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67 Years Ago: Was Born Larry Norman

On April 8, 1947, was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, the great Larry Norman. Years later he would become the father of Christian rock. For many, the personification of the Jesus People Movement. The first "Christian Rock Star". But the early years of Larry, were not so easy. Her parents were not agree with his taste for rock, was criticized, marked by religious. But God had a plan, and Larry was his instrument. Let us remember the early years of Larry and his greatest achievements as an artist...

Larry Norman was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, the oldest son of Joe Hendrex "Joe Billy" Norman (December 9, 1923 – April 28, 1999), who had served as a sergeant in the US Army Air Corps during World War II and worked at the Southern Pacific Railroad while studying to become a teacher, and his wife, Margaret Evelyn "Marge" Stout (born in 1925 in Nebraska).
In 1950 Norman and his parents moved to San Francisco. In 1960 Joe Norman accepted an offer to teach in San José, California. The Norman family lived in Campbell, California, In 1961 Norman entered Campbell High School, and graduated in 1965. While still a junior at Campbell High School, Norman became the youngest member to be voted into the Edwin Markham Poetry Society, and won first place in the Edwin Markham Poetry Society's Student Poetry Contest, and received his award at the Villa Montalvo Mansion in Saratoga, California. As part of his prize Norman had breakfast with a drunken William Golding. Just prior to his graduation from high school, Norman's younger brother, Charles was born. Norman won an academic scholarship to major in English at San Jose State College. By the fall of 1965 Norman left the family home and rented an apartment in Downtown San Jose. After one semester, Norman "flunked out of college and lost [his] scholarship". While Norman was able to play a variety of musical instruments, he never learned to write or read music.

Larry Norman 1948
Religious background
Soon after Norman's birth his parents became Christians and became part of the Southern Baptist church, which prohibited dancing, going to the cinema, and "almost everything that didn't occur inside of our Southern Baptist church". After moving to San Francisco, Norman and his parents attended an Black American Pentecostal church, but later they attended the First Baptist Church at 22 Waller Street, in San Francisco, where Norman became a Christian in 1952 at the age of five. In 1956 Norman stopped attending church as he explained: "I went to Church but it was destroying me because the people yelled and screamed from the pulpit and at a Sunday School they baby-talked me.... I walked out of the church when I was nine years old. I didn't like the hymns and couldn't stand the singing any more.... I lived outside the Church and was kinda' on my own but I'm glad Jesus came to me then and pulled me out of what might have been an unhappy childhood." However, by 1967 Norman attended the Foothill Covenant Church in Los Altos, California

Musical ancestry and influences

Norman had a pedigree of musical and theatrical ancestors, including his maternal grandfather who was a vaudeville actor, a cousin, actress Frances Rafferty, an aunt who was a professional pianist who toured America and Europe, and an uncle who had performed internationally as a professional clown. Unknown to Norman and his siblings his father had a weekly radio program when he was ten, playing an over-sized 16 hole 64 tone chromatic harmonica, backed by Norman's grandfather, Joseph Norman, who played guitar. When Norman's parents became Christians, their Southern Baptist church taught that show business was "worldly", and that Christians should eschew any involvement with it, and also "the belief that most music was from the devil".

Because of his religious convictions, Norman's father discouraged any interest in music by his children. Norman noted, "We were poor and I had no children's records in Texas. But I listened to my parents' radio whenever they turned it on. I developed an appreciation for swing music, big band arrangements and solo singers like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby". Also from an early age, Norman listened to the "blues and Negro spirituals on 78s his grandfather [Burl W. Stout] had collected". Other musical influences that Norman later acknowledged include gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, Belgian jazz musician Django Reinhardt, American concert singer Paul Robeson, and Black comedian Bert Williams. Norman was strongly influenced also by classical music, jazz, blues music, and black gospel music, but "didn't like country and western ... because of the nasal, twangy vocals", or "some kinds of fast-paced jazz".

At the age of two Norman began singing, and learned to play a toy piano at the age of four. At the age of five Norman found a tenor ukelele in the back of his father's closet, and practiced it each day when his father was at work. Eventually his father discovered him playing the ukelele and allowed him to keep it, but later refused to buy him a guitar or a trumpet. Norman recalled in 1985: "Except for singing for my parents or for my relatives at Christmas I didn't really think about music as something you do for others. Until I was nine I really did music for my own pleasure".

In 1952, Norman began composing songs. Norman indicated: "I started to write music when I was four or five and didn't realise I was composing tonally because I was simply using the piano". Norman remembers: "When I was five I wrote a song about the rain because I loved the San Francisco drizzles, and later I wrote about a dog because I couldn't have one, and a clown because my uncle was a circus performer, and when I was eight I wrote a song ["Riding in the Saddle"] about a cowboy in the desert watching the stars at night and thinking about God because I often looked at the stars and tried to picture Heaven", which was inpired "after seeing Roy Rogers at the civic auditorium and hearing Dale Evans give her testimony. Other early songs include "Barbara's My Girl".

On his ninth birthday Norman's music was recorded for the first time due to the efforts of his aunt Nina Moore. From 1956 Norman was fascinated with the music of Elvis Presley. However, according to Norman, his father banned him from listening to rock and roll music on the radio. As a child, Norman frequently accompanied his father on Christian missions to prisons and hospitals. Despite his father's admonitions, 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. Norman indicated in an interview in Contemporary Musicians: "The kids at school seemed impressed with Elvis, [but] none of them accepted my invitations to go to church. 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.

By the time he entered Campbell High School in 1961, Norman "was writing musicals, staging and directing a yearly school presentation of his works". By the age of sixteen Norman had written more than 500 songs. Among his earliest songs was "Lonely Boy", which was written in 1956; "The Man From Galilee", also written in 1956, that "was inspired by Sunday School stories", but not released until 1986; the unreleased "Bopping With My Girl"; "My Feet are on the Rock", written in 1958, but not released until 1989; "The Thanksgiving Song", written in 1959; "Country Church, Country People", was written in 1959 for his grandmother, Lena.

Back Country Seven (1964–1965)
While still in high school student, Norman formed a group called The Back Country Seven, which included his sister Nancy Jo and friend Gene M. Mason. After graduating, Norman continued performing and opened at local concerts for The Doors and Jimi Hendrix.

The People! (1965–1968)

In 1966 Norman opened a concert for People! at the Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove near Monterey, California According to a foundation member of People!, John Riolo:

Larry and his beautiful singing could melt your tender heart one moment and burn down the barn the next.  [Levin] made Larry an offer to join the group several days after this chance meeting. Larry Norman wanted Gene Mason in the group also since they had grown up together dreaming of becoming singers like The Righteous Brothers and had also honed their skills in a popular local folk group. They were hired as dual lead singers which would allow PEOPLE! to cover almost any of the top hits. Gene and Larry could dance, sing, switch off vocal duties, and put on an amazing show.

Norman became the band's principal songwriter, sharing lead vocals with Gene M. Mason (born July 26, 1947). Riolo soon left because as a senior high school student he could not commit to full-time involvement, and was replaced on drums by San Jose State College student Dennis Allen "Denny" Fridkin (born December 16, 1946, in Los Angeles), who had been recruited by Norman. 

A series of disputes, both between the band members and between the band and their record label, resulted in Norman leaving People!. By the time the I Love You album was released and the band undertook its first major tour of the USA in the summer of 1968 Norman had left People!. Subsequently People! appeared on Dick Clark's American Bandstand and Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show.

Hollywood street ministry (1968–1969)
Soon after Norman left People!, he had "a powerful spiritual encounter that threw him into a frenzy of indecision about his life [and] for the first time in his life, he received what he understood to be the Holy Spirit". 

In 1969 Norman auditioned for a role in the Los Angeles production of the rock musical Hair " Norman indicated in a July 2007 interview, "When I got [to Los Angeles], there were auditions for Hair. 

And I thought, I'm going to try out for Hair just to see if I have what it takes. Because maybe I'm just some lame person and I shouldn't be in music at all. So I tried out for Hair, and they gave me a callback and they said 'You're it. Come down on Saturday, there's a contract waiting for you to sign'. Believing God had something more important for him to do, and that "Jesus is the only personal, social and political answer for this generation or any other", Norman rejected the role because "of its glorification of drugs and free sex as the answers to today's problems". 

Norman decided "I couldn't do it when I found out what it was about. I just didn't agree with what it had to say. So I turned it down". Neeley accepted the role of Claude, but the role offered to Norman eventually went to Ben Vereen. Norman, who was broke, went home to his apartment, locked his guitar in the closet, and cried

At this time Norman considered retiring from music. Norman's song "Nightmare No. 49 (Part 1)" describes this period of his life, and is based on what Norman describes as a near death experience at this time. Norman's song "Soul on Fire" refers to this experience:
One day a light from above shown down on my face.
And lifted me up to a heavenly place
I heard voices of angels on distant shores
And Jesus healed me and brought me back to life once more.

Continuing from earlier efforts to write rock musicals while with People!, during this period Norman wrote songs for several rock musicals.

In December 1969 Capitol released Norman's first solo rock album, Upon This Rock, "the first major label record to marry rock music with the gospel". 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, ... 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"

In February 1970, two months after Upon This Rock was released, Capitol dropped Norman from their label, as the album was deemed a "commercial flop" as it had failed to reach the sales target Capitol expected, telling Norman that "there is no market for your music." Norman analyzed its poor reception in a 1972 interview: "It was too religious for the rock and roll stores and too rock and roll for the religious stores."

Upon This Rock received increased sales due to its distribution in Christian bookstores, and "became Benson's most acclaimed release", selling 23,000 copies when it was eventually released in England in 1972 through Key Records. In 1971 Upon This Rock was submitted unsuccessfully for Grammy Award nomination.

Only Visiting This Planet

On 8 September 1972 Norman began recording his second studio album, Only Visiting This Planet, the first album in a projected trilogy, in AIR Studios in London. Only Visiting This Planet, often ranked as Norman's best album, "mixed his Christian message with strong political themes", and "was meant to reach the flower children disillusioned by the government and the church" with its "abrasive, urban reality of the gospel". In a 1980 interview, Norman explained its purpose:

Only Visiting This Planet is the first part of the trilogy, and represents the present. On the front cover, I find myself standing in the middle of New York City, with buildings and traffic pressed around me and my hand on my head kind of saying, What is going on in this life? Is this really earth?, and the back cover is me visiting the site of a previous civilisation with its own monoliths, not skyscrapers, but amazing, architecturally sound structures just the same. The Druids apparently constructed Stonehenge to help them observe or worship the sun, and their civilisation is now as dead as will someday be New York. And I'm just standing there, looking around, wondering what happened to kill off this culture and reduce its entire recorded history to a few standing structures.

On 6 January 1973 Norman was one of three named as Best New Male Artist of the year by Cashbox. By February 1973 songs from Only Visiting This Planet had been recommended by Billboard for "heavy Top 40 airplay", and were being played on WVVS-FM, KSHE-FM, and WKTK-FM. In 1990 CCM magazine voted Only Visiting This Planet as "the greatest Christian album ever recorded". Only Visiting This Planet was one of 25 sound recordings inducted for 2013 into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry, that preserves as "cultural, artistic and/or historical treasures, representing the richness and diversity of the American soundscape."A statement by the Library of Congress called the album "the key work in the early history of Christian rock," describing Norman as one who "commented on the world as he saw it from his position as a passionate, idiosyncratic outsider to mainstream churches."

After a tour of South Africa in June and the UK in July, and the release in July of his "Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?", a songbook featuring some of Norman's songs from both Upon This Rock and Only Visiting This Planet.

In the song "Reader's Digest" Norman sings the following verse: "Dear John, who's more popular now? I´ve been listening to some of Paul's new records. Sometimes I think he really is dead." (see Paul is dead) "Who's more popular now?" makes reference to John Lennon's famous claim that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. The album features King Crimson prog-rock bassist and Asia frontman, John Wetton on bass guitar.

A three-LP boxed set containing the entire trilogy in their originally intended forms and titled The Compleat Trilogy (as mentioned on the insert of the Street Level reissue of Only Visiting This Planet) has never been released.

After a lengthy illness, Norman died on February 24, 2008, at the age of 60 at his home in Salem, Oregon. The previous day he had posted 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...I want to say I love you. I'd like to push back the darkness with my bravest effort...Goodbye, farewell, we will meet again.

In 2008, Christian rock historian John J. Thompson wrote, "It is certainly no overstatement to say that Larry Norman is to Christian music what John Lennon is to rock & roll or Bob Dylan is to folk music." Thompson credited Norman for his impact on the genre as a musician, a producer, and a businessman. Steve Camp, Carolyn Arends, Bob Hartman, TobyMac, Mark Salomon, Martyn Joseph, and Steve Scott. Black Francis of the Pixies is also a fan of Norman's work. Over 300 artists have covered songs by Norman.

Awards and honors
•1973: One of three named as Best New Male Artist of the year by Cashbox
•1989: Awarded the Christian Artists' Society Lifetime Achievement Award in a surprise ceremony at Estes Park, Colorado
•1990: CCM magazine voted Only Visiting This Planet as "the second-greatest Christian album ever recorded".
•2001: Inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
•2001: Only Visiting This Planet was selected as the No. 2 album in CCM Magazine's The 100 Greatest Albums in Christian Music.
•2004: Voted into the CCM Hall of Fame by readers of CCM Magazine
•2007: Inducted into the San Jose Rocks Hall of Fame, both as a member of People!, and as a solo artist. At that time Norman reunited for a concert with People!
•2008: Honored at the 39th GMA Dove Award ceremony in Nashville, Tennessee
•2009: Honored in a tribute segment at the Grammy Awards
•2013:Only Visiting This Planet was one of 25 sound recordings inducted for 2013 into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry, that preserves as "cultural, artistic and/or historical treasures, representing the richness and diversity of the American soundscape."[158] A statement by the Library of Congress called the album "the key work in the early history of Christian rock," describing Norman as one who "commented on the world as he saw it from his position as a passionate, idiosyncratic outsider to mainstream churches.

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