In a memorable scene from the hit movie “Jesus Revolution,” the charismatic hippie pastor Lonnie Frisbee introduces the reserved Pastor Chuck Smith to the rock band Love Song. Although it makes for good entertainment, that was not quite the way it happened.
“What really happened is that we had been going to Calvary Chapel for a few weeks,” said Chuck Girard, a founding member of Love Song. “We were baby Christians, but we loved Lonnie and thought, `He looks like Jesus and we look like Pink Floyd, so maybe we could play here and be a good fit.’ We actually interviewed with Pastor Chuck. He later told me, `I wasn’t really too hot to let you guys on the platform.’ But we played `Welcome Back,’ and it melted him. The Holy Spirit fell on him and the next thing we heard was, `can you play tonight?’”
The rest, of course, is history. Love Song, originally comprising Girard, Tommy Coomes, Jay Truax and Fred Field, has had a profound influence on Christian music that still reverberates. “I am not sure I would be doing what I am doing today if it hadn’t been for Love Song,” singer Michael W. Smith said.
“Jesus Revolution,” which is now streaming on various platforms, has earned more than $50 million since its release last February, and Girard’s life has not been the same since.
“Almost from the day it came out in theaters, my phone started to ring about podcasts, interviews and people asking me to come play in their churches,” he said. “The impact has been so exponential that I can hardly believe it came from a simple thing like a movie.”
As someone who lived the story intimately, Girard at first had a few issues with several details of the movie.
“I have seen it about four times,” he said. “The first time, I was kind of fighting back like, `It didn’t happen that way. Why did you change that? Come on.’ Then I realized, `Hey, it’s not a documentary. They are taking liberties with everyone’s personalities and the situations.’ So when I kicked back and changed my mode, I started to enjoy it a lot more. I thought the performances were great and the characterizations of the era, such as the baptisms, were well done.”
Girard frequently is asked about his version of the story and what has happened to him and Love Song since. He previously shared his own story in the book “Rock & Roll Preacher,” and now he and the band members are completing a documentary, “A Band Called Love Song.”
“What I hope our documentary does is correct some of the perceptions that were incorrectly conveyed in the movie,” he said. “If you see our documentary, you will get the true backstory of what really happened.”
Work on the documentary began in 2017, when Love Song performed at The Upper Room Christian Coffee House in Mission Viejo, Calif. The manager suggested recording the performance.
“We didn’t take it seriously and didn’t have any preparation, so the lead guitarist would be playing a solo and they would have the camera on the drummer or something,” Girard said. “We were not able to use a lot of the footage, so we tried different things, such as inserting B-roll over the top of it.”
The result was part concert video and part documentary.
“We had a test screening and (sad but true) many of the people said, `we want to see more of the old footage. We don’t really care about the old guys playing,” Girard said. “They wanted it to be more a history of the band, so we revamped the whole thing and started over.”
He and his team kept some of the old footage, shot new video and conducted more interviews with musicians such as Michelle Pillar, Bob Bennett and Jeremy Camp. Jerry Stanley, an experienced director and friend of Coomes, added the professional expertise they needed.
“He’s a product of the Jesus revolution, so it’s a passion project for him and he has poured his heart into it,” Girard said. “I really believe that he knows by memory every line, not just in the movie but also from all of the footage that went into the movie. He has been working on it steadily for a year and a half. He basically has put it together, but it’s being done by committee. The band members have to agree on everything that goes into the movie, and it’s remarkable that we are 90 percent in agreement on everything and everybody’s happy. That’s a really good place to be.”
With so much good footage, the challenge became how to edit it down to tell a compelling story.
“In the process of putting it together, when you start editing, the question is, `how long do I edit this? Is it 90 minute or is it two hours?’” Girard said. “We consulted with a number of filmmakers, and they all said, `make the story you want to make. Don’t worry about how long it is. Don’t put a lot of extra stuff in there. Just keep it lean and mean, but get the story told.’”
The production team landed on three one-hour episodes that can be broadcast on television or re-edited as a 90-minute feature.
“There are a few tweaks, but primarily the editing is finished,” he said. “The audio has been mixed for the first episode. We are really close except for clearances for songs and photos, which can take weeks. If we can’t get something cleared, we will have to go back in under the hood and fix it. We are being really diligent about moving it forward and getting it done.”
As the surprising box office for “Jesus Revolution” shows, a new generation is hungry for truth and a revolution of their own. Love Song’s impact continues through the lives of countless people whose lives were touched by their music.
“I had never heard anything quite like this before,” said Pastor Greg Laurie, whose story is told in “Jesus Revolution.” “The complex melodies, the beautiful guitar chords and the soaring vocals of Chuck Girard, Tommy Coomes, Fred Field and Jay Truax were, to put it in the vernacular of the 1960s, mind-blowing. But what made it so special was that the Lord seemed to be in it.
“Love Song changed music. They were the unwitting pioneers of a whole new genre of music later to be called contemporary Christian music. But what they were was good – really good. In my opinion, these songs will stand the test of time, like all good music does. But more than that, I hope it will take you where it originally took me – right into the presence of God.”
For a preview of the documentary, production updates or to make a tax-deductible contribution, visit www.lovesongtheband.com.
–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice