The New Light - Christian Folk-Rock in the 60s
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
Once in a while I get an email from someone who has found a copy of an old album my band released in 1970. I recently had a pleasant exchange with Landon Woodroof, who wrote me after he found a copy of our album in a thrift store. It led to a recounting of the background story. I decided to fill it out for you here.
Landon Woodroof wrote me in early 2013 to say:
"I am a music lover/musician living in Missouri and today in an out-of-the-way thrift store I stumbled across an album with which I was unfamiliar called "New Light for a New Day" by a band called the New Light.
I had never heard of it before, but when I got home I put it on my turntable and really, really liked it! I tried googling the album but could find no information about it. I googled your name since you produced it and performed on it and voila I found your website(s) and email address.
I read your biography on your website and wow have you lived an interesting life!
Greg is a fulltime music minister in a church and teaches guitar, piano and voice. Jerry is involved in the music of his church, playing the guitar and singing at times. A few years ago, Jerry had a solo release of some songs he had written. It made the charts in some regional stations and had some national success.
Our brother Gary was killed in a traffic accident in 1972. I had left and was in Kenya at that time, but the group was continuing and were on their way to a program when Gary was involved in the accident. We have lost touch with Karen Tudor, our keyboardist.
I have been involved in music with church work and other groups in countries where I have lived: Kenya, Cyprus, South Africa and Richmond, Virginia, and now live in Arlington, Texas (DFW area). I am playing in the contemporary worship band of our church, The Crossroads of Arlington (in Pantego). I have played in blues and jazz or rock bands.
The New Light traveled around Arkansas, playing in college student groups on several campuses, much of it under sponsorship of the Baptist Student Unions (now called Baptist Collegiate Ministry) on the campuses. We played high school church after-game events, and sang at state convention events of various kinds.
All this travel and the attendant practice sessions and songwriting were scheduled around our fulltime student schedules. Much of the time I was working at two jobs to pay my way thru college. We practiced in my living room. At that time all three brothers and two other students were living together in a house we rented in Conway.
When we decided we wanted to make an album, Jerry talked to his father, who decided to put up the front money for the recording and setup expenses. Then the band paid him back out of the proceeds as copies sold off. We pressed only 500 initially. And I left the band in Jan 1971, when I graduated and had to move to graduate school in North Carolina.
I did the research on studios in Little Rock and we checked out a couple of them. We did an audition demo recording with one studio on 12th Street, the name of which I cannot remember.
As we discussed the recording situations, my brother Greg remembered one of the studio producers drinking a bottle of wine during a trial session we did with him. I think we were doing a demo audition, rather than actually recording tracks for an album.
I remember the recording engineer had some good ideas for mixing. He was doing some cross-channel mixes on Gary’s drum solo on "A God Who Cares". Gary was a great drummer. Landon Woodroof commented when he wrote me initially:
"He was obviously very talented. I really enjoy his drum breaks on the song you wrote 'A God Who Cares.'"
But we did not like that engineer-producer's attitude. He was flippant and arrogant. I remember him trying to analyze and correct or voice pitches. Maybe they did need correcting, but he was pretty looped by the end of that session. I don't know if we passed his audition, but he did not pass ours! I'm glad I don't remember his name.
My brother Greg recalls the first studio:
"I was remembering that we did some recording in one studio where the recording tech was drinking port wine and downed a whole big bottle of it in a short while and was not easy to work with on that account, so we went to the other guy (Jaguar)."
Dean Jaggars, owner of the studio and my co-producer on the album, made a few compilations of locally made 45s of psychedelic and rock music, some of which were pressed at his studio. Many of these bands were roughly contemporary with The New Light. Dean Jaggars was a real professional and a grand fellow. He enjoyed the creative process like we did.
Dean had been recording bands in the Central Arkansas area for a long time, as well as TV and radio commercials. He did the initial multitrack recording, and I did the mixdown to Stereo. So the production credits show us both as sound producers. I wrote the liner notes and arranged the music licenses for the songs with the publishers.
Believe it or not, we did all the tracks in one marathon night of recording. Several considerations were involved. One was the session costs. We were just contracting for studio time. The other was school time - we were all college students and several of us worked. I had two jobs, making for full-time or more work, plus a full load in college, and our performance dates. (We must have stretched the pliable space-time continuum to fit all that in!)
We did the session at the end of the day, as early as we could all get free from classes and jobs, and started in the daylight and kept going till we were done. We were not sure how much we could get done in one session, but decided to push on when we saw how it was going. We did several multi-takes.
The two women got in trouble because we ran late and got them back to the dormitories late. Karen was a Freshman and had an early curfew. All the women's dorms had a lock dorm time. Hard to believe, right! Karen and Edith, who was with us, got dorm grounded for a while. (Yeah, I know. But it was the 60s, and in Arkansas! They had the crazy medieval in loco parentis rule. Arcane!) I love those ladies! They really took a hit for the group!
Leonard Cohen was one of the musical influences and we included his song "Suzanne" on our album. We did some John Denver and Johnny Cash things too. Peter, Paul and Mary were prominent in some of our repertoire we carried over from The Folk. We included a Neil Diamond number or two. I especially liked "Solitary Man."
There were a lot of folk-rock-country groups we all listened to. We did some programs on our campus with a band of professors, called The Professors, who did bluegrass! It was an eclectic setting.
I know we learned a lot of songs I transcribed from the radio. We actually did a wide range of styles. Jerry was a real PP&M fan and they were really popular, so we did a lot he suggested. I also remember a couple of John Denver songs we did. And we sang several I wrote and at least two Jerry wrote.
A friend named Richie Massey played in some programs with us, covering bass guitar. And it was Richie's lap steel guitar Greg and I used on some songs. We saw no boundaries.
I had a background in radio from early childhood. My father owned a radio station in Quanah, Texas. So all this went into my music. All of us brothers had band in school and several years formal music training in church choir. As the oldest child I also had the advantage of the commercial side of music through the radio business.
I worked as a country music and pop DJ at two different radio stations while in college, during the time we were playing, and later during part of graduate school. I was also working as a truck dock worker in Little Rock part of that time along with my radio work in one station. Later I worked in R&R and country radio in graduate school, and was a radio & TV producer/trainer in Kenya. I did several radio programs TV sound recording and some film editing in Kenya, and was involved in training Kenyan producers.
While working as a DJ and producer at a local country music station, I got help learning the guitar and guest slots with a couple of the country bands whose radio programs I produced. I took music theory as electives in college and did some scoring for the group on some of the songs I wrote.
All the members of the group sang on some songs. Jerry and I were the main voices. Greg and Jerry had the best voices. Greg always amazed me, because he could play bass and sing tenor flawlessly! He took up bass for the group and was learning to play guitar along the way. We three boys had previously been in an a cappella quartet with our father for quite a while and later added my guitar to the quartet, overlapping with our college music groups.
The New Light was formed in the 1968-69 school year, I think. I had an earlier folk group, called The Folk with some other college mates, including Edith McSwain, who became my wife. Jerry and I were the two guitarists for The Folk. I helped Jerry learn guitar.
During the school year we sang in after-game programs for BSU, in church programs and other events. Over spring break of 1968 The Folk went with a busload of Arkansas students to Daytona Beach. We sang along the beach and boardwalk and joined other musicians in a music program in the Daytona bandshell.
Over the summer I decided to drop the group and form a rock band. I organized The New Light as a folk rock band in its configuration as you see on the album. That was the original group. On venues we sometimes also had Richey Massey sit in with us, as I recall. He was a bassist and friend of Gary.
When Richey took over the bass, that gave Greg a chance to move over to trumpet, which he played on some of our tunes, like the Blood, Sweat and Tears number "Hi De Ho." On a couple of tunes here and there, I took a turn on a lap steel guitar (borrowed from Richey Massey) on some of the songs. We liked being creative and trying new things.
I decided to reorganize the group around a new style and only Jerry and I from the old group went into the new rock band. Greg and Gary and I were living together in town by that time, renting a house with 2 other students. We all had jobs and difficult-to-mesh schedules. Gary & Greg had moved into town with me from Dad's farm out in the county while they were still in high school and working in town. (I was gradually selling off my cattle to help pay for college.)
We played statewide programs with other rock and folk groups, state youth meetings for Baptists and other large gatherings. How did we squeeze all this into a schedule with fulltime college, one or more jobs at a time, etc! I don't know! And my fiance for the last two years of college and my wife from August 1970, Edith, was often on these venues with us.
I had a really hot guitar lead interlude on that. I remember once in a weekend youth revival we led in Southeast Arkansas, we did that song as the closing song after the sermon I preached. We really rocked out on that interlude. The church really resonated with that!
Landon Woodroof commented: "The guitar work on that one [Without Love] is really great. The arrangements on your songs are great as well. They really create a wonderful vibe throughout the record." Jerry had a beautiful touch on the folk guitar picking we included on many of our songs!
I can't remember if we recorded other tracks that did not get into the album. I have the old tapes in a box, but no longer have equipment to play them on, and they are probably too brittle now.
I wrote "Pretend to Pretend", which was very popular with the college crowd we played for mostly. This was definitely a war protest song in intent, and the style was written in the popular French surreal, reflecting mystical experience that blur lines between sense inputs and spiritual perceptions beyond the senses. This song was popular with audiences. I love Karen's organ on that number.
We were affirmed by the older leaders and authorities in our Baptist work. The college itself was really leery of us radicals, but they were good people and I maintained a good relationship with Dean Koon, who was a member of the same church I was.
I was an instrumentalist for the contemporary youth choir at that church and I was in the adult choir there. Coach Koon's wife had been my trigonometry teacher in High School and we got along really well.
I think the categories for commercial pigeon-holing of music groups and styles was very broad and fluid. Most of the categories you would know developed in subsequent years. But we ran in basically Christian circles, but played various popular music, including rock and country. We even had some Hank Williams and Rolling Stones blues tunes in the repertoire. There was not so much "Christian" and "non-Christian."
"Christian Contemporary Music" by that name and as an industry did not develop as a genre and commercial category until the mid and late 1980s. But we were always contemporary, on the creative cutting edge of style and content.
We had some incidental opposition in the Baptist churches but likewise had lots of encouragement and inroads at state and local levels. We did a lot of associational (basically county-wide) youth programs and local church programs and worship services.
Most all churches were rural to a large degree, but we had good relationships with various people who gave us openings. Urban churches near colleges and universities, and even high schools, felt a calling to staying touch with the new generation and avoid being bypassed.
All the albums sold except personal copies some of us kept. We had a short run of the albums. I was the producer of the tracks. I still have the original tracks and mix-downs I did with the engineer in the original studio recordings. But the tapes may not be operable now and I have no reel tape equipment now. It's been a few years now since I've done any sound production.
When I finished my BA courses in December 1970, I moved to North Carolina for graduate school (seminary) in Jan 1971, then went to Kenya later that year. The band played for about 2 years after I left, until the death of Gary in a car wreck on the way to a performance in April 1972.
The Official New Light
The New Light was the official band for the Baptist Student Union of Arkansas, so they traveled all over the state. We were doing that even before, but on an invitation basis. We had done some things for the Arkansas BSU State Department even then.
In the fall of 1970, when I was leading the band and the year we made the album, The New Light performed at the BSU State Convention in Hot Springs.
Another note on repertoire. I seem to remember that we had a general repertoire of over 50 songs. We did some long sets for that era and type of programs.
We could shift styles and selections according to the audience and setting. We were always adding songs, either our own or new current songs. Jerry and I were the only writers. We mixed popular, gospel style, contemporary Christian, rock and blues, old favorite rock or country. We did everything from music festivals to youth revivals.
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First discussed in an email exchange in March 2013
Developed in May 2013
Posted on Thoughts and Resources 18 June 2013
Revised 29 June 2013
Last edited 31 March 2014
Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2013 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Please give credit and link back. Other rights reserved.