Rock Impressions

by Giancarlo Bolther

Who was John Schlitt before singing in Petra and how much has your life changed since joining Petra?
I was the lead singer of a secular rock band called "Head East" for about seven years in the 1970s, then when I became a Christian I left the music business and became a mining engineer and a cost & schduling engineer in a five year period. Then, I was with Petra for the last 20 years; it has been an amazing adventure for me. I've traveled all over the world, I love what I did, and I've seen a lot of fantastic, positive changes.

Which memories do you like best to recall about the period with Head East?
The crowds. Playing to the crowds, watching them enjoy the music and the show. I always loved that.

When and why did you feel the need to play Christian music?
When I became a Christian and discovered Petra I realized that Christian rock was very, very valuable and I think right then was when I started having a desire to do that type of music. When the opportunity came, it was an easy decision to go with Petra.

How did your conversion come about?
It came about through my wife and a lot of prayer from the little church that I went to.

What has it given to you and what are the ways Jesus has changed your life?
It gave me a whole new focus on life.

Sometimes it's very hard to follow Jesus, sometimes we don't understand what is goin' on. Would you like to tell us about your difficulties in being a Christian?
Yes, it can be difficult. It's always difficult committing to anything.
It's never perfect, and there is a lot of expectation in being a Christian that sometimes can be a disappointment.
When I first became a Christian I thought everybody that called themselves a Christian would be perfect. They're not. We're human. I found out that I'm human, and I make mistakes. But the neat part about it, the best part about it, is that we know that we get a second chance through Jesus Christ. That's a very important thing to remember.

How do you live your Christian beliefs in your ordinary life and can you tell me more about your daily relationship with God, please?
My daily relationship is never enough, although I do believe He is with me at all times. I think it's important knowing He's always with me is an amazing feeling. There's often times when I find myself alone, talking to Him outloud. If anybody saw me they would think I was nuts! But it's the kind of relationship I have with Him. I truly believe that He is right next to me.

Doing Christian music or doing music as a Christian: are they the same thing or is there a difference?
No, they are not necessarily the same thing.. not at all. In fact, there are a lot of Christians today that are doing secular music that has nothing to do with Jesus Christ. They're using their talents that God gave them to play secular music. I personally feel that Christian music uplifts Jesus Christ or the lifestyle that He chooses for us to live.

In other words, is doing worship music only a question of lyrical content or does it mean something more?
All I can do is answer for myself, and I know that when I do the worship music, it has to come from my heart or it just feels phony to me. But that's not saying that is everyone's attitude. I just know that when I'm worshipping the Lord through music, it's not just the words. It's the attitude of the heart, it's how you do it.

What was the most satisfying event in your musical carreer?
Actually, there's two. One would be when Petra was in California with Josh McDowell on the "Why Wait" tour. Josh gave an altar call; now this auditorium had very wide hallways and stairways. So many people came forward that both the aisles and the stairs were packed! I remember Josh looking back at us, because we stood behind him as a team, and he looked at us - all he could do was mouth the words "wow!"
That has always stuck out in my mind as something very special.
I will say that on the Farewell Tour, when we played in Argentina, we played with an evangelist that was very famous in that country. The combination of him and us apparently worked, because we sold out a football stadium - actually oversold it and there was officially 96,000 kids. We walked out there, and there was a roar that actually hurt your ears. It was amazing. It was an amazing feeling to see how the kids waved; they moved to the beat of the sound. They clapped as the music reached them - it was so cool.

Is there anything about your past that you would like to change if it were possible?
Absolutely. I wish that I hadn't lived such a wild life during the Head East days.

In an interview, I read this line: “Be a leader in the name of Jesus and you'd be surprised how much you'll get done!”, can you tell me more about what you meant, please?
I truly believe that God has given each one of us everything we need to be victorious, if we follow His perfect plan - if we listen to what He says through the Word, and follow when the Holy Spirit is guiding us, as we have Him in our lives. If we let Him guide us in the decisions that we make - I guarantee you that we were meant to be winners. And it will surprise you how quickly things happen. If we think that we know how to do it all, we're cheating ourselves.
Now don't get me wrong - I don't believe that we're supposed to be robots that sit around and wait for an audible word to be heard, but I do believe that we need to be cautious and choose our choices wisely through the Holy Spirit.

A lot of people, Christians included, argue that it’s impossible to do Christian “rock” music, because rock came from evil (because voodoo rhythms generated blues and blues generated rock). What would you reply to these critics?
That's assuming that the devil created rock 'n roll. The devil can't create anything - all he can do is distort it. So rock 'n roll didn't come from the devil. I think rock 'n roll came straight from God because it's a very bold music form. The problem is that the church got scared of it, let the enemy take it over, and now pretty much most of rock 'n roll has been coming from a negative point of view. I really believe that rock 'n roll is a very powerful form of music and should be used to lift up the Lord.
If you're excited about a subject, don't you use the most exciting music you can find to sing about it? That's what I've done for 20 years. The critics don't know what they're talking about.

What do you think about the tendency to link hard rock and heavy metal with evil contents and in your opinion, can lyrics really influence youg listeners?
Absolutely - but it's not just the lyrics. It's the attitude of the performer. Usually the performers that choose to spew garbage lyrics with rock 'n roll or heavy metal - they use the shock value method. The shock value is always real easy to sell. So more than likely it's not only the garbage coming out in words - it's probably garbage music. But the lower it is, the more it's going to sell. That's just the way human nature tends to be, especially in secular music. So there should never be a surprise when you hear this stuff, especially by these heavy rockers... like the punk rockers - they try to get as dirty as possible because it's more of a shock factor and they're going to sell more records.

Why did Petra decide to break up after such a good album like Jekyll & Hyde?
Well, I think Jekyll & Hyde was the reason we broke up. In the U.S. we couldn't get any airplay, even with that album. It's one of the best albums we've ever done. We just felt that if we couldn't get airplay, if we couldn't get good sales and if we couldn't get a lot of shows (which we couldn't), no matter how hard we worked the year before - it didn't pay off in momentum. We just said "OK. We can't get much better than Jekyll & Hyde and if that's not going to sell, it must be time for us to leave the system." As much as we regret that, it was one of those inevitable things.
Petra has had a career of 33 years. That's amazing. That's truly an amazing thing, and so we really can't be too regretfull. We've dealt with three generations and I feel that we did our best. Just to have the interest of maybe three different generations... most groups wish they could have that. But I do say, even now, after 10 months of being out of it, I'm regretfull and miss it, but I don't believe we made the wrong move.

What emotions did you feel during the farewell tour?
Most of the time it was elation. We had a ball! We were super busy for almost three straight months. We were able to see alot of our friends, sometimes for the last time. Alot of fans came out that didn't want to miss that last show and it was almost like one giant family reunion.
We got to travel all over the world one last time... it was just a lot of fun for me.
Now, at the end on New Year's Eve - it really bugged me. It was like "OK.
I'm with three of the coolest guys that anyone could possibly be with...
unbelievable talent... fantastic Christians... and this is the last time we're going to be making noise together." That bugged me! That really bugged me. If I was going to see a negative - that would be the only one.

Which is your fave Petra album and which is the one that you dislike and why?
Oh my gosh... there's so many I like. I'd have to say either the two praise & worshp albums (Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out and Petra Praise 2 - We Need Jesus) or Beyond Belief are my favorite. I would have to say my least liked album is Back to the Street, because it was the first one I sang on and I don't believe I did a very good job. I still was very out of shape, vocally. It had been five years since I sang and I just didn't feel like I was up to the Petra standard.
Now alot of people will argue with me there, but if I had to choose one that was my least favorite, it would be Back to the Street.

In the ’80s, you were hugely successful. Did that surprise you?
No, not at all. I felt that we were doing what we were supposed to be doing. We were doing a really good job. The music we were putting out was right on target; I think we were at the pulse of what we were supposed to be doing. I wasn't surprised at all.

Can you summarize the history of the Christian rock movement for us, please? (when it was born, which are the main artists and where it is going nowadays).
I've been part of it for a long time, but there's a lot of if that I really haven't been a part of, and I'm afraid that I would be like a lot of other critics and miss alot of valuable things in trying to explain it, and I'd really not rather do that.

In your opinion, which are the all-time top ten Christian rock albums?
Oh, let's see... Beyond Belief, Shake, On Fire, Unfit for Swine, This Means War... hahahaha! Seriously, it's hard to say ...

A lot of people think that following Jesus means losing your freedom. What is your answer to that?
I was one of those same people, and I think the biggest discovery I made when I did become a Christian is that I didn't have to give up anything. I was more free than I was before. Before, the only way I could have a good time was to just totally get fried, get coked up, get so drunk that I couldn't walk, and that to me was a good time. I'd wake up the next day with a hangover and a bloody nose, and no money in my pocket - and that was supposed to be a good time? And then when I became a Christian, different values became a whole lot more important. I found out that you could have a great time, wake up with a nice clean head and still have money in your pocket.
I also discovered that through Jesus Christ you don't have to give up anything - you WANT to. You don't want to put up with all the garbage that's been destroying you for so long. It's a freedom that I think only a Christian can understand.

Which projects do you have for the future?
Several! I'm working with Bob, the guitar player for Petra, and we're going to do a duo praise album. I'm also doing a solo record, working with my son-in-law Dan Needham as producer, who happens to be an amazing producer and drummer.
I've also been very blessed ot have alot of the best musicians in Nashville who will be playing on it, so I'm excited about that.
We have a book that we're writing that hopefully will out sometime in the near future.
I'm working with Rick Derringer on his album, and am probably going to sing two or three songs on his album.
I have another project that I'll probably do one song on.. . and meanwhile, I'm staying busy with my woodworking hobby and actually delving into a little bit of real estate too.
So I guess you could call me a rolling stone! I don't like to pick up moss too quickly.

Do you have a word of hope to end this interview?
Absolutely! I really feel that it's important to tell people, estpecially kids, that they have the right to know about Jesus Christ. The world tries so hard to steal it away from them, to steal that right away. I want them to know that they have the right to hear about Him. They have the right to choose Him. Don't let the world tell you how to live. When I say "the world" I'm talking about peer pressure, radio, secular TV, schools...
It's seems like it's not cool to be a Christian. I'm telling you right now
- it's cool because I AM a Christian. We've got to understand that.
Those of you who have never had a relationsihp with Jesus Christ - you have the right to! And to those of you who already know what I'm talking about - we're not a dying team. We're a winning team.



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