Upon This Rock is considered by many to be the
first real Christian rock album. Would you agree?
I can't really tell you if that was the first Christian rock album or not. I had never heard any. I was a Baptist, and the only Christian songs I had ever heard were the hymns, Negro spirituals, and whatever kind of songs the gospel quartets sang when they sang in church, and I didn't like that stuff back then.
So when Elvis Presley came along in 1956, and all those other boys, I thought, 'That's nothing new. They were just stealing black church music. They were singing "baby" when they should have been singing "Savior." My friends would go to platter parties but they wouldn't go with me to church, so I wanted to bring church to them. These rock 'n' rollers were stealing the church's music so I decided to steal it back.
Back when there was no Christian music scene to
speak of and you were getting out those first few
albums, was it lonely being a one-man trend? Or
have you always felt most comfortable on the outside,
in the role of maverick?
You have to remember that I was being kept on the outside. It wasn't my idea. I thought I was part of the church but I kept getting pushed out the side because my music was totally unacceptable to certain people. And these people were in charge of the church culture. They were the focus point of consensus, and I had no place in their master plan. I didn't wear a suit and tie. I didn't sit on a stool and sing "Kum Ba Ya." I had long hair and sang street music about Jesus. I didn't consider my songs "rock 'n' roll to the beat of voodoo jungle drums," you know. I was just a white boy trying to write modern black music. I didn't even intend it to be sung by a choir or a gospel quartet. I was trying to write songs for the people I grew up with, street kids, not conservative evangelicals. I wasn't an outsider or a protest singer. I wasn't so much against anything as much as I was for Jesus.
What do you remember most about the Jesus Movement?
I remember the innocence I felt about it. It wasn't really declared a movement until Time magazine did their cover story on it. In 1966-67 a Christian halfway house opened up in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood to minister to runaways and drug problems. I would witness to people, and I started to meet other Christians who were going up and down the street talking to people about Jesus. They called us Jesus Freaks. That wasn't an insult, it was just a description. We didn't imagine ourselves to be of any consequence, socially, except to the individuals we witnessed to. The Jesus movement was not sophisticated or even very worldly-wise. But the music was something wonderful. Some of it wasn't very good but it was original in that they weren't copying anybody else, because they didn't know anybody else to copy. It was very sweet, very warm and quiet.