The legacy of Stryper as a cornerstone in the hard rock market runs back 30 years to the days when creating the genre’s top hard rocking riffs wasn’t following suit from bands that came before them, but developing an art that was still new to listeners, and in just a few short years, viewers too as MTV was on the rise. Be it FM radio, or music television – Stryper cornered the market in both venues and will long be known as the first band to cross over the Christian rock market with mainstream hard rock. Truly, they are musical legends that have stood the test of time, and for all the right reasons.
Reviewing their history in brief, in 1983 the band penned the first 6 tracks that would be released in 1984 as the EP titled The Yellow and Black Attack. Equally impressive by even today’s standards, one has to consider that for the time it was issued, the album introduced the boys in the band alongside new artists like George Lynch and Dokken’s Tooth and Nail, Motley Crue’s Shout at the Devil, RATT’s Out of the Cellar and Dio’s Last in Line. These comparative album releases became staples in the market and also marked the start of the careers of each respective artist who would also lay the groundwork for decades of hard rock related groups that followed. Note that this was before artists like Poison and even Tesla were household names.
Take away the fact that the band made every effort to introduce their music alongside their devout praise for their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the remarkable talents of each individual member of the band stood out louder than the pride in their personal beliefs. What I mean is, regardless of their faith or the message they were sending, this was an outstanding hard rock band that would do more than make waves – Stryper would part the ocean for up and coming rockers and become top ten songwriters with nearly every album they released. It wasn’t a PR trick to get headlines, it was a passion to play and it was, and remains, real rock and roll that gives a strong influence to kids who are taking up instruments with hopes and dreams of stardom.
In review of the CD, I start back in 1988 when I was an impressionable 17-year-old kid in the front row at the Worcester Centrum in Massachusetts. In support of the band’s platinum release, they took the stage with fellow Orange County rockers Hurricane, bringing a stage show comparable to Iron Maiden, featuring stacks of amps, incredible lighting and a sound as big as any major label act touring in the heyday of rock and metal. Yes, even Metallica! There were no corners cut, and the show was about top-level musicianship featuring wizard like guitar solos and driving drumbeats to match. Their faces were on MTV almost hourly and as young musicians, we were ecstatic to witness how the professionals got it done. It was simply outstanding.
Fast forward to July 2014 when I stood in line at the Whisky A Go-Go talking to long time fans who couldn’t sit still in anticipation of what they were about to witness. The original line-up of the Sweet brothers, Michael and his incredible vocal range and the Visual Timekeeper, Robert, who’s drum style inspired more than a handful of artists even I myself would record and perform with over the years. Powerhouse bottom end bass player Timothy Gaines and his remarkable harmonizing backing vocals and the six string slayer himself, Oz Fox; undoubtedly one of the genre’s most underrated guitarists would be reunited on the Whisky stage to record a DVD and CD that, as you will discover on first listen, proves beyond a reasonable doubt that these guys have what it takes to contend with the ever changing hard rock market.
The house was sold out, long before the night came to fruition. The Sunset Strip wrapped the line of attendees around the corner of the club before the doors opened and every industry photographer and writer was there to witness the magic they would talk about in print for days to come. The stage was lined from one side to the other with gear, guitars featuring the iconic yellow and black coloring and a drum set fit for a king mic’ed for battle. As the band came down the stairs to the stage the applause began and didn’t subside for the entire show. Looking as young and fresh as they did when I saw them in November 1988 for the first time, it didn’t take a squint of the eyes and imagination to re-live those memories; Stryper performed as they always have, and hard rock was back in fashion.
Now in September, with the memory still fresh, I have a chance to hear it all again on the forthcoming CD release of Stryper – Live at the Whisky. The CD starts with track six from the band’s 2013 release No More Hell To Pay. The song titled Legacy is hard driving with strong guitar rhythms and opens the show with an intensity that fans of the band have come to expect from their live performances. Frontiers Records is known for producing quality CD releases, and this one doesn’t fall short of perfection at all. The quality is full and captures the meat of the guitars, serving a true replication of the in-house sound. It gives a true representation of the Stryper experience.
Track two shares a great trade off of guitar solos between Sweet and Fox, offering a great listen to how talented Michael Sweet really is as a multi-instrumentalist and not simply a front man and vocalist. Harkening back to that show in 1988, as I recall, Oz Fox was nursing a broken foot on stage and many of the leads were performed that night by Sweet, and without faltering even a single note! This track reveals his expert skill level.
Tracks three and four bring fans back to the initial release of the band. You Know What To Do and Loud And Clear both come from the original release that put Stryper on the map and showcases the bands magical vocal harmonies.
Track five is a song penned by the Sweet brothers and comes from the 1985 release titled Soldiers Under Command. This album was a true coming out for the band, as the initial 6-song EP gave a taste, but this full-length follow-up offered ten tracks and the beginning of tours that would let the world experience exactly what the band was about!
Track six offers the first top charting single for Stryper, the song Calling On You that was released back to back with track seven on this live CD, the song Free. These two songs were staples in MTV’s video play lists throughout 1987 and 1988 and the positive message combined with the stellar songwriting made Stryper one of the most requested bands on music television in the genre’s history.
Track eight on the live CD was a sleeper hit for the band. The song More Than A Man was tucked away at track eleven on the To Hell With The Devil release and became a popular radio track when it looked like the CD was sliding. It revived an interest in the band for fans who had only heard the single releases played on FM and increased popularity for the release.
Track nine on the Live CD goes back to the Soldiers Under Command release and gives a great listen to the signature guitar styling that shows the clear reason why Stryper’s music held up strong with the rock and metal artists of the day. The Rock That Makes Me Roll drove home their vision for positive metal and is a staple in their catalog for representing both their mission and their songwriting.
Tracks ten and eleven come from the 2013 CD release No More Hell To Pay and showcase what might be the strongest album to feature their Christian message and playing ability. The self-titled single and a cover of the Arthur Reynolds classic Jesus is Just Alright grabbed the audience, and will certainly grab the listener on this recording. Artists including the Doobie Brothers and the Byrds have recreated the latter of the two songs over the years, but Stryper makes it their own on stage during this recording, as well as on the 2013 CD release.
Track twelve, Always There For You, offers a song that went to number 71 on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts during the start of the declining interest in glam-related artists from the genre and showed the band’s staying power in the changing marketplace. It’s a classic favorite of longstanding fans of the band and easily identifiable as being a signature Stryper song, performed identically to the original recording on stage during this CD.
Track thirteen, All For One, comes from the 1990 release Against The Law when the band offered a heavier styling to their sound and on stage, showcased more of the driving drum and rhythm sections that raise pumping fists and get feet stomping in the seats. This is followed by the fan favored song The Way, a track that offers a clear statement of the band’s Christian message as well as just kicking some hind side with good old fashioned rock and roll.
After a brief departure from the stage, the band came back with two songs that have long marked them as a charting band, the title track from 1986’s To Hell With The Devil and the title track from 1985’s Soldier’s Under Command. As heard on the CD, the audience joined in note for note and word for word with the band – as well as having lost their minds to hear the classics they knew by heart. Nobody left, nobody moved and nobody had anything negative to say about the band.
You’ll find throughout this CD release, there is clearly a reason why the audience stood strong until the end. The band sounds as great live now as they ever did and the fan base’s interest hasn’t diminished one bit! The recording covers an hour and seventeen minutes of what easily made a two hour experience, plus time with fans after the event, but it’s a valuable addition to any hard rock fanatic’s collection of music. This stellar release from Stryper and Frontiers Records is an easy start-to-finish listen for both old and new fans of the band as well as people who cherish an era of music that barely gets airplay on today’s FM radio. Highly recommended.