Phil Keaggy, Thirty-Five Years On

This week’s regular podcast is Scott Ross’ recent 700 Club interview with Phil Keaggy, who was recently inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.  Phil is without a doubt the greatest guitarist to have ever graced contemporary Christian music.  And there’s life changing potential in that.

In one of my older articles, I stated the following:

People talk about the 1960’s "British invasion" of rock music; in our case, and especially mine, the conquest was complete. This was important; as Allan Bloom pointed out in The Closing of the American Mind, our literature didn’t do much for our self-identification but our music did. By the time I graduated from prep school, virtually everything I listened to came from the U.K.

When I got to college, I was confronted with contemporary Christian music, in one of two forms. The first was the post-Vatican II folk liturgical music such as we used in our folk masses (I had become a Roman Catholic by then.) The second was the Maranatha style coffee house music.

Contemporary Christian music was in its infancy — and a glorious infancy it was — but I was put off by it. For one thing it was too simplistic and not "heavy" enough. But another serious problem with it was that it was all American. After years of British rock, what came from this side of the Atlantic just didn’t cut it. (This was of course before I discovered the wonder of Adrian Snell, Graham Kendrick, Sheila Walsh and the like.) Never mind that the messages coming out of all this British stuff was not what I needed to hear and that I knew it; old habits were hard to break.

This was a serious challenge; fortunately, there was an answer and a diversion.

The answer took place one night when I vented my frustrations on a friend who was one of the "wannabe Fisherfolks" (we were only about 200 km from the real thing) at my Catholic church.  His response was to challenge me to listen to Phil Keaggy’s What a Day.  I got the album, and the result changed my whole view of Christian music:

The answer was to be found in contemporary Christian music that took the calibre of performance beyond its beginnings. Probably no artist could do this better than Phil Keaggy, who was by Jimi Hendrix’ admission the greatest rock guitarist ever. His What a Day album — a masterpiece even years after its first issue — forced me to take a new look both at Christian music in particular and American music in general…In the middle of all of this the call of God to take a serious step higher with Him was getting louder all the time. The music may have had some deficiencies but what the Christians around me were saying and living looked like an improvement to me. It took some time to get past all of the obstacles I threw in their way but when the crunch came to make a change I did so; as Chuck Girard would sing, I went from the front seat to the back seat and left "all the driving to the Chief."

You can take in this great album at Time Has Told Me.  And you can learn about the Saviour who made the difference for both Phil and myself here.

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