The All Saved Freak Band interview
In the fall of 1968, a small radio station in Ashtabula, Ohio unleashed a whole new genre of music upon their listeners when they aired the All Saved Freak Band’s first recorded songs. It was the very first time ANYONE had heard the idiom of rock music being used to convey the message of the gospel. Interview with Joe Markko.
What’s the story behind Brainwashed? Many years ago when I interviewed you, you said that Brainwashed was released as a response to a critic.
In February, 1975, ASFB Guitarist, Glenn Schwartz was kidnapped by famed cult de-programmer, Ted Patrick. Holding him at the Gateway Motel in Euclid, Ohio, Glenn’s family had become concerned about his choices and deemed him, “Brainwashed,” in need of de-programing. Because of his obsession with his God, Glenn had abandoned everything and everyone, including his family and a burgeoning career as a rock-star, to follow his own path.
After a few day’s effort, and his thinking unchanged, Glenn returned and the band decided to call the album “Brainwashed.” Declaring, “the only difference between our detractors and ourselves is that we’ve chosen who washes our brains,” the band pushed back. The catch phrase for the new album’s promotion became, “Get your brain washed now!”
It’s the first time that this wonderful LP will get reissued by Old Bear Records. Are you excited about it?
Excited? Certainly. But there’s also a sense of “awe” about this for all former members. We never imagined there would be a lasting interest in the stumbling efforts of our youth. Each of us is humbled by the fact that anyone remembers it, at all. It all makes for a wonderful “balm” in our old age.
Will there be more albums being reissued in the near future?
All four of the albums were released as part of the 50th Anniversary re-issue on CD, download and streaming in September, 2018. The vinyl re-issue is being done exclusively by the good folks at Old Bear Records. The release of the other three albums is on their agenda, time and date will be determined by them.
Can you elaborate the formation of the band? There were a lot of members during all those years. Would love if you can chronologically go through lineup changes.
Larry Hill, piano player, writing partner, and I started 50 years ago, in September, 1968. I taught my brother, Randy, how to play bass and we were off! In 1969-72 Glenn Schwartz joined us followed by Guitarist, Ed Durkos, Bass players, Morgan King and Norris McClure, Organist Carole King Hough, Pam and Kim Massmann on Cello and Violin and Mike Berkey with acoustic Guitar. They all arrived as part of the band’s outreach efforts to Kent State University following the shootings on May 4th, 1970.
We had a few drummers pass through but depended on Brett and Tim Hill to provide percussion until Tom Eritano came on board half-way through recording the second album, Brainwashed, in 1972.
You were one of the first bands with ‘Christian’ lyrics. Whose idea was it to start a rock band?
Larry and I had just been “jammin’,” playing music together for about 6 weeks, before we started adding lyrics to a few, simple tunes. Starting a Christian rock band didn’t cross our minds since there was no such thing at the time.
I’ve defined “vision” as, “a benign unrest that gently gnaws at the root of regimenting thinking.” That’s what happened with us. The idea of a band, as an evangelistic tool, took shape over time. It was, for us, the next, natural step.
How did the counterculture react to your music? The Churches probably ignored it?
With the rare exception of a few African-American congregations, “Gospel Rock” was anathema to churches and church leaders alike. Most of the counter-culture of the 1960’s and early 70’s, as well as our musician friends, adopted the peaceable mantra of the Doobie Brothers, “Jesus is just alright with me.”
The Contemporary Christian Music Industry still ignores us.
What I really admire in your band is a very unique sound. How did you get that sound?
If there is a “sound” for the music of ASFB it’s due to three things. First, producer Rob Galbraith. Rob taught all of us how to blend everything together, how to craft a “sound.” Second, it’s due to the fact that everyone was encouraged to write and perform their own songs with the rest of us building around them. Third, the Massmann sisters added the most striking layer with their strings and voices. It was a true collaboration.
Would you say that lyrics are as important as music?
I’m presuming you mean in connection with Contemporary Christian Music. Since there is no distinction between secular and sacred in the music of CCM and current Top-10 songs,the lyrics become more important than the music. “Except there be a distinction in the sound, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?” Lyrics must be unambiguous and clearly “mission related.”
You received a few offers from RCA and Columbia. Do you have any regrets?
Yes and no, mostly no. We didn’t sign because of our concern about putting our music in the hands of folks who didn’t understand our core purpose. Had we signed, our mission to “win the world for Jesus” might have received a greater push but I know a LOT of recorded musicians who would love to have control of their own catalog and do not. We do. That’s why we can re-release it now.
Is there any unreleased material?
Yes, but we’ll never have access to them since many of the original recordings/tapes have been lost.
Looking back, what was the highlight of your time in the band? Which songs are you most proud of? Where and when was your most memorable gig?
Thinking about it, highlights don’t seem to jump out. Everything we did was a big deal to me. We traveled through, and played in, most of the states east of the Mississippi. New Orleans Louisiana, Iron Mountain Michigan, Miami Beach Florida and Burlington Vermont made up the four corners of our adventure map. What a privilege!
Pride isn’t what I feel. I feel joy. I feel peace. I feel contentment that everything worked out, that our efforts and sacrifices mattered. The music we made, and the tiny footprint we left behind, will outlive us all. That’s my highlight. That’s a big deal for an old man.
The seven former ASFB members behind the 50th Anniversary re-issues have dedicated the project to the memories of Brett Hill, Randy Markko, Tom Miller and now, Glenn Schwartz. Brett, Randy and Tom were lost to the band in two separate car accidents while travelling for the group. Glenn went home to join them last November, at 78. The truest pioneers of Contemporary Christian Music, their names deserve to be remembered. “Giving honor to whom honor is due.”
– Klemen Breznikar