Petra still rocking the Christian music scene
by: Reggie Edwards
When Petra shook the grounds of the Christian music industry with the announcement of their retirement in 2005, it didn’t look like they would ever be back.
Fast forward to 2010 and they are back, much to the satisfaction of many a Christian rock fan. They aren’t back, however, with the lineup many would expect.
They’re back with the Classic Petra lineup, consisting of Bob Hartman, Greg X. Volz, Mark Kelly, John Lawry and Louie Weaver- a lineup that has not played together since Beat the System in 1985.
Back together, they released Back to the Rock in November 2010, a reunion album that was a remastering of many of their classic hits.
We were honored to have the chance to sit down with front man Greg X. Volz to talk about the reunion and what the trip has been like so far and what the future may hold.
“The planning, interestingly enough, all kind of fell together when we talked about we were going to take the favorite songs and re-record them into today’s technology to bring them up to spec so to speak,” Volz says.
“Everyone was on the same page with the songs. We all had a list of songs we thought would be it, sent them to John Lawry who said ‘you guys are all picking the same songs.’
Lawry came back and gave them the consensus, which they all thought would be a good first run.
“The fun part about this,” Volz says, “is we had not played together in about 25 years and the first concert we did together was a television special. That’s scary. We didn’t really know what we were doing. We didn’t know what we were going to say.
“We had no plan; we thought ‘Well this will be a taping. We’ll do a taping, we’ll stop, the audience will understand it, but for some reason there was this incredible flow and it just went from beginning to end and nothing stopped and it just flowed through the entire thing. I was just like ‘Wow, that was pretty exciting.’”
Volz says when the band played, it was all organic and wasn’t sequenced.
“Louie [Weaver] got in there and laid it in after not playing for so many years. Everybody did very, very well. John Lawry, our keyboard player, who really produced this project, was very, very patient with everyone and understood how to relate to the band to get the best performance,” he said.
As a result, Volz says, they got a really good product.
A DVD of the concert was produced, titled Back to the Rock, and is available on the official website, www.classicpetra.com. Volz said the DVD will also be available Sept. 20 in bookstores across the country but it can be purchased now through the website.
Petra rehearsed at Lawry’s studio. When they started to play, Volz says everyone looked at each other and he compared it to getting back on the bike again or getting back on the same horse.
“The truth is we actually spent more time talking and reminiscing and laughing than practicing,” Volz says. “This went on for days. Because everything just gelled very well together we had a really good time. We just conversed and talked a great deal.”
During the Back to the Rock World Tour, Petra stopped at Cornerstone Festival in July, as part of the Jesus Rally. They headlined the first night of the festival with Barry McGuire, Daniel Amos, Phil Keaggy, Randy Stonehill, E Band [Volz’s band prior to Petra] and Resurrection Band.
“We’ve known all those guys. Barry McGuire has been a friend for years. Phil Keaggy since the 70’s, REZ band, I started working with them in 1971- this was before Petra.
“The band I was with was called E, which was probably the first Christian rock band in the U.S. in 1970. We used to play concerts in the parks and do outreaches with REZ band back when they first formed in 71. The thing with E band, we hadn’t played together in 40 years, it had been 40 years since we’d played together, and the guys pulled it off. We did have some rehearsals but it was a very interesting feeling.
“I didn’t feel old, I just felt like lighting the torch. My torch still burns pretty bright and I just want to go out and light the torches to the next generation.”
Volz talked a little bit about the struggles Petra faced in the early days of Christian rock and where Petra’s message stands today.
“Did we take a hit? Yeah we took a hit. We took a hit for like 10 years; people tried to stone us and kill us. For some reason, because it was the Lord’s doing, it didn’t stop- People kept getting saved, people kept having an encounter with the Lord Jesus.
“The message of Petra [is about] the re-establishing of the old wells and there’s scriptures that talk about re-diggging the old wells and there’s still plenty of fresh water if you dig down in there and there are a lot of people who still need these songs relevant to today’s youth. Most are good messages that have the gospel in them, not just (and I don’t mean this wrong), I’ve heard it said that a lot of today’s music is 7/11 music. I say ‘what?’ and they say ‘yeah, they take seven words and sing it eleven times.’
“That’s a mantra. It’s actually eastern. It’s been adapted by the church, they’re doing what a lot of the eastern religions do. They take a phrase and they say it over, and over, and over. Isn’t that funny, that’s kinda crept into the church and they don’t even know that? For me, give me a good song that’s got a message or a good story and I’ll take it any day.”
Volz says God has many different gifts of the body, many different flavors.
“I say god bless ‘em all, go out and speak your piece and say what Jesus is telling you to say. But as for what Petra’s doing, we’re after prodigals. That’s what the Lord instructed us to do and I say that for myself and most of the other guys will agree. This is a very valid thing to go get prodigals that are lost out there stuck between the cracks, came up on Jesus music, don’t fit anywhere, we have them come up at our concerts and tell us straight up, ‘I’m one of those prodigals.’
“If it’s valid, it’s valid. Pray for us that God will give us wisdom to do what we’re supposed to do. We’re gonna do the best we can, I don’t know how long it’s gonna last, only God knows that. I’m still on the one-day-at-a-time-Sweet Jesus plan, he joked.
Now that Back to the Rock is on the books, Petra is looking to the future, which will include Back to the Rock Vol. II.
“They’ll be the favorites. They’ll be the “Not of this World”, maybe “The Coloring Song,” “Beat the System.” It will be the favorites, but I will tell you this. Realistically we’re looking at maybe the first of the year for a release,” Volz says.
There may be an original record of original Petra material in the works too, Volz says.