I've commented before on the sometimes deadening aspect of the Christian music business (that's business in the perjorative sense), but I was reminded today that it's not a new phenomena. If you are over 35 or you have an appreciation for music history, you might remember CCM pioneer Randy Matthews, last heard from on a great album, The Edge of Flight, released in 1990. Yes, 1990, 16 years ago, with great support from the likes of Gordon Kennedy, Phil Madeira, and Ashley Cleveland, after which he faded into obscurity, an industry casualty.
What happened? Well, this was one wild man for Jesus. In 1971, in his hometown of Cincinnati, Randy and Jesus Movement figure Arthur Blessit organized Spiritual Revolution day, carrying crosses and banners through town and generating front page coverage. Randy, a good guitar player and singer, with a voice like Springsteen, told hilarious jokes and provocative stories. Randy pitched his own record to Word Records in Texas, which was not then in the popular music business, and was turned over to a new employee named Bill Ray Hearn (that's Sparrow Records' future President Hearn), and the records flowed, ten of them to be exact.
The problem is, Randy pushed the boundaries. At Jesus '74, he unveiled a tight band with a psychedelic sound. The promoters were aghast and turned off the power during the performance. That concert, and an unproved rumor that he was doing drugs, ruined his career. He kept recording, but he never regained his standing. It was unfair what happened to him, a result of a lack of understanding of his music and slanderous charges. So, that's what happens sometimes in the business.
Randy's last record was self-released. After all, who would have signed him? It's a sad fact that in his 40s he was deemed too old to sell many records in a business where good looks and youth are rewarded. Gee, he should have gone into folk music. You sure don't have to be young and handsome to do well there.
I don't know what Randy is doing now. At one time he was selling Native-American art from a storefront in Englewood, Florida. Reportedly he also played the singing Redbeard the Pirate in some cheesy Florida tourist trap. Last of all, I saw that he was doing a concert back in 2000 as an outreach to the Florida Rainbow Family Gathering? (Yikes.) And he is associated with a very out-there church called the Logos Deliverance Fellowship (they deliver you from demonic possession and alien abductions).
Well, I don't know about all this, but I have to believe that had Christian folk been more understanding of Randy and kept him within the larger church body, we would have preserved a man with a great gift for use in the church and larger society. As it is, it seems we marginalized him, and rather than stay and fight, he took to the margins.
You can't find Randy's music on amazon.com, much less in stores, but if you can get a copy of the album Son of Dust on ebay, by all means get it. Great music. And say a prayer for Randy -- out there on the edge of Christendom.
[I have attached an MP3 file of "Make Believe," one of the best cuts from Randy's last record here: