“The greatest Lutheran bar band, ever”

That would be the Jayhawks!   I had no idea that Mark Olson was a Lutheran.   I heard them in concert years ago.   Thanks to Larry Wilson for alerting me to this fact.  From the Mockingbird Blog:

I once heard The Jayhawks described as the “greatest Lutheran bar band ever,” and though I’m still not exactly sure what that means, I know I like it. It’s certainly better than the “alt-country pioneers” label they normally get saddled with. Or worse, heirs of Gram Parsons’ “cosmic American music” legacy. (Which is not a knock on Gram in any way, just on the flaky non-genre he coined). My own description would be: jangly God-haunted Midwestern country-folk with fuzz guitars and harmonies that redefine the words “sandpaper-and-honey.” But even that doesn’t cover the oddly circular progression they’ve undergone, from breezy singer-songwriters to arty and somewhat angsty recordmakers, and back again. Regardless of how they’re categorized, The Jayhawks are an American treasure, responsible for at least four brilliant albums, two of which feature co-founder/-lead singer Mark Olson (Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow The Green Grass), two of which don’t (Sound of Lies and Rainy Day Music are exclusively Gary Louris-led affairs). The fact that they’ve got a connection to Lutheranism is just a bonus. . . .

Anyway, back to the “Lutheran” part. Mark Olson’s faith has always informed the fractured poetry of his songs – an image here, a phrase there – never obscured by fear or paraded with insecurity. I’m thinking of the uncontrived religious undertones of “Waiting for the Sun” or “Real Light,” how they cleverly changed the title of “Martin Luther” to “Martin’s Song,” or how they covered Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Up Above My Head” on an early b-side. So when Olson wrote and recorded a straight-ahead gospel tune on his solo record December’s Child (!), “Still We Have A Friend In You,” it may not have been a big shock, but it was certainly a pleasant surprise (he had almost gone there with the excellent “Someone There To Talk With” on his previous album). It helps that it’s such a great song, too – totally authentic, uplifting and singable, with not even a whiff of cheapness. In other words, it’s top-tier white gospel (which is not meant as a backhanded compliment) and a bit of a modern classic. Olson explained himself in the press release for the record with characteristic humility and understatement: “That’s a gospel song in the sense of when you’re younger, you go away from God. It talks about what it takes to get you back into the walk with God. A lot of times you don’t go back until you’re just down.” Turns out it was a dry run for his next record, arguably his best, the divorce-themed The Salvation Blues. Garrison Keillor, eat your heart out.

via Mockingbird (Go to the link for lyrics and a sample.)

Does any one know any more about this?

Of course, my favorite Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod bar band has to be anyone playing with Lyle Lovett.  (Does anyone have any more Lyle Lovett sightings at local churches?  I’ve heard a few, including one where he explained to his band members why they couldn’t take Communion.)

Does anyone know any other Lutheran bar bands, or any other interesting and seemingly unlikely Christian affiliations?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Rev Bob Herring

    I was serving Grace, Muncie IN when Pastor Mark Carlson of St. James, Marion came to our monthly pastor’s conference with his story of officiating at the wedding of Lovett and Julia Roberts in 1993. It seems that one of Lovett’s bus drivers was a member of that congregation and suggested St. James as a possible location for the wedding. After some discussion, everything was in place for the service which went off without a hitch. Lovett’s buses were used as a barricade to keep photographers and others from unauthorized views. According to Pastor Carlson, Lovett’s band played a couple of songs for the service.

    Sadly, I don’t think the couple came in for premarriage counseling but I guess that might be evident by the brevity of their marriage.

    Lovett and Roberts were both easy to work with and showed proper respect for the service. The pictures were pretty good too!

  • Rev Bob Herring

    I was serving Grace, Muncie IN when Pastor Mark Carlson of St. James, Marion came to our monthly pastor’s conference with his story of officiating at the wedding of Lovett and Julia Roberts in 1993. It seems that one of Lovett’s bus drivers was a member of that congregation and suggested St. James as a possible location for the wedding. After some discussion, everything was in place for the service which went off without a hitch. Lovett’s buses were used as a barricade to keep photographers and others from unauthorized views. According to Pastor Carlson, Lovett’s band played a couple of songs for the service.

    Sadly, I don’t think the couple came in for premarriage counseling but I guess that might be evident by the brevity of their marriage.

    Lovett and Roberts were both easy to work with and showed proper respect for the service. The pictures were pretty good too!

  • Rev. Alex Klages

    Apparently Diana Krall, renowned jazz singer/pianist, was confirmed at an LCMS church in British Columbia (back before we split off to become LCC) and goes back there from time to time.

  • Rev. Alex Klages

    Apparently Diana Krall, renowned jazz singer/pianist, was confirmed at an LCMS church in British Columbia (back before we split off to become LCC) and goes back there from time to time.

  • SKPeterson

    Rev. Larry Beane over at Father Hollywood had something a month or two ago on Randy Rhoads, who was not only a Lutheran, but also the blistering guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne back in the 80′s before his untimely death in an airplane crash. His funeral was at First Lutheran in Burbank.

  • SKPeterson

    Rev. Larry Beane over at Father Hollywood had something a month or two ago on Randy Rhoads, who was not only a Lutheran, but also the blistering guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne back in the 80′s before his untimely death in an airplane crash. His funeral was at First Lutheran in Burbank.

  • Rev. Ryan Fehrmann

    I don’t know if this is unlikely but -Brett Eldrege (yes a country singer) is an active LCMS member, was raised as a member of Grace Lutheran Church in Paris IL .

  • Rev. Ryan Fehrmann

    I don’t know if this is unlikely but -Brett Eldrege (yes a country singer) is an active LCMS member, was raised as a member of Grace Lutheran Church in Paris IL .

  • Rev. Ryan Fehrmann

    Whoops, that should be EldreDge.

  • Rev. Ryan Fehrmann

    Whoops, that should be EldreDge.

  • http://acroamaticus.blogspot.com Pr Mark Henderson

    I love ‘The Jayhawks’. Discovered them a few years ago (God-haunted country rock isn’t big “down under”). Gotta be the best band that never made it. A great pity considering the trash that gets airplay today on country stations here.

  • http://acroamaticus.blogspot.com Pr Mark Henderson

    I love ‘The Jayhawks’. Discovered them a few years ago (God-haunted country rock isn’t big “down under”). Gotta be the best band that never made it. A great pity considering the trash that gets airplay today on country stations here.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    When I do a search for ["Mark Olson" Jayhawks Lutheran], the top two results are (1) this page right here and (2) the Mockingbird blog you linked to from this page. Nowhere else can I find anyone discussing this aspect of Olson’s faith.

    Can we be honest for a second? Lutherans have a really odd relationship with celebrity. We apparently really want there to be some famous Lutherans (it’s not hard to find a copy of a certain list all over the Internet, which purports to list all kinds of famous Lutherans in a poorly documented email-forward kind of way). But, excepting Martin Luther, there generally aren’t a ton of them. And most of the famous ones are apparently ELCA and, well, it’s not clear what qualifies them as Lutheran. But for many of them, a Lutheran upbringing seems to qualify, which turns Lutheranism into some sort of cultural property, a la Catholicism and Judaism as they are frequently understood today.

    I mean, I think you could find more Lutheran themes in non-Lutheran works than you could in the actions of most nominal Lutheran celebrities.

    My point being: unless you can actually tell by Mark Olson’s lyrics that he’s Lutheran, why does it matter if he is?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    When I do a search for ["Mark Olson" Jayhawks Lutheran], the top two results are (1) this page right here and (2) the Mockingbird blog you linked to from this page. Nowhere else can I find anyone discussing this aspect of Olson’s faith.

    Can we be honest for a second? Lutherans have a really odd relationship with celebrity. We apparently really want there to be some famous Lutherans (it’s not hard to find a copy of a certain list all over the Internet, which purports to list all kinds of famous Lutherans in a poorly documented email-forward kind of way). But, excepting Martin Luther, there generally aren’t a ton of them. And most of the famous ones are apparently ELCA and, well, it’s not clear what qualifies them as Lutheran. But for many of them, a Lutheran upbringing seems to qualify, which turns Lutheranism into some sort of cultural property, a la Catholicism and Judaism as they are frequently understood today.

    I mean, I think you could find more Lutheran themes in non-Lutheran works than you could in the actions of most nominal Lutheran celebrities.

    My point being: unless you can actually tell by Mark Olson’s lyrics that he’s Lutheran, why does it matter if he is?

  • Mary

    Not quite a bar band, but how about Erin Bode? You can see from this article that she certainly has quite the LCMS roots!

    http://www.lcms.org/ca/worldrelief/themba/detail.asp?pg=ErinBode

    She plays in several local venues here in the St Louis area, and also world wide. She will also be performing for a Lutheran Hour conference soon.

  • Mary

    Not quite a bar band, but how about Erin Bode? You can see from this article that she certainly has quite the LCMS roots!

    http://www.lcms.org/ca/worldrelief/themba/detail.asp?pg=ErinBode

    She plays in several local venues here in the St Louis area, and also world wide. She will also be performing for a Lutheran Hour conference soon.

  • Kristine

    Someone told me recently that Dr. Seuss was a lifelong Lutheran. That seems weirdly obvious in hindsight.

  • Kristine

    Someone told me recently that Dr. Seuss was a lifelong Lutheran. That seems weirdly obvious in hindsight.

  • Helen F

    I’ve heard from a friend that Allison Krauss in Mo. Synod Lutheran, but have yet to substatiate that from any source. Anyone know?

  • Helen F

    I’ve heard from a friend that Allison Krauss in Mo. Synod Lutheran, but have yet to substatiate that from any source. Anyone know?

  • Mike

    The Jayhawks are “best band that never made it”?

    The Spin Record Guide lists the Jayhawks’ “Hollywood Town Hall” as one of 10 definitive alt-country albums. If getting ranked among luminaries like the Flying Burrito Brothers, The Mekons, Uncle Tupelo, Steve Earl, and Lucinda Williams doesn’t qualify you as having “made it,” what does?

    By the way, the “greatest Lutheran bar bad” tag originates with that article.

  • Mike

    The Jayhawks are “best band that never made it”?

    The Spin Record Guide lists the Jayhawks’ “Hollywood Town Hall” as one of 10 definitive alt-country albums. If getting ranked among luminaries like the Flying Burrito Brothers, The Mekons, Uncle Tupelo, Steve Earl, and Lucinda Williams doesn’t qualify you as having “made it,” what does?

    By the way, the “greatest Lutheran bar bad” tag originates with that article.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    tODD, lots of reasons: Lutherans, unlike other Christians, do not always have to be talking about their faith in their lyrics. This is because of the Lutheran doctrine of the Two Kingdoms, which opens up the secular realm to Christians in their vocations.

    These incognito Lutherans in the music business also demonstrates the Lutheran emphasis on Christian freedom. That there can be such a thing as a “Lutheran bar band” is surely telling. Can there be a “nondenominational” bar band? Well, yes, but they play their music in church, since they would never set foot in a bar. Lutheran rock ‘n’ rollers play their music in bars where it belongs.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    tODD, lots of reasons: Lutherans, unlike other Christians, do not always have to be talking about their faith in their lyrics. This is because of the Lutheran doctrine of the Two Kingdoms, which opens up the secular realm to Christians in their vocations.

    These incognito Lutherans in the music business also demonstrates the Lutheran emphasis on Christian freedom. That there can be such a thing as a “Lutheran bar band” is surely telling. Can there be a “nondenominational” bar band? Well, yes, but they play their music in church, since they would never set foot in a bar. Lutheran rock ‘n’ rollers play their music in bars where it belongs.


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