BETWEEN THE LINER NOTES
John Schlitt's Rockin' Christmas
By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
In his five decades as a recording artist, Petra lead singer John Schlitt had never released a Christmas album … until now. Featuring one of the most distinctive voices in Christian music, Schlitt recently released The Christmas Project online for the 2014 holiday season*.
The full-length album may be comprised of many traditional Christmas carols but the arrangements are distinctly Schlitt’s. Featuring the heavy rock influence that his fans have become accustomed to, the Grammy and Dove Award winning vocalist brings a whole new meaning to the term “rockin” around the Christmas tree.
I recently sat down with Schlitt to reminisce about his 30 plus years in Christian music, see how God can take anyone on an unexpected but welcome journey of faith, and learn why he wanted to record a Christmas album after all these years. His answer might surprise you.
What I love about your music is that it all is deeply rooted in Scripture. Has this been your intention over the 30 plus years of your Christian music career?
Absolutely. I’m a Christian artist. To me, when you wear that label, a Christian artist, you are saying you are writing in the name of Christ, you are giving it to Christ, and you are saying you are an artist. That means I better be the best artist I can possibly be because I am humbly representing Jesus Christ. And when I’m representing Christ they better know I am representing Him. It has always been that way with me. Do I say Jesus in every sentence? No. But people who know my music, who know my history, and even those who don’t know, quickly realize my records are Christian. There is no doubt about it.
You have had the career of a rock and roll lifer. You have been in professional music since the early 1970s with Head East (“Since You Been Gone”, a staple of Classic Rock radio) and then into the 1980s and 1990s with Petra, and now in late years as a solo artist, did you ever think your life’s path would take you where you have gone?
No. I figured I would be in music maybe three years. Then I would get on with my life and become an engineer which is what my college degree is in. Well, the three years stretched into seven years, six records, and touring all over the country with every major artist that was in the U.S. at the time. Sounds great but the only problem was I became an alcoholic and drug addict at the same time. When I got fired from Head East my whole world came crashing down. I tried to start a new band but that was just an excuse to stay drunk and high. Well, about the same time my wife got saved. That really ticked me off. How dare you? Don’t you bring this Christian stuff into my house! I’ve got things to do. I’m a rock star! But at the end of it all, praise God, He used her to give me that second chance. I’m here today only because of the fact that Christ had a plan for my wife and I. It certainly wasn’t mine.
I was out of music for the next five years, working as a mining engineer. Believe me; I learned to appreciate the value of hard work. But more importantly, those five years served as a crash course in the Word of God, just totally immersing myself in the Bible. I just gobbled it up.
From there, I joined Petra and the rest is history.
You have had a long and legendary career as a Christian musician. What do you think people will remember you for as far as your contribution to Christian music?
I hope people remember me as skillful at my craft. I would like to be remembered as one of the better singers and that I deserved to be there. I want people to realize that I tried to be as good as I could be and never settled for second best. That the material I released was worth listening to. I hope I did what God called me to do. As a Christian, I hope people remember that I was a good guy and was friendly to everyone. I hope I exemplified what Christ expected of me as a Christian artist.
After 40 years in the music business, you have just released your first Christmas album called The Christmas Project. Why record a Christmas album after all these years?
I have been wanting to do a Christmas album all the way back to my musical beginnings in Head East. When I was in Petra, I would bring up the idea every year and no one ever wanted to do it. Bob Hartman (Petra guitarist) was just never a Christmas album kind of guy for Petra. I’m ok with that. But for me, I wanted to do a Christmas album but I really didn’t feel like I could do one until I had enough material as a solo artist to justify it. With four records of just me, I felt it was just enough for me to justify doing a Christmas album. For years I have performed Christmas concerts but have always used other people’s music. I felt like I was cheating. But I want my music to be part of the Christmas season. Thankfully, everything came together for me this year to do it. The timing was right and I’m excited about The Christmas Project.
What can you tell me about it? Do you sing traditional carols, rely on your own original material, or do you do a dramatic reading of “Silent Night”?
There are eight or nine traditional Christmas carols on the album. There is “O Holy Night”, “The Little Drummer Boy”, “The Hallelujah Chorus” and others. There are also a couple of originals. When we started recording all the Christmas songs I wanted to do there were so many of them that it was really hard to narrow it down to the ten I ended up with.
What is the one Christmas carol that you decided just had to be on The Christmas Project, no questions asked?
“O Holy Night”. For some reason, it just emphasizes Christmas to me. It is just an amazing song to me. I am so looking forward to people listening to my version of it. I hope it blesses all those who listen to it.
What is your greatest hope for The Christmas Project? As an artist what would you like to see people take away from the listening experience?
Like every album I record I hope that it can be used as a tool for Christ. I hope people love it, are entertained by it, but can use it by passing it on to a friend who may need the love of Jesus Christ in their life. I hope it gets played in every elevator in America. It won’t because it isn’t that kind of music. I just want God to use it.
* The album was previously released in 2013 for online distribution only.
To Purchase The Christmas Project
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