Caedmon’s Call took an unusual path to success as one of the most popular acts in Contemporary Christian music. Formed by friends at Texas Christian University in the early 1990s, the band’s members refused to compromise their integrity by chasing a major-label deal or throwing themselves into an endless round of touring away from their families. Instead, Caedmon’s Call slowly built a grassroots following by touring on college campuses and publicizing their music through the Internet.
After self-releasing two albums that both sold more than 10,000 copies, the band finally signed with a division of Warner Bros. Records, but only after rejecting a few other offers that threatened to change the band’s direction and identity. Even after winning a Gospel Music Association Award for Best Alternative/Modern Rock Album for their debut major-label release, Caedmon’s Call, in 1998, the band continued to play by their own rules. As Cliff Young told Robin Parrish of the Christian Music Central website in June of 2002, “[H]opefully, all of us combined make a pretty good band. I think that as artists, we’re the best we can be, and we’re getting better and better all the time. And that’s more worship to God than going into the studio and supposedly feeling the Holy Spirit chill bumps, and putting out a crappy song. Instead, go out there, do the absolute best that you can, using all the gifts that God has given you.”
Caedmon’s Call got started while the group’s founding members were students at Texas Christian University in Houston in the early 1990s. Guitarist and singer Cliff Young was a native of Houston, where his father was the pastor at the Second Baptist Church. While in college he met Aaron Tate, who lived in the same dorm, and the two struck up a friendship based on their songwriting interests. Around the same time, Young started to perform at a local church with vocalist Danielle Glenn, who would eventually become his wife. “It went over pretty well,” Young recounted in an interview with the ARTISTDirect website. “We thought it would be fun to sing together more and I mentioned that I knew a guy who wrote songs…. As things continued, [Tate] would bring in some lyrics and I would write some music and all of a sudden we were a band.” As the band started to rehearse and perform regularly, however, Tate decided not to become a full-time member, although he continued to collaborate with Young as a songwriter.
Tate also contributed the idea for the band’s name, Caedmon’s Call. The name came from a story recorded by the Venerable Bede, a Roman Catholic priest and historian of eighth-century England. Caedmon was a stable hand who was embarrassed by his inability to sing. At one festive occasion, he hid from his friends when they started singing. As he sat in a barn, Caedmon heard the voice of God commanding him to sing about the Creation. Caedmon astounded himself by complying with the request, and from that day on was a noted singer of verses with religious themes. “We have gone through times when we wanted to change the name,” Young admitted to Amusement Business in a 1997 profile. “But in playing college venues, we realized it was the right kind of name.”
In between tours of Southern college campuses, Caedmon’s Call self-released their first album in June of 1994 and followed it up with a second release in August of 1995. Helped by the group’s avid college-student fan base, both albums sold well for independent releases, earning sales of more than 10,000 copies apiece. The band’s popularity also got a boost with their regular appearances at Bible study services in Houston, events that attracted up to 1,000 people. After talking to several different record companies, Caedmon’s Call signed to Warner Bros. Alliance in 1996. “The reason we went with them is because they didn’t say, ‘You’re going to be the next so-and-so,’ or ‘We’re going to make you into the next….’ Instead, they got to know us…,” Young explained in an interview with the Christian Music Central website, adding, “I think a label should exist to help an artist do what they’re already doing at a bigger, grander level, rather than ‘making’ an artist.”
The band’s major-label debut was a remarkable success. In its first week of release in April of 1997, Caedmon’s Call entered the Billboard Top Contemporary Christian Albums chart at number one with sales of more than 12,000 copies. It also won the group a Gospel Music Association Dove Award for Best Alternative/Modern Rock Album in 1998. In the wake of
Members include Todd Bragg (born on December 16, 1971, in Lake Charles, LA; married to Christie Bragg), drums; Garett Buell, percussion; Randy Holsapple (left group, 1998), keyboards; Josh Moore (born on February 27, 1983; joined group, 1998), keyboards; Aric Nitzberg, bass; Aaron Tate (left group, c. 1993), songwriter; Derek Webb (born in Memphis, TN; married to Sandra McCracken), lead vocals, guitar; Cliff Young (born on August 25, 1972; married to Danielle [Glenn] Young; couple has two daughters), vocals, guitar; Danielle Young (born Danielle Glenn on April 26, 1974; married to Cliff Young), vocals.
Group formed at Texas Christian University in Houston, TX, 1992; first album self-released, 1994; signed majorlabel recording deal, 1996; released Caedmon’s Call, 1997; released In the Company of Angels: A Call to Worship, 2001.
Awards: Gospel Music Association Dove Award, Best Alternative/Modern Rock Album for Caedmon’s Call, 1998.
Addresses: Record company —Warner Bros. Alliance Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019; Essential Records, 741 Cool Springs Blvd., Franklin, TN 37067, website: http://www.essentialrecords.com. Website —Caedmon’s Call Official Website: http://www.caedmons-call.com.
the album’s success, the band started playing larger Christian-music gatherings, and the departure from college venues caused the band to doubt their direction. “We were playing for a bunch of junior-high kids who wanted a mosh pit,” bassist Aric Nitzberg explained in an interview with the Phantom Tollbooth website in May of 1999. “They just didn’t get into what we were about.” Unhappy with a touring schedule that took them away from their families for extended periods of time, the band’s members decided to split up into teams that played smaller venues which were closer to their homes. The unusual format caused speculation that Caedmon’s Call was splitting up, especially after some concert dates were canceled. In 1998 keyboardist Randy Holsapple cited personal reasons for leaving the band; his replacement was teen-aged Josh Moore, who was the son of the music minister at Houston’s Second Baptist Church, where Young’s father served as pastor.
The band’s second release, 40 Acres, was inspired by a historical reference to giving American settlers a piece of land so they could make a fresh start. The album went to the top of Billboard’s Contemporary Christian Albums chart in 1999 and validated the hard work that went into its production. As lead vocalist and guitarist, Derek Webb explained to Matt Turner of the Crosswalk website in October of 2000, “For 40 Acres we spent two-and-a-half months in pre-production and five months in tracking to make that record…. [T]he guy we had working with us on that, he had us rehearsing the songs ‘til we had pretty much rehearsed all the life out of them over a period of six or seven months.” In contrast, the band took a more improvisational approach to their next album, 2000’s Long Line of Leavers. Most of the album’s tracks were recorded live in the studio with little post-production to clean up the sound. “This record, we went in, didn’t even know the songs, didn’t even have arrangements for them, and learned them and recorded them for the record the same day…,” Webb told Crosswalk. “From a production standpoint this record’s pretty raw.”
In addition to confounding expectations about their studio work, the band also confronted assumptions about their place on the Contemporary Christian music scene. “I don’t like the idea of Christians creating things because we can’t compete with everyone else,” Young explained to Christian Music Central. “I think that ‘Christian’ is not a genre of music. It never was, it never will be.” Young also criticized the Dove Awards, calling the event “The epitome of the Christian subculture saying to themselves, ‘We’re not going to get out there, we’re going to compete against ourselves.’ And that’s totally bogus….” He added, “If we didn’t have the charts, if we didn’t have the Dove Awards, and what-ever else, then probably 80 percent of Christian artists would be out of a job.”
In 2001 Caedmon’s Call released In the Company of Angels: A Call to Worship. “All we’re trying to do through this record is express what we’ve been doing in our church for a long time,” Young explained on the band’s website. “We’re not trying to pull music out of nowhere and put it down. This is an extension of something we’ve been a part of for years.” Percussionist Garett Buell added, “The album has an old-world feel to it. Some of the songs were taken from writers who lived in centuries past…. The music is somewhat contemporary, but the traditional elements are still evident. The predominant tone is that God is being worshipped. There are no self-focused songs just to make people feel good about themselves. It’s strictly as wor-ship should be: to glorify and praise God.”
Caedmon’s Call, Warner Bros., 1997.
40 Acres, Essential, 1999.
Long Line of Leavers, Essential, 2000.
In the Company of Angels: A Call to Worship, Essential, 2001.
Amusement Business, April 21, 1997, p. 8.
Campus Life, July/August 2001, p. 26.
“Caedmon’s Call,” ARTISTDirect, http://imusic.artistdirect.com/showcase/modern/caedmonscall.html (September 9, 2002).
“Caedmon’s Call Interview,” Christian Music Central, http://www.cmcentral.com/interviews/32.html (September 8, 2002).
Caedmon’s Call Official Website, http://www.caedmons-call.com/biography.shtml (September 6, 2002).
“Caedmon’s Call—The Interview,” Crosswalk Entertainment Channel, http://entertainment.crosswalk.com/partner/Article_Display_Page/0,,PTID74989%7CCHID293182%7CCIID541314,00.html (September 8, 2002).
“Interview with Aric Nitzberg of Caedmon’s Call,” Phantom Tollbooth, http://www.tollbooth.org/features/ccall99html (September 8, 2002).
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