Tony Cummings quizzed the Leeds-based music visionary, JOE KING
Of all the hundreds of musicians who have faithfully served the British music ministry world in the post-war years, one of the most talented and anointed is Joe King. Currently serving at a church in Leeds, Joe has faithfully served the body of Christ over many years, made many cutting-edge recordings, ministered powerfully in the USA and Europe, and continues to be a prophetic challenge to those whose worship ministry is little more than a stereotypical replication of American, British or Australian worship ministries. Leeds has been his base since he went to music college there in 1974. At present, this internationally renowned singer, songwriter, guitar and keyboard teacher, healing and worship trainer, organiser of healing music concerts, preacher, teacher, personal prayer counsellor and prophet is content to play keyboard in the worship band of Glory Fire Church. He's also involved with The Burn in Sheffield, which is an all-day, once-monthly worship event. In the worship area of soaking, he has become an important figure in encouraging believers to seek intimacy with God through anointed soaking sessions. Despite all the calls on his time and gifting, Joe found the time to tell his story of faith and creativity to Cross Rhythms.
His story begins in Manchester when he was born on 20th May 1954. Down the years, many have heard a story that when Joe's mother was told about her pregnancy, she responded, "You must be joking." It seemed appropriate, therefore, for Cross Rhythms to begin its marathon quizzing session by asking this multi-faceted minister the origins of such an amusing tale.
Joe explained, "Often in evangelistic-type concerts which I did from the late '70s to the early '90s, I would tell numerous jokes about my family background, many of which had more than a grain of truth in them. They had people guffawing hurricanes of laughter. It got to the point one night where I thought, 'If I crack any more jokes, at the end of this gig I'll have to pray for people to be healed because their appendix stitches will have come undone.' Because of those events, people suggested that I change my name to 'Joking' (that's true). It's also true that during one discussion with my folks about 1985, I told them that when I went into schools for Youth For Christ and Scripture Union, kids would crack the inevitable joke, 'You must be joking!' In a very acute southern Irish accent, my mum said, 'God love a duck! Of course you're Joe King!' 'No mum, it's a play on the words.' 'Mudder of God, what do you mean?' We went back-and-forth for several minutes but she simply didn't get it, and in the end, exasperated, I gave up. I loved my parents deeply but if they were houses, they would have been bungalows because there wasn't a lot up top!"
Joe and his brother grew up, or as Joe himself says, "were
dragged up" in Moss Side, Manchester, the notorious gun-running
territory where poverty, drugs, crime and prostitution were the order
of the day. Joe used memories of his tough upbringing in the jokes
which peppered his evangelistic concerts:-
"It was so rough that the dogs went round in pairs! The food in the shops had a steal-by date on it! We were so poor we didn't have one penny to rub together! Our house was so damp that the mice had periscopes on their traps! The rent was cheap and you could have lots of mushrooms off the wall!"
Despite the bleak Moss Side environment, Joe's parents were devout Irish Roman Catholics. Still unable to resist a barrage of quips, Joe reminisced about his early religious background. "I went to an all-boys Catholic school and got O level guilt! We nick-named the parish priest Father O'Hooligan. It was rumoured that he swore a lot in Latin. The TV series 'Father Ted' was very similar to the religious atmosphere I was raised in. The priests were so dim it made you wonder, 'What did they have to do to become priests? Collect 12 crisp packets?'"
In 1966, at the age of 12, Joe's music teacher noticed his young pupil was very good on the descant and treble recorders. At a parents' evening the teacher recommended that his parents get the 12-year-old a piano. Joe explained, "One of the priests at the school gave us a grotty piano which sounded like it had been dropped down a lift shaft and I started taking lessons from the music teacher. When I was 16, mum bought me a guitar but unfortunately it was a classical guitar with nylon strings on, so I put steel strings on instead and one day the bridge flew off, catapulting towards my face, almost taking my eye out."
Despite the mishap, Joe continued to make significant progress in his music-making, until in 1972 he entered Melody Maker's National Folk/Rock Contest. Said Joe, "I had just turned 19 when I won the most prodigious singer/songwriter/performer competition of its time. I won various rounds in Manchester and Harrogate and then the final at the Roundhouse in London. It was judged by Roger Daltry, Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake And Palmer, the late Sand Deny and Bob Harris who presented BBC 2's The Old Grey Whistle Test. Bob invited me to play on his TV programme a few days later. The prize for winning was a record contract with EMI but I never signed with them. After the appearance on BBC 2, I had lots of invitations to appear on Granada TV in Manchester. During that time, I met Bob Dylan and Paul Simon's manager (Anthea Joseph) who said I was going to be really famous, the next Elton John. For a while I was starry-eyed. However, I also met a lot of shady characters - the kind you shake hands with and then have to count your fingers! Out of my insecurity I got a band together instead of using EMI's session musicians. The intention was to do the album for EMI with my own band. We lived together for several months to concentrate solely on rehearsing but we were running out of money so when we were offered a spot abroad at a hotel, playing covers six nights a week, we thought it would give us time during the day to rehearse the album songs. We envisaged returning to England and going straight into the studio. Unfortunately, when we were abroad things went south and we had to return. The band fell apart and I decided to go to Leeds Music College to learn how to become a music arranger, so that I could orchestrate my songs. I felt it would give me time to mature in order to re-enter what felt like the dark world of the secular music industry. Many times over the years I felt like going back to EMI and talking with them about the contract, especially when things got difficult in the slowly disappearing Christian music scene in the UK."
It was 1974 that Joe became a Christian. He vividly remembered, "I was in digs sharing a room with a chap who was away one night. I'd finished my college work and the TV had closed down. I went to my room upstairs and all of a sudden, the atmosphere in the room made me very frightened. I thought, 'What on earth is going on?! I've had a good day. I'm quite happy. I'm not stressed at college.' I remained there for a while but the feelings of fear intensified to the point where I had to go downstairs. After a while I returned but encountered the same evil presence. This happened a few times more until eventually, about 3am, I fell asleep with the light on. I was too frightened to turn it off. I'd never experienced this kind of thing before. The next morning in college, I explained what had happened to a Christian named Jerry Page who at the time was playing bass for Adrian Snell. After listening he asked me if I'd be interested in meeting someone who was good at dealing with these kinds of supernatural experiences. I agreed and a few hours later, Jerry and I were sitting in the study of one of his church leaders called Eric Townson. (People called him E.T. for short because he was out of this world, on another planet, in terms of being at home with the supernatural.) While I was telling Eric about the room, he interrupted me and said that God was showing him various specific things about my father and an ex-girlfriend and how I needed to forgive them. I thought that to have known those things, he would have had to have been a fly on the wall of my house. He then said that the evil presence had been drawn to the room by books on the occult that were in the room, one of which was called The Exorcist. I wasn't sure what to say because I didn't have any such books. I then decided to launch forth with all the questions about God which I'd harboured for years. It was a theological gunfight which I lost. I was about to ask another question when he interrupted me and asked, 'Would you like to become a Christian?' I hadn't a clue what a Christian was but the strangest thing happened. As if against my will I said, 'Yes.' He then led me in a prayer of commitment to Jesus. Hours later, on returning to my room, my room-mate was there and he also sensed the evil presence. I explained what had happened with E.T. and when I came to the part about the books, his jaw dropped. He went over to his drawer and there they were - books galore on the occult, one of which was called The Exorcist! We immediately took the books into the local park and burned them. On returning to the room, the evil presence had gone."
Within a short period, Joe had plunged into Christian ministry, working with a team called From The King, doing evangelistic missions in churches, schools, universities and prisons. "After that, I worked for about 18 months in Sussex for YFC doing local evangelistic missions. I returned to Leeds in 1979 and was periodically involved in more church, schools and city-wide missions called Down To Earth with people like Eric Delve and J. John. I also worked in other countries which had YFC bases. For a period, I was employed by a record company called Musicreations which eventually changed its name to Ears & Eyes but most musicians called it Foot & Mouth because of some of its questionable financial practices. In 1982 I joined Scripture Union for eight years, working part-time as a local school's evangelist and the rest of the time travelling round the country doing concerts, inter-denominational worship events and church weekends where I did training in worship. During that time, I got involved in leading worship on the guitar. By nature, I'm a teacher/trainer and soon I began teaching groups of guitarists who wanted to be involved in worship. As I was teaching them, I put together a manual and accompanying cassette. I presented it to Kingsway Music in its embryonic state and with their help, it took me a few years to refine it. It was eventually published in 1983 with an accompanying cassette called 'Teach Yourself Praise Guitar'. In about 1999 I was leading worship at an event at which Martin Smith and Delirious? were playing. Martin told me that he learned to play the guitar from my book. I jokingly asked him for 10 percent of his earnings!"
In 1987, Ears & Eyes Records released the Joe King album 'In A Class Of His Own'. Years later a reviewer commented on the "cheap synth sounds". Looking back, what did Joe think about 'In A Class Of His Own'? "Ears & Eyes Records spent hardly any money on 'In A Class Of His Own' and it was very badly produced by Chris Norton. The songs were excellent but they were murdered by the poor production. The synth sounds were poor. I almost pulled the album from being released and also for the reason that the cover was dreadful. I never saw a penny of royalties from that album. I couldn't believe that Christians could behave like the way Ears & Eyes did."
1988 was the start of a very dark period in Joe's life when his first marriage broke down. Said Joe, "I spent many hours expressing my grief to a close friend. I was later dumbfounded to discover that he was getting married to my ex-wife. Not only did I feel rejected but now betrayed as well. It suddenly made sense that his marriage had broken up at the same time as mine. I felt my trust mechanism was severed. One night I decided to commit suicide. God downloaded a song which has since ministered to thousands across the world. It's called, 'I Will Always Love You'. Out of the devastation, I released a cheap, home-produced cassette called 'Straight From The Heart' with the song 'I will always love you' on it along with about five other similar prophetic songs. As time went on, I wanted to redo the cassette adding more similar type songs. I sent the cassette to Dave Bruce at Word Records in the UK and as I did, I put a fleece out, saying to God that if they didn't want to take me on as an artist I would give up full-time ministry. Dave Bruce said he wanted to do the project but that Word Records was folding in the UK and he was leaving to form another record company called Alliance. He asked me to wait until Alliance was formed. I thought the process would take no more than a year but it was only in 1994 that the reworked album now called 'Next To You' was released."
1993 was an important year for Joe. He remarried, and his wife, Sara, was to go on to play an important part in his future ministry. The whole sweep of his ministry was beginning to change. Joe explained, "Out of this time of brokenness I experienced from 1988 to 1994, God birthed a new ministry to the hurting and wounded, particulary through my songs. God started to heal people both emotionally and physically. The impact of the songs was such that the BBC invited me to sing on four First Light TV programmes. This fulfilled many prophetic words I'd received over the years, that God would heal the sick through my music. 'Next To You' is probably the most anointed album I've produced. I discovered that you find out more about God in the darkness than you do in the light; that God likes and in fact prefers to use broken things; that he wants to mean something to us, so he allows us to go through difficulties where he shows us he's the God who can turn tears into gems, trash into treasure, regrets into resources and blood into blessings."
In 1995, a revamped, expanded version of Teach Yourself Praise Guitar, a title Joe had always hated, was published under the name Playing The Guitar In Worship. As well as teaching for beginners, Playing The Guitar In Worship also had material for intermediate and advanced guitarists, Joe constructing it in such a way that all three levels of ability could get a lot out of the course. But although Joe's guitar expertise helped thousands of would-be worship leaders, it was in the areas of deliverance and healing which were taking up more and more of the time of this anointed musicianary.
He recalled, "During a meeting in February 1995 I gave a call for people to come forward to be filled with the Holy Spirit and was surprised when everyone in the church responded! By the end of the evening God had visibly touched over 250 people and most of them were on the floor under the power of God. From that moment, God began to lead me into the healing ministry not just through music. Over time, I saw that even though some people were healed when I prayed for them, many weren't. I started to ask God why and much of my present approach in healing has come out of that dialogue with the Lord. I discovered that even though healing and deliverance are foundations of Jesus' and the early Church's teaching, negative issues surround it because of its failings, theological excesses and poor models. Satan has also been at work in helping to create barriers. He particularly hates the ministry of deliverance because it ultimately demonstrates that Jesus defeated him on the cross. Therefore, he has created a conspiracy against the supernatural in our Bible colleges and churches. Healing and deliverance have become too much of a 'hot potato' for many leaders who have enough difficult situations to cope without coping with the disappointment from someone not being healed or because of an unsuccessful deliverance attempt. As one leader once said to me, 'We've got enough trouble here without the power of God coming.' Jesus struggled to work miracles in places like Nazareth and Bethsaida because there wasn't an atmosphere of faith. If the Son of God needed such an environment, then we as sons and daughters of God will also need an environment of corporate faith if we are to see a demonstration of the Spirit's power. People often ask me why our churches don't see more healing. I'm surprised we see any healing. Many of our churches are like Nazareth. Why is this? Control by leadership! When John Wimber came to Britain in the early '80s for his first meeting, he walked out onto the stage at Westminster Central Chapel and stood for a while in silence before shouting prophetically, 'I want my Church back!'"
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