Interview with Ray Ruff & Donnie Brooks
Rock Opera "Truth Of Truths" (released 1971)
by Donald John Long
Meeting Thursday Morning 9 AM - Bob's Big Boy, Burbank - 7/31/03
Present at the meeting: Ray Ruff, Donnie Brooks, James Burton, and Don J. Long, interviewer
DJL: Let's have a moment of prayer and put our Lord Jesus first in our day here.
Q1: Hi Ray, We'll kick things off by asking: how did you get into the music business and what led to you becoming a producer?
RR: I was born in Amarillo, Texas in 1938. I started out playing semi-pro baseball in 1956 after high school, representing my city of Amarillo, Texas, and while on the playoffs met an interesting fellow from Lubbock who was interested in the music business and played in the new form of Rock'n'Roll after having decided that he didn't want to be just another Country & Western singer. His name was Charles Hardin Holley, better known to the world as Buddy Holly. He and I were about the same age, and hit it off and he invited me to join him for some of his early recording sessions at Norman Petty's old studio in Clovis, New Mexico. When we went over to Clovis it was like the whole world changed for me forever. I soon lost interest in playing ball and wanted to be a Rock'n'Roll performer like Buddy [Holly]. I had got the recording bug after hearing Buddy's precision vocals and guitar licks for which he would soon become world-famous. I began to be a regular fixture at Norman Petty's studio down there in Clovis and I was present at the recording of many of Buddy Holly and the Crickets' original sides [songs] which were then released on labels such as Coral and Brunswick for Decca Records. Norman Petty helped me to learn the sound board and miking of the instruments and vocalists, and I really liked it. (Of course, it was all pretty simple in those days of mono sound and 4-track Ampex tape decks.) I did it for a couple of years until the Day the Music Died [February 3, 1959, the day Buddy Holly was killed in an airplane crash along with the Big Bopper and Richie Valens]. After Buddy was gone, I just didn't have the stomach for the indie record scene in the Texas Midwest any more, and set my sights on Hollywood or Nashville. [Ray has kept in touch with Buddy's widow, Maria Elena Holly, and recently (September 2003) had a reunion dinner with her.] In early 1960, I came to Los Angeles for the first time and had a look around Hollywood and decided I wanted to be a part of the Hollywood music scene. I saw an ad in Variety Magazine which was advertising for a new recording engineer and producer. I went to apply for the job, even though I had little experience and none with a major label. The job turned out to be at RCA Victor Records and my interviewer was the famous record producer Dick Pierce, who was working with Henry Mancini and Esquivel at RCA at that time. Dick also was placing people over at ABC-Paramount which was where I ended up. Here's what happened: I walked into the interview loaded with determination and self-confidence at the ripe old age of 22. Mr. Pierce asked me "Kid, what makes you think you can handle this job?" I told him, "Sir, I've been with Buddy Holly in Clovis, and I know a thing or two about how to make a hit record, because I've seen Buddy do it over and over again. You just give me a chance to prove myself, and I'll make you some hits!" Dick scratched his chin and said, "Well, all right." I thought he was talking about Buddy's song [of that title], but he was making his decision! He told me if I could pull off a recording session of four sides in New York City with a new artist named Brian Hyland, the job was mine at ABC-Paramount. The sides were all hits, among them "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini", and "Sealed With A Kiss". Dick Pierce flew me all expenses paid to New York, where I met Brian Hyland, and we went into the studio determined to make hits. I got the job, and it turned into the beginning of a more than 40-year long career in the music business.
Q2: Who were some of the people you worked with early on, and how did things shape up for you in the 1960s which led to your production of TOT?
RR: First there was Buddy Holly. Then came Brian Hyland, Donnie Brooks, Dick & Dee Dee, Pat Boone, Roy Orbison, The Everly Brothers, Dorsey Burnette and his brother Johnny Burnette, Elvis Presley, with his guitarist James Burton, who is one of my best friends today, from Shreveport, Louisiana. Later on in the early 1960s I also worked with Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins. In the late 1960s, I worked with Van Morrison and THEM, and with the A&R man at Dot Records, then with Anita Kerr and the gang at Happy Tiger Records, and I did a few tracks with Nancy Sinatra. I also had my own rock band starting in 1960, Ray Ruff and the Checkmates who were also known as Billy Joe and the Checkmates. Remember that tune "The Percolator" in 1961? That was mine. I got the idea from watching the Maxwell House coffee TV commercial. I liked the catchy tune on the TV ad, and I said to myself, "I can make this tune really rock," so I did it with my band and we recorded it for Dore Alpert's record label Dore Records. Dore Alpert was the brother of Herb Alpert, of the Tijuana Brass fame. Together with Jerry Moss, a record executive, they formed A&M Records in early 1962. All this valuable experience working for the top-name pros in show biz gave me a deeper understanding for artists who were seeking to develop that elusive original "sound" they were looking for.
Q: What instruments do you, or did you play?
RR: I played a little guitar, but mostly I was a singer-songwriter and arranger, and knew how to get that certain sound out of my musical group The Checkmates thanks to my training with Buddy Holly and Norman Petty in Clovis.
Q3: Who are some of the names in show biz you have worked with since TOT, up to currently?
RR: Well, you can look that up on my website www.rayruff.com Starting with Pat Boone, I worked with many, many artists. Some really stand out, like the legends I knew, you know, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Susie Allanson, Van Morrison, James Burton, Andy Kim, Patti Sterling, etc. Most recently I've produced a new album for our new C&W discovery Tony Brantley, from Shreveport, Louisiana, who is James Burton's nephew. I also just finished final mixdown of a new album by Nancy Sinatra.
Q4: How did the album project for TRUTH OF TRUTHS come about, and what was your inspiration? When did you become a songwriter, and about how many songs did you write for TOT? You certainly hired a lot of great singers and songwriters for this enormous project. TOT has a large scope and calls for people of vision to put it together.
RR: Well, Don, believe it or not, that project actually got started in the late 1960s. Contrary to popular opinion, it really had nothing to do with the other Rock Opera JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. I actually had the idea first, to do a rock musical version of the Bible including the story of Jesus Christ, from a Biblical perspective, since I've been a Christian for many years, this was a personal pet project of mine. Those other guys over in England [Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice] were working on their JC SUPERSTAR project completely unknown to me. Many have wrongly thought that I did this project as a fundamental Christian rebuttal to JCS, but I didn't. It's just one of those amazingly close coincidences that TOT and JCS are so very similar, even right down to the album cover packaging which is so remarkably similar. JCS was released in October 1970, just about six months before we released TOT in April 1971 at Easter Sunday. We were working on TOT beginning in June 1970 and when JCS came out we were flabbergasted, but it just made us even more committed to getting TOT finished, to the point where I actually rushed it too much to complete it in time for Easter week in 1971 and if I had it to do over again I would have taken a little more time with it and done a few things a little differently with the final mix. I started writing TOT in mid-1969 after developing an outline of the show in 1968, and it really began to come to life after The WHO's TOMMY Rock Opera came out in the summer of '69. I decided to shift the whole thing from an elaborate stage musical to a Rock Opera because TOMMY, the first Rock Opera ever released, was a revolutionary new idea and I wanted TOT to be like that. We developed a terrific overture, a strong movie soundtrack-like theme which was as dynamic and had a lot of punch like TOMMY's did. I love it.
Q5: How did you cast Donnie Brooks for the part of Jesus? It certainly was an inspired choice. Donnie is a terrific singer and actor and brought so much to the role and the voice of Jesus. He's very dynamic.
RR: Donnie is a natural talent. We did a simple casting call, and since I had worked with Donnie a few times on some single sides in the early 1960s, after I heard Donnie's dynamic range and his sensitive handling of key pieces, Donnie won the audition hands down - he was the best and the most talented of dozens of artists we auditioned.
Q6: How did you cast everyone for TOT? Was it just an open audition casting call, or did you pick some favorites first? How did you cast Jim Backus for the Voice of God? I'll get back to you in a little while, but first I want to talk for a bit with Donnie Brooks.
RR: We did open casting call auditions, placed ads in the trade papers, just like every other show. Jim Backus was my first choice as the Voice of God. He was well known for comedy and as the voice of Mr. Magoo, but he also had a dramatic intensity in his voiceovers which was perfect for what I wanted. Val StoŽcklein was a great talented singer-songwriter who unfortunately passed away in 1993. Patti Sterling, who played Mary the mother of Jesus, and Pat Liston were good choices too. We had a magnificent cast, crew, Rock and orchestra musicians for that recording too. We had Ernie Freeman and Don Great, and a really fine conductor named Sidney Sharp came over from Warner Bros. to pull the orchestra together. Everyone worked well together and really shined.
Q7: Hi Donnie, How are you? You started out as a rockabilly singer named Johnny Faire back in the late 1950s, and then recorded under some aliases before settling on the name Donnie Brooks. What's your real name, if you don't mind me asking?
DB: Well, it's never really been made public before, but my real name was John Dee Abohosh. I was born in Dallas, Texas in 1936. I was later adopted as John D. Faircloth when I was 18 years old, and from this I took my first stage name as Johnny Faire in 1958 and recorded the Rockabilly number "Bertha Lou". There was an A&R man at Era Records named Dave Taxie who gave me the name Donnie Brooks in mid-1959, and it stuck, and I settled on that one.
[Note: a "Donnie brook" is Scots-Irish slang for a free-for-all street fight. Somehow it seemed to fit.]
Q8: Donnie, how did you get the spot at Era Records which put you into the Top 40 charts with "Mission Bell" and "Doll House" in 1960? You were certainly a real pro entertainer like Bobby Rydell and those guys. I always saw you as being in the same ball game as Bobby Rydell, Fabian, Frankie Avalon, Ricky Nelson, you know, the Teen Idols of the early Sixties.
DB: Herb Newman, owner of Era Records, got me the spot in 1959 with the tune I first recorded and released under the name Donnie Brooks in August, "Little Cinderella". Herb was a great guy, a talented A&R man himself who 'discovered' many new artists in the 1950s like Gogi Grant ("The Wayward Wind" in 1956 for example). Herb knew I had what it took to make him some hits. Yes, I was one of the original "Teen Idols". Dick Clark had me on American Bandstand when it was still broadcast out of WFIL-TV in Philadelphia, Pa. "Mission Bell" was the song that broke me into the Top 20 and made me a star in January 1960. Then I had "Doll House" with the flip side "Round Robin" in April of that year.
Q9: Donnie, how did your career go in the Sixties, and what led to you going for the part in TOT in 1971?
DB: Ray and I had known each other in the early 1960s and had recorded a few records together. I continued to record as a pop singer until the music scene changed in the late 1960s. Then I shifted to doing Rock'n'Roll for Era's new label, Happy Tiger Records. [The label was owned and sponsored by Flying Tigers Air Cargo, and featured Anita Kerr as its leading artist, who at that time was also working on those concept albums with Rod McKuen like "The Sea", "The Earth" and "The Sky".] When Ray put out the casting call for TOT in 1970, I was right there, and got the lead as Jesus.
Q10: Donnie, you were as I said before, dynamic, and fabulous in the role of Jesus Christ in TOT. You brought such conviction to the role, and were the real star of the production. Are you a Christian? I have often thought of you as the musical Jeffrey Hunter in TOT.
DB: Yes, well at the time, I wasn't a Christian, although I was raised as a Catholic, but the demands of the role, and my own personal interpretation of it, led me to a conversion experience right there and I became a Christian while rehearsing my role as Jesus Christ in TRUTH OF TRUTHS. It was a real humbling experience for me, and taught me a lot about humility. Also it was interesting how the others in the cast related to me while we were in production. The role had a profound effect on me. It was very much like what happened with Jeffrey Hunter when he was making KING OF KINGS (MGM, 1961). The cast had a certain reverential awe of me when I did my vocals and they often applauded me after hearing the final mixes. Especially since Ray had asked me to grow my hair and beard long for the live stage show production, so I didn't shave or get a haircut for six months. When we did our first rehearsals for the live stage show in March of 1971, I had a professional makeup man and a hairdresser make me look like Jesus, you know with the long white robe and everything. I looked like that (without the robe, of course) for nearly the whole year of 1971, and let me tell you, it really got people talking! A few years later, I began going to a local church called Faith Evangelical Church, in Burbank, where I am still a member today.
[Donnie Brooks is a big, tall, imposing figure of 6'-3" and weighs over 200 lbs. He has mellowed with age, and no longer looks like a teen idol, or even like Jesus, but when he smiles that familiar smile you know it's the real Donnie Brooks. And when he sings, his voice sounds exactly the same as he did 40 years ago.]
Q11: So Donnie, what a long time it's been since TOT happened. What's been going on for you since then? What are you currently working on?
DB: Mostly I've been doing Oldies Revival Shows, featuring many of the performers who were popular in the late Fifties and early Sixties, like Dick & Dee Dee, who are actually Dick & Sandy St. John, who worked with us on TOT. I'm still doing these shows now, I've got one coming up in Vancouver, BC this weekend, one in Thousand Oaks in August and another one in Reno in September. And it goes on. We had a big scare a couple of years ago [early 2001] when I had a heart attack and had to have bypass surgery [he opened his shirt to show me the big scar on his chest from being opened up, like a Thanksgiving turkey]. But I recovered normally and now I feel fine.
[Donnie is also a terrifically funny guy with an infectious sense of humor and in recent years has found a secondary career as a stand-up comic. When we met, Donnie kept us all laughing with his well-placed and timed jokes and comedy bits!]
Q12: Donnie, I'm sure you are just as excited as Ray and I are at the prospect of getting TOT reissued on CD, so you'll have exposure to a whole new audience and I'm sure it will please many of your fans.
DB: Yes, I'm really excited about it! My oldies CD of my 1950s & early 1960s pop music is out now [on the Australian label Canetoad Records], but this will be the icing on the cake when TRUTH OF TRUTHS is reissued on CD.
Q13: Back to Ray, I'm sure you are excited about getting TOT on CD to a whole new audience, and to satisfy the demand by collectors and all those fans out there who bought the original 2-LP record back in 1971. I see mass market distribution through a major CCM distributor like Integrity Music, and Amazon.com, as being places where you can start.
RR: Yes, I'm planning on putting it out on my own label, Oak Records, again, just like I did the first time, because back then the major labels wouldn't touch it because of its religious subject matter. I own all the rights to it, so I will get it distributed on my own. At first, I was going to go through Mike Curb's CEMA Capitol Special Markets company, through Capitol Records, but now I'm going through a major nationwide Christian Music distributor instead.
Q14: For Ray and Donnie, It's probably been a long time since you two have worked together, and it's great to see you both together again. Did you both work up the character voice of Jesus or was that simply Donnie's own interpretation? Did Ray direct you, like a film director?
DB: Yes, we worked together on getting the proper characterization of Jesus Christ in both voice and song, and in appearance. Ray did direct me like a movie director, just as he produced the whole show just like a movie producer, he was always there, involved with it every single day.
RR: Yep, I burned a lot of midnight oil on that one.
DJL: That was some really fine work.
RR/DB: (Both) Thank you.
Q15: Ray, what sort of a budget did TOT have, how long did it take to record it, and how many copies were pressed when it was released?
RR: We were in production for over six months, but only about 90 days of that were full-time recording production dates. The whole project was recorded at Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles. We started in the summer of 1970 and finished in March 1971. We had a budget of about $200,000.00, employed nearly 300 people, and between 250,000 and 300,000 copies were pressed in the first release in April 1971. Oral Roberts helped us finance it, so I sent him about 10,000 or so copies and they were sold on TV on his evangelism show ORAL ROBERTS PRESENTS, with his son Richard Roberts, and sold at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was also released on cassette tape through the GRT-Ampex Corporation, on a 2-tape set.
[Collectors' Note: the original 2-LP record of TRUTH OF TRUTHS (Oak Records OST-1001, 1971) is now a major collectors' item, with copies selling for up to $50.00 each on the internet. The cassette tape versions are now practically non-existent because the medium of magnetic tape doesn't last very long. Most magnetic tape versions only lasted a few years in the 1970s.]
Q16: Ray, what was it like in the studio with all this talent? You must have felt like a film director-producer, with all these people to ride herd on to get the project finished.
RR: Yep, we all felt the presence of the Lord with us on this project. It was great! We all had a great time, everyone gave their best, and worked very hard. But we were rushed, due to our plans to release it on Easter Sunday weekend 1971. I wanted to polish it up a little more and fix some mistakes I can still hear on it. We're now able to do that with this new digitally remastered Stereo version, using multi-tracking and Pro Tools.
Q17: I saw the first premiere performance of TOT at the Greek Theater in Hollywood on Easter Sunday 1971. It was fabulous, an unqualified success, and to me, it was like a Christian version of Woodstock, in a sense, but more of a major theatrical event. Did you take the show on the road, and do a roadshow version of it in every major city?
RR: Yes, we were planning on doing that, but we never got the financing required for such a major undertaking, so we just did the Los Angeles and Hollywood events and then turned it over to some other groups which did their own local versions of it in other cities around the country. Our plans were to make this a roadshow version of a Broadway-style musical show, but we never got that far with it. We got many favorable reviews written up about us and the show in the Los Angeles Times and other southern California papers, and you know to this day I still get fan mail about that show? I've got a stack of letters and cards piled up to the ceiling of testimonies from people who were saved and came to the Lord as a result of watching or listening to this show. That was enough for me to know that we had done a good job, and filled our mission, not only for it to be a profitable business venture, but also a Christian ministry, something we just never expected but knew might happen. It's enough to make this ol' country boy from Texas a bit misty-eyed.
Q18: How did that first show go for you, Ray and Donnie? Any memories or funny stories you'd like to share? I know the Pat Liston story, that was a good one.
RR: That first show, at the Greek Theater in the Hollywood Hills, is now legendary in show business circles because of what happened there that day. It was like a Christian version of Woodstock with all of the hippie-type people there, Jesus freaks, and long-haired girls dancing.
DJL: Yes, it was a lot like a rock concert I went to at this very same place in May 1969, with Jim Morrison and The Doors. Only without the drugs, the marijuana smoking, and the people dancing naked around bonfires, as was depicted in the Oliver Stone movie The DOORS (1991). I was at both events, and TRUTH OF TRUTHS was a major media event for Christianity that year, and was another product of the so-called 'Jesus Movement' at that time. It was wonderful!
RR: Yes, I recall that hippie health-nut Gypsy Boots was there selling his health food products as an outreach from his store on Hollywood Blvd. He was a real character, wasn't he? And there was a hippie dance troupe of girls in skimpy see-thru outfits who invaded our performance, dancing in the aisles with long veils and scarves. We had to get our security people to go out and bring them all in and 'clean them up' a bit, because this was a Christian event and we didn't want people to associate this with evil, suggestive or lascivious conduct. So we counseled the girls and offered them some food and then they went back outside dancing, but this time without being topless and keeping themselves covered.
Yep, the Pat Liston story - that was a good one. It seems that the night before our performance, one of our top performers, a rock musician from St. Louis Missouri, Pat Liston, had gone to a party and gotten himself rip-roaring drunk, so he was in no shape to perform on Sunday morning. He showed up drunk and managed to get in and talk to Donnie Brooks, who covered for him onstage, since Donnie also had memorized Pat Liston's songs, the professional that he is. So it all still went well, although Pat knew he was in the doghouse with me, and I could have wrung his neck that day if I had gotten hold of him!
The positive outcome of this show was that we had prepared ourselves for the evangelistic side of it, by setting up booths in the back of the open-air arena with Christian volunteer counselors from local area churches and coffeehouses, who handled the people who came to them to accept the Lord as their saviour and pray with them and receive Bibles and evangelistic Christian literature. Hundreds - and maybe even thousands of people were saved as a result of this Rock Opera! It was like a Billy Graham Crusade.
Q19: Ray, what was it like for you when you found out that the devil worshipper had stolen and burned all 24 tapes of TOT back in 1973? Can you share a bit about what happened, and your reaction to it? It must have just floored you.
RR: Yes, I was devastated when that happened. It turned out to be a guy we all knew and some of us even trusted him. I didn't hear about it until the next day, but the Amarillo, Texas Police Department finally got ahold of me and told me that they had arrested a suspect for vandalism and property damage at my recording studio there. It seems he had broken into my studio one night, and taken all the stuff he could find having to do with TRUTH OF TRUTHS out of the studio and thrown the stuff into a big oil drum and set it on fire. He burned all 24 of the original master tapes of TOT which were on large 10" Scotch tape reels. He even burned all of my files on TOT with production notes and several original photos taken when TOT was in production. He said he worshipped Satan and that the Devil told him to do it. I never expected this sort of thing to happen in a million years. Yet it did. I guess we must have been doing something right to get the Devil mad at us like that. You just can't imagine what kind of evil some people are capable of. It's amazing. We pressed the charges and the guy only got six months in jail. And our tapes are lost forever. Go figure. So where's the justice in that?
Q20: Ray and Donnie, it's been great interviewing you for CCM Magazine and for Ray's website. Thank you in advance for giving me your kind permission to publish this interview. I'm enthusiastic about seeing the first official, licensed release of TOT on CD, hopefully in the fall of this year. I'll do everything I can as your personal publicist to publicize it and promote it. Thanks very much!
Ray, I know you will be doing this release as a commercial product, but it's also a ministry. I'm sure it's going to bless a lot of people and probably help some people be saved and find the Lord as their saviour. Let's not forget to pray for it as a ministry that God will bless it.
Also, Ray, I've been thinking over the last couple of years that TOT will make a fine new stage production, and you should keep in mind that you have the option of mounting an all-new production of TOT yourself now, or licensing it to others for them to produce new versions, with all-new arrangements, as long as they are true to the original concept. As the copyright owner, you've got what I think is a hot property that can be developed. I think it would also make a great theatrical movie version!!!
Imagine this rock opera as a dynamic new movie using state-of-the-art visual effects and production values. I'd love to be involved in that!
Thanks very much to you gentlemen for your time and attention from your busy schedules.
Donald John Long 7/31/03
[words in brackets] added by the interviewer for clarity.
TRUTH OF TRUTHS - A Contemporary Rock Opera, on Oak Records CDs, newly digitally remastered, will be released soon. Watch for it!
Ray Ruff's websites are:
TRUTH OF TRUTHS (Oak Records/Ray Ruff, 1971) OAK Records 2-LP Set [S] T-1001, 1971, 2-C Set [S] GRT T 5139-1001, 1971. "A Contemporary Rock Opera" - OST composed & conducted by Ray Ruff. Album Produced by Ray Ruff. Starring: Jim Backus (Voice Of God), Dick & DeeDee [Dick & Sandy St. John], Donnie Brooks (Jesus), Don Great, Val StoŽcklein, Pat Liston, Sonny Carver, Patti Sterling, many others. With complete lyrics libretto.
Soundtrack Album of the Theatrical Stage Roadshow Production Released April, 1971. Performed Live on Stage at the Greek Theater, Hollywood, Los Angeles, Calif. on Easter weekend, April, 1971, and in six major U.S. cities thru summer 1971. A Christian Rock Opera version of the secular, blasphemous Rock Opera JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (1970).
Record/Tape 1: OLD TESTAMENT Side 1: 1. Main Title - The Overture. 2. Creation. 3. The Fall (Adam and Eve). 4. Forty Days And Nights (Noah's Ark). 5. Tower of Babel. 6. Sodom and Gomorrah Were The Cities Of Sin [Side 1 of Tape ends]. Side 2: 7. Sodom and Gomorrah Were The Cities Of Sin [Side 2 of Tape only]. 8. Joseph, Beloved Son of Israel. 9. Let My People Go. 10. Song of The Children of Israel (The Ten Commandments). 11. David to Bathsheba. 12. Turn Back To God. 13. Prophecies of the Coming Messiah.
Record/Tape 2: NEW TESTAMENT Side 1: 1. My Life Is In Your Hands (Mary's Song). 2. John The Baptist. 3. He's The Light Of The World. 4. Hosanna (Palm Sunday). 5. I Am What I Say I Am (Jesus' Song). 6. The Trial - Part 1. Side 2: 1. The Trial - Part 2. 2. The Road. 3. The Cross. 4. Jesus Of Nazareth. 5. Resurrection. 6. He Will Come Again. 7. Prophecies Of The Coming Of The End Of The World - End Title.
Excellent, exciting progressive rock version of J.C. SUPERSTAR is actually a whole different version, from a Biblical Christian perspective. Fantastic, fresh, original rock opera is the soundtrack from a nonexistent Biblical film; indeed, it is the Bible set to rock music. The rock music critics in 1971 hammered it for being a ripoff of Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice's SUPERSTAR, but that was the idea, wasn't it, to make a true Christian rock show like it to counter-attack old Nick's secular, blasphemous, counterfeit version of the Life of Christ. The show was well-received, though mostly by Christians who turned out in droves to see it; and like Billy Graham Crusades, there were "witnessing booths" with Bibles and Christian Gospel literature and counselors to help in converting those who were converted on the spot. Ray Ruff had made a deal with the Evangelism division of Oral Roberts Institute, and had arranged to sell or give away free copies of this album to new converts, for a free-will donation. (According to Ray Ruff, thousands of copies of the album were sold or were given away as TV premiums on the Oral Roberts Hour in the first three months of its release; it was promoted by Richard Roberts, Oral Roberts' son; and thousands more copies were ordered, and so on, and eventually, perhaps 100,000 copies were made, most of which were either sold or given away, and a few hundred copies ended up as bargain outlet cutouts by 1973-75.) The Greek Theater, Hollywood show on Easter weekend 1971 was attended by over 10,000 people and was like a major outdoor rock concert event, with "Christian hippies" aka "Jesus Freaks" dancing with flowers in their hair and incense burning, and even Hollywood celebrity Gypsy Boots turned out, having a health food booth selling his health products, energy bars, juice drinks, and food while dancing in front of the stage and orchestra pit. It was a very positive, joyful, uplifting experience.
On the whole, the rock opera is a wonderful, joyous musical and spiritual experience, in spite of its inherent "cuteness" here and there, wavering between grandiose progressive rock and typical pop music sound trends and vocals of the day, and the liability of Jim Backus as the Voice of God. (He was marvelous, and could be a dramatic actor with a real stage presence when called upon to do so: look at his performance as James Dean's father in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (WB, 1955). Unfortunately this superb rock opera is almost forgotten today, since the LP album has been out of print since about 1975, and it is not available on CD. We think it was a neat idea to do the whole rock opera as a "concept album" package overview of the entire Bible, with Record/Tape 1 being the Old Testament, and Record/Tape 2 being the New Testament. A fine assortment of talented artists, actors, singers and songwriters contributed their all to making this a memorable stage and musical experience. Most noteworthy is pop singer Donnie Brooks ("I'll Build A Doll House", "Mission Bell", and "Round Robin" were some of his best hit singles in the early 1960's), as Jesus of Nazareth, in a remarkable musical rock-vocal characterization: his vocals are superb. Also noteworthy is the setting of mood and atmosphere by the orchestra with a progressive rock musical style of pounding drums and wailing electric guitars in the over-the-top Overture intro. And of course, the very dramatic ending with the Voice of God and the thunderclaps - it still gives us goose pimples!
Musical highlights include: the catchy "Forty Days And Nights" (Noah's Ark); "Joseph, Beloved Son of Israel", (the late 1960's musical style here reminds us of The Monkees' "Last Train To Clarksville" ); "Let My People Go"; "The Ten Commandments", and "He's The Light of the World"; "Hosanna"; "The Trial", "The Road", "The Cross"; "He Will Come Again". We really like the Biblical perspective of "Prophecies of the Coming Messiah" and "Prophecies of the Coming of the End of the World". P.S. Producer Ray Ruff is making a new digitally-remastered CD release, preserving the original LP format, with a full libretto, to be released commercially by Summer 2004.
Our rating: **** Highly recommended.
Review by D. J. Long, 2001
Copyright 2003 by Donald John Long. All Rights Reserved. No part of this interview article may be reproduced for commercial purposes except for brief quotes in reviews, with full credit given to the writer and the interview subject persons Ray Ruff and Donnie Brooks.