Reverend Ken & The Bluesmen

In the late 90s I was in a band in Indianapolis called 2-Ton Raygun. We were a group of christian musicians who played a variety of secular music mixed with a few christian songs. We were the house band for a nightclub called LIFE @ Broadripple, and we played at a number of other venues in the area. We were mainly a cover band, but we played a few original songs as well.

We were one of several of bands who were trying to be the light of Christ in the secular music scene in Indy at the time. And one of the frustrating things for me was how out of place it seemed to talk about spiritual subjects on a stage in a bar. As soon as anyone would mention anything about God or Jesus or religion or christianity, it was like you could feel the whole mood of the room change. Suddenly the crowd was on to us, sniffing out our agenda, and turning up their noses. It didn't matter that we were playing 90s modern rock like Wheezer, Fuel, Goo Goo Dolls, Everclear, U2, and Creed. That was just our pretext to try to convert them, and they knew it.

So I have a new strategy. The Blues.

Blues music, at its root, is deeply spiritual music. It follows from the slave spirituals of the deep south through early gospel music, and every blues generation since has had fairly significant spiritual content in their music. From Stormy Monday to the Blues Brothers and beyond, lyrics referencing church and prayer and God are commonplace. Because so many of the standards in Blues music have spiritual lyrics, blues fans are used to hearing spiritual language. It does not sound out of place to them.

So I started a band called Reverend Ken & The Bluesmen. We've been practicing for a while now, and just recorded some live rehearsal stuff to post online. We have our first gig coming up in April, and we're working at getting more and more songs under our belts. Our goal is to be the light of Christ in the blues music scene here in Portland and to be able to speak about spiritual things without seeming out of place or like we have an agenda.

Picture this, you're in a bar, and on the stage is an overweight long haired 30 something guitar player with cheap sunglasses.... And a priest's collar! He calls himself Reverend Ken, and his band The Bluesmen all have schtick names like Deacon Dawson (on the drums!) and Brother Bynum (on the bass!). After a particularly rousing number, Reverend Ken mentions to the crowd that drinking alcohol is NOT sinful. The band encourages a cheer from the audience, but Reverend Ken then adds that it IS sinful to be drunk. The band begins to boo, as does the crowd, and finally Reverend Ken prays "Thank you Lord, for your grace and forgiveness!" The band then begins to play "Lord have mercy on me" loud and roadhouse style as the crowd cheers again.

This sort of "act" would be meant to be funny and entertaining, with each band member having a persona and a part to play during the show. But underneath it all, the truth has been shared. Drinking is not a sin, drunkeness is, yet God is full of grace and forgiveness toward us. Now maybe this particular exchange would be a flop, maybe it's not funny at all, and no one gets it but me. But we would quickly find this out as we work out the act live, and we'll learn what works and what doesn't and go from there. The point being that the schtick and persona of Reverend Ken & The Bluesmen, combined with blues music that is historically spiritual in many ways, makes for a natural context within which to share truth. And after the shows, conversations like "No, I really am a pastor. Yes, I play every Sunday at a church down the road. Of course I could officiate your wedding AND play the reception!" would be icing on the missional evangelism cake.

So check it out. We just posted the new song clips as an online demo to help with booking and whatnot. They were recorded and mixed live by Jason Bradley during our latest rehearsal, and he did a pretty good job given the circumstances. Thanks Jason!

Ken Bussell
Minister of Music & Administration
Our Place Christian Church
*Sent via Blackberry


sean said...

sounds sweet...i really dig the blues, so we'll have to come out and check out a gig!

Anonymous said...

Dude, if you do that at a bar, I am there. That would be an awesome sight to see!