In search of the perfect Christian Jam Band

Okay, I’m on a mission.

Last night, Fran, Rhiannon and I went to see Point of Grace and Mark Schultz perform at a local mega-church. It was the second time we’ve seen Point of Grace, our first Mark Schultz concert. We went mainly for Rhiannon, who is just nuts over what she calls “Fish Music” (because the local Contemporary Christian Music, i.e. CCM, radio station is WFSH 104.7, affectionately nicknamed “the Fish”). Now, I do not mean to be a grouch when it comes to CCM; there are a few bands I truly enjoy: Switchfoot and Third Day top the list, and I was impressed with Delirious? when I saw them a couple of years back, and I can even get enthusiastic over someone as squeaky-clean as Rebecca St. James. But you know, in my opinion there are too many CCM bands that sound like U2 knockoffs, and some of the biggest names in the business (Steven Curtis Chapman, Jeremy Camp, Casting Crowns, Jars of Clay, Mercy Me) are all so honed in their midtempo rock, adult contemporary sound, that… well, it all just starts to sound the same after a while. At least to me.

Okay, I understand I’m not exactly their target demographic. I grew up listening to bands like Yes and Jefferson Airplane and Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and Grateful Dead. As a matter of fact, I still listen to these guys, with the main difference being that at this point in my life I wince at how sexist or violent or angry so many of their lyrics are. But these old progressive rock/jam bands made music that was (at least, for its time) risky, gutsy, edgy, and even a tad bit dangerous. Yes may have been the least scary of the lot, but even their music broke all the rules of pop radio (on their classic albums from the early 1970s, the average song length was about ten minutes).

So last night at the concert, I thought to myself, “Self, it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Since Fran and Rhiannon love the pure-pop sounds of most CCM, I cannot begrudge them the music they enjoy. But if I want Christian music with an edge, I need to go find it — and its normal habitat will not be radio stations like the Fish.”

Now, in its heyday the Jesus music scene of the 70s did produce a few artists who made unusual, edgy, or just plain weird music. The Resurrection Band (later shortened to Rez Band) could be called acolytes of Led Zeppelin, and more recently their protegé band, Seeds, has a sound similar to Crosby, Stills and Nash. Larry Norman, one of the true pioneers of Christian rock, created music that combined his 50s-rock falsetto voice with a bluesy psychedelic sound (and in-your-face lyrics). Probably my single favorite Christian musician, Phil Keaggy, is a masterful guitarist and, having seen him twice over the last eighteen months, it’s reassuring to note that he still knows how to jam. Indeed, his album Crimson and Blue is probably the single best example of improvisational Christian rock that I’ve yet run across. Among younger artists, Zehnder has a jam-band sensibility, even though none of their recordings that I’ve heard seem to be particularly improvisational.

So that’s all good stuff. But I’d like to find some new Christian jam music. Does it exist?

Last night I tweeted a request for “Jerry Garcia with Jesus” music, and people both on Twitter and Facebook rose to the challenge. One person suggested I visit www.indieheaven.com, a website that invites us to “discover the other 99% of Christian music.” You can search their site by genre, and I was pleased to see that “jam band” was among the many genres listed in their search box. So I selected that category, clicked on the search button… and had 0 results.


The Promise of ParadoxMeanwhile, other folks threw out a variety of ideas: Jesse Manibusan, Soul-Junk, Daniel Amos, Waterdeep, among others. Meanwhile, my own Googling yielded The Selah Project, which (along with Waterdeep) seems to be the most promising. I’m beginning to think that contemporary, creative, Christian music that hasn’t been put through the corporate rock blander, er, blender, does in fact still exist out there. And I suspect that there’s more of it, but it hasn’t made it onto my radar screen yet.

So, do any of my dear readers have a favorite Christian band that’s just a little too freaky to get airtime on the big corporate radio stations? If you do, please let me know.

And I should end this post by being honest and saying that both Mark Schultz and Point of Grace put on a fine show. I don’t mean to be a nay-sayer about all the mainstream Christian musicians who I am sure work very hard at their craft and their ministry. So I want to be clear that by saying “it’s not my cuppa tea” I’m not saying “it’s lousy!” Far from it. Once again: better to light a candle than curse the music that isn’t really to my taste. But before I can light my candle, I need to find it.

Pentecost and Ecstasy
Preliminary Practices for Christian Contemplatives
Mysticism and the Divine Feminine: An Interview with Mirabai Starr
What Has Not Yet Been Revealed
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • http://heartofflame.blogspot.com Yewtree

    All religion-specific music is awful, by definition. And I would apply that to Pagan music just as much as Christian music. In fact, I bet atheist music would be awful as well. Probably worse. Though I did find the Atheist Tabernacle Choir amusing, they were still awful.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    Aw, come on. By that logic, Mozart, Bach, Gregorian Chant, qawwali, and Tibetan overtone chanting are all “awful.” I just don’t buy it. I will grant you that most contemporary Christian rock is bland and uninspiring, but I think that has as much to do with the problems of contemporary Christianity as a whole (much of which is bland and uninspiring) than with any necessary relationship between religious fervor and artistic incompetence.

  • http://www.philfosterlpc.com phil foster

    Well, as someone who is not particularly fond of FISH and the whole CCM scene, AND as someone who plays it most weeks in worship I have a particular perspective on this. I’m not a professional musician – strictly self taught. My style has brought a “looseness,” jam like quality to the direction of my church’s particular take on contemporary worship. My point is this – play the bass, Carl, and the music God wants you to play/hear will emerge. The homogenous quality of most Christian praise music belies a theology that says we must conform. Not the message I hear from JC in the gospels. Rather, we need to aim for Jesus’ radical inclusiveness – in our lives and our music. $0.02. Peace.

  • http://www.brotherjohnny.wordpress.com Johnny

    Terry Scott Taylor, the lead genius behind Daniel Amos, has other projects that I bet you would love;
    “The Swirling Eddies” and “Lost Dogs” being on the tip of my tongue at the moment.
    the 77′s are another group who, while aren’t exactly a jam band, are a great blues/rock group. Oh yeah, and they are “Christian” too.

  • brambonius

    For more recent music, try the outer edge of christian music like psalters and mewithoutyou, or wovenhand, danielson, soul-junk, sufjan stevens, ester drang, madison greene … But that’s still not not exactly jam band I guess…

  • scott

    there is website that is run by christians called virtuosity/spiritual prog that might just give you a little taste of what you’re hungry for. It’s not exclusively prog and contains an A-Z list of prog psych. pop and killer worship music.At the risk of appearing arrogant, go to Between the Lights(Canton,Ohio)mypace page(my band).We are not a trad. jam band, we have lots of improv. and some 70s pop. Give me some feed back, we can take it. tell me what you think of Virtuosity/Spiritual prog.

  • http://facegodjesuschrist.com Jimmy Tran

    Tune to live radio show 12:00 PM every Sat. night. KXMX.com. Repent Rock by Jimmy Tran, and the S.O.S. Rock and Roll band. Love to have You visit. Unblandered.

  • http://barrywallace.wordpress.com/ Barry Wallace

    Your best bet is still some of the old live Waterdeep stuff (their newer work pales by comparison).

  • Justin McKinney

    Hello Carl,

    I too share your desire for something better in the modern Christian Music arena. From my experience, there are a select few songs that have the power to overwhelm me (Amazing Love is one of those songs), and I too am searching for a Christian jamband; though probably for a somewhat different purpose than you. I am an improvizational guitarist, and listen to alot of “jam music”, but when I hear trey anastasio play the mixolydian mode, I cry tears of joy! Jerry Garcia could make the mixolydian mode sound like angels rejoicing too! And this topic reminds me of how the great classical composers segregated music into two categories: earthly & heavenly, and there was a specific music theory behind their categorization. When one is able to follow these musical theorms & interwieve African rhythms an amazing thing occurs . . . .

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    Justin, perhaps you need to be the Christian Garcia.

    Last week I saw the David Crowder Band perform. Not exactly a jam-band, but definitely a fun way to spend an evening.

  • http://www.reverbnation/blueheron Slick Tyler

    Hey,I am an ex-psychedelic and blues guitarist whose father was a 60′s Jazz improviser and played with Coltraine and Cannonball Adderly whenever they were in Norfolk, Va. I went into the Marines and then 82nd Airborne instead of Berklee where I was already accepted. I am now struggling to get booked as a Jam band with my wife on keyboards.Almost every song is original and a mix of Americana,Jazz and Blues. I posted my website above so check us out. (and spread the word if ya like it)Thanx Slick

  • http://www.reverbnation/blueheron Slick Tyler

    Oh yeah, I also want to say that although the title seems bad and the band was probably experimenting with more than music,I think I hear prophetic revival messages that maybe were rejected as they came out of heaven as musical annointing.These words are in Grateful Dead’s album “Blues for Allah” The songs are:”The Music Never Stopped” and “Franklin’s Tower”.Why can’t God’s real children channel this wavelength? ………….We Can! Slick

  • http://www.reverbnation.com/blueheron Slick Tyler

    Oh here is the real url i forgot the dotcom.(Must have flashebacked to the 70′s and lost my short term memory for a second.)

  • http://www.reverbnation.com/blueheron Slick Tyler

    @yewtree : Music is made of waves.All matter is made of waves or particles as determined by the observer.Music is the arrangement of sound waves into frequent patterns .The first waves in creation were sound waves,which were sped up to become light.Sound waves still have the power to create or destroy.With the human soul,this is done by emotion being manipulated or drawn out.ALL music therefore is spiritual and creates a link between soul and spirit.Or between an awareness of heaven and earth.You might still be right, this is just my hypothesis.

  • Darren

    I’ll second the vote for 77s, their message has a depth to it that’s sometimes missing from “Christian” music. And they do rock, some very serious musicianship.

    I’m also discovering some of the “old stuff” and when you’ve not dusted it off in a long time the old stuff can be new again, have been enjoying some of the “lighter” folkie type things, Don Francisco and Keith Green and some old Petra and DeGarmo and Key, not exactly “jam bands” but the D&G live album has some dandy guitar work…and I was at the concert in OKC where it was recorded, so fun memories with that one, too.

  • http://www.myspace.com/johnheueisen John H

    A Dead like Christian jam band has been my dream for a long time. I’ve recently been trying to find some other musicians to collaborate with but it’s been hard to find the right people here in Portland, OR. I have a sample of the direction I would like to go at http://www.myspace.com/johnheueisen

  • Chad

    I know that this is an old thread but I, too, have been on a mission (for years!) to find great “jam bands” w/ Christian based lyrics that would satisfy my Grateful Dead-ish ear! I did find a band called “Seeds” that I liked. You can find them here…http://www.grrrrecords.com/seeds.cfm. Also, if anyone has any new suggestions I would love to hear them!


    • Carl McColman

      Yes, Chad, I’m familiar with “Seeds” and love their music. Probably the most authentic hippie-Christian band out there.

  • http://facebook.com/daughertyjosh Josh

    My vote would go to Neal Morse. He’s the former lead singer for a progressive rock band called Spock’s Beard. He does full on Christian progressive rock in the vein of Kansas, Yes, Gentle Giant, etc. He has quite a few releases out there and is doing a 2 hour show at this years Cornerstone festival.

    • Jacob

      Not a jam band but since you brought up progressive…check out Theocracy. Modern band that’s power/progressive Christian metal.

  • BZ

    Check out Robert Randolph and the Family Band. Not exactly Christian music but they are all christians that write very excellent music. Its my belief that your either in one kingdom or the other so when you are in the right one and write good music, the spirit behind it is the good one, so to speak. So they might not sing about Jesus but i would check em out if i were you. GREAT guitar playing.

    I was also recommended Phil Keaggy. Haven’t checked him out yet tho.

    • Carl McColman

      If you aren’t familiar with Phil Keaggy, you have a treat in store. For a sense of his improvisational chops, try Crimson and Blue or perhaps one of the Glass Harp live albums.

  • BZ

    Nice! Thx man

  • BZ

    Where’s the best place to find his stuff? He’s not on archive.org

  • Emily

    I know this is an old thread and unfortunately I have no new suggestions to add but I want to thank everyone for the suggestions they included and of course for the writer or this! I love the dead and phish and the band and all that music and I will miss going to shows this summer but I’m realizing that scene is no longer the place for me and I am once again coming to The Lord:) so it was great finding this because there was some really good suggestions of music that I think ill actually really enjoy! God bless and thanks again :)

  • Mike

    Popol Vuh. German band from the 70′s.

  • http://www.deadbonesrevival.com Greg Panos

    Hey guys, I know this is an older thread, but I’m a worship leader who at one time toured with the Dead, loved the community and led a jam Scene in SoCal back in the 90′s. I had a Salvation meeting with Jesus through the Holy Spirit at an event I put on with Delilah Jones, while dancing my ass off. All my junk, finally caught up. I was breaking and crying out to the Father I was taught to pray my whole life. Breaking for forgiveness. After 15min. of real repentance and tears about people I hurt and how I hurt myself, I heard the Holy Spirit say (in a still small voice), cry out to my son Jesus.” I used the name and said, “Jesus, please forgive me”, Crack!..then lighting and rain, fiery eyes, seeing through the veil and His voice saying, “I have forgiven you of who you were, who you are and who you ever thought you were gonna be, to make you who I made you to be.” Many thought I was on the best acid you could get since Zappa brown. When I walked back through the event all I could say was “I just saw the Fiery eyes of God!” They in turn said, ” where can I get some of that stuff.” Short time after I got plugged into a Spirit filled Evangelistic Music Community style Church in HB.

    Since 93 I’ve really longed to see the good of my journey from that scene, sanctified in the Kingdom of Gods people. Been a long road of church institution and stuff, for the Lord to make and move in my heart music naturally the way He designed me. Our culture and ministry is deeply relational with one another and encountered in prophetic worship and intercession for the great awakening. We are starting other Deadbones Revival meetings around the IE region of SoCal an its been growing and exploding with God’s presence. Which is frankly all we seek. We are done with man’s way on planet earth and just wanna see God.

    I’d like to connect more with brothers in the same vein of Christ and music. Attached is a download link to a fun moment at our last meeting. Who ever’s getting this please contact me, I’d like to connect and finally get this thing flowing in the river with more brothers and sisters. Keep in mind we don’t rehearse. Although, through all the flow moments, many songs of the Spirit have come up and are being recorded as songs to build around. It’s all spontaneous prophetic worship seeking to fan Christ, raise up the people and abound in His presence! Yes there is dancing going on! Trued up spiritual dance! Everyone in their own space! in Unity!


  • http://jessicarenaimagineart.com Jessica

    Ok so, her is a really awesome band that I picked up at a Christian bookstore Evensong Rising the priest singing sounds like Trey Anastasio a bit, and there are two girls in the group one with a soft melodic voice and one with a Mavis Staplesie voice. The album had some very cool jams on it, I bet they are really good live too. I know what Emily is saying about the whole going to shows scene too. I feel ya but Jesus isn’t at the center of those shows, though it would be cool if Phish would jump on stage one night and read from the helping friendly book and say a verse from the Bible.

  • Rusty

    I would suggest The Violet Burning’s new triple disc masterpiece “The Story of our lives”. One of the best Christian rock albums I’ve heard in a long time. Imperfect record, yet perfect. http://www.thevioletburning.com/