Charles McPheeters: Drug addict turned Jesus music pioneer

Thursday 19th July 2007

Tony Cummings chronicles the life and times of one of the pioneers of contemporary Christian music, CHARLES McPHEETERS.

Charles McPheeters
Charles McPheeters

In 1994 small American independent label Sonrise Records released various artists album 'The Rock Revival', one of the few attempts to document on CD the music of the '70s Jesus Movement which was to prove to be the foundation stone for the emergent CCM. It was a dazzling evocation of another, more innocent era when converted hippies, druggies and street people having turned to Jesus sang about their new found faith through the vehicle of rock and pop music.

Jesus music's creative standards were sometimes patchy and the production values decidedly budget line, but the sheer evangelistic zeal of the Jesus music pioneers showcased on 'The Rock Revival''s two volumes shone powerfully through. Featured on the albums alongside well known figures like Larry Norman, Love Song, Barry McGuire and Randy Stonehill were two tracks by the wonderfully named Charles McPheeters And The Bible Belt Boogie Band. Charles' inclusion on those compilations, alongside an entry in The Encyclopedia Of Christian Music where his 'Faces' album (from which 'The Rock Revival''s tracks were taken) is called "a Christian music classic" plus an obituary in the September 1982 issue of CCM magazine are just about all the scant examples you will find of the CCM industry's due recognition to Charles McPheeters. But though unknown to a new generation of Nashville scene suits, Charles' vision to take the Gospel to the addicts, hookers, pimps and drunks of the inner city jungle is a legacy that today lives on in the ongoing work of Charles' widow Judy Radachy. The Oasis drop-in centre she runs in Hollywood is, unquestionably, one of the GREAT faith-in-action works of the modern Church. With her second husband Ron, Judy has seen thousands of lives changed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And that, I'm sure, is worth far more to this brave and godly woman than any Dove Awards.

Charles' upbringing was decidedly problematic. In the album 'High On Life' he shared his testimony in between a few songs. He said, "My high school life was pretty bad. My dad got sick and went into a mental hospital when I was about 11 years old and so for the rest of that time I didn't have a dad and it was kind of rough. My mom was working as a nurse to support us four kids and we were kind of poor and everything, we weren't rich by any means. I was always stealing this and that and on my paper route I would break into homes. I ran away from home. I was on probation half my high school years and I'd always try and act tough in jail during the day but at night I'd stick my head under the pillow and I'd cry. Sometimes I'd even pray. I'd say, 'Oh God help me out of trouble!' and the Lord would help me out of trouble and I'd say, 'Well, see you next time I'm in trouble!' That's the way it was."

Charles dropped out of school about six weeks before he graduated. He remembered, "I travelled coast to coast. 44 different states, hitch-hiking here, there, working different jobs, night clubs, different clubs. The old saying if you don't stand for something, you're going to fall for anything. I mean I was hung up on grass, I was a grass freak. I know they say that you can't get addicted and all these little word games, addiction, habituation, dependency. Okay, fine, whatever you want to call it, I know I was hung up in my head. Now of course I wasn't smoking this little nickel dime stuff that some people are smoking today. Some people are smoking cat nip and tea leaves and grass from the lawnmower. I mean it's incredible, the variety that goes around today. But I was into heavy grass - Acapulco gold, what have you, and it's no game. Let me illustrate. You roll a joint, you light up, you're getting loaded. Now depending on what type of grass it is, how much THC is in it - and by the way THC is the chemical in marijuana that gets you high: tetrahydrocannabinol, THC. And it's a scientific fact that if you get a high enough dosage of it, it can prove pretty disastrous. I know personally that THC can really wreck your head as it did me. I really thought that I was getting it together."

Charles was 19 when he arrived at the ultimate "freak town" Hollywood. He recounted, "I was getting into other things. You know there was a time when I said that I'd never smoke anything other than grass and I was getting into mescaline, cayote cactus - I got into hard drugs! I began to snort cocaine and heroine, speed balls and I can't deny you get a buzz, man, you go on a trip, you feel good, sure you do. But like the song says, 'What goes up must come down.' You know, one minute you're high, the next minute you're ready to rip your brain out and commit suicide. Your brain turns into a yo-yo sometimes, it's incredible. I tell you, I never graduated to the needle for one reason: I never got the chance because I got messed up on a lower level. But here's the revelation: you don't have to go to the needle, you don't have to go to shooting smack heroine man, to get messed up. You can get messed up at any step of this staircase."

He continued, "One night at a party in Palm Springs I really blew it - I took an overdose of drugs and I freaked out - I was on a bummer and a half. And people weren't just turning into skeletons or baboons or gorillas, no, they were turning into demons, like I was going on a death trip man, I was dying. You needn't grasp it but there was so much terror, so much fear, I can't. . . words aren't sufficient to really explain it. I began to realise that something, 'Hey, you dummy, this is no trip, this is the ultimate destination of the trip - death, hell and destruction.' What do you do when you're dying of an overdose of drugs? I'll tell you what you do, man. When you're hurting and you've run out of answers, you get on the hot line to Heaven real fast! I tell you, I wasn't the praying kind - God had been a swear word to me, I couldn't care less. I began to pray. I said, 'God, if you're for real, man, help me.' You see, I was figuring that if the Devil was this real man, then God had better be more real otherwise I was hurting. Well, God was for real and he came through with some real answers. I don't mean that the heavens opened and an angel flew down and said, 'Zap, you're okay now!' No, not quite! But you know what I mean - the Lord really came through. The pressure eased off my head a little bit and just certain things, but you still got to reap what you sow.

Charles McPheeters: Drug addict turned Jesus music pioneer

"For the next few weeks I went crazy. My friends had to tie me up for a few days because, they said, I was trying to kill people. One minute I would be crying, whimpering like a little baby, my little jellyfish mind being ripped up by the egg-beater of fear, not knowing whether I was dead or alive or where or who or anything, and the next minute trying to kill people. I shaved my head bald and everybody said, 'Wow, McPheeter's dropped some bad acid!' That's what everybody thought and that's what I thought too. But whatever, it did the job. I went from Beverley Hills to Skid Row in about two to three weeks. My life fell apart. I sat in a gutter and ripped up everything in my wallet - it was crazy. Here I was, no hair, no money no groovy clothes, no nothing."

Like the prodigal son, he crawled back home to his mother. She was attending St Luke's Episcopal Church in Washington. As Charles said, "I asked Jesus to come into my life and forgive my sins. It was about like dropping a new Corvette engine into a Volkswagen." A couple of young men laid hands on Charles and prayed for him to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Much to Charles' amazement he found himself lying on the floor of St Luke's stately building praising God in tongues. He lay there for three hours. After this dramatic experience he rushed outside to tell someone about what Jesus had done in his life. Charles began to share the Good News at any and every opportunity. His travels took him to the Seattle area, where he played in a gospel folk group called Disciples Three. The group's songs of faith played on acoustic guitars drew opposition from conservative churches. Then McPheeters settled in Los Angeles where he worked with the Southern California branch of Teen Challenge, the outreach organisation founded by Pentecostal minister David 'Cross & The Switchblade' Wilkerson. At the Southern California Teen Challenge Center, another young musician, Andrae Crouch, was then directing the 40-voice addicts choir. Since Andrae was also already working with a group called The Disciples, Charles changed the Disciples Three to the New Creatures. The newly named group continued to perform gospel folk music in Christian coffee houses.

Charles became a regular performer at His Place on Hollywood's Sunset Strip, a coffee house started by street evangelist Arthur Blessitt who gained international fame by hauling a life size cross around various parts of the world. One night while playing at His Place, Charles' brother Jim turned up unannounced in the audience. Such was the transformation from the brother Jim had remembered as a drug-addled wreck that he didn't recognise Charles. Jim experienced a conversion through his brother's ministry and became a member of Blessitt's Christian rock band Eternal Rush.

McPheeters migrated to upstate New York in 1969 to work as a midday deejay on the Christian Broadcasting Network radio stations while living in what would later become the Love Inn community in Freeville. Next, McPheeters relocated to Dallas, where he worked at Christ For The Nations Institute.

In 1971 Charles released an album 'High On Life', largely his spoken word testimony interspersed with five songs, one his own composition "Bad News Blues" and covers of songs by Noel Paul Stookey, The Exkursions, Joe South and James Taylor. By 1972 Charles was in Denver working as a youth pastor at Redeemer Temple. On crime-ridden East Colfax Avenue, near the State Capital, Redeemer Temple helped Charles establish the Holy Ghost Repair Service, Inc, a ministry directed at the street people of Denver - addicts, prostitutes, pimps, drunks, transients and the like. A street paper The End Times was also published by HGRS.

Charles' ministerial calling then took him to Florida for a few years where he worked as youth pastor at a local church. In late 1979, Charles relocated to Hollywood where he set up the HGRS on Hollywood Boulevard, the forerunner of The Oasis. While in Hollywood Charles released his second album. 'Faces' by Charles McPheeters And The Bible Belt Boogie Band is a gem. The Boogie Band included Mike Johnson and Randy Matthews (at the time well known Christian artists in their own right) and with wacky titles like "Greasy Truth" and "First Church Of The Frigid-Air" every song is performed in a different style taking in doowop, cocktail jazz, mariachi and blues rock. A pioneering album, it demonstrated its strong satirical edge by lampooning religious formulism and worldliness and pre-dated what Steve Taylor was to achieve in his rock satires a few years later. The Holy Ghost Repair Service continued to rescue the human flotsam and jetsam of Hollywood street people and some of the numerous miracles and deliverances the ministry experienced are recorded in the book Walk Of Faith On The Walk Of Fame by Charles' wife Judy Radachy (Joshua Publishing, 2004). But on 31st July, 1982 Charles lost his battle with stomach cancer and died aged 38. He was a true pioneer and courageous man of faith who should not be forgotten. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.


 

Reader Comments

Posted by KAREN in PENDLETON @ 01:24 on Mar 24 2017

I NEVER HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO MEET CHARLES ONLY WISH I HAD. MY LIFE HAS HAD SOME TURNS IN MY DRUG ADDICTION HAD IT NOT BEEN FOR TEEN CHALLENGE IN 1972-I RECENTLY GOT IN TOUCH WITH MY SON'S FATHER WHOM WAS THE DRUMMER OF LOST AND FOUND CHOIR AND WE BOTH HAD RECORDED A ALBUM AND WAS THROUGH THE TEEN CHALLENGE PROGRAM OF SEATTLE WASHINGTON-i HAD RECENTLY FOUND OUT THAT DAVE TORRES HAD PASSED NEARLy 10 YEARS AGO WHO WAS THE DIRECTOR OF TEEN CHALLENGE WHOM i NEVER HAD THE CHANCE TO THANK HIM FOR HIS DEVOTION THAT BROUGHT ME AND MY SON AND HIS FATHER TO GOD'S SERVICE. i AM IN THOUGHT OF PUBLISHING MY OWN BOOK OF MY LIFE AND HOW I WAS BROUGHT TO KNOW JESUS THROUGH MUSIC AND SHARED MY TESTIMONY AT THE SEATTLE'S OPERA HOUSE IN 1972. WHERE WE SANG & WITNESSED FOR JESUS. I HAVE SO MANY TO THANK FOR THE OPPORTUNITY AND TO BE A WITNESS FOR MANY OTHER SOULS. I AM IN SEARCH FOR THE ALBUM AND PICTURES IF ANYONE CAN LEAD ME IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION.TO FIND THESE MISSING PIECES FOR MY SON"S UNANSWERED QUESTIONS. I WOULD LOVE TO HAVE IN MY POSSSESSION THE LOST AND FOUND CHOIRS RECORDED MUSIC ALBUM 1972 SEATTLE WASHINGTON TEEN CHALLENGE. I WOULD BE SO GRACIOUSLY GRATEFUL.



Posted by Mark Hardisty in Fort Worth Texas @ 02:13 on Oct 14 2015

I met Charles in Dallas at CFNI in 1976. He was one of the best friends I've ever had. We worked together painting houses to pay for school and bills. He is the most unpretentious person I have ever known and a true friend. I still miss him and think about him all the time. His wife is an amazing servant of the Lord, and I will always love them



Posted by dave beard in westminster colorad @ 19:52 on Dec 28 2014

I met Charles at Redeemer Temple in the seventies. A group of us (Herb allison, Glen Gray, Ron Renshaw, etc) used to go down to the Paraklete and street witness. I remember some of the others that have posted. I went on the graduate from Christ for the Nations in Dallas Texas and spent a few years in South Africa working for Reinhard Bonnke. I was taken back when I heard that Charles had passed. I heard that he continued to share Christ with others in the hospital before he died. Blessings from Denver.



Posted by Shirley Mahoney in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma @ 16:07 on Aug 8 2014

Judy & Charles were saviors in my life in Arlington,Va.
I lived with my parents and my little boys. They took
me to many meetings and prayed with me for my husband who I had left. I met Judy at the bus stop on
my journey to find a job. They came to OKC to visit me
and meet my husband, Whom I had returned to. They
were such a beautiful presence in my life. So sorry to read of Charles passing. I lost my son Andy a year ago this August to drugs and Diabetis I .



Posted by Jon Lieberman in Carmel Indiana @ 15:59 on Jan 14 2014

I met Charles when he came through for a revival at Redeemer Temple in Denver, Colorado in the summer of 1971 when I was a brand new Jewish believer in Jesus (saved only a month). So many young people gave their lives to Jesus that summer and it helped establish me in the faith. I later met Scott Hinkle and he encouraged me to go to Christ for the Nations Bible School that fall. I will never forget those first 2 months as a believer in Denver going to concerts at parks and street marches for Jesus that Charles organized. In fact, at one of those concerts Charles asked me to give a testimony- my first one ever. I was quite nervous but Charles encouraged me to step out in faith. I would like to connect with anyone that knew me during that short time in Denver July & August 1971.
JLIEBE@AMERITECH.NET www.themessiah.org



Posted by Janet Hamm in Bellingham, WA @ 03:43 on Nov 1 2013

I knew Charles back in 1972 when a bunch of us attended Redeemer Temple and Calvary Temple and then did street ministry on Friday and Saturday nights along Colfax Avenue in Denver. It was a blessing to be part of the Jesus people movement that was sweeping the nation at the time. Like Keith Green, Charles lived too short a life but I look forward to seeing them one day again.



Posted by Tom Xanthos in Peoria az @ 21:56 on Aug 8 2013

Charles and I worked at Khof (99.5) radio. It is now called Kkla in California.
He came upon my invitation to the country Church I pastored with his "New Creation Group" for a special meeting to reach the lost in Topanga Cayon where I served The Lord for 5 years. we picked up almost 100 drug addicts that evening service.

Charles talked about his vision and ideas to reach our generation for Christ. He was ahead of his time. He was resourceful and full of GOD'S HOLY SPIRIT!

I often reflect on our talks and fellowship together.
I have been a Hospice Chaplain for the last 18 years.

David Wilkerson and Jack H. Of Church On The Way, influenced our ministry. To my mind Charles was short of a genius. What a faithful servant of GOD. ! Tom X.



Posted by Jane Harmon in Dallas, Texas @ 05:54 on Dec 24 2012

The Lord has just provided me with a computer and, although it was a silly thought after all these years, I wanted to see if I could find anything about Charles and Judy McPheeters, the HGRS or Ron & Judy's work in Hollywood. I'm amazed that here I am, at the first site I found, reading so many familiar names, saying so many things that could be coming out of my own mouth!

I was a student at Western Michigan University, and so in love with the Lord Jesus. I had just discovered the Logos Bookstore, filled with music the likes of which I had never heard before. The Holy Spirit, in a few minutes, took me from Kum By Yah and classical hymns to the likes of "I was sittin in the front seat, tryin really hard to be the driver...." Suddenly a couple came up behind me, and a conversation which never really started just continued as Charles, Judy and I walked out of the store and I went home with them.
I was floored as sweet Southern belle Judy told me how he and Charles were in the same place for a short time doing their separate musical gigs. So God didn't waste any time. Charles proposed in something like 3 days, and they were married in 3 weeks, or something like that. That was the first lesson about the God I serve which I learned from Charles & Judy McPheeters.
Over the years God kept putting us in the same place at the same time. I have never had the blessing of meeting Ron, and I, too, would so love to be in contact with Judy again!

Michael, I so loved your parents, and I'm right here in Carrollton. Find me on Facebook . I'm Jane Harmon 568. I understand your need to connect with your dad this way. I'd love to share that love with you.



Posted by Pastor Don Noonan in Philadelphia, PA @ 16:31 on Jun 28 2012

I knew Charles both in Denver and in Los Angeles, actually, Hollywood. In Denver I was a store owner of magazines and books quite contrary to what I now know as porn. Once jesus came into my life, I knew what Charles was saying in Denver was right on. He and Bill would come into my store and tract every magazine behind the gate to keep minors out. When Charles passed, I was with YWAM working the streets of Hollywood. Charles and Judy became good friends. I had a truck and used to move things for Cahrles and Judy. At the funeral, Bill did not know that I was then serving Christ and thought I came to mock Charles, Judy had to reassure her brother that I was not there for evil, but for honor. I came to love Charles as a brother and Judy as a sister. Now she and her husband serve in the same movement that I am pioneering a work in in Philadelphia. What a blessing they were and are to this day.



Posted by Bobby V Chance in Hollywood, California @ 17:31 on Apr 29 2012

My wife Dot and I heard Charles McPheeters preach one time in 1981 at our church in Dallas, TX. We quickly quit our jobs, sold our house and packed our 3 small daughters and headed to Hollywood, CA to work alongside Charles and Judy McPheeters in The Holy Ghost Repair service. Our lives were revolutionized.

Charles McPheeters witnessed to stop signs just for practice. If you were going to hang around him and Judy, you had to be really saved or stay away from them, cause they lived a radical Jesus lifestyle.

We spent one year working for The Holy Ghost Repair Service under Charles' amazing anointing and mentoring. He was the instrument God used to save prostitutes, punk rockers, gang members, runaways and the lost and forgotten on the streets of Hollywood.

When Charles was in the hospital battling cancer In July 1982, 24 hours before going home to be with Jesus, I was sitting with him in his hospital room. Although slipping in and out of consciousness, he sat up in bed and boldly declared, "Jesus is coming soon... but God we need revival." Then he laid back down to sleep.

I slipped out of his hospital room, knelt on my knees in the hallway and cried and repented before the Lord. Whatever Charles McPheeters had, whatever Jesus he knew and served so boldly, I wanted it.

I led worship and sang at Charle's graveside. I played his guitar and wore his shirts for about the next year when I sang and preached on the streets. No one else ever like him.

Dot and I linked arms with Judy and continued to serve and minister through The Holy Ghost repair Service. Judy and her husband Ron have continued to shake the earth for Jesus from Hollywood, the epicenter of the world. Thank you Jesus for these beautiful friends and co-laborers in His harvest. We love you Charles.

Bobby V Chance
Hollywood, CA



The opinions expressed in the Reader Comments are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms.

Add your comment

We welcome your opinions but libellous and abusive comments are not allowed.












We are committed to protecting your privacy. By clicking 'Send comment' you consent to Cross Rhythms storing and processing your personal data. For more information about how we care for your data please see our privacy policy.