Tag Archives: Oden Fong

Oden Fong’s “Invisible Man” makes a welcome reappearance

By 1986, when Oden Fong released his second solo album Invisible Man, several changes has transformed the 1970s Orange County revival’s music movement of which he was such an intregal member, both as a member of Mustard Seed Faith and as a solo artist. Calvary Chapel Santa Ana had shut down Maranatha Music except for its über soft pop praise music releases, the Saturday night concerts hosted by the church were no more, and radio station KYMS, which had previously championed local artists, had switched to a mainstream label artists only format and would soon go away altogether. The support network was crumbling, and the future was decidedly uncertain.

Enter Invisible Man. Originally released on the Frontline label and now once again available through Fong’s Bandcamp page, regarding its creation he comments:

This album I recorded mostly at home with an 8 track recorder synced to a Linn 9000 drum/midi computer. Purely experimental, it is a notebook of thoughts and ideas I had at the time. All guitar parts were played though a tiny Rockman preamp. The drums, keyboards and bass were all programmed with midi. The only tracks recorded onto tape were the vocals, guitars and saxophone. This is why the album sounds more like a demo than a studio album.

Fong’s disclaimer notwithstanding, it is this somewhat unfinished element that gives Invisible Man a great deal of its musical charm. The album is unmistakably 80s flavored with its synthesizer riffs and drum machine, yet the sparse sound and rough edges provided by not being a polished product rescue the album from being a machine music outing typical of the time period (and today, for that matter). That, and Fong’s songwriting skill. His gift for hooks and melody shines throughout.

Lyrically, Invisible Man is aimed more at discipling believers than evangelistic outreach. There is a fair amount of bite in tunes such as “Joker In An Age Of Fools” and “Faith:Action” which find Fong admonishing fellow Christians to practice that about which they have heard preached. The album is far more Keith Green than kid gloves; challenging and at times confrontational.

Invisible Man tends to be the most overlooked item in Fong’s catalog. It ought not to be. No, it is not the lofty masterpiece that is Come For The Children, nor is it the Mustard Seed Faith melodic roots evangelism bringing back memories of the days when it all shone with the bright flame of newfound faith. Nevertheless, Invisible Man is a fine album more than deserving a listen, and its being available again is a blessing.

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.

Oden Fong brings back classic music and uncomfortable truths

Oden Fong, mainstay of the early Maranatha Music days courtesy of his tenure with Mustard Seed Faith, has made available his two solo albums from back in the day: Come For The Children, originally released in 1979, and Invisible Man which first came out in 1986. He has also rereleased Mustard Seed Faith’s second album Limited Edition, it having made its debut in 1980. The band’s first album, 1975’s Sail On Sailor, is available digitally courtesy of Maranatha.

At first glance it might seem strange, reviewing three albums that came out no more recently than thirty years ago. Incorrect perception. The albums have been unavailable for so long in any format it is extremely doubtful most people under fifty so much as know of their existence, let alone having heard them. This is entirely to their loss. Add to this how those who do know and love the music have in all likelihood not owned a copy (or been able to play one if they did) for decades, and the return of this trio becomes more than a nostalgia trip. Rather, it becomes a reminder of realities both painful and peaceful.

Up first is Come For The Children. The late Rick Griffin’s striking album cover artwork depicts Jesus’ head wearing a hood as He overlooks a valley of blood. It was Griffin’s depiction of the battle of Armageddon. Not exactly your average worship album material; but Come For The Children is not warm fuzzy all the feels material.

Musically Come For The Children defies easy categorization. It contains elements of arena rock’s first generation (Boston, Foreigner, leaning toward the latter), yet has an anthematic style its contemporaries never quite reached. Part of this stems from producer Jonathan David Brown’s lush without becoming overblown style. The main contributor is that Fong was clearly totally disinterested in creating anything that fit in with what was the overwhelming majority of contemporary Christian music at the time, a landscape dominated by the likes of Evie. Come For The Children is unashamedly purposeful art, a work where even as the music is of highest quality, said music serves as a vessel for Fong’s message. And oh, what a message.

It bears mention that Fong was and is a product of Calvary Chapel in the 1970s, in which the late Chuck Smith pastored a flock of young Jesus people quite separate from traditional churchgoers, what with the hippie hair, clothes, and music. Smith firmly believed that Christ’s Second Coming was imminent, therefore placed tremendous emphasis on evangelism so that as many people as possible would come to know Christ as Lord and Savior before His Return. Smith also believed in a strongly literal interpretation of prophetic Scriptures, most noticeably the Book of Revelation. Its gruesome depiction of the coming Antichrist and God’s apocalyptic judgment of the earth and its inhabitants who rejected Him tied into the fuel that fed Calvary Chapel, and its artists including Mustard Seed Faith and Fong. Its fruit was their being bold, blunt, and if need be brutal in telling others about what they believed would soon transpire.

With this background, there should be no surprise that Come For The Children’s title track makes no bones about the fact that at the Second Coming not everyone will be going to heaven. There is a hell, and judgment, and those who proclaim “only God can judge me” will discover that He has not only reserved the right to do so but will execute same.

The album is not all fire and brimstone. Fong addresses the loneliness of life without Christ plus the joys and struggles of following Him. There is a thread of tenderness woven throughout Come For The Children, an earnest call to saved and unsaved alike. Fong is not using his Bible to beat people over the head, but rather speaks from it as the Word of Life, the blueprint of a genuine wish for all to be saved.

No one makes music like this today. Few even from the fieriest of pulpits preach with such unblinking honesty. Come For The Children was and is a true masterpiece; a vital part of Christian rock history remaining vibrant after all these years.

Next post will look at Limited Edition by Mustard Seed Faith.

The three albums are available for download in several formats, including CD quality, at Fong’s Bandcamp site.