John Peel isn't easily fooled. So when he claims that an LP by a somewhat unknown artist has 'honour, truth, kindness, and a lot of good music', then it is more than probably worth a second look. John Peel did say all that. And he said it about the album Upon This Rock by twenty-five year old Californian Larry Norman.
Larry sings Jesus-rock and has been hailed as 'the leading musical spokesman of the Jesus Revolution'. He certainly is a clear, concise talker. Which is probably why he is so often quoted by the media. I talked to Larry earlier this year while he was spending a whirlwind month of concerts in Britain. Already behind him was his opening concert at Lancaster University, after which an organiser commented:
"I can honestly say that I have never seen anything like it here, be it anyone from Pink Floyd to the Who."
And still to come was a Purley club about which a more than cynical local pressman wrote
"If, like me, you see Christianity as a reluctantly but irrevocably dying mythology, Larry Norman is still worth hearing for his music and himself. His songs, mainly self-penned, are inventive blues-based compositions which he brings to life with a vocal range that few other white soul-singers can equal."
Those two dates were about a month apart and between them Larry was busy cramming in over thirty appearances, including radio and tv. No wonder he eyed me wearily as we talked. I discovered that Larry had suffered a very conspicuous childhood. He was the only white boy in all black San Fransisco slum neighbourhood.
I didn't fit in well,
he told me,
I was very white white. At an early age I realised that God was real and I asked Jesus to show me and Jesus came into my life. It wasn't in a very conventional way at all - I'd call it very unconventional just because of my surroundings.
It's a very normal thing - Jesus has been very practical. Jesus got me through the slums without getting murdered. I just walked with him as though he were really there and not a spirit just floating around.
His Christianity is not the only unconventional part of his life. While I was driving him at speed to a press interview Larry decided to change his trousers - and did so. Another first for the A3? Larry was once the lead singer with People, who had a massive hit in the States and, of all places, Japan with I Love You (But The Words Won't Come). But he left to sing about Jesus.
His current album in Britain Upon This Rock was recorded nearly three years ago but sank without trace in the States. Larry told me
It was too religious for the rock and roll stores and too rock and roll for the religious stores.
But now he finds the public ready for his thing. Larry assured me that he had no big aim to be a star. He told me,
I think we should all be servants. To be really great in God's eyes is to be least among each other and serve each other. That's so practical. I don't see the point in being a star - it takes a lot of energy to carry yourself off as being more perfect than somebody else. I'd rather just be available with all my weaknesses.
In simple terms, Larry sees himself as a Christian who just happens to sing. But not necessarily as a preacher.
Art is more engaging that propaganda
He currently has a single out in Britain on MGM and called Righteous Rocker Holy Roller. Alan Freeman aired the disc on Pick Of The Pops with the comment
"That's a hell of a record."
No doubt, considering the content, he didn't really know what he was saying.