Updated September 24, 2009
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See also Gary Mann's story.
Monte Cooley, founder of Barnabas, on the origins of the band: "The Lord put it on my heart to start a hard-rock Christian band in 1977, for evangelizing young people. At the time, I was unaware of *any* Christian groups that were playing anything that could remotely be called hard or metal rock; this was before I heard about Resurrection Band.
I put an ad on Guitar Center's bulleting board that said I was starting a heavy metal Christian rock group and was looking for a vocalist, a bassist, and a drummer. A few days later, Gary Mann answered the ad.
I started hanging out at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa's musicians' meetings, and eventually met Lance Johnson, a drummer. He wanted to try out and asked if he could bring a female friend who was a singer. I wasn't too enthused about the idea of a female vocalist - in fact, I'd asked Darrell Mansfield to sing for us, but he'd turned me down, as he was starting his own group.
Interestingly, Darrell called me a couple of months later and asked me to try out for *his* band, not recognizing my name when he called. He and I laughed about our turning each other down for years when we'd see each other at various events.
Anyway, Lance's friend, Carolyn Joy, came to a rehearsal and sat down and played acoustic guitar and sang a couple songs she'd written. So Barnabas was born.
Carolyn left about a year later, deciding to move back to Portland and pursue other things. Lance left and joined another Christian group, with whom he recorded a number of albums.
We found Nancy through an ad in the Recycler, a Los Angeles Nickel Ads type of paper. For a time, we had a drummer named Roy, but then along came Kris."
The group recorded a first album called Hear the Light in 1980. This album was recorded in a sort of hit-or-miss fashion on sneaked L.A. studio time under the expert engineering hand of David Storrs. The strong talent of founder Monte Cooley shined throughout.
After a brief visit at the Highway Missionary Society in Rogue River, Oregon, the group moved to Jesus People USA in Chicago for an equally short stay in 1980. Next, they moved to nearby Schaumburg, Illinois.
Monte became disillusioned with the band's direction and life away from Los Angeles. He decided to leave the band, content with his achievements. Two guitarists - Michael "Mick" Donner and Kris Brauninger, auditioned for the band. Both Mick and Kris B. also played keyboards, and Mick also played bass, which freed Gary up to play either keys or bass.
The new five member group moved to Des Moines, Iowa, Nancy Jo's hometown. Mick and Kris played on Barnabas' second album, Find Your Heart a Home. FYHAH was recorded in the autumn of 1981 at Westminist'r Sound in Otho, Iowa.
After the album was completed, Kris Brauninger left the band. Mick Donner remained with the band for the rest of 1981. Mick decided to leave the band, Iowa guitarist Brian Belew auditioned and was brought on board. Mick's final gig with Barnabas was on New Year's Eve gig at a Minneapolis college. Both Mick and Brian played that night for the only time. Surviving pictures show the intensity of the performance.
Barnabas remained in Des
Moines for nearly three years. There they recorded the two landmark
albums, Approaching Light Speed, recorded August and
September 1983 at Triad Studios, and
Feel the Fire,
recorded July-August 1984 also at Triad. Not only are these the best produced,
played and written albums of Barnabas' career, they stand out as two of the best
rock albums of all time. Nowhere is the passion, intensity, and attitude of
Gary, Nancy, Kris, and Brian better captured.
Such songs as "Breathless Wonderment", "Stormclouds", "Waiting for the Aliens", the epic "Suite for the Souls of Our Enemies" (Part 1) and "Northern Lights" established the reputation of Barnabas as a no-compromise band that wasn't afraid to take chances or to rock as hard as they pleased.
Brian's pyrotechnic leads pushed the sound of Barnabas over the top. Brian had an amazing ability to use tapping techniques, pioneered by Eddie Van Halen, in incendiary ways never heard before in Christian rock.
Gary Mann's bass style was heavily influenced by bassists Geddy Lee of Rush and Dave Hope of Kansas. Gary drove the band from beneath, his playing coupling beautifully with the powerhouse drumming of Kris Klingensmith. In addition, Gary explored the new realms of computer sequenced-music, and his sequences appear on the last three albums.
Kris emerged as a talented lyricist, writing the words to nearly all the band's songs on the last three albums. He also wrote the band's newsletters and the notable words on the back cover of the Little Foxes album.
A gritty survivor of several accidents and personal tragedies, Nancy Jo Mann was one of the great pioneering female vocalists in early Christian rock alongside such luminaries as Wendy Kaiser of Resurrection Band and Sandie Brock of Servant.
Edmond, Oklahoma became Barnabas' next home. Nancy had visited MetroChurch, a large church congregation, and the band decided to move and become a part of this fellowship. They liked Oklahoma, and were centrally located there for touring. All the band members worked day jobs to pay the bills, and spent evenings writing and recording their music.
The band never backed off from their uncompromising approach to everything they did. No attempts were made to "fit the mold" designed by the industry for Christian artists. One look at the Feel the Fire liner photo, or listening to the lyrics of songs such as "Follow You Up" makes that very clear. Their look was L.A. all the way.
Despite good reviews and record sales, Barnabas played fewer than fifty concerts in all. This band was NOT on a star trip, and wanted to have as little to do as possible with the music industry machinery. Undoubtedly this had a lot to do with the public's eventual lack of recognition of Barnabas.
Additionally, during the mid-80's the group constantly contended with ministers and church organizations who misunderstood the band's image and music and who reviled them as being unchristian and even demonic. Bob Larson, Jimmy Swaggart and Bill Gothard were some of the band's biggest critics. Numerous Christian rock 're-education' seminars blasted the band's 'worldly' and 'evil' appearance and power metal sound. Oddly enough, the attacks backfired as many Christian rock enthusiasts discovered the band through the 'bad publicity'.
The stresses of being Barnabas and fighting the critics and industry eventually broke the band up. Their contract with Light Records obligated the band to write and record a final studio album, which became 1986's Little Foxes. A lyrically harsh and distinct album, Foxes also contains some of Brian Belew's best guitar work. The band was barely even speaking to each other during the sessions, but the album remains a fan favorite even with the admittedly subpar band situation. After the recording sessions were completed, members went their separate ways for the next six years. The pain and disappointments of the band's emotional ending resulted in the end of the marriages of Nancy and Gary, and Kris and Ellen.
After Barnabas, Nancy founded and headed the WEBA (Women Exploited by Abortion) organization, which she worked actively with until the late 90's.
Kris K. and Royce Priem spearheaded a CD release in 1992 called The Gospel According to Barnabas. This compilation of Approaching Light Speed and Feel The Fire was remixed and alternate takes and parts were used. The song "Hearts" was omitted due to time constraints. The result, although valuable to collectors and diehard Barnabas fans, was sonically disappointing to those who remembered the incredible attack, depth, and drive of the vinyl versions.
Gospel was at least partially intended as a prelude to a Barnabas reunion. In 1993, Kris began writing songs for a new studio album. The other members of Barnabas decided not to participate, and the reunion plans were scrapped.
By the early 90's, retail sales of Barnabas' albums and cassettes had long since ended, and the titles went out of print. It seemed as though the Barnabas legacy would remain forever in the 80's. Fans and Christian music distributors continued to seek out and trade the recordings, and many times the question was asked.. "WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BARNABAS?" No one really knew for sure except the handful of people who remained in contact with the members.
In the mid 90's, the Internet began its slow and steady increase in access to the general public. This was a turning point for the band. Michael Vaughn, a long time fan of Barnabas from Kentucky now living in east Tennessee, began the Barnabas homeplanet website in February 1997. Not long after that, Michael and Kris Klingensmith found each other via email and began collaborations on the website's content. Fans began showing up from all parts of the world and expressing their love and support for the band and its music.
Momentum began building for relocating the other former members and for new projects. In 1998, Devlin Donaldson interviewed the band members and wrote a "Rewind" column about the band for CCM Magazine. Later that year, Mick Donner reappeared. 1999 found Brian Belew, Monte Cooley and Gary Mann all back in touch with Kris. We heard from Lance Johnson, Barnabas' original drummer, in early 2000.
Former roadies and friends of the band continue to reappear via postings on the manifest message board.
In November, 1999, the first CD reissue was released. It is a compilation of Hear the Light and Find Your Heart a Home, mastered from unplayed albums.
Approaching Light Speed was released on CD in mid-2000.
Finally, the reissue of the final two albums, Feel the Fire and Little Foxes took place in late April 2004. Retroactive Records recorded these albums from vinyl, due to the master tapes being unavailable.
In conclusion, Barnabas has had a wondrous legacy of uncompromisingly heavy rock which influences many of today's musicians and fans. Even though the band has been apart for over 19 years, many fans still consider Barnabas to be THE definitive rock band of the 80's, the culmination of the great rock movement that started in California in the late 70s.
What does the future hold for Barnabas and its fans? It's not certain at this writing. Kris considers the work done with the final CD reissue. The other band members have no interest in reuniting currently. But.. this is where the action is, and any new developments will be announced here on the homeplanet!
We simply say- God bless all of you, Barnabas fans around the world!
B A R N A B A S L I V E S !
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