Soul music: Christian performers unify R&B: religion and blues
They call him the Electric Reverend.
His full-bodied music is as bluesy as they come, and its Christian lessons are as authentic as any available behind the pulpit.
He’s Jimmie Bratcher, a real preacher who left a church job for another calling: bringing people to Christ through music, or more aptly, through singing the blues. Since he made that change 10 years ago, the Kansas City-based musician has spent thousands of Saturday nights performing and Sunday mornings preaching wherever on the road God has called him.
And tonight, God calls him to Lawrence for a special session as headliner of the first outdoor summer concert at BridgePointe Community Church. It’s a slightly different venue than the one Bratcher will be attending later this summer — the annual biker rally in Sturgis, S.D., where he’ll be on the same bill as Bob Dylan, ZZ Top and Ozzy Osbourne at The Buffalo Chip.
A church lawn and a national biker convention might seem like opposite ends of the professional spectrum as far as venues go, but Bratcher is thrilled to reach any soul with ears.
“That’s the biggest biker party on the planet,” Bratcher says of the Sturgis show. “And (tonight) is just a church event, trying to reach people in the community, share with them the message of God’s goodness and his love. That’s really all I’m concerned about, is that people know that God loves them, and cares for them, and wants to be involved in their lives.”
That’s exactly the goal, says the Rev. Dennis Carnahan, leader of the church, 601 W. 29th St. Terrace, himself a personal friend of Bratcher’s and a professional musician. Carnahan cooked up a three-concert series as a way to bring good music and Christ to anyone in the mood for a free show and summer staples like hot dogs and potato chips.
“They’re faith-based groups, but I think they’ll have a broad appeal. More than just, for Christian people, I think anybody would enjoy it,” says Carnahan, who says he got the idea from a summer concert series held by the city of Olathe. “I mean, these are groups who are doing what they’re doing and they’re doing it very well, and so we just want to make that available to the community as well. It’s just something that I think fits well with our community, it’s just something else to do in the summer.”
The concerts will all be on the first Friday of each month, which coincides with the church’s regular musical jam session. Those are normally inside the building at what BridgePointe refers to as the Koinonia Cafe. Carnahan says the church usually gets 70 to 100 people for the cafe jam sessions and expects about triple that amount tonight and for the other concerts, which feature Stan Pollmann, Jeannie Furst and Furst Light, Lester Estelle and Friends and AZ U R.
The music tonight will be heavy on the blues, with both artists — Bratcher and Mission Blues — leaning heavily toward music’s mainstream.
“We’re probably one of the few crossover Christian bands. You could take our stuff and go to a bar and play it, which we’ve done and people like it,” says Billy Fields of Mission Blues, who says the band recently played in a mainstream Westport locale. “It is not subtle, but it’s not, you know, we don’t take the Bible and thump you on the head with it. We just want to get the word out through our music, and then if people have any questions about it when we’re done, then we’ll sit and talk with them for as long as they want to.”
That’s despite the fact that the Lee’s Summit band started in 1991 as a vehicle for Christian outreach to young teens. The members quickly figured out that adults preferred their music more than kids, even if the chosen genre confused the target audience.
“At the time when we started, you know, other Christians said, ‘We don’t get this, how can you have blues and be a Christian?’ But we explained to them that that was actually the hook,” Fields says. “There wasn’t many, if any, back in 1991, playing the Christian blues. So we feel like we kind of helped start that out.
“We just write about life and our experiences. That’s how we wound up doing the blues.”
Bratcher was a musician first, before being saved in the mid-1970s. He put down the guitar and became a self-studied preacher at the Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Mo. He and his wife both worked at the church, but after picking music back up in the mid-1990s, they decided to quit their church jobs and hit the road to share the gospel through music. Bratcher still preaches when invited to churches on the road, but he says his music has allowed him to touch more souls than he ever did in a stable church environment.
“I look at it in that we have received radio play around the world. My preaching has not done that for me,” Bratcher says. “My preaching puts me in front of thousands of people every year. My music puts me in front of millions every year.
“And so, to me, that’s a big deal and I should pay attention to it, and we do.”