Christian music stars remember Adrian Rogers
NASHVILLE (BP) -- The music program of Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis has been a flagship among SBC churches for decades. So it may be no surprise that longtime Bellevue pastor Adrian Rogers had strong opinions about music. He knew what he liked. And he knew what he didn't.
Christian rocker Eddie DeGarmo knows that all too well.
DeGarmo, a Memphis native, first encountered Rogers in person in the gymnasium of Memphis-area Germantown High School in the spring of 1973.
DeGarmo, only 18 years old and a new Christian, was invited to provide the music for a school assembly. Rogers was to be the guest speaker.
When the band took the stage, Rogers was on the front row. DeGarmo, who had been attending nearby Germantown Baptist Church, had seen Rogers on TV and knew who he was.
"I remember this very specifically," DeGarmo said in an interview with Baptist Press. "I walked up to the microphone, and I said, 'Let me tell you how Jesus changed my life.' That was all I said. I walked over to my synthesizer and I started making these crazy sound effects. And of course the sound man had it cranked up. It was loud. The kids were loving it.
"I remember looking at Dr. Rogers on the front row and seeing the blood drain out of his face. He never mentioned it when he got up and spoke, and he did a great job. And we never spoke about that until ... years later."
In the years that followed, DeGarmo and bandmate Dana Key formed the well-known Christian rock band DeGarmo & Key and became trailblazers in the contemporary Christian music world. Their music was controversial in many Christian circles, but controversy was never their intention. Before accepting Christ, they had made a name for themselves around Memphis as a dance band, and their conversions didn't change their desire to play music.
"[It was] 1972 when I came to the Lord," DeGarmo, who is now a Christian music executive in Nashville, said. "And when we became believers, it was a little bit of a story around town.
"We started playing music ... in the only style that we knew how to play music. It was never a concerted effort to be rebels.... It's just that's where we grew up. That was a very natural thing. So we just started singing about our conversion or our faith."
Over the years, as DeGarmo & Key gained notoriety, especially in and around Memphis, DeGarmo would hear through the grapevine that Rogers didn't much care for their music. The two had several mutual friends in the city, including a few staff members at Bellevue.
"[Rogers] would just say things like 'Not my style. [I'm] not real sure what kind of meaning it has,'" DeGarmo said. "[But] he was classy enough he never did it from the pulpit."
The 'years later' meeting that allowed the two men to discuss their differences took place in the late 1980s when the Gaither Vocal Band, a Southern Gospel group, gave a concert at Bellevue Baptist Church.
DeGarmo received a phone call the afternoon of the concert from Bill Gaither, legendary Gospel songwriter and leader of the Gaither Vocal Band.
"Bill called me, and I just happened to be at home," DeGarmo said. "And he said, 'Hey what are you doing? Come have dinner.'"
DeGarmo agreed and came to the church -- sporting his long hair and full rock & roll attire. He was met at the door and led down a long hallway into Rogers' office.
"I was like 'OK, here we go,'" DeGarmo said, adding that he's always had great respect for Rogers. He recalls the meeting:
"Bill said to Dr. Rogers -- he knew him on a first-name basis -- he said, 'Adrian this is Eddie. Eddie this is Adrian. I think you guys should meet each other and talk.'" And then Gaither turned around and walked out of the room.
"So I sat down with all of my rock & roll clothes and hair and all that stuff," DeGarmo continued. "And I looked at Dr. Rogers, and I said, 'Well, I guess Bill thought we should meet each other.'
"And he said, 'Well, tell me your story. You know, how did all this happen?'
"And I said, 'Only on one condition. You have to tell me yours.'
"He laughed and said 'That's a deal.'
"We spent the next 45 minutes together telling each other about how we came to the Lord, how we got married ... just our story. And we kind of became friends after that.... Bill broke down the wall."
The two men even discussed the day years prior when Rogers first heard DeGarmo's brand of music at a high school assembly.
"[Rogers] said, 'Yeah, I kind of remember that. That was kind of different that day,'" DeGarmo recalled. "I said, 'Yeah it was. I was an 18-year-old kid. Probably wasn't thinking real clearly, but ... I was there for the kids.'"
Gaither thinks his own role was not as pivotal as DeGarmo implies.
"Part of our calling ... from the beginning is to try to bring people together," Gaither said in an interview with Baptist Press. "We come in different packages, but we're all lifting the same Christ. We just do it differently."
Gaither confesses that he wasn't much of a fan of DeGarmo & Key's music either.
"Stylistically, it was not music that got my attention," Gaither said. "It didn't mean it was bad. It just didn't get my attention. I come from the old four-part harmony days and quartets.
"But I liked Eddie. And I loved his heart then and I love his heart today."
Gaither remembers introducing the two men by saying to Rogers, "This is a good friend of mine. He loves the Lord. He does music a little differently. I'd like for you to get to know him."
He laughed, saying he suspects Rogers was wondering, "Who is this long-haired hippie?"
Gaither said Rogers had a "good spirit detector," and he knew the two would hit it off. "If I could've been a small part in the unity of believers, so be it," he said. "I think Eddie gives me more credit than I deserve."
Gaither first met Rogers and his wife Joyce at Disneyland in California when the couple approached him to tell him how much they appreciated his music. He counted Rogers a good friend and said he and Joyce were some of his biggest supporters through the years.
"There was no couple more dedicated to the cause of Christ and the Gospel," Gaither said. "His influence still goes on today."
Laura Erlanson is operations coordinator for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).