|Interview with Aslan|
One-Way: Tell me about Aslan, the band's origins, and when you became a member of the group.
Bill Hoppe: Aslan was a good illustration of the adage that "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts." It was an association of several young musicians, singers, and songwriters who achieved a rare creative synergy together. To put it another way, there are artists who were meant to work solo, and then there are bands, like Aslan. We were a team.
We were part of the second wave of Jesus Music artists in Southern California, preceded by the likes of Larry Norman, Love Song, Children of the Day, The Way, and so many others who served both as inspirations and role models to us (all of us were teenagers when we joined Aslan). Our youth gave us the advantage of building upon what these artists had started, as well as being able to quickly integrate the best of the then-current trends in music. Of course, we made many youthful mistakes, and as with all of us, the Lord used those errors to make us stronger in Him.
Aslan's sound evolved from a mixture of light pop and rock to a pioneering fusion of progressive rock, "power pop," and ballads. Our musical style was most often likened to Queen, Kansas, Yes, and Elton John (at least, those are the names I remember hearing). Compared to other Christian bands, we were perceived as being radical and groundbreaking. In all honesty, we'd admit to being "different," but we struggled with the "radical" label. Compared to the bands who would follow us, our stuff was pretty tame. I remember that we feared at times that our music was overpowering the message. We were respected by our fellow artists for our artistic integrity (though some would call it stubbornness). Wendy Fremin (Children of the Day) paid us a great tribute by calling us "the best Maranatha band without an album." And I've been told stories (maybe apocryphal) of young bands in Southern California who emulated Aslan, even to the point of covering our material.
The perspective that sticks with me (and still surprises me) about Aslan's place in those early days belongs to Bob Bennett, who (after one of his concerts here a few years ago) told me repeatedly, "You guys were so far ahead of your time!" Maybe we were. But that wasn't our purpose--all we wanted to do was to create good music that challenged the listener to think differently, to consider Jesus Christ in a way that he or she hadn't previously, and to be changed forever. To the extent that we succeeded in anything, we owe all to the grace and mercy of God.
The band started out with the moniker "In His Name." I don't know how that came about, and I don't know if our song of the same name gave the band its name, or vice versa. The phrase can be found in the Old Testament: I will make them strong in the Lord and they shall glory in his name, says the Lord. (Zechariah 10:12, RSV) In April 1975, we changed our name to "Aslan," after the noble lion, the central character (and Christ figure) of the Chronicles of Narnia, the famous series of books by C.S. Lewis. In later years, we found to our dismay that we were hardly unique: there were 2 or 3 more Aslans around, and I now know of at least 5 more to add to the list. But whatever we were called, we were always "in his name."
Jim and Rick can best describe the band's earliest origins, so I'll stick to the trivia. All of us are alumni of Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California, with the exception of Rick (from Los Alamitos High in the neighboring city of the same name). John Mehler, Love Song's drummer, is also from Wilson, and if I'm not mistaken, Tom Stipe (Country Faith, Wing & A Prayer, Richie Furay Band, etc.) graduated from arch-rival Poly High, just a few miles away. Rick's family attended church in Long Beach, where he met Jim and Johnnie. Jim met Ken Walden, Mike Holmes, and Toni McWilliams at school. He also met me there, but the significance of that encounter is best left for later on in this interview.
I officially joined In His Name in August 1973. I met them after hearing them at a church in Long Beach, and I offered my services as their keyboardist. Everyone in the band was excited about the possibility, but of course, they needed to hear me play. I was invited to meet them at their next gig, which was at "little Calvary" (the original chapel) for a youth meeting, and we would jam together afterwards. We did, and our mutual styles seemed to fit together. Everyone (including me) was pleased, but to his credit, Rick was a little more cautious. He asked me to come to the band's next practice for a more formal audition (in other words, to see if I could learn and play their songs). I was up to the task, and passed with flying colors. Right, Rick?
OW: How about your background, upbringing, and early musical influences?
BH: I was born in Culver City, California. We moved to Long Beach, just south of Los Angeles, when I was about 10 months old, so I've always considered myself a Long Beach native. My mother and brother still live there (my father passed away last June), and my sister lives in South Carolina. And just in case you're wondering (and even if you're not), my last name is pronounced "hoppy."
I had a normal childhood and upbringing, filled with good times with family and friends. I played a lot of baseball and softball with my neighborhood pals, went to YMCA summer camps, faithfully followed my favorite TV shows, and read lots and lots of books (especially comic books).
Spiritually speaking, I was baptized in the Episcopal church, and I was raised and confirmed as a Methodist. I went to church mostly because I had to, but it had a greater effect on me than I realized at the time. Thank the Lord for this early grounding, because by my teenage years, I turned completely away from church. From fourth grade until my freshman year in college, I also gained a lot of practical Christianity from my involvement with the YMCA; in those days, the organization really lived up to the "Christian" part of its name.
I became interested in recording at an early age; that is, I loved to play records--over and over again. I learned how to use my dad's reel-to-reel tape recorder when I was in fourth grade or so, and my folks gave me my own recorder when I reached sixth grade. I was soon making my own recordings of my favorite records, TV show theme songs, and whatever else struck me, such as making an audio version of a Lone Ranger comic book story, with me starring as the masked rider of the plains (my brother, as Tonto, and some friends rounded out the cast). I even became a radio DJ (on tape)--I think I still have a copy of "The Bill Hoppe Show" somewhere.
I was moved by music from my earliest days. My father wasn't a musician, though he loved music, but my mother was (piano), and she taught me simple songs, such as nursery rhymes, right from the start. Both of my parents encouraged my musical inclinations. By age 3 or 4, I was a singing sensation at the neighborhood talent show with my stirring rendition of "Zorro." From there, I had nowhere to go but up.
I was exposed to all kinds of music, but I especially liked movie and TV soundtracks, as well as Broadway and movie musicals. The Beatles changed everything for me the moment I saw them on the Ed Sullivan Show. They were the only pop artists I cared about until my teens, when my horizons broadened to include Creedence Clearwater Revival (and John Fogerty's solo work), Elton John, Neil Young, Argent, and others. The guys in Aslan introduced me to Sparks, Billy Joel, Ambrosia, Yes, Queen, the Alan Parsons Project, and more, as well as Christian artists like Larry Norman and others I hadn't yet heard about. And I've always had a penchant for, shall we say, offbeat stuff, such as William Shatner's and Leonard Nimoy's "music." All of these influences would serve me well in Aslan. Well, almost all ...
OW: Did any of you have any formal musical training, and what instrument do you play?
BH: Toni had formal training on the violin, and had extensive orchestral experience all through her school years. She was also a member of her school and college choral groups. Toni could also play guitar, and was a quick study on the mandolin. She primarily sang backing vocals with the band, but showed she was quite capable of lead vocals when called upon. In retrospect, I wish that she was given the opportunity to do so more often.
Johnnie also had formal training in percussion and drums, and had a wealth of experience as a member of school orchestras, marching bands, and jazz bands. His talents were always up to the challenge of our increasingly difficult material, full of changes in meter and tempo, and it seemed as if there was nothing Johnnie didn't know about percussion--there was certainly nothing he was afraid to try! I believe he can also play the guitar, and though he has a good singing voice, he never sang with Aslan that I can recall.
Mike was an able-bodied self-taught guitarist. His skills increased exponentially during his tenure with the band. Looking back, his style reminds me of Davey Johnstone, Elton John's longtime guitarist--tasteful and melodic. He also played the bass guitar on some of Aslan's songs, and could also play basic piano. He had a strong sense of concert dynamics, and was the one who made out the playlists for our sets. Mike sang either lead or backing vocals on the majority of Aslan's tunes.
Jim and Rick will speak for themselves, of course. But I'd like to embarrass them and state for the record that along with Toni, Johnnie, and Mike, they're the greatest musicians and songwriters I've ever known. Group hug!
As for myself, I was the band's primary keyboardist. I shared the duties with Jim and sometimes Rick (even Toni played a bit on one song) as our material grew in the complexity and sophistication of its arrangements. There was also a practical reason for this: we used four keyboards and I have only two hands! I was also a backing vocalist on rare occasions. I had formal training on the piano (mostly in the classics) starting at age 8 and continuing until early high school. After that, it was on-the-job training in rock 'n' roll.
In chronological order, the keyboards I played with Aslan were: piano; Farfisa VIP-345 organ (don't laugh--it had an unbelievably great sound, thanks to Jim's and Mike's tinkering with my Leslie amp); Elka Rhapsody strings synthesizer; and though we weren't the first to use one, Aslan became the first band with Maranatha! Music to incorporate a synthesizer into its regular instrumentation when I bought an ARP Odyssey in mid-1976. I bought a cheap old boat anchor of an electric guitar in high school and taught myself how to play; fortunately for civilization as we know it, I never played guitar with Aslan.
I'm woefully behind the times with today's keyboards, but I'm catching up, and I hope to get a state-of-the-art instrument before too much longer. To this day, I still have all of my original keyboards (though all aren't in working order), even including my mom's piano, on which I first learned to play. I even have that old boat anchor of a guitar. And I have my dad's old saxophone; I've always said I would learn to play it someday...
OW: You had one song, Who Loves the Lonely that appeared on 1977's Maranatha 6 album. Was there ever an attempt to produce a full Aslan album?
BH:The brief answer is "yes." The entire story is more complex.
Aslan officially became affiliated with Maranatha! Music in January 1975. In late summer that year, they offered us the chance to make our first recording, "In His Name," our ubiquitous theme song, for Maranatha Five, the newest entry in their sampler series. Tom Stipe, our mentor, became our producer, and we recorded the track in September. The whole album was then mastered, but for some unexplained reason, "In His Name" was axed and replaced with a song from Fred Field's upcoming LP. We were disappointed, to say the least, but it wasn't the end of the world.
Talk of an Aslan LP started shortly thereafter, and it was scheduled to start in March '76 (I have it on tape: Tom Stipe makes the announcement in January to a Saturday night crowd at an Aslan concert at Calvary Chapel). But for various and sundry reasons, almost all of which I forget and which are all now unimportant, it didn't happen.
"Who Loves The Lonely," produced and engineered by Jonathan David Brown for Maranatha Six, was recorded in March and April 1977, and marked another official beginning of the Aslan LP project--really, no fooling, this time for real. But as before, well, it just didn't happen.
In early '78, we were approached by Word to record on their Myrrh label. Rick tells this part of the story better than I can. The whole issue became meaningless when Aslan broke up in October later that year.
For what it's worth, we planned to call our album The Real Show, after Rick's song. We even made our own working tape of the songs we planned to record, in the order that we envisioned them (now it can be told)--Side 1: Overture/The Real Show; Lost Between Two Shores; Foolish Questions; Let The Storm Come. Side 2: Bye-Bye Beelzebub; Who Loves The Lonely; So Far Away; Count It All Joy; Heaven.
I was very bitter about the recording subject for many years. In His grace and mercy, the Lord has healed and forgiven me. He was always in control of the situation. After all, we had consistently placed the question before Him in prayer--it took me awhile to realize that He had answered.
Tom Coomes made me smile, though, when he told me in an e-mail awhile back that in retrospect, he, like many others, regretted "that an album or two of cutting-edge Aslan material was not captured and preserved early." Ah, c'est la vie.
At Calvary Chapel 1976
OW: Any particular album(s) or song(s) from the Jesus Movement days that are personal favorites?
BH: Do you mean besides Aslan's material? (Wink, wink.)
I have lots of favorites--they're hard to narrow down. Only Visiting This Planet by Larry Norman really stands out, as well as his In Another Land, which includes the beautiful "I Am A Servant." I nearly wore out my copies of Love Song's first two LPs. The Way's albums were favorites, as were Malcolm & Alwyn's. I liked Chuck Girard's early albums, notably his first (with Ambrosia as the studio band, and the song "Lay Your Burden Down"), and Written on the Wind, a worshipful artistic statement. Shotgun Angel by Daniel Amos is an underrated classic (and not just because I appeared (uncredited) on the LP to play the synthesized "bomb whistles" at the end of "Sail Me Away"). Phil Keaggy's unbridled joy in the Lord was, and continues to be, a great inspiration to me; Love Broke Through stands out from his '70s efforts.
The recordings that I keep returning to, though, are Erick Nelson's albums for Maranatha. Favorite songs include "Good News," "Carry Me Along," "Sunlight," and "The Martyr Song." He was one of my earliest Jesus Music heroes, and we're still "keyboard buddies."
OW: What circumstances led to your conversions? Tell me about your early years at Calvary Chapel.
BH: As I mentioned earlier, church was part of my upbringing. I wouldn't characterize myself back then as "religious," though I believed in God--at least, I thought I did. In my teens, I was turned off by church (to me, it had become a cold uncomfortable place which only seemed to be going through the motions of worship). I stopped going altogether. I started to enjoy being the master of my own life, and I got upset with the "Jesus freaks" who would try to "witness" to me. I got really upset when some of my friends became some of those same freaks. I remember taking great delight in arguing with them about God and Jesus and Christianity--and winning the arguments! Or so it seemed, because I wasn't aware that the Lord was winning me over with the truth of His word, as He says: For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11, RSV)
Meanwhile, in high school, among my other activities, I was a student manager of the varsity baseball team. In my senior year, I had a hole to fill in my schedule for the fall semester, so I signed up as manager for the water polo team. On the junior varsity team was this wacky, funny, and earnest sophomore named Jim Abdo. He was a great guy. He made an impression on me. The plot thickens.
Sometime around one in the morning on June 9, 1973, about a year after I graduated from Wilson, I gave my life to Jesus--alone, kneeling on the floor of my bedroom. How could I refuse His call any longer? How could I resist the One who had died for me? I couldn't. I surrendered. And I was overwhelmed by the greatest sensation of peace that I've ever experienced.
That night, I was taken to a Saturday night worship service by the same friends who had witnessed to me and led me to Christ. I was astounded to see a ROCK BAND playing during the service! The bass player had a Hofner bass, like Paul McCartney's! The drummer, though restrained, played like he wanted to punch holes in his drumheads! The electric guitarist had hair down to the middle of his back! And the acoustic guitarist was none other than Jim Abdo, that guy from high school! Rock 'n' roll in church! I liked it! Oh yeah--the band was called In His Name.
About a week later, I went to Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa for the first time. I was impressed by the tent, and especially that it was filled with thousands of believers. It was so full, in fact, that we sat outside on the grass. I don't remember if I went to a Saturday night concert or a Bible study, but I do remember really liking the music. And the message--I had never heard God's word before in such a down-to-earth fashion that didn't insult my intelligence. I was very moved.
In August, just two months later, I returned to that church in Long Beach on another Saturday night. Guess what band was playing there again? In His Name, in the flesh (so to speak). I liked them even better this time. And I heard an unrelenting voice in my head during the entire service, telling me over and over again to offer myself as their keyboardist. I knew that I wasn't going schizophrenic--I decided it must be the urging of the Holy Spirit. After the service was over, I headed down the aisle to talk to the guys in the band, but I was overwhelmed with shyness, anxiety, and second thoughts. I turned around and walked back up the aisle to the church's exit. Before I realized what had happened, I found myself walking down the aisle again, straight toward the band. It was as if someone had placed his hands on my shoulders and turned me around--and I'm sure that's exactly what the Spirit did! I walked up to Jim Abdo, the only face that I knew. The rest, as they say, is history--and besides, it was already covered earlier.
I thrived on going to Calvary Chapel. I attended as many Bible studies as I could, being taught by Tom Stipe, Greg Laurie, and of course, Chuck Smith. Tom's studies were obviously among my favorites--not only was he a great teacher, but he always had great music before the study by a Maranatha artist or another local artist. We were fortunate to play for a few of these studies in the tent, and later became the first band to play in the then-new large sanctuary for one of Tom's studies. I particularly looked forward to, and now miss, Chuck Smith's in-depth Sunday night studies, in which he cycled through the entire Bible, a few chapters every week. As a young Christian, I couldn't have been in a better place.
OW: Recall some of your memories of artists, festivals, concerts, etc., that you played with/in during the '70s.
BH: In February '74, The Way was booked for a concert at Wilson High. As the hometown band, we were to open the event. For me, it was exciting to be working with a "real" Maranatha band for the first time. I had stars in my eyes, but I saw that the guys in The Way were human just like we were and not "super-Christians" (a valuable lesson). They were very friendly and encouraging, and gave us many practical and spiritual insights about being in a music ministry. We got to know them pretty well over the years, particularly Gary Arthur, our road manager for two tours in early '76.
The first large festival that we played was called Praise '74, held that year on Labor Day weekend at the Orange County Fairgrounds (not very far from Calvary Chapel). As an impressionable 20-year-old, I could hardly believe that our band was part of a 3-day line-up that featured the Children of the Day, Erick Nelson & Good News, Terry Talbot, Wing & A Prayer, Psalm 150, Phoenix Sonshine, Mustard Seed Faith, Chuck Girard, Larry Norman, and Andraé Crouch, to name just a few (I'm looking at the original official program as I type). We played in the morning on the first day, and later on, we met another young 3-piece band from Riverside, about the same age as we were. Brothers Kevin and Rick Thomson played bass and drums, respectively, and were joined by a guy named Bryan Duncan on keyboards. They called themselves Sweet Comfort (adding "Band" to their name, and Randy Thomas on guitar in the years to come), and we became "buddy bands."
Our first Saturday night concert at Calvary Chapel (November '74) was a disaster (or so we thought). We opened for the Children of the Day, already legends in their own time. We were suffering from a collective case of stage fright. Our first song was "In His Name," and Jim broke a string on his acoustic guitar on the first strum. Peter Jacobs of the Children of Day saw what was going on and graciously offered to loan Jim his superb Martin guitar for the rest of our set. The remainder of our part of the concert was barely mediocre, but that night was the beginning of another beautiful friendship.
Warehouse Ministries, Sacramento, CA
February 15, 1975
Two short months later (January '75), we were surprised to be booked again for a second try at Calvary on a Saturday night, this time opening for Chuck Girard. Our short set went well, but the audience was unprepared for the last song, "Train of Life." We had recently reworked it to include the first of what became known as our signature extended instrumental breaks, and the song had an overwhelming impact on the crowd. We'd been backstage for a few minutes before we realized that the audience was still cheering! Waiting there (to go on next with Chuck Girard) was Bill "Psalm 5" Sprouse of The Road Home, who shouted to us, "Praise God! Get back out there and play another song!" We did, and played "In His Name" (what else) for the first encore that anyone could recall at a Saturday night concert. And then Chuck came out and played an amazing set, interlaced with moving personal testimony. As great numbers of people came forward to give their lives to Jesus, I could barely comprehend what God had done that night, using all of us to bring glory to His name.
We always looked forward to the Maranatha festivals at Knott's Berry Farm in nearby Buena Park, not only as spectators, but also as performers. We saw the events as unique ministry opportunities and we weren't disappointed. Aslan played its first festival at Knott's in May '75, and its last in April '78. Over the years, we shared venues there with Erick Nelson & Good News, Daniel Amos, and Sweet Comfort.
February of 1976 saw Aslan going where no Maranatha band had gone before (as usual): to perform at the Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana (if you've been there, you know it doesn't get much crazier than that)! This wasn't a controlled event, or an orderly festival: this was war! And there we were, in the trenches, playing set after set on a street corner along the middle of the parade route, ringed by crowds little more than an arm's length away from us. The gospel was shared not just in the music, but in the best way, in the one-to-one interaction we had with the people before and after the sets. Everyone was involved, including soundman Wally Grant and road manager Gary Arthur. Alternating with us on that corner was soloist Danny Taylor, a consummate entertainer in the truest sense, as well as a riveting speaker.
A concert series in Long Beach, our hometown, was started in '76. In June, we shared the stage of the E-Bell Auditorium with Mustard Seed Faith, and in October, we were booked there again. This time, a soloist named Keith Green opened for us. We'd heard about him, but hadn't yet seen him in action. He was vital, friendly, and funny, and when he took the stage, it seemed to me that he exuded more energy all by himself at the piano than all six of us in the band. You couldn't help yourself when he was onstage--you felt an urgency and an excitement to know and serve Jesus Christ. Listening to Keith perform, I thought that things were backwards, that we should be opening for him. We did one other event with him that I recall, an outdoor festival near San Diego in early '77, about the time that his first album was released. I recall several of us sitting in the sunshine on the grass near the stage, talking with Keith and his wife, Melody.
In terms of size, the biggest single concert we ever did was the Everlasting Life Concert at Anaheim Convention Center on November 18, 1977. Aslan was the opening band for Mustard Seed Faith. We were a bit awestruck to have been booked, and more so when we were told that the concert would be filmed for a TV documentary (it was, and eventually aired in '78 as a 30-minute show in the Los Angeles area). It was a special event, so we thought we'd write some new material to fit the occasion. We came up with the idea of an instrumental overture, and we put one together from several of our songs, joined together by new themes. It was big music, and it worked well in the big arena. The place was filled to capacity, and the people were more than ready for the concert to start. As we walked out onstage, the whistles and cheers started up, causing Jim to exclaim to the crowd, "We haven't done anything yet!" They roared with approval. What a night.
Aslan shared a stage with Randy Stonehill on the boardwalk of Avalon, California, on Santa Catalina Island. Also appearing with us there on that Fourth of July weekend in '78 was Gentle Faith, I believe (my memories of that event are fuzzy). It was another perfect setting for a concert: beautiful weather; the stage on the shoreline, with the picturesque Avalon harbor as a backdrop; the boardwalk in front, with a constant stream of people walking by (cars were prohibited in that part of the town); and lots of those same people stopping to listen to not just the music, but to the gospel. I've got a photo of Uncle Randy at that concert around here someplace...
There were many other memorable concerts, tours, and such, but I've gone on long enough. It's easy to remember and talk about big events and well-known fellow artists, but the most important things we did were all the appearances at the other venues: the prisons and state hospitals; the colleges, universities, and schools; the military bases; the coffee houses (the Fire Escape is a particularly fond memory), clubs, and even roller skating rinks; and of course, the churches of all denominations, from which we learned what the phrase "Body of Christ" really meant.
I give thanks to the Lord for the great blessing and privilege to have shared in ministry and to have been part of the "cloud of witnesses" with those I've already mentioned, as well as: Bob Ayala; the members of Bethlehem; Bob Cull; Joe Gallo; the members of Gentle Faith; Don Kobayashi (valiant interim drummer for Aslan's final two months); Karen Lafferty; Dave Mattson; Louis and Mary Neely and our friends at the Warehouse Ministries (Sacramento); the members of Parable; Malcolm Wild; Pastor Chuck Smith and Pastor Romaine; and especially Aslan's soundmen/roadies (Miles Hunter, Wally Grant, and Randy Campbell), for service above and beyond the call of duty. Most of all, I praise God for our family and friends, and all those who unselfishly fed us, housed us, helped us, supported us, and prayed for us--may their reward in heaven be great.
And last but not least, there's one more unsung hero--our booking agent, Ron Matsen. Without his tireless efforts, we wouldn't have these stories to tell, because we wouldn't have had any gigs! As our agent, wise counselor, confidant, and friend, Ron was a true servant of the Lord, taking good care of us, as well as many other artists. He's now the pastor of a Calvary Chapel in England, where I know he's taking good care of a larger flock.
OW: I know you guys have a special relationship from the past with Erick Nelson. Tell us about this inside joke with him and Dr. Pepper?!
BH: Well, Erick is a true friend, and he lives just a short drive from here, so I'll have to answer carefully! I understand that Jim tackled the "inside joke" issue. I'll simply add that we all liked Dr. Pepper to begin with, but it wasn't until Erick joined us on a West Coast tour in August '76 that we learned, to our everlasting enlightenment, that there was such a thing as a "DP connoisseur." Thanks to Erick's soft drink evangelism, Dr. Pepper became the official Aslan beverage.
On a more serious note, it's impossible to overemphasize the positive influence that Erick has had on my relationship with the Lord, back in the '70s and here in the present. He's the C.S. Lewis of Jesus Music. We get together as often as we can, and we inevitably end up swapping memories from the "good old days" like the two old soldiers that we are.
OW: Many lives and hearts were touched during the early years of the Jesus Movement. Can you explain what made those times different than we see today?
BH: The world still needs Jesus as much as it ever did. The fields are ripe, and workers are still needed for the harvest. It seems to me that the Jesus Movement itself was a natural result of what preceded it, and was an explosive response to the turmoil and trauma of the times. As a farmer prepares the soil, so the Lord had prepared peoples' hearts to receive His good news. I see many similarities between those times and today: a president entangled in a controversy of his own making; the world economy in upheaval; clashes over bigotry, intolerance, and civil rights; and a nation desperately searching for its own conscience and a moral compass. The biggest difference between then and now, perhaps, is that in the present, there hasn't yet been a cataclysmic event such as the war in Vietnam to trigger a large-scale revival. On the flip side is the fact that music remains as a powerful medium of popular culture.
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14, RSV) Humankind's condition hasn't changed; praise God that His merciful promise hasn't, either.
OW: This website deals with "oldies" Christian music. Do you listen to any of the older stuff any more? Do you listen to any current Christian or secular music?
BH: Oldies ... I'm not sure if I'll ever accept that reality! Yes, I still listen to the older material, but only as part of a well-balanced musical diet. I admit that I'm older and more set in my ways, so my tastes are somewhat dated, but I don't dwell in the past.
For many years, I had very little interest in Christian rock, simply because what I was hearing didn't sound very good. But in recent times, I've been learning about the current artists and their material in a slowly-but-surely manner, and I've been impressed with the quality and artistry of their recordings. Among my favorites of the modern era are Carolyn Arends (her "Reaching" is one of the most moving songs I've ever heard), Iona (Celtic progressive rock, if I can coin a phrase), Erin O'Donnell, and Michelle Tumes. I wish that I had heard about the late Rich Mullins sooner, and I'm thankful for his recorded legacy. I also follow some of our contemporaries, still out there singing for the Lord: Bob Bennett, Bob Carlisle, Bryan Duncan, Phil Keaggy, and Randy Stonehill. In the "how did I miss it" category, I've discovered gospel music, and I love the sound of the Fairfield Four.
I'd like to take this opportunity to recommend the recent First Love video and CD project from NewPort Records. As a Jesus Music documentary, it's priceless, and as a chance to see these pioneer artists performing together again, it's pure joy. Erick Nelson (why he wasn't included in that esteemed group is beyond me) brought the video to my house late last year, and I was hooked. I got the CD and tape set for Christmas--one of the best gifts I've ever had.
I've never stopped listening to secular music--not for long, anyway. I wouldn't have become a musician without it. Making a distinction between Christian and secular music often seems artificial to me. Christian and secular thought both use the very same spoken and written language as their vehicle of expression, yet no one refers to a separate Christian or secular language. Music is an equally valid means of expression of the same kinds of thoughts and values--why then is a distinction made? I don't pretend to have an easy answer, but it's food for thought.
I keep things in perspective by remembering these words of Paul's: Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8, RSV)
OW: What do you guys think about the whole CCM industry as we know it today?
BH: It's not my father's Oldsmobile. I've been outside of it for too many years, so I can only offer impressions. I see sincere and devoted artists and industry folk serving the Lord, but I also see what looks like money-changers in the temple. What would my perspective be if I were back on the inside? I don't know. Thankfully, I can leave that to the True King, the Righteous Judge.
OW: Bill, I've really enjoyed your Aslan website and the work you've put into it; what do each of you think about this '90s thing called the Internet? Have all of you had a chance to visit the Jesus Music website?
BH: Thanks for the compliments. I've been part of the online community since about 1985, and I learned HTML in '95, when the first waves of hype about the World Wide Web were starting to break. For me, the Aslan website has truly been a labor of love, and I hope that's evident throughout. The impetus for its construction in July '97 was the band's proposed 20-year reunion concert in 1998. That didn't happen, of course, but the site remains as an historical resource and as an ongoing journal of what we're doing in the present.
The Internet has been a godsend to Jim, Rick, and me as we've pursued the Aslan reunion, and now a new musical collaboration, all of which might have been impossible (or at least very difficult) without it. It's also made it easy and convenient for most of us from the original band to stay in touch, which is a true blessing. On top of that, we've heard from many of our Jesus Music contemporaries in the process. And through our website, we've learned for the first time how the Lord touched the lives of many of those who heard us in the '70s. Just as with all breakthroughs in communications, Christians have quickly embraced the Internet--it's just another medium, but with an incredible potential to share the Word of God.
I've had the great privilege of being a contributor to your Jesus Music site almost from its beginning. My association has included scanning album covers from my own collection, making some RealAudio clips, and adding to the incredible storehouse of knowledge and information that you've put together about this important part of our modern Christian heritage. Dave, thank you for being faithful to the vision that God gave you.
OW: What do you feel is the difference between entertainment and ministry in Christian music?
BH: Here's how my dictionary defines the two words: Entertain--to receive a guest; to show hospitality to; to gain one's attention; to consider favorably; to cherish; to hold in the mind. Minister--an agent or instrument; to serve; to supply things needed (ministry: the act of ministering). In the Christian sense, it appears to me that entertainment is a function of ministry.
The Apostle Paul talks about using whatever means are available to reach people for Christ in 1 Corinthians 9, and in particular verses 22-23: I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (RSV) My favorite take on the matter is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: Go out today and preach the gospel, and if you must, use words.
OW: I know that the three of you are planning to record an album of new music soon. Tell me a little more about how this came about and what we can expect. Any guesses on when it might be done?
BH: It came about as the final component of a meticulously-crafted master plan that we had set in motion 20 years ago. Yeah, right!
I've journalized the particulars of how things came together, in my distinct verbose style, at the Aslan website. The short answer is that it was a direct and natural result of our efforts to put together a 20-year reunion concert. In the process, the three of us began to share some new material with each other, and realized at one point that we were all sensing the same urging of the Holy Spirit to "re-enlist," so to speak. Though the reunion efforts were over and done with, we weren't, and after much prayer and soul-searching, we began our recording project in October '98 as Broken Works. We have no real idea when it might be done, because of the time and distance factors involved in our collaboration. I think it's safe to say that we'd like to see it released in '99, and the sooner, the better--but no promises! Jim has been absolutely amazing in his role as producer/engineer, and Rick and I are in complete awe of his talents.
What can you expect to hear? For me, the entire experience has been very uplifting, and I hope that same sense of the Lord's presence and encouragement comes through. So far, there are some great ballads, and some beautiful, worshipful songs. There are songs that make you think, there's a touch of humor, and there's at least one bona fide Aslan tune. And to keep you guessing, here are two enigmatic words for you to ponder: spy music.
OW: You've had some opportunities to play again together recently. How does it feel to do that again after all these years?
BH: It feels great, as long as my arthritis doesn't act up. Seriously, it's something that I had hoped for over the years, but never thought would happen. And just when I least expected it, it really did happen. For me, it doesn't get any better than this, to create music about our Creator with my best friends. What a precious gift from God. I'm still hoping that all six of us will someday get to work together again, at least one more time.
OW: What are the three of you doing these days as far as careers? Do you have families?
After Aslan broke up, I worked at Long Beach Hospital for 10 years, first as the Assistant Controller in the accounting department, then as its first Data Processing Director (what would be called Management Information Systems today). From '88 up to the present, I've been the MIS director of a small investment partnership. On the side, I've had part-time experience in website design and maintenance, and I've even studied acting for a few years. I serve my church in many ways, but primarily as its regular keyboardist every Sunday, one of the great joys of my life.
My greatest treasure is my family. I've been married to Kris, the love of my life, since September '78. She's the bravest and most unselfish person I've ever known. We've been blessed with six children: daughter Noelle, son Chas, and daughters Katherine and Sara. Our two other sons, William and Benjamin, passed away in '89 and are resting in the arms of Jesus.
OW:Bill, thanks so much for taking the time for this interview. Any parting words to our readers?
BH: I'm really sorry for being so long-winded! I'm sure this comes as no surprise to Jim, Rick, and the rest of the Aslan clan, who know me all too well.
Thank you, Dave, for having the patience of Job in waiting for us to complete this interview, and for offering us this opportunity to share our experiences and insights. It's a real honor to be included here along with your previous interview subjects, and it's fun to be the first band.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2, RSV)