Joyful Noise

Chapter 15 in “Memoirs of a Jesus Freak”

Music, predominantly guitar music, was prominent in the JPM. Early in 1968, I began learning to play the guitar, never picking up bass or lead, but learning just enough chords to play most of the Jesus songs. During that period I wrote a few simple choruses, and I notice that some of them are still sung to this day.

At Excelsior Baptist Church in Byron we sang hymns with a piano accompaniment. The same had been true at First Baptist at Fairfield. At the Bible studies, however, the guitar was the mobile instrument of choice, and the music was modeled on the rock and roll we had all grown up with. Bands quickly emerged that wrote and played their own songs, and the band we formed out of my Tuesday night Bible study was called Joyful Noise. Greg Beumer, Rick Ricketts, Kenny Sanders, Jeanine Wright, Donna Hays, Malcolm Dawes, Tommy Gaulden, Gary Bartholomew, Jimmy Ayala, Linda Fritz Patton, Mary Kay Herb, Mark Buckley, Kris Kenner, Kenny Hopkins, and others made up Joyful Noise over a period of four years. I played rhythm guitar and sang lead. (My childhood severe ear infections served me well in Joyful Noise and as a preacher, because to compensate for my hearing loss I developed a loud, strong voice.)

Undoubtedly, the most productive and fun years of my life were those spent in the ministry of Joyful Noise. We were not musically polished, but we wrote most of our own music and were equipped to play anywhere, anytime. We played at nearly all the high schools in Marin County, at many churches, and on the street, in parks, in private homes, and even once in San Quentin State Prison.

Joyful Noise had a growing reputation for performing and preaching at drug abuse assemblies in high schools. We would set up and quickly play a song or two—songs like “You’ll Never Get to Heaven on LSD”; “Oh Holy Joe”; “The Christian Way of Life”; “There’s a Great Day Coming”; “One Name”; “Jesus, Jesus, When I Hear that Golden Name”; and “This Little Light of Mine.” Then one of us would give a testimony, followed by another song or two, then another testimony, until I would finally preach a short sermon and give the standard appeal. Time and again, nearly the entire audience to whom we were singing would respond and be apparently converted.

One event stands out in my mind.

Glenn County school system in Northern California invited us to spend an entire day at their high school of 95 students. After the assembly, where we played our music and gave testimonies, we split up into groups of two and visited every classroom for more testimonies and Q and A. At the end of the day we added up lists of names totaling 96 people who had made a commitment to Christ, one more than the student body. I sent these names and addresses with phone numbers to a local ministerial association for follow up. It was quite a joyful ride home for Joyful Noise.

We Travel Afar

Due to the influence of Cora Vance, a wonderful Christian lady I had met at a Women’s charismatic meeting where I had spoken in Atlanta, Georgia, the Atlanta school district hired us to conduct drug abuse assemblies at each of their high schools. It took us three weeks to complete the circuit, holding at least two assemblies each day. On one such occasion, we were scheduled for an assembly during first period in the school’s gym. En route, we lost our way and arrived late. When we opened the door to the gym we found it packed wall to wall with kids sitting silently, patiently on the benches, at least 2,000 of them. In silence we set up the band. Guitars were not in tune, we had no time to warm up voices or tune instruments, and the time was slipping away. We were introduced, I made some sort of apology for being late, and we opened up with a couple of songs, which we performed badly. It was apparent we had to shut down.

One of our Joyful Noise crew, a seventeen-year-old newcomer named Kenny Hopkins, stepped forward to sing and play “Jesus, Jesus, When I Hear that Golden Name.” It is a slow, quiet, meditative song, almost like a love song to Jesus, and when Kenny was finished he said a few words and stepped back. The time was gone, the bell for the second period was ringing, and I simply asked anyone who wanted to be a follower of Jesus to stand up. The entire place responded, teachers and students alike. No sound, no excitement. My few sentences lasted less than a minute. Even today it thrills me. At this point in my life I would not count all those who stood to have been converted. Yet, in the JPM the Spirit of God was poured out in unusual ways. Times of awakening are not like normal times.

Besides the assemblies at the Atlanta area high schools, Joyful Noise played at churches in the evenings and walked onto the campuses of prominent colleges such as Emory University, presenting our typical song and testimony formula. The results were mixed or unknown, but whenever we set up and started, crowds gathered.

Cora Vance had arranged for us to play somewhere south of Atlanta—Rome being the name of the city I think—at a Southern Baptist school whose focus happened to be music. We arrived mid-morning and walked around the campus. I recall taking advantage of extra time to do some running. At noon they invited us to lunch in the student cafeteria, where many students joined with us for conversation. They were curious to see the hippie-looking Christians, not the usual appearance on that campus. Taped to the walls in the cafeteria we found flyers about our arrival that showed a picture of our band playing at the Protestant Chapel in San Quentin Prison.

The”concert” was scheduled for 3 p.m. We began practice around 2 p.m. and were overwhelmed by the beautiful, old music hall we found ourselves in. At 3 p.m. we looked out to see the hall utterly packed with students and faculty. A bad case of nervousness overcame all of us, and Malcolm was so impacted he had intestinal problems and wouldn’t come out of the bathroom. Time was slipping away. With no lead guitar we decided to do a few easy choruses. I was rarely nervous at high school presentations, but here I was almost shaking. We tried to open with “There’s a Great Day Coming,” a tune written by David Hoyt in 1967, but on my very first downward stroke on the guitar, I broke the bottom E string. I handed the guitar down to Gary Bartholomew and said a few things while the broken string was replaced. Then, starting again, I broke the very same string first strike down on the D chord.

Fighting panic, I smiled and said something like, “I guess the Holy Spirit wants something else.” So it was testimony time as usual. I was not able to gauge the impact of our work, but ever since that day I have often imagined our little band playing some of our songs in that rarified atmosphere.

For four years requests for Joyful Noise came in. We turned down more invitations than we accepted, only because we lacked the time. We never charged for this ministry, but money for food, gas, and lodging had a way of showing up. Once we spent a week at the University of Texas in Austin for a student-led religious week, sponsored by the Southern Baptist Student Union there. Also there that week was Maranatha, the lead band from Calvary Chapel, led by Chuck Girard. They were musically very good, and we were not, but it did not matter, as we saw many conversions during that week.

Requests for Joyful Noise slowed and finally stopped altogether, so we disbanded. That was 1972.

Above photo: In Berkeley—July 4, 1971

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