Monday, April 18, 2011

Marty Brandt

Hand in Hand Memories- Marty Brandt

I first saw the New Beginning about 1974 at Greenway High School. It was lunchtime and a band had set up in the little amphitheater outside the drama building.
They were a bit older – a few were balding already (sorry guys) - and were playing what at the time were not considered very cool guitars – hollow-body Gretsches. I had gone to church my whole life and played in the church band, but it wasn’t a cool image to talk or sing about God, so I kind of joined in as friends made fun of the band for being Jesus Freaks, but inside I thought it took some guts for them to be out there with their faith.

At that time I was also in a cover/garage band playing some High School and Junior High dances, so any band playing was interesting to me. (As a side note, we were huge Yes and Chicago fan and we were playing “Yours is No Disgrace” and “Dialogue Parts 1 an 2” at Jr. High dances followed by “Come and Get Your Love” and other pop songs. That was pretty nuts).
I remember a tune about flying on a plane and another about a “steel-driving” man (later I figured it must have been “Flight 657” and “Benjie Ducaine”)

On May 6, 1974, I went to the Billy Graham crusade here in Phoenix, where I understood the gospel for the first time and gave my life to Christ. Later that summer, at Montlure church camp up by Greer, AZ, I met a couple guys named Henry Rojas (before he was “The Original Gorilla”) and Ken Moore who really helped explain what had happened to me and what the gospel was really about – Jesus, the one and only way to God. And they were singing this great praise music directly to the Lord, and I finally figured out a new purpose for my love for music. What do you know, I became a Jesus Freak too.
When I came back to school that fall, I was alive and happy for the first time in my life - at least that’s what it felt like. I was wearing Jesus clothes, necklaces and everything and scribbling “Praise the Lord” and other sayings all over my books.

Early that school year, I saw a poster on a building there for a Campus Crusade for Christ meeting called “Student Life” (or something like that) and decided to go – even though I didn’t know anyone. One of the first meetings I attended, Bernie Rolfe was singing and sharing. He sang a song about a little boy that is out on a boat and a storm comes up and he hopes his “little boaty will float” and is trusting Jesus. (If I remember right, the boat sinks anyway and the kid goes to heaven to be with Jesus. Kinda strange and a bit twisted Bernie, but I liked it anyway.)
These meetings are where I later met Terry Hann, Rob Brunner and Bob Cochran, (future Glory Road, of course). Terry was out of High School already I think - he had that beard even back then. He came and spoke at the CCC meeting once and sang some Barry McGuire (“Jesus People”) and Randy Matthews (“Sunny Day” – I still love that tune).

Soon I was leading songs at the meetings and heard about this place you could go on a Saturday night and hear Christian bands playing (and eat cookies!). You could bring friends who weren’t so sure about this Jesus stuff and they would be cool with it, since there was music. That became a regular Saturday night gig, going with Jeff Bentley and Rick Hopkins to Hand in Hand and then hanging out at Hobo Joes until late into the night. (“Hobo Joe says ’Hot Meatloaf Sandwich!’”)
In 1975, I went to the Campus Crusade Christmas conference in Arrowhead Springs and Glory Road played a concert for us (I think this was before Greg joined). John Heath was playing a beautiful wood grain semi-hollow Telecaster Thinline with hum-buckers (sorry – guitar gear memories are very clear to me).

After High School, I went to Grand Canyon College (now University) but still hung out at Hand in Hand on Saturday nights. In late 1976 or early 1977, someone (Bob C maybe?) told me that one of the bands was looking for a rhythm guitar player. I connected up with Steve Tessitore, played him some Pat Terry and other tunes and got into New Song. I was gonna play with three of the people from the New Beginning - I was floored!

The band at that time was Steve and Barb Tessitore, Joyce Allen, Dave Burke on bass and Paul (last name escapes me) and me on guitar. We practiced a lot - I think Steve had us practicing twice a week, which seemed to amaze other bands - and played a few concerts with this line-up, including at least one out of town gig. The style was kind of country, but with enough rock to be interesting. (On that out-of-town trip, Paul played us some Phil Keaggy tunes he had on cassette and I had a new guitar hero).

Our setlist included a few tunes Bernie had written and arranged for the band (“Weary Traveler”, “Seekin’”), a few of Steve’s originals (“Fingers to the Bone”, “On the Road”, “Hand in Hand”), a few Dave’s  originals (“Diggin’ a Hole, “Ephesians 2”) and some covers off Maranatha or other Jesus Music albums (“Pearly Mansions”, “King of Hearts”). A real grab bag.
Paul moved away fairly soon but left us his wonderful song “Open Up”, which we later arranged into a beautiful acoustic piece, and I stepped up to lead guitar. I thought I was a much better guitar player than I actually was and fumbled around for a while, but Steve graciously gave me room to grow and eventually I got better.

Later, piano player/singer Rory (again, can’t remember his last name) joined the band - added a very cool sound and a gorgeous voice– as did Rob Shepler, who brought his love for banjo, guitar and harmonica into play. The line-up I remember lasting the longest - but I could be wrong - was Steve, Barb, Joyce, Dave, Rob and me. This group worked up some very cool arrangements to some new Steve songs (“Prairie of Prayer”, “Great Divide”) and other covers (“Empty Vessels”, “Keep on Walkin”). I even wrote a fun little rock ‘n’ roll song (“Rock Star”) about the futility of the Rock ‘n’ Roll lifestyle, personified by Elvis who died that year.

It was great time and I loved everything about it, but in the fall of 1978, a couple of the members wanted to spend time with their families, so we took a “short” break that is still going on in 2011.
I got my degree in Math, started a career as an Actuary and was raising my own family. I sometimes played guitar and bass in church (backing Lee Chesnut several times), but basically moved on with my life. I played later with Steve and Barb in another band (for a short time including Dom Franco on steel guitar – he was awesome), but life got too crazy and I dropped out.

As much as I loved playing music in New Song, and sharing with the audiences between songs, the most important moments were in getting to know real Christ- following people as good friends.
I emphasize the “real” part - no one was hiding behind some sort of religious mask. They were authentic, unlike so many of the people I seemed to know growing up, and I was learning that following Christ wasn’t a formula – a set of rules – but was about learning in real time what it meant to forgive, apologize, discipline and love my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Many years later, after suffering the loss of a young child and my first marriage – when I had lost all trust in “church people” and was struggling to believe - Steve was one of the few Christian friends I trusted. I knew that even if he might not agree with all my decisions, his words – even the tough love kind – were because he cared about me and loved me as a brother. That was an important lynchpin in learning to trust the Lord again. Without that unconditional love, from Steve and a few others, I honestly don’t know where my faith would be.

I always remember those New Song days with extreme fondness. For whatever reason, though I love music more than anything besides my family and the Lord himself, God’s plan has so far not included my playing out in public very much since that time. But I am content and am thankful to Him for the short period I was hanging out at Hand in Hand, off Indian School Road and 26th Street, playing music and trying to find my way as a young Christian.

1 comment:

  1. What an awesome story Marty! Wow! So cool to see how God was weaving all those paths together for His glory. It was so great to see you singing at the reunion. Thanks for coming and for sharing a bit of your journey with us here.