Bob Kilpatrick: Songwriter, singer, instrumentalist and author

Sunday 23rd October 2011

Forever being dubbed "In My Life Lord Be Glorified" man, America's BOB KILPATRICK was quizzed by Tony Cummings

Bob Kilpatrick
Bob Kilpatrick

Bob Kilpatrick is a communicator based in Fair Oaks, California whose achievements and gifts are nothing short of head-spinning. He is the composer of one of the most popular worship songs of the modern age, "In My Life Lord Be Glorified". He is a radio presenter whose Time Out With Bob Kilpatrick was syndicated on US radio for three decades. He is a record producer who has worked with the likes of Randy Stonehill, Sara Groves, Phil Keaggy and Noel Paul Stookey. He is an author with critically acclaimed books like The Art Of Being You. He is an internationally traveled speaker who has visited Europe, Latin America, India, Africa and Australasia. He is an ordained minister and the third inductee into the Assemblies of God Hall of Honor. And he is a prolific singer/songwriter, guitarist and recording artist who down the years has, at the last count, released 28 albums! So it was with a certain trepidation at the enormity of the task that Cross Rhythms approached this human dynamo so that we could at least sketch in some of the numerous achievements of a hugely productive life.

Bob was born in Louisville, Kentucky. He reminisced, "I was born into a big Southern Baptist family. My dad was a preacher. Some of my early memories are of the little churches he pastored in Georgia. We had lively services followed by lunch under the pines behind the church, with fried chicken, black-eyed peas, sweet tea and watermelon. My dad joined the Air Force as a chaplain when I was five or six and we began a rather peripatetic lifestyle. A large part of my young life was spent in Japan, and part of my teens in Turkey. Ours was a happy home, filled with singing, little family dramas and lots of fun. I was always starting clubs and newspapers, staging plays and magic shows and searching for those boyhood adventures like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn had. Even though our family was happy, I was a solitary person. I enjoyed, and still enjoy, being alone. I would read a lot and when I found an author I enjoyed I tended to devour their books. I still do! I've read everything by Dorothy Sayers, GK Chesterton, Charles Williams and CS Lewis, to name just a few!

"My parents told me I was harmonizing at two years old on 'Down By The Riverside'. We sang a lot but no one else in my family was particularly musical. What really got me interested in writing songs and playing music was hearing the Beatles' 'She Loves You'. I just wanted to do that! The first record I ever bought was that song on a 45 rpm single that I picked up in Tokyo when I was 11 or 12. The label was in Japanese."

While in high school Bob left his family in Turkey and lived for a year with his cousins in a little town in Georgia. He said, "It was the first year of racial integration for the high school, so being together was a new thing for the students there, but it seemed completely normal to me. Some black guys asked me to join their band. We covered Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Percy Sledge songs. It was great! We won the talent show and played the homecoming dance. Some of the white boys threatened us but we didn't care. We were having fun. It was at the end of that school year that the rest of my family returned from Turkey and we moved to California. My parents' marriage was coming apart and my sisters and I were straining under that pressure. I'm not sure we would have survived as a family if it hadn't been for the Jesus movement/charismatic renewal that swept us up into a new and very exciting experience of the presence of God. That's when I made a radical commitment of my life to Jesus. The whole story about it is in my book The Art Of Being You."

Bob married a Christian girl, Cindy, and the couple began to perform folk-orientated Jesus music in a style similar to Richard and Linda Thompson. Soon they were heading to England to work with evangelist Don Double who at that time had his headquarters in Meppershall, not far from Bedford. Then Bob and Cindy moved on to Munich, Germany, to work with YWAM at the 1972 Olympic outreach. Said Bob, "Not long after that I became the worship pastor at Bethel Church in Redding, California. Bill & Beni Johnson and Cindy and I formed a band called Wild Olive and had great times singing all across California. Bill's dad, Rev Earl Johnson, had a significant impact on my life as a spiritual mentor. In fact, it was he and the Bethel family that supported us when we launched out into itinerate music ministry." In the spring of 1976 Bob "left a good job in the city," packed his wife and two young boys in a van and set out to play his guitar, sing his songs and talk about the Christian life to anyone, anywhere.

Bob with Jesus followers, Berkeley, 1970
Bob with Jesus followers, Berkeley, 1970

In 1978 Bob & Cindy Kilpatrick recorded their first album 'Finished Work'. Released on Sonrise Mercantile the album featured the crème-de-la-crème of musicians emanating from the Jesus Movement known as A Band Called David. Best known for their work with 2nd Chapter Of Acts, the band included fine musos like Richard Souther and Alex Macdougall while members of Daniel Amos and Karen Lafferty also contributed their talents on Kilpatrick songs that ranged from string laden ballads to punchy rock 'n' roll. Opening and closing the album were two versions of a Bob Kilpatrick-penned worship, "Lord, Be Glorified". The songsmith spoke about how he came to write the song. "One evening at my mother-in-law's house I got the idea of writing a private prayer song for Cindy and me to sing before we would go on stage. While the rest of the family was in the family room I sat alone in the living room with my guitar and Bible and the song 'In My Life Lord Be Glorified' began to come. I had composed all of the melody and most of the counterpoint when Cindy came in. I told her about what I was writing and that it would be just for the two of us. It was Cindy that strongly suggested to me that I sing it publicly. I think she knew from the start that other people would want to sing it, too. I haven't told this story before publicly but a few months after writing the song I was ministering with Pastor Jack Hayford. We were sitting together on the platform at a conference. After Cindy and I sang the song I returned to my seat next to Jack. He leaned over and said "That song has It! I don't know exactly what It is but that song's got It and it's going far." This was a year before we or anyone else had recorded it!"

Also released in 1978 was a warm live acoustic set by Bob and Cindy 'In Concert'. It had been recorded in a small chapel before an audience of 120. It too contained a version of "Lord Be Glorified". In the coming years "In My Life Lord Be Glorified" was to become a worship standard included in millions of hymnals and chorus books on every continent and recorded hundreds of times after it had been popularized on Maranatha! Music's 'Praise III' album released in 1979.

In the next few decades streams of albums and thousands of performances in every kind of venue. He performed at 37,000 feet to a planeload of Alaska-bound passengers, in the bustees of Calcutta, the slums of Mexico City, under the watchful eye of Polish KGB agents, at Hyde Park in London, in the subways of Germany, the campuses of South Africa and at a California fruit stand (by special request of his mother). He's also managed to fit in a few thousand church services, youth conventions, television appearances, retreats and camps and the songs continued to pour forth. "Here Am I (Send Me To The Nations)" also established itself as a favourite, included in musicals, song books and recordings around the world. Bob's island-flavoured "Won By One" became the theme for the youth missions movement of the Assemblies Of God. The 'Won By One' album released in 1987 featured some scorching lead guitar from Chris Hayes of Huey Lewis & The News.

But of all his 28 albums the rock music aficionados have lavished most praise on 2006's album 'This Changes Everything' which with its stunning thematic scope recalls the glories of Larry Norman's 'So Long Ago The Garden' or Jackie Leven's 'The Mystery Of Love Is Greater Than The Mystery Of Death'. Bob spoke about his masterwork, "'This Changes Everything' is a wild, weird, world-music, rock-and-roll romp through my life! It's a very personal album, and the one I'm most happy with. It started at Earl Johnson's funeral. Bill asked me to sing a song I had written after my own father died. As Cindy and I were sitting on the front row with Darliene, Earl's widow, it suddenly came to me that Cindy and I would, in all probability, be in this same situation in not too many years. It started me seriously considering the arc of my life. So, the album is really a meditation on mortality. Keaggy and Stonehill think this is my life's work! The funny thing is that I started the recording more as a catharsis than anything else. I had to get these things out of my heart, but I didn't think I would release them. Honestly, they were so different from what I was known for that I didn't know if they would be accepted. The songs arrived helter skelter, not as a narrative or concept and not in order. It was Cindy who came into the studio, heard the songs and said, 'You're telling a story. You'd better bathe this in prayer and make sure you tell it well.' I hope I did. One of my favourite lyrics is from 'So Far Away', when it says 'when you don't know where your home is, everywhere feels so far away'. There are so many spiritually homeless people who don't know that the family of God is where they belong. Even at home they feel so far away."

Last year Bob took a serious dip into his vast back catalogue of recordings. He explained, "I compiled many albums worth of songs into several relevant groupings - sort of 'best ofs'. So the 'Bob Kilpatrick Live!' CD is my two most recent live albums stitched together; 'God Is Good' is something of a reiteration of the 'Lord Be Glorified' CD with additional worship songs; 'O, Mercy!' is a fuller version of an earlier album with the same name but with added songs and certain remixes and a new cover; and 'The Art of Being You' is a collection of 'arty' songs from a couple of decades to accompany the 'Arty' book."

Bob Kilpatrick, 1994
Bob Kilpatrick, 1994

'The Art Of Being You' CD consists of about half re-issued older recordings and half new material. Admitted Bob, "The new songs were born out of a season of loss for us - our nephew at 20, his father (Cindy's brother) 17 months later at 54, and my brother at 49. It's tough to find your way in the valley of the shadow of death. These songs came to me in that valley so they are worshipful in a different way than most contemporary worship songs. I suppose they're more like 'Be Still My Soul'."

Bob's book The Art Of Being You was published earlier this year by Zondervan. Its thesis is that most Christians take a "math" approach to their faith rather than embracing the art and mystery of God. One of the many challenging ideas the book throws up is the assertion that we are wrong to look upon our lives as broken and in need of repair. Asserted the author, "The idea that God is repairing us has replaced the Biblical concept that we are to be made new. II Corinthians says that if any of us is in Christ we are a new creation, not a repaired creation, or even a better creation. The very center of our faith - and the picture that is painted by the only two rituals (baptism and communion) Jesus gave us to do - is the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the hope of the same for each of us. Jesus didn't call us to try a little harder, he called us to lay our lives down, take up our cross and follow him. It is essential that we conform our thinking to the Bible, not the other way around.

"The second reason why this is a dangerous idea is that we tend to think that God has called us to make ourselves in his image. Nothing could be further from the truth! The good news of Jesus is not a self-help programme. Rather, it is life for those that cannot help themselves. It is the artist that makes his art. Period. Our job is to give him complete access to the materials of his art, which is our lives. Surrender is the only thing we can do. If we know him to be good and kind, and believe that he has far greater wisdom than we do, and trust that his idea of us is superior to our own, then we will give him everything we are and have and allow him to do as he will in us 'that in the ages to come he might show the extravagant riches of his grace toward us in Christ Jesus'! I love the two meanings of the one word 'grace'. It has a theological meaning and an artistic one. I see them both come together wonderfully in Jesus Christ. We have lived too long with the math paradigm. We try to balance the debit/credit columns of our lives. A nickel's worth of sin needs a nickel's worth of grace. This is death. The biblical picture is of Art. Creation. New life."

So far the response to The Art Of Being You has been almost entirely positive. "I'm happy to say that I can't keep the book in stock. When people hear the message and get a picture of who God is and what he can do with us, they want the whole story. I have been particularly pleased that my friends like it! On a worldwide scale, we knew the book would be a slow burner - that it would be viral - and that is just what's happening. We are presently wrapping up an eight week DVD-centered group study guide that we think will be helpful as churches and other groups go through it together. It will be available early next year."

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Reader Comments

Posted by David Topper in Washington @ 18:55 on Feb 4 2014

Great interview. I feel like I just got caught up with an old friend. Actually I think I did. So great to see what God is doing in your life Bob. Your life had an impact on me many years ago and your lyrics have ministered to me many times since.

Posted by LOYUISE VAN DENEIKHO in LAS VEG @ 18:52 on May 27 2013


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