Hendrix never heard of him, but he’s still great

May 8, 2013
Do you think Paul McCartney would have gone in a Christian bookstore to buy Phil's music? Yes, this is Paul McCartney with his vocal twin, Phil Keaggy. I wish I could hear what they were playing!

Yes, this is Paul McCartney with his vocal doppelgänger, Phil Keaggy. I wish I could hear what they were playing!

Christianity Today tells me that singer-songwriter/guitarist extraordinaire Phil Keaggy received the prestigious Golden Note Award from ASCAP. I’ve never heard of it, either. While it’s obviously not a Grammy or anything, it’s nice to see Keaggy getting some recognition. His was the first concert I went to, in the spring of 1984, beating out the Kinks by a few months. He was with a full band, and he rocked hard.

He also served as my introduction to that strange, fascinating early-’80s world of Christian rock, which was being transformed even then into an “industry” called Contemporary Christian Music.

One reason you’ve probably never heard of Keaggy is that the only place you could get his records back then was in Christian bookstores. These were very intimidating places for people outside the tiny sliver of evangelical Christendom to whom these stores marketed themselves. I remember walking by a Christian bookstore in a strip shopping center with my friend Jason, to whom I had raved about the Keaggy concert. “Let’s go in here and see if they have any Keaggy albums.”

Jason took a few steps inside the store—and you would think he was a vampire exposed to the sunlight. He ran outside. “That was too creepy,” he said. I’m sure he was right. These stores often had a strange, unwelcoming, almost cult-like vibe.

Unlike some of my Christian friends from youth group, I never tried to abandon “secular” music. (Ask me now if I even believe in the category!) But I did become a regular customer of these bookstores. And I purchased many great albums by bands and artists like the 77’s, Daniel Amos, Keaggy, Randy Stonehill, and early Resurrection Band. If I could go back in time, I would buy many more—before they went out of print forever.

That’s the problem: the great stuff is often out of print. I did a check on Amazon and iTunes: you can no longer buy or download some essential albums by Keaggy from the ’70s, such as What a Day or Love Broke Thru. (I scored both in a bargain-basement sale at a used record store many years ago.) I guess that’s what eBay is for. And YouTube…

Another essential Keaggy album is Sunday’s Child, 1988’s homage to Rubber Soul-era Beatles and glorious mid-’60s rock, which is still in print, at least for download.

There is an interesting urban legend about Jimi Hendrix’s calling Phil Keaggy “the greatest guitarist ever,” which Snopes covers at length here.

6 Responses to “Hendrix never heard of him, but he’s still great”

  1. Clay Knick Says:

    Keaggy is so gifted! Another worthy of mention is the folk oriented music of Michael Card who I’m going to get to meet next week in PA.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I saw Card in concert years ago when he was supporting the Present Reality album, which I liked a lot. He’s a bit, um… talkative in concert, isn’t he? That might be a personal problem for me. I can’t stand preaching. 😉 How are you meeting him? Conference? Concert?

  2. Nelson Says:

    I think I still have a copy of “The Master and the Musician” in the basement. More of a classical effort than rock for sure.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Yeah, my girlfriend at the time had a copy of it. I heard it once. I don’t remember its being my cup of tea. But I do love “What a Day” and “Love Broke Thru.” I like Town to Town from ’83, I think. And Sunday’s Child totally rules!

  3. In addition to sharing an appreciation for Keaggy’s music, I found myself identifying with some of the experiences you touched on-in particularly Christians forsaking “secular” music and the creepiness of (many) Christian bookstores. The former seems to happen less frequently nowadays but when I was a teen (20+ years ago), there were more believers who were against listening to non-Christian music than not. I have been writing an occasional entry that details the evolution of my music-listening experiences and the next entry will detail the time my friend convinced me to smash all of my secular cassette tapes.

    As far as Christian bookstores, it has been so long since I have been in one I have no clue if they have lost their creepy atmosphere or not. One can only hope. Thanks for the interesting read and for taking me on a trip in the way-back machine.

    • brentwhite Says:

      You’re welcome. I remember those debates in youth group about whether or not it was O.K. to listen to secular music. I bought in, but not all the way. I never stopped listening to secular music entirely. But I used to hang out at one particular Christian bookstore. I remember when Stryper came out, they used to keep their records behind the counter. Isn’t that hilarious?

      Anyway, Christian bookstores ceased being creepy to me, but I imagine for outsiders they were still pretty intimidating. Nowadays, who knows? I order Christians books from Amazon.

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