Phil Keaggy Speaks the Truth

Here’s a revealing interview with Phil Keaggy, where he’s saying some of the things about the Christian music industry that I’ve been saying at Looking Closer for a decade or more.

This is just a piece of that article…

Considering the fact that some Christian music listeners expect a certain number of Jesus references in their songs, where does wordless music fit in with ministry?

Keaggy: I don’t know. It’s always made me feel odd when I’d get a Dove Award for an instrumental album that has nothing to do with gospel. When I think of gospel music, I think of spreading the Good News with words. But maybe it’s just because I was heralded once upon a time as one of theirs. The category of instrumental music seems sort of important to the big picture, but I felt a little embarrassed at the same time.

Does your instrumental music come from spiritual inspiration?

Keaggy:No, not necessarily. More than sometimes it does feel that way, but across the board no. It’s something I do like putting on my clothes or taking a shower. It’s like breathing. I’m not always thinking in terms of CCM or thinking in terms of gospel. When I pick up my guitar, there are times where I feel the Lord just bless it. I feel a blessing in what I’m doing and that’s just a result of wanting to serve him and please him.

But I’m [bothered] by the fact that Guitar Player magazine has to put “Christian guitarist” before my name. I can’t just be known as a guitar player; I’ve been pigeonholed in the situation. I feel like I’m on periphery of CCM and not quite in the world. I think Larry Norman felt that sort of way. They didn’t know what do with him and they didn’t know what to do with Sunday’s Child.

What irks me most about the Christian music business is the model on which they built the whole thing. It’s based on the world’s model of taking songs and masters from artists and owning it, when they make you pay back the production budget based on your royalties’ percentage and then they end up owning it. It’s like making 30 years of payments on a house that the bank never gives you!

How did you get reeled into that kind of partnership?

Keaggy: I was young and naive. I wish I knew in the ’70s what I know now. I would’ve never given my music away like that. You’ve got stars in your eyes, Christian or non-Christian, and you want to be expressive to let world hear where you’re coming from. It can bring a blessing into this world, but at same time in my own life and for other fellow artists, we’re so discouraged by the selfish system put in place, based upon the model of the world.

It may be a selfish system, though it seems the mainstream is better at re-releasing an artist’s back catalogue than the Christian market, such as the constant re-introduction of the Beatles to a younger generation.

Keaggy:There are new generations of Beatles’ fans yet music from the ’70s in Christian music is forgotten. They are only thinking about the present and not the treasures of the past or the futures of their artists—which is why the indie explosion is best thing that ever happened to Christian music. I just wish the hearts, pocketbook and bank accounts could have real righteous actions to go along with the explosion of CCM. I don’t know, I might get myself in trouble! (laughs)

So are you suggesting that the genre of “Christian music” shouldn’t exist?

Keaggy:Maybe. I would’ve been out there more in the world playing, selling CDs and spreading some light instead of conveniently singing to the choir. What Bono’s doing is dangerous. He’s basically sharing the gospel in a very real sort of way, and I kind of respect that. He didn’t want to get tagged and pulled into CCM. [Bob] Dylan wouldn’t let that happen either during his Slow Train Coming days. At same time, barriers are put around us. When you go to Europe, they don’t know what CCM is! Let’s all just do our music and go where we’re led to go.

I don’t do altar calls, but I do love gospel music way before labels. That’s when it had an identifiable personality that was unique. What’s on the radio sounds the same, though I suppose it’s like that everywhere. I just like playing to audiences, and have spirituality come out and be expressed.

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  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Yikes, you’re right. I’ve replaced The Crying Game with Dangerous Liaisons and The Grifters… two MORE strikingly different films.

  • Shane

    Whoa, hold on there – I love Frears too. And you’re right, he’s astonishingly versatile. But Neil Jordan’s the man behind “The Crying Game” – not Frears.

    (By the way, looking forward to reading your new book. What a boost to have Eugene Peterson talking it up! Congratulations.)

  • J Robert

    Thanks for the kind words, Jeffrey. I can’t believe I didn’t email you about Be with Me before. I saw it last year at TIFF, and it played here in Chicago earlier this year. It’s really something, and the Christian overtones are striking and beautifully integrated. I suspect you’d really like it.

    Glad to see the great advance word on your book. Best in all your endeavors.

  • Sara Z.

    The book “Little Children” is pretty chock full of horrifying behavior from all quarters. I’m very interested in the film, but can also see it going the way of “American Beauty” – a beautifully made film in which it’s difficult to really sympathize with any of the characters

  • Anonymous

    Amen to the keith green comment. I know church leaders that are going down the money path as well itst sad . I was saved in tyhe 80s and hope all my friends remember as I do the holy spirit presence as much as I do when we all sang rushing wind!

    Henry RhodesIII

  • Nick Alexander

    “There are new generations of Beatles’ fans yet music from the ’70s in Christian music is forgotten.”

    This is the best argument I had for owning an iPod… I’ve been able to create my own “Jesus Music” station that never was, and it’s simply incredible.

    I can only hope that Keaggy’s (and Keith Green’s, 2ndChapterOfActs’, Talbot Bros’, Larry Norman’s, and Michael Omartian’s stuff is available via iTunes, instead of long-out-of-print CD re-releases of long ago…

  • wngl

    I always knew that you were a front for Phil Keaggy all this time. It’s been so obvious. Yet I’ve bitten my tongue, not wanting to spoil the surprise.
    Now if I can only stop Randy Stonehill from granting any more interviews…


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