Larry Norman is celebrating more than 45 years as a songwriter and performer. In 1956 he began writing his songs and performing them in public. He has continued to perform them all over the world. Instead of concentrating solely on America, he has toured exotic places like Russia, Lebanon, Israel, India, Hong Kong, and Japan. He has also performed in Western World countries like Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany, The Czech Republic, Poland, Holland, Britain, France, Italy, and Australia. He has sung in small clubs like New York's Bitter End, and L.A.'s Troubadour, and also given concerts at The San Francisco Pop Festival and other outdoor festivals with crowds of up to 180,000. He has performed for The White House, twice - and in direct contrast, in Moscow at the 80,000 seat Olympic Stadium. He has headlined at venues like The Hollywood Bowl, The Sydney Opera House, The Palladium and London's prestigious Royal Albert Hall, which he has sold out six times; once filling it twice on the same day. Only recently has he slowed down.
For almost thirty years the press has referred to him as "the father of Christian rock" because it was he who first combined rock and roll with Christian lyrics. In the 70's Billboard Magazine called him "the most important writer since Paul Simon." To the church, in the early years, these accolades only deepened their doubts about him. He was banned in most Bible bookstores. But in later years he began to gain wider acceptance. Christian Artists Seminar awarded him their Lifetime Achievement Award and Contemporary Christian Music Magazine named Norman's Only Visiting This Planet record the most significant and influential gospel album ever released in the field of contemporary Christian music. This kind of recognition is not new to Norman. Time Magazine once called him "the most significant artist in his field." He has said, "I'm just an artist, reaching toward Heaven."
His recording ministry started in 1966 when he was offered a contract by Capitol Records and found himself on the same label as The Beatles and The Beach Boys. His first single, "Riding High," was a song about the Christian life through the Holy Spirit. His first album was titled We Need A Whole Lot More Of Jesus, And A Lot Less Rock And Roll. Larry and his band People! opened for secular groups like The Grateful Dead, The Doors, Janis Joplin, The Byrds and many others. Larry was outspoken about his beliefs. His music was original and thought-provoking. Pete Townshend credited Larry's own rock-opera, The Epic, for inspiring the rock-opera, Tommy, recorded by The Who. In 1969 Larry recorded his third Capitol album, Upon This Rock, which introduced the songs "I Wish We'd All Been Ready," and "Sweet Song of Salvation."
His style of music had been controversial for almost fifteen years before the Jesus Movement sprang up. During the Fifties and Sixties, he felt pretty much alone, but when other Christians began to write songs which were more modern and rock-based, things began to change. Larry's broken finger, held up after each song, had become the One Way sign for the 70's movement and his song "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" had become its anthem. The film A Thief In The Night used this song as part of its storyline. Other films would later incorporate his music into their soundtracks. His ministry continued to grow. Over the years his songs were translated into more than a dozen languages, including Russian and Hebrew. His music was studied in various universities and seminaries. He became friends with writers like Francis Schaeffer, Malcolm Muggeridge, and Hal Lindsey. Larry has had over three hundred cover records of his songs by other groups, including recordings by non-gospel artists like Sammy Davis, Jr. and Petula Clark. Later, even Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp, Black Francis of The Pixies nee Frank Black, the group U2, and Van Morrison have called themselves fans.
LARRY HAS BEEN WRITTEN UP BY TIME MAGAZINE, BILLBOARD, RECORD WORLD, CASHBOX, SCREW, COSMOPOLITAN AND OTHER SECULAR MAGAZINES AND MANY SECULAR NEWSPAPERS AROUND THE WORLD.
TODAY, THIS IS NOT UNCOMMON BUT BACK IN THE EARLY DAYS OF THE JESUS MOVEMENT, HIGH PRAISE FROM "LOW" SOURCES HEAPED EXTRA CONDEMNATION UPON HIM. . . "GUILT THROUGH ASSOCIATION."
To the church these accolades only confirmed his secularity. Upon This Rock had been banned by the majority of Bible Bookstores for two years. Only Visiting This Planet remained in limbo for over six years. Although on stage he rarely smiled and often appeared to be almost daring an audience to like him, this enfant terrible - the "bad boy of Christian music" - was making music which could not be ignored; and finally he began to be perceived not as a "tool of Satan" but as a Christian with an unusual perspective on both secular and Christian cultures.
Upon leaving MGM Records in 1974 he started his own label, Solid Rock Records. His first recording, Orphans From Eden, was never released. His next album, In Another Land, was censored by Word Records, which insisted upon removing music they felt was "too controversial."
When his 1976 album, Something New Under The Son, met with similar censorship, he took off on a seven-month world tour and wrote Voyage Of The Vigilant. This expansive tour was covered by journalist Steve Turner and also chronicled by photographer D.C. Riggott.
Larry toured with a rock and roll band and also performed solo sets throughout America, Canada, Australia, Scandinavia, Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, and more exotic locales like Israel, Lebanon, India, Hong Kong, and Japan - but with songs like "Three Million Gods," and "Cats Of The Coliseum," discussing the Hindu religion and the early martyrdom of Christians in Rome, Voyage Of The Vigilant was not acceptable because it was considered too "avant garde." It was never released.
Despite the censorship difficulties he was experiencing with his own albums, he was hitting home runs with other artists' albums. He had found Randy Stonehill in obscurity, worked for several years to get him off of drugs, produced Welcome To Paradise, and took Randy with him all across Europe and America, which firmly established Randy's recognition by 1977.
He had also discovered Steve Camp, who signed with Solid Rock and then asked Larry to let him sign with Myrhh. Larry had nurtured Keith Green, but felt that Keith was too restless to work with peacefully, so Keith then signed with Sparrow. A country group on the verge of breaking up came to Larry and he jump-started a new career for them with the release of the experimental rock album, Horrendous Disc. It remains Daniel Amos' most popular work to this day. Mark Heard was working in a chicken cage factory for Spinkomatic when Larry met him. Larry invited him to join Solid Rock. With the exception of Mark, who went on to produce increasingly perceptive albums, the albums of the other artists which were released on Solid Rock, have generally been considered the most definitive albums they ever recorded.
So for what proved to be only a very short time, Larry produced other artists in addition to himself. This "golden age of Solid Rock" was still in full flower, and Larry was getting ready to sign with Warner Brothers when he was involved in the airplane accident of 1978 which injured his spine, neck, and skull - and caused him partial brain damage and silenced his literate voice for the next twelve years. After fighting with Word Records for two more years, Larry dismantled Solid Rock and moved to Europe.
He started a new label, Phydeaux - as in "Fido." At the time, Larry joked that "if Christian music was going to the dogs, then he wanted to remain on the cutting edge." Phydeaux released several studio compilations and bootleg style albums to compete with the illegal albums like "Live At The Mac," being released by bootleggers and music pirates like Randy Leyton.
He was standing as far away from the music industry as possible and enjoying the distance. Basically, he was ignoring the American distributors who had for years ignored him. Through the mail he found that he could go directly to the people who well and truly understood music and his ministry.
When critics attacked his Phydeaux albums for not keeping up with the fads and trends of the current gospel industry, Larry could only laugh about it. He had been ahead of his time for years and had his music censored and banned because of it. In the Eighties, he was only vaguely interested in making his albums available to the stores.
Larry continued to travel extensively through other countries, coming back to America occasionally to report on his adventures. The 1978 airplane accident had made him seem much friendlier and more accessible than during the intensity of his earlier years. He started inviting members of the audience out to restaurants after the concerts - not to continue preaching but to listen to the stories of their lives, and their experiences. Although he remained at odds with the gospel music industry, avoided Christian television, granted very few interviews, and did not try to push his ministry as a commercial business. His ministry continued to grow.
- Larry was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2001
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE MUSIC:
After recording three albums for Capitol Records, Larry left and signed with MGM Records. Working in England with The Beatles' producer, George Martin, and the Triumvirate production team in London's brand new Air Studios, Larry recorded his next album, Only Visiting This Planet. It contained songs like "Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music," "The Outlaw," and "Why Don't You Look Into Jesus."
In 1973, while recording So Long Ago The Garden for MGM, Larry decided to start his own record label, Solid Rock Records. He departed from MGM in 1974 and signed with ABC Records for distribution. At the time, ABC was branching out by purchasing Word Records - so suddenly Larry's albums became more acceptable through association with Word. Before this time his albums may have been widely available at Tower Records, Peaches and other secular record stores, but they could rarely be found in Christian bookshops. As the head of his own record company, Larry displayed a talent for helping discover and develop other artists. He discovered Randy Stonehill and Keith Green, even before they had become Christians, and helped lead them to conversion. He discovered Mark Heard and helped Daniel Amos make the leap from country gospel music to futuristic rock, by releasing Horrendous Disc. He also discovered Steve Taylor, Steve Camp, Scott Wesley Brown, and other artists in their early years but was, regrettably, too busy to record.
But his desire to preach went far beyond the format of vinyl; into evangelism. He led Susan Perlman to Christ and with Moishe Rosen she developed the international ministry, Jews for Jesus. And in 1974 Larry started The Vineyard Church which met in his living room on Wednesdays in Los Angeles. It grew to become several hundred churches around the world. Musically, with Solid Rock and later Street Level Records and Phydeaux, Larry was avoiding traditional industry concepts and creating a new direction which many other bands would gravitate toward in the next decade: the alternative, independent record label.
He has been re-discovered by Christian punk and grunge and metal groups and major CCM groups who perform his songs as though they are standards. His songs have been recorded by contemporary artists like DC Talk, Rebecca St. James, Audio Adrenaline and others. His recent albums have become harder edged and even more confrontational.
Larry Norman grew up in a black ghetto in San Francisco, to which he credits his indifference for white music. When Elvis came along Larry thought Presley was trying to steal the music of the black church and he decided someone should steal it back. So in 1956, at the age of nine, he began performing his own compo-sitions in public.
The press tagged him, "the father of Christian rock." Time Magazine described him as "the top solo artist in his field." Billboard called him "the most important songwriter since Paul Simon." He left Capitol and recorded the albums Only Visiting This Planet and So Long Ago The Garden for MGM Records.
In the years that followed he headlined at The Hollywood Bowl, The Sydney Opera House, and London's Royal Albert Hall, which he sold out six times. His songs have been recorded by more that 350 other artists, translated into more than a dozen languages. He has also performed in Russia, China, India, Japan, Italy, South Africa, Israel, Poland, Prague, and more westernized countries such as Australia, Norway, Sweden France, England, and of course Northern Ireland's capitol city Belfast.
In 1975 he started his own label, Solid Rock Records, and recorded In Another Land and other style-breaking albums for his stable of Solid Rock artists. He watched sadly as his vision for spiritual witness through Christian rock music evolved into a multi-million dollar industry. In 1978 he was in an airplane accident which caused partial brain damage and affected his recording output for the next twelve years. He continued to write new songs and perform them in concert but never released the studio versions.
By 1981 his father and he had started Phydeaux Records as an anti-bootlegging measure to compete with and erode the sales of illegal concert recordings such as Leyton's Live at the Mac and pirated copies of studio tapes from albums like Rough Mix2. His vinyl albums currently sell among collectors for up to $400.
In 1990 he was surprised to receive the C.A.S. Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1990 he also performed seven times at Moscow's 35,000 seat Olympic Stadium and with Vladimir Yakovlev he opened up a branch of Solid Rock Records in Moscow.
The following summer he recorded Stranded in Babylon in Norway. It was voted "Album of the Year" by different European gospel magazines and compared often with Only Visiting This Planet. He returned to America to organize its U.S. release but in February of 1992 stress and years of physically exhausting tours led to a severe heart attack.
He recovered at that time and began doing occasional concerts for the next ten years, releasing albums now and then.
His album "Tourniquet" was released in 1991 and he went to Europe for a 30th Anniversary British Tour. It was too hard on his body and when he returned to America he went directly from the Portland Airport baggage claim, by ambulance, to the hospital where he had a defibrillator implanted. He did a few more concerts and became very ill. He went to the hospital in Salem and was told he only had two or three more days to live.
Desiring a second opinion he was taken by ambulance to the O.H.S.U. hospital facility in Portland. He underwent several tests and was told the same thing; that he only had two or three days to live and that he should say goodbye to his family members. They flew up from Los Angeles and San Jose and drove his mother, sister and son from Salem to the hospital.
It was explained to his family that no doctor at the Salem or Portland hospitals would perform surgery because it would kill him. Because he would not survive surgery they should just spend the last few days together.
But a doctor named Storm Floten returned from his vacation, found out about Larry's condition and offered to do the surgery.It was a success. Larry survived and stayed at the hospital for several weeks but did not recover well and was transferred to a nursing care facility where he lived with hundreds of other people. He was confined to bed at first, then forced to sit in a wheelchair for one hour a day. He gradually began to get his strength back but was suddenly informed that his insurance would no longer pay for it.
He was to be sent home. Although there was no way he could have assistance at home, the insurance company refused to relent. He sat in the wheelchair while his belongings were packed and, "fortunately" he later said, he had a heart attack and his defibrillator implant started shocking him. So he was taken, by ambulance, back to O.H.S.U. He spent another week there while they attempted to cardio-vert his atrial rhythms into a manageable sinus rhythm and finally he was able to go home.
For the next year and a half he was unable to earn any money by doing concerts but remained positive in his outlook. He steadily lost weight until, at last count, his weight had dropped from 195 down to 133. He needs extra medical help if he's going to survive and resume his life as an artist and be well again.
His insurance company refuses to pay for a new defibrillator. His three year battery has already been depleted in one year because he has been shocked so many times. And they refuse to pay for other medical needs like a neuro-surgeon and a nutritionist so that he can gain weight back and re-build his body.
When he asked his primary physician what could be done about his continuing weigh loss he was told, "Well, in the old days we just put people in a sanatorium and they continued to lose weight until they died."
So Solid Rock has set up a way for people to donate money to Larry's medical needs and he has been going to different doctors for medical help that falls outside the seemingly arbitrary limitations of his insurance policy.
He still continues to work on new CD releases, although they mostly consist of historical re-releases and bonus tracks.
He is not planning to do any more concerts unless he recovers his health. And he has not been able to travel anywhere.
When he was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame his son, Michael, flew to Nashville to accept the honor and deliver a speech to the attendees.
Please pray for Larry whenever God places it upon your heart. He has done so much with his life to give to others and we would appreciate your prayers at this time.