Arrow-right Camera
News >  Features

New Blood Young Musicians Inject Updated Sound Into Classis Christian Rock Group

(From For the Record of Friday, April 12, 1996:) A concert featuring Petra, Whiteheart, Johnny Q. Public and Grammatrain will be held Sunday at 6 p.m. at the Spokane Opera House. The location was listed incorrectly in Thursday’s IN Life section.

When guitarist David Lichens was in diapers, Petra was already a fixture on the Christian rock circuit.

“They had been out about two years before I was born,” said Lichens in a phone interview last week.

At age 22, Lichens is the lead guitarist of the band that carries the longest and most distinguished legacy of any recording artist in contemporary Christian music.

Petra, which has endured several incarnations in its expansive career, practically pioneered the Christian rock genre.

Petra is winding its way through the country as the headliner for the “Salt Box Tour” with bands Whiteheart, Johnny Q. Public and Grammatrain. The tour arrives at the Spokane Arena on Sunday.

Keyboardist Jim Cooper, 28, was probably just learning how to ride a tricycle when vocalist-guitarist Bob Hartman put the Gospel to rock ‘n’ roll in 1971. Hartman no longer tours with the band, but he remains Petra’s marketing brain and chief songwriter.

Now, Lichens and Cooper are Petra’s biggest assets and are furthering the band’s legendary longevity.

Both members inject youthful vigor, spunk and a fresh stew of influences into the old musical evangelist, which, in all reality, should have gone extinct with many of the other ‘70s rock dinosaurs.

The sound has “changed just a little bit, because of the member changes,” Lichens said of the band, which is rounded out by longtime veterans, lead singer John Schlitt, bassist Ronny Cates and drummer Louie Weaver. “The keyboard player (Cooper) and I together are both pretty aggressive as far as our style go.

“The old guitar player, when he played live, was super polished. Needless to say when I came in, I’m the kind of guy who just loves to have a good time.”

By providing the sonic propulsion with his hook-laden riffs, Lichens is helping Petra compete with the army of younger holy rockers making noise in the Christian rock scene. Part of the reason is his influences stem from modern rock heavyweights Soundgarden, Live and Collective Soul and funkster Tower of Power.

Further, before joining the Franklin, Tenn.-based unit, Lichens lived in one of the country’s fertile music communities, Portland. The scene undoubtedly molded his moody style.

“I was influenced by (living in Portland) and brought that into the band,” says Lichens, whose previous band was called Vivid.

When Petra entered the studio to record 1995’s “No Doubt,” one of the band’s primary concerns was to write and record music more in tune with the times. Christian music is continually faulted for being a few years tardy when it comes to pop styles.

“We’re still trying to push it ahead into being more on top of the modern rock scene rather than trailing. That’s the big drawback with Christian music in general,” Lichens says.

In doing so, Petra is attracting younger audiences.

At concerts, Lichens is noticing a significant portion of the crowd is composed of junior high school students.

“It really varies,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of teenage and college-age fans. Then we’ve got a ton of junior high fans.”

According to Lichens, “No Doubt” continues to reap strong retail sales and is nearing gold.

Aside from remaining intact for almost 25 years, Petra has achieved several major milestones.

The quintet is Christian music’s top-selling band. It has cleared 6 million units.

Petra is the first and only Christian rock band to be enshrined at the Hard Rock Cafe.

The group is the only Christian band to be invited to perform at Farm Aid. Petra played the benefit concert in 1992.

Petra is the top-selling non-European Christian band in Europe.

Petra has delivered an unprecedented 22 albums.

The band has taken home three Grammys, all of which came in the last five years.

“Nobody in the band can tell you why Petra has been around and stayed fairly strong over the years,” said Lichens. “To me, it’s cool because it’s one thing to be around for 20 years, and it’s one thing to still be going real strong after 20 years.”

What’s more, Lichens insists that Petra is getting even better.

“Wait until the next record. We’re working on it right now, and it’ll be pretty stinking cool.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: PETRA The “Salt Box Tour” featuring Petra, Whiteheart, Johnny Q. Public and Grammatrain begins at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Spokane Arena. Tickets are $22.50, $17.50 and $15.50 (for groups of 15 or more) and are available at area Christian bookstores and all G&B; outlets, or call 325-SEAT.

This sidebar appeared with the story: PETRA The “Salt Box Tour” featuring Petra, Whiteheart, Johnny Q. Public and Grammatrain begins at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Spokane Arena. Tickets are $22.50, $17.50 and $15.50 (for groups of 15 or more) and are available at area Christian bookstores and all G&B; outlets, or call 325-SEAT.


Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter

Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter

There was a problem subscribing you to the newsletter. Double check your email and try again, or email webteam@spokesman.com

You have been successfully subscribed!