I was very sad to hear about the tragic violence that happened at the Boston Marathon yesterday. It seems that April is the cruelest and craziest month for some people. This week, in particular, seems to be when certain people lose their minds and go on violent rampages. My thoughts and prayers are with those who have been directly affected by this act of terrorism. Peace be with you.

Roger McDuff

Roger McDuff

I was recently reminded of a brief obsession I had with Trinity Broadcasting Network… and its religious rock stars

Some of my readers may know that I often write reviews for Epinions.com. I’ve been writing on Epinions for over ten years, so I have a lot of reviews posted, any one of which is liable to be read and rated by another Epinions reader. Last week, someone rated a review I wrote about Trinity Broadcasting Network, a religious cable channel I kind of got hooked on back in the summer of 2003. I didn’t watch TBN because I’m especially religious. If I were religious, I doubt I’d get much out of televangelism anyway. I watched because TBN often has its unintentionally hilarious moments. TBN founder Paul Crouch, after all, once gave a very interesting speech about “doctrinal doo doo“.

Anyway, since someone had rated my review of TBN, I decided to read it again. Suddenly, I was reminded of how funny and entertaining televangelism can be, particularly among the musicians. I posted the review on one of my blogs and a reader whose mother was a fan for the same reasons I was, left me a comment about one of the entertainers I had mentioned in the review. When I wrote my review in 2003, I noticed a man with a very impressive full head of white hair that made me think of Q-tips. I didn’t mention the performer by name, but my reader knew exactly who he was and had some very funny anecdotes to share about him and his wife. Apparently, this guy is a star on TBN. His name is Roger McDuff.

I found a clip of him on YouTube, performing in 1983 with pink haired Jan Crouch, co-founder of Trinity Broadcasting Network. I watched it, fascinated that this guy had made a career out of singing on TBN. While I don’t think his singing voice is terrible, his vocals are not particularly outstanding, nor is he much of a dancer. And yet back in 2003, he was still on TBN, cavorting with Jan Crouch. Obviously, McDuff has a lot of fans out there in TV land, even if his performance in the above clip reminds me a little of karaoke.

As I watched a couple of clips of Roger McDuff dancing and trying to sell Jesus to the masses, I was suddenly reminded of a true religious rock star. Mike Farris is a musician I discovered when a public relations firm in Nashville sent me a couple of his CDs to review. Again, I’m not particularly religious, but I do appreciate good music and talented performers. Mike Farris is definitely a musician who has the goods. I remember listening to his 2008 CD Shout! Live, which was recorded with his Roseland Rhythm Review during one of his Sunday Night Shout performances in Nashville. I remember thinking that if I were an atheist, I might be swayed to belief by Mike Farris’s music . At the very least, I figured I’d have a great time at his show. His energy and charisma are infectious, even if you’re just listening to his CD.

In the above clip, Mike Farris performs “Can’t No Grave Hold My Body Down”. It’s played by real musicians and sung by someone who can sing and knows how to sell a song. As I listen to Farris and his band, I’m thinking I’d love to see him live. And I wouldn’t laugh at him the way I’d laugh at Roger McDuff.

It should come as no surprise that religion spawns a lot of stars. Many faiths depend on the emotional connection people have with inspirational music and charismatic orators; they help convince people to believe. And so the most successful religious leaders usually have a lot of talent and charisma. Sometimes, people start off as religious performers and go secular, and sometimes they start off secular and become religious.

The late, great comedian Sam Kinison started out as a preacher. He used his ability to preach to convert legions of people to his brand of comedy. I clearly remember back in the fall of 1990, listening to the radio station at Longwood University. Someone played Sam Kinison’s hilarious cover of “Wild Thing”. I never would have guessed back then that he had once been a preacher, but it later made perfect sense, given his comedic style.

Sam Kinison’s video for “Wild Thing” even starred former church secretary Jessica Hahn, the very same one who helped cause the downfall of televangelist Jim Bakker’s ministry.

Rock star Katy Perry was raised by evangelical Christians and released a gospel record in 2001 before she turned to mainstream pop in 2008.

Here’s a clip of her singing under her original name, Katy Hudson, when she was still performing gospel music. I must admit, I don’t really follow Katy Perry’s career, but she’s obviously very talented and charismatic. Religion gave her a place to hone her talents before she burst on the pop scene.

Another very talented band that came out of religious roots is Robert Randolph and the Family Band. I was introduced to these talented folks in 2004, when they opened for Eric Clapton. Robert Randolph started out playing music in church and now he’s getting more fans by the day.

The Osmond family is obviously a religious musical group, owing to the family’s strict Mormon beliefs. But they’ve been performing secular music for over fifty years, with genres spanning everything from barbershop quartet to country. Unlike many young Mormon men, most of the Osmond brothers did not serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, mainly because they were helping to convert people with their music. Nevertheless, they did release a religious concept album in the 1970s called The Plan.

This is a clip from The Plan. It’s a far cry from their hit song, “Crazy Horses”, which was about air pollution.

And, I would certainly be remiss if I didn’t mention Pat Boone, who back in the day was considered a sex symbol akin to Elvis Presley. It’s kind of hard to believe that now, as he shills products on television and makes anti-Obama statements. Still, the man was a bona-fide rock star and movie star in the 1950s and 60s and remained a star in Christian circles well beyond his heyday.

Many years later, he even released a “heavy metal” album. Okay, it was an album full of his big band interpretations of heavy metal songs. Still, I had to give him credit for trying to be cool.

Despite all of the talented performers that have come into or out of religion, I still have to admit I get a huge kick out of watching the less talented ones on TBN. I also admit to occasionally watching Ernest Angley’s show solely for the cheesy music. What can I say? It makes me laugh.