HOW THE WEST WAS ONE
The 2nd Chapter of Acts, Phil Keaggy & a band called DAVID
There are many reason why a project may be included in a listing like this one; pure artistic achievement, popular and industry impact, originality, etc. As a rule, greatest hits projects are not included because they are not an individual artistic expression but rather a compilation of the artists work over a wide time span. Live records, for the most part, are similar to greatest hits projects and, as a result, this is the only record of its sort included on this list. The only other album I considered was DeGarmo and Key’s fabulous “No Turning Back.”
“How the West Was One” is an artistic achievement of its own and is deserving of its representation here if only for the remarkable performance of Phil Keaggy. Phil Keaggy, more than any artist in Christian music, has suffered from the limitations of studio projects. Most Fans of Keaggy bemoan how his live performances have never been captured in the studio. This is certainly not the case here, but that will be dealt with later.
The first thing to note is the ambitious scope of the project itself. A few years earlier the 2nd Chapter of Acts had released a live album with fellow Jesus Music pioneer, Barry McGuire. That album was a double album and sold relatively well based primarily on the success of Barry McGuire who brought quite a strong musical legacy to Christian music. This project was more ambitious being a very rare three record set with the 2nd Chapter of Acts having to carry the load as Phil Keaggy was a relative newcomer to the market and his following was much more in the rock musician vein. Add to that the fact that the SCOA had not released another album of new material since the previous live album with McGuire.
But the pure passion and quality of the performances included on this project are simply top rate. The back up band, a band called DAVID, contained some of the best musicians Christian music has ever witnessed. The band was not called “DAVID” but rather “a band called DAVID.” The band included Gene Gunnels, former drummer Strawberry Alarm Clock, Peter York and the amazing Richard Souther. Along with Keaggy playing throughout the entire album the musicianship was superior. The live band also made the music of SCOA more authentically contemporary,
Highlights include “Hey, Watcha Say,” “Which Way the Wind Blows,” Yahweh,” and one of the finest versions of “Easter Song” to date. The recordings, which were culled from an 18 city tour during 1977, were incredibly well produced with exceptional mixes.
As much as I am a huge fan of the Second Chapter of Acts this project was truly a coming out party for Phil Keaggy. Previous to this release Keaggy was a bit of a cult hero, but mainstream Christian music had not completely caught on to this amazing master. Underground rock fans were familiar with Keaggy and his previous band Glass Harp, a sixties, psychedelic blues influenced band that release three fantastic projects that saw limited success.
Keaggy’s guitar virtuoso reputation was impressive and many urban legends regarding secular guitar heroes respect for his abilities have continued unabated despite nefarious beginnings. One included a comment from famed guitar “rock god” Jimi Hendrix supposedly calling Keaggy the greatest guitar player in the world. Keaggy denies even the possibility of this by noting that Glass Harp’s first album did not even begin to be recorded until weeks after Hendrix’s death.
But these legends have continued for 40 years precisely because of the kind of guitar work demonstrated on “How the West Was One.” Both acoustic and electric stylings are represented here and the craftsmanship is simply unbelievable.
Highlights include “What a day,” the title track from Keaggy’s debut solo record and has remained a staple for Keaggy for nearly 40 years. “Your Love Broke Through” was the title track of Keaggy’s second release and is a wonderful Jesus Music classic penned by Randy Stonehill and Keith Green. It is said that Green was so impressed by Keaggy and his version of the song that he requested that Keaggy release the song before he did.
But there are two songs that simply make this project the true classic that it has become. The first is the nearly 17 minute version of “Rejoice” that shows both Keaggy’s amazing skills and the subtlety of his guitar work. This is not some long rambling “jam” but rather the work of a master displaying diversity, restraint and creative skill. Much of the instrumental spotlight is exclusively the work of Keaggy as the rest of the band simply stops playing and leaves Keaggy and his guitar work center stage.
The other highlight is quite possibly the “Stairway to Heaven” of Christian music. The song, “Time” is a 10 minute tour de force of rock at its finest. Where “Rejoice” shows the innovative, creative and quieter side of Keaggy’s work, “Time” just flat out rocks and contains the finest rock work of Keaggy’s career. The song shows the blazing speed and tasteful lead work that always seems to be missing from his studio projects. The back and forth playing between Keaggy and keyboardist Richard Souther is a sheer rock and roll joy.
“How the West Was One: is a snap shot in time and, in some ways, spelled the end of the Jesus Music part of Christian Music’s history. Things seemed to get “bigger” after the release of this project and two Jesus Music’s leading performers would become significant cogs in the bigger music medium of the 1980’s. But for that moment in time, this wonderful album remains a reminder to what was as it, at the same time, pointed to would be.