The Gospel Music Hall of Fame Biography
Larry Norman is celebrating more than 45 years as a songwriter and performer.
In 1956 he began writing his songs and performing them in public. He has continued
to perform them all over the world. He has toured exotic places like
Russia, Lebanon, Israel, India, Hong Kong, and Japan. He has also performed
in Western World countries like Australia, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany,
Czech Republic, Poland, Holland, France, Italy, Ireland and the United Kingdom.
He has sung in small clubs like New York’s Bitter End and L.A.’s
Troubadour and also given concerts at The San Francisco Pop Festival and other
outdoor festivals with crowds of up to 180,000. He has performed for The White
House, twice - and in direct contrast, in Moscow at the 80,000 seat Olympic
Stadium. He has headlined at venues like The Hollywood Bowl, The Sydney Opera
House, The Palladium and London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall, which
he has sold out six times; once filling it twice on the same day. Only recently
has he slowed down.
The press has referred to him as “the father of Christian rock” because
it was he who first combined rock and roll with Christian lyrics. In the 70’s
Billboard Magazine called him “the most important writer since Paul Simon.” To
the church, in the early years, these accolades only deepened their doubts about
him. He was banned in most Bible bookstores. But in later years he began to gain
wider acceptance. Christian Artists Seminar awarded him their Lifetime Achievement
Award and Contemporary Christian Music Magazine named Norman's Only Visiting
This Planet record the most significant and influential gospel album ever released
in the field of contemporary Christian music. This kind of recognition is not
new to Norman. Time Magazine once called him “the most significant artist
in his field.” He has said, “I’m just an artist, reaching toward
His recording ministry started in 1966 when he was offered a contract by Capitol
Records and found himself on the same label as The Beatles and The Beach Boys.
His first single, “Riding High,” was a song about the Christian life
through the Holy Spirit. His first album was titled We Need A Whole Lot More
Of Jesus And A Lot Less Rock And Roll. Larry and his band People! opened for
secular groups like The Grateful Dead, The Doors, Janis Joplin, The Byrds and
many others. Larry was outspoken about his beliefs. His music was original and
thought-provoking. Pete Townsend credited Larry's own rock-opera, The Epic, for
inspiring the rock-opera, Tommy, recorded by The Who. In 1969 Larry recorded
his third Capitol album, Upon This Rock, which introduced the songs “I
Wish We’d All Been Ready,” and “Sweet Song of Salvation.”
His style of music had been controversial for almost fifteen years before the
Jesus Movement sprang up. During the Fifties and Sixties, he felt pretty much
alone, but when other Christians began to write songs which were more modern
and rock-based, things began to change. Larry’s broken finger, held up
after each song, had become the One Way sign for the 70’s movement and
his song “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” had become its anthem.
The film A Thief in the Night used this song as part of its storyline. Other
films would later incorporate his music into their soundtracks. His ministry
continued to grow. Over the years his songs were translated into more than a
dozen languages, including Russian and Hebrew. His music was studied in various
universities and seminaries. He became friends with writers like Francis Schaeffer,
Malcolm Muggeridge, and Hal Lindsey. Larry has had over three hundred cover records
of his songs by other groups, including artists like Sammy Davis Junior and
Petula Clark. Later, Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp, Black Francis of The Pixies
nee Frank Black, the group U2, and Van Morrison have called themselves fans.
Larry has been written up by Time Magazine, Billboard, Record World, Cashbox,
Screw, Cosmopolitan and many other secular magazines and newspapers around
the world. To the church these accolades only confirmed his secularity. Upon
This Rock had been banned by the majority of Bible Bookstores for two years.
Only Visiting This Planet remained in limbo for over six years. Although on
stage he rarely smiled and often appeared to be almost daring an audience to
like him, this enfant terrible —the “bad boy of Christian music”— was
making music which could not be ignored; and finally he began to be perceived
not as a “tool of Satan” but as a Christian with an unusual perspective
on both secular and Christian cultures.
After recording three albums for Capitol Records, Larry left and signed with
MGM Records. Working in England with The Beatles’ producer, George Martin,
and the Triumvirate production team in London’s brand new Air Studios,
Larry recorded his next album, Only Visiting This Planet. It contained songs
like “Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music,” “The
Outlaw,” and “Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus.”
In 1973, while recording So Long Ago The Garden for MGM, Larry decided to start
his own record label, Solid Rock Records. He departed from MGM in 1974 and
signed with ABC Records for distribution. At the time, ABC was branching out
by purchasing Word Records - so suddenly Larry’s albums became more acceptable
through association with Word. Before this time his albums may have been widely
available at Tower Records, Our Price and other secular record stores, but
they could rarely be found in Christian bookshops.
However, his first Solid Rock recording, Orphans From Eden, was never released.
His next album, In Another Land, was censored by Word Records, which insisted
upon removing music they felt was “too controversial.” When
his 1976 album, Something New Under The Son, met with similar censorship, he
took off on a seven-month world tour and wrote Voyage Of The Vigilant. This
expansive tour was covered by journalist Steve Turner and also chronicled by
photographer D.C. Riggott.
Larry toured with a rock and roll band and also performed solo sets throughout
America, Canada, Australia, Scandinavia, Germany, France, Italy, Ireland, United
Kingdom and more exotic locales
like Israel, Lebanon, India, Hong Kong, and Japan—but with songs like “Three
Million Gods,” and “Cats Of The Coliseum,” discussing the
Hindu religion and the early martyrdom of Christians in Rome, Voyage Of The
Vigilant was not acceptable because it was considered too “avant garde.” It
was never released.
Despite the censorship difficulties he was experiencing with his own albums,
Larry displayed a talent for helping discover and develop other artists. He
had found Randy Stonehill in obscurity, worked for several years to get him
off drugs, produced Welcome To Paradise, and took Randy with him all across
Europe and America, which firmly established Randy’s recognition by 1977.
Larry discovered Steve Camp, who signed with Solid Rock and then asked Larry
to let him sign with Myrrh Records. Larry had discovered Keith Green, even
before he had become a Christian. He helped lead Keith to conversion
but felt that he was too restless to work with peacefully, so Keith signed
with Sparrow. A country group on the verge of breaking up came to Larry
and he jump-started a new career for them with the release of the experimental
rock album, Horrendous Disc. Mark Heard was working in a chicken cage factory
when Larry met him. Larry invited him to join Solid Rock. The albums these
artists released on Solid Rock, have generally been considered the most definitive
albums they ever recorded. Larry also discovered Steve Taylor and Scott
Wesley Brown in their early years but was, regrettably, too busy to record.
This “golden age of Solid Rock” was still in full flower, and Larry
was getting ready to sign with Warner Brothers when he was involved in the
airplane accident of 1978 which injured his spine, neck, and skull—and
caused him partial brain damage and silenced his literate voice for the next
twelve years. Larry dismantled Solid Rock and moved to Europe.
He started a new label, Phydeaux—as in “Fido.” At the time,
Larry joked that “if Christian music was going to the dogs, then he wanted
to remain on the cutting edge.” Phydeaux released several studio compilations
and bootleg style albums to compete with the illegal albums like “Live
At The Mac,” being released by bootleggers and music pirates like Randy
Larry has been re-discovered by Christian grunge, punk, metal and major CCM
groups who perform his songs as standards. His songs have been recorded by
contemporary artists like DC Talk, Rebecca St. James, Audio Adrenaline and
others. His recent albums have become harder edged and even more confrontational.
Larry continued to travel extensively through other countries, coming back
to America occasionally to report on his adventures. Although he avoided
Christian television, granted very few interviews, and did not try to push
his ministry as a commercial business - his ministry continued to grow.
His desire to preach went far beyond the format of vinyl; into evangelism.
He led Susan Perlman to Christ and with Moishe Rosen she developed the international
ministry, Jews for Jesus. And in 1974 Larry started The Vineyard Church which
met in his living room on Wednesdays in Los Angeles. It grew to become several
hundred churches around the world.
In 2001 Larry was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
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