In 1969, Capitol Records released Upon This Rock by 22-year-old California kid Larry Norman. At the time, no one suspected this would be a watershed moment in Christian music history. With one album, a longhaired outcast from San Francisco began a legacy that ushered in the Jesus movement and brought blunt Christianity to rock’n’roll.
Larry Norman was born April 8, 1947. Saved at the age of five, he started singing at nine. By the mid-1960s, he formed the musical group People! and scored a Billboard hit with “I Love You.” Norman toured with artists such as Janis Joplin and the Doors. It was not long before Norman had issues with his record label over the Christian content in his music. In the midst of the success of People!, Norman left to go solo.
After People!, he spent time sharing the gospel on the streets of Los Angeles. A near death experience in 1968 pushed Norman further towards his obsession with the Rapture and salvation. Out of these spiritually awakenings came Upon This Rock, and the 1968 album broke the mold.
It was the first major label record to marry rock music with the gospel. With street language and gritty imagery, Norman was the first to put into practice that Christian music could be powerful in its message yet relevant to the times.
Norman parted ways with Capitol Records soon after and was snatched up by MGM. His first record under the subsidiary Verve label, Only Visiting This Planet, is hailed as Norman’s best work. Its abrasive, urban reality of the gospel was meant to reach the flower children disillusioned by the government and the church. Norman mixed his Christian message with strong political themes. Protest-esque songs like “I Am the Six o’Clock News” and “The Great American Novel” spoke out against racism. The landmark re-recording of “Wish We’d All Been Ready” from Upon This Rock painted an eerie picture of life after the Rapture.
Banned by the Christian music industry, Norman received his early kudos from mainstream audiences. The Billboard magazine named him “the most important writer since Paul Simon.” Norman was loved mostly overseas. He performed across the globe in Australia, Italy and Japan. He sold out the Royal Albert Hall in London six times.
In 1974, Norman started Solid Rock Records after leaving MGM. His 1976 album, In Another Land, put him back in touch musically with the Jesus he proclaimed on Upon This Rock. “Six Sixty Six” was akin to “Wish We’d All Been Ready” in his view of the Antichrist. His testimony strongly shined through “I am a Servant.”
In addition to his contributions to Christian music, Norman discovered and mentored fellow Jesus rocker Randy Stonehill. Norman also launched the careers of Steve Camp, Keith Green, and Daniel Amos.
Norman’s life changed dramatically in 1978 when an airplane accident caused him spinal and brain damage. It would be the beginning of his life-long health battle. He toured less but continued to release live albums. In 1980, he started Phydeauz (pronounced “Fido”) Records.
Norman’s watermark hits such as “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music” continue to inspire. In 1995, during the success of Jesus Freak, dc Talk resurrected “Wish We’d All Been Ready.” The cover, recorded live, introduced a new generation to the Jesus Movement.
After 30 years, the Christian music community recognized Norman for his pioneering efforts. The Gospel Music Association inducted him into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2001. Only Visiting this Planet was CCM Magazine’s greatest album in Christian music, second only to Amy Grant’s Lead Me On.
With over 50 albums under his belt, Norman is still the righteous rocker. In 2004, he released Snowblind, a live album recorded in Utah containing many of his classic hits. Currently, Norman is recovering from his 2002 quadruple bypass surgery in Oregon.
Larry Norman is a veteran of Christian music in many ways. He survived death threats, censorship, relentless touring, and harsh criticism. He made his name preaching to the outcast, offending the church and making record executives nervous with his brand of Jesus rock. Norman wrote songs that spoke to the heart but aimed for the jugular. It is nothing less than legendary for the original Jesus Freak.
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