Jeff C Stevenson - Fortney Road: Life, Death And Deception In A Christian Cult

Published Wednesday 14th September 2016
Jeff C Stevenson - Fortney Road: Life, Death And Deception In A Christian Cult
Jeff C Stevenson - Fortney Road: Life, Death And Deception In A Christian Cult

STYLE: Music Related
RATING 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9
FORMAT: Book General book

Reviewed by John Cheek

Connoisseurs of Jesus music will remember the All Saved Freak Band and their brilliant guitarist Glenn Schwartz who, before joining the band and the Christian community which ran it, had made a name for himself in the mainstream with American hitmakers the James Gang and then Pacific Gas & Electric. This book tells the tragic tale of Ohio's Church Of The Risen Christ (aka Fortney Road), led by Larry Hill and how a community mutated from being a church to a cult.

How do you review a book like this? The obvious danger is to pen something which attracts somebody inclined to spend hours voyeuristically pouring over the non-fiction in the True Crime section of bookshops. That would be unfair to this author, as Stevenson's pacey, fluid text tells the sad tale of religion gone bad. The chapters on the Freaks, their live shows and four studio albums are the most absorbing; not least through guitarist Glenn Schwartz being central to the band - already a professional musician, Schwartz was labelled the 'white Hendrix', due to his stunning ability. Here, we get an account of how Glenn met Jimi at a party in the '60s and witnessed briefly to the legend. The biggest danger, however, is writing something that conspires with Christians looking down their noses at apparently gullible believers whilst claiming, "That would never happen HERE" - because it could. Larry Hill (piano, vocals) and leader at Fortney Road, displayed character-traits similar to faults seen in many church leaders. Despite an apparently genuine Christian conversion in the '50s, by the early '70s Hill was displaying all the behavior patterns of the Pharisees of Jesus' time, all the while leading a rock group who were getting played on scores of radio stations.

Fans of the All Saved Freak Band (and there still are some around, some of their music having been re-issued on CDs) will find this a fascinating read. But they should be warned that the background from whence the music came - of physical, sexual and emotional abuse - is a shocking one. Hill himself grew up being able to administer beatings to his mother and therefore went through life for a long time presuming that physical violence was acceptable behaviour, even for a Christian minister. The book, the story, displays how important proper oversight and accountability is, however restrictive or dull such constrictions may seem. It clearly reveals how damaging things can turn out when they are absent. "By their fruits you shall know them". In Hill's case fear, anxiety and distress replaced the love, joy and peace his people had the right to enjoy.

This book is an achievement in itself in that it reveals what really happened following decades of silence and secrecy. It records, touchingly, how ex-members cared for those who, later, also got free, sometimes miraculously. Thankfully, many of those people still have a faith today. It serves as a salutary lesson: there by the grace of God go all of us.

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.

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