How did the band get started?
J. Jackson answers: Before I became a born again Christian, I used to sing in bar bands and garage bands, but I began to realize that music was more of a priority to me than God ... and even though I wasn't ultra-religious, that fact gnawed at the back of my mind. When I became a born again Christian in early 1988, I got rid of hundreds and hundreds (probably almost 2000, by my estimation) of records, CDs and tapes, and I figured I was totally through with music. Instead, I immersed myself in the Bible, and began reading it cover to cover, then over and over. After some time, much to my surprise, I felt like God was giving me some indication that I should get back into music, and so I began writing some simple original songs on the guitar.
I'd always been a lead singer, but shortly before becoming a born again Christian, I had started to really learn how to play the guitar. I have a pretty good ear for music, so I started figuring out some of the old licks from some of the songs I used to like. However, I didn't feel right singing the words. Meanwhile, I was learning all of this incredible stuff in the Bible, and I wanted a way to help me remember it -- things like the names of all the Apostles, the books of the Bible in order, scripture verses, stories, etc. So I started writing the parodies to teach myself the Bible ... and the guitar.
Eventually, I started playing them at a Bible study I attended regularly, and one day, a guy named Karl Messner showed up and heard me playing them and suggested that he and I get together and jam. We did and were soon good friends. Karl was a much better guitarist than I, and soon we acquired other musicians, Jeff Pakula on drums and Andy Sparks on second guitar and were practicing regularly ... although we didn't know for what we were practicing. We'd just get together every Monday, go out to eat, pray together, read a little bit of the Bible, and play music for a few hours. We didn't have a name and didn't really even consider ourselves a band. In fact, we used to call ourselves APNAB for Absolutely Positively Not a Band, because we used to play occasionally at a Bible study that was advertised as Absolutely Positively Not a Church, and because the leader didn't want anybody to use it as a substitute for church.
Finally, in early 1992, a friend of mine at work left an article on my desk about a new Christian coffee house in the area, the Paradise Club in Irwin PA. He said we should try to play there. "We're not good enough," I protested. "Who is?" he replied. So I went out there with a demo tape, and soon after we were scheduled to play our first official concert in late March 1992. We needed a name and finally agreed upon ApologetiX, a variation of the word apologetics, which means the defense of the Christian faith.î We made flyers advertising the show and sent them to everybody we knew. By the time our concert rolled around, we had a packed house, which included many friends and family who hadn't heard our parodies and a lot of other people who didn't know us. We played a combination of cover versions of Christian rock songs from the 1970's and '80s, plus our parodies. We didn't know if the audience would like our parodies or not. Much to our amazement, they LOVED them! Ironically, Jeff wasn't able to come to play drums at our debut, and we didn't even have a bass player!
Soon we were the house band at the Paradise Club, and Jerry Hayostek had joined ApologetiX as our first bass player. It seemed that at every concert we did, somebody would come up afterward and ask us to come play at a venue they were associated with. We took every opportunity, no matter how small, and soon we were playing all around the western half of our home state of Pennsylvania.
In late June 1992, I made a copy of one of our live performances and began to distribute it to everybody who was interested. We called that tape "Get Your Wigs," a spoof of the old Aerosmith albums, "Get Your Wings," and the fact that Karl and I had donned wigs for a portion of the show to pose as 80s metal rockers. After hundreds of those tapes were out there, Karl started dabbling with a four-track recorder, and we produced our first two full-length studio tapes, "Parable Guy" (October 1992) and "Want It Dead or Alive?" (New Year's Eve 1992). By this time, the demand had really grown, and we wanted to mass produce tapes and greatly increase the quality of our performance and production. We did that with "Isn't Wasn't Ain't," which was released in July 1993 and financed entirely by the band. By this time, Jerry had left the band and Jeff was about to leave, so Steve Kayner played bass and Keith Harrold played drums in the studio. Shortly thereafter, Rick Servocky became the new ApologetiX drummer, and Andy switched from second guitar to bass.
All those old tapes are out of print and the quality of our current CDs far exceeds those early efforts, but they were stepping stones to where we are today. All those tapes (about 2000 total) were also given away for free (not because people didn't want to pay; we just didn't want to be accused of trying to make money off of somebody else's song). In early 1994, as we prepared to record our next cassette, "Radical History Tour," we had come to a point where we realized we needed to at least recover our costs (until this point we did not accept payment for concerts or tapes), so we were praying very fervently for a way that we could do this. Right at the same time the 2 Live Crew (Luther Campbell vs. Acuff-Rose) "Oh, Pretty Woman" fair use case hit the Supreme Court and opened up doors for parodists like ourselves by declaring that a parody can be considered a fair use of an original, not requiring permission or royalties.
That opened up enormous doors for us, and "Radical History Tour" was finally released in August 1994. In 1995, we made our first appearance on national television for an hour-long special on Cornerstone Television's "Getting Together." Rick and Andy left the band in May and August, respectively, and were replaced by ApologetiX fan/roadie Bob Flaherty on drums and Karl's brother-in-law, Keith Haynie on bass. By 1996, we were on the Internet at apologetix.com, and we were soon able to book our very first mini-tour of the Southeast: a concert in Virginia, three in Atlanta, one in West Palm Beach FL, two in Orlando FL, and one in Gaffney, SC. To tide our fans over, we released a series of live cassettes titled "Live 95," "Anthropology," "Beatleg," "Fredericktown" and "Dark Side of the Peachoid."
It wasn't until 1997, however that we had gelled enough with the new line-up and raised enough money to properly produce and manufacture our first CD, "Ticked," which was finally released in December 1997. One of the songs on "Ticked" was even played by Dr. Demento, the nationally syndicated DJ who specialized in novelty records and launched Weird Al Yankovic's career. By the late summer of 1998, we were featured on "The 700 Club," as the band's notoriety continued to grow. Bob left the band shortly thereafter. While we searched for a new full-time drummer, Keith Harrold filled in for us at concerts and David McKee filled in for us in the studio on our second CD, "Jesus Christ Morningstar" released in December 1998. "Morningstar" also marked the first appearance of Bill Hubauer on keyboards, who has played keyboards on every ApologetiX release since. We followed that with the CD version of "Radical History Tour" in March 1999. About this time, Fred Behanna became the fourth official ApologetiX drummer.
In January 1999, I became the first member of ApologetiX to actually get paid to do this as a job, and part of that job was a campaign in which we e-mailed Christian radio stations across the United States, telling them about ApologetiX, and asking them if they wanted sample CDs. That campaign worked very well, and those stations told other stations. One of the stations that enjoyed our stuff was WQFL 101 FM in Rockford IL, a town of about 100,000+ people. On May 22, 1999, we shared the stage with Petra, Tammy Trent, Temple Yard, Broomtree and others for Q-Fest, WQFL 101 FMís 25th Anniversary Show. We were just honored to sharing the stage with these other bands, but God had even bigger blessings in store for us.
The crowd responded so well to our show that we were called back for an encore (a rare thing for a non-headliner at a festival, because they're always on such tight schedules), and I think we spent about two hours at the CD table afterward signing autographs. One of the guys from Temple Yard had seen the show and the response we got and he mentioned that we should look into doing some more Christian festivals. And we got to meet John Schlitt, lead singer for Petra, who was a friend of Keith Harrold, our fill-in drummer that weekend (and countless others over the years), because Keith's day job is as a national sales rep for Word Records.
But there was even more to come. As we were leaving Rockford the next morning, we stopped at a Burger King, and I happened to look at the newspaper machine. I was stunned to see our smiling faces (more like singing faces) looking out at me. We were on the cover of the Rockford Register Star...and that wasn't all. On the overflow page from Page One, there were a bunch more photos of us, along with some of the other performers. You would have sworn we had been the headliner and not just about fifth or sixth on the list.
I can still remember our pal Keith Harrold saying "This changes everything." We had always respected Keith's knowledge of the contemporary Christian music ministry, industry and history, so we took him and the guy from Temple Yard seriously and started looking into playing festivals. We encouraged our fans to write to the Creation and Kingdom Bound festivals and encourage them to consider ApologetiX. They wrote so many letters that Creation asked us to ask them to stop (but they also asked us later to be on the main stage at Creation 2000, an event attended by 70,000 people) and Kingdom Bound called us to fill in when Sixpence None the Richer scored a #2 hit with "Kiss Me" and had to cancel out on Kingdom Bound ë99 to appear on "The Tonight Show." Since then, we've had the opportunity to appear at many large Christian music festivals, including more than ever this year.
Also in the summer of 1999, we began recording our fourth CD, "Biblical Graffiti," with help on the drums from none other than Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz, the drummer on all of Weird Al's stuff and webmaster for Al's site. Jon even introduced us to Al after Al's show in Pittsburgh. Although the meeting was brief, Al did say, "You guys do fabulous work." A photo of that meeting is also included in the Biblical Graffitiî CD booklet. The increased quality of this release garnered us even more airplay on Christian stations. We also hired a publicity agency, Burke Communications in Southern California, which began to set up radio interviews for us and increase exposure through various media.
At this time, our CDs were only available through the website and about 80 Christian book/music stores across the United States, stores that had contacted us after our music was played on their local station and customers had requested us. In early 2000, we hooked up with Wesscott Marketing, which also handles the distribution for Billy Graham Worldwide Pictures, and by 2001, ApologetiX CDs were stocked by all the major Christian distributors, in thousands of stores, including the Best Buy chain, in the United States, Canada, South Africa and Australia.
In November 2000, we released our fifth CD, "Spoofernatural," which continued to increase the quality level and exposure of ApologetiX. Highlights of 2001 included a cover story on Focus on the Family's "Plugged In" magazine, having a few of our parodies featured on the Howard Stern Radio Show, being interviewed for Billy Graham's Decision Today radio broadcast, and playing at many more national Christian music festivals. Fred retired in early 2001, and Bill Rieger, who had previously filled in for ApologetiX in late 1998 and early 1999, became the band's full-time drummer.
In early summer 2001, our lead guitarist and producer, Karl Messner, became the second member of the band to make his living solely from being a member of ApologetiX (I'd say it became his full-time job, but being in ApologetiX is a full-time job, even when you already have a 9-5 job!) He also began a "Bible readers" campaign to challenge kids at our concerts to begin a regular Bible study program. This campaign has been incredibly successful, and we are continually receiving encouraging e-mails from kids (and adults) who are reading their Bibles for the first time, including ones who have now read the Bible in its entirety since accepting Karl's challenge.
In October 2001, we released our sixth CD, "Keep the Change," which actually hit the Top 15 on the national charts for Christian rock albums. In December 2001, we released a six-song EP titled "Have Yourself a Parody Little Christmas" to radio stations and fans on our e-mail list, which has grown to over 30,000 subscribers.
In August 2002, we released our seventh full-length CD, "Grace Period," widely regarded by the band, the critics and our fans as our best effort yet. It also contained our first national top 20 Christian rock hit, "Smooth Grandmama," a parody of "Smooth Criminal" by Alien Ant Farm. A follow-up single, "How You Rewind Me," a parody of "How You Remind Me" by Nickelback, also hit the top 40.
Now, in 2003, the band is at a point where all four band members have been doing this as their full-time job for several years. We are playing more concerts than ever, all across the United States and Canada. We've played in almost all 50 states, and we are getting more airplay than ever, in every continent except Antarctica (We can't seem to crack that market, even though we're from Pittsburgh, and you'd think they'd be Penguins fans!) The CDs are also in most Christian book stores and Best Buy stores all over the United States, plus stores in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Singapore, Scotland and elsewhere.
But the most important thing in all of this, the ONLY important thing when it comes down to it, as that we seem to be accomplishing our two-fold goal to reach (non-Christians) and to teach (Christians). Every week, we receive hundreds of e-mails from people all over the world who have been touched by our CDs and/or concerts and have become new Christians or are learning more about the Bible or are using our CDs to reach and teach others.
We have always tried to approach this with the attitude of "God, this has gone much, much further than we ever imagined, and if You stop it now, it's been a great ride. But if You want to continue to grow it, then please do so, and please help us to have hearts that will seek You and Your will more and more as each day goes by."
We are truly very, very blessed, and we hope to add many more paragraphs to this story as the coming years go by.