When Randy Stonehill was nominated to the International Gospel Music Hall of Fame he had two responses. At first he said, “Wow!” After a moment he added, “Am I that old?”
Performing since 17 years of age, Randy is a pioneer of contemporary Christian music who has pointed hundreds of thousands to the risen Jesus for the past 37 years. Following AGMF in Toowoomba, Stonehill toured Australia again.
Yet the Church very nearly missed out on Randy Stonehill’s ministry. Not long after his conversion in Larry Norman’s Los Angeles kitchen, he leaned against his car after a concert and gave God a piece of his mind.
“I came away from a concert feeling pretty beaten up by some of the more conservative elements in the church who had gotten in my face,” Stonehill recalls. “I was not their cup of tea. A lot of people would throw out the baby with the bath water, saying ‘rock and roll is a destructive force in the culture – how can that ever be married to the Gospel? Your hair’s too long, your music’s too loud, your pants are too tight and you have too much fun! How dare you?’
"I remember staring at the night sky and having this conversation with God: “I think I’m through here.
The very people I thought would support me for bringing the Gospel to my generation, to the streets, they’re the ones taking pot shots at me. I don’t need this. I think I’m just going to play rock and roll, make some money and see the world and I’ll be sure to put in a good word for you from time to time, Lord, because I know you’re real. But I think I’m done with this. I’m fed up.”
Randy Stonehill recalls God’s quiet reply at the moment when his heart was turning away. “Well, young man, you have a free will and you can go your own way. I have given you good gifts and I imagine you’ll have a modicum of success. But I promise you this: You will never be at peace. You will be haunted every night you get up on stage and leave those people with nothing more than a good time, because you’ll know you could have shared hope, you could have shared the Gospel and you chose to just play rock and roll.”
That calling differentiated Stonehill from many of his LA musical associates, including The Eagles and others of that mid 70’s ilk. Mentored by Larry Norman and Barry McGuire, Randy began visiting Australia in 1977. He went on to write ‘Your Love Broke Through’ with Keith Green. In Australia Marcia Hines made that song a Top Ten hit.
“That really busted the doors open for me. I was able to play at the Horden Pavilion and stay at Sydney’s Boulevard Hotel. It was so funny, coming down in the elevator one morning and seeing ‘The Boulevard welcomes our special guests – Charlie Pride, Mohammed Ali and Randy Stonehill!”
The doors to mainstream media opened with opportunities to share his songs and articulate his faith without “being preachy”.
As a track from his new Edge of the World CD says, Randy Stonehill is now playing for your daughters and your sons.
At AGMF it was obvious he was even playing for some of our grandchildren. Larry Norman, Barry McGuire, Annie Herring, Phil Keaggy and Chuck Girard feature on the third track We were all so young.
We were. Fans from thirty years ago may recall driving hundreds of kilometres to Brisbane or Townsville to see the mop haired funny guy whose songs made us laugh and think.
The wacky sense of humour is a Biblical tonic at a time when few Christians seem to be laughing.
“And that’s just such a shame,” says Stonehill. “If anyone has licence to celebrate hope and real joy, it’s Christians. Laughter is good for the soul like a medicine. Yes, there’s spiritual warfare in the works and pursuing a relationship with God is serious stuff, but at the same time laughter is a way of saying we take God and life seriously, but I’m a man set free! I’ve found out that God’s love is not just the dream of desperate men.”
Randy Stonehill toured four states to promote Compassion Australia, the child sponsorship program he has supported since 1981.
Photo : Randy Stonehill still rocking after all these years. Photo by Ben Pearson