Interview with Chuck Girard
Dave Hollandsworth: With the Castells, Hondells and other surf bands, you were involved in pop music from a very young age - who were some of your biggest musical influences?
Chuck Girard: Way back when I was really young, 5 yrs. old or so, I used to memorize songs by 2 artists my Mom played on the old 78 phonograph...believe it or not, Gene Autry and Mario Lanza. Which probably accounts for my wide musical taste, Gene Autry being country/pop, and Mario Lanza being opera/pop. Gene had a song I liked called "Pistol Packin' Mama", and I liked the songs from the Mario movies..."Student Prince", "The Great Caruso". But my first memory of a musical "awakening" was when a friend of my older sister's came over and played the chords to "Heart and Soul" on the piano. These chords have always been the heart of rock'n'roll, and it's like something went off inside me like I'd discovered the key to the universe.
The Castells (Chuck is standing at left)
Later I was exposed to some of the early doo-wop because my older sister listened to it, songs like "Still of the Night" by the Five Satins, and "Over The Mountain" by Johnnie and Joe. But the "Flamingos" were my first real influence. Most people only remember the big hit, "I Only Have Eyes for You", but the whole album called "Flamingo Serenade" was like a religious experience for me. It's available on CD today, and I have listened to it over and over throughout the years. In my opinion, it's the best doo-wop album ever made. The effect of the whole production is surrealistic. The vocals are the best ever, and the tracks float through space like you are riding a cloud. It's truly an experience. After that, the Beach Boys middle period was a great influence. The albums "Beach Boys Today", "Friends", "Wild Honey", "20-20", and "Smiley Smile" have some of the most unbelievable music ever produced in any style or era. Brian Wilson in my opinion was the only real musical genius rock'n'roll ever produced. Many of his chord structures were absolutely original. You can learn them (if you can), and then try to write another song to the same chords and time feel, and you can't do it. It's like he unlocked the only key to that progression that is possible, and anything you would write to the same chords will sound like what he wrote because nothing else will fit. I was also influenced to a lesser degree by "The Band", "The Beatles" and to an even lesser degree by "Pink Floyd". After that I became too set in my musical ways to be actually influenced by anything new, but I appreciate many more artists than those mentioned here, and some influence will show up once in awhile in the occasional song, but they are not really formative influences.
DH: Did you have any musical training growing up?
CG: I had 2 years of classical piano when I was about 10, but I don't know how much of it stuck. I never cared for it much, I wanted to rock. Later in junior high school, I had a choir teacher at Santa Rosa (California) High, Bill Barclay, who would teach me the basics of music theory after school: you know....how to make diminished chords and stuff. I took that stuff home and learned how to play these chords in different keys, and in a way, this was training, because it trained my ear.
DH: Did you have any religious upbringing or background?
Chuck as a teenager
CG: Yeah, I was raised Catholic. Let's not go there, it gets unpleasant. I blew it all off when I was 16 to go into music. I figured if I was going to hell for some of the dumb stuff they said, that I ought to at least go to hell for something I would enjoy, so I devoted the next years to wine, women and song, of course, to disastrous results.
DH: What circumstances led to your conversion in 1970?
CG: Well, around the mid '60's, I started getting real curious about what was making people grow their hair long and stare into light bulbs as if they were seeing God, like I began to see in various news stories on the "hippies". I tried marijuana and eventually LSD, which led me into a few years of drug experimentation. Along with this territory goes the counterfeit spiritual realm, and I became spiritually curious again. I began to read all the "religious" material I could get my hands on, along with the Bible. Fortunately for me, God can work despite all that stuff, and eventually I began to see the contradictions between the different spiritual philosophies. The main point of disagreement is almost always Jesus, and I began to see that the different philosophies had different views about Him. This led me to the obvious conclusion that you couldn't harmonize all religions, so one or some of them had to be true, while some had to be false. I began a process of elimination, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, began to weed out much of it. Toward the end I would say that I was "basically Christian" but wouldn't commit solely to Christianity. By this time, I was involved with a number of people living communally in Laguna Beach, CA, and we started to hear about this place called Calvary Chapel, in Costa Mesa, CA. We would pick up hippie hitch-hikers and they would tell us about the church and how "God was moving" there. So one night a bunch of us went up there to check it out for ourselves and we heard the gospel for the first time. I knew this was what I'd been looking for, and that night, even though I didn't go up for the "altar call", I told God that this felt right, and if this was it, I was here for the duration. That was 29 years ago, and I haven't looked back since.
Little Country Church
(Bob Wall, Tommy Coomes, John Mehler, Chuck Girard, Jay Truax)
DH: As you well know, and with your gracious help, I've had the pleasure of documenting the history of your pioneering Jesus music group, Love Song, on The Love Song Home Page. What are some of the thoughts and feelings that come to you now almost 30 years later as you reflect on those years with the group?
CG: Those were the best years in Contemporary Christian Music. There was an innocence then that is not there now. No record companies, no charts, no big bucks contracts, just music, ministry, and Jesus. Your motives for being in it were tested just by the fact that there was no money in it. You were in it for God or you weren't in it. We (the group Love Song) didn't know we could say no. If the phone rang with an invitation to play somewhere, we felt it must be God. We would sometimes play 2-3 times a DAY in those days. We would just get in our vans and take off, we never knew what we were getting paid, or how big the crowd would be, it was just an opportunity to preach the gospel. The glue that held the group together was our drive to see souls saved. Man, it was good.
DH: Do you still keep in touch with any of the guys?
CG: Yeah, some. Of course, 3 years ago we did the "Welcome Back" album, which put us together quite tightly for about 3 months. But I've talked to Tommy and Jay in just the last few days, and have occasion to talk to Bob and Fred from time to time, so although we are not in any close relationship, we stay in touch.
Love Song - Welcome Back recording 1994
A Love Song
DH: Was the Jesus Movement a revival, an outpouring or just church renewal?
CG: In my opinion, it was a revival, as I understand the term. Revival to me is a harvest time, and it definitely was that. I don't how a revival is officially defined, but to me this was much more than just an outpouring or renewal, although it certainly was all of that too.
Rock 'n' Roll Preacher
Chuck in the 70's
DH: During the 70's you were a very popular solo artist. How has your music and ministry changed compared to those early days?
CG: In the '70's, I was more just a guy who was making albums, although, I was always a minister first. More recently, I've been challenged by God to redefine my gift and callings and take a little more serious look at what I'm put here on this Earth to do. I have seen that there is much more to my ministry than just the music, in fact, the music is just a vehicle by which I minister. I have matured into a more rounded minister, and I occasionally teach and preach in my meetings. I have also come into a greater understanding of worship, and this aspect of my music/ministry has really taken a key position. Although my latest CD is a worship CD, that is not the only kind of music I will make in the future. I look forward to doing more albums, and to do some more rock'n'roll, as well as some specifically themed albums. The problem is that I do it all independently now, and cash flow is usually tight, so it takes me a long time to get something done. But……who knows what the future will bring?
DH: This website deals with what some would call "oldies" Christian music - do you listen to any of the older stuff any more?
CG: Occasionally, but not much. Usually it's when I make a tape copy of some old album for somebody, but the truth is, I don't listen to much Christian music of any kind these days, because most of it doesn't interest me musically or spiritually. But I do feel that the earlier CCM is far superior emotionally and spiritually.
DH: Do you listen to any current Christian or secular music?
CG: I really don't follow the Christian scene. I am generally disheartened by the low quality both spiritually and musically in general. Of course there are exceptions, but not many, in my opinion. Once in a while I get hold of something that I can actually listen to and marginally enjoy, but not often. I do listen to some secular music, and I follow the scene a bit, so I know what's current. I listen to it mostly to stay up with what's going on….usually one listen and then it's archive time. There are a few contemporary secular acts that interest me musically, but I don't like to discuss it because what might be ok for me might not be for someone else, etc., and I don't want to be an advertisement for some secular group.
DH: What are your feelings on the whole CCM industry, as we know it today?
CG: Well, it's pretty bankrupt as I see it. Although I'm no longer an expert, and certainly not a part of "the scene" anymore, I am somewhat connected and I know what's going on. It's disheartening for me to see the direction things have taken. I hear a lot of justification for some of the business practices, and I hear many opinions that things are changing for the better, but with rare exception, I just don't hear it in the grooves, and certainly I don't see much fruit. It seems to me that the business mentality really runs things these days, and that not a lot of room is made to make way for a man's ministry. I am certainly not a part of it any more, partly by choice, but I also believe that I would have a hard time getting signed if I tried to get back in… so for whatever reason, I'm no longer an active part of that world. I think that Nashville was the worst thing that ever happened to CCM. That C&W spirit took over and seems to a great degree to have infiltrated the thinking of the artist to a degree, but mostly of the management and business side. It's produced a "by the numbers" music that seems to reach for the goal of duplicating whoever's hot on the charts of the secular world. There's very little that's creative or original anymore. No, it's not exciting to me.
DH: Tell us more about your involvement with Dan Collins' new company, NewPort Records ?
CG: NewPort is an "umbrella" label formed to give a unified home to a bunch of us who have been independent for a long time. We have to struggle to keep our music in print, do the marketing, ship the CDs to the stores, in other words, handle too many tasks, none of them well. NewPort allows us to keep our individuality, while giving us an common identity, and provides people to do the marketing, the distribution, etc. Right now, it's all independently produced music, but I think the long range goal is that eventually, NewPort will be able to produce some newer artists as well.
DH: Many are looking forward to NewPort's 'First Love' video that has many of the early artists of the 70's and will soon be released. Could you share with us about this video?
CG: This is truly an outstanding piece. Dan Collins put it all together about 2 years ago, and invited many of the Jesus music pioneers to come up to a campground in the San Bernardino mountains of So. Calif. to spend a few days, reminisce and perform. We did extensive interviews during the day, and at night gathered in the lodge and did many of our songs both old and new, in kind of an "unplugged" atmosphere. We actually had a band there, but we all sat around on couches with the band toward the end of the room so that the effect was "unplugged", even though the sound is very full. I think the inspiration for the idea was to do a '70's version of the Gaither type videos, but these videos turned out to be quite different and I believe much deeper and more spiritually powerful. I see these 2 videos as a sort of document of the pain and pleasure it took in the early days of what is now CCM, to blaze trails that were at the time unprecedented. We all had powerful stories to tell, and if anything, this is a documentary on what the anointing is about in CCM, something we don't have too much of these days.
DH: Could you share with us some of the things you experienced with record labels through the years you've been involved with CCM? Should one seek to record with an independent label rather than a commercial label?
CG: Boy, that's a loaded question. My experience with the only commercial label I was ever on was bitter sweet. I have to say that I was really given freedom to make the records I wanted to make, and for that I am very grateful. On the negative side, I was naive concerning business matters, and today all my '70s material is owned and controlled by companies which don't care about it, and therefore, it is just sitting on the shelf, not doing anybody any good. Some would say, "just get it back", but again, money is involved. The irony is that even dormant titles add value to the price of a potential future sale of that catalog, so even though the material is not active, the owners don't want to release it back to me/us because of that. They may SELL it back, but the asking price would be way out of reach of me, at least.
There's only a couple of ways to remedy this situation as I see it. One would be to hit the lottery and make a viable offer to buy, or get backers who could do the same. The third would be that the owners would really do the right thing and just give it back to me, who should really be the owner of the material. At least I feel that spiritually and morally I am the rightful owner, but what counts is who is the legal owner. I feel like I should be the steward of my music, but the reality is that I have relinquished that stewardship because I was too trusting in my early business dealings. It's an interesting side note that the amount I made as an artist in the '70s with 6 solo albums and 4 Love Song albums released, was exactly nothing. I have never received a dime as an artist because I was always told that my albums had never recouped. (The standard practice in the business is that the record company finances the album, and the artists pays back that cost out of his royalties until the piece recoups, then the artist begins to earn. If the album does not recoup, the company writes it off, so the artist does not wind up in any actual out of pocket debt, but often earns nothing). However, I have not received any statements explaining the figures in over 20 years.
Now back to the question, I am presently independent and have been for many years. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. On the plus side of independence is the obvious fact that you have full ownership of all copyrights and masters, and can have final say on all decisions regarding that material. From a spiritual standpoint this is preferable because you can truly be the steward of what God has given you. But the negative side is that you have to wear all the hats. I have to sweat the budget of the making of the album, I have to keep up with the cost of manufacturing, try to promote the music the best I can, which is next to not at all. I even have to be responsible for filling bookstore orders, mail orders, carting the "product" down to UPS, etc. You can see . it eats up a lot of valuable time which I could better spend reading the Word and writing and producing new music. It takes me about 4 years to get out a new CD, which is not enough release any significant amount of product. I have some friends who do more, but they usually don't have kids, etc., and it's easier for them to get a CD out.
Being with a label is just the opposite. You usually give up rights to publishing, you certainly don't own the master, and you are really in many ways financially obligated to the artistic and creative whims of executives who really don't have a clue about art, they only know about selling records, not making art. So you are constantly pressured to be molded into an "image" that pleases the public, that sells records. That may not be such a bad thing in secular music, where the point for both sides is largely to make money, but in Christian music, it can tamper with your calling and tempt you to compromise your main reason for doing music, which is to serve God and change lives. They (record executives) will give you all the right reasons why you should do it their way…you can first build a large following and then you can reach more people. Problem is that everyone I've seen that ever got big enough to do any good, forgot the calling and went more for the bucks.
I guess to sum it up, staying independent means that you keep your freedom, and it's easier to keep your integrity, but you inherit a powerful amount of extra work. Going with a big company takes off some of the load, but you have to sell the farm to get the easier ride.
Also to be considered, is the fact that independently, you will make 100% of a little, but with a major, you potentially could make a much smaller percentage of a whole lot more, which means you'll sell more albums but make less money per unit. The spiritual parallel to that is: when you are independent, you will generally have smaller audiences, if you are successful in the majors, you have the potential of much bigger crowds.
If you could figure out a way to make the system work for you without selling your soul, I would think that the system would be the best route, but few if any have ever done it. Another thing to consider about being with the majors is that success is not guaranteed, and you could wind up with an album that sits on the shelf, and you could be locked up contractually for a long time, while nothing happens.
DH: It seems to me that you were and still are one of the only "Jesus music" artists to actually have a website. What are your thoughts about this whole explosion called the Internet?
CG: This is just the beginning. I am seeing increasing benefits from being on the Net. I haven't seen a lot of visible spiritual fruit, like souls saved, but I know from email I get that many people get a lot of encouragement and edification from the different content. They love the jokes, the message board, and there is a sense of community. I have met many of my net friends who have come to concerts and there is a special bond already because of the interaction on the web. That alone would be enough for me.
But let's look at the financial side, which right now is next to nothing, but growing exponentially. Two years ago when I first came on the net, I sold about 1 piece per week. It was more of a service for a few people, and most of my orders came from foreign countries where it hard or impossible to get my stuff. Today I sell from $50. to sometimes $300. a week, which is still comparatively nothing, but shows healthy growth. And I do not advertise in any way, people who do probably do a lot more business. All in all this has been a great experience just treating my web site like a hobby, but I see the net becoming more and more important as we figure out more effective ways to use this very unexplored frontier to further the Kingdom of God.
DH: You travel quite a bit and just returned from a European tour where you seem to have a large following. What are some of the main differences between Christian music, the audiences, the church, etc., in the US and abroad?
CG: Actually, not much. European Christians are in most ways just like Americans. They actually love and imitate Americans, and I don't mean imitate in any demeaning way. It's like we are role models, and they want to be like us to certain degree without losing their national identity. So..the music is basically what we listen to, because there really aren't many European CCM groups, outside of Britain. The audiences are also much the same. Some are very conservative, some are very demonstrative. Seems like Christianity is the great unifier In more ways than we mean biblically. The church in Europe is a little different because they come out of a very strong and old tradition. There is probably less freedom overall in the church, but believe me, when they tap into it, they are as free as anyone.
DH: Tell us a little about your latest album - Voice of the Wind?
CG: "Voice" is the fulfillment of a long held vision. I know that something very special happens when I lead worship, and for a long time have wanted to capture that moment. I really didn't know the best way to go about it, and tried 3 different methods, with varying results. First, I brought worshippers into the studio to try and create the environment of the sanctuary. This worked least effectively, partly because of the configuration of the studio. It was rather small, and so I had no way to set it up the way it would be in a real service. There was no real connection with the "audience". Also, I used a drummer, with the idea of creating piano/drum rhythm tracks, which could be fleshed out later. As good a job as the drummer did (Burleigh Drummond), there was no real contact with him either because of the studio config., and this idea only produced one or two useable pieces. The second method was to set up the studio with piano, string pad, and a great vocal sound in my headphones, and clear out the studio. This meant that even the engineer went home after showing me how to lock up the studio. The idea was that I would be alone in the studio with God, and just sing unto Him. I would turn on the tape machine from time to time when I felt the inspiration, and capture something on tape. This was only slightly more successful than the previous method, and I got a few more useable tunes. The third way was just to bring the remote equipment to a church, set up in front of an audience and turn on the tape. This method worked best, and the bulk of the material on the album was recorded in this manner.
I realize that when people are experiencing worship in my concerts, there is a visual element and also the fact that we are experiencing the whole thing together. This was not going to be the case on a CD. My plan was always to take the live tapes back into the studio and embellish them with orchestrations, solo violin, guitar parts, background vocals, etc. This is what I ultimately did, and this method kept the integrity of the live tapes, but allowed me to make a "record" out of the whole piece. The final product actually has 2 songs done with drum machine in the studio, seamlessly edited into the whole, so as to appear as one piece. I feel that I was very successful in achieving my goals in these technical areas. Creatively, the album is a spontaneous performance. There was no song list, or pre-planned format. I just rolled tape and went off in the Spirit. Much of what appears on the final CD was actually created spontaneously, and those passages are indicated on the liner notes. Not many of my albums have turned out this successfully, and I believe this album to be a powerful tool for connecting with God in personal devotions.
DH: Your daughter, Alisa, sings on the album and performs with you often - tell us a little about her music ministry.
CG: Alisa is the most talented young singer/songwriter I know. Really..…not just because I'm her father. I truly believe if her music gets out to this world somehow, she will have the ear of the whole world. The scope of her ability and her walk with God humble me, truly. She has the tightest walk with God of anyone I know, yet is never pious or "holier than thou". So ask me how I really feel. J
Alisa is just getting up to speed in pursuing her ministry. She spent almost 2 years in New York recently, working in the lower East side with gang kids. She came home from that experience battered but not beaten, and is right now for the first time focused on fulfilling her ministry. We are walking her carefully through Nashville and other options, and the next year will tell. Her heart is primarily for the lost, but her songs deal largely with Christian issues. She has a little bit of Keith Green in her, but with a much softer edge. We are excited to see what God is going to do with her life, and especially in these next 2-3 years when it will all be taking shape.
DH: Voice of the Wind is definitely is a beautiful worship album and has been a real blessing to me. Do you see yourself ever doing a pop/rock album again?
CG: Well, I would really like to. I actually have 3 projects bubbling under right now. I would love to do a Vol.2 of Personal Worship, but I have an album rolling around in my being called "Drifting", which will be an album of poetic, inspirational studio recorded pieces, ranging from slow to mid-tempo. This will be a very even album, with a range of subject matter, not a worship album, but worshipful. And I do have another pop/rock album for which I have fewer songs ready, but it would be more like a regular release. The problem is, with my present independent stature, I have to wait on funding, so it could be a while. I'm looking into home computer recording, and if I can put something together that's good enough quality, I would love to do the bulk of my recording at home. I could do more projects that way, and I love to work in a home environment. But..supporting all of this family eats up most of the cash flow, so it will take some time to get all the equipment in place and make this a reality. I really see this as the only way to go for me.
DH: In your opinion, what constitutes an effective music ministry?
Well, first of all, the calling, which I discussed earlier. I think the key element in a ministry is that we have taken time to identify and define the specific calling of our lives, our life message if you will. Then, having the passion to communicate that message through our musical gift is also essential. It is important to have a sense of commitment to the needs of the audience…that we are not on the stage for our own edification or musical enjoyment, but to meet the needs of the people as God's vessel. We need to have an understanding of how the anointing works, how to hear the voice of the Spirit so we can become God's extension here on Earth through which He can achieve His goals. This may sound heavy and serious, but it really is key. Bottom line, you need to have the right motives for being in front of the audience to really be effective.
DH: Define the difference between entertainment & ministry in Christian music?
CG: Well, the best way I've ever heard it said was by me J: In Christian music, there's entertainment that ministers, and there's ministry that entertains. I want to produce ministry that entertains. Entertainment by very definition is really not a Biblical concept. Take the word "amusement". This word is made of 2 roots: "a', which means "without", and "muse", which means to think. So an amusement is something we do to turn off our mind, relax and not think about anything. I think it's next to impossible to receive real ministry without having to think about it. Every attitude in church requires thought. The worship causes us to dwell on the attributes and personality of God.
The sermon challenges us. The ministry time would require participation in some way mentally. Even moments of quiet meditation cause us to think about God. So..by strict definition, I don't know if entertainment is even a Biblical concept. But, I really don't think that God is against listening to music recreationally. I just don't think it's the primary function of Christian music to entertain.
Ministry, by contrast, is music which has challenging, clear messages, which causes us to examine our life in some way. I'm not so obtuse that I don't think we can be "artsy" and occasionally abstract , but the cumulative effect of our work should be to adjust, challenge, and even convict the listener in some way. And of course, the strongest point about ministry music as that it would have the anointing of God on it…that it is a vehicle which God can use to achieve the above results.
DH: Your concerts are fantastic times of worshipping the Lord but you still do the "oldies" and people really enjoy them. But be honest, have there ever been moments when you would just rather not sing 'Little Country Church' one more time?! ;-)
CG: Once in a while I'll get a request for a song that I'd rather not sing, but mostly the reason I am reluctant is that maybe I don't like the track, or the vocal performance is very difficult. Something like that. I can't say that I really get tired of the songs. But I'm human, and of course, I relish newer material. I'm a fan of many artists, and if I went to see them, I'd want to hear the "hits". So I really don't begrudge it, it's a part off why people come. And the Holy Spirit causes there to be freshness to the performance of each song each time I sing it, much like reading the Bible. That never gets old.
DH: Chuck, as a veteran and pioneer of Christian Contemporary Music, what advice could you give to talented young musicians starting out in the music ministry?
CG: Be sure of your calling. So many kids want to get into the "biz" because they have stars in their eyes, and look up to Amy Grant or DC Talk, and think it's so glamorous. Parts of it are, but it soon wears off, and you realize that the long haul, if you want to truly do something that matters, is difficult. So you need a sense of calling, that God actually wants you to do this, and is guiding your steps. Without this, you are just chasing a dream, and the question is whether or not that dream is inspired by God. I think you hit a key word by saying "ministry" instead of "business". If you want to be in the "biz", I can't help you. If you want to be in the ministry, then the above applies
DH: David, the great Bible figure and musician, was anointed of the Lord and He ministered accordingly. How important is the anointing in ministry today when leading worship, doing concerts, and in your song writing?
CG: Without the anointing, why don't you go into secular music and become REALLY famous and rich. What's the point without God's power? Let's define anointing: to me it's God's power working through you, empowering what you sing or say, causing it to have life for the listener. As a Christian, I have to have that. I pray that my concerts/services will be LIFE CHANGING. I'm too old to go through all the effort to get on a plane, leave my family, and fly sometimes thousands of miles, so that I can sing the oldies for a few old fans, sell a few CDs and receive an offering. God's got to show up. That's why the anointing is so important. And worship is such an important part of bringing that anointing. As God's people worship in Spirit and in truth, God shows up in power. That's when lives can be changed. Same thing with songwriting. God's got to be involved to give me the ideas which will create songs that change lives. The anointing is all important.
DH: Can you tell us a little about your future plans for the next 5 years or so?
CG: Nope, I have found it fruitless to plan. I just have to live each day and see what God does. If I was God, I'd give me a lot of money so I wouldn't have to travel so much and could make the records I want to make, and life could be a LITTLE easier, but He hasn't seen fit to do that, so, I just remain faithful and do the best I can on a daily basis.
DH: Chuck, thanks so much for taking the time for this interview. Any parting words to our readers?
CG: I truly love the people that come to my concerts, buy my music, and support me in other ways. I have always known that my success comes from these people, who connect with what I do, and enjoy it. I have always tried to appreciate them, as I do now, and I hope that is felt by all who have met me or hear my music. I can't have everybody over for dinner, but I so appreciate the support I've received through almost 30 years of doing this. Without you, there would be no Chuck Girard, the artist/minister. I greatly thank you all.