Resurrection Band, also known as Rez Band or REZ, is one of the most well-known and respected Christian rock bands in the history of Contemporary Christian music. They were based out of the Jesus People USA Christian community in Chicago, Illinois, and most of its members continue to be part of that community to this day.
Led by the husband-and-wife team of Glenn and Wendi Kaiser, the band has been the preeminent example of how to evangelize using Christian rock, but the quality musicianship of Resurrection Band has also been a driving force in the development of the Christian music industry at large. Glenn Kaiser also has an established solo career as a blues musician and is also a well-known speaker on various spiritual issues to youth and adults.
The band originally played together under the name "Charity" in 1972 with Jesus People Milwaukee, based out of Milwaukee. When the community split into four groups, and one became the "Jesus People USA Travelling Team" before their relocation to Chicago, the name "Resurrection Band" was chosen and the band became a primary focus of the community's ministry. After arriving in Chicago, the band recorded two independent cassettes that were given away after their concerts, which were performed anywhere Resurrection Band was allowed to play, from schools to prisons to street corners. The first cassette, Music to Raise the Dead, featured hard rock, while All Your Life comprised only their acoustic numbers, which was a reflection of the folk-oriented sets they would play at more conservative venues such as nursing homes and churches, the latter of which were deeply skeptical of Christian rock, especially the borderline heavy metal that Resurrection Band specialized in.
Four years later, thanks to a generous $8000 gift from a friend, Resurrection Band recorded their first album, Awaiting Your Reply, over a two-week period in marathon all-night sessions. Although the band had completed the album, including the cover art, no Christian record label would risk releasing it, as the Led Zeppelin/Jefferson Airplane inspired music was considered much too controversial for the Christian market at that time. Although Star Song Records was warned away from the project by other gospel music executives, the tiny label had nothing to lose, so they signed the band and released the record as it was. To everyone's surprise, Awaiting Your Reply hit big in the Christian market, and reached #6 on the Gospel album sales charts. Although misunderstood by many critics at the time, the album has been reevaluated and highly praised in recent years, and is now listed at #91 in the book, CCM Presents: The 100 Greatest Albums in Christian Music, released in 2001.
The band followed up the success of that album with Rainbow's End, which continued in the same progressive hard rock/metal vein akin to Black Sabbath and Aerosmith. Although the band was pleased with the effort, Star Song was not, and the band was forced to find another label shortly after its release. Rainbow's End is significant for being the first album by an American rock band to address the racist system of apartheid in South Africa, a full year before Peter Gabriel brought the issue to the world's attention with his classic song, "Biko." Resurrection Band would eventually become known for grappling with a variety of social and political ills in its music, from the evils of the military-industrial complex to the corrupting influence of American materialism to racism, homelessness, AIDS, drug addiction, prostitution and many other issues that the band personally confronted in their ministry to their surrounding urban community in Chicago.
Once signed by Light Records, Resurrection Band shed its progressive rock leanings and went for a more radio-friendly hard rock/metal sound. Both Colours, released in 1980, and Mommy Don't Love Daddy Anymore, released in 1981, were solid collections of music that alternately addressed larger social issues such as poverty and divorce as well as personal spiritual issues of salvation and discipleship, along with the intersection between the two. While the mainstream Christian press was still adapting to the idea of Christian hard rock, alternative Christian music newspapers highly praised both albums, and their leading publication, Harvest Rock Syndicate, awarded both five stars. In addition, Resurrection Band began receiving greater airplay on radio stations that played Christian rock, and combined with their reputation as a powerful live act and effective evangelistic ministry (thanks to the fiery sermons preached at the end of Resurrection Band concerts by Glenn Kaiser), the band gained a positive reputation among church youth leaders as well as an enthusiastic and devoted fanbase. In spite of the increased attention, Resurrection Band funneled any and all profits back into the Jesus People USA community, as members held all monies in common according to the example set by the New Testament church.
In an attempt to be more efficient stewards of those monies, Resurrection Band built their own recording studio in the heart of their community, later nicknamed "Tone Zone." Although put together on a shoestring budget (with old mattresses on the walls in the studio's early incarnation), it was there that the band recorded its next album, D.M.Z., during the summer of 1982. A transitional work, the album was half Van Halen-inspired hard rock featuring blistering guitar solos from Stu Heiss, while the other half took a much more New Wave-driven approach, a controversial musical direction the band would pursue with greater vigor on future releases. The split personality of the album was not well-received critically, although it generated two tracks that became live staples for years to come: "Military Man" and "White Noise."
To that end, those songs appeared again on the band's next release, Live Bootleg, a live album recorded before an enthusiastic local audience at the Odeon in Chicago in October of 1983. This was the band's first release for Sparrow Records, one of the largest and most successful Christian record labels, which at that time was seeking to sign more Christian musical acts with ministry as their primary focus. Live Bootleg was the first album to be released under the band's shortened moniker "Rez Band," a colloquialism created by fans, and it also featured a number of songs that directly addressed issues of concern to high school-aged listeners. The latter focus would continue for as long as the band recorded music.
After a number of successful tours throughout the United States and Europe in the early 1980s with a variety of Christian hard rock acts--including a high-profile tour in 1982 with Swedish quartet Jerusalem--Rez Band was viewed by both fans and music critics as the preeminent Christian hard rock band. As a result, when Rez Band released Hostage in late 1984, listeners were caught completely off guard. Heavily keyboard-driven, the album reflected the band's increasing interest in New Wave music, and to that end, the first single from the album, "S.O.S.," features almost no guitar whatsoever (although it does feature a Speak & Spell). No matter. "S.O.S." shot to the top of the Christian rock singles chart and stayed there for several weeks, and in doing so, the band attracted an entirely new audience. Still, the move was controversial, and the critical reaction was highly divided.
Rez Band hadn't completely abandoned its hard rock sound, though. The next single, "Crimes"--sung by co-lead singer Wendi Kaiser--is a traditional headbanging Rez Band number about inner-city violence, a topic that band members and the Jesus People USA community know first-hand. "Crimes" was even more popular on Christian radio, and received airplay on some mainstream rock stations as well, thanks to the music video, one of the first from the Contemporary Christian music industry to be broadcast on MTV.
That brief taste of mainstream success had a major influence on the band's next album, Between Heaven 'N Hell, which jettisoned most of the New Wave stylings of Hostage in favor of radio-friendly hard rock more akin to their Colours period. Shortening their moniker even further to "REZ," the band took advantage of the fact that Capitol Records now handled Sparrow's distribution. While the lyrics on the album represent a strong Christian worldview, explicit references to God or Jesus were almost non-existent. The catchy "Love Comes Down" was chosen as the band's first single, and the music video--featuring lots of dance choreography--was a far more polished effort, and as a result, received far more airplay on MTV than "Crimes" ever did. However, the band's most controversial decision was to eliminate their traditional altar call at the end of their concerts as a concession to playing more secular venues for the tour that supported this album, leading some to accuse the band of selling out their message for greater mainstream acceptance.
It would be three years before REZ returned to the studio to record their next album, and much changed in the Contemporary Christian music industry during that time. REZ was no longer the dominant force in Christian rock; instead, Stryper had burst onto the scene in all their yellow-and-black glory, bringing Christian metal to the mainstream with To Hell with the Devil in 1986, which sold millions of albums and made the band a mainstay on MTV. Amy Grant had scored her first #1 US pop hit the same year with "The Next Time I Fall," a duet with former Chicago lead singer Peter Cetera. Even Christian alternative music had made inroads into the mainstream when The 77s signed with Island Records and their self-titled album received a favorable review in Rolling Stone. In addition, the Jesus People USA community established the annual Cornerstone Festival during this period, which would serve as a springboard to mainstream success for future Christian artists like Sixpence None the Richer and P.O.D.
Even the lineup of REZ changed during this time as well. Bassist Jim Denton left to attend theological seminary, and was replaced by long-time REZ roadie and songwriter Roy Montroy, who would soon become a major creative force in the band.
Although REZ had been left out of the mainstream success which the band had arguably spearheaded for others, REZ was nevertheless more interested in using its music to speak plainly to both non-Christians about the reality of God, and to Christians about their responsibility to the disenfranchised and hurting in the world around them. To that end, REZ returned to the studio in 1988, and the result was Silence Screams, a hybrid of blues, hard rock and heavy metal that served as a musical blueprint for all of the band's successive releases. Sporting unsettling cover art, Silence Screams deals forcefully with social concerns such as abortion, greed, racial profiling and even terrorism, proving that--as they did with confronting apartheid in 1979--the band was once again ahead of the curve. The album is also unique in that it is the first to have been released on the band's own record label, Grrr Records, a wordplay on Myrrh Records, the most successful Contemporary Christian record label at that time. Now, the band could exercise complete creative and financial control over their music.
Creatively invigorated, REZ released a new studio album every 18 months on average. Innocent Blood, Civil Rites and Reach of Love continued the formula first begun on Silence Screams. Each album dealt with current topics of social and spiritual concern, and each release contained more and more blues influence, thanks to lead singer Glenn Kaiser, who was beginning a new career as a blues artist outside of REZ. With Kaiser focusing more of his attention on his solo work, Roy Montroy became a greater contributor to REZ, and for Reach of Love, he wrote every single track, a feat never accomplished before by any member of the band. However, there was a growing sense--not just among music critics but also within the band itself--that the formula was growing stale and that REZ had fallen into a creative rut. As a result, for the first time in the band's history, REZ reached outside the Jesus People USA community for creative inspiration, which came in the form of Ty Tabor, co-lead singer of King's X.
The result of Ty Tabor's influence was Lament, released in 1995. Unlike any of the band's previous work, Lament is the band's first concept album, a song cycle about one man's disillusionment with the harshness and cruelty of life and his growing realization that things cannot change unless he experiences spiritual redemption. Recognizing the importance of how the songs are ordered, Resurrection Band (which had now reverted back to its original moniker) played the entire album from beginning to end on the tour which supported this album. This was rare enough in rock music--save for The Who and Styx--but unheard of in Christian rock. As a result, the creative rebirth of Lament was highly praised among long-time fans of Resurrection Band as well as prominent Christian music critics, with some calling the album the finest the band ever recorded.
Regardless of the praise the band received for Lament, Resurrection Band decided to call it quits at the end of the tour. As the band's final album of original material, it is a fitting swan song, given that Resurrection Band's entire reason for existence was to inspire listeners to seriously consider their own spiritual condition and their need for a Saviour.
Despite this announcement, Resurrection Band would get together once a year and play a live set at the annual Cornerstone Festival, which had become one of the Christian music industry's preeminent events. Then, in 1997, the band decided to go back into the studio for one last recording. The MTV Unplugged craze was at its highest pitch, and Resurrection Band felt it was an appropriate time to reinvent some of their hard rock material in an acoustic format. The result was Ampendectomy, featuring 15 selections pulled from the band's entire musical history. In spite of the humorous cover art which indicated the fun, relaxed atmosphere of the recording session, the reviews of the album were surprisingly mixed. Regardless, the band continued to play live sets each year at Cornerstone.
Finally, in July of 2000, Resurrection Band brought almost 30 years of music and ministry to a close with a farewell performance, leaving behind them a transformed Contemporary Christian music industry, and a platform upon which future Christian musicians could build.