From the mid 1970’s through the early 1980’s my Christian music knowledge and appreciation was informed by a few people that helped me discover the music I love so much today. Reading reviews written by Chris Willman (CCM and LA Times), Thom Granger (CCM), Bruce Brown (several publications) and most notably Brian Quincy Newcomb (Harvest Rock Syndicate) helped introduce me to a wide array of music I would never be able to hear on Christian radio nor find easily in a Christian Bookstore. Their reviews had to be clear as well as expressive in order to convey what a record “felt” like in order for me to become excited about it.
Newcomb, more than the others, appeared to be the “radical” one who always found and reviewed the more aggressive and progressive acts that I knew would appeal to me. My thoughts were at the time that if Quincy reviewed it and it was positive, then I would try to track it down.
It is obvious that the music that one cuts their teeth on seem to have the most lasting impact and the reviews written by those above helped pave the way for much of what I have loved for 40 years.
But the greatest impact came from my then future brother-in-law, who for some reason never found it “a drag” to have to drag his girlfriends little brother around to concerts at Calvary Chapel, the local high school or even Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm.
One such “dragging” took place in 1979 at a “Night of Joy” at Disneyland. The night was primarily filled with The Boones, Reba Rambo, Randy Stonehill and a very young Amy Grant. But in the smallest of venues in the entire park he took me to see Barry McGuire and the Resurrection Band. I was familiar enough with McGuire’s music as my parents had introduced me to Seeds, Lighten Up and the brand new (at the time) Cosmic Cowboy albums.
McGuire was his normal affable and wonderful self playing the hits and making jokes in between each song. I do recall him joking that those in the front row may want to get ear plugs for what was to come next. At the time he was saying that I didn’t quite understand what everyone was laughing about. It was like being left out of an inside joke.
Twenty minutes later I got the joke!
That night I bought (or I’m guessing my future brother-in-law bought for me) the classic “Music to Raise the Dead” T-shirt that is still in a box somewhere. Medium? Really, I ever wore a medium?
That night I was introduced to the band that would mean more to me spiritually and emotionally than any other band on this list. They would make a career of challenging my walk, informing my social conscience and building a Biblical worldview. All that in three-minute spurts.
Resurrection Band is, by far and without question, the most socially conscious and relevant band in Christian music history. Their songs described inner-city life and strife long before any other Christian artist would dare tangle with the issue, outside of possibly Larry Norman. But coming from the point of a Ground Zero lifestyle through their Jesus People USA ministry, the descriptions were authentic and personal.
Resurrection Band was the first band in the world to deal with the horrible situation in South Africa involving Apartheid. Their song, “Afrikaans,” would be written and released a year before Peter Gabriel’s “Biko.” Content involving intimacy in marriage, prostitution, drug abuse, sexual deviancy, hypocrisy, suicide, pride and hopelessness were simply unheard of in Christian Music at that time, yet they were staples of Resurrection Bands content.
Forming in the early 70’s under the name “Charity” as part of a Christian community in Milwaukee, the band featured husband and wife lead singer, Glenn and Wendi Kaiser. After a move to Chicago and a change of name to “Resurrection Band” the group released a now rare cassette of demos called “Music to Raise the Dead.” That tape would actually contain a long time live favorite “Quite Enough” that would not be officially recorded and released until their live album, “Bootleg” more than a decade later.
In 1978 the band was signed to the Star Song label that also had Petra as an artist and it seemed like it would be a great fit as it was hoped that those at Star Song would understand the aggressive ministry, music and message of the band. But that relationship would only last for two album.
“Awaiting Your Reply” would be that debut album on Star Song. The album starts with the sound of a man in a subway station turning on the radio to hear the disc jockey say, “So hang in there as we play some music by…Resurrection Band? How’d this get in the stacks? Oh well, here’s hopin'”
That creative opening segment kicks straight into some of the hardest rock at the time in Christian music, most definitely the heaviest on a non-independent label. Wendi’s “Grace Slick” like vocals trade back and forth with Glenn’s growling, bluesy voice. For years my throat hurts and turns raw anytime I try to sing along with him.
“Awaiting Your Reply” is very blues driven rock, something akin to what Black Sabbath was doing at the time. The faster songs have more of an Aerosmith sound and Wendi’s vocals cannot help but cause the listener to think of Jefferson Starship. The album actually sold quite well despite the limited exposure as many Christian bookstores simply refused to carry the album, or if they did, it was hidden behind the counter. I always hated the practice of bookstores doing that and forcing some teenage boy to sheepishly ask if they carried the record as if he was buying a package of condoms. Despite the banning and difficulty in distribution the album still managed to reach the Top 10 in sales.
I should note here that the album was paid for, including the artwork by a friend of the band that gave them $8,000 for production and artwork and Star Song saw this as a no-lose situation. It was bought and paid for and would never impact their bottom line. It was still a controversial move as other label had rejected it for fear of tipping over the apple cart of safe Gospel music. But with the sales results it can be honestly said that Resurrection band broke down the barriers for rock and metal in Christian music like no other before or after them.
There are several songs of note on this album for worthy consideration: “Waves” is a great rocker in which Glenn and Wendi trade-off vocals. “Broken Promises” is an amazing showcase for Glenn’s blues obsession and remains a favorite of fans even now some 30 years later. “Lightshine” is the one chord wonder that Glenn joked with me about writing when he didn’t know how to sing and play guitar at the same time. The harpsichord makes an appearance on a couple tracks and somehow works as a hard rock instrument. “The Return” closes out the album with an incredible jazz/rock that is closer to Chicago than Black Sabbath complete with killer sax solo.
Resurrection Band’s sophomore attempt was “Rainbow’s End.” It would serve as the last for Star Song as I was once told that record company was not as happy with the album and the direction of the band at the time. I never understood if it was the apparently “progressive” political approach or the music. If it was the first than shame on them! If it was the second I can only question the understanding of modern music of the time by those running the label.
It should be noted at this point that the artwork for the first four Resurrection band albums were simply beyond amazing, and way beyond what anyone else was doing at the time. Not just for the artwork itself, but the packaging was impressive. Three of the first four possessed what is called a “gate fold” which means the packaging opened up to a double wide presentation. There were full lyrics and photos, etc. It was very impressive, especially since that type of artwork is usually reserved for “double albums.”
“Rainbow’s End” had artwork that was even more ambitious. They used a die cut technique for the windows on the front cover and the album jacket insert was a firm cardboard like the out cover. You could then turn the inner jacket different directions and display a different “vision” in the cut out windows.
(Album artwork was really cool back then and a sadly lost art).
Content-wise the album was more Black Sabbath blues influence hard rock. But it is on “Rainbow’s End” that the lyrical content began to show a more socially conscious awareness. This is most notable on the previously discussed “Afrikaans.” The pure passion of Glenn’s vocals still sends a chill down my spine even as I listen as I type. Until I die I will never forget the line “God makes the color, but the color doesn’t make you God.” I had an assignment in my creative writing class in High School to bring in the lyrics to a song that we believed work well as spoken poetry. I chose “Afrikaans.” I got an “A!”
But other songs worthy of note are Skyline, The Wolfsong and Skyline, which proved a harmonica can rock! But the highlight of the album is Glenn’s unforgettable ballad, “Paint a Picture.” The ache of longing for hope is just laid out on the canvas of this song. It shows that a rock song can be emotionally moving. There is pain in the voice and whining guitar that simply cannot be matched in other genres.
Somewhere between 1979 and 1980 something more than a decade changed. The band found a new home at Light Records where they would stay for the first half of the decade. Light Records was home primarily to Andrae Crouch and big band conductor, Ralph Carmichael. The label did sport the Sweet Comfort Band, but they were clearly a pop and funk driven band squarely in the heart of Christian music, both musically and lyrically. What that means is that they were seen as “rockers” who were “safe.”
What came with the change in the decade was a Resurrection Band that rocker faster, harder and with more socially relevant and Biblically striking content. Less Black Sabbath and Jefferson Airplane and more AC/DC and Rush, Colours was a rock tour de force as current as anything for its time and simply a relentless record from the opening instrumental to the closing crescendo cymbals. The production was clean, crisp and loud. The vocals went from bluesy to metal and the guitars…oh, the guitars!
The album addresses much of what the band was seeing out their front door in the inner-city of Chicago. Their ministry doors not only reach out the lost, broken and needy in the city, but is placed firmly in the center of it. The band and the ministry members do not truck in from the suburbs in Town and Country minivans, but live, eat, breathe and love right in the epicenter. So, it makes sense that the content would flow from that perspective.
Colours is Resurrection Band’s defining work. This was AOR radio friendly rock but with decidedly metal edge. It also contains some of Glenn’s finest and most aggressive vocals. Not a song is a miss and the album, as a complete whole, is the best thematically outside of their swan song, Lament. “Mommy Don’t Love daddy” would compare favorably, but did not have the cohesive sound and maintain the level of intensity that “Colours” set forth.
The album starts with a two-minute instrumental introduction to the Wendi Kaiser lead, “Autograph.” Starting the album with this instrumental introduction set the stage for what was to come as it introduced the new and heavier musical direction and also worked well as a concert introit. Stu Heiss’ finest guitar work can be heard on Colours and the intro to “Autrograph” hints at what would come.
By the time Wendi takes on the vocals the song shifted from a groove driven hard rock to a more staccato, borderline punk rhythm. The song addresses how the Lord signs and seals those who are His with his own “blood signature” that was provided in the cross.
I said, “Sign here please,” and You inscribed
Your Name in my heart
Didn’t know what I was getting into
Or what was getting into me for that matter
A little slow to understand,
Love was the word I was after
So Your name kept coming to my lips,
Again and again
Now I understand,
He wanted the heart of this world
You’re His Signature, the very Stamp of His Soul
Spirit in the wind, agony of the cross all told
Signed in blood
The song does warn against those who simply refuse to acknowledge God and how those things that are “gods” of the lost are like forgeries…
Forgery, it happens all the time
Your truth ain’t even on their minds
One of the strengths of the record is found above; taking a common theme and presenting in powerful and unforgettable imagery. This shows the beginning stages of the growth of Kaiser and the band in regards to their songwriting. Glen wrote or co-wrote the entire album and his mark is indelible.
The title track follows and contains one of the best groove riffs in Resurrection Band history. The song is actually a worship song of sorts as it addresses the creative, loving and diverse nature of God’s revelation and that fact that his love is demonstrated to races and colors. And without timing it, it may also contain the longest instrumental break in the band’s history outside of any live album.
Silence stands with open hands hushed before the King
Joy believes and happily praises as she sings
Wonder sits in open fields beholding all You made
Desire seeks Your colours, each and every shade
Whatever one could ask of faith, obedience will give
Together all express the love in hearts where Jesus lives
A distinctive change in content, both musically and lyrically follows with the driving and grinding “N.Y.C.” Glen takes the vocals on a much more AC/DC driven hard rock/heavy metal song than any song previously recorded by the band. Glen’s uncanny ability to “scream” on key is displayed in the bridge and final verse. But the song starts by introducing the listener to the streets.
Out on the curbside, sat a little boy
Is crying cause a story to unfold
I’ve no father, I’ve no family
It’s getting dark and getting cold
I’ve been left here by myself and all alone
Another character is introduced in the second verse, a prostitute whose life is a living hell. “When the fix is late, the pimp won’t wait and you know you’re getting sick.” But the imagery of those wanting something more from life here is powerfully demonstrated and expanded to all sinners no matter their lot in life.
No twinkle, twinkle little star
No one to wonder who you are
We’re all just urchins, beggar boys, disowned
Like Jack and Jill we’ve fallen down
With bruised and battered, tarnished crowns
No water in the well to carry home
But Resurrection Band never shies away from the honest reality, not the answer to these problem as the song concludes.
It’s time we live in honesty, it’s time we learn to cry
To soften our hearts once again
It’s time we lay our bullets down
Embracing Jesus’ love
Salvation comes in no other name
“Hidden Man” follows with a Rush type rock groove that is not as heavy as “N.Y.C.” but stays with the same rock vein. Here the content is about those who attempt to hide from the truth of Gospel even when it is presented before them.
“Amazing” is similar to Autograph in both that it is fronted by Wendi and because of the more punk rhythm that she would actually be noted for in later records as well. This is the type of song that fits Wendi’s voice the best. Here she and Glenn trade-off during the chorus in an expression of God’s amazing and unending love.
What could possibly be Resurrections Band’s finest moments follows with “American Dream.” What was hinted at previously in the bands critique of modern culture, political corruption, class warfare and much more progressive view of social issues than many in the Church had previously displayed. It is also quite possibly the fastest and heaviest song in their repertoire. Glenn’s vocals reach a near breaking point with a double time speed guitar riff and lyrical structure.
After introducing his past frailty of naiveté, Glen than rattles off a list of current problems that has infected and brought about the moral decay that is so prevalent. He finishes with a warning of potential annihilation if the path we are heading down does not shift. This is all in the setting of reading the morning paper.
The holy morning paper
Slaps the steps of dawn
America’s doors open
Let’s see what’s going on
Confusion with our coffee
Fear and frosted flakes
A Shuttle offstage – a change of scene
The expose of the american dream
Watergate burglars comedy relief
Laugh at ideals surviving our griefs
It’s fool’s gold for gilded fools
Playing gaily with twisted rules
Hail to the families in their tv rooms
Suicide, genocide, abortion, cartoons
Terrorism, violence, starving refugees
Conscience, crucified, reality recedes
Nuclear tyrants, computerized plan,
Holding hostage everyman
But here again the band does not feel justified in simply expressing the plight of the situation, but offers the only hope man has for his future survival.
Form dust to dust
Our lives fades away
We are the winds empty sighing
Vanity, all vanity
All but the cross, all but his dying
This song moves immediately into “Benny and Sue,” a story of a lost couple with no sense of hope. Abortion, sexual promiscuity and an eventual premature death of Benny weave throughout the verses. The story of this lost and forgotten couple rings true and authentic. But rather than an “easy answer” salvation message, Jesus pleads with Sue to turn toward him but to no avail. This songs served as a great warning track to sinful and selfish living.
“City Street” is similar in theme to “N.Y.C.” but here the subject’s story is told in first person by Glenn. The music is the most AC/DC like on the album as it is a song built around a “riff” and what a riff it is. Here Glenn is a seeker lost in the city streets with no hope at all. Of all the songs on the album it comes across as the most autobiographical.
Like a joke without a punchline
Like a rat in a maze
Like last years paper
Yellow with age
I was a deck without a dealer
I was a day without a dawn
I was a train without a station
Until You came along
The theme of the lost and lonely on the streets continue with “Beggar in the Alleyway.” Here the song closes with the realization that “joy comes in the morning” and hope is there for those who seek and find.
The album closes with “The Struggle.” The band has made a habit of closing albums with thought-provoking and mid-tempo rockers that leave the listener a little haunted and introspective.
My pride wants me to hide inside myself
But I love you Lord I don’t want our love put on the shelf
I’m tired of feigning to be who I am
Jesus make me what You want me to be
Because of You I desire reality…
…But I can only face myself when I face You..
The passion and authenticity with which these words are presented are the trademark that make them such powerful statements. There is not a moment the listener doubts the conviction of the band. This is not a band whose pointing of the finger was for shock value or pretentious in any way. They not only talked the talk the walked the walk and continue to do so to this day.
In 1980 a band out of commune in the inner-city of Chicago rocked the Christian world with a work that has transcended time and whose content is just as relevant now some 30 years later. Much music today is no longer relevant 30 minutes later.
The band would go on to release many more successful albums throughout the 80’s, shocking fans with a short-lived change in musical direction on “Hostage” incorporating more keyboards and new wave stylings. They would return to the more rock driven roots on following albums and even receive MTV airplay with two songs.
They eventually unofficially called it quits at the turn of the millennium, but will still play occasional one-off shows, especially at Jesus People USA’s annual Cornerstone Festival.
The band did leave on a high note with the Ty Tabor (Kings X) produced, “Lament,” a wonderful theme album that may be their highest artistic achievement. Whether known as Rez, Rez Band or Resurrection Band when it came sheer audacity, intense and memorable rock and for creating a record that changed how the Church and music industry would consider Christian music, Colours is among the greatest Christian albums of all time.