By the mid 1980’s, Petra was Christian music’s biggest rock band. The band, made up of guitarist and founder Bob Hartman, bassist Mark Kelly, drummer Louie Weaver, keyboardist John Lawry, and lead singer Greg X Volz released Beat the System in 1985, which became the most successful Christian rock album of the 80s. The following Petra tour reached over 500,000 people, and the band’s future seemed very bright. Yet, as the band was climbing higher than it ever had before, Greg X Volz announced that he was stepping down as lead singer.
While Greg took some time off to focus on his family and his solo career, the band continued with John Schlitt as lead singer, and reached new heights with multiple Dove and Grammy awards. However, the shifting music scene left Petra in its wake, and the band formally retired in 2005. Now 25 years after he left the band, Greg X Volz is back with the band he left under the name Classic Petra; and they are bringing Petra Back to the Rock. Greg was able to make some time in his schedule to talk to us about the new album, the reunion, and the future of Classic Petra.
Who had the idea to reunite the early 80s Petra?
Greg: Back in the first part of the year, I got a call from a promoter. He asked me if I would put a band together and go out with White Heart for about 20 dates in the fall. For some reason, out of my mouth came, “Yeah, I can do that. But why not just have Petra go out with them?” There was this silence on the other end, and the guy said, “Can you do that?” And I said, “I don’t know, I’ll have to call Bob (Hartman).” So I called Bob and he said, “Yeah!” Bob and I thought it would make the most sense to have the guys from the early 80s. Soon after, our old tour manager contacted me to see what was up. When I told him that Petra was getting back together, he said, “I’m in.” He ended up calling Sony, and within 24 hours, got a call back and they said, “We’re in.” I donated our old tour staging to a church in Texas. I called them up 25 years later and they said, “Yeah, we have it in storage. If you want to use it, come get it!” It would have been hundreds of thousands of dollars to rebuild that stage.
Now that the band is back together, what are you guys up to?
Greg: We have a new album called Back to the Rock which is classic hits with a couple new songs that was released on January 25th. We filmed a concert special for Trinity Broadcasting Network that will be aired in March or April. We are going back in the studio to record a follow up album, and we will be touring in the spring.
The band recently announced on their website that the new album will be a “part two” of the classic hits album, immediately followed by a third album of new material. Many tour dates in America and overseas have also been posted on the band’s site. www.classicpetra.com
Your latest album is mainly re-recordings of some of your old hits. How did you try to balance staying true to Petra’s style while also trying to make it relevant for modern listeners?
Greg: I don’t think we took away from the integrity of the songs; we just brought them in to today’s technology sonically. The arrangements are really the same, but the sound is in your face. The guitars are loud. It wasn’t our idea to mix the guitars in the background years ago. The record companies were afraid that they’d offend people, so they did what we call a “Christian mix”, and we’re doing a real mix.
What are some of your favorite Petra songs?
Greg: More Power to Ya is probably one of my all time favorites. I continued to sing that in my ministry in churches, and I could see the response in people. Sometimes people would start crying; they’d come up to me later and say, “When you started singing that, I remembered everything about when I first got saved. I was flooded with this presence and joy, and all I could do was cry.”
What are some of your favorite memories from touring and recording with the band?
Greg: The thing that touches me the most is when I see 100 people leave their seats and go into a counseling room and we pray with them. We always give an invitation, that’s one thing about Petra; we always give people an opportunity to meet Jesus personally.
On the band’s website, the bio states, “At a time when the music business is struggling to redefine itself, Petra’s unwavering commitment to who and what they are will serve as a reminder of what CCM used to be and what it can be again.” What do you think the CCM industry has lost?
Greg: I was at the Gospel Music Awards last year. The vendors were packing up early and saying, “This just isn’t happening.” All I could think of was Ichabod (1 Sam 4:21), that the glory of what God wanted to do with the industry had passed, and it had turned into a business. That’s not how this started. When the Jesus Rock bands started in the 70s we would set up anywhere they would let us play and tell them about Jesus. We didn’t worry about the money, God would always provide.
How did CCM go from being about Jesus to about the business?
Greg: Well, I don’t know. There is a business aspect that has to be run right. But if that is your focus, you’re serving the wrong god. The Bible says that if you seek Jesus first, all these other things will be added. When the focus changed to, “this is about making money”, I think the Lord started pulling his hand away from it and said, “You can do this on your own, but it’s not going to be near as successful as if you’d let me in here.”
What are you hoping that this reunion can do for Petra?
Greg: I don’t know if it’s really about Petra. This is about a movement. I believe we’re on the verge of another Jesus movement. You know, I’ve talked with Bob about this, and we feel God is calling us to go after the prodigals that are dying on the vine. So many people get burned, and I know what it’s like to be burned. The church is not perfect, but we need to assemble. So, if they’re out there, they need to be encouraged. We want to be calling people back to their first love, back to the rock of our salvation. (Psalm 78:35). We don’t have anything to prove; we’re not trying to be rock stars or anything like that. We’re all focused on the ministry. The music is as fresh as it was 25 years ago, or better! Where it’s heading, I don’t know. We’re going to do whatever the Lord tells us to do. I’m sure that God’s going to bless this. I feel like Petra is going to become a viable ministry again, not to sound like it hasn’t. But to bring it back to a sphere of influence that Petra hasn’t had for a while.
You mentioned about Petra becoming viable again. Something I’ve noticed is that in the mainstream music industry some older bands like the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen are still selling out stadiums. In the Christian music scene, it seems like some of the older bands get forgotten and left behind. Why do you think that’s so?
Greg: That’s an aspect of the industry that I don’t think God is happy with. It seems that Christians remove their forefathers or pioneers to make way for the young blood. It’s a travesty. In other areas of life, the pioneers are honored. For some reason, that doesn’t seem to happen in the Christian venue. If you’re not producing what they want, step aside. I think God is going to prove something to the industry with this reunion that they’ve missed.
When you were picking songs for the tour, did you think about doing any songs from John Schlitt’s era, or are you picking up from what you had in 1985 and moving on from there?
Greg: We talked about that, but that was not part of what our vision was for classic Petra. There’s such meat in this classic era. I’m not saying there weren’t great songs in the second era, there were. But there’s something solid about this group of guys. I can only say that it had to do with God’s sovereign purposes. We’re not going to be doing any of that “after classic” stuff; though will be doing some brand new stuff. The classic thing is really to re-introduce the fans to the group that they knew and loved. I can’t keep up with the e-mails I’m getting from people that say, “I can’t believe that I’m actually going to get a chance to see this reunion. I’ve been waiting 25 years for this.” I’m thinking, “Me too, but I didn’t think it would ever really happen.” I really didn’t. I just kept doing what I was doing, and then God moved his hand.
This site is run by Mark Weber, author of several books about Christian/Gospel music; to see the books he has written, click here.