Steve Camp Has Never Been Afraid to Bite The Hand That Fed Him; by Philip Mayabb
Have you ever met someone that wasn't afraid to say what they thought at any time? Most of us have, in fact most people are well acquainted with someone who fits that category. The artist on this week's featured Vinyl Revival LP has amassed a reputation for doing just that...speaking out to the church and its members when it comes to matters of the spirit. Sometimes gently, other times, not so much. Like him or not, Steve Camp calls the ball game the way he sees it, and judging from his chart history, most fans don't seem to mind it at all. Over his career, Steve racked up 34 hit singles on CCM Magazine's Adult Contemporary chart, not to mention all of the hits on the general CHR charts, so it is pretty safe to say that folks see and feel where he's coming from.
Never one to shy away from controversy, Steve Camp has never been afraid to bite the hand that fed him for so many years, that being the Christian music industry. He has questioned the integrity of fellow Christian artists on more than one occasion, and has even been criticized by artists who have not only been allies at one time, but have co-written songs with him. From a personal standpoint, Steve Camp is one of those artists that most fans either totally love, or all but despise, and sadly, some of that is on his own shoulders. While I liked Steve's music in the late 70s and early 80s, I really didn't have much of an opinion on him personally until about 1986, and we'll get to that in a moment. My policy with CCM artists (or any other Christian artists, for that matter) is real simple...they are human. I have been blessed enough to speak to several of the artists that I grew up listening to, and I can tell you that everyone I have encountered thus far, has exhibited Godly grace. I've been told that certain individuals can be stand offish at times, and a plain jerk to fans at others, but I am not their judge, and I have problems too, so therefore, I will not look down my nose at anyone. In today's Christian music, that problem has been alleviated to a certain degree, because with the Praise and Worship movement being in full swing (and in almost full control of traditional Christian radio), the music is focused on the Lord Jesus, which is how it should have been done all along, but in the 80s and 90s, most of the focus was sadly placed on the artists, which caused major problems (there might be some artists and situations that you're already thinking about as you read this). Once the Lord, and His holy name were all but removed from Christian music, it was no longer about Him as much as it was about the artists. In my humble opinion, much of the blame for this can be laid at the doorsteps of record company executives, who viewed artists with dollar signs first, and souls second, totally backward.
I had no problem with Steve Camp until an interview with Contemporary Christian magazine published in 1986, in which he used an expletive in describing his frustration with artists who fancied themselves more as entertainers than musical ministers. There were two problems with the whole exchange, in my opinion...first Steve should've never used the language that he did, but again, he is human, and not perfect. Second, Contemporary Christian magazine should not have published the complete quote, but that is exactly what they did, and it read something like this...
Some guy will just say, ‘I’m only a Christian entertainer.’ Bull----! These guys have a responsibility to talk to these kids as if they were speaking the very words of God themselves in their theology.*
However you may look at this quote, that's your business, and it is NOT my position to tell you how to think or feel, but I found myself, as a 19 year old Christian, being not so much offended, but put off by the choice of words Steve Camp used here, and ABSOLUTELY offended by Contemporary Christian magazine putting them in the article. I immediately cancelled my subscription to the magazine, and haven't picked up a copy of it since. In the end, while I did not point a judgemental finger at Steve, I felt as if he had a chip on his shoulder, although I could see where he was coming from. A huge paradigm shift had occurred in CCM in 1985, when Christian record companies (Word Records leading the way) decided to have their artists to begin cutting back on overt references to Jesus and His name. The point was to get CCM albums and artists into the mainstream market, and on the surface it seemed logical, but the problem with this theology was that if the name of Jesus is removed from the lyrics of music that is supposed to be Christian, what then differentiates Christian music from pop and rock? If the message of Christ is not there, what are you spreading? The goal is to spread the Gospel, and that is exactly where Steve Camp was coming from, even if he got himself in hot water with the language he used to make his point.
So we have established that Steve Camp has a backbone that is made out of solid steel, and that is not a bad thing (just should've used a little tact to go with it). Having said all of this, the fact is that he also turned out some very good records along the way, and the album that we are featuring this week, is my personal favorite of Steve's. It is 1984's Fire And Ice, which was Steve Camp's fifth album overall, but the first for his new label, Sparrow Records (his first four were done for Word's Myrrh label, so it was a good thing he jumped ship before the label started abandoning references to Jesus, wouldn't you say?). Recorded on the west coast, and co-produced by Steve and keyboardist extraordinaire John Rosasco, Fire And Ice boasts a dated musical sound (it was 1984, after all), but is packed with a lyrical punch that could knock the devil down any day of the week. There are songs that address the church as a body, His children as individuals, and the singer himself, each done with a conviction that few other artists possessed at the time.
Songs that address the body of Christ as a whole world include the leadoff track Upon This Rock, It Is Good, with its Caribbean sound, and What Would The Devil Say, which will hit you where you live, believe me...it will make you think long and hard! Speaking to individuals are songs like Light Your Candle, Squeeze, Heart Of Stone, the title track, and one of the most thought provoking songs on the album Where Are The Heroes, which challenges believers to set an example for the younger to follow...it's good stuff. One of the hit singles from the album is the song that speaks directly to the person singing it, and that is Living In Laodicea, which went to #13 on CCM magazine's Adult Contemporary Chart. It's one of those come to Jesus type songs, and displays a deep look inside the writer's heart, and that's probably why so many fans like the song so much. The biggest hit from the record though, happens to be my favorite Steve Camp song of all time, and it is the duet with Sparrow Records label mate Michele Pillar, called Love's Not A Feeling. There are two main reasons I love this song so much...first is the music itself, I just love the AC feel of the track. Second is the lyrical content, which gives a Christian thesis on the subject of love, which is sadly misused even to this day. As a bonus, Steve and Michele's voices blend very nicely on the song, which landed at #4 on the AC chart at CCM Magazine.
Overall, Fire And Ice is not a groundbreaking record, it contains the typical keyboard driven sound, with some great guitar solos along the way, and you can clearly tell what era it comes from. The lyrics are edgy, and sometimes rather critical of Christians, but in the grand scheme of things, folks like Steve Camp are necessary sometimes, to give others a kick in the pants to wake them out of their sleep (his next album was called Shake Me To Wake Me), and the lyrics on Fire And Ice do just that...they provide a jolt of conscience, and spiritual guidance to remind us that sometimes, things aren't as great as we think they are. We learn that it is possible for the enemy to lull us off to sleep, and when that occurs, it's time for God to send the wake up call, and how does He do that? He uses people like Steve Camp to deliver His message, and on Fire And Ice, the message is clear as can be - that complacency in your faith is not going to cut it with God, so shape up, or ship out. I hope that you will find the time to listen to this album on CCM Classic's Vinyl Revival this week, if you like Steve Camp, this will be music to your ears, and if you're unsure about the man or his music, this might be a good album to explore, because it just might open your eyes, provided that you open your ears first.
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