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A “Jesus Music” pioneer

Children of the Day helped launch a Christian music genre


Russ Stevens Photo by Marc J. Kawanishi/Genesis

A “Jesus Music” pioneer
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Before CCM, there was “Jesus Music.” One of its earliest, gentlest, and best-selling albums, Come to the Waters by the folk quartet Children of the Day, turns 50 this year.

I recently caught up with the group’s bassist, Russ Stevens (whose marriage to band member Marsha Stevens, incidentally, ended in 1980 when she came out as a lesbian, igniting CCM’s first public scandal).

Looking back, does listing the Holy Spirit as “producer” on the back cover of Come to the Waters seem over the top? As we were newbies in the recording scene, listing the Holy Spirit as producer was probably accurate. We had very little idea of what we were doing. Buck [Herring] helped, but he was the engineer. If anyone was producer, it was [group member] Pete Jacobs. He was, and still is, a musical genius.

How did you perceive yourselves when you were starting out—as missionaries, as “stones” that couldn’t help crying out? We were 20, 19, 19, and 16. We just loved singing together on the way to, from, and at church. We didn’t consider ourselves a group until someone asked us to sing at Melodyland Christian Center. We kind of formalized ourselves and found our name in 1 Thessalonians 5:5.

Do you have specific regrets about those early years? The Jesus Music scene had many problems because it was so impromptu. We were all brand-new Christians. We should have been nurtured in the faith before going out to minister, but we just fell into what we were doing.

What other misconceptions would you like to set straight? Not many people around CCM were getting rich. We were overjoyed when we realized that we’d sold 150,000 Come to the Waters albums, but that was still not enough to get rich on. We were, however, bringing in enough in love offerings and record sales to pay bills and feed ourselves. Very few of the other Maranatha! Music groups were. We came home from tour once and were told that we had to put the net from the tour into a pot to help the other groups live. We had no previous obligations, so we said no. We were not popular for that.

What are your happiest memories of your time in the Jesus Music spotlight? We were seeing people turn to Christ. We gave altar calls, and people came forward. I’m also really happy that we were able to blaze trails for other groups to get into churches where guitars and drums had previously been regarded as tools of Satan. Our mellower sound gave many a youth minister a wedge in the door to get more CCM into their church.

Has the Church changed, for better or for worse, because of what you and your fellow pioneers undertook? The Jesus Movement had a great impact. Many were saved. Regrettably, many fell away after the glitz, and the show was over. Fallen man tends to go backwards unless something is going on to catch interest. We were the “something” at the time, and it was glorious. But it’s time for a new revival, and that only comes by prayer.


Arsenio Orteza

Arsenio is a music reviewer for WORLD Magazine and one of its original contributors from 1986. Arsenio resides in China.

@ArsenioOrteza

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