|BOOTLEG by Larry Norman (1972)|
One Way Records - JC4847
Larry Norman was a prophet, a poet, and a public relations mastermind. Did he sometimes contradict himself and exaggerate his accomplishments? Yes, he did. But there’s no denying his foundational role in the birth and growth of Jesus Rock. He was there. His contributions were pivotal. His look, his voice, his mannerisms, his weirdness, his skill, his talents, his eccentricities, his aura -- whether authentic or contrived -- were all an indispensable part of the Jesus Movement milieu. The effect and importance of his songs cannot be overstated. He was a peaceful revolutionary who sometimes got in his own way and stepped on his message…but always pointed people to Jesus. Larry David Norman was there. On the front end. And Bootleg is auditory proof.
Bootleg is to Jesus Movement devotees what the Holy Grail was to Indiana Jones. Which is silly to even say, since the Holy Grail is an unproven literary legend and Indiana Jones is a mythical character. But you get my drift. Bootleg is an important artifact from the Jesus Movement era; listening to it is almost like watching a documentary. Here, Larry Norman preserved a nice slice of history for future generations to discover and enjoy.
Larry Norman was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, in April of 1947, the oldest of four children of Joe and Margaret Norman. His father was a high school English teacher. The family moved to a what Larry described as a predominantly black neighborhood in California in the 1950s, placing Norman in the right place at the right time to (eventually) start a cultural revolution. It began innocently enough, with Larry performing his own rock ’n’ roll songs (such as they were) at school in the Bay area and in Sunday school at his church. Having trusted Christ at age five, Norman would later say that he felt Elvis Presley had stolen rock and roll from the black Pentecostal church in America and he was “determined to steal it back.” It’s been said that the genesis of his idea for marrying Christian lyrics with rock music began right then and there, resulting in his writing songs like Moses (which would later appear on his first solo album Upon This Rock). Norman would later claim that he was nine years old when he began to ponder this idea of combining the musical sounds of Elvis with the words of Jesus Christ (it’s fitting that Larry and Elvis were both inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in the same year – 2001). Meanwhile, while he did teach himself to play guitar and piano, Norman never learned to read music.
One of Larry’s childhood friends, Paul Tokunaga, would grow up to be an author and a high-ranking staff member with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. But back in the 50s, Paul and Larry were just kids with competing paper routes (Paul delivered for the San Jose Mercury while Larry worked for the San Francisco Chronicle). Paul’s description of Larry is fascinating.
“Larry was white white,” Paul says. “He would’ve given chalk a good name. Back then his nearly white hair was in a crewcut. Crewcuts had been out for at least five years, maybe ten.”
Tokunaga was a few years younger than Norman and says Larry kept his paper route well into his high school years, which was unusual. “I heard about Larry being constantly taunted by the jocks,” Paul remembers. “Once he was beaten up. He never fought back because he was a pacifist.”
Larry’s interest in and love for music helped him land a slot on Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour, a forerunner to American Idol and America’s Got Talent. Norman formed a band called the Back Country Seven during his high school days with his sister and a friend. After opening for a band called People, he was invited to join the group as a lead singer. Norman ditched the crewcut and grew his hair down to his shoulders. Paul Tokunaga recalls watching People play as Larry “danced, pranced and sang, his wild mane of nearly white hair taking on a life of its own.”
People ended up with a hit on their hands – a million-selling cover of I Love You (originally released by The Zombies). They opened for the likes of Jimi Handrix, The Doors, The Who, Janis Joplin, and many other heavyweight secular acts of the late 60s.
Larry Norman left People to begin a solo career and spent several years witnessing and performing on the streets of Hollywood, as well as writing for musical theater. During these years, Larry’s classic Upon This Rock was released on Capitol Records, an album that is generally credited with being the world’s first Christian rock album. Technically released in 1969, Upon This Rock has been approved by the author of this post (yours truly) for inclusion on this list and will be thoroughly explored and reviewed in a future post on this blog. For now, let’s just call it a Game Changer, not just for Christian music but for Christendom at large. Never mind that it didn’t sell briskly initially; the whole way we communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ through music changed forever the day Upon This Rock hit store shelves.
The next couple of years for Norman were marked by an association with First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, more street ministry, and well-timed appearances at Explo ’72.
A young Steve Camp was in attendance at Explo ’72, a week-long gathering in Dallas, Texas that made the cover of Life magazine and has since been called a “Christian Woodstock.”
“My most vivid remembrance of the heart of Larry Norman is something I witnessed at Explo '72,” Camp wrote in his blog upon Norman’s death in 2008. “Larry had just done an outdoor concert at Southern Methodist University. He was heading downtown and several of us followed to see what he would do next. We saw him talking to some policemen. A few minutes later they were kneeling at that street corner with Larry, praying to receive the Lord Jesus Christ. I will never forget that powerful image as long as I live. Larry had an unmistakable evangelist’s heart and a burden for those that the established church either rejected or alienated.”
All of this was happening against a backdrop of a far-reaching, grass-roots, organic, authentic, spiritual revival among young people on the West Coast. Hippies were turning away from the empty promises of drugs and sexual promiscuity and embracing Jesus. Churched kids who had rejected the piety and legalism of their parents’ religion were finding God on their own terms. Leaders like Chuck Smith, Arthur Blessitt, Jack Sparks, Ted Wise, Jim Durkin, Greg Laurie, Duane Pederson, Kathryn Kuhlman, Hal Lindsey, and others either founded para-church ministries to help reach and disciple these new converts or simply welcomed them into established churches.
During this time Larry was reportedly running a halfway house, performing his songs for anyone who’d listen and earning $80 per month for “refining and polishing songs” for Capitol artists.
While Larry Norman played a huge part in exhorting and exciting the young people who were becoming believers during the Jesus Movement, he at times seemed disconnected from the movement itself, telling reporters that it made him uncomfortable. Since he himself was not one of the youth who had recently come to Christ and had no ‘personal testimony’ of ‘getting high on Jesus’ and forsaking drugs and sex, he didn’t feel completely at home with the new converts or with the established Church, feeling caught somewhere between. Consider this excerpt from Mark Allan Powell’s Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music:
If there was a “conversion experience” it was not from the hippie culture to the Church, but the other way around. Norman came as a young Christian to embrace parts of the counter-cultural youth movement, while clearly rejecting other aspects of it. He never did drugs and he was not noted for protesting the Vietnam War or for supporting civil rights. He did, however, grow his hair down to his waist and learn to play protest songs of Dylanesque stature. He spoke in the idiom of the day (minus obscenities) and he espoused enough anti-institutionalism and showed sufficient disrespect for (selected) authorities to earn him a place in the hearts of America’s hippie youth. Most of all, he embraced rock and roll…
Norman’s message was finding an audience and making its mark. His appearance was striking, his approach confrontational, and his lyrics provocative. Blogger Michael Spencer wrote that Norman had an eccentric personality that made every concert and interview memorable…with total disregard for what was accepted or acceptable among Christians. The totality of the package that was Larry Norman was very intriguing to a whole lot of people, and won him a loyal following among the Jesus freaks, first in California, and then across the country and even overseas. Author and historian Mark Allan Powell wrote that Larry Norman would end up “the single most important individual in the development of the genre” of Christian rock music.
Unhappy with the way he’d been treated by record labels, both secular and Christian, he established one of his own – One Way Records. He reportedly used a $3,000 loan from a forward-looking, sympathetic Pat Boone and used the money to record three albums: Street Level, Bootleg, and Randy Stonehill’s debut, Born Twice.
Bootleg made this list for its historical importance, not for its production values or musical performance. It’s been called “the original unplugged album”…” another underground winner for Larry”…and “one of the finest albums of Norman’s career.”
Despite the title, Bootleg was perfectly legal. Intimate and unpretentious, it is a 2-album collection of songs, monologues, and interviews that gives the listener an excellent sense of what God was doing through the Jesus Movement. The album’s Wikipedia entry describes it as a “retrospective covering four years of Norman's career [1968-1972] compiled from demonstration recordings made while at Capitol, private recordings from his friends, and various interviews and live performances.” A full dozen or so of the songs on Bootleg would appear (or had already appeared) in more fully-produced studio versions on his proper record label releases...so, as the album title suggests, these are basically demos or 'bootleg' recordings.
It was claimed that the album was deliberately recorded to sound like an unauthorized recording to ensure reception by street people. "Many songs which ended up being released on Bootleg weren't really finished,” Larry said in 1999, “but I had to release the album immediately so it wouldn't violate the terms of my MGM contract which was soon going to be in effect. I just didn't have time to finish it. I didn't have the budget to make it a real album, I just used songs laying around to fill it up, which I regretted."
[Make of that what you will. You’ve probably noticed that I include very few quotes from Larry in the posts on this blog. That’s because, in all honesty, I don’t consider them to be reliable. I love the man. He had and continues to have, a tremendously positive influence on me, both musically and spiritually. If there was a Christian Rock Mt. Rushmore, his likeness would be the first one chiseled in granite. But he was the consummate promoter, always concerned about projecting a certain image and controlling how he was perceived. Like I said earlier, he was prone to exaggeration and contradiction. So you won’t read a lot of Larry quotes in these posts because, sadly, he’s gone now…so they just can’t be corroborated.]
Now...this is a Larry Norman album, so of course, there were multiple versions of Bootleg released for you collectors out there -- lots of label and cover variations. Larry was always good about giving you several different versions to track down, because, well, that's just fun, right? Happy collecting!
Side One of Bootleg was labeled "The Early Tapes" and covered the year 1968. It begins with a rambunctious romp - just Larry at the piano, singing a song called I Think I Love You. The raw, bootleg quality of the recording is evident from the very beginning, with mistakes on the piano clearly heard. It seems that this song is unique to Bootleg; it begins as if it's a love song to a girl, but later it becomes clear that Larry is talking to the Lord:
I think I love You
I've only known You for a couple of hours
I think I love You
When You're near it's like a roomful of flowers
We met last Monday in the L.A. heat
In the downtown section on a one-way street
The man with the Bible dropped a track at my feet
You know the rest, Your way is always the best
I think I love You
You're the best thing that's happened to me
I think I love You
I used to wonder where You could be
I used to seek after truth and follow where it led
So many facts and philosophies inside my head
I heard so many people telling me You was dead
I bet they all owned a Bible that's never been read
All my life I've been wondering what I should do
Suddenly I stopped wondering
'Cause I really found the answer when I fell in love with You
I think I love You
And I know that You love me
I think I love You
And I know You first loved me
You're not dead
You're not even sick
A 2:15 stripped-down version of Walking Backwards Down the Stairs follows. For my money, this song is better experienced on Upon This Rock...but Larry's vocal here does give it an intimacy that's almost eerie.
Larry sings a somewhat sloppy harmony vocal with himself on the brilliant Ha Ha World, another song that sounded much better on Upon This Rock. This definitely sounds like a demo. One reviewer said this is what Ha Ha World would've sounded like had it been recorded by Jefferson Airplane.
After a brief instrumental sidebar titled Classical Mandolin, it's yet another song from Upon This Rock - I Don't Believe in Miracles. Larry's plaintive vocal over mandolin and a drumming performance by Hilly Michaels that is, um, interesting.
Side One of Bootleg wraps with a Yuletide classic called The Day That a Child Appeared. There weren't very many bonafide Christmas classics among the Jesus Music artists. Christmastime recorded by both Larry and Randy Stonehill would definitely fall into that category, as would Stonehill's Christmas Song (For All Year Round). But this one is also very special. It certainly seems right at home on this collection of stripped down, intimate rarities. Larry turns in a chilling vocal performance over slow, piano bar blues as he calls on us to refocus on the purpose of the Christmas season for the Christian...
I was thinking just last Sunday
That the world confuses one day
With the rest throughout the year
And that one day is the day that a child appeared.
Just a baby in a manger
But the room was filled with strangers
And the star hung in the sky
Like an angel on the day that a child appeared.
Little children please remember
Why we celebrate December
It's much more than Santa Claus
But you're right about the gift and tree
A gift of life at Calvary
Larry's playing in a major key as he sings about Santa Claus, but subtly shifts to minor chords as he talks about the cross at Calvary...a technique that can go unnoticed, but was highly effective. The Day That a Child Appeared would turn up again on a 2002 Collector's Edition CD reissue of Upon This Rock, and on a 2014 release titled Christmastime...but for many years, it was found only here on Bootleg.
Side Two of the first record is labeled The "One Way" Sessions and covers 1969.
What Goes Through Your Mind was recorded with a full band, but it's a bit of a downer. The song is talking to a female friend or lover who apparently has big doubts about the afterlife and whether God is even real. With lines like You know your life is hell / But you've learned to hide it well and If you're trying to flee the world / You're gonna be let down / And the sea of people don't care / If you live or you drown...well, it's a little depressing. This is another track that turned up on some of Larry's many compilations decades later, but it was heard first on Bootleg.
Along with full-length songs, Bootleg also contains what one reviewer called "evocative little snatches of music and lyrics," tracks that seem like pieces of songs or song ideas. The next track, No Change Can Attend is a good example. Clocking in at about a minute, I would've loved to hear this fleshed out into a more complete song. The lyrical sentiment is that while human affection, opinions and moral views change, God's love remains constant, a rock we can cling to and depend on.
Every human tie may perish
Friend to friend unfaithful prove
Mothers cease their own to cherish
Heaven and earth at last remove
And the music world grows garish
While the moral codes regroove
But no change can attend Jehovah's love
We're back to just piano for this one, with Larry delivering a raw and passionate vocal performance.
The classic anthem One Way is up next, again just Larry at the piano, sounding very much like an intimate live recording. This song, of course, appears on other albums as well.
A Song Won't Stop the World was a departure, with its country Gospel feel. Unique to Bootleg, this one had lyrics that gave a nod to societal changes in the late 60s and took a jab at the press (as Larry was wont to do)...
This world's in trouble
You know it's true
But who has the answers
To help us get through?
We look to our leaders
They politely yawn
The press gives coverage
And the world goes on
The radio's blastin'
The music's loud
A message is given
To a face in the crowd
By a prophet of music
A poet of song
The truth is spoken
And the world goes on
A song can't stop the world
From goin' round
This song won't stop the world
From being unsound
But it might change a heart
Change a heart or two
No, it can't stop the world
But it might stop you
Blue Shoes White is a lively rock and roll performance, this time Larry on a terrible sounding acoustic guitar. He uses 'a pair of shoes' and 'rhythm and blues' to effectively present the salvation message: If you're steppin' through life, then my appeal / Is to follow in His footsteps and get your soles re-heeled / And if ya wanna give your feet a treat / Then get ready to walk down that golden street...
By the way, the rough and raw sonic quality of a lot of these songs does not diminish them; to the contrary, it reminds the listener that he or she is hearing something special...that he or she has the next best thing to a front row seat to the history that Larry made with these songs in the late 60s and early 70s. Besides, with a title like Bootleg, you kind of know what you're getting, right?
Next up was a pre-In Another Land version of the very dark, end times warning Six Sixty Six (The Anti-Christ). Backing himself on guitar, this one sounds very much like a stripped down demo.
After an interesting song snippet - Taking My Time - Side Two of the first record concludes with another Norman masterpiece that was later recorded on In Another Land. Here, I've Searched All Around is a little raw, but Norman is backed by a full band.
Now we're getting to what really makes Bootleg special. Side Three, labeled Mixed Media (1970-1971), is a section of the album that might not hold up well to repeated listening...but, more than anything else, this is what qualifies Bootleg as a prized audio documentary.
AllMusic's Jason Anderson wrote, "Listeners who are so inclined should pay special attention to the spoken section on Side Three of Bootleg. The 'grandfather of CCM' testifies eloquently about his belief and how it is translated through his music. Many a CCM artist and preacher (of any faith) could learn from Norman's delivery, which is typically humorous and humble." Mark Allan Powell wrote, "These interviews and spoken monologues provide valuable and authentic documentation of the thinking that fueled the Jesus Movement...enthusiasm, unflinching commitment, and a generous amount of sardonic joy."
The first track is titled Television Interview. In it, a TV news reporter attempts to learn more about the Jesus People, their music and their beliefs. Larry deftly and patiently explains the difference between religion and a relationship with Jesus, and the validity and veracity of the Scriptures. Larry often complained about the press, but he was great in moments like these. He had a way of answering these questions that just drew you in...commanding your attention and causing you to hang on every word.
Next up was, for me, the undisputed highlight of the album. Norman addressed Let the Lions Come to Russia for Christ Ministries, which was founded by David V. Benson in 1958. It is scary...beautiful...haunting...prophetic. In a 2008 eulogy for Larry, fellow Jesus Music pioneer John Fischer called him a prophet. He then wrote, "There are undoubtedly those who would challenge me on that statement, but I will not recant. He was an enigma--an iconoclast. He could be so far off you wondered if he was only visiting this planet, but he could be so on the mark that you could only credit the truth and light of the Holy Spirit for it." Beautifully put.
I listened again recently to Let the Lions Come for the first time in a very long time. Tears filled my eyes and spilled over; it is as powerful today as ever. To print his words here would only serve to cheapen them; you'll have to listen to the track yourself. But I suggest that you listen through headphones in a dark room for full impact.
Jesus and the Movies suffers from poor audio quality, but it puts Larry's humor front and center, complete with impersonations of John Wayne and Walter Brennan. It's funny stuff.
Another of the album's highlights is something called Addressing the National Youth Workers Convention which is actually a hilarious live recording of Larry's classic sing-along, Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation. The song was one of the hits from Upon This Rock and would later be recorded by everyone from Evie to the Imperials, from Selah to Rebecca St James, and probably dozens more. Here, Larry's wit steals the show as he tries to get a convention of youth pastors and leaders to clap and sing along with him. Larry drops into what today might even be called a free-style rap, as he reminds these leaders that they are first and foremost followers...of Christ. Interestingly, he also name-drops President Nixon and the UN, drawing more laughs from the crowd. It's basically a 12-minute demonstration of the kind of hold Larry Norman could have over an audience...with just a microphone and a guitar. Classic stuff.
The final side of Bootleg is labeled Maranatha (1971-1972). This one contains no fewer than eight tracks.
When I First Met You is a little over a minute long and features a beautiful melody over some rich chords.
When I first saw you I was all alone
Wishing for a love I could call my own
Watching a dream step out of time
Suddenly this came to my mind
When maybe you...
I'm hoping that maybe we...
I'm praying that maybe you and I
Can spend our lives together
This was another one that was just begging for a longer, full-length treatment. Gone way too soon!
Without Love You Are Nothing (AKA Righteous Rocker) get a gritty, fuzzed-up, full band treatment. It's one of the more hard rock moments on Bootleg. But more impressive versions of this song appear elsewhere.
Another one-minute snippet at the piano comes in the form of A Love Like Yours. It's a heart-cry to God...
With a love like Yours
A man could live in beauty and in grace
If I were a king I'd give everything
Just to see Your face
With a love like Yours
A man could be completely satisfied
He'd have no more fears
He'd shed no more tears
And have no more need to hide
You have saved me
You have saved me
You have saved me from myself
The bluesy You Can Save Me was a standout track. It's a live recording with Norman accompanying himself on guitar. It's a prayer to the Lord that is alternately touching and funny...
You can save me
If You want to
Come and save me
'Cause I want You to
Come inside me
I will let You
I will let You wash away my sins
I sure am glad I met You
God, You know I love You
But I've been so bad, God
How can You love me?
I can't see You
But I know You're there
And I can't touch You
But I know You care
God, I love You
And I just bought Your book
I took it home and had a real long look
And this may not sound nice
But my favorite part is where You died for me
God I love You
I'm so happy
You saved my life
I was messed up
I was honky-jive
You know what I'm talking about?
Got Your Spirit
Now I feel so young
You have saved me
Even gave me tongues
Jesus, I'm so happy
I just wish that all my friends would let You in
Larry's back at the piano for a Second Coming ballad called Even If You Don't Believe. This one had a really nice chord progression and hit on a recurring theme of the Jesus Movement.
Even if you don't believe it's gonna come true
Even if you don't believe it's gonna happen to you
He's gonna come down
Take a last look around
And with both feet off the ground
You'll be homeward bound
We'll all be homeward bound...
Bootleg closes with a trio of tunes that would later be recorded either on Only Visiting This Planet, In Another Land, or both.
UFO works on one level with just Larry and his guitar, but it would later benefit tremendously from the production values that a bigger budget would buy on In Another Land.
Bootleg gives us a garage band version of Why Don't You Look Into Jesus, a song that one author said established Norman as "the ultimate Christian rocker." I'm sure this version of the song was wildly exciting in early 1972; better recordings of this classic song were on the way, thankfully.
Larry closes out Bootleg with Song for a Small Circle of Friends which contains some shout-outs to friends and fellow musicians, along with his desire that they would all recognize and experience the reality of God's love.
At the time of this recording, Larry Norman's reach and influence were already being felt in a powerful way, both in the Church and beyond the Church. But we hadn't seen or heard nothin' yet. He was just warming up.
In his 2008 obituary for Larry, John Fischer also wrote these words:
"I have always likened Larry to John the Baptist--a non-conformist living in the desert wearing funny clothes, eating weird foods and hearing voices no one else heard... In a time of spiritual revolution, Larry Norman carried the torch. He was and will remain, through his enigmatic music, a voice crying in the wilderness."
I'm not particularly afraid of what's going to happen in the United States.
I'm glad, in a way, because it's going to force a lot of people to make a choice and not be so casual.
When you don't have a church to go to, you going to wish you had fellowship.
And those of you who are Christians are really going to treasure your Christianity more, and it's going to mean something to you, and it's going to work more for you because you're going to commit yourself to it more.
And you'll start tearing out pages from your Bible.
I'm not afraid of the Russians coming or the Chinese or the World Council of Churches if that's gonna be our enemies, too.
Let them come.
I'm not afraid of the lions.
Let them eat me.
They can't swallow my soul.
They can't touch us.
They can't get us.
We've been bought with the price and nobody's got enough money or enough force to buy us back.
They can't touch you.
And when they come you just pray for them.
And when they lead you away, you just sing "Glory to God."
And when they shoot you...