Petra was a prominent Christian rock band, regarded by many as a pioneer of the Christian rock and of the Contemporary Christian music genres. Petra was formed in 1972, in Fort Wayne, Indiana by Bob Hartman, Greg Hough and John DeGroff while they were students of the Christian Training Center. The name of the band comes from the Greek word for "Rock".
With a style initially compared to bands like The Eagles and Lynyrd Skynyrd, Petra's sound evolved into a more energetic, driving rock sound in the early 80s. The late 80s and the early 90s was a successful period for the band, when it was considered the best-known, best-selling Christian band. It released two RIAA Gold-certified albums during this period. With their music and style, Petra influenced other Christian artists at times when Christian rock was considered "inadequate" by many. There was strong opposition from within some churches when Petra began its career, and the act fell in a niche without radio representation. The band continued to experience this opposition through the years.
For more than three decades the band showed stability (in musical quality and output, at least, though few consecutive albums contained the same line-up) despite changes in genre, and released 24 albums, selling nearly 10 million copies. They have won 4 Grammys and 10 Dove Awards and have reached the #1 position on five CCM Update radio and retail charts simultaneously. Also, it was the first band to win more than 20 CCM Magazine Reader's Poll Awards, which were won in every category of eligibility. Petra was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and was the first Christian band to be inducted into the Hard Rock Cafe. The band toured around the world playing in Europe, Asia, Africa, America and Australia. Through numerous line-up changes, Petra maintained its commitment to preaching the Gospel through music.
On , 2005, guitarist, founder, and songwriter Bob Hartman announced that the band would be retiring. The band then launched the Farewell tour, which included many songs from the last studio release, Jekyll and Hyde, and other songs from older albums. The band members recorded one of their final performances, in Franklin, Tennessee, to release as Petra's last album, Farewell, which was released in November, 2005. The DVD of the live performance was released in March 2006. Petra finished its 33-year long career with a final performance in the early hours of , 2006 in Murphy, North Carolina. Band members reunited for a single concert in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on .
Petra's musical style changed greatly during its 33 years. During the early years (1972 - 1977), the band's style was eclectic, borrowing from musical influences as diverse as Genesis (art rock), The Eagles (country rock), Lynyrd Skynyrd (southern rock), Deep Purple (1970s Heavy Metal) and Kansas (progressive rock). Early albums were electric guitar-oriented, but success began with the addition of the Hammond B3 organ and electric piano keyboards from that era.
With the 1980s, arrived the era of synthesizers and keyboards. Petra shifted to this genre for the first half of the decade. In 1986-87, under the tutelage of John and Dino Elefante, it transitioned to a harder rock style. Contemporary bands with similar styles include Def Leppard, Cinderella, and Journey. This style garnered the band its most successful albums, including their first three Grammy winning albums, Beyond Belief, Unseen Power and Wake-Up Call; of these, Beyond Belief was certified gold by the RIAA, along with the band's first praise album, Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out.
In the middle of the 1990s, with the decline of slick commercial rock music and the rise of alternative rock, the band revamped and tried to adapt to the new style. These changes met with mixed reviews. In 2000, the band released Double Take which consisted of ten previously released songs, set to new tunes. Following a label change in 2001, the band released its third praise album, Revival. Revival was the first, and remains the only album from the band, which contains no original song material. The musical style of the album reflected the contemporary worship genre of that period. Petra returned to its roots with a hard rock album in 2003, Jekyll & Hyde, which earned more favorable reviews than those the band had received in years. However, it wasn't enough to reverse the band's fortunes and turned out to be their final studio album.
1972-1979: The birth of Petra
Petra circa 1977 - (l to r) John DeGroff, Bill Glover, Greg X. Volz, Bob Hartman and Greg Hough
In 1972, at the Christian Training Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana, guitarists and songwriters Bob Hartman and Greg Hough teamed up with bassist John DeGroff (with whom Hartman had played in the past) to form Petra. Drummer Bill Glover was added later.
In the early years, Petra played mainly in the Midwest at small venues like coffeehouses or church basements. Their concerts were evangelistic, with a gospel presentation to the audience. This mix of evangelism with rock placed Petra among other early pioneers of Jesus music, part of the larger Jesus Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Church authorities struggled with use of churches for concerts, and few Christian radio stations would program the Petra rock-oriented songs, although some campus radio stations had liberty to do so.
Backslidin' Blues, is a blues songs released on Petra's debut album.
Billy Ray Hearn heard Petra perform at "The Adam's Apple" coffeehouse and signed them to Myrrh Records, a subsidiary of Word Records, in 1973. He produced the band's self-titled debut album, which was released in 1974. On Petra, Hartman and Hough shared singing duties. Petra featured a southern rock sound similar to that of the Allman Brothers and included the track "Backslidin' Blues", the first blues song in Contemporary Christian Music. The album was ultimately a commercial failure, partially because the band did not tour. For their next album, Come and Join Us (1976), the band invited Greg X. Volz to help drum and allowed him to sing lead vocals on several songs, foreshadowing the band's future. The song "God Gave Rock and Roll to You" (originally written by Russ Ballard and recorded by Argent) displayed Volz's range and projection, and gave Petra their staple message of the decade. The album included other guest vocalists including Steve Camp and Austin Roberts, who also produced the album. Stylistically, the album featured a heavier rock sound.
Shortly after, Hough, DeGroff, and Glover left the band, and Hartman was left alone with Volz. A period of instability surrounded the release of the band's third album in 1979, Washes Whiter Than, where Volz shared singing responsibilities with newcomer Rob Frazier. Although the album tried hard to "please" a non-condoning audience, Petra found itself as a non-membered band lacking identity. At the behest of Star Song, their new label, they moved toward a pop-oriented sound. The band was touring with new players, and Christian radio was playing their new album, but it was unavailable for sale in most areas due to record-pressing and distribution problems.
1980-1985: The Greg X. Volz era
More Power To Ya
More Power To Ya from Petra's album of the same name. The style garnered popularity for the band in the early 80s and is significant of the influence that Volz's vocals had on the band's songs
After floundering through the turn of the decade, Hartman and Volz again found themselves without a stable band, and with no sales from their records. Despite some thoughts of disbanding, they regrouped and decided to try again. They hired bass player Mark Kelly and keyboard player John Slick while giving Greg Volz full lead singing position. With this newly reformed band, they went to the studio again for a new more rock-focused album. They also hired Mark Hollingsworth as manager. Hollingsworth, who had experience in the general market, is closely associated with the swift success that was to come. Simultaneously walls of resistance for radio airplay, church concert sponsorship and youth group concert attendance were slowly starting to crumble as young believers grew into positions of authority and adulthood.
Never Say Die in 1981 started the band's rise to popularity and commercial success. Additionally, success gave Petra the audience and radio airplay the band needed. The band toured for the album as an opening act for Servant. During the tours they strengthened their existing fanbase which continued to grow, while starting a new era of Contemporary Christian music. Sometime after the release of Never Say Die the band acquired drummer Louie Weaver, who would stay in Petra for the next 22 years.
With the momentum gathered by Never Say Die, the band released a string of three successful albums, More Power To Ya in 1982, Not of this World in 1983 and Beat the System in 1984, and toured as often as possible. Contributing factors in popularity were national tours with full-budget sound and lighting - arguably the first CCM act to do so - and a series of eye-catching illustrated album covers portraying the electric guitar as seagoing and space ships, the latter likely inspired by Star Wars. Lyrically, the albums traversed creative and intellectually challenging terrain, with use of a fearless double entendre (Killing My Old Man - a play on the spiritual significance of baptism), theologically deep themes such as the judgement seat (Bema Seat) spiritual warfare (Occupy, Not By Sight), the second coming of Christ (Grave Robber), and upbeat songs of encouragement (Second Wind, Clean). While many CCM songwriters wrote from an experiential perspective, Hartman's songwriting mastery essentially crafted topical Bible lessons with contemporary rock sensibilities.
Backward Masking: In the midst of the backmasking controversy, Petra deliberately preceded "Judas Kiss" with a short speech excerpt that required manual spinning of a phono turntable in the opposite direction for intelligible playback. The message stated "What are you looking for the devil for, when you ought to be looking for the Lord?". Whether the decline of interest in the backmasking was based on scientific debunking or Petra's outright challenge, the topic rapidly dropped from the cultural radar following distribution.
With continual touring, radio airplay, and album production, Petra stood out as the first touring Christian rock act with a sustained fan base, filling a void in the CCM movement.
During this period, Slick departed and John Lawry joined the band as the keyboardist. Being on the road for such lengthy durations began to take its toll on the band's members, and in 1985, Volz decided to leave the band to spend more time with his family and pursue a solo career. The band released their first of two live albums, Captured In Time and Space, in 1985, while still touring with Volz on the Beat the System tour. Volz's departure ignited a frantic search for a suitable lead singer to replace him.
1986: John Schlitt arrives
Petra in 1991, Top row: Bob Hartman, Louie Weaver; Bottom Row: Ronny Cates, John Schlitt, John Lawry.
The band then made two changes which cemented its direction for the rest of the decade.
At the end of 1985, Hartman was looking for someone to replace Volz. He managed to coax John Schlitt ??? former Head East vocalist ??? out of a self-imposed retirement from rock music to join Petra as lead singer.
The band also needed to replace producer Jonathan David Brown, the man who helped mould Petra's sound through the early 1980s. Petra turned to brothers John and Dino Elefante. The Elefantes would produce every subsequent Petra album but one through the rest of the century.
Schlitt's voice, fuller and raspier than Volz's delivery, necessitated changing to a harder rock/heavy metal sound. Guitars became central to song arrangements and keyboards were ornamental. Back to the Street was the first album to feature Petra's new arena rock sound. The album did not garner much commercial success, but it saw the release of the band's first music video. The video was released for the song, Whole World.
1987-1994: Petra finds success
King of Kings
King of Kings as covered by Petra on their first rock Praise album, Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out.
With these key pieces in place, Petra entered the period of its peak popularity, releasing what are considered the band's most successful albums: This Means War!, On Fire!, Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out and Beyond Belief. This Means War! reflected radical changes in the band's lyrical themes. The album presented the band's worldview in the language of spiritual warfare; the cover features the stark outlines of a man on his knees with hands raised toward heaven. This shift toward fundamentalist Christianity led one reviewer to summarize the album as "Faith can bulldoze anything in the way". The band also began publicly supporting political causes, including a Constitutional amendment to permit prayer in public schools. Their next release, On Fire!, mostly built on the warfare themes introduced in This Means War!.
Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out was the band's first praise album, setting a new standard for contemporary worship music. The album was also the band's first to be certified gold. The impact of this album can be seen in the trend adhered to by later bands such as delirious?, Sonicflood, and MercyMe, among others. In 1990, the album Beyond Belief again catapulted the band to the top of the charts of gospel music. The album has been reviewed as "a phenomenal arena rock/AOR album". Beyond Belief won the band's first Grammy, which was awarded for Best Rock/Contemporary Gospel Album, making Petra the first band to win this award. Petra partnered with Christian author and apologist Josh McDowell for several tours, helping to legitimize the band's ministry in the eyes of many Christians. During this period, Kelly left the band and was replaced by Ronny Cates.
The line-up, consisting of Schlitt, Hartman, Cates, Lawry, and Weaver, was the most stable in the band's history. These five members remained together until 1994 when Lawry left.
The albums following Beyond Belief, Unseen Power and Wake-Up Call, won the band several more awards which included two more Grammys, and several Dove Awards. Unseen Power is considered their most diverse and experimental album.
1995-2000: New breed in the 90s
Album cover of Petra's 1995 album No Doubt. The cover features new members Jim Cooper (second from the left), and David Lichens (fourth from the left).
As the decade reached its mid-point, several situations brought the band to an unstable period. First, guitarist and founder Hartman decided to leave the band during tours to dedicate time to his family. He did remain as producer, songwriter, and studio guitarist. John Lawry also left the band to pursue other goals. In came David Lichens (guitar) and Jim Cooper (keyboards), and the band released their next album in 1995: No Doubt.
Although the album was a commercial success, it signaled a change in the band's music, departing from the edgy hard-rock they had played. Also, rumored situations between the new members and Schlitt prompted them to leave the band a year later. During this transition period, Cates left the band and was replaced by Lonnie Chapin. They released their second praise album (Petra Praise 2: We Need Jesus) in 1997 to much critical praise and commercial success.
With Chapin came guitarist Pete Orta and keyboardist Kevin Brandow. This line-up of young musicians combined with the experience of Schlitt and Weaver geared for the band's next album. The new members, along with Hartman, immersed themselves in the writing and composing of God Fixation which was released in 1998.
The album did not perform as it was expected. Additionally, changes in the rock genre veered towards an edgier sound, whereas the album focused on a more soft-rock vein. The band continued to struggle, trying to gain new audiences and bring back old audiences. They re-recorded new versions of some of the band's classic songs for an album released in 2000 called Double Take. The album also featured two new songs, one of which was written and sung by guitarist Orta.
Although the album won the band their fourth Grammy, it was shunned by most purists as a "heresy" and an insult to the classic hits. Shortly after, Chapin left the band to join Tait, and Orta went on to pursue a solo career. Brandow also left. To make matters worse, the band was dropped from their record label afterwards.
2001-2004: Petra in the new millennium
Petra core at 2001 (John Schlitt, Louie Weaver and Bob Hartman)
The band signed with Inpop Records in 2001. Inpop convinced the band to release another praise album, this time with a "modern worship" sound. Inpop brought in former Sonicflood members Jason Halbert and Dwayne Larring to produce the album, which would be titled Revival. Though it was an obvious reference to the song "Send Revival," it was also a subtle message about what Inpop hoped to do for the band.
One step the label made toward reviving Petra's image was to focus on the "core" of the band: Schlitt, Hartman, and Weaver. They ignored the other touring members in the product packaging and marketing.
And there were new touring members. Bryce Bell (keyboards), Quinton Gibson (guitars) and Greg Bailey (bass) joined Schlitt and Weaver for the Revival tour in 2002. The tour was somewhat of a success: There were more dates with Bob Hartman performing with the band for a special "Night of Joy" concert at Disney World. In December, 2002, Petra made its first trip to India, playing to huge crowds. On they played in Tiruvalla, Kerala and on they played on Bangalore in front of an estimated crowd of 10,000.
But more change was afoot in 2003. Gibson left to join the band Strange Celebrity and Bell joined Rebecca St. James' tour. Hartman later came out of "touring retirement" to replace Gibson as the band's guitarist on the road. After the departure of keyboardist Bell, Hartman convinced Schlitt to not include a keyboard player for their next tour. This has been one of the few times the band didn't feature a designated keyboardist since 1981 when John Slick was hired.
The biggest bombshell came in May when Petra confirmed rumors that Weaver was no longer part of the band. A statement on Petra's website said Weaver and the band had reached "an impasse" and that they felt "this is the Lord's will for this situation."
Weaver disputed the notion of an amicable split. On his website, Weaver claimed he did not leave Petra, but was fired months earlier by lead singer John Schlitt and manager Wayne Seboa. Weaver said he had been "shocked" by the move. Hartman later acknowledged Weaver was fired, but said that it was Schlitt alone who made the decision after consulting with a pastor and Hartman. No reasons for the firing were given publicly by either side. Weaver eventually joined the band Viktor.
In August 2003, Petra released what is considered their heaviest album to date: Jekyll & Hyde. Schlitt said the album's harder sound was a result of fans' demands for a straight-up rock album, not another praise album or acoustic retread. Jekyll & Hyde was noteworthy for its lack of keyboards and guitar solos, which had been a staple of Petra's sound, and was well-received by critics.
Without keyboards, Petra became a four-member band. The band needed a drummer, so they used Justin Johnson briefly before hiring Paul Simmons as Weaver's replacement. The band played more dates in 2004 than it had in several years, hitting many U.S. festivals and traveling to Europe. The band's performances were re-energized by Hartman's return and the harder sound.
On June 12, 2004, the band held a reunion concert in Angola, Indiana. Founder Hartman performed with original members Greg Hough and John DeGroff for the first time since the 1970s. Original drummer Bill Glover was invited but unable to attend. Sandwiched between two sets from the 2004 incarnation of the band, the original members joined Hartman and Simmons for a set of eight classic Petra songs from the 70s. At the end of 2004, the band would return to India with its new lineup playing in Aizawl and Shillong where a crowd of about 20,000 saw them perform.. They continued their heavy touring on March of the following year, playing in Australia.
2005: Petra Farewell
After much consideration and prayer, Schlitt and Hartman decided to retire the band at the end of 2005 and a farewell tour was hastily booked. On , 2005, Petra taped a concert performance in Franklin, Tennessee, for release on a final live CD and DVD titled Petra Farewell. Former members Greg X. Volz and John Lawry joined the current band on stage for a few songs each, including a ballad medley in which Volz and John Schlitt traded off vocals on songs from their respective eras. Volz took the stage alone for "Grave Robber" and keyboard player John Lawry played his signature keyboard solo "Jesus Loves You" from the Captured in Time & Space album. The CD was released in November 2005, and the DVD was released in March 2006.
More reunions took place later in the "Farewell" tour. The original Petra lineup of Bob Hartman, John DeGroff, Greg Hough, and Bill Glover performed together at two shows. The sets for these shows were comprised mostly of tracks from their first two albums - Petra and Come and Join Us - but also featured an unrecorded song written in the 1970s called "Rocking On With Jesus."
II Guys From Petra
Following Petra's retirement, Schlitt and Hartman joined forces again for a self-produced praise and worship CD entitled Vertical Expressions. The CD was released in January 2007 under the band name "II Guys From Petra" and was originally available exclusively through Petra's website (it was later made available as an electronic download through iTunes and the like). The idea for the album came about when Hartman was invited to lead worship for a youth retreat in Canada and asked Schlitt to join him.
The Vertical Expressions CD has a sound similar to the Petra Praise 2: We Need Jesus album and is very much in the same vein as Petra's material released from the mid '90s onwards. Also included are two bonus live tracks, "Lord I Lift Your Name On High" and "Judas Kiss" which are outtakes from the Petra Farewell concert and CD.
The band reunited for a single concert in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 1 December 2007. The show took place during the Rock & Vida festival as part of the World AIDS Day.
When Petra's career started in 1972, their music was considered groundbreaking for the genre at that time, and was generally well-received by most people. However, when they were signed by Myrrh, their first recording effort did not sell as well as expected and the band were dropped from the label. The band continued touring until Star Song approached them and signed them for a record contract in the late 70s. The resulting album (Washes Whiter Than) garnered the band their first radio hit with "Why Should the Father Bother?".
For their next album, producer Jonathan David Brown was brought in. He paved the way to what would soon become the traditional Petra sound, taking them into bigger success. Their first album with Brown (Never Say Die) produced several hits like "The Coloring Song" and "For Annie". During this time, Petra had the opportunity to tour with Servant which helped them improve their craftsmanship on stage. Their next album (More Power To Ya) continued their string of hits with "More Power To Ya", "Road to Zion", and "Stand Up." They immediately followed it with Not of this World which gave them their first Grammy Award nomination and sold a quarter million units alone. Its follow-up (Beat the System) also gave them a second Grammy nomination.
After their first live album (Captured In Time and Space), singer Greg X. Volz left the band to pursue a solo career. John Schlitt was hired shortly after. This change also brought in a change of producers, and in came John and Dino Elefante to work with the band. The Elefante Brothers continued to define the band's hard rock style, guided them into more of an arena rock style, and lifted the band's status to stardom. Each of the ten albums produced by the Elefante brothers (from 1986 to 2000) received at least a Grammy nomination and won a total of four Grammies. Two of the Elefante-produced albums were also certified gold.
In the new millennium, despite slower sales than during their peak years, the band continued to draw crowds not only in the United States, but around the world. After a change in record label and producer, the band continued to produce varied albums and kept on touring. During their last years of touring, the band played in South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. The band was sometimes criticized for abandoning their hard rock roots and "softening" their music. This claim was shut down by the band's final studio album, Jekyll & Hyde, which is considered by many to be their heaviest.
During its 33-year career, the band influenced countless artists in and out of the Christian scene. Petra was the only Christian band to play at the 1992 Farm Aid concert and the first Christian band to be included in the Hard Rock Cafe. In 2000, Petra was the first Christian rock band to be inducted to the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. "The doubts about popular music mixing with Christian lyrics have mostly vanished due to their 25-year track record of proven ministry and changed lives. Petra was a true pioneer for our industry," GMA President Frank Breeden said at the time.
Many other Christian artists have recorded tributes to Petra (see Tributes section below). Even secular artist Tim McGraw has included "More Power To Ya" in some of his concerts.
The band had a daring presence during the early 80s which included wearing camouflage clothes in their presentations. This helped draw attention to the genre during times when Christian rock wasn't that well-received. Over the years, Petra refused to water down their clear Christian message like other bands have done to try to break into the mainstream market. Though Petra was opposed by Bill Gothard, Jimmy Swaggart, David Wilkerson, and other evangelists, the band is credited with opening conservative Christians to rock music as a form of ministry.
Petra's founder and lead guitarist, Bob Hartman, is respected as one of the best guitarists in the industry. Singer John Schlitt has also been acknowledged, first for his stint as the lead man in Head East, and then with Petra.
Cover of Petra tribute album, Never Say Dinosaur
Several bands paid tribute to Petra over its 33 years. The best-known tribute album is Never Say Dinosaur released by Star Song Records in 1996. The album consisted of 12 covers of classic Petra songs by well-known Christian bands like Jars of Clay, MxPx, Galactic Cowboys, and Sixpence None the Richer among others. All but one of the songs chosen ("All the King's Horses") were originally recorded during the band's pre-Schlitt years.
Star Song released two compilation albums with Petra songs performed by a youth choir, with accompanying songbooks. These albums were produced by John Lee.
The Petra Youth Choir Collection - 1984
Petra Youth Choir Collection 2 - 1987
Word Records also released two compilation albums with Petra songs performed by a youth choir, with accompanying songbooks.
The Petra Collection - 1991
Just Reach Out - 1994
Two similar compilations were released by Word Records using Spanish choirs. These were released in the 1990s.
La Colecci??n de Petra en Espa?±ol - 1993
La Colecci??n Coral de Petra 2 - 1995
This last compilation was arranged by Alejandro Allen, who later worked on the Spanish version of Jekyll & Hyde.
Other artists have included single song covers of Petra in some of their albums. These are:
"Thankful Heart" by Nathan Digesare (Jubilat?©!, 1989)
"Judas' Kiss" by One Bad Pig (Swine Flew, 1990)
"More Power to Ya" by The RapSures (Loud, Proud and Born Again, 1990)
"All Over Me" by Die Happy (Intense Records Presents Die Happy Recorded Live - Intense Live Series Vol. 4, 1993)
"Adonai" by Hokus Pick (The B-Sides, 1996)