Music For My Faith – Looking Back Now

The Revival of Petra - A Tale of Two Frontmen

I recall it was in the 1980’s and I had just decided to “follow Jesus” and had no idea what that meant. I guess none of us do at first. And when you are young, you don’t care. I just knew my life had changed – for the better. I was a heavy metal fanatic. I loved heavy rock music. It moved me deeply.

Becoming a Christian for me, meant I had to basically find new music. I tried Amy Grant and Michael W Smith. Not bad… but, something was missing. I should say I liked them, but my need for rock once in a while had not gone away.

And then it happened –

Someone handed me a “Petra” album. I thought, ‘What in the world is this? Some kind of fusion band?’

I decided to give it a listen. Petra quickly became my favorite band. They were in at the height of their popularity in the mid to late 1980’s. The lead singer was Greg X. Volz. You may not ever have heard of him. But at that time, his voice ruled the Christian airwaves. Even more for me, their lyrics were full of Bible verses. Funny as it sounds, as a new Bible College student, I was really ignorant of the Bible content when it came down to it. I knew Bible stories.

But somehow putting Greg’s vocals and Bob Hartman’s solid lead guitar together with Bible verses was nothing short of heavenly. And it didn’t sound cheesy either for those of you who wondered. In fact, they were mainly pieces of verses and I know for a fact that many teens had no clue.

Greg Volz could hit 4 octaves. That’s almost unheard of. And as you all know he could probably take the BeeGee’s songs another octave higher still! And then you would hear him sing a quiet ballad with a deep baritone. It is widely believed that superstar bands like REO Speedwagon even courted Greg and wanted him to sing for them.

I loved Petra. I was so excited for their next album. And nobody could beat Greg.

And then Greg left the band. And it was over. I was devastated.

And yes, I recall the news when they finally found a new lead singer. I knew whoever it was, would be there a short time because there was no way to replace Greg. In  a sense, that proved to be the case.

But then John Schlitt from Head East, had also become a Christian. It seems like every other major rock star was having these born again experiences, quitting their bands, and joining Christian bands. Well, Head East was a bit before my time, and I didn’t care.

I decided not to get the first album with John. And then I heard his voice – and now I knew I didn’t like him! “They got the wrong guy! Don’t they know that!” I said to my youth pastor. He just laughed at me. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy John’s voice, it was just so so different.

Well I waited for Petra and Bob H to come to their senses and get rid of John. But no… they kept him. And they came out with a new album – “Get On Your Knees And Fight Like A Man” Wow. It was different. It took getting used to. But the 90’s were getting close, and even Greg Volz’s style of singing was no longer in style. And I kinda liked it. I kinda liked John’s deal – there was some amazing range in his voice as well, but somehow he kept it hidden most of the time – but that would soon change.

Who knew what style was in?

I became a youth pastor in 1990. My first church was in Omaha, Nebraska.

I had to drive out there several times to interview for the position, and I remember a new album Petra released, and it was produced by two Kansas band members who had also become Christians! What in the world was going on here?”

I bought the albums and listened to them driving south on I35.

“Beyond Belief” was released in 1990 – and it was massive.

And then “Petra Praise” came out right on top of it. All I can tell you is – I was blown away. I was blown away spiritually of course, as well as just – amazing and heartfelt music. Great music. Bob Hartman had stepped up his game and Petra had some of the top musicians all together – with John Schlitt. I never thought it was possible… but after that year, John became my favorite. And I listened to the emotion, the power but also the tenderness in John’s vocals from any 1990’s song. He really proved me wrong – the guy was great.

And I still love Greg and all of the early Petra stuff and for its time it was massive. But John and the Petra band just kept the hits coming, as they say.

To this day, if you ask me what song would I like to hear from Christian music in the 1990’s I am sure it would include a ton of Petra songs, mostly with John Schlitt.

Petra literally means “rock” ha clever.

But I am so glad and so thankful to have come around to walking deeper in my faith right when Christian rock was at it’s zenith and the entire world inside Christianity and out had taken notice and was listening.

They still listen today. I bet half of the top Country stars all claim a serious and devoted faith in Christ. Many of the top songs today are about Jesus and nobody cares – good music is good music.

(And no time for this in this post – but a serious discussion about the formation of Christian rock coming straight out of the hippy and Jesus movement of the 1960s has to be had here. I mean, here are a few hippies that got saved and started singing Christian music “Barry McGuire, Half of Kansas, Doobie Brothers/Michael McDonald, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Larry Norman, John Schlitt, Kris Kristopherson, and the list goes on for a long time. Christian rock was born. And then these hippies took their guitars into church and suddenly the church and rock fought – guess who won? Thats how music in the American church changed – the base, drums and electric guitars came in and the older crowd literally felt the devil had taken over. I kid you not! You all enjoy amazing music and musicianship in todays top-notch produced church music because the hippies in LA and Woodstock got saved and wanted to play rock for Jesus!)

And to John Schlitt, I must say “You did it man! You had to trust the Lord because in those late 1980’s people were writing you off at first, but God was with you and – you blessed us all – all over the world. Thank you for your faithfulness. And thank you for amazing music and amazing talent and amazing faith. None of these areas was ever slipping. You nailed it!”

Jeff Saxton

Petra and John Schlitt fan.