|Interview with Aslan|
Preface: As I was replying to this interview, I was struck by the number of blessings and lessons I received from my time with Aslan. The greatest blessings, by far, are the friendships, particularly with Rick and Bill. And the greatest lesson is summed up in Ephesians 2:10:
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
I love knowing that I am His workmanship. And I have enjoyed great blessings walking in the good works He has prepared for me. I hope that those who read this will realize they are a unique and precious example of God's handiwork. And that they will be inspired to seek His guidance to find that path of good works He has prepared for them.--Jim Abdo
One-Way: Tell me about Aslan, the band's origins, and when you became a member of the group.
Jim Abdo: Rick Conklin (songwriter, vocals, bass, guitar) and I (guitar, vocals) began playing together at Long Beach (California) First Church of the Nazarene in 1971. In 1972, we added John Graves (drums, percussion) and Ken Walden (guitar, vocals), and dubbed ourselves "In His Name." Ken left in 1973 and was replaced by Mike Holmes (guitars, vocals). Joining later were Bill Hoppe (keyboards) and Toni McWilliams (violin, vocals). In 1975, we changed our name to "Aslan," from the Lion in the Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis.
OW: How about your background, upbringing, and early musical influences?
JA: I was born and raised in Long Beach, California. My father is a loving and generous man, but also a staunch unbeliever, due to his brutal upbringing in a Catholic orphanage. My mother, although she didn't attend church, encouraged me to pursue Christian values. As I was approaching my teens, I vividly recall her once "punishing" me by sending me to my room with a Bible and telling me to read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6, and 7). This passage is so rich with the practical stuff of Christianity. It's difficult to overstate the impact it had on me.
My early musical influences were (brace yourself) Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass, The Ventures, The Monkees, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Elton John, Yes, Queen, and Billy Joel.
OW: Did any of you have any formal musical training, and what instrument do you play?
JA: Aslan was a mix of formal and self-trained musicians. Bill (keyboards), John (percussion), and Toni (violin) were all classically trained and had performed in orchestras or recitals. Rick (bass), Mike (guitar), and I (guitar) were mostly self-taught.
I'm a vocalist and a guitarist. But like most musicians, I dabble on the keyboards, and I play a mean tambourine and shaker. I tried violin in fourth grade, but wouldn't practice. Ironically, violin is my son's instrument of choice, and he's very good. I tried trumpet in fifth grade, but gave it up after a guy whacked the end of it while I was playing and split my lip. In all fairness to the guy, I was blowing it in his ear at the time. In eighth grade, I took guitar lessons for about six months. At that time, I began leading worship for the youth at my church. And after Aslan, God brought me back to leading worship. Leading His people into His presence is one of my greatest joys.
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?
JA: Yes. But, from my perspective, it just never happened. Rick and Bill are much better qualified to fill in the blanks on this one.
OW: Any particular album(s) or song(s) from the Jesus Movement days that are personal favorites?
JA: Not really.
OW: What circumstances led to your conversions? Tell me about your early years at Calvary Chapel.
JA: My testimony is simple, but it speaks of God's providence. I couldn't attend public school the year I turned five because my birthday is in late December, so my parents enrolled me in a Baptist parochial school. That summer, I attended their vacation Bible school, where I heard the gospel and gave my life to Jesus. He has kept me ever since. Romans 14:4 has helped me keep my perspective throughout my walk: Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
It reminds me that we're all in the same boat, regardless of the path we've walked to get to Him. It also reminds me that Jesus will never give up on me. He can and will make me succeed according to His measure of success: "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways," declares the Lord. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts higher than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9)
I began attending Calvary Chapel in 1972. I think our first concert was in 1973 in the little chapel (which eventually became Maranatha Village--comments withheld). I believe we were the last band to play there. An interesting corollary: we were the first band to play in the new chapel. We also played several times in the tent during the interim.
OW: Recall some of your memories of artists, festivals, concerts, etc., that you played with/in during the '70s.
JA: We were privileged to play some fairly large venues. We played Anaheim Convention Center with Mustard Seed Faith in 1977. Ten thousand people. It was overwhelming. Sort of like being dangled over the Grand Canyon by a thread. The people had come to praise God and were primed. At one point, Mike nervously exclaimed something to the effect of, "Jesus has done so much for us, we can't help but shut up!" The crowd went wild! They heard what he meant, but we heard what he actually said, and could hardly contain ourselves.
We played the Mardi Gras in 1976. The church that booked us rented a couple of vender locations on the corner of Canal and Magazine Streets, catty-corner from the Marriott hotel. The parades run down Canal, so this was prime real estate. We played three concerts a day for five days. We also played in Jackson Square. It's easy to become isolated from the people you're playing for, but here we had them standing less than 10 feet away and ready to talk as soon as the music stopped. It was wonderfully frightening. The music was like a shield holding the people at bay. But after the music, it was time to do what Jesus did every day of His ministry--be with the people. And these folks had a lot on their minds. Some wanted to argue. Some wanted to tell their story. But the common thread was that they all wanted someone to listen. Then, after they had been heard, they were ready for the Gospel. And it was a flesh and blood version of the parable of the sower. Hard ground, shallow ground, and the good soil that had been prepared by God's Holy Spirit. It was simply awesome.
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?!
JA: Yeah, Erick got me hooked on the stuff. The way I recall it, he said if we got in a bind for communion elements, we could always use "DP and Cheez-Its." No disrespect for the Lord's table intended. We were, after all, according to Chuck Fromm, just a "frosty bunch of young kids."
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?
JA: The saying goes, "Luck is opportunity meeting preparedness." The Jesus Movement is a good example of this. People like Chuck Smith, Jack Hayford, Dr. James Dobson, and many others had been faithfully pursuing God's calling on their lives for years. They were ready when a generation began looking for answers. This does not diminish the powerful move of God's Holy Spirit during those years. These people and the ministries that grew up around them are sustained by God's blessing and presence. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth." (1 Corinthians 3:6). Two things are different today: we are not prepared; and this generation hasn't met the crisis that will turn them toward God. We can't do anything about the latter, but our challenge is to follow the example of those who were prepared last time. Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. (2 Timothy 4:2)
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?
JA: I don't listen to the old stuff. As far as new stuff goes, I love PFR. I also liked Audio Adrenaline's first CD. Bob Bennett's Bright Avenue was phenomenal. Also, I keep an ear open for new praise and worship tunes. As far as secular artists go, I always look forward to new Sting releases.
OW: What do you guys think about the whole CCM industry as we know it today?
JA: I think the names says it all--industry. It produces a product designed for a particular market with the perfectly legitimate goal of generating a profit. Hey, it's the American way. Besides, it gives the kids an alternative to Korn and Beck!
OW:I've really enjoyed the Aslan website; what do you think about this '90s thing called the Internet? Have you had a chance to visit the Jesus Music website?
JA: I'm a design engineer for a small telecommunications firm. I use the Internet every day. And e-mail has made it possible for Rick, Bill, and me to stay current.
I've been to the Jesus music web site a few times. Frankly, I was overwhelmed to see just how many folks were doing what Aslan was doing back then. It made me feel a bit like Elijah in 1 Kings 19, where he was convinced that he alone was serving the Lord, yet God had 7,000 in Israel that had not bowed to Baal.
OW: What do you feel is the difference between entertainment and ministry in Christian music?
JA: As an entertainer, I'm interested in feeding my ego by gaining my audiences approval. But as a minister, I seek God's best interest for my audience. Often that includes being entertaining, but ultimately God is glorified and people see Jesus. I find ministry infinitely more rewarding.
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?
JA: I feel fortunate to have stayed in touch with most everyone since our last concert on October 28, 1978 at Point Loma College. Rick, Bill, and I have continued to write and play together, off and on, since then. About a year and a half ago, I got a call from Wally Grant, Aslan's second soundman (we had three over the years). He suggested that we plan a 20-year reunion concert. The concert never happened, but it codified our efforts.
What you can expect is a CD full of tunes by three guys who are 20 years older and, hopefully, wiser. Since Aslan never produced an album, we have a lot of ideas rattling about. And since "Who Loves The Lonely" was so far from Rick's personal vision, this process will be extremely cathartic.
It's hard to estimate how long it will take, because we're having to record it in fits and starts. Rick lives in Southern California, Bill lives near Seattle, and I live about 20 miles north of the California-Oregon border. We've stolen a few weekends together over the last year, and we managed an entire week in October. Each session has been very fruitful, and the preliminary tracks are extremely promising.
OW: You've had some opportunities to play again together recently. How does it feel to do that again after all these years?
JA: It's like riding a bike. And the synergy hasn't diminished one iota.
OW: What are the three of you doing these days as far as careers? Do you have families?
JA: As I mentioned, I'm a design engineer. My wife, Diane, and I have been married since 1977 and we have two children--Jessica and Ian.
Jess is my living milestone. She was born the day after Aslan's last concert. She was like a graduation gift from God. She reminds me that life is constantly changing, but God is always there, to strengthen and inspire us to grow into His image.
Ian was our second gift. He pursues both God and music with a passion. He is a violinist, songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist, and assists me in worship every Sunday. One of my greatest joys is watching him carry on the Aslan legacy by dedicating his musical talents to the Lord.
Lastly, I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to my wife, Diane, for her unflagging support and encouragement. Her faith in my calling has never once faltered in our 22 years of marriage.
OW: Jim, thanks so much for taking the time for this interview. Any parting words to our readers?
JA: The Jesus Movement of the '70s was a wonderful moment in time. But as with every revival, it was a unique moment in which a generation was compelled to embrace God. We must not pine for the "good old days." Rather, we must seek God as to what the "new song" will be for this generation (Psalm 33:3). And we must be ready and willing to play whatever role He calls us to in the next great harvest. Maranatha! Come quickly, Lord Jesus!