Tony Cummings profiles the Grammy-award winning CCM star CARMAN
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"In the end, I was flat broke. But I was free to do whatever God wanted me to do. There was a point that came in my life when I just realised that ministry was the most important thing to me. I had to minister. It was what I was called to. Nothing else mattered. The recording contracts, the full-page ads, the interviews and attention...it was all a distraction. I had to cut it loose. I just started doing concerts. I didn't have a recording contract, a manager or a plan - but it felt good. I was back in touch with the people."
It was a touch he was never again to lose. In the Spring of 1984 Carman was approached by Word Records and despite understandable reluctance considering his Priority experiences, signed with the giant CCM company. His first Myrrh album 'Comin' On Strong' was still slightly lugubrious easy listening gospel, but two other components were clearly establishing themselves in the unique Carman cultural cocktail - black gospel and humour. The black gospel influence Carman attributes to his local church experiences. "I have been a member of an interdenominational, interracial church for ten years now. I just naturally grew into that funkier way of worshipping God. What people forget is that the blues, jazz, rock 'n' roll, they all started in church."
The other stylistic constituent Carman was using to ever increasing effect was humour. The power to communicate by lacing a parable with a touch of laconic humour was demonstrated superbly on 'Comin' On Strong"s standout track, a semi-autobiographical insight into Italian-American street culture called "Spirit Filled Pizza". If 'Comin' On Strong' got Carman noticed, it was the next Myrrh album 'The Champion' which introduced the epic sounds capes and vividly imaginative preach-cum-song spiritual soap operas which were to make him one of the most loved (and loathed) artists in Christian music. Numbers like "Lazarus Come Forth" were dizzyingly imaginative propositions of what it could be like behind-the-scenes in the heavenlies. And in Keith Thomas, Carman had found a producer who could take Carman's dazzling gifts as a story teller, raconteur and Old Testament prophet and give it creative focus in vistas of shimmering synths, rock power chords and funky rhythms.
Carman's musical influences ran wild, as his popularity rocketed. In 1987 he joined Benson where a concept Christian album 'A Long Time Ago...In A Land Called Bethlehem' ('87) and live album 'Radically Saved' ('88) were forerunners to one of the most unique concept albums ever to emerge from a state-of-the-art recording studio. 'Revival In The Land' took the exploration of the demonic down to new depths while the ecstatic use of full black gospel choir showed that here was a man who was prepared to pull out all mannner of musical surprises. Eclectism was one thing, Carman was something else.
The received wisdom from The Oracle Of All Recording Artists Knowledge had seemed to be 'find a style and stick with it'. Clearly, The Oracle had not been listened to by Carman. Here was an artist who flew fast and free from all stylistic pigeon holes. One second he was the svelte balladeer crooning an easy listening gospel ballad for Middle America's church goers. The next he was the snarling funkster singing to a beat slamming enough to keep the dance floor seething. His new album 'Addicted To Jesus' takes the musical versatility to new heights. With the help of special guests like AOR giant Petra, Southern gospel's Gold City and rap's DC Talk, Carman can swoop from heavy rock to rockabilly-throwback to hip hop and sound completely at home in each diverse genre. Carman sees the dizzying moves from style to style very much in a spiritual light.
"The Bible says that many of us are sick because we do not discern the body of Christ. We need to understand what God is doing among the black churches. What God is doing among the Episcopalians, in Africa, among the street kids of New York. I put lots of different styles on my albums because I believe if you're capable of it you owe it to the Lord to express the message in as diverse a number of ways as possible. Now I still meet people who say 'God cannot move with the hard rock sound' or people who've got a real problem with rap. But their theology is just not biblical. Satan is not a creative force. He just steals, and perverts, and distorts. It's God who is Lord of all creativity, all music and I strive to reach people in my concerts and through my albums whatever their tastes or backgrounds."
Carman's concerts have been described by one journalist as "how one would imagine an old time revival meeting if it was taking place in Las Vegas". But only the spiritually blind would fail to acknowledge that raconteur/singer/evangelist/rapper/exhorter and sheer dazzling entertainer has a touch from the Lord's almighty hand. Here is a man who, whatever his particular cultural affectations, is hopelessly, utterly and totally addicted to the Lord Jesus Christ. That addiction shows through continually. The final word comes from Joe Jones who, with brother Jake, has for years directed Carman Ministries. "An anointing comes upon Carman when he gets on stage. It's like a bright glow that surrounds him. But even off stage it's there - it's there in a lesser way in everyday living, but it's still there."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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