Part 2 of Forwarded email set about one of the groups from the early years of Contemporary Christian Music: 2ndChapterofActs

A Fresh StartOne day as Annie, Nelly and Matthew were singing around the piano, they stopped to pray, which was a regular practice.  As they prayed that day, they sensed that they were getting a personal message from the Lord. As Annie remembers:  “He said we were three small streams, but when we came together to sing we would be a mighty river.  That river would uproot things in people’s hearts that had been buried—the way that rushing water uproots things-and cleans things out, and opens things up.  He promised that we would sing as one voice.”

Yet, the trio remained shy about performing in public.  They sang in church when called upon, and in local Christian coffeehouses at the insistence of friends.  But that was the limit.  “The last thing we wanted to do was to sing in front of people,” explains Annie.  “We never thought ‘Oh, boy!  Let’s get out there and do concerts!’  It was always, ‘Oh no! We’ve got to go out there’. We felt that way throughout our years of ministry together.  We were scared, shy, and very aware of our inadequacies.  The good part was that it forced us to rely upon the Lord.”

About this time, Eddie Overstreet, the Herring’s former housemate, wanted to record a song he’d written.  Buck arranged for some excellent studio musicians, most of who were friends, and they went into the studio to record the music track for a song titled, “Jesus Is.”  The track turned out so well that Eddie felt it was beyond his own vocal ability, and he agreed with Buck that they should find someone else to sing the song – but who?
Buck played the track for a number of their friends and all agreed that it was a “fun, happening” song.  But who could they get to sing it?  Then one day as Buck and Annie were driving along in their car, they looked at each other and said almost simultaneously, “Why don’t we have Matthew sing it!” On Matthew’s 13th birthday, Matthew recorded the lead vocal.  Annie and Nelly sang background vocals along with many of their friends.  It was a “fun” song, and eventually it caught the attention of Pat Boone, who arranged a contract with MGM Records for the release of “Jesus Is” which would later become a Top10 hit on California secular radio.  In 1972, the family’s recording career was officially born.

What Kind of Name Is That?While working in the recording studio, editing a secular commercial, Buck heard a phrase go through his mind:  The 2nd Chapter of Acts.  Later, he described it as “the nearest I’ve ever come to hearing God speak in an audible voice. “It wasn’t like I should go read this chapter,” says Buck.  “It was clearly to be the group’s name.” “I had read that passage of Scripture before, but I didn’t have a good idea of what it was about.  I didn’t want to forget it, so I took a studio grease pencil and wrote ‘The 2nd Chapter of Acts’ on the front of the tape machine.” Buck couldn’t wait to get home from work that night to share the name with the family.  Their reaction, however, was somewhat less than enthusiastic. “What?” they chorused.  “What kind of a name is that?”  “That’s an awful name,” Annie lamented.  “It doesn’t even let anyone know we’re a family.” Matthew objected, “People will think we are a play!” But Buck was imperious.  He knew he had heard from God.  “Okay, go get your Bibles,” he suggested, “and go to your rooms and let’s all read Acts, chapter two.  Ask God about it.  Then come back and let’s meet together in fifteen or twenty minutes.”

The family spread throughout the big house and began to study the passage.  When they reappeared, their response was one of resignation rather than overwhelming enthusiasm.  They reluctantly agreed, “Okay, if that’s what we’re supposed to be, that’s it.  We’ll be the 2nd Chapter of Acts.”

Over the years, the name proved to be both a blessing and an obstacle.  True, it had a fresh, contemporary sound.  But it also barred them from singing for some of the largest, mainline denominations in America.  “People were afraid we’d come in and start speaking in tongues or something,” laughs Buck. “From our viewpoint, being called ‘The 2nd Chapter of Acts’ didn’t have anything to do with speaking in tongues, or being filled with the Holy Spirit, or any other phenomena commonly perceived as ‘Charismatic”,  Buck explains.  “But it occurred to us, that if you were cast adrift and you had only Acts 2, you’d have it all.  The prophecy of Jesus’ coming, the fulfillment of the prophecy, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the birth of the Church, the activity of the early Church as it began to function…it’s all there in one chapter.  It’s the ‘Reader’s Digest’ version of the Bible. “It was never a banner we were waving, concerning the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  It was meant to portray the whole life and ministry of the Church.  And that’s what we felt we were about.” If their new identity felt awkward to Annie, Nelly and Matthew, it was soon to become a household name to millions of Christian music lovers.

Seeds of MinistryBy the time Barry McGuire met “The 2nd Chapter of Acts,” he had tasted the best and the worst of the music business.  His music had taken his group, “The New Christy Minstrels,” and their idyllic ballad “Green Green” to the top of the charts.  And then his career skyrocketed with the 1965 solo hit, “Eve of Destruction.” Unfortunately, Barry’s personal life was also on the precipice of destruction during this time.  As John Phillips of the Mama’s and Papa’s song lyrics went.. “McGuinn and McGuire still a-getting higher in L.A., you know where that’s at.”  Barry later described his life as a “triple-X-rated horror story,” filled with alcohol and drugs. McGuire dropped out of the music scene, and spent the next two years with the Agape Force, a group of Jesus People who helped him become established in the Lord.  Soon, with new songs to sing Barry began looking for a producer to help record the best, Christ-honoring album possible.  His search boiled down to two individuals:  one, a highly successful secular producer; the other Buck Herring.  Though he’d become a respected studio engineer,  Buck had yet to produce an album.  Barry prayed, then called him.

Buck invited Barry to bring some songs over to the big house in Hollywood. After a few brief formalities, Barry explained how he felt that God had led him to seek Buck’s help in producing his next album.  Buck asked Barry if he could hear some of the songs and Barry gladly got out his guitar and began singing. Laughing, Buck recollects, “When Barry started singing, the house shook!  He was banging his guitar and thumping out the beat with his foot as he sang, ‘I don’t know what you come to do, but I come to praise the Lord!’.  It was great.”

Before long, two pairs of eyes peeked around the corner of the stairway.  Buck motioned for Nelly and Matthew to come down, as Barry sang several more songs.  When Barry finished, Buck suggested, “Now that Matthew and Nelly are awake, why don’t you guys sing a song for Barry?” Barry later confessed that he expected the worst.  What have I gotten into?  He thought.  Now this little family is going to sing.  Another can-we-have-our-kids-sing-for-you?  How many times have I heard that line before? But as he looked at the skinny, bashful kids gathering around the beat-up piano, he though, “Well, praise the Lord anyway.”  He settled into a chair and attempted to appear as interested as possible.
Annie, Nelly and Matthew began to sing.  Barry was stunned.  He’d listened to thousands of singers, but he’d never heard anything like this before!  Crystal clear harmonies.  Lyrics that sounded inspired in heaven.  When the trio finished, tears were streaming down his face. That night, Barry invited them to sing background vocals on his new album. Seeds, was one of the groundbreaking recordings in contemporary Christian music.

Besides working together on the album, 2nd Chapter of Acts and Barry McGuire agreed to do a series of concerts.  The logical place to start was Sacramento, where Buck had been a popular radio personality.  It was also there the “Acts” achieved moderate success, as their second MGM single; “I’m So Happy” soared into the top five on the local charts.  And of course, Barry was still well known because of his secular hits.  The concert was sure to succeed. In fact, they lost money.  Nevertheless, it was the start of something bigger.

Divine AppointmentsIn order to have enough material to do their part of the concert, “Acts” had to hire some musicians and rehearse a few songs.  Annie had written several new songs and some members of the band suggested to Buck that they record them. Buck shrugged, “I don’t have any money.” When the band insisted, the whole troupe went into a studio.  This recording session gave us some of the “2nd Chapter’s” first classics-including “Love, Peace, Joy,” “I Fall In Love,” and “Going Home.”  One song from this session seemed to have a special quality.  Annie had titled it, “Easter Song.” “Easter Song” was one of those that “just came out,” Annie recalls.  “At first, I didn’t think it was much of a song.  I loved it, but I didn’t think it was a song for us.  I thought it was a choir song.  I even said to the Lord, ‘Oh Father, that sounds like a song that a lot of people should sing.’
“I was talking with our friends Jimmy and Carol Owens one day.  We had been on tour with them in ‘Come Together,’ a musical they’d written.  I thought Jimmy might be interested and I said, ‘I have this little song.  You might not even like it,” When Annie played “Easter Song,” Jimmy Owens was jubilant.  “You don’t want to give that song to anybody.  You need to record it!” Teeming with confidence, Annie took the song to the band members who, at first, did not share Jimmy’s enthusiasm.  Drummer, David Kemper whined wistfully, “I don’t hear any drums on that song.  I just can’t hear it.” “David!”  Buck’s voice boomed.  “You don’t hear any drums on it?  Just play!  Play something.  Do it!” David did.  He sat down and put a different drum pattern to the song, taking it out of the choir realm where Annie had first heard it and pulling it into a lilting rhythm that not only 2nd Chapter could sing, but the whole world could sing.
The song was to undergo a transformation from the way Annie first heard it.  Drummer David Kemper added a rhythm and eventually Michael Omartian, another friend of the family, added the lively keyboard track that made the song unforgettable.  Omartian’s involvement on “Easter Song” began a long-term relationship.  Throughout the early years of “Acts” ministry, Annie roughed out the songs, and Michael wrote the charts for the musicians before going into the studio.  Buck once said, “When the Lord gives Annie a song, it’s like a rough-hewn diamond, dug out of the ground.  We give it to Michael, and he cuts it and polishes it and puts it in the right piece of jewelry.” In Annie’s estimation, “Michael is such a musical genius.  He has perfect pitch, and the ability to play almost any instrument.  He’s really a virtuoso, and compared to him I could hardly play at all.  Back then he’d get so tickled at me.  He’d say, ‘This song is wrong.  You’re not supposed to be able to do these chords.  But I love it!  It’s wrong, but it’s great.’  He’d also say, ‘You play the piano wrong, too.  It’s wrong-but it’s fine…how do you do that?'”

Another person who was impressed by “Easter Song” was record executive, Billy Ray Hearn.  Hearn had begun Myrrh, a new contemporary Christian record label owned by Word.  When he first heard “Easter Song” he said, “Now that’s what Christian music is supposed to sound like!”

Growing PainsWhen Buck sent a copy of the newly recorded Seeds album to Billy Ray Hearn, he immediately recognized the record’s enormous potential.  When Billy Ray came out to the Herring home to discuss the deal, Buck played him some of the songs that 2nd Chapter had been working on.  One of those songs was “Easter Song.”

Because of the difficulties “Acts” had experienced in doing Christian music for a secular record company, Buck had obtained their release from MGM.  Within a few months, Hearn had signed them to do their first album for Myrrh. The 2nd Chapter of Acts and Barry McGuire continued touring together, which was both exhilarating and frightening for the inexperienced trio.  At first, the group merely stood on-stage and sang, rarely sharing anything from their hearts.  Buck believed that in order to be “spiritual,” the music needed to be spontaneous.  Consequently, he wanted to change the order of songs every night; which kept them feeling even more unsure of themselves. McGuire attempted to intercede, “But Buck, last night everything just felt so good.” “Sure,” Buck responded, “but God may want to do something different tonight.”

Another factor that contributed to “Acts” early inhibitions was audience response.  During Barry’s set, the audience sang along, clapped and cheered.  When “2nd Chapter” began singing – “Going Home” was the opener – the audience grew strangely silent.  “We thought everybody had gone home!” Annie jokes.  “That would really have shaken our confidence-if we’d had any.”  Several concerts into the tour, somebody approached Annie and said, “We’re really sorry we didn’t applaud-but we’ve never heard music like that before!”  Many others expressed that they had never before experienced worship so keenly. As Nelly reflects:  “One of the reasons people didn’t applaud was because we weren’t singing songs about Jesus, we were singing to Him.  When people recognized that, they sensed His Spirit.  They could see Jesus, and they fell in love with Him.”

Despite the awkward beginnings, “Acts” and Barry McGuire continued to tour together intermittently for three years.  Through his example, Barry taught the group how to communicate with an audience.  “Just be yourselves,” he’d encourage them.  “Be who God has called you to be.” Barry’s words fell upon fertile soil.  “He taught us so much,” says Annie.  “He’s the best communicator I’ve ever known.”

Besides the spiritual power of their music, other factors catapulted “Acts” into the public spotlight.  First, touring with Barry exposed them to a built-in audience each concert.  Second, “Easter Song” was getting airplay on secular radio stations as well as the few contemporary Christian programs that existed them.  Too, their album, With Footnotes had taken off.  By 1973, they entered the music ministry full-time.  For the next twenty years, they would travel across America, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Western Europe singing about Jesus.

Today, aspiring Christian musicians often ask them how they too can “make it” in Christian music. Buck says, “I ask them, ‘Do you feel you are to have a music ministry?’  If they say ‘Yes,” I ask, ‘Are you willing to have music ministry even if you never leave your own church, or your own home town?’  If they hedge here, I’ll ask, ‘Are you looking for a music ministry or are you just looking for a career in music?’ “If you really want to have a music ministry, stay on your face before the Lord, and let God raise you up to use you the way He wants to.”

Bringing the Band TogetherEarly on, “Acts” felt the need to have their own band.  Nelly’s close friend, Jamie Owens told them about a group of musicians at Church on the Way in Van Nuys.  “They practice a lot,” said Jamie, “but sometimes they don’t even play-they just pray.”  That was good enough for Buck.  He approached the band and asked them to pray about working with 2nd Chapter. “We already have,” they responded, “and the answer is ‘Yes!'”

Since the members of 2nd Chapter also worshipped at the same church, the result was a spiritual unity between the singers and the band members.  Later the Lord revealed to them a principle from the life of Abraham.  Buck explains, “When Abraham went to rescue his nephew Lot from the enemy, he took members of his own household with him to help.  Similarly, the Lord showed us that we were to go out against the enemy with a band called David.”

The result was a spiritual joining of forces between “Acts” and “a Band Called David.” Perhaps the one person who influenced the “Acts” more profoundly than anyone else was the unassuming pastor of Church on the Way, Jack Hayford.  The group began attending Church on the Way when the congregation was less than one hundred strong.  (Today, the congregation numbers in the thousands.) “He helped us understand who we are, how to minister, and how to order our priorities,” says Buck. “Jack Hayford taught us principles of spiritual integrity, and how to avoid the snares of the enemy.” Indirectly, Jack Hayford also inspired one of 2nd Chapter’s most adventurous albums, The Roar of Love, based on C. S. Lewis’s classic stories, The Chronicles of Narnia.  As Buck and Annie were driving to a camp where they were to minister together, Hayford suddenly said, “Annie, you need to read about Narnia!”  Annie had read other works of C. S. Lewis, but was unfamiliar with the Chronicles of Narnia.  When she returned home, she immediately purchased a set and devoured all seven books in one sitting! Over several years she collected enough songs for an album, centering around Lewis’s story, “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.  It would be some time, however, before the album ever was released.  But change was in the wind.
Stop, Look and ListenIn 1976, “The 2nd Chapter of Acts” arrived at a crossroads:  “Should we or should we not continue?” was the question.  Prior to this, the ministry of “Acts” had grown out of the family relationships.  Now, however, as they approached adulthood, Nelly and Matt felt it was time to discern what God’s will and call involved for themselves. They were no longer just family; they had become “The 2nd Chapter of Acts.”  As Nelly explains, “It got to the point where we didn’t know if we were ‘The 2nd Chapter of Acts,’ or if ‘Acts’ was us.  We were almost becoming a machine-the ministry was taking over the family, instead of being an extension of the family.  It was like the tail wagging the dog.” Annie sensed the subtle shift, as well.  “I felt I was becoming more of a part of a group, rather than Buck’s wife.  Buck had been doing his best to be fair by treating each of us the same.  But I said, ‘Wait a minute!  I’m not the drummer.  I’m not Matthew or Nelly.  I’m your wife, and you are damaging our relationship by trying to treat us all the same.’

Consequently, “Acts” took time off to seek God, to grow in their relationships with each other and to clarify the call upon their lives.  This did not mean sitting idle, though.  For several weeks, Nelly and Matthew toured as part of Jimmy and Carol Owens’s popular, bicentennial musical, “If My People” tour which focused on calling  the nation to prayer.  After three weeks on the road, Buck returned home to produce Phil Keaggy’s album, Love Broke Through.  A few weeks later, Annie and Matthew came home.

In 1975 Nelly met a young singer named Steve Greisen. Steve had grown up as a missionary kid in Hong Kong, and after attending a Youth With A Mission school in Lausanne Switzerland founded YWAM’s first touring and recording  group ‘The Family’. Nelly and Steve would continue to see each other between the touring lives and married in 1978.

It was during the ’76 sabbatical that “Acts” met another singer-songwriter who would profoundly influence their lives.  Keith Green and “Acts” met while working together on a Terry Talbot album.  Their friendship blossomed when Keith came to Matthew’s birthday party at the Herring’s new home in Burbank, California. Buck recalls, “We had a rented harpsichord in the living room, and an antique, grand piano in the bedroom.  Keith sat down at the harpsichord and began praising the Lord with some of his high-energy music.  Before long, the whole party started doing a sort of spiritual ‘bunny-hop,’ winding around the room.  The line danced out the sliding doors of our living room, across the patio, then in through the sliding doors of our bedroom, down the hallway and back into the living room.  Keith was playing in the living room, but as soon as the group would go through the sliding doors, he’d jump off the stool, race to the bedroom, and start pounding on the antique piano, just as the group came bouncing through the bedroom doors.  He barely missed a measure. “That was Keith – high energy.  He could just roll right over you…in love, of course.” Later, Keith wanted Buck to produce his albums, but Buck declined.  “Keith, if you and I went into the studio together, it would be a war.” “Hey, that’s alright,” said Keith.  “There’s a lot of creative energy that comes out of that.  You don’t have to agree all the time.” “No, Keith.  I don’t want to do that.  If I go into the studio, I want it to be a pleasant experience.” Buck prayed about Keith’s album, though, and felt that he should recommend a producer to him.  “Look, Keith, I know a guy named Bill Maxwell.  He worked with Andraé Crouch.  I’ll call him and introduce you to him.  He’ll do a good job for you.”  Buck’s introduction turned out to be a fantastic musical match.  Bill produced all of Keith’s Christian albums, which became classics.
This is the end of part two of “The Frame Never Out-Did The Picture”. Part three will follow tomorrow.
If you are interested in 2nd Chapter of Acts recordings on CD, or Digital Download check out our recordings page


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About ricklivermore

Senior Sales & Use Tax Accountant at Wholesale and Retail Sales of Auto Body Shop Parts and Supplies company
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7 Responses to Part 2 of Forwarded email set about one of the groups from the early years of Contemporary Christian Music: 2ndChapterofActs

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