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When the Stage Lights Go Out: An Afternoon With Former Messiah Prophet Guitarist Andy Strauss

I'd like to paraphrase our editor, the legendary Doug Van Pelt, who told me that rock music will never die because every year another kid will turn 13 and pick up an electric guitar. I'll take that one further and say that rock and roll dreams will never die because each of those teenagers that picks up a guitar (or a mic or drumsticks) and hears the language of rock music and feels it in their blood, will aspire to be a rock star. The odds are against most musicians ever achieving rock and roll stardom, but that doesn't dissuade mobs of them from trying. So if you are one of the privileged few who beat those odds, signs a record deal, records some albums, to achieve some measure of fame and grasp at the brass ring- what happens when it all goes away? Would you continue making music, or turn away from it? Would that moment make your life, or ruin it? Today we'll find out from a musician who's been in that position.

Pennsylvania's Messiah Prophet was one of the early pioneers of the christian heavy metal movement in the US. There were several christian hard rock bands in the late 70's and early 80's like Sweden's Jerusalem and USA's Resurrection Band (Rez), but few bands associating with the harder edged metal subculture. Messiah Prophet, the brainchild of Dean Pellman, along with other bands like Saint, Stryper, and Bride, rose up to fill that void, fighting for acceptance from both the church and the mainstream metal community. MP's 2 albums, 1984's Rock the Flock and 1986's Master of the Metal went on to become classics and inspire many young metalheads, myself included. The band splintered after those 2 albums, leaving only longtime singer Charlie Clark, who recorded one more song called "Blinded." A 3rd album called Colours came out in 1996 by an entirely different band, but most fans refuse to acknowledge this as a Messiah Prophet album. So what happened to the band members? We previously reported about Charlie Clark's fight against Lou Gehrig's disease, but this time we tracked down former lead guitarist Andy Strauss to pick his brain about all things Messiah Prophet. Andy also told us about guitarist Brian Nicarry, who was able to turn his natural ability to mimic any singer into a music career as the singer of cover band Green Eggs and Spam (now just Green Eggs after losing a lawsuit by Hormel). I found Andy to be the real deal- humble and down to earth- and willing to talk about the ups and downs of his musical career and where his walk with God has taken him. A big thrill for me was hearing some lost music from the vault- the complete title track from what could have been Messiah Prophet's album Metal Messiah. 3 days. That's how long that song played in my head. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Please join me in my conversation with Andy.

Andy Strauss: I guess you ask me whatever you want to ask, I'm pretty much an open book.

Chris Gatto: Messiah Prophet was already some kind of music ministry from the late 70s with Dean Pellman for a few years before you joined?

Dean and a guy named Gil Taybor we were actually Christian camp counselors together. They both loved Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, the Christian rockers of that era. So they started doing the same kind of thing. Dean always had a vision for something more. He always wanted to keep pushing that envelope.

Pushing the envelope like heavier edge or for kids in general?

He always knew that reaching out to the next generation was always something very important to him, it was heavy on his heart so he always did what it took to reach that generation. As the Christian music movement was growing at that point, we were talking late 70s early 80s and as it started growing, he started feeling that the music had to get more in sync with what the kids were listening to. The stuff that he kept writing kept getting heavier- one of his favorite bands was Jerusalem and of course Rez Band as well, as what Rez Band was doing in Chicago at the time with their ministry. He was really in sync with that type of idea of reaching people where they were- down into the nitty gritty and meeting people where they were and just trying to relate, giving people what they needed physically, and hopefully spiritually.

So you came along in 82?

I joined the band in 84- I'm dating myself, I was a senior in high school, so I got saved in my junior year of high school and I was a really young Christian at that point. Still playing in rock 'n roll bands, still playing around, I finally got to the point where I was like-- I can't do this. This wasn't in line with what God wants me to do. So I literally stopped playing, put my guitars in the closet, put my amps away. That was huge because at that time all I did was play music. And then I concentrated on growing in my faith and getting more active with my church, learning about this thing called Christianity and God- just trying to be a disciple rather than being a rock star or anything else, I just wanted to make sure that I was following Christ. That said, that summer, I went to Creation Festival out in Mt. Union and that year the headliner was Mylon and Broken Heart. We were at our campsite having our dinner and we couldn't see the stage from where we were. The next thing you know I hear a loud guitar coming from the main arena, and I'm like--wait a minute, that ain't right--and so I immediately went down to the main stage and I looked and here's this sound crew and lighting crew setting up this massive light rigging and all this stuff and I'm like--this ain't right.-- I was convinced that this was not something that should be happening at a Christian festival. So anyway that evening, Mylon LeFevre came out and started playing their show and about three-quarters of the way through their show the lead guitarist got on stage and he just started wailing away and he was playing and playing and playing in this field and all these people were around and I was just watching him and it was like everyone in that field just went away. It was just me in the middle of this field and this guitar guy wailing away. I literally, literally heard the voice of God and it said, "This is going to be you in 1987 if you turn your music over to me." I said--ok, that's good enough for me,--so I came back from that Creation festival and two weeks later I met Dean, and through God's intervention we were just connecting the dots. I think Charlie had actually heard about these guys that summer. Charlie asked them--can I bring along this guy that plays guitar?--They said--sure, bring him along--so we all got together that first time and the rest was history as they say. And the most interesting part was in 1987 when we played Cornerstone Festival and we had a part in the show where I would go out and do my solo and sing and now during that solo I heard that same voice and it said, "Look around you, what year is it?" Playing literally for 30,000 people, and I said--ok, I get it.--That's how I came to be a part of Messiah Prophet.

That's cool. Was it ever full time for you when it started--oh, you said you were in high school when you joined?

Still in high school. The other guys were a lot older. It was. They were all working full time jobs. Of course when I graduated high school, I went to college for a year, when we had our record contract with Morada for that first album which was again, never supposed to be an album. but they wanted to use that to actually make a record. So I was like--ok. What do you do when you're an 18 year old kid and they say they want to record your songs on a record? Ok, well you drop out of college and you try to be a rock star. So that's what I did . I worked a bunch of odd jobs and did everything I could do just to try to survive at that point pretty much.

Did Morada Records have anyone besides you and Saint? Those are the only ones I ever heard of on that label.

Actually, originally it was like a Gospel/Southern Gospel type of record company. They had a bunch of other gospel type artists at the time, but they wanted to cash in on the Christian rock 'n roll scene that was really starting to take off at that point. So that's why they signed us and Saint together. Saint's first album was pretty much like ours- just a demo tape that they took to press. That's what it was at that point, nothing wrong with it, they didn't make any promises to us at that point. They didn't say we were going to be rock stars or anything like that. They said we want to press this and make a record out of it. And we understood that and we were hoping it would take off or something because we wanted to get more of the mainstream exposure. We wanted to get out, pretty much like the Rez Band mindset, into the trenches and play in the bars. Not because we wanted to be there, but because that's where the people were that needed the message. So then Pure Metal came along and picked us up.

You were their first signing, right?

We were probably their third, they actually had Daniel Band. They were on there before us and there were some others artists that were on, Daniel Band was probably the biggest band that was signed to them at the time. They signed us and from my understanding when our album came out, Saint came along with us.


. . . and Bride and a couple others at that time and it exploded. It seemed like a lot of people picked up on that. We moved a lot of units of that record. And we're all thinking--hey, we're on our way! and of course I wrote 60%-70% of that material on that album and there's different ways that royalties break down for artists, and things like that. I never heard a whole lot about the dollars and cents of it. But it was getting to the point where I couldn't even afford to buy a hamburger. And here I got this album that's selling, from what I understand, it's selling pretty well. And I'm not seeing a penny from it and I finally went to Refuge Records which was down in Allentown and I walked into their office and they had a Messiah Prophet cover up behind the receptionist-about a 6'x6' poster. The receptionist asked me who I was. I said--turn around, see that big poster? That's me. I said--I want to talk to the president. The president sent me off after a brief discussion with him, expressing my discontent with what was going on. He actually wrote me out a check for about $300. That was the most money that I ever made off of that record.


To put it all in a nutshell, you finally get to a point when--it was never about money and it's still not. The point where you can't even afford a hamburger, then there's something drastically wrong. you have to reevaluate what you're doing and why you're doing it. So through the course of a couple years there, I finally made the decision that it was time to move on. I don't know how much of that you actually want to print in there. (CG- I talked to Andy after the interview and was given permission to use the Refuge Records story.)

I've heard stuff about Pure Metal, people that work for them. Bands try to get . . . sounds like a lot of bad financial stuff going on, but obviously they didn't last either.


I understand, well if you look at the title track from Master of Metal, it seems like there's indication that you were getting a lot of flack from the church?

Oh yeah.

I kind of wanted to talk about, too.

So again you got to remember that this was the mid 80's. The heaviest band out there at the time was probably Mylon LeFevre, in fact, as far as mainstream Christian rock. Now, I don't know about you, Mylon and I became good friends in the course of my stint in Christian music. I got to know Mylon very well and obviously he and his band were a large part of me getting into Christain music. Mylon's recorded music was a far cry from hard rock or heavy metal you know, it just wasn't. so you know our band played heavier music obviously from Rock the Flock to Master of the Metal, the music got heavier. And that was a direct . . .


. . . correlation of getting Brian Nicarry and Joe Shirk into the band, they actually turned me on to Judas Priest, Metallica, Iron Maiden, basically those three very heavy metal bands' sound. And you know I remember Brian and I always joking about the guitar sound and we wanted that to sound like 100,000 watt generators jammed into a 9V battery. It was the guitar sound that we wanted to get. So we wanted to do something that was even heavier and heavier and yeah- we were getting a lot of flack from the Christian scene and also from the secular scene because we did a lot of stuff. Like I said, we wanted to be in the secular venues. That's where the people were that needed to hear the message. So we were trying to go. We actually participated in a battle of the bands down in York Fairgrounds for the old Starview 92. I don't know if you remember them or not.

Huh uh.

It was a radio station in Harrisburg. Starview 92 was the rock 'n roll station at that particular time. They always did a battle of the bands at the York Fairgrounds during the York Fair. Well , we became a part of that battle- probably one of the best shows that we ever played. And this was in front of a totally non-Christian crowd and we had a great show and we came in second and basically we were told--if you wouldn't have been a Christian band, you would have won. And we were like--ok. It was good because we were able to use that to get into a lot of clubs and bars and things like that. They only let us in because we were runners up in the York Fair battle of the bands. The band that actually won was called Bashful and we ended up playing with them at a number of different venues around. So it was one of those things where there was so much of a balancing act going on there, not that we had problems staying true to our message but we had to determine where we needed to be. But whenever we did play at a Christian venue, there was always, ALWAYS all kinds of controversy. People out front picketing and people saying--you guys are going to hell, the way you look and this music is of the devil. You know. And of course Jimmy Swaggart was real big at the time and you know his whole thing with that. Yeah, we loved Jimmy and a lot of us were actually studying Jimmy Swaggart's stuff. He had a lot of very good teaching. Unfortunately we really disagreed with him about the music. So it took a while before we were able to overcome that, but I think Stryper actually had it more difficult than we did.


So yeah there was a lot of ways where we just kind of had to work through a lot of that stuff. We just stayed true to what we were doing.

Not a lot of churches wanted you to play for them?

No, not a whole lot. (laughs) There were a number of church sponsored events but they weren't necessarily at the churches.

I do remember when I first heard you guys it was a church in Fleetwood, it must have had some kind of coffeehouse and I went to a show there and you guys had played recently and they had dubbed your tapes and were using them in their youth music library. So of course I went and copied them to listen to. I never saw you guys play, but that's when I first heard your music.

That's cool. There was a Christian coffeehouse down in Lancaster. I forget what it was called. It was on one of the backstreets of Lancaster.

Was it Lancaster Youth for Christ?

No, it wasn't that. It was something coffeehouse. Ah, I forget what it was. But we played in there a number of times and that helped to get our fan base growing in the area. We would actually stage a lot of shows ourselves. We would rent out different buildings just to keep putting on show. (laughs) Kind of the old Kiss trick, where they would stage a show and would turn it up as loud as it would go. People couldn't ignore it if it was that loud, (laughs again) so that's what happened.

I saw a picture of a Cornerstone 86 video. Was there ever an official release of that show? Was that just something somebody bootlegged?

Somebody out at that Cornerstone festival had videotaped our performance. It wasn't a very good videotape and you can almost tell that the person is just holding the camera over their head. But there was never anything that was released as an actual dvd or anything.

What years did you guys play out at Cornerstone- 86 and 87?

I want to say it was 87, but I could be wrong. I only ever played out there one time. I don't know if the band played out there after I left or not. Pretty much when I left the band I broke all ties with them. And that was one of the things that we came to the agreement that I couldn't use the band name and at that point I didn't want to for a number of different reasons. So I literally broke all contact with them after I left.

But they did continue...

Oh yeah. Frank Caloairo came on. He actually came onboard with us even before I left

because Brian (Nicarry) left a little before I did, so we brought in Frank and Frank was filling in for Brian. And when I left, Frank took over full time and I forget who they hired.

So Charlie (Clark) must have recorded the song "Blinded" at some point and it just says unknown musicians. And that must have been the last recorded stuff...

As far as I know...

...with the real band.

Yeah. I couldn't even tell you who played on that. Couldn't even tell you. I think I've only heard the song once (laughs) to be honest with you. I know they got a lot of flack when they released that Colours album. To be honest with you, I only heard maybe one or two tracks off that album, and it didn't really do a whole lot for me. It certainly wasn't Messiah Prophet!

Yeah. I think that did more to ruin your name than anything. The word was always that Raymond Fletcher (Messiah Prophet manager) hijacked the name of the band. He still owns the name? So you couldn't release anything under the Messiah Prophet moniker...

That is correct.

So even Charlie (Clark) couldn't?

That is correct.



So he decided at some point that he wanted to use that name with a different band.

Yep. That was one of the things when we left the band, that he specifically said you can no longer use the Messiah Prophet name. That was perfectly fine with me- I didn't want to. At that point I didn't want anything more to do with it.

How did he get rights to the name?

Through a long series of events, but basically when he became our "manager"- this was stuff was happening for me when I was 18, 19 years old. I didn't know to get a lawyer. I didn't know to have an attorney look stuff over. I didn't know the business side of things. All I wanted to do was play, you know? Write songs and play. That's what I thought I was doing. But anyway, there was a lot of stuff contractually that we signed that ended up giving him the rights to the name. Like I said, when I left, I said- it's yours. The name's yours. I don't want it. I don't want to use it. I don't to have anything to do with it, you know? So if there is any new music released by myself, it's going to be under my name or under another band name or something. I can say- formerly of Messiah Prophet, but I can't release anything under the Messiah Prophet name.

There was talk that when you and Brian (Nicarry) left you took your new material with you (under the working title Metal Messiah), but there were rumors that Charlie (Clark) had new material (under the working title Living on the Edge).

Well, Charlie's not a songwriter. Never was. And that's not knocking Charlie, it's just some people are songwriters and some aren't. So I don't really know what unreleased material that would have been. Obviously the guys that came in the band after we (Brian and Andy) left obviously had songs that they wanted to use.

Back to the Rock the Flock album. The song "To the Rock" begins with just drums and vocals amidst a cheering crowd, before the rest of the instruments kick in. What was that? A live recording or a studio trick?

That was a studio trick.


Yeah. Like I said before, Dean (Pellman) always had a big concept of what he wanted to do and he thought that would be a good idea to have something that sounded like you were hearing a live performance. I forget what we took the crowd noise from, but it was probably somebody's live recording.

Or the last song on the album that goes into that long crazy guitar solo, uh "Sing."

Oh, "Sing"?

I always thought the song was called "Singing Along."

Yeah, sing is actually what the song lyrics say. It was the first christian hard rock song I ever wrote. And obviously it wasn't my last. And that was actually the only song that I sang on either of the records.

Oh- I didn't know that.

Yeah, that's me singing there. And it was just- ok- at the end here, go nuts.

And that's all you playing?


Did you ever have to reproduce that live?

We always just used that as a place for me to...

Spring board? off a little bit. I can only show off so much, because I'm only so good (laughs). Which isn't very.

So who rereleased both albums? it just says U.C.A.N. Records. That's just Raymond Fletcher?

That's Mr. Raymond Fletcher. Yes.

He must have only rereleased so many, because it's still easier to find the originals than it is to find the UCAN versions. So what's the likelihood that some of what you played for me earlier will ever be released?

I'm gonna say that it's likely.

Would you try to rerecord it? Or leave it be- a 30 year old recording done to the best of what that era had to offer?

That's what I'm not sure about. I would like to try to redo them just to get better production quality. The only problem is I'm 50 years old now. I can't sing like I did when I was 20 (laughs). And of course with Charlie's health issues (Lou Gehrig's disease), he can't sing anymore. He can't even speak. So obviously he wouldn't be able to record vocals on them. So I'm still trying to figure out exactly what I want to do there. So I think there's a good possibility of hearing what would have been the real third Messiah Prophet album (laughs)

Yeah, that was pretty cool for me. I can't even tell you how neat it was to hear some music that nobody's ever heard.

I would think within the next 6 months or so, you should be able to find iTunes or Spotify or one of those digital media type things.

No- you gotta go physical.

(grunts) Yeah.

You gotta go physical. I don't even do digital at all. I'm always the last one to review stuff, because the other Heaven's Metal writers already got it, and reviewed it, before I get the real cd in hand.

Yeah. So I would say the possibility is pretty good. Maybe I'll test the waters by posting a song or two digitally on iTunes or something like that and we'll see what kind of response I get.

Do you still stay up with heavy metal at all?

Over the years I've ventured into literally everything. But I still lean more towards hard rock. I mean heavy metal's something that I'm always going to love and probably always write until the day that I die just because I do enjoy it. You know I love that kind of music.

You'd be surprised how many heavy metal musicians we've interviewed that are like- nope, that's just a vehicle that we used. But they have no personal... obsession (laughs)...

No, ever since I started playing music, my reason has always been that I wanna play stuff that's enjoyable. Sure- music for ministry is fantastic, but if you're not enjoying what you're doing, you're not being real to what direction you're going. And as soon as you take being real out of that- people recognize that, and you can tell them anything you want to tell them, but they won't believe you.


Then your boat just sunk. So for me it's always been about ministry has been about. And hopefully your faith and ideals are solid enough that that's what's going to come out. I wrote a lot of stuff over the years that no one will ever hear because a) I don't think it's good enough and I'm my own worst critic, and b) maybe it didn't have a good solid message to it and that's not the stuff I want to put out. It came from a place that it shouldn't have come from. I've done a lot of years of soul searching and humbling myself before God- let's put it that way. I still have to do that every single day. I think we all have to. For me, the most important thing is my relationship with God and how I can serve God in everything I do. That's the bottom line. I just happen to be a musician.

What was your favorite song or favorite moment from Messiah Prophet?

Wow. I'm going to say my favorite song is still "Master of the Metal." (doorbell) That and "Battlecry" are probably my two favorites.

Would you say that playing Cornerstone was your favorite moment?

Yeah, playing at Cornerstone was probably the best moment that I could imagine from that era. (Looking at the cds I brought) You know it's interesting. I don't even have copies of these.

You don't?

Nope. (laughs) They (record companies) didn't see it as a right to give us copies of our own songs.

I've seen that happen. I'll have to look. I think I do have a 2nd copy of Master of the Metal. This copy of Rock the Flock looks like a cdr.

I do have a copy of that one on album.

I was digging through my records before I came. I brought this Master of the Metal vinyl for you to sign, but I couldn't find the Rock for the Flock vinyl and I was like- I gotta go!


So you still play- you play in your worship band now?

Almost every Sunday. My wife and I are involved in the worship team there.

Are they heavy?

Nah. (laughs) Your normal Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman stuff.

That's changed too. The whole modern rock worship movement thing has just taken over.

When I got involved in playing guitar at my church, they didn't know who I was. I was just some guy that played guitar. After our worship leader heard me play, he said- I want to put you out front. I'm like- no- absolutely not! I want to be in the background. I want to be behind you. I've spent years being out front and I don't want anything to be about me. All I want to do is make this music more accessible so they can better enter a place of worship. That's why I want to do this, so that's where I've stayed. And I enjoy it. I've had a wonderful time.

Do you run into people that remember Messiah Prophet, or is that so far gone that people...

There were a few people in our church that once they got to know me were like- you were in... Yep. So that's been kinda fun. What's really cool is that it's allowed me to get involved with more of the youth in our church because once they know that I actually made a couple records, then they just kind of gravitate towards me. Which is really cool, and has ushered in a whole new season of being able to mentor and to try and help disciple some of these kids coming up through, which is awesome.


And not to mention that being on the worship team is where I met my wife, so it's been a blessing all the way around.

Thank you, Andy, for allowing me to come and talk with you. I enjoyed getting to know you. God's blessings on you as you walk with Him.

For our readers out there on the world wide web- if you call yourself a Messiah Prophet fan, like myself, I hope you enjoyed hearing from Andy Strauss and just like a good mystery, having some of your questions answered. If you're a metal nerd like me salivating at the thought of unreleased music languishing in some vault, stay patient, and keep tuned in right here at and Whenever Andy Strauss releases new music (under whatever name that will be) you'll hear about it here first.

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