No one has rocked longer or harder than the RESURRECTION BAND. But beyond the speaker stacks and dry ice are a bunch of radical Christians whose lives are an eloquent denouncement of easy-option religion. Tony Cummings reports.
Rez, grizzled rock'n'roll survivors, recently clocked up an amazing 21 years of music ministry. Now they are making their most concerted assault on the British Isles. On Friday 27th August they'll be treating a throng of Greenbelters to high decibel rock 'n' roll. Then on 14th to 17th October they'll be encamped at Western Rhyn for the Meltdown weekend offering a unique opportunity to hear Glenn and Wendy Kaiser's renowned teaching and preaching. Topping the whole thing off on 16th October, Rez play a full two hour 'gig of the decade' at Salford University.
Being as they are such pivotal figures in the evolution of contemporary Christian music, it's hardly surprising that there are numerous perspectives of what the band stand for. White metal headbangers revere Rez as father figures of, if not of out-and-out metal, at least the heavy rock music that preceded it. Radical social activists see Rez, with their Chicago community of street people, as the role model for Christians seeking to get their hands dirty. Christian music historians recognise the band as creative pioneers who helped pioneer acceptance of evangelistic rock music. And just about everybody who's experienced the powerful testimony, preaching and exhortation at a Rez concert recognises that here are believers taking up their cross daily a long way from the crossover compromise and Happy Pill Jesus of parts of America's CCM scene.
Rez's history runs almost simultaneously with the whole, brief one of contemporary Christian music. On 12th December 1971 in California a shambolic band of Christian longhairs played their first concert. The Resurrection Band consisted of Glenn Kaiser (vocals, rhythm guitar), Wendy Kaiser (vocals), Jim Denton (bass), John Herrin (drums), Stu Heiss (lead guitar) and Roy Montroy (keyboards). Part and parcel of the Jesus Movement, the movement by God which had seen thousands of 60s hippies turn to Christ, the band played an eclectic form of rock at first nearer to Country Joe And The Fish than Led Zeppelin. But the band's lyrics were very different from the outpourings of druggy visionaries. Right from the kick off the Resurrection Band sang about Jesus. Glenn Kaiser told Heaven's Metal magazine, "We were basically just people in their late teens who had all come through various mishaps and mayhem, as far as our own personal lives, with drugs and the whole nine yards. The majority of the people in Rez come from divorced families and problems and struggles. We've all been involved in different levels of drug abuse and alcoholism and sexual sin and we all had grown up listening to rock and roll. So when the Lord formed the band as an outreach of the community, it was simply trying to speak to people like us, who were seeking, in a language that would draw people to Jesus.
By the mid 70s, the concerts and missions the Resurrection Band were doing had created a demand for an album. The Christian record companies had not really come to terms with the musical revolution that was shortly to overturn forever their safe marketing haven for choirs and sacred solos. So the Resurrection Band recorded privately. Glenn Kaiser reminisced to American fanzine White Throne about the band's first trek into the studio in March 1974. "(Back then) there was Petra and a band called 'e', which stood for 'eternity', and us. And I don't know of anybody else who played rock that sounded like rock, so a lot of people wanted tapes and we got a lot of letters. People kept on pestering us and said, look, whatta we gotta do? Come out and record the concerts? That's the only way we can get tapes of the band.' We talked to a guy in the area here in Chicago who had a little 4-track Teac machine. We went into his little basement studio and we recorded an acoustic set, which we had maintained for a number of years. So that was the 'All Your Life' tape. And then 'Music To Raise The Dead' which was just the rock set. That was really the thing that we were about. We released both. We went in and probably over a period of three or four days recorded both little cassette tapes. I don't even remember how many we pressed up of each, but we sold out in just a few months. There were so many things going on in terms of the community and the schedule at the time of the band's travels and everything else, we never pressed any more. And then we never did any other professional recording that would be released as such until 'Awaiting Your Reply', which was done in 78."
It was the band's signing to Star Song Records and the release of 'Awaiting Your Reply' that brought the Resurrection Band's righteous rock music to the attention of America's Christian bookstores. 'Awaiting Your Reply' was followed a year later by 'Rainbows End'. Reissued last year on a back-to-back CD, British doyen of metal and Cross Rhythms reviewer Dave Williams commented, "This is raunchy, West Coast-sounding rock which, although a little dated for today's contemporary buffs, has plenty of grit from Glenn, Wendy and co. Stand out tracks for me are 'Afrikaans', 'Awaiting Your Reply' and 'Broken Promises'."
Even on these early albums the band were clearly prepared to take on tough issues. Glenn told Contemporary Christian magazine, "From the beginning, we've tried to write on a couple of levels, lyrically. Not that every song I write is so loaded with symbolism that you could be talking about God or talking about your wife - but there are different levels. And sometimes the people that get the punch lines are Christians, but a lot of times they're not."
"We've always been issues-oriented," pointed out drummer John Herrin. "Through the years we've written on everything from child abuse to South Africa to the poor and disabled. It's something that we've lived with and have personal convictions about, and that's gonna continue to be a part of who we are."
The band were clearly doing far more than make trendy, politically correct statements about developing a Christian social conscience. From their earliest days the Resurrection Band had lived lives a long way from the five star hotel trappings of top US CCM stars. In the early 70s the band had come to Chicago to do a one-week revival in 'Sin City' and stayed on. Taking up temporary residence at the inner city Faith Tabernacle there sprang up a church-in-community known as Jesus People, USA. By 1979 JPUSA were reaching out to the winos and druggies who populate inner city Chicago and a daily feeding programme was established. Today there are approximately 150 adults and 170 children living in community and worshipping Christ together. Glen was recently asked to describe what actually goes on at JPUSA. "Sunday church service; Bible studies throughout the week; all kinds of counselling groups; twelve-step programmes such as Anger Overcomers, Sexual Overcomers, Overeaters Anonymous; all kinds of counselling as far as singles/marriage counselling; 24-hour hotline; we feed about 300 people off the street every day; we do an emergency shelter, which we've just been able to locate in a new building and pretty soon we'll be able to handle maybe around 150 or so a night...it just goes on and on and on and on. There's just so many outreaches...all kinds of businesses within the community that help to support the various outreaches; and of course Cornerstone Festival; Cornerstone magazine; Rez; Streetlight Theatre; The Crossing (an Irish group); Grace And Glory, which is a mixed gospel choir. I mean, there are just so many outreaches and so many aspects of the fellowship in terms of evangelism, discipling and Matthew 25 ministries. It just goes on and on..."
How do people come to JPUSA to live? "If people feel led to come or want to investigate, we say, 'Come in.' If they don't mind rats, the occasional rat anyway, mice and 'roaches. We work a lot with the poor. We do an awful lot of work in this inner city area that we live in. And it's a Christian community; we have a common purse. Any moneys that are made go into the pot. We try to meet the needs. There's always a lot of red ink. I suppose it's not so much being in the red or being in the black as in different shades or red. So it's not for everybody; it's not."
The 80s were pioneering years for the Resurrection Band. Their albums like 'Colours' (1981), 'Mommy Don't Love Daddy Anymore' and 'DMZ' (1983) are considered by many Christian music buffs to be classics. By 'DMZ' all the components for the bone crunching, hard rocking Rez sound were in place with their axe-overdrive "White Noise" an ear-splitting clarion call to a new generation to develop white metal. This was demonstrated in 1983 with a blisteringly heavy live set 'Live Bootleg', the band's first for Sparrow. But ironically, the following year the band dropped a creative ball, turning in a techno-rock album 'Hostage' which bemused fans with its drum boxes and layered synths. By 1986 the band were back on course producing their most confident album so far, the high octane 'Between Heaven 'n' Hell'. Their record label of the time, Sparrow, had secured a distribution tie-up with Capitol Records and 'Heaven 'n' Hell' was lyrically pitched quite heavily at the mainstream market with a video of their classic "Love Come Down" catching the eye and ear of quite a few pagan rockers. By now the band's name had truncated again, to Rez but the same classic personnel, with the exception of Roy Montroy taking up bass as well as keys, kept the gigs and albums coming. Glenn spoke about the musical approach of Rez: "As far as the artistic side of the band, there always seemed to be two ways you could go about it. You could either be sort of a Rolling Stones kind of thing, where you would do a lot of different styles of music, but always within the parameters of rock; or you could do more of an AC/DC approach, where all the albums sound the same and just try to get a little better each time, but pretty much 'this is who they are and that is what you get'. For Rez, we were always more of the Stones, kind of schizophrenic band. There was a common thread, but we bounced around through all sorts of styles."
By the late 80s the band had established yet another arm to the ever-expanding JPUSA/Cornerstone initiatives. Alongside the festival (which had become THE arena for the alternative-oriented Christian music underground) greatly praised, exhaustively researched magazine Cornerstone (which in recent times was the vehicle instrumental in closing down the disgraced ministry of 'ex-Satanist' comedian Mike Warnke) and recording studio, there was a record company Grrr Records, which doing a deal with Ocean/Word Inc enabled Rez and fellow Grrr artists to get their abrasive, cutting edge albums into America's Christian bookstores without jumping through CCM industry hoops. The album 'Innocent Blood' (1989) featured an unforgettable title track about a young girl snatched off the streets of Chicago, who probably fell into the hands of child pornographers. Equally harrowing was the song "Friend Or Foul". Several of the band have been involved in the controversial abortion clinic picketing Operation Rescue and they put their beliefs to conscience searing music. Said Glenn, "I'm just amazed that there are so many people who seem to be so radical with regard to their music and their stage presence aren't radical with living up to Matthew 25 issues when it comes down to actually doing things. That's a challenge. That's a flat challenge to the Christians in the music community. Sometimes I feel a bit like saying, 'Put up or shut up.' I get very tired of the artsy-craftsy community turning their back when the real work comes and the real sacrifice is demanded. Look at Matthew 25. Look at the Christian music community in the light of Matthew 25. I'll just leave it at that."
In 1992 the band clocked up their 20th year in Christian ministry and to celebrate recorded a live album and video recorded at one unforgettable concert in Chicago. The resulting album featured songs from every album from 'Awaiting Your Reply' (78) to 'Civil Rites' ('91) and showed their unique mix of high energy and raw truth. Glenn told Heaven's Metal about the experience. "It was pretty intense, I'll tell you that. People have been asking for a long time for more video stuff on us. It really does take a lot of effort and we try to put a great deal of prayer and talk and time and effort into what we do. We're limited financially, so we try and do everything we can do ourselves, so we spent a great deal of time on this and we thought, 'Wait a minute! It's our 20th anniversary next year.' It's also the anniversary of the community. So we started talking about doing a live show in Chicago and then we started kicking around video-ing it, so we said, 'Look, we haven't done a live album in a time,' and we see a lot of fruit live and people kept on talking over the years about 'Bootleg' and, 'I hear you've got a sermon on the end of it.' So many people have used that album like a musical tract and led a lot of people to the Lord with it. So, everything seemed to come down around those lines. We talked and prayed and between the band and the pastors, so we went ahead and went for it. Just hired the truck and did it.
"We said, 'We'll do something off all the albums,' which took some thinking and doing again, because you've done this many albums, and trying to do something off all those albums is like, 'Phew!' having to relearn songs that we haven't done for a number of years. And then, 'What songs are you going to leave off?' Because somebody's always going to feel like, 'Oh man! I wish they would've done this song or that one.' Of course, people have different favourites, but what are you gonna do when you have 80 songs? So, we did about a 28-song set and I think we're probably gonna end up with somewhere between 23 and 25 songs on the album and on the video. We did a few new ones.
"I preached and a bunch of people prayed to receive the Lord. It was a very fruitful night. It was fun. We saw a lot of people that we hadn't seen for a while, some people came out to the concert that probably don't come out to concerts all that much, but were excited to come out and see the band. A lot of friends flew in from LA and other places. It was very, very encouraging.
Currently, the band are hard at work on a new studio album and hope to have it out by September. Glenn is still crystal clear what the overall aim of these veteran heavy rockers is. "As far as what we tried to accomplish, it's real simple: win people to Jesus, disciple people who are already Christians and really challenge people to care about those who are disabled, who are oppressed, who are poor; you know, the Samaritans, the nobodies, the least of these. Those are the people we feel like we need to speak for and encourage people to reach to in love not only with the gospel, but that and also in terms of food and clothing and housing and right on down the line. This is all so basic to Scripture. And so that's really Rez in a nutshell, and hopefully that's what we've been about doing for the last 20 years.
"It might sound like, 'Wow, he's trying to cover all of the bases,' but I don't think it's that profound. I think it's just simply trying to live the Scriptures: read 'em and try to do 'em, and apply it to a band, like you would if you were doing something else. It doesn't matter what you do in life, whether you sing or whether you're a housewife or a maths teacher or whatever. Hopefully, you'd think and pray and apply the Scriptures to your life and, when you'd open your mouth, you'd talk about different issues or areas of need in the world or in the Church. You'd naturally look to the Scriptures for direction and for solutions, and then you'd do what you could do practically to reach out and meet these needs, as well as encourage others to do the same in their particular context. That's really what Rez is about."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.