Do a Google search for Randy Stonehill on the internet and you’re likely to find a biographical sketch describing him as a “pioneer” in the contemporary Christian music field.
Stonehill, 65, certainly doesn’t balk at the notion.
In fact, he wears it quite well.
Stonehill was on the ground floor of “Jesus Rock” when that genre of music started in the early 1970s. His contemporaries, he said, included the likes of “the late, great Larry Norman, Andre Crouch and Phil Keaggy. Keith Green came along a few years later.”
Some of his early cohorts have passed away over the years. A few, like Keaggy, continue their musical careers.
Call Stonehill is a survivor if you’d like, but know this: He is still passionate about making music and criss-crossing the nation, singing songs from his vast catalogue of hits along with new tunes he has penned in more recent years.
Stonehill will be in concert at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 22, in the auditorium of Topeka Bible Church’s College Avenue Building, 1135 S.W. College Ave. There is no admission charge and a freewill offering will be received.
“This is my 47th year on the road,” Stonehill said in a recent phone interview. And without saying definitively that he has played Topeka before, he allowed, “I can pretty much guarantee that I’ve been everywhere.”
As is his wont, Stonehill is having some fun with his springtime trek across the middle portion of the United States.
“We’re calling it the ‘March Madness Mostly Midwest Tour,’ ” Stonehill said, before adding, “that’s some good alliteration there.”
Stonehill travels the nation with his wife Leslie and their 21-year-old “tour mascot” — a half-dachshund, half silky-haired terrier dog named Nigel.
“Tell your readers he’s the Methuselah of puppies,” Stonehill cracked.
Though musical styles — and, yes, hairstyles — have changed through his nearly five decades in Christian music, Stonehill has adapted well. He seems to be most at home on the road, performing concerts wherever people will open their doors.
“My wife and I have been the gypsies for Jesus,” Stonehill said. “We’re just really enjoying the great adventure, going where the Lord opens doors.
“As a matter of fact, over the past five years, we kind of joke about visiting our house in between ministry adventures.
“It’s just been a rich experience, watching the Lord make a way and having the incredible privilege of participating with him at all.”
Stonehill said attendees at his Topeka performance “can expect a lot of passion, a lot of joy and old songs and new songs.”
He said, “When people ask what I do — I tell ‘em it’s kind of like one-man rock ‘n’ roll with the gospel squarely in the middle of it.
“‘So, this dude’s in his 60s — is this sleepy folk music?’ It’s not sleepy folk music — it’s more like Tom Petty meets Robin Williams, a kind of weird personality wreck but with joy and the gospel squarely in the middle of it.”
Stonehill isn’t on some kind of farewell tour, that much is certain. He is still very much engaged in the music-making process.
“I’ve been doing a lot of writing, and it’s always a thrill to try out some of them,” Stonehill said of his new songs. “I also like to do some of the old touchstone material that people know me for. If they’re gracious enough to come out and spend an evening with me, I want to play something that means something in their lives.
“But it’s also really fun to try out some of the new songs, as well, because these are the people I write ‘em for.”
Stonehill still recalls the early days of a new kind of Christian music, one in which the gospel message was set to rock ‘n’ roll. The time was the early 1970s, an era known as the Jesus Movement.
“I knew that the Lord was doing something fresh and wonderful by the presence of his Spirit back in the early ’70s,” he said, “and that he was using the musical language of the day — rock ‘n’ roll and folk rock, the music that I loved — to share the timeless, living truth of the Gospel message with my generation, many of whom would never think to darken the doors of a church. It was so new that they called it ‘Contemporary Christian What-are-They-Doing music?’
“It was so new there wasn’t even a name for it. And I was blessed to be part of that kind of musical, spiritual crew that God put together.
“I remember talking with Larry Norman, who was really a great visionary and communicator. He said, ‘So, Randy, if we’re playing the rock ‘n’ roll we love, because it’s got joy and passion, and we’re singing about Jesus … I guess we can call it ‘Jesus Rock.’ ”
Stonehill said Norman would speak with record store managers at the time and tell them the music was so new it didn’t have a category.
“He’d say, ‘This is a new category — file it under Jesus Rock,’ ” Stonehill said. “They’d kind of look at us funny, but, really, there wasn’t a name for it.”
Only later, probably sometime in the late 1970s or early ’80s, did someone coin the term “Contemporary Christian Music,” which stuck and continues to be used to some degree to this day.
“So that’s how it started,” Stonehill continued, “and we had no idea how long this would last. We were just trying to be obedient and share God’s love with the talents we’d been given.
“It might last for a month, it might last for a year. We told God, ‘If you shut it down, we’ll serve you in some other way.’”
As time has proven, the music has lasted and grown and now has become its own major industry. For a number of years now, the musical production and styles have been nearly indistinguishable from that of mainstream modern music. The main difference is in the message found in the lyrics.
Stonehill said he’s good with that.
“Obviously, by God’s hand, that fledgling movement exploded into a very diverse and global musical movement that now embodies all kinds of musical styles,” he said, “and that makes me smile, because the bottom line is God in his wisdom has raised up different kinds of artists so there is something for everyone — there’s some kind of musical form that’s going to speak to hearts.
“There’s a different musical form to speak to all kinds of different hearts, and that’s fine with me. As long as Jesus is in the center of the music, then I don’t care what the music sounds like.”
Contact reporter Phil Anderson at (785) 295-1195 or follow live reports @Philreports on Twitter. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/philreports.tcj/