Music profile – Petra


MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Friday, March 12th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Myrna Brown.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

Before we continue, we wanted to remind you about the upcoming World Journalism Institute. 

Now, Myrna, you didn’t attend the WJI course for college students, but you did go to the mid-career course.

BROWN: That’s right Nick, and I’ve got to say, I’ve been a journalist for my entire career, and I still developed and honed new skills. So for a budding journalist there’s going to be a lot to learn. I also made some really great connections.

EICHER: Yeah, for college students interested in journalism and beginning the fun—and stressful—process of job searching, we just can’t recommend WJI enough. 

And after going all virtual last year, we are really looking forward to the two-week, in-person course at Dordt University in May. This is for college students and recent college grads.

BROWN: If that’s you, the application deadline is the end of the month, March 26th. And from what I remember, the application takes some time. So don’t delay and head on over to WJI.world. The web address WJI.world

Now, maybe you are not an aspiring journalist, but you know one. Do that person a favor and let him or her know about this excellent opportunity.

EICHER: Coming next on The World and Everything In It: What are they up to now?

That’s the question we got last year from one of our faithful listeners. He wrote in to say he enjoys our interviews with Christian music artists and wondered if we could follow up with one particular lead singer from the 80’s. I’m certainly old enough to remember that era!

BROWN: Same here, but I was more into Gospel than Christian Rock. And maybe that’s the reason I enjoyed so much my conversation with John Schlitt, frontman for the group Petra! 

PETRA: HIT YOU WHERE YOU LIVE: What He has to give is when we’re hit where we live… whoa whoa….

MYRNA BROWN, REPORTER: Nearly two decades before John Schlitt was belting out Christian rock songs like Hit Where You Live, the long-haired, fiery tenor was using his voice to rouse another group of music lovers.

HEAD EAST: NEVER BEEN ANY REASON:  Are you still warmed up just a little? Can you get your hands in the air. 

In 1969, Schlitt and four other Illinois college students formed the secular rock band, Head East. Five years later, they recorded their first album. Schlitt says it was a musician’s dream.

JOHN SCHLITT: We had record companies coming to us rather than us going to them. The problem is you get enough of that dream and all of a sudden it becomes old hat and it gets boring. So every night you’re playing in front of 20,000 people. Well, that’s what you did the night before. So you start looking for that next excitement.  I was very susceptible to cocaine for some reason and it became my crutch. It was my god.  

Growing up, Schlitt didn’t have a strong Biblical foundation. Religion was a divisive subject in his family. His mom was Catholic and his dad was Lutheran.

JOHN SCHLITT: They basically came to me and said John, this church thing is breaking up our family. When you get old enough, you decide which church you want to go to. I was a teenager so I said, great, I just won’t go.

That pattern continued through college. As a 21-year-old, newly-married rock star, Schlitt began filling the void with temporary pleasures.  

JOHN SCHLITT: There wasn’t enough money in the world that was going to take care of this emptiness that I had and I tried to fill it with booze and drugs and because of it I actually got fired from that band because I was too messed up.  

His stint with Head East ended in 1979. Schlitt says while he was suicidal and binging on drugs and alcohol, his wife, Dorla was delving into a newfound faith in Christ.

JOHN SCHLITT: And she’d try and tell me about the Lord and I’d say get out my face. I don’t want to hear about this Jesus. But that night I went into that pastor’s house with an attitude. I walked out with the Holy Spirit and my life changed.

Schlitt left the music industry and spent the next five years rebuilding his life. 

JOHN SCHLITT: I got a job sweeping the floor at a tool dye factory. I grew up. I learned a lot of discipline. I got out of debt, which I still don’t see how I did. God just opened my eyes saying this is a beginning. This isn’t it. This is a start. 

PETRA: THE COLORING SONG

During that five year transformation, Schlitt says he learned how to put God first, love his family and work hard. When Greg  X Volz left the band in 1986,  Schlitt got an invitation to join multiple-Grammy award-winning Christian rock group, Petra.

JOHN SCHLITT: When Petra called and said would you be our lead singer, that meant they asked me could I be a Christian, rock singer.  And God had conditioned me for both parts, the rock singer and the Christian.

For the next 20 years, Schlitt says God did more than he could ask or think, by  multiplying his platform, exposing him to audiences all over the world. 

SCHLITT: And I tell you, Rock n’ Roll is a very exciting music forum. And when you can use that exciting music forum to sing about the most exciting subject in the history of mankind, how dare I not do it?

But in 2006 Petra disbanded. 

SCHLITT: I’ll tell you what, for the first year or so, I was a little lost because you know, I still got the steam. I’m still ready and there’s nothing to do.

Today, Schlitt is 71years old. He’s been married for 50 years and still wears his signature long locks. He’s recorded several solo and collaborative albums. His latest project came out last year.  And when he isn’t singing, he’s using his hands as a skilled woodworker.

SCHLITT: I have a ministry. It used to be called John Schlitt Ministries. Now it’s called Build It Ministry, where I was working with this lady for the last two years to get her life back in order by re-doing her home. I just stay busy. If I’m not singing, I’m building.

MYRNA TO JOHN: As you look at music today, the singer, the songwriters even some of the current Christian rock bands, do they reach out to you and ask for advice? I think the only advice is, just be careful. Don’t compromise. Be evangelistic, don’t just be edifying, be evangelistic.

It’s the same advice he shares with his four adult children and seven grandkids. The grands range from college age to 3 years old.

SCHLITT SINGING ACAPELLA: There’s a higher place to go beyond belief, beyond belief. That was the one they loved. Everytime I’d sing it they’d dance to it.

PETRA: BEYOND BELIEF

While the older ones are a little embarrassed when he sings to them, having a grandad who loves Jesus and rock and roll is kind of cool.

JOHN SCHLITT: They do like my records. They’ve got them on their IPads and phones. Every once and awhile they’ll say, hey Gooka. I’m called Gooka. Gooka listen. And they’ll turn the phone up. They’ll tell me what they like about it and what they don’t like about it. It’s sweet.


(Photo/John Schlitt)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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