Where did Christian rock start?

Before 1967, the term Christian rock was not in use. In 1968 a similar term "Theo rock" was coined in the Village Voice periodical in reference to the Mind Garage. By the early 1970s the new genre, Christian rock, had a name.

Christian rock music started in several places simultaneously. There may have been musicians that wrote, played or recorded what we call Christian rock music in their homes or basements, but no record of any such music or documentation survives.

Gospel music has been in existence for centuries and some "experts" on Christian rock would like to say that one gospel group or another was the first Christian rock group. Some even assert that British pop groups in the early 60s were the first Christian rock groups. But the fact is, pop music, folk music, blues, gospel, etc etc are not rock and roll.

Whether we can identify the first rock group is dubious, but we definitely know when rock was at its peak in the 1960s and 70s before punk and rap and metal and the multitude of other kinds of music existed, and rock groups calling themselves Christian rock bands are easily identifiable. Groups that call themselves gospel are definitely not Christian rock groups.

If it were so, then Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll who recorded many religious Gospel albums in the 1950s would be recognized as the first Christian rock musician and Memphis would be the place. But Elvis is not recognized as ever having played Christian rock music, because Gospel is simply not rock and roll. The case of the "experts" falls apart. To find out where Christian rock began we must look to the United States, where rock and roll itself originated.

The first commercial recording of Christian rock music, which is undeniably recognized as rock music and specifically Christian rock music, was conceived in California in the fall and winter of 1967 by David Axelrod, the manager of the psychedelic rock group, the Electric Prunes, and released in 1968. He took the group into the studio and they recorded the Mass in F Minor. The Electric Prunes broke up before the Mass was recorded in it's entirety, and some of the music was recorded by studio musicians. Two original members who did play on the recording and are in a current reincarnation of the group are James Lowe, bassist and Mark Tulin, lead guitarist. The Electric Prunes put out the first Christian rock album in 1968. They were never able to play the Mass live in its entirety anywhere.

Simultaneously, in the fall and winter of 1967 another group in West Virginia, the psychedelic rock group, Mind Garage, was composing a Mass of their own known as the Electric Liturgy. The local campus minister, Michael Paine, had asked the rock group to write music for the ancient church Liturgy.

The Mind Garage actually gave the first live documented performance of a Christian rock worship service in a church on March 10, 1968 in the Trinity Episcopal church in Morgantown, West Virginia. The stone floor of the old church cracked as the band played very loud, much like the walls of Jerico cracked, signalling an end to the way things were. The Mind Garage had broken the barrier between church and rock and roll. Although the Mind Garage had never had any intention of recording the Electric Liturgy, when they found themselves in need of more material to finish an album, the Electric Liturgy was recorded in 1969 in RCA's Nashville Studio under the direction of Chet Atkins using Elvis Presley's recording engineers.

The Mind Garage is still comprised of the original members that wrote and recorded the Electric Liturgy. Larry McClurg (lead singer), Jack Bond (keyboards), Norris Lytton (bass), Ted Smith (drums) and John Vaughan (lead guitar) are still a band as of 2010. This is thought to be the only major label rock group from the late 1960s intact with no membership change.

It is interesting to note that both groups were psychedelic hard rock bands and the idea of Christian rock was conceived independently without knowledge of what the other was doing.

All other Christian rock musicians and spin off genres followed these two pioneers from 1968 onward. Today Christian rock music is an inspiration to people around the world.