Tony Cummings traces the fascinating up-and-down career of Scottish-born singer/songwriter DAVE KELLY
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The Christian companies' marketing negativity turned out to be depressingly accurate. Despite Campus Crusade magazine naming 'The Angels Come' Album Of The Year, Christian and mainstream radio completely ignored the album. Spirit Records went bankrupt a few months after the album's release and 'Ark becme a footnote in Christian music history with the Encyclopedia Of Contemporary Christian Music calling 'The Angels Come' "criminally unsuccessful." A final blow was when 'Ark tried to play some concerts in Californian churches. Remembered Dave ruefully, "There was people protesting outside some of the churches. I think it was Downey Calvary Chapel that first happened - people with placards outside the church protesting, yelling at their own pastor that this was the devil's music. It was a really weird time."
With such reaction from Christendom 'Ark had little choice but to disband. Derek returned to his UK homeland for a season. Then Dave got an unexpected career offer. Remembered Kelly, "Badfinger was the most well known Beatley-type band that the Beatles had anything to do with. They were quite famous. After 'Ark, I got invited to meet with them and was asked if I would like to join the group to take the place of the main singer, Peter Hamm, who had unfortunately committed suicide. But I turned it down."
Unexpectedly, a very different kind of opportunity was about to open for Dave. He recalled, "I got this call from a friend of mine, who was at Vineyard Church, same church as I was at, and said, 'How would you like to meet Bob Dylan?' said, 'I'd love to meet him, but why would he want to meet me?' He said, 'He's looking for somebody to work with him. Just come and meet him, you'll see what happens.' So I did."
Dave vividly remembers his first meeting with the rock icon. "Bob had a big record room that had every record probably ever made. He's a voracious listener of music. He listened to everything that ever came out. That was very intimidating when I walked in and he had the 'Ark album sitting there on his record player. I thought, 'Oh no. I've lost the job before I even start.' He shook my hand and said, 'Let's talk', and sort of interviewed me a little bit, said, 'I want somebody to go on the road with me as my personal assistant. Would you be willing to do that?' I said, 'Yeah, but what do you need?' He said, 'I need somebody that's a Christian, and understands the music business, and can talk on my behalf to the crew and the band, anybody that's around. I'm not comfortable right now: it's only been a month that I've been a member of the church. I'd just like somebody there to buffer me.' Particularly the people around him, the crew and the band - not necessarily the press. He was recording the 'Saved' album. He was rehearsing for that tour and touring, and writing 'Saved'. It was very difficult for him, because I don't think he knew the reaction that was going to happen. People hated it. He is and has always been an enormously successful Jewish icon, so certainly among the rabbinic Jewish community in New York he was the Jewish artist, seminal artist - the poet. For Dylan to accept Christ was blasphemy in their eyes - rabbis all over New York tearing their garments."
The reaction to Bob's "gospel tour" was decidedly mixed though, as Dave put it, "not as bad as some people in the press described it." Dave continued, "Some of the press that I read, those guys weren't even at the concert; they would say things that just did not happen. But there WAS some real resentment. We had a death threat literally every single day of the tour. There would be faxes and letters sent to the concert hall saying, 'We're going to kill Dylan tonight if he mentions the name of Jesus Christ again. We're going to kill him.' There were some very frightened people on that tour. The accountant that went on tour with us was white as a ghost most of the time, because he didn't know if they were going to blow it up, shoot him, or what - whether we'd get killed in the process. Then suddenly we're in Arizona - I guess 10, 12 dates into the tour - at the university there, and people were starting to howl and shout. He stopped the show, right in the middle of a song. Freaked the musicians out. He spoke from the stage for the first time on that tour, and he said, 'I always told you the truth. I told you the answer was blowing in the wind - and it is. I told you the times were a-changing - and they are. Now I'm telling you you've got to serve somebody - and you do.' There was silence. You could hear a pin drop. They went back into the song, and everybody was roaring. They couldn't believe that he just stopped and said that. It was very moving."
What was Dave's take on the story revealed in Scott Marshall's book Bob Dylan: A Spiritual Life that pressure was put on Dylan by CBS/Sony to pull back on the Jesus songs? "What I heard was there was a compromise: he was either not going to have a record label anymore, or he was going to stay quiet about Jesus. They pretty much told him, 'You're going to have to make it more hidden'. I think anyway at that point he would not have done it if it hadn't been what he wanted to do. He'd already done it so outright, said everything he needs to say - You're gonna have to serve somebody, it might be the Devil, it might be the Lord, but you're gonna have to serve something, make a choice. He'd been very, very obvious on 'Slow Train Coming' and 'Saved'. So at that point he wanted to be more poetic, and more interesting, so it wasn't a problem."
During 1980 Dave was approached by Jon Pac - onetime member of Christian hitmakers Parchment who had subsequently become head of Britain's Pilgrim Records, about whether he was interested in recording a solo album of Christian songs. Dave turned it down but Dylan himself got to hear about the offer. Explained Dave, "He heard about it from the mutual friend that had originally introduced us. Bob came over to me at the end of the tour and said, 'I heard this English Christian label wants you to do a solo album'. I said, 'Yeah, but I sort of pooh-poohed it: "That's just silly, I'm not going to leave working with Bob Dylan to make a solo album. I'm not that ambitious."' Bob said, 'No, you have to. You have to do it.' I looked at him like, 'What?' And he said, 'You have to do it. My band, I've talked to them all, and they're willing to play with you on the record - unless you have musicians.' I went, 'No, I don't have any'. He said, 'OK. I'll even play harmonica if you want.' So he commanded me to do it."
Dave produced the album himself, and the Beatles connection continued when Jim Keltner offered to play the drums for his album. Keltner had been the drummer on all of George Harrison's solo albums as well as a number of John Lennon albums. Additionally, Dave was able to record a couple of songs in ELO's studio, using their string arranger and string players to enhance the tracks.
Pilgrim Records had signed a deal with America's Benson Records and Dave's album 'Crowning Of A Simple Man' was duly released on the Pilgrim American label. The album was a gem from the slick guitar-accompanied "Turn Your Back", the Beatlesque "Supernatural Man" and the folky closer "Ballad Of JC" with recorder, fiddle and even bagpipes playing their part. A tour of America was set up to promote 'Crowning Of A Simple Man' when personal tragedy struck the songsmith.
"It was Christmas morning. I woke up and my wife was shaking really hard. I didn't know what was wrong. She looked at me like she couldn't see me; I could tell she was losing her sight. I rushed her to the hospital round the corner. As I walked into the door she got twice as heavy. Handed her to the doctors - they rushed her into ER and told me, 'Sorry, she's gone'. She was eight months pregnant. They said, 'We're going to keep the baby alive'. They didn't know what was wrong. They came back two or three days later and said, 'We did the autopsy and she had spinal meningitis'. But fortunately it wasn't the contagious kind, so the baby didn't have it. So I had a little son that was born. This was Christmas morning when she died in my arms, literally - and a week later they called me and said, 'You haven't got a name for this little baby. He's lived five days, so he should be fine.' So I gave him the name Craig. Then they called me New Year's Eve and said, 'I'm sorry, he died'. So I lost my wife on Christmas morning and my son on New Year's Eve. And I had two little children already."
The tour to promote 'Crowning Of A Simple Man' was cancelled. "The record company was furious with me. So nobody really heard the record, or knew it existed. I just sort of disappeared and became a father to these two children."
Three or four months later, while grieving his loss, Dave suddenly felt an "incredibly powerful urge" to go to Hawaii. He admitted, "At first I thought it must be something strange, maybe something I ate. It's not the kind of thing you tell somebody when you're supposed to be in mourning. This is three or four months after the deaths. But it continued and continued and continued; it became very obvious to me that this was the Holy Spirit speaking to me. What he said was, 'You need to go to Hawaii and meet your wife'. I protested, 'I don't want to remarry; I don't want to meet somebody that's going to be my wife.' But I kept getting this. Derek was in LA at the time, had been doing some other recordings that might have become the 'Ark 2 album. He said, 'I'm going to Japan to meet my brother'. His brother was a famous tour manager for a lot of big rock bands, AC/DC and Def Leppard. I said to Derek, 'I'll come with you as far as Hawaii'. So I reluctantly went to Hawaii, sat in the room, refused to leave - sat there like I'm wrestling with the Angel of the Lord. I didn't want to leave the room; I thought, 'If there's someone God wants me to meet, they're going to have to come here'. But then we heard some Puerta Rican music across the street, and Derek looked at me and went, 'We're in Hawaii, that music's from Puerta Rico - we've got to go see this band'. We did. I'd been in the place a few minutes when my wife walked in the door; I saw her and I knew. It was unbelievably spiritually powerful. Within three weeks we were married. That was in '81."
Many of Dave's Christian friends, including his pastor, had serious misgivings about his speedy remarriage. "I think everybody I knew was looking at me going, 'What are you doing? What are you thinking?' I'm going, 'This is clearly God to me. There's so much spiritual about this, I can't explain it to you. I either have to listen to you, or I listen to God. I know it makes me look foolish.' My mother was living with us in LA, and my brother and my sister; they all thought my marriage was too soon. 'Traditionally,' my mother said, 'you've got to wait a year'. All I could say was, 'This is God.' As it turned out, it's been the most amazing marriage. My wife is the exact opposite of me, she's the other half of me. We have an additional four kids; she's raised the first two like her own, they love her to death."
Dave relocated to Nashville and for a few years worked behind the scenes in the growing CCM industry. He explained, "I had a management and agency company. I managed people like White Heart, the hard rock band Whitecross, a new artist called Keith Brown who got New Artist Of The Year award in CCM magazine. I did work with a number of Christian artists, trying to help them market themselves. I think the things you learn not to do are what's most valuable. So you can help guide people, and say, 'No, I don't think that's the right thing, let's look somewhere else'. I worked on a lot of international concerts, in Europe and South Africa, Brazil. I was very much into the international expansion of the Gospel, looking for those kinds of opportunities." One of the many acts that Dave gave advice to was Third Day. "I never met them. One of them used to phone me up and get advice, and sometimes the band would be listening; I could hear them in the background. This is prior to them being signed."
Dave continued, "I'd always been into marketing. From Nashville I eventually moved to Los Angeles and got involved in the movie business and the television business, started managing actors that were on TV shows and film, like the new Star Wars series. Helping new talent has always been my interest. Eventually I kind of retired, although now and then I do marketing for people. Sometimes it's businesses that need marketing help. I did learn a lot from the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan - those three particularly - about how to present yourself internationally to be able to have a chance to be heard. I never used it on myself, because I didn't know what I know now. Instead I felt like I should be trying to help young artists. I am in the process of trying to create a new label for brand new artists that I can help mentor a little bit. The struggle of music ministry is that it's very much like the world - you have a lot of the screaming fans, you can fall very quickly into the same kind of lifestyle. It's not an easy thing. People put you on a pedestal, and you don't get discipled properly. For me record companies have never been particularly supportive - but they used to be. A group like U2 would not exist if there hadn't been a label called Island, and a person called Chris Blackwell, that actually mentored them, waited two, three years for them to become successful, helped them along the way. That doesn't happen much. So I've been looking at ways that I can start a new label. In this digital era, it's a lot easier to actually create a label than it used to be."
One of the surprises Dave has experienced in recent times is the still increasing fan interest in 'Ark's 'The Angels Sing' and Dave's 'Crowning of A Simple Man' albums. Said Dave, "I got so many emails. People would find me - I've no idea how - but they would find me and email me from different places, from England, from Australia, all over America, and say, 'Is there any way I can get a decent sounding copy of this?' After a while I said, 'OK, I'm going to remaster them, take what I have and digitally enhance them the best I can so at least people can hear a little bit better than the samples that were out there on the internet. I did that, and I decided I needed to make a Facebook page so that people could find it. I didn't want to put 'Ark or Dave Kelly. I'd read this review that said 'Ark is like a Christian Badfinger, and I thought it was so funny. There were some connections there, so I thought I'd call the site Christian Badfinger, because people might understand what that means. They won't know 'Ark, but if they like Badfinger they'd probably like 'Ark."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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