As told by Dana Angle
The way before "The Way"
It all started in January 1971. Ric Latendresse became aware of a tiny little church in Costa Mesa, CA, called Calvary Chapel. In discussions with his sister about why she suddenly was so happy, she informed him of this "little church" where the spirit of God had moved upon her heart. Since he had graduated from high school, he had been struggling with drugs and alcohol like a lot of teenagers, and found his life had a big void. So, his sister talked him into going with her to a Wednesday night church service. It was a very small typical little church, humble, but practical. What made it so special was not the church, but the people. On a Monday night, it was filled with so many people, that they would open up all the doors, and people would just spill out, onto the patio. They would sit cross legged on the floor; anywhere you could find a patch of open carpet. They would be dressed in typical church garb. Typical for...? Bare feet, torn jeans with "the more holes the better", t-shirts, crop tops, dresses made from tapestries, and did I mention hair? Boys as much or more than the girls had hair down to.
The pastor was always smiling, glowing with confidence, balding and slightly overweight and about twenty years older than the attendees. The assistant pastor…..looked like a hippie. Now back to Ric. After attending several Bible studies, he was stubborn in giving his heart over to the Lord. The Holy Spirit working on his heart, combined with new Christian music, finally broke down his defenses, and finally, Ric accepted Jesus in to his life as his Lord and Savior. Ric had discovered that this place was special. He invited his friend Bruce Herring to attend a special concert at the church, where this hippie looking minister was preaching and young Christian musicians were playing songs and delivering the Gospel. That night, Bruce accepted the Lord into his life and his life was instantly changed.
Now, Bruce and I met when we were twelve. We had several classes together in seventh grade, in Pomona, CA, and we became friends. We were both very into "The Beach Boys" and "The Beatles", so we instantly had a lot in common. Bruce taught me my first chord on the guitar and I was very jealous when he could play "Gloria". In eighth grade we formed a band (The Sound Society) and competed in a local battle of the bands. We played "Hanky Panky" by "Tommy James and the Shondells". We were in bands together off and on through junior and senior high. When I was a senior in high school, Bruce's band (I was jealous) played at our school dance. He was the drummer and the lead singer, and was doing a great job of covering "Led Zeppelin" and "The Doors".
Bruce was over at my house one day. We had both graduated from high school and were in our first semester at Mt. San Antonio College. We crossed each others paths often in college, because of the layout of the campus, and I had received a call from him to get together. We had never, ever discussed religion or anything close to that before, but after noticing that I had a Bible next to my bed, he started to tell me about his experiences at C.C. He invited me to come along and I said yes.
Now Gary Arthur, all this time, was attending the same high school as Bruce and I. He was an outstanding athlete, along with his brother Larry, and were the league standouts in gymnastics. I was a sprinter on the track team, and practiced the high hurdles on a daily basis during PE. Gary and several other members of the gymnastics team would come out to the track to try the pole vault, which to a gymnast must seem intriguing. We met through talking on the track and discovered we had similar interests. Gary had moved to Pomona his junior year and spent two years at the same high school as Bruce and I. Gary and I used to play guitar every day on the college campus during our first year. We would gather with other musicians and have acoustic guitar jam sessions. The sessions were so much fun, that it was very tempting, not to go to class. Gary and I both lived to play. Gary had taken piano lessons and had a good ear for music. Even though Gary was just beginning to play guitar, with his strong hands, he very quickly caught up with his guitar talents. He would play rhythm guitar and I played lead. We would play songs by "Crosby, Stills, and Nash", "The Band", "James Taylor" and many others. Sometimes for hours at a time, till our hands and finger tips were too numb to play. So Gary and I were playing music on a daily basis, and along comes Bruce, and invites me to see a band called "Love Song" at C.C., and I mentioned it to Gary and he was very interested in going to see a live band play at a church. So, Ric asked Bruce, who in turn asked me, who then asked Gary.
So, now we have Ric Latendresse, Bruce Herring, Gary Arthur, and Dana Angle, all cramming into Ric's Volkswagen, and heading down, forty miles south of Pomona, to a little church in Costa Mesa.
That night……. that night the world seemed different. That night was the night I became a Christian and accepted Jesus into my heart. With Gary, he was already a Christian, who would rededicate his life to Jesus. Love Song played that night and, through music, put the whole story into the most, clever and intelligent music I've ever heard. They had and continue to have a very special talent with lyrics. They're words and music cut right through my heart and Gods spirit had me on me knees. Chuck Smith delivered his typical, down to earth, sermon and I was hooked on the Gospel of Jesus for the first time in my life. We all began to attend Calvary Chapel as much as possible. At least once a week, sometimes more, we would hop into the VW and trek down to church. There were several ministers, at that time, at Calvary Chapel. Lonnie Frisbee and Chuck Smith were dynamic speakers and only spoke what the Bible said. Laverne Romaine was an ex-marine with the appearance of a lion and the heart of a lamb. There were no strange interpretations, although later on, Chuck and Lonnie parted ways. It was always Chuck's church to begin with. I always thought that Chuck Smith was the best teacher, because he has the gift of relating the bible stories in terms, and language that was down to earth, and easy to understand. Suddenly, all, of the gospel of Jesus Christ was making sense. We were all overwhelmed with our newly found……………..
What do Christian musicians do with their spare time, when they are not going to college, or going to church? Bruce had started to teach Ric how to play guitar and Ric had been working on a song. Inevitably, the four of us gathered together to see, ….. if,….. we,…... could ,….maybe, find or write something that might resemble a "Christian Song". We got together at Ric's house to work on whatever God put on our hearts. Once we got together at my house and were working on a song I was starting to write called "If You Will Believe". We also got together at Gary's house and we worked on a song he was writing call "Jesus is all that we need". Bruce was working on his first songs, "Jesus, is the One" and "Jesus, I Want to Serve You". After a while, Ric began realized that learning bass might be easier than guitar, so we bought a bass and he began to memorize the finger positions for each song. One time, when we were over at Gary's house practicing and writing, his sister Sherry came into the room and started to sing with us. Her high voice sounded timid, but sweet, and for a short period of time, she was considered a member and rehearsed with us. We were sitting around trying to think of a name for our band and she said, "How 'bout "The Way"?" We all kind of looked at each other and said yeah, "The Way", that'll work.
Now we were five. We practiced and practiced, and slowly the foundation of "The Way" started to take form. It was obvious where our strengths were. Bruce was the best singer, I was the best guitar player, Gary had a very pure high voice that was suited for harmonies and played great rhythm guitar. Most all of our songs were comprised of three part harmonies. Ric sang harmony on some songs and Sherry would often come in a full octave above the lead. I have failed to mention before, that Bruce and I were in every single chorus, glee club, chamber singers, and madrigal singers, class together, from the time we were in seventh grade, all through high school. We both had been training our ears together for a long time, before we tackled the intricate harmonies that were required in our songs. Bruce, Gary, and I, were starting to harmonize, and even more importantly, blend our vocals together. We individually and collectively had written almost a dozen songs, and it was time to play in front of somebody.
After Ric got saved, he asked permission from Chuck to play the song he was working on, at one of the Bible studies. Well, when we showed up, to Chuck's surprise, there were five of us and we went by the name "The Way" We played a couple of songs and Chuck liked us and gave us the green light to play at another study again soon. Finally, the night had arrived, and we were slated to perform our songs after a short study. We played for about forty five minutes….. we kept looking over at Chuck Smith to see if we were going to get "the hook", and he just kept smiling back at us with that glowing smile if his and we just kept playing.
Funny thing is…… there's this thing called, God's Holy Spirit, which was starting to work big time in this "little country church" (Sorry, Chuck. No the other Chuck.) and all of a sudden we were just flying high as a kite on God's love and spirit, watching the people, remember the place is packed to the limit, lifting their hands up in the air, feeling the love of God, and clapping for us like we were "The Who" instead of "The Way", and tears were falling everywhere. Chuck Smith came up and gave a short alter call, and twenty or thirty people came forward to accept Jesus and His gospel, into their lives. Wow…..wow…. we couldn't think of anything else to say on our way home. Sorry, if I keep using the word overwhelmed, but we truly were. Shortly after that, we were invited by Chuck to play at a snowy retreat outside of Las Vegas. Yes, I said snow…..Las Vegas, in the same sentence, but there's this place called Mt. Charleston outside of Las Vegas, and it had snow on the ground, and they wanted us to play. Well, we're all nineteen and twenty years old and the only transportation we had was Ric's VW. So, all five of us crammed into that VW and did I mention the clothes and the four guitars we had to also bring, including snow gear. What a sight it was, with two guitars tied on top of the VW along with some clothes, and two guitars on the inside, along with some clothes, and five people, all trekking across the desert in this Volkswagen bug.
We were young and new, and nothing was going to keep us from playing anywhere Chuck Smith had invited us to play. In the middle of the desert we ran into a sand storm and had to bring the other guitars inside. The Highway Patrol closed off the road, so we sat in the VW for several hours, in a parking lot, at a MacDonald's, with all of our instruments, all of our clothes and the five of us inside, just stargazing and imagining what God's Holy spirit was going to do next in our lives. Nothing could faze us. We were steadfast in our work and in His love. We finally made it to the retreat, and nobody could believe what we went through to get there. It was nothing to us; we were high on God's love.
"The Way"...on vinyl
There were many bands being formed during those days. As with most Christian musicians, the opportunity to play and sing for The Lord was hard to pass up. There were new bands forming, and a lot of extremely talented people were, sort of, brought together, all at once to, I guess, form God's new army of musicians to spread the Gospel. Maranatha! Music was formed as a record label and publishing company. Maranatha! Music's first album was forged from young, dedicated Christian musicians, putting their best foot forward, to follow the wave of the Spirit of God that was spreading across the land. We were invited to play one of our songs on the first Maranatha album, which was titled "The Everlasting, Living Jesus Music Concert" (to be known from now on, for the sake of simplicity, as Maranatha! One), and we were above the clouds with joy.
Collectively, we selected "If You Will Believe". So along with the groups, Love Song, Country Faith, Blessed Hope, Children of the Day, Gentile Faith, Selah and Debbie Kerner (Rettino), we forged ahead to the studios to praise God on vinyl. Some where along the way Gary's sister Sherry, who was always just as shy as can be anyways, decided that she was suffering from too much stage fright, and decided not to go on with the band. That left us with four.
What's it going to be like in a real, live, professional recording studio? We could hardly wait, but at the same time we were so green that we really had no idea, at all, what to expect. Praise the Lord! and pass the guitar strings, we were going in to the studio. We were not sure what to expect, but we didn't expect this. Our professional recording studio had the address of somebody's house. We pulled up to the address given to us and discovered it was just somebody's house in Huntington Beach. We knocked and Buddy King came to the door. He was smiling, he was always smiling, even when he was mad, which was seldom, he was smiling. Studio engineers, by nature, HAVE to have a LOT of patience. (That wasn't is real name, just his studio name) He invited us into his house and we were amazed that the entire bottom floor of a two story house had been converted into a recording studio. He had sealed off his living room and built a little booth. There were patch panel bulkheads, and red lights, and a four channel Ampex recorder with a twelve input mixing board. By contrast, today's modern studio usually has between 24 and 32 tracks to record on, with sixty four soon being possible We were surprised to find that one of his main recording rooms was the downstairs bathroom. He said it had a LIVE sound. The mixing board was used, and recently purchased by Buddy from the studio that had just recorded "Led Zeppelin One". His house was the upstairs level, and every now and then we'd see his wife or daughter come down and leave real fast while we were on a break. Buddy went on, later in life, to open "Sound Castle Studios" in Hollywood and became very successful.
We quickly learned how to overdub and put multiple instruments on to one track. We also learned quickly that when that red light goes on, your under a microscope, it's time to perform or else. We recorded "If You Will Believe", with multiple harmonies and a guitar solo. This was my first guitar solo, ever, in a recording studio. Buddy set up the microphone, and told me to practice my solo a couple of times while he adjusted levels and then he'll try a take (recording). I heard the music in my headphones and began my solo with the utmost concentration, and practiced my solo while he was setting levels. After the first practice run, he called me into the booth and everyone had funny looks on their faces. He told me to listen while he played back the solo I thought I was practicing. We were pretty much stunned! I don't think I ever played a solo again as easy as that one, in a studio situation. Usually, when the RED light comes on, and you begin recording, there's a certain amount of pressure that keeps you from totally relaxing.
You realize that when the red light comes on, money is being spent at a very rapid rate, and this is going to be a reflection of "The Best" that you can do. Sometimes, your best performance is before the light comes on. Buddy had tricked me and it's a good thing. It's very rare to get anything in a recording studio on the first take, and to me, it was God blessing what we were doing. Anyway, our song is finally finished and our producer, Peter Jacobs (Children of the Day), says, it's time to mix (or blend all of the tracks together), for one complete song. Mixing down at Buddy's studio was kind of like playing twister. His small control booth was easily overcrowded. Many different hands were needed in such a small space to get a good mix. Oh, I have to reach this treble control, watch out I have a vocal to bring up, let me get at this guitar solo coming up, careful I have a vocal level change coming up. Later on when we were recording our first solo album, we would duplicate these feats, only with more hands trying to control more levels, kind of like twister for six. Also, Buddy had tape all over the mixing console with grease pencil level markings all over the board. It was difficult to remember which markings pertained to your mixing task.
Finally, Maranatha's first album was complete. There was something about that album that just kind of jumped out at you. It was produced, performed, and completed by young, spirit filled Christians, that were performing purely for the joy being used by God. There were no superstars, no egos, no cigar laden producers bickering over marketing strategies. Just young Christian musicians doing their praising, the way they know best, through music. Our song was well liked and we felt like we had better stuff and we couldn't wait to get back in to the studio.
The New Way
We had concert dates coming up and more recording opportunities being presented to us. Maranatha! Music was already planning their next album, ("Maranatha! Two"), and we were being invited to play two songs on this one. Only this time we knew what to expect and we were better prepared. When "Maranatha! Two" was released, we were lucky to be granted two songs, "Jesus Is All That We Need" (Gary's song), and "Jesus Is the One" (Bruce's song). Now, Ric Latendresse is a very intelligent person with a lot of class. He was our spiritual leader early on and for a while our ONLY source of transportation. He was beginning to realize that learning, on the fly, with our band was becoming very difficult. We were writing songs at a rapid rate, and his limitations were being exposed. He started to feel very uncomfortable while playing. It's not easy at all playing and singing in front of people. And it's especially difficult to be "just learning your instrument" at the rate we were going. Ric's decision to quit the band was an extremely difficult choice to make.
It's hard to walk away from something you've worked hard on, and it's very difficult to walk away from a fun relationship. But, with Ric's mature decision, we were three. We weren't sure what to do next, we prayed for God to give us wisdom and patience. Now John Wickham grew up in Orange, CA and had been playing guitar in bands for a while, and one of his older brothers bands would rehearse in Santa Ana. The drummer for his brother's band was Alex MacDougall and he would watch them rehearse and sometimes jam with them. When Alex and his brother Dave (Bo) accepted the Lord into their lives, Alex invited John to attend C.C. and pretty soon the Lord was working in John's life, also.
Calvary Chapel was holding a summer retreat up in the San Bernardino Mountains and anyone who could attend was invited. All of the musicians of the Calvary flock were invited to play, so it was like a music fest for musicians. During the day we would have bible studies and play softball, and at night we would have sermons and music. During the day, on one of the days that we were there, we decided to jam on our instruments, playing for the first time with musicians from other bands. A very relaxed and informal get together. Some people would come in and pick up the bass and play for a while and then leave and another would come in and take his place. For a while, it was just Bruce, Gary, and I, when John comes walking in and starts playing bass guitar on one of the songs we were working on. We instantly sounded better. John had a very humble spirit, and his soft spoken demeanor, worked well with our blend of personalities. John was a good bass player, but we soon found out that he was an excellent guitar player. Hey, I thought I was the lead guitar player.
We quickly discovered that John was the best musician in the band, and I, very humbly, started to share lead guitar duties. This posed different problems for the band that we had not encountered before. But, that was OK, we invited John to join the band and he said "Yeah, OK, ...I guess" We now had the dilemma of having two acoustic rhythm guitar players and two electric lead guitar players, and no bass player. Well, we all started to play bass. Bruce was always a good bass player. His experiences in playing the drums gave him a good understanding of rhythm patterns. Gary became a good bass player, his good musical ear, and his strong hands from gymnastics made it easier to pick up the bass. John was a good bass player and I was always trying to play lead bass. So we threw up the deck and let the cards land where they may. Every song we performed seemed to have different people on different instruments. Watching "The Way" was like watching a carousel of musical instruments. We were switching fools.
"Oh Lord, thou art the potter and we are the clay"
We, also, were starting to become relatively well known, within small Christian circles. We had been asked to perform for several tours that had been organized and coordinated by outside sources. One was to the Houston area, and the other one was to the Seattle area. Ray Johnson had the vision to bring us to Houston. He flew us out there (a rare occurrence), and made all of the arrangements, which were much nicer than usual. While we were in Houston, we played at many different venues. One in particular was The University of Houston. Just from having songs on "Maranatha! One" and Maranatha! Two, we were starting to be known in Christian circles across the country. They sold tickets to the concert at the university and they almost sold out. We were starting to realize the effect that that "little church", and the work that God was doing there, was having on the Christian Movement as a whole. While we were in Texas, we met a young art student named Tracy Guthrie, whose specialty was sculpture. During our stay in Houston, he invited us to his house to see the sculptures he had made. The first was a front porch setting with people sitting on a swing, and the other, was a small country train station with people waiting for a train. I'm not sure who had the idea first, Gary or our new friend, but Tracy decided he was going to take pictures of us posing and then work on sculptures of the band. He took many pictures in several locations. In one shot, I was kneeling on the ground with the others standing behind me, when this little dog from down the street came running up to me and set its paws on my leg, probably to lick my face. At that moment, Tracy snapped a shot with the dog on my leg. Later, we agreed to pay him a certain amount to work on the sculptures of the band members. We were back in California when the statues arrived. They were magnificent. They were proportionate and relative to scale. When mine arrived it had the little dog with its paws on my leg.
Meanwhile back at the Calvary ranch, Maranatha! Music was starting to put out album after album. The "small circle of musicians" were becoming the new musical voice for young Christian music. I'm not saying they were the only ones, Larry Norman, Andrae Crouch, Paul Clark, Randy Stonehill, and too many others to mention, were all being blessed by the Holy Spirit of God. And his word was being put in to music in more areas than ever before, by young musicians who were willing to go anywhere to play, and spread "The Word of God".
This story so far had taken place over a period of time between January of 1971 and December of 1972. That "Little Church" had way overgrown its capacity. Fire Marshall's finally said "HEY, No Way!" Down the street, where there used to be orange groves, was some land that had been purchased by the church. Calvary Chapel purchased the largest tent I've have ever seen. It had to have held about 1500 people.
Before long, the tent was filled with people, four times a day on Sundays, and just about every night of the week. Calvary Chapel had broken ground on a new 1800 seat chapel next door and everybody knew that the tent was only temporary. Actually, the new chapel was outgrown before they ever moved into it. So, instead of trying to get everyone to go to Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, Chuck Smith started to oversee Calvary Chapels, in other cities, with the new pastors being appointed by him. At last count, I believe, there were over eight hundred Calvary Chapels around the world.
Before long, the new chapel was complete, and Maranatha! Music was giving us the green light to work on our own album. It was the seventh album Maranatha was going to release and our production number was HS-777/7, the lone seven indicating the seventh album. The four of us got together to pray and discuss which songs might be appropriate for our new album. We all voted in a very democratic manner for our final selection. The songs we selected showed the variety of singers and songwriters we had in the band.
Up to this point, we were pretty much an acoustic band, meaning most of our songs were centered around the acoustic guitar sound. We added bass guitar to give our sound bottom, but we did not have a drummer. This made our sound more mellow than rockish, and part of that was because of the relatively smaller audiences we were playing to. And the kind of people that were listening to our songs, mostly church goers who were already saved, and were just strengthening their walk, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But, for the album, we knew that some of our songs had to have drums or percussion, due to the nature of the songs. This is where Alex MacDougall comes back into the story. Does anybody know any drummers? John, "Well, I do!" We were rehearsing with Alex as our drummer, for the album, within a week. He was an excellent drummer and almost an even better percussionist. His rhythm was solid and true, and we again became instantly better because of our newly found talents, namely John and Alex. Before long we were back at Buddy King Studios, only this time we were in charge of our own project. We were diligent to the task. We went in and we knew what we wanted. By now Buddy King Studios had progressed enough, to purchase an eight channel Ampex recorder, meaning we had four more channels than we had before. This meant that with a lot of ping-ponging of tracks, we could get closer to the Hollywood studio quality.
In the mean time Gary had taken all of our custom sculptured statues into a professional photography studio, along with some wood he had stained as a background. When we saw the final album cover with the statues on the front we were very, very pleased. What a blessing this project had been so far and little did we know what a blessing it would continue to be.
Shortly after our album was released in mid 1973, we were being booked to do concert tours all over the country including Hawaii. We found ourselves playing in increasingly larger venues. What used to be little churches were now becoming auditoriums and music festivals. Our album moved into the top ten of the Christian Music selling market and all of a sudden we were away as much as we were home. We toured in a van that we bought from friends that we had met in Houston. It was a big Chevy van with no seats, and a lot of windows. Once, we were booked to perform on a tour of the Washington D.C. area. There was a church in D.C. that wanted Debby Kerner and The Way to come and play. We only had our one van. We piled all of our equipment into the bed of the van, as flat as we could make it, and then we threw a mattress on top, to lie on, during our tour. We also brought along a soundman, which was a first for us, named Steve Giglio. He went by Bugsy for short. That meant that the five of us, plus our two new guests, had to pile into the van, and ride that way all the way across the country. I think it was especially tough on Debbie. She had to watch her blood sugar levels and touring sometimes made that very difficult. Sometimes the conditions under which we were touring were very hard to take. Sometimes the lack of decent food got to us and it was hard to stay cheerful. Sometimes we would drive for 16 hours, sleep for four and get up at dinner time to start getting ready for a 7:00 concert. Such was the life of a musician, but the difference was that God was working everywhere we went. When we played, God was always true to His word and the Holy Spirit would just fill the places we were playing. Every time we played people would come forward and dedicate their lives to the Lord.
Before long we were being booked to play at a lot of college campuses, and surprisingly, prisons. We met a young, eager Christian named Sean Michael, who wanted to be our soundman full time. Once on the road, I'm not sure that he was so sure that he had made the right decision, but he was a "Road Warrior" and he stuck with us through thick and thin, which says a lot for his character. Our mellow sound was no longer cutting it for these types of situations. We decided that we needed a rocky set of songs, and some high energy country songs, to fit into the places we were ministering. The size and power of our equipment had to be increased and our songs had to be more up-tempo. This meant that a soundman was no longer a luxury, but a necessity. This also meant that we were probably going to lose a lot of our listeners, who preferred our mellower side, but the nature our ministry was changing. We now were ready for large concerts. Bruce would sing lead and mostly play acoustic guitar, Gary would play bass almost full time now, John and I would play lead at the same time, and switch off(we were known for our dual lead guitar solos), and Alex joined the band, and played drums and percussion.
Several tours and thousands and thousands of miles later, we were slated by Maranatha! Music to go back into to studio, for our second album, "Can It Be?" This time they gave us a bigger budget. And this time we able to procure the services of a Christian brother named Al Perkins, to be the producer of our album. Al Perkins had played and recorded with many pro touring bands, including Steven Stills Manassas, and was way ahead of us as far as The Right Way to go about a professional sounding product. Now, Love Song was under contract by a Hollywood producer that owned his own studio. Through channels of discussion, were invited to use the studio when they could fit us in. His studio was called "Mama Jo's" and it was in North Hollywood. We had done a little bit of recording there for the first album and now we had the whole studio to ourselves for our second project. This studio was very professional with all "State of the Art" equipment, and we had it all to ourselves…….. during the hours they could fit us in, which were 8:00 pm to 6:00 am. The rest of the time the studio was being occupied by a band called "Ambrosia" and some upstart producer named Alan Parsons. Anyway, we struggled through the nightshift schedule, many times falling asleep on the floor, anywhere, while drums and guitars were being recorded. We would just wait, until it was our turn, to contribute to the recording process. Someone would say "Hey go wake up Bruce, it's time for him to sing a lead vocal" but we were still blessed as can be to be there, and never, ever complained. And finally our second album was complete. It was rockier ("Do You Feel The Change" and "Livin' on the Bottle"}, and had more lively country tunes ("Cowboy's Dream" and "Sittin' in the Pew"), and we actually had string section play on one of our songs ("Bearded Young Man").
Our second album came out in fall 1975. Along with its release came more bookings and more being introduced to the word of God through music. We were now full on professional music ministers with our own custom van and a trailer that we could put all of our equipment and suitcases in. By now, we had five musicians, one soundman, two wives, one baby, and a booking agency that was keeping us plenty busy. The toll of constant traveling was starting to wear on us. We quite often had heated discussions about silly things. Alex decided that he had had enough touring and asked to step out of the band. It was sad, but we all understood. He had a great sense of humor and was very stable in his emotions. His loss was more than just musical. We replaced Alex with a highly technical drummer from Laguna Beach named Michael Fickling. Mike had been schooled on the Buddy Rich style of drumming. That just means that he's good, very good. Along with Michael, came his wife and we now added one more to the van.
Michael was famous for his twenty minute drum solos that were highly technical and dynamic. Once we were playing at a high school mid-day assembly up in tri-cities, Washington State. We were used to blank faces and smirks from high school students, and most high schoolers are extremely critical. In the middle of our set, Michael would stop and perform a drum solo. These high schoolers jaws dropped to the floor when they saw him play his solo, and they ended up giving him a standing ovation. His talents were very useful in getting peoples attention.
At this point in our career, we were now being booked to perform with the biggest names in Christian music. We were playing at festivals, on TV shows, in concerts in huge auditoriums. Knott's Berry Farm and Disneyland had become annual places. Every year C.C. would rent out Knott's for a Christian Music Festival and we would play at one or another of their many stages. Love Song, who had the largest draw, was always slated to perform in the John Wayne Theater, which was Knott's premier venue. My favorite place was up in a cave, behind a waterfall, looking out over the huge crowd of people. Sounds like an Andreas Vollenwieder CD. The only problem with the cave was it sounded like a cave when you were up there, and you could never get an accurate gauge of how you sounded while you were playing. Oh, well people were walking around feeling very blessed, and I'm not sure it mattered, how we sounded, just as long as we were praising the Lord.
After another year of touring Bruce decided that he had had enough, too. With a new baby, it was hard traveling all of the time. We had several tours booked and we now needed a replacement for Bruce. We were introduced to a Christian artist named Jim Stipech. He agreed to fill in, and he quickly learned Bruce's lead vocal parts as well as learning Bruce's guitar parts. He went with us on several tours and filled in quite nicely, but I always felt the void that Bruce left.
"The Way"... we were
The hardest part about being on the road is that you're sleeping in different beds night after night and eventually you start to suffer from exhaustion and sleep deprivation and you really don't realize it. You just start to become sort of cantankerous and out of sorts. Your patience level becomes lower and things start to set you off. The highs were very high and the lows were very low. It took a lot of devotion to keep up the pace we were setting. Traveling in one van, with eight or nine people, who all have different needs and tastes, was at times kind of like being married to eight or nine people, all at once. There was little privacy, and all of our quirks and idiosyncrasies had long been over exposed. Everybody knew everybody else, TOO well. Only through a lot of studying the Bible and listening to Chuck Smith's Bible studies on tape, were we able to keep it together.
I can't even begin to tell you what the music ministry of other Christian bands meant to us. When we were on the road, with hours and hours and hours of blacktop ahead of us, bands like Love Song, Phil Keaggy, Malcolm and Alwyn, Sonlight, and Seawind, kept us from become spiritually stagnant. We were in a spiritual battle for six years. The forces of the dark side didn't like what we were doing, and was constantly trying to divert us, distract us or divide us. The powers behind what we were doing were greater, and the power of the Holy Spirit continued to move, whenever, and wherever we played. Finally in 1977, we had reached our limit. The constant road life had worn us down. We were older, with families, and the time spent away from home, was just too much. We decided to call it quits after six years. In those six years, we did twelve years of living. We completely wore out two vans. We traveled so many miles, that we lost count after one hundred thousand. We ate the best food and the worst food. We got thrown out of a truck stop diner in Tennessee, because of our looks. We got chased out of a gas station in Arkansas, by an owner with a shotgun, in the middle of the night, when we were out of gas, because he didn't like our looks. We slid across many, many bridges, covered with black ice, fish tailing and praying we wouldn't go sideways. We had the pastor of a church, apologize to his congregation, for the way we looked, after we had just finish playing, while the Holy Spirit was moving on peoples hearts, and he should have been giving an alter call. One time we were playing at a beach concert in Northern California, spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, when a fire broke out on a hill directly behind where we were playing.
Once we played a concert in Livonia, MI., and the next day we were supposed to play an afternoon performance in Buffalo, NY. It would have been easy to get there by cutting across Canada, but they wanted to charge us $1.00 duty on each of the "The Way" albums we were bringing into the country. Well, we had three to four hundred albums traveling with us, and we ended up driving all night, going around the southern end of Lake Michigan, and finally arriving in Buffalo, only to find out that our contact had over stated his commitment. Our performance was to about a dozen people in a coffee shop. We ended up that night, sleeping on the floor, and in chairs, at his house, and having Ragu and Kool-Aid for dinner. All we could do was to pray that God would bless his ministry, and be on our way to the next town.
Such was the life on the road. We were never subsidized by Calvary Chapel or Maranatha! Music. Most of the money we lived off of came from love offerings. In the later years, when we had a booking agent, they would ask for a deposit to keep people serious and committed. Now, please remember, this story is just one persons interpretation of events that took place thirty years ago. I'm sure that with five different members, you would get five different viewpoints of the events revolving around "The Way". I'm trying to be as accurate as possible in describing these events, as I remember them. I also apologize to anybody whose name I have left out, or names I might have misspelled. We met thousands of Christian brothers and sisters who treated us well, and to whom we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude. All in all, we were still very blessed to chosen by God to do his work. Nothing will ever compare to watching the Holy Spirit work through our band, and nothing ever felt as good, as watching God softening people hearts, and welcoming them into the Kingdom of God. Thank you Jesus!