Interview with Oden Fong
One of the great things about the Internet is finding people you haven't heard about or had contact with for years. I just happened upon the Poiema Chapel website one day and, lo and behold, there was a picture of Oden Fong! I had been a big Mustard Seed Faith fan in the 70s and of course, being the inquisitive type, I immediately wrote Oden and asked if he would be gracious enough to be interviewed. I know you will find his life, both past and present, as interesting as I did. Enjoy!
One-Way: Oden, music was your life during the 70's but tell us a little about what you've been doing since then?
Oden Fong: Mustard Seed Faith broke up in 1977. I had been in the group since 1971 and had toured extensively with variations of the band. We were pioneering trails (circuits) in those days. There was great suspicion in the traditional churches that we were counterfeit Christians (with our long hair and big amplifiers), coming to corrupt the young people in the many cities and towns in which we visited. We sometimes logged over 60,000 miles a year, most of it driving cross country...and back and forth from California to B.C. Canada and back. It wasn't out of the ordinary for us to play in three different locations each day, for a month at a time. We easily surpassed over 350 concerts a year. Needless to say, we were very tired by 1977. I was personally sick of the road...traveling in a Plymouth Maxi-van towing a large tandem wheel trailer, with seven people in the van (more if any of the wives came). Also, we were moving in different musical styles. Lewis McVay was into country rock, Pedro Buford was studying jazz; I was into a type of illustrative rock, painting pictures, sometimes splattering, sometimes brushing with some order. So, I gave my notice to the group that I was going solo, and suggested that they go on without me. They didn't feel right about that direction so we disbanded.
Rest (Maranatha 3)
Mustard Seed Faith circa 1973
Pedro Buford, Oden Fong & Wade Link
Happy In Jesus (Maranatha 3)
After leaving the band, I had a rough go of it at first. The new head of Maranatha! Music (Chuck Fromm) was trying to get me to go on with the Mustard Seed Faith name. In fact, he put a good deal of pressure in that direction...making it pretty clear that he wasn't interested in anything else except that decision.
So, I was in the process of giving up on recording but a young producer named Jonathan David Brown (he had engineered the mix down for Sail On Sailor) came aboard the Maranatha! Music train and convinced the company to allow us to record my first solo album. In 1978, we released "Come For The Children." After the release of that Album, I started touring again, but this time, flying everywhere. In 1980, Mustard Seed Faith did a little project album based primarily upon some song ideas which Lewis had. The album was very low budget, but it enabled us to get back together for a while and play some more. We have remained very close friends throughout these years. In the following two years, I had personally become discouraged with the way the Christian Music Industry or Business was evolving. It began to take on the form of big business, competition, lawyers, contracts, promoters, charts, who's the biggest and best new artist....etc.
To my own personal conviction, this was too much like the world I had escaped from. I didn't fit into the scene. So, in 1982, I completely dropped out of music. At the time, the guys at Star Song were interested in having me record with them as well as some people at Word, but I was determined to leave music so I went back to work with my father's primary business, Chinese Restaurants. We had a small chain of dinner houses in key locations: Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Encino, Westwood and Anaheim. I became the General Manager of the chain for about three years. I was working 15 hour days, 7 days a week and almost had a nervous breakdown. I left the business, decided to try to move back into Orange County (my wife and I had moved to the Los Angeles area). First, I went to see my pastor, Chuck Smith. I told him that I wanted to move back to Orange County and he could expect to see me out in the parking lot, picking up cigarette butts. He was glad to hear the news and asked if I would be interested in helping develop the music ministry there. At the time, there were several bands and soloists ministering out of the church: Undercover, Youth Choir, Altar Boys, Darrell Mansfield and some other really good groups. I took the offer, came on staff as the music minister. But as time went on, I found it increasingly harder to bridge the gap between the church and the bands. The bands were seen as being "too radical" for the church in some ways. They were heading in a different direction, so the music ministry disbanded. Everyone went their own way.
After this, I started to think about leaving and finding a new adventure to venture out on. I had started a musicians fellowship at the church on Tuesday nights which hadn't grown beyond twenty-five people, so I figured, "what's the loss if I leave." But then, Pastor Chuck asked me to take over the ministry which oversees the affiliate churches. I took the position, knowing nothing about it. Then he asked me to take over the Easter Sunrise Service, Pastor's conferences and other gatherings, so I took those over. Three years went by. It was now 1988. The church affiliation had grown to over 450 churches or more, which was incredible, but even more incredible was that the small musicians fellowship had turned into an open Bible study and was growing weekly. We quickly outgrew the two-classroom's we were meeting in...and moved into the church "Fellowship Hall." A few months later, we out grew the "Fellowship Hall" which held over 500 people...so we moved into the "Sanctuary." Then we began to fill the sanctuary which holds over 2000 people.
In December, 1995, I knew that Jesus wanted me to leave Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. He didn't tell me where I was going, but I knew without a shadow of a doubt that it was time to leave. I thought that I would go back on the road again and play music with Lewis McVay who had just acquired a large motor home, but some of my elders from our Bible Study which continued on after I left staff at Calvary convinced me to plant a church in Huntington Beach where there were thousands of wild kids roaming the streets.
I wanted to know for sure if this was truly the direction which God was leading..so I put a fleece before Him. I said, "Lord, if you really want to do this, then I want you to do it without any help from me. " I am not going to advertise the church, nor tell anyone about it, but I will show up, lead song worship and teach a Bible study. If You want this to become a church, then you will bring the people."
We had our first service in a rented Middle School Auditorium on Christmas Eve, December, 1995 with twenty people including ourselves. Up to now (October, 1998) we haven't advertised, nor do we tell anyone about our church unless we are asked. In a little over two and ten months, we have an attendance of about 300 adults and about 100 children. It's a very loving fellowship. We are non-traditional. We only implement organization when necessary.
Tell us a little about your background and early musical influences?
My Great Grandfather came to the U.S. from China in 1850 during the Gold Rush in California. He worked on the railroads in the San Francisco area. My Grandfather migrated to Sacramento, California where he became one of the most wealthy citizens in that city. When he died, they had a parade down the streets of the downtown area. My father was just ten years old when his father died. He was a spoiled child who went from riches to rags in just a short time. His mother took him to China where he was college educated and then he moved back to the U.S. Without anything to build with. A incredible
break occurred when some Hollywood film makers were looking for extras for a war movie about WWII. My father tested well and landed several key roles in the big war movies. From there he landed a role as one of the sons in the Charlie Chan series. Then in larger parts in the second Charlie Chan series.
He met my mother, an up and coming starlet. I grew up in Hollywood with famous parents. They both were pretty well known actors. My father was good friends with Col. Tom Parker, Elvis' manager. I used to receive gifts and autographed pictures from Elvis. Dad also did two films with Elvis. Elvis was one of my first musical influences growing up. I also used to listen to Nat King Cole, Wayne Newton and people like Bing Crosby and Andy Williams. But these were mostly family albums.
My first love for music didn't come until surf music came in and I was one of the first kids to buy a surf board and surf. After this, it was listening to the Beach Boys, until the Beatles hit in 1963 or so. I listened to them as well as all of the other British bands..particularly the Rolling Stones. Hollywood was one of the hot spots for new music, and I spent much of my teen aged years going to clubs and listening to all of the new talent coming into town, like Tim Buckley, Joni Mitchell, Moby Grape, The Birds, Paul Butterfield, Canned Heat, BB King, Albert King, Kaleidoscope, etc. Later after I got out of high school, I traveled around to the pop festivals and heard Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead, Ike and Tina Turner, Jefferson Airplane, etc.
Did you have any formal musical training growing up?
I played cello in grammar school. I learned guitar with books and from friends.
Have you had a chance to visit the Jesus Music website?
Yes, very impressive. All of the names and pages bring back so many wonderful memories.
Tell us about your pre-Mustard Seed Faith days living in Laguna Canyon?
I had lived in the Laguna Canyon for years before becoming a Christian. I was involved in a "family" headed by Dr. Timothy Leary. We were involved in mystic arts, Eastern religions, LSD and other mind altering drugs. After becoming a Christian, I stayed in the Canyon in the midst of the "Brotherhood" and began to lead many of the people who lived there to Christ. I had started a "once a week potluck and worship service" in my backyard. One time, one of the "brotherhood" dosed our potluck salad. One guy began to "come on" to the LSD. We prayed over him, and he was instantly healed. Then we prayed over the salad and let the people continue to eat it. No one else got high. We didn't know any better back then, we trusted God for everything.
Many people out there who grew up on the music of Mustard Seed Faith and were very much influenced by it. Tell us a little about how the group got started and any other things that come to mind.
I usually invited bands to play at the backyard gathering. One of the bands was called "Mustard Seed." Pedro, one of my old friends from the "world" was in that band. I was asked to fill in when they lost a band member and I ended up staying with them. There were three of us; Pedro Buford on flute and Wade Link and I on acoustic guitars. Sometimes, Wade played my Dan Electro Electric Bass.
We played with this setup for quite a while supporting ourselves by doing landscaping. Link left the group and Pedro and I went on as a duo for a while. Then we picked up John Belles on electric bass. We played as a trio for a while and decided that we needed a drummer. Rick Thomson (Sweet Comfort Band) auditioned and we gave him a "yes" nod. But immediately after that, I met Lewis McVay through a mutual lady friend. Lewis was still half "in the world." But we tried him out on drums and took Lewis instead. Lewis turned out to be an incredible disciple of Christ in a short time. John Belles left the group right before we recorded our first album. Jay Truax (Love Song) did the bass tracks on Sail On Sailor. Later, we picked up our own bass player, Darrel Cook. Darrel had moved down from Washington and had played in a band called The Brethren. We added one more player, a drummer (Steve Berchtold) I can't remember how he spelled his last name. But Lewis moved from drums to guitar full time.
I remember seeing the group play in the early days in an upstairs Bible study at Melodyland and recall being drawn into the music because of your voice and Pedro's flute; you guys really had a unique sound. Do you still keep in touch with any of the guys and what are they doing these days?
Lewis, Pedro and I just had dinner together a few weeks ago with our wives. Lewis works at Disneyland (he performs the character Tigger) and Pedro and I are full time pastors with different churches.
Sail On Sailor
"Sail On Sailor" is considered a true classic in contemporary Christian music but unfortunately it is no longer available for people to buy and copies of the CD are going for astronomical prices. Any chance of it and the 2nd album, "Limited Edition", being reissued again?
From back of Sail On Sailor
Maranatha! Music still retains the rights to "Sail On Sailor." We could pay to have copies made, but it isn't financially feasible at this time. I have the masters to both Sail On Sailor and Limited Edition. I make limited quantities of cassettes of these when I have enough interest and money to do so. I wasn't entirely happy with Limited Edition. We only spent 10K on that project (I borrowed the money). But it began to sell really well until one of our main distributors who had most of our stock of LP's declared bankruptcy and we lost it all.
Mustard Seed Faith circa late 70s
Oden, Darrel, Lewis, Pedro
Any particular song from those days a favorite of yours?
I find it hard to listen to my own music. I hear all of the mistakes. But I probably like all of the songs about the same.
Tell us about your years as a solo artist. Do you still perform or write music these days?
After becoming a solo artist, I was able to do a lot of long distance traveling because I could be flown everywhere. I traveled all over the states after the release of my first solo album, and also to New Zealand, Australia, Asia, the Philippians, and parts of Europe. I still perform now and then, mostly free concerts for my favorite causes (abused and neglected children, the homeless, police officers and their families) but haven't written in a long, long time.
Come For The Children
"Come for the Children" is such a great album, and in many ways was ahead of its time when it came out in 1979. Any thoughts about it?
Thank you for liking it! That album was everything I wanted to do musically for many years. I could now call the shots and create the landscape of sound that I had swimming around in my mind. My producer, Jonathan, was a remarkable talent. He not only produced, but also engineered and play on the album.
We were given a budget of 20K. It ran up to 40K. But it was cutting edge on the technical end. At the time, there was no such thing as a "chorus" sound. We knew what we wanted to hear and modulated the twenty-four track with a delay on the signal to get a chorus sound on "Crazy Voices." We used the very first digital keyboard which at the time was a Prophet Five with only five voices. We generally, just went crazy and did anything we thought would produce the textures were imagining at the time.
Did you have any religious background?
None whatsoever. My father studied Chinese philosophy, but we didn't really believe in a personal god.
What circumstances led to your conversion and tell us about your early years at Calvary Chapel?
I was studying yoga and taking my meditations to the extreme. I had several times experienced what I thought was a spiritual breakthrough. I had gone way beyond the normal methods of "stilling the ego." I would meditate on a blanket in the middle of the "high desert." I fasted for over a month once. I took larger and larger doses of LSD. One fateful day, I snorted about 150 doses of the most powerful LSD in the world. I literally stopped breathing and my heart seized up. I had actually died. In that place of death, there were no angels or bright lights to follow, only total detachment...total darkness, but with a complete awareness of my state. I was no longer physical, only spirit. But I was a spirit trapped forever in an endless darkness where I could feel the souls of millions, screaming out to awaken from their endless nightmare.
I cried out to the many ascended masters, chanted without lips, and finally when all else failed, I cried out to Jesus, a stranger, but someone who I felt was a great spiritual master at one time. The darkness began to quake, there were bright flashes of light, and I woke up in my body. I was lying on my back and standing in front of me was the shape of a man with his arms and hands held out towards me. Bright light emanated from the entire body of this man. I was scared to the point where I tried to literally crawl under the sand to escape this man's sight.
As I was hurting myself trying to escape the all knowing vision of this man, I heard a voice come from him. I had my back to him and heard a voice which sounded like many waters ...it said, "I am Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End." When I dared to turn around, he was gone, but there were traces of flickering light all over the area where I had seen Him. After that, it only took me a few months before I was read y to give myself over to that man....Jesus Christ.
Calvary Chapel in the early days
As I shared before, I immediately began to hold potluck/worship services in my backyard. One of the evangelists who came regularly to visit and preach was a young bearded guy named Lonnie Frisbee. Lonnie was the unofficial youth pastor at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. The church was a little building packed with people who looked like me. I had waist length hair and wore blue jeans and leather. I began to go to every service that church provided. I also attended other churches including Melodyland.
Lonnie Frisbee (right)
baptizing new convert
Many lives and hearts were touched during the early years of the Jesus Movement; can you explain what made those times different than we see today?
The United States had been in a great transition. There were thousands of young people all looking for answers to hard questions. As the masses of youth left behind the things which had left them empty, they gave Jesus a chance. As they became acquainted with Jesus, they moved towards more and more intimacy with Him. Jesus was everything to us. We believed everything we read concerning Him in the Bible. We stepped out on faith to do anything we saw that the Lord desired us to do. We had no other ambitions but to be obedient to God and fulfil His guidance in our lives.
Chuck Smith serving communion at an ocean baptism
Today, the church seems to have turned both inward and towards worldliness. Inward in the sense that they very seldom seek out secular people to lead them to Christ. They love to get together and be blessed and entertained. But, there is little real commitment to Christ or to other Christians.
Was the Jesus Movement a revival, an outpouring or just church renewal?
I believe that it was all three. It was a revival of hearts which had once been dedicated to God. It was an outpouring of the power of the Holy Spirit for empowerment to become witnesses for Christ. It was church renewal for those who had continued in the faith and already were familiar with the fire of the Spirit.
This website deals with what some would call "oldies" Christian music – do you listen to any of the older stuff any more? Do you listen to any current Christian or secular music?
I listen to some of the oldies but not much. I try to keep up with what kids are listening to in both secular and Christian circles. I attend the underground RAVE’s and hang out with a lot of teenagers on a regular basis. I want to know what they listen to, what they think and dream about, what I can do to serve them. I listen to instrumental music more than anything these days.
What are your feelings on the whole CCM industry, as we know it today?
I think that many of the artists are dedicated Christians but that the industry is almost the same as secular. In fact, few Christian record companies are owned by Christians.
What are your thoughts about this whole explosion called the Internet?
I see the Internet as a great opportunity to minister the gospel to people who would normally be unreachable. I love to research different subjects on the net.
In your opinion, what constitutes an effective music ministry?
When the hearers of the music are impacted by the personage of Jesus Christ.
Define the difference between entertainment & ministry in Christian music?
Christian entertainers elevate their audiences emotionally and physically in a clean and sometimes, edifying event.
Christian music ministers allow themselves to become invisible so that He who is invisible can be clearly seen . Their songs are usually more like sermons, every verse paints a picture, every chorus drives the verse home to the heart, both make up the song, or sermon.
How did the music ministry prepare you to pastor a church today?
Anytime you are involved in ministry, it prepares you for ministry. Ministry is simply "service." We minister unto God/we serve Him directly. We minister unto the church/we serve the church. We minister unto the world/we offer them our service. The most important aspects of the music ministry were transferable to the pastorate. It involves the understanding of how God can work through you in contrast to "you trying to do things for God." It allows one to know how little we have to do with the actual work. It taught us to remain diligent, committed, faithful in all that we were given to do. This carries over to the pastorate.
What is the most important thing a pastor can give to his congregation in the course of ministry?
To give them the keys to obtaining a direct relationship to God through the study of His Word and through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Word shows us God's heart and will. The Spirit enables us to perform what the Word says.
How important is the Bible, the Word of God in your life?
I would give up any other material possession in my life to keep one complete Bible.
It is the spiritual food which sustains my soul.
It is the light of my understanding of all things which are thought.
It is the cleanser of my mind on a daily basis.
It is the road markings which keep me on track and the signs which show me the conditions of the road ahead.
It is the speed limits and the boundaries of spiritual travel.
Would you share a scripture that touched your life through the years of ministry?
Romans 12:1,2 1. I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, [which is] your reasonable service. 2. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what [is] that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Many GenX young people have expressed a desire to have a Jesus Movement for their generation. What are thoughts regarding this?
I'm for any Jesus Movement. However, a true Jesus Movement is "Jesus Moving." It is something which is dictated by God. No one can cause it to take place. I see many people trying to cause a new revival. They read Finny. They pray and fast. They cry out to God. God hears them indeed, but He will still time His divine actions according to His time table.
Any plans in the future for an album or even a Mustard Seed Faith reunion?
I have been planning to do another album for other thirteen years. I just haven't the time right now. Aside from pastoring Poiema Chapel, I took over a homeless ministry called Covering Wings. Covering Wings designs and imports survival blankets for the homeless as well as purchases conventional blankets to be given away. We also have socks, hygiene kits and numerous other items which cover the poor and needy. Aside from these ministries, I'm an active chaplain for the Huntington Beach Police Department in Huntington Beach, CA. I spend the remainder of my time street witnessing and rescuing drug addicts and other fringe people.
Oden, thanks so much for taking the time for this interview. Any parting words to our readers?
It's my pleasure to participate. To the readers...God truly loves you. He wants you to know that you are much more than you think you are. You are not simply a human being who has gotten "religion" but you are a child of the living God who lives in you and wants to transform you into everything He created to be.
If you have an interest in music or any other art form, you would do best to not only dedicate it to God and give Him the title and rights to all that you do, but also seek to manifest Him in all that you create. I have found that He is really the greatest artist of all. He will pour His art through you if you will stop trying to do it yourself or do it for yourself.
One of the most subtle sins is that of self-exaltation. Artist have a need to express themselves and be recognized. This in and of itself is not wrong. But to take credit or glory for something which God has done in you...is worse than playing with a million forest fires. No matter what anyone says or thinks, Jesus is coming soon!
For more check out Oden Fong and Mustard Seed Faith
Special thanks to David Burgin for contributing some of the questions used
in this interview & Bill Hoppe for bottom photo
INFO ON ODEN'S MUSIC:
I'm sorry that I'm not writing you individually. I wasn't expecting such a large response from those of you who had contacted me so long ago. It's humbling to have people remember you and your music when you haven't been active in music for over fifteen years, except leading worship.
I left Christian music in 1982 when it became obvious that Christian Music was becoming more of a business than ministry. I just didn't fit into the business thing. During that time, I became a full time pastor and poured myself into evangelism, teaching and counseling.
I resigned my church which I had pioneered in Huntington Beach, Ca. in January 2001 and moved up to Hollywood, my home "town" with hope of reaching some of the millions of people there who will not go near a traditional church. The monies received from these CDs will enable us to pursue that goal.
I continue to direct Covering Wings, a homeless ministry which is dedicated to providing blankets, hygiene kits, socks, hats and other items the Homeless need to survive the mean streets. We manufacture those "silver blankets" you might have seen.
I've been busy burning the CD's which takes about twenty-five minutes apiece because of my old equipment. I'm printing labels for the discs with the album titles and songs listed.
Ordering the CDs:
I think the easiest thing to do is to give you my mailing address and you can send me a letter with your order and a check or money order (I'm not set up for visa/mc), and a return address where I can mail you the CDs.
Most of you were looking for "Come For The Children". I also have my album entitled "Invisible Man" on CD. This album is more "rock" than Come for the Children...so be forwarned.
From Mustard Seed Faith:
I have access to some CDs of "Sail On Sailor" and have CD's of "Limited Edition" which was released in 1980. Limited Edition never really made it into the market due to the main distributor going bankrupt and therefore bankrupting the album also.
That album has some old tunes on it, including "Sidney The Pirate" and "All I Know (Is Jesus Christ!).
I can make you a CD copy of a great worship album featuring music from our Calvary Chapel Of Costa Mesa, "Tuesday Night Band".
Once again, the money you give is a donation to the Hollywood Outreach. If you cannot afford to pay $15.00 a CD. please email me and let me know and I'll get music to you anyway. If you write a check, please make it payable to Oden Fong.
May our Lord richly bless and keep you close to Himself always!
PO Box 26517
Santa Ana, CA 92799
My Email Address: