John William Schlitt was born on February 3, 1950 in Lincoln, Illinois. He joined the mainstream rock band Head East in 1972 as a lead vocalist. In 1980 he was fired due to his drug and alcohol addiction. He became suicidal but thankfully through the influence of his wife and her pastor, became a born again Christian. In 1986 John became the lead singer of the Christian rock band Petra, when Greg X. Volz left the band. In 1995 Schlitt released his solo debut, SHAKE (Word). He writes: “I would like to thank the Lord Jesus Christ. For through His sacrifice, I have a second chance in life and am able to enjoy the fruits of a happy family as a husband, father, and son. Thanks to my wife Dorla, for your strength and devotion...I want to thank Petra for having the courage to let me stretch”.
Schlitt, Mark Heimermann, and Dan Huff wrote ‘Wake the Dead’, which is one of the greatest Christian rock songs of all time in my opinion. It includes great electric guitar work by Huff and is very catchy. These lyrics are meant to wake Christians from their spiritual slumber: “Wake up!/There’s a job to be done/You’ve got a calling that you haven’t begun/For too long you’ve been coasting along/You think salvation is the end of it all/The fields are ready, but the workers few/You’re not heeding the call/It’s time the body starts to shout the news/And wake the world up to God’s invitation/Wake the dead (2X)/Take up the call and carry His commission/Wake the dead (2X)/Don’t be content and just walk away/There’s too much to do to just walk away”. The also catchy pop/rock song ‘Don’t Look Back’ follows. It starts off tackling regret: “Every morning as I look into the mirror/Yesterday’s mistakes are so painfully clear/I could let them take me under/Be a source of misery/Or I could understand the power of the blood that’s shed for me”.
‘Show Me the Way’ is a melodic song that serves as a sincere prayer: “Take me, guide me, lead me/I’m trusting in You, Lord/Teach me and show me the way/Break me, love me, forgive me/I’m asking of You, Lord/Take me and show me the way.../I know for me You have the perfect plan/I know You had it before time began/Don’t want to listen to what others say/Just show me the way”. ‘Inside of You’ is a beautiful adult contemporary ballad. One of the co-writers is Billy Luz Sprague. The song points to our true potential: “Oh, inside of you there’s a heart full of dreams/Like the gold in a stream to be uncovered/Inside of you lies a soul made to shine/Yes, a child meant to fly and discover/All the wonders God can do inside of you/Where dreams can still come true...”
‘Let it Show’ is a funky alternative rock number about sharing the Gospel: “So many friends are being led about, down the path of life’s deceptions/You’d speak the truth, but fear to let it out/You don’t want to face rejection/No matter what the cost/You’ve got to let them know/The key to life you’ve found/You’ve got to let it show/Say you’ve been forgiven/Live the life you’re livin’/Don’t hold back/Just let it show”. Schlitt wrote ‘Carry the Burden’ with Dan and David Huff. It’s a standout Christian rock song about relying on our sure hope, Jesus Christ: “Let Jesus carry the burden/And remember His words that were spoken/Let Jesus carry the burden/Trusting in the price of the sacrifice/Shed for you.../When a problem you face starts to break you/If you lift it in prayer/Together you’ll get through/Yes, He’s faithful to always be there/No need to worry, you’re not alone/Don’t have to try to do it on your own”.
‘One by One’ is a moving rock ballad with Donna McElroy, Vicki Hampton, Kim Fleming, and Kari Schlitt on backing vocals. It encourages us to help others: “One man could do so much/Sharing the life that he lives through God’s loving touch/That light that shines from the mountain top/It is a beacon of strength and of hope/That no one can rob/If I can reach just one, if I can touch just one/If I can help just one/One by one”. Schlitt wrote ‘Try Understanding His Heart’ with Petra bandmates Jim Cooper and Ronny Cates. It speaks to God’s character: “Try understanding His heart/His love for you, it is never ending/Try understanding His heart/It has for you enough mercy, grace/And strength for you to face it all/Understand His heart/With Him there is a strength to carry on/He paid the price, He sacrificed/His love is there for you/He wants to help you through”.
‘The Hard Way’ is an adult contemporary track that reflects on the crucifixion: “His anguish echoed against a dark sky/All of heaven watched in silence/And from that mountain He looked through dim eyes/As the world mocked the Messiah/He crossed that valley alone/Exchanged His life for my soul/He would not forsake me”. The closing song, ‘The Road to Calvary’, was penned by Rich Gootee, John Schlitt, and Jim Cooper. Joe Spivey plays mandolin and violin on this gospel anthem: “On that road, He walked for you and me/On that road, through all the pain and misery/He knew when it was finished/We would have the victory/On that road, the road to Calvary”.
Some solo albums from frontmen of groups can be a mixed bag quality wise, or even all out duds. Not so with John Schlitt’s SHAKE. This album flawlessly blends rock and adult contemporary sounds that at the time of its release in 1995 would appeal to youth and adults. Schlitt delivers some great vocals here and for the most part it doesn’t sound like a Petra album, which is a good thing to say here, artistically. Three main lyrical themes emerge on the album: being a witness for Jesus by sharing the Gospel, living for Christ and not looking back, and the events of Good Friday. Needless to say this record will mainly appeal to evangelicals. The songs are straight forward without being condemning or using big theological terms. I’m rating SHAKE a perfect 100%. For more info visit: www.johnwschlitt.com.