Tony Cummings sets out the history of the pioneering '70s band THE WAY
A sentence in Ken Scott's authoritative Jesus music survey Archivist summed up the contribution made by California's The Way. "Not as well-known as other early bands like Love Song, 2nd Chapter Of Acts, Phil Keaggy, etc, but The Way belong right next to them in the classic Jesus music section." The Way's two albums for Maranatha! Music, 1973's 'The Way' and 1975's 'Can It Be', have been re-issued on CD and are today considered classics by in-the-know collectors. Cross Rhythms interviewed Dana Angle and John Wickham about the band and used the history put together on the-way.cc website to tell The Way's fascinating history.
The band's origins go back to Pomona, California when two teenagers Dana Angle and Bruce Herring found they shared an enthusiasm for music. As Dana wrote, "We were both very into The Beach Boys and The Beatles, so we instantly had a lot in common. Bruce taught me my first chord on the guitar and I was very jealous when he could play 'Gloria'. In eighth grade we formed a band (The Sound Society) and competed in a local battle of the bands. We played 'Hanky Panky' by Tommy James And The Shondells. We were in bands together off and on through junior and senior high. When I was a senior in high school, Bruce's band (I was jealous) played at our school dance. He was the drummer and the lead singer and was doing a great job of covering Led Zeppelin and The Doors. Bruce was over at my house one day. We had both graduated from high school and were in our first semester at Mt San Antonio College. We crossed each other's paths often in college, because of the layout of the campus, and I had received a call from him to get together."
By the time he got the call from Bruce, Dana had got very tight with another student, Gary Arthur. Remembered Dana, "Gary and I used to play guitar every day on the college campus during our first year. We would gather with other musicians and have acoustic guitar jam sessions. The sessions were so much fun that it was very tempting not to go to class. Gary and I both lived to play. Gary had taken piano lessons and had a good ear for music. Even though Gary was just beginning to play guitar, with his strong hands he very quickly caught up with his guitar talents. He would play rhythm guitar and I played lead. We would play songs by Crosby, Stills And Nash, The Band, James Taylor and many others, sometimes for hours at a time, till our hands and finger tips were too numb to play."
Another guitarist friend Ric Latendresse would sometimes join in the marathon jam sessions. Then in January 1971 something occurred in the Latendresse household which was to have a devastating effect on Ric. Since his graduation Ric was doing his share of drugs and booze while struggling with a feeling of pointlessness. Then Ric's sister started attending a little church in Costa Mesa called Calvary Chapel. Ric's sister persuaded him to attend a night church service. The work of the Holy Spirit which saw thousands of young people embrace the Christian faith was soon to be dubbed the Jesus Movement. Ric, after attending several Bible studies at Calvary Chapel, accepted Jesus into his life. He then invited his friend Bruce Herring to attend a special concert at the church at which Love Song would be playing and hippie-looking pastor Lonnie Frisbee preaching. The invitation didn't stop there. As Dana Angle told broadcaster Mike Rimmer, "One day when I was sitting on the grass with Gary between classes just jamming on guitars Bruce walked up and started telling us about this church that he had gone to with a friend and at that time I was very open to that. I was very open minded, doing a lot of drugs and a lot of soul searching and a lot of trying to figure out the universe and I agreed to go with him to this little church down in Costa Mesa, about 35 miles away."
With Ric, Bruce, Gary and Dana all crammed into Ric's Volkswagen they found their way to Calvary Chapel. Remembered Dana, "It was wall to wall with people that had long hair, cut-off jeans, barefoot, sandals, you name it sitting cross legged in the aisles and there was another several hundred people outside just sitting down listening to the service and listening to the music. It was astonishing because I'd never ever been to a church like that or thought that anybody was open minded enough to accept that type of people into their church. After going there several times, very excited about it, I finally kind of gave in and gave my heart to Jesus and accepted the Lord. Then later on was baptised in the Holy Spirit and the music just seemed to come naturally. Gary and Bruce and myself were all kind of medium type musicians but with a lot of high school band type of experience and we just seemed to gel, and our voices gelled and we started jamming and writing songs and it seemed to be that the Spirit was pouring down upon our hearts different ideas and different lyrics. Things just seemed to flow very naturally and that attracted other musicians and it just seemed to grow and blossom. And there was a plethora of musicians that showed up there that had accepted Jesus that were touched in the same way."
Dana recalled the first songwriting sessions. "We got together at Ric's house to work on whatever God put on our hearts. Once we got together at my house and were working on a song I was starting to write called 'If You Will Believe'. We also got together at Gary's house and we worked on a song he was writing called 'Jesus Is All That We Need'. Bruce was working on his first songs, 'Jesus Is The One' and 'Jesus, I Want To Serve You'. After awhile, Ric began to realise that learning bass might be easier than guitar, so we bought a bass and he began to memorize the finger positions for each song. One time, when we were over at Gary's house practising and writing, his sister Sherry came into the room and started to sing with us. Her high voice sounded timid, but sweet, and for a short period of time she was considered a member and rehearsed with us. We were sitting around trying to think of a name for our band and she said, 'How 'bout The Way?' We all kind of looked at each other and said, 'Yeah, The Way, that'll work'."
Dana continued, "Now we were five. We practised and practised. It was obvious where our strengths were. Bruce was the best singer, I was the best guitar player, Gary had a very pure high voice that was suited for harmonies and played great rhythm guitar. Most all of our songs were comprised of three part harmonies. Ric sang harmony on some songs and Sherry would often come in a full octave above the lead. Previously, Bruce and I were in every single chorus, glee club, chamber singers and madrigal singers, class together, from the time we were in seventh grade, all through high school so we had been training our ears together for a long time before we tackled the intricate harmonies that were required in our songs. We individually and collectively had written almost a dozen songs and it was time to play in front of somebody."
Ric asked permission from Calvary Chapel's pastor Chuck Smith to play the song he was working on at one of the Bible studies. Said Dana, "When we showed up, to Chuck's surprise, there were five of us and we went by the name The Way. We played a couple of songs and Chuck liked us and gave us the green light to play at another study again soon. Finally, the night had arrived and we were slated to perform our songs after a short study. We played for about 45 minutes. We kept looking over at Chuck to see if we were going to get 'the hook' and he just kept smiling back at us with that glowing smile of his and we just kept playing."
Towards the end of 1971 The Way found themselves with a track on a newly recorded various artists album. Wrote Dana, "There were many bands being formed during those days. The opportunity to play and sing for the Lord was hard to pass up. There were new bands forming and a lot of extremely talented people were sort of brought together, all at once to, I guess, from God's new army of musicians to spread the Gospel. Maranatha! Music was formed by Calvary Chapel as a record label and publishing company. Maranatha! Music's first album was forged from young, dedicated Christian musicians, putting their best foot forward, to follow the wave of the Spirit of God that was spreading across the land. We were invited to play one of our songs on the first Maranatha! album, which was titled 'The Everlastin', Living Jesus Music Concert'."
'The Everlastin', Living Jesus Music Concert' (otherwise known as 'Maranatha One') wasn't actually a live album but a compilation of newly minted studio recordings by Love Song, Children Of The Day, Debbie Kerner, Blessed Hope, Country Faith and The Way. The Encyclopedia Of Contemporary Christian Music wrote that the album "is now regarded as the most historically significant album of Christian music ever recorded." The Way's contribution "If You Will Believe" had, in the words of The Encyclopedia, "the flavour of a summer camp sing-along which indeed it became."
Sherry Arthur, who'd always suffered hugely from stagefright, left The Way but the group, filled with evangelistic zeal, were playing as many concerts as they could cram in. And another chance to record came along soon enough. Maranatha! Music were planning another various artists album 'Maranatha! Two'. Remembered Dana, "This time we knew what to expect and we were better prepared. When 'Maranatha! Two' was released, we were lucky to be granted two songs, 'Jesus Is All That We Need' (Gary's song) and 'Jesus Is The One' (Bruce's song). Now, Ric Latendresse is a very intelligent person with a lot of class. He was our spiritual leader early on and for a while our only source of transportation. But he was beginning to realise that learning on the fly with our band was becoming very difficult. We were writing songs at a rapid rate and his limitations were being exposed. He started to feel very uncomfortable while playing. It's not easy at all playing and singing in front of people. And it's especially difficult to be 'just learning your instrument' at the rate we were going. Ric's decision to quit the band was an extremely difficult choice to make. It's hard to walk away from something you've worked hard on, and it's very difficult to walk away from a fun relationship. But, with Ric's mature decision, we were three. We weren't sure what to do next, we prayed for God to give us wisdom and patience."
Then into the frame stepped John Wickham. Although born in Ohio John had grown up in Orange County, California. Enamoured by the Beatles by the age of 10 he was learning to play guitar. He recounted, "Junior High was like the worst part of my life. So much pressure, so much fear. But when I got home I just played guitar by myself for hour after hour. But one of my friends, Alex MacDougall, received the Lord at a Billy Graham Crusade and his life was completely changed. I didn't understand what was going on with him. He was kind of quiet and wouldn't tell me. He just invited me to Calvary Chapel. I said, 'You want me to go to a church?' I mean, I wasn't against it, I just was completely puzzled. I wasn't against God, I just didn't understand why he would even want to go there. You know, the Bible is so boring - just even thinking about opening it was just. . . you know. But I respected Alex. He was a couple of years older than me. And so I went with him and some other music friends."
It was March 1970 that John made his first visit to Calvary Chapel in a rather unusual mode of transport. "At that time we didn't have synthesisers so keyboarders played a Hammond B3 and they were really big and heavy. My friend, who played Hammond B3, in order to get the organ around he owned a 1958 orange hearse that he got from somewhere cos they're so big and long. So the first time I went to Calvary was in a hearse. One of my other music friends was jammed in there as well - he went the week earlier - and he goes, 'Oh I just got to get there and raise my hand. What if we get in a car accident?' And I'm like, 'Raise your hand? For what?' I understood nothing - nothing. But I heard the Gospel that night and I went for it. There was an invitation given and I went forward, and I was given a Bible."
John continued his story, "After I became a Christian I didn't play in front of anybody for two years. It was just a huge ego thing for me. And it was very obvious when I started it just felt weird and so I just read the Word. I kept practising, I never stopped playing. People would tell me, 'You have a gift, you should use it.' But I just knew I wasn't supposed to just then. I read later in Romans that he that ministers let him wait on his ministry and I needed to wait on it; I needed to just be a Christian and grow. So anyway, we were up at a Calvary Chapel camp at Idyllwild Pines and the group The Way - this was in '72 - I graduated a semester early from high school, I somehow had enough credits I didn't even realise it. I was going to go to Europe at that time to share the Lord during the '72 Olympic Games in Munich. I'd heard Brother Andrew speak about witnessing over there. So I was 18 and my friend was 17 and we were going to go over. Well, we went to this camp and a member of the group The Way left and they were looking for a bass player. I never really played bass in a group. During the day different musicians were just kind of playing and jamming together on the stage and so I was playing and one of the members of the group, Dana, said, 'Are you in any group?' I said, 'No, but I'm going to Europe end of the week.' So he said, 'OK, forget it.'