Larry Norman PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 28 October 2008 20:29

Larry in Ohio, October 2001

Larry David Norman

Born: April 8, 1947, Corpus Christi, Texas, United States

Died: February 24, 2008, Salem, Oregon,

Age: 60

Cause of death:  Terminal ill health after heart attack, loss of right eye and general un-wellness.

Notable because: Originated Jesus Rock.


Larry Norman was an American musician, singer, songwriter and producer. Norman's recordings are noted for their Christian and social subject matter, and he is often described as the "father of Christian rock music". Norman has also been described as having had a significant influence on many artists, secular and religious.

Norman had long been associated with the Jesus People movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, although it has been reported that "he did not particularly identify himself with the youth–oriented 'Jesus movement' of the time".

Norman began recording in 1966 and recorded numerous albums. Norman's first album, I Love You, recorded when he was the lead singer for the group People!, was released in 1968. The band's cover version of The Zombies song of the same name reached number 14 on Billboard magazine's top twenty list in June of that year as a single. Norman left People! prior to 1969 and subsequently performed as a solo artist, appearing both on mainstream and independent labels.

In 2001 Norman was inducted into the Gospel Music Association's Hall of Fame as a solo artist. In 2007 Norman was inducted into the San Jose Rocks Hall of Fame (San Jose, California), both as a member of People!, and as a solo artist. At that time Norman reunited for a concert with People!

Larry Norman was born on April 8, 1947 in Corpus Christi, Texas. Three years later, the family moved to San Francisco, California. From an early age, Norman was fascinated with the music of Elvis Presley. At the same time, he also frequently accompanied his father on Christian missions to prisons and hospitals. At the age of nine, he began writing and performing original rock and roll songs at school, experimenting with incorporating a spiritual message into his music.

The kids at school seemed impressed with Elvis, [but] none of them accepted my invitations to go to church, Norman told Contemporary Musicians. "So one day I brought church to them, walking around from bench to bench singing.

In 1959, Norman performed on Ted Mack's syndicated CBS television show The Original Amateur Hour. Upon leaving home in the mid-1960s, he moved to San Jose, California and became involved in the local rock music scene, opening for both The Doors and Jimi Hendrix.[4]

Cover art for the first album by People!, 1968

In 1965/66, Norman joined brothers Geoff and Robb Levin to form the band People!: the name was intended as an ironic contrast to bands with animal names, such as The Beatles, The Animals, and The Byrds. Norman became the band's principal songwriter, sharing lead vocals with Gene Mason. The band was also joined by drummer Dennis Fridkin and keyboardist Albert Ribisi. In 1966, People! signed with Capitol Records, releasing the single "Organ Grinder/Riding High." They began immediate work on a full-length album and released another single, a cover of The Zombies' song "I Love You", which quickly became a hit single. "I Love You" reached the Billboard Top 20 and became a #1 single in several markets.

However, this success would be cut short by a series of disputes, both between the band members and between the band and their record label. First, all of the band members except lead singers Norman and Mason embraced Scientology, and zealously issued the ultimatum: "We all have to get into Scientology or you can't be in the band." Norman and Mason refused.

Larry Norman at San Jose Rocks Hall of Fame 10-19-07

A second incident involved the release of People!'s first album. Larry Norman expected to name the album after the song "We Need A Whole Lot More of Jesus, and a Lot Less Rock and Roll" and to feature Christian imagery on the album cover. However, Capitol Records decided to name the album after the single "I Love You" instead, with a photograph of the band on the cover. Facing censorship by his record label and a forced religious conversion by his bandmates, Larry Norman left the band upon the release of its first album.

Despite Norman's departure, the band's second album Both Sides of People (1969) featured one Larry Norman composition, the song "She's a Dancer". Norman and Mason also reunited in 1974 for a benefit concert at UCLA, later released as the live album Larry Norman and People!—The Israel Tapes—1974 A.D.

The six original members of People! reconciled and reunited in 2006. After nearly 40 years, they came together for a final concert on 19 October 2007, where they were afterwards inducted into the San Jose Rocks Hall of Fame.

Early 2008 Larrry Norman wrote his two last songs with the german christian singer/songwriter Sarah Brendel who has long adored Larry Norman for his unique and unblemished style.

Larry Norman's "Only Visiting This Planet," 1972

In 1969, Norman recorded his first solo rock album, Upon This Rock, with Capitol Records. Speaking to the magazine Contemporary Musicians, Norman later expressed his intentions and feelings about the record:

I wanted to push aside the traditional gospel quartet music, break down the church doors and let the hippies and the prostitutes and other unwashed rabble into the sanctuary," he recalled to Contemporary Musicians. "I wanted to talk about feeding the poor, going into the world.... I wanted the church to get active and go out and do what Jesus told us to do. I felt that while the hymns had great theology soaked into their lyrics, that most of the modern music was anemic and needed a transfusion.

While Norman drew ire from much of the conservative religious establishment, his music gained a large following in the emerging counter cultural movements. While working at Capitol Records, he was approached by Paul McCartney, who wanted to discuss his music.This encounter encouraged Larry, although he inserted a jab at McCartney into the lyrics of his next album."I've been listening to Paul's records, I think he really is dead," from the song "Reader's Digest." This is an allusion to the rumor of McCartney's death.

In 1972 (now with MGM Records) he recorded a second studio album with help from Beatles producer George Martin, titled Only Visiting This Planet. The same year, Norman made a film appearance in The Blob sequel Son of Blob.[10]

In 1973 he released another album with MGM, titled So Long Ago the Garden. However, believing that his record label was once again interfering with the subject matter of his records, Norman left MGM to become an independent artist.

Only Visiting This Planet, So Long Ago The Garden and In Another Land are commonly referred to as "The Trilogy."

After leaving MGM, Norman was described as "a stubbornly independent artist for three decades." The majority of Norman's music that was produced during his most creative years (1966 - 1978, from his People! albums up through solo works like Something New Under the Son) remain the fountainhead of his creative work. Until his death he continuously released albums and recordings under the label Solid Rock Records.

His songs were wide-ranging, addressing such matters as politics (The Great American Novel), free love (Pardon Me), the passive commercialism of war–time journalists (I Am The Six O'Clock News), witchcraft and the occult (Forget Your Hexagram), alienation (Lonely by Myself), religious hypocrisy (Right Here In America) and many topics largely outside of the scope of his contemporaries.

In addition to his own recordings, Larry Norman produced music by a few other independent artists, such as Randy Stonehill and Salvation Air Force. The most high-profile (and most controversial) recording to be released on Norman's label was the Daniel Amos album Horrendous Disc, produced by Mike "Clay" Stone.

In 1981, Norman and his father started Phydeaux Records in order to compete with a market of bootlegs of his own music. Norman reported that his vinyl albums have sold for up to $400(USD) among collectors.

In 1989, prior to the fall of the Soviet Union, Larry and his brother Charles were scheduled to play a show in Moscow. Norman relates that he and his brother became ill after eating a meal that had been prepared as a "special menu" for them. Shortly afterwards, a trio of nurses ("built like football players") appeared in his room and wanted him to go to the hospital. Norman became suspicious and refused. The concert was cancelled by (Soviet) army personnel twenty minutes after the band began to play. Despite this incident, Norman returned and performed at Moscow's Olympic Stadium in 1990. After seven successful shows at the stadium, he decided to open a branch of Solid Rock Records in the city.

The Simpsons parody comic of Larry Norman

By 1971, Time magazine was reporting on the growth of the Jesus Movement, the magazine stated, "It's like a's growing and there's no stopping it." Time went on to say of Norman: "(he was) probably the top solo artist in the field", Norman later distanced himself from Time's characterizations of his involvement.  Time reported that Eric Clapton had become a "convert of the Jesus Movement," and a 1971 cover article also named members of Peter, Paul, and Mary and Fleetwood Mac within its sphere of influence. Johnny Cash was also named. He eventually produced the film/double album The Gospel Road.

During the 1970s, Norman embarked on an effort to help musicians who were struggling with drug problems. He began a Bible study group called "The Vineyard" for actors and musicians, which folk/rock performer Bob Dylan started to attend. Dylan subsequently became familiar with Norman's records Only Visiting This Planet and So Long Ago the Garden. During this period, he released three albums that were stylistically similar to Norman's: Slow Train Coming (1979), Saved (1980), and Shot of Love (1981).

While Norman said in a 1984 interview that he didn't know Dylan very well, he remembered thinking "This is the greatest album I've ever heard" when Slow Train Coming was released. He said of the album "I'll never write one as good as that, he'll never write one as good as that, - nobody will. It touched me in every area. You know men in conflict, like Dylan was when he was dying to self and becoming a Christian are very interesting... We were all afraid that he would be overly affected by the evangelical simplicity of American mindlessness and write an album that wasn't really worth his gift for poetry. That album is like a prayer, it's a beautiful prayer, a social communion. It's a communion for all the disenchanted people that are angry."

Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison and American singer-songwriter John Mellencamp have also claimed to be fans of Larry Norman's music. Over 300 artists have covered his songs, including Sammy Davis, Jr.

According to rock historian Walter Rasmussen, Pete Townshend once admitted that The Who's 1969 album Tommy was inspired by the rock opera "Epic" by People!. However, Townshend has since denied the connection.

Following tours by the first wave of punk musicians in the British Isles in the mid-1970s, the post-punk band U2 was formed in Dublin, Ireland. Active simultaneously in the local punk music scene and the "Shalom Fellowship," some members of U2 eventually became "fans" of Larry Norman's music. Both artists performed, making unannounced appearances, at the U.K.'s Greenbelt Festival in 1981.

Charles Thompson IV discovered Larry Norman's music at age 13 after moving to California and seeing him in concert. Thompson said of Norman during this period: "I don't think Larry Norman was necessarily respected by religious people...he had more of a rebellious rock'n'roll kind of an image." "I dressed like him, I looked like him, he was my total idol." While at college in Massachusetts, Thompson adopted the stage name Black Francis, and formed The Pixies along with Joey Santiago, Kim Deal, and David Lovering. According to Kim Deal, the title of the Pixies' 1987 EP Come On Pilgrim, as well as a similar line from the song "Levitate Me," derive from a Norman catchphrase used during live performances. In the 1987 recording and subsequent performances of the Pixies song "Levitate Me," lead singer Black Francis shouts "Come on Pilgrim, you know He loves you!" while imitating Larry Norman's accent. 

While recording the Pixies' album Surfer Rosa, producer Steve Albini recognized the Pixies' references and realized that he and Black Francis both "had an affection" for Norman's music. They discussed Larry Norman at length during the recording process of the album.

With the increased popularity of alternative rock in the 1990s, The Pixies earned increased recognition for their work. They were invited by U2 to join them on the Zoo TV tour in 1992. At one show, Francis was introduced to Larry Norman by members of U2, who had informed him beforehand that Larry would be coming to the show. 

Black Francis' debut solo album Frank Black and the Catholics, recorded in 1997 and released in 1998, featured a cover of Larry Norman's song "Six-Sixty-Six."

Collective Soul, who released several successful alternative rock singles during the 1990s and early 2000s, cited Daniel Amos as a major inspiration for their work. Norman released Amos' album Horrendous Disc on his label in 1981.

Beginning in 2004, The Pixies embarked on a reunion tour. During this time, in June 2005, frontman Black Francis joined Larry Norman for what was expected to be his final U.S. concert. The pair performed Norman's 1978 song "Watch What You're Doing."

Larry Norman's brother is Charles Norman, an alternative rock guitarist who also performed at the June 2005 concert. He is presently a member of the band Guards of Metropolis (previously Softcore) as well as Frank Black's post-Catholics backing band.

Larry Norman's relationship with the wider Christian church, and with the Contemporary Christian music industry, has been contentious for a number of years. According to Portland news/radio station KXL, Norman's early social positions caused a stir among many conservative Christians. His views against racism and poverty caused him to receive multiple death threats in the 1970s. A widespread ban on Norman's music, which is largely still in effect today, existed in Christian stores. This ban was due not only to Norman's social positions, but his preferred company as well. Said Norman in a separate interview:

The churches weren’t going to accept me looking like a street person with long hair and faded jeans. They did not like the music I was recording. And I had no desire to preach the gospel to the converted."

When asked if his 1969 album Upon This Rock was a "Christian" album, Norman stated, "No, it was not a Christian album for those believers who wanted everything spelled out. It was more like a street fight. I was saying [to Christians]...This album is not for you." Commenting on Christian music in 1984, Norman said: "I'm pleased with what's happening in England and Europe...but I'm not totally thrilled about the commercialisation of Christian music in America." Two years prior to the 1984 interview, he had complained that Christian music generally meant "sloppy thinking, dishonest metaphors, and bad poetry" and stated that "I've never been able to get over the shock of how bad the lyrics are."

In recent years, however, many CCM artists have credited Norman as an influence on their music, particularly in the subgenre of Christian rock. He is often cited as influencing both Keith Green and Randy Stonehill in their conversions to Christianity. (In turn both eventually became Christian music artists.) He has granted interviews to magazines covering Contemporary Christian music and accepted industry awards. When asked about the relationship between CCM and his own music, Norman has replied "I'm happy if I've been an encouragement to other artists."

In 1986, Norman appeared in a music video with Christian artist Geoff Moore and the Distance for a cover version of his song "Why Should the Devil (Have all the Good Music?)"

In 1995, several Contemporary Christian music artists released a tribute album, One Way: Songs of Larry Norman. Several popular Christian artists contributed to the project, including dc Talk, Rebecca St. James, Audio Adrenaline, and Grammatrain.

In 2001 Norman was inducted, along with Elvis Presley, into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

In the mid-1990s, Simpsons Comics released a limited edition print of a "Simpsonized" Larry Norman performing "Why Should the Devil Have all the Good Music?" In addition to the Simpsons Comics release, a Simpsons watch was also produced featuring the yellow, three-fingered likeness of Larry Norman.

Norman died on 2008-02-24, aged 60, at his home in Salem, Oregon with family and friends present. The previous day he had posted a message regarding his illness on his website:

I feel like a prize in a box of cracker jacks with God's hand reaching down to pick me up. I have been under medical care for months. My wounds are getting bigger. I have trouble breathing. I am ready to fly home. I won't be here much longer. I can't do anything about it. My heart is too weak. I want to say goodbye to everyone. In the past you have generously supported me with prayer and finance and we will probably still need financial help. My plan is to be buried in a simple pine box with some flowers inside. But still it will be costly... However money is not really what I need, I want to say I love you. I'd like to push back the darkness with my bravest effort. There will be funeral information posted on my website, in case some of you want to attend. We are not sure of the date when I will die. Goodbye, farewell, we will meet again.

Following Norman's death, World magazine reported that he had fathered a child out of wedlock with an Australian woman Jennifer McCallum (née Wallace) during a tour in 1988. According to McCallum she has made the information public at this time because Norman had broken a "promise" to include the young man, Daniel Robinson, in Norman's will.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 December 2008 15:57

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