius,” offered no less an expert than Steve Taylor. “And you won’t hear me use that word very often, but he was really a genius.”

“Jonathan will be missed by me and many others who were blessed enough to spend time with him,” said Oden Fong. “He was one of a kind, a throw-away-the-mold creative soul!”

JDB (center) with Kelly and Dan Willard in Jerusalem in 1974

Perhaps the most touching tribute to Jonathan David Brown came from the wonderful Kelly Willard, a friend, a former bandmate in Seth, and a solo artist who benefited from Brown’s amazing ear for music. I will close this post with her words…

So thankful that I was able to make it to the funeral service for my dear friend, Jonathan David Brown…

We worshipped God in song together, we laughed, we cried.... Greg Volz sang Great is Thy Faithfulness, I sang my favorite song that Jonathan wrote, called My Friend....
The upside of the whole situation is that Jonathan is at peace. His faith has become sight. He knows in full, he sees in full. His joy is now complete, in the very presence of the God he loved.... but, most importantly, he is with the God who loved him...the God who loved him perfectly, through all of his ups and downs and ins and outs.... just like He loves us through our ups and downs and ins and outs.
I knew Jonathan from the time we were both 17 years old, and one thing I know for sure – Jonathan knew Jesus and he loved Jesus. Now he is with Jesus, finally! Sometimes we, as friends, couldn't support every path he took in his journey here on earth (All we like sheep have gone astray), but let us honor this man as our brother in Christ, and let us recognize his God-given gifts and talents, and his countless contributions to the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through music, and let us forgive as we desire to be forgiven.

Rest in peace, Jonathan. We love you!

Kelly Willard

Jonathan David Brown (1955-2016)