Tag Archives: Maranatha Music

Is Mustard Seed Faith the quintessential Christian rock band?

When asked to name the quintessential Christian rock band, most fans whose memories stretch back farther than Switchfoot will name either Petra, which made arena-style praise rock acceptable to the masses, or U2 for being the reluctant father of 99.44% of all worship bands. Certainly a strong case can be made for either. That said, another band seldom if ever brought into the conversation warrants consideration. Namely, Mustard Seed Faith.

Mustard Seed Faith released only one album during its active years, that being 1975’s Sail On Sailor. With its beautifully creative cover, painted by the late avant-pop artist Rick Griffin after his becoming a Christian in 1970 during the Jesus People movement, and its classic pop/rock title track that epoxied itself onto turntables in coffee houses and youth group meetings across the land, Sail On Sailor was a living emblematic ode to the Orange County revival led by the late Chuck Smith and his church Calvary Chapel Santa Ana.

As detailed yesterday, the Orange County revival had as a huge part of its inspiration the fervent belief that Christ’s return was imminent, this making evangelism even more primarily important than the norm for an evangelical movement. With this breath of God in their sails, Mustard Seed Faith worked itself and its one album as hard as possible; band member Oden Fong recalls a stretch where it was playing three hundred and fifty concerts a year. Eventually the strain became too much, and the band dissolved in the late 1970s.

In 1980, the band’s creative core (Fong, Lewis McVay, and the late Pedro Buford) decided to tidy up loose ends. With the help of several Calvary Chapel musical alumni they recorded and independently released Limited Edition. The album has been rereleased by Fong on his Bandcamp page.

Musically, Limited Edition slides nicely into the 1970s adult rock genre populated by Michael McDonald (then with The Doobie Brothers), the less funky leanings of Boz Scaggs, and the like. Nothing is too loud, yet nothing save the album’s closing track, a beautiful acoustic song that would grace any wedding, is too soft to preclude toe-tapping. The tunes are well-constructed and friendly; easily accessible relatively easy listening. You could slip Limited Edition into the record stack at a party where adult rock from its era was being played and no one would notice due to a drop-off in style or quality. However, the moment someone paid the lyrics some attention, they would notice all right.

Unsurprisingly, Limited Edition is ministry-driven from beginning to end. Full-throated evangelism sits next to exhortational calls urging those who already believe not to stray, and return to the fold if they have already gotten off track. There is storytelling in “Sidney the Pirate” and a whole lot of naming name. Specifically, the Name of Jesus. There is no ambiguity; no wondering if a song is about God or a girlfriend. Mustard Seed Faith was all God all the time, and made no secret of its intent at any point along the way.

Limited Edition and its predecessor Sail On Sailor are why Mustard Seed Faith has as legitimate a claim as any to the title of Christian rock’s quintessential band. Musically it fit into what was happening at the time, while lyrically it stood out with bold, uncompromising calls to faith in Christ. Limited Edition may seem like a nostalgia piece, but even as Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, the album’s quality in a genre still listened to by multitudes, and timeless message still needed by all, make it as fresh an album as anything recorded in the here and now.

Next post will review Fong’s second solo release Invisible Man.

Elegy for a pastor

Chuck Smith, pastor of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California and one of the leading figures in the Jesus Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, passed away today after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 86.

To try and explain the impact Chuck Smith had on contemporary American evangelical Christianity, a brief personal illustration. Back in the mid-1970s, in my neck of the woods (San Francisco Bay Area) the reverberations of the Jesus Movement were still being felt in youth culture. It was a heady time, teens and twentysomethings filled with intense love for Jesus and equally intense belief that His return to the earth would be soon and very soon. Wed sit on our bench, located perilously close to the jock bench, in our high school quadrangle with our guitars as we sang and strummed away on our little songs about a great big God. There were all the obligatory teenage angst moments, falling in and out of love at breakneck speed while occasionally musing about what we would do once we were set free from our high school protective cocoon. But we trusted Jesus would take care of that, and besides He would be coming back shortly so why get worked up over a future that would never come to pass?

Being San Francisco Bay Area people, naturally we loathed and looked down on all things Southern California in general and Los Angeles in particular. However, we cut Orange County, south of L.A., a lot of slack. No, not because of Disneyland. It was the home of something we greatly envied, although we were careful to label it anything but envy as of course envy was a sin. This was semantics, though. It was envy.

We envied Orange County for being the home of Chuck Smith.

Where we were, Christian concerts were far and few between. There would be the occasional appearance by Barry McGuire at Mario Murillos monthly Night of Miracles rally in Oakland, but other than that there was precious little. There was no radio to which we could listen; the local stations were all AM dollar a holler junk. But where Chuck Smith was, there were concerts every Saturday night playing our music. There was a radio station, an FM radio station, playing our music. There was a church where we knew wed all be welcome no matter our hair length or dress code. There was a place we knew that if we could only get there we would be blessed beyond words by being at the home base of everything we held dear in our unstoppable zeal. But, we couldnt get there despite whispered conversations about how if we split the gas and had all the boys stay in one hotel room and all the girls in another with no visitations save with the door wide open, maybe we could borrow someones parents van and one day make a pilgrimage to Santa Ana so we could experience in person this magical place from whence came the records on the Maranatha! Music label we eagerly devoured.

Time passed, as it does. Jesus had other plans and didnt come back before the 1980s set in, or any subsequent decade for that matter. Some of us walked away from the faith, disillusioned at the prospect of having to actually live out a normal life with a job and family and everything else that comes with these things. Some of us passed away. But some of us remained, our faith ofttimes battered, bruised and beaten down to the point of near abandonment. Yet we still believed, chuckling over our previous eschatological fixation and learning, as best we could, to be happy with what we had and learning to have faith in Christ alone, not in an image of Him being the ultimate get out of jail card.

This all said, the news of Chuck Smiths passing is not an occasion for nostalgic musing about when we were young, alive, on fire and had all the answers. It is a moment to note all that he accomplished: the artists for whom he provided a platform; the multitude of Calvary Chapels now dotting the globe. His name does not have the recognition factor of other post-WWII American Christianity leaders such as Billy Graham or any given TV evangelist. But today, wherever there is a folk/rock guitar being played and song being sung, and wherever there is a ministry saying come as you are because Jesus loves you and so do we, Chuck Smith is there. And we are all the better for it.

God bless you, Pastor Chuck, now at home in your Fathers arms.