Pethead Interview, January 9, 2001

Normal - Sue D.

BOLD - John Schlitt

First of all, the Petheads would like to thank you for agreeing to do this interview. Most of these questions all came from the people on the Petra Zone, so we’ll start right in with questions on Petra, OK?


All right. First of all, we see that Petra is booking dates into next year, which means Petra is still alive and well?

Yeah, Petra is still alive and well as far as the touring Petra; it’s always been a strong band. Especially in the last five years I really feel the band has gotten a fresh start and although it hasn’t been seen by nearly as many people as the old Petra, I think it’s still a very viable and exciting band. We will probably go through a change or two even in this next year, but that’s because of the challenges that we’ve had to face, as far as personnel having to leave, if nothing else, just to pay for groceries. But again, you gotta go with God’s plan and I think right now I’m looking for musicians of the caliber we need for Petra, that they don’t have to depend on Petra quite as much for their total income, but can give Petra their first devotion when needed.

Kevin has been filling in part-time. Is he going to continue with that?

Kevin has sort of turned into a member of Petra again. I know this sounds weird, but you know, one of the cool things, except for the fact that I have fanatical Petheads that care about what happens to Petra, right now it feels like the Christian media is not that interested anymore so we can go through these changed, that seem to me a little embarrassing – you know, Kevin comes, Kevin leaves, Kevin comes, Kevin leaves, you know… because of the fact that I haven’t had questions every other day by the media, it makes it easier. Again, I just want people of the caliber that I believe Petra deserves; in other words, that God deserves, if we’re calling ourselves a Christian band. And Kevin has always been, to me, an unbelievable musician, and one of the best singers, especially second singer, I’ve ever dealt with. So, right at this moment, yes, Kevin has become part of the band again, and took Pete’s place. There’ll probably be another change with Lonnie because I think he’s going to end up going with um, ah, oh shoot, ah…

Tait Band.

Yeah, the Tait Band in April, so we’ve got him through March, and when he leaves we’ve already got another man that I think is going to be a fantastic addition. I haven’t asked him yet because I didn’t want to do that to Lonnie, but I have someone in mind that I think could end up being a very good addition. So if these men want to be part of Petra in the state that it’s in right now that means we’re talking four to eight dates a month, which you really can’t make a living on, but if you can put Petra – if they still want to devote that time – we’ve got a very good band that just keeps getting better and better live.

That’s great. So is there any truth to the rumor that Petra was negotiating with “inpop” records?



I think it’s fallen through.

Oh. OK.

I think that I – let’s put it this way: it is on a really long hold, and I’ve lost patience with it. And besides, that’s up to Bob anyway, so I’m sure Bob will let me know when it’s comfortable for him to let me know. But at the point – “inpop” is a bunch of people that really believe in Petra’s ministry, knows that Petra could be a very viable ministry even yet with many years to come. They most certainly showed more respect to Petra than anyone else in the main recording industry of the Christian side of things, by far. So I have nothing but great things to say about them, but at this moment they’re not comfortable with any direction that anyone’s come up with with Petra. So until someone gets a comfort margin or you know, starts feeling like taking a chance with us, it’s on hold, and hold to me is nothing.

So they were the ones who wanted to try the test recording?

Yes; we tried it and it didn’t work and so now everything is sort of… then we start the Christmas thing and then the Newsboys are super busy, which takes up all their time… it’s just one of those things that in the state that we’re in right now, we’re put on hold every time we turn around, and I don’t have time for hold. So all I can do it keep my guys busy, as much as I can, as long as there’s interest; meanwhile, start to really concentrate on my solo career where I’m in charge and see things go forward there. As soon as I get my next solo record finished – at least recorded – and see where it takes me, then I’ll probably start concentrating more on Petra and it’s next recording, and find out what’s the hold up. But until I feel like I had the right to do that, I’m letting the people who are supposed to be in charge be in charge.

So your next album…. Nobody really knows at this point?

No; in fact, I’m not sure if there’ll ever be one.

Oh, we can’t say that.

Well, ok, you don’t wanna say that?

We’re not gonna say that, no!

Well, you know, I’m just saying, right at this moment, the interest margin is slipping away. I mean, the longer we hesitate, the harder it’s going to be to do another record – unless we do one on our own – which I personally think, and that would even be – I’m not sure if it’s even worth it to do that, because I have to deal with a lot of different things and I just don’t feel like there’s anyone that’s really that anxious or that needful to do another Petra record right now, and if that’s the case, then I personally need to concentrate on other things. And that’s all. I would love to see Petra’s ministry go on for many years to come, and I believe that it could be very powerful. And it really bothers me with even the idea of it not. But on the other hand, I can’t sit around and wait for it to happen, when everyone has a patience margin way past what I can handle.

If you could record something else, what type of album would you personally want to do?

Another Petra record?


I would love to do a rock record, leaning towards praise and worship, as we’ve always have, but really not. I don’t wanna do another praise and worship right at this moment, unless we call it Petra Praise III. But if we do that, then all the fans that we still have, that are still, I think, very loyal – if we did another praise and worship album, we’d lose ‘em. Because I think they have been very loyal, but they want to hear another rock record, and I don’t blame ‘em – so do I.

Yup, that’s true too.

And until we find a record company, or we have the guts to do it on our own label, or do it, independent and distribute it ourselves and put it on the internet…..I don’t see it happening, ‘cause right now the industry is scared to death of us doing a rock record – at least the ones that we’ve talked to – including “inpop”.

They don’t think a rock would go over at this point?

Oh – their idea of rock and our idea of rock are two different things. I think they’re still into the… their thing is the ‘song is all important – gotta find that hit song.’ That’s true – you do, but I’ll tell you what – it’s amazing how hit songs are created when you start working with Petra. But everybody wants that sure thing….. because they don’t want to take any chances with us.

That’s too bad.

Well, that’s the way it’s being played right now.

That’s the way it is, yeah. Well then, what do you feel about this Grammy nomination that’s on the floor?

I think…. I think it just goes to show you that the name Petra is absolutely more identifiable than just about any other name in Christian music – absolutely in rock. I think that someone listened to our record in the secular side of things and said “wow! This is a well done record.” And I think that’s why. The Grammy is nominated by a lot of Christian sides of things, but a lot of secular sides of things, and I think that’s the only reason we were nominated, because the industry, this Christian industry, wasn’t dominating it. If they had, we wouldn’t have been mentioned.

Isn’t that ironic, huh?

Well, it’s…. it’s OK. I mean….. and I’m not – I know it sounds like I’m criticizing Christian music – I don’t want to. They’re in a thing right now that is confusing to me, and we in Petra – the heart of Petra, the direction of Petra just does not run anywhere close to parallel with the direction that I think the Christian music industry wants to go. And I wish it would. I mean, I really wish it would ‘cause I really would like to be part of the Christian ministry and be useful and be helpful to the whole thing, but at this moment Petra’s ministry is more of a… oh… an irritant than it is a help.

Do you have any plans – I know Bob had written a devotional-type booklet, going back with the different songs and things. Are there any plans on doing some sort of a historical-type Petra book or a biography or anything?

With me? Or with Petra? Or with Bob?


I think that would be a smart move for Bob. I mean, he knows more of the history of Petra than I do. I would….. it’s very possible that I would write a book one of these days on maybe my life, if there’s any interest in it.

Oh, there would be!

But you know what? The worse part about it is… my life is… there’s some really garbage things there that I don’t know how to present because I don’t want to glorify it, but I don’t want to ignore it. I want it to be real… so I’ve had a hard time. I’ve had people come up to me and want to co-write for me – actually want to ghost write for me with me just answering questions for them, and they’re absolutely bound and determined it would be a great book, but until I feel real about it, I just…. I don’t have that peace yet. Not that I don’t… it’s coming. I mean, there’s been some good book-type of ideas…. I think that will come. I think books are in my future.

I think it would be a very good thing, and I’ll bet you a lot of people would buy it.

Well, I’ll tell you what – I know that there’s some loyal fans that keep my website and keep Petra’s website very busy, that would… but I don’t know… there’s some extremes, but I don’t know if the numbers would be enough for the publishers to say “this was a hit, let’s do another one.”

We had a number of people who would love to get Petra to their town, and they’re just wondering what could an average person do – an average fan do – to get Petra to come?

OK, I have a booking agent that is a great guy, he really is. Scott Huie – he works hard, he’d love to book us. But he also knows that there’s a bare minimum that we can go out for, depending especially on if it’s a long way off, and all this, and he understands that. We have a management, that, most of the time, is… one thing my management does do, and that is absolutely examines each show to make sure I don’t have to pay to play. And I appreciate that.

So, to get back to what would it take to get Petra in: you need the support of the churches or one church that sees a vision of using Petra as a ministry and there has to be a money guarantee come in, to where we can bring in the type of show – and I use that word “show” because you need a show to draw the attention, to gain the listening ear of who you’re trying to reach.

So it’s pretty much… we can always give the name of Scott Huie, but first thing Scott’s gonna ask is “well, ok, where are you located? Ok, this is probably the minimum Petra could go out for…… dadadada… do you have that kind of support?” And don’t count on selling tickets to make it back. It can happen, most certainly, but the most successful Christian ministry is the one that had the sponsors and had the guarantees before it ever started, where they don’t have to worry about the money and they can concentrate on the counselors and getting the word out to all the high schools and all the churches working together and put prayer before it for at least two months… and then you watch unbelievable things happen.

But nowadays, there are so many Christian bands out there, so many tours and so many concerts, that it’s like it’s old hat. You know, you got a concert a week. And there’s little concentration, there’s not as much foresight in it as there was when, to me, it was really happenin’. And that’s what I would like to be part of. I’d like to be part of that happening event where people have high expectations because they’ve been praying about it, and we come in and do what we’re supposed to do.

That sounds exactly right on.

Well, it has to be.

It does; I mean, I’ve been there, and I know...

I mean, you, Sue, especially – I mean, you have been on just about every end of that whole thing, and you know what I’m talking about. But I’m talking to the folks that are gonna be listening to this tape, or reading what I had to say…. And don’t get me wrong; I mean, we can come in on very many different scales, from an arena set-up with semis and buses, to a fly-in with six people – five guys and a sound man and with acoustic guitars. It depends on what you want and it depends on where it’s at, and it depends on how much, you know, you want to put into it.

Number one thing: lots of prayer.

Absolutely! Absolutely. And that will break through the barriers every time.

Definitely. And in that vein, we have a request for you just to sing the “whoooaaaahhh” part from “Praying Man.” (laughter)

(laughter)… The what?

You know, the little chorus on “Praying Man?”

Oh no!

The wail. Someone wants to really hear that.

Well then: (John sings) Whoooaaaahhh – I see the power of the praying man….. that one?

(laughter) That’s it!

Ok, you got it!

They’ll be happy!

(more laughter) Who is that?

Oh, I don’t remember…

OK, we really shouldn’t give names, all right. Well, God bless ‘em; I hope it was good enough. If not, listen to the CD!

Yeah, there ya go!

We’re gonna keep going in a lighthearted vein here.


Personally, what kind of music do you like to listen to; what’s in your CD player?

I like to listen to very sophisticated Christian music. I like to listen to talented Christian music; that’s what I like to listen to. And if I can’t find that, then I listen to old-time rock ‘n roll. I listen to classical rock ‘n roll stations. You know, I’m 50 years old. So I grew up when music was very exciting, it was very dominant. The 2 & 4 was very dominant; we didn’t have to have a drum loop shuffle in every song that exists, although I understand it because it is a tension music with drum loops in it and with that kind of stuff in it. But I haven’t learned to enjoy the music of the day as much as I enjoy the 2 & 4, ‘70s and early ‘80s music.

Did you like VH-1 “Behind the Music” then?

Actually, you know what’s funny, (chuckle), VH-1 Behind the Music, most of the people that they put on I know, or I was touring during that time. There’s a couple of shows that I recognize because I was there, you know, on VH-1’s behind the scenes. It’s so funny – my band, in the secular side – we were just big enough to go and do all these concerts, but not big enough to ever be “Where Are They Now” or “The History of Head East” because our history was never long enough to make any difference.

Well there are some fellas on the Head East zone that are trying to get VH-1 to put Head East on one of those “Behind the Music”…. (laughter)… I don’t know it it’s working!

(laughter) You know what? Tell ‘em ‘thanks’. I appreciate it, but to a lot of people we were a “one-hit wonder”; although that one hit is absolutely a supreme classic. But I say that we had probably three or four other songs that should have been hits. And I know that they’ll agree with me. And I appreciate the secular side of my life, I mean, the fans that really stuck in there. I wish that they understood where I’m at now, if they don’t; and realize that I’ve found a more important thing than music, and that was Jesus. But again, they have to discover that for themselves and they can see my walk and see where I’m at now, and if they’re interested, I sure wouldn’t mind letting them know – read my testimony and find out why I did what I did, and why I’m where I’m at now. And who knows – God’s amazing; he uses even that kind of stuff then, that sees a life change.


When you were younger, you started singing when?

Oh my gosh, I started singing when I was five years old. I sang all the leads in all the recitals and stuff, and all the school plays and that kind of stuff. But as far as quote: “professional,” I think I was 13. I got paid to sing in a band. That was like…I think I made $25 bucks, but it was pretty cool.


It was called what? “Something Different?”

Yeah, actually the name was called “Vinegar Hills Hometown Band - Something Different.”


And that’s a long story!

Oh goodness – I guess!

As far as other light-hearted type things: someone wanted to know what your favorite Bible verse is.

Well, I’ve always said Rev. 12:11, which says “By His blood and by our testimony.” I love that; I think that’s where it’s all at. Jesus Christ died on the cross, he shed his blood for us. Now, that’s one signature on a two signature check. Now our testimony: all he ever asks of us is that we tell the world about Him, and that’s our signature on the check. Are we ready to sign with him?

As far as your favorite book in the bible? We read somewhere: James?


James –is that still…?

Absolutely; there’s no doubt in my mind. Common sense, in your face – I love it.

Any favorite authors, Christian authors?

Ah… well, I got hooked on the “Left Behind” series, also “This Present Darkness.” Peretti, I think is a cool author. I’m into Christian fiction, and the “Left Behind” series, I think was really cool. There’s a couple books that got a little trite, but most of them are fantastic. And even me saying that, I’d have a million people disagree with me, which is cool, ‘cause I know that the purpose of the series is very, very cool, and I’m very impressed with it, although I’m about two books behind right now. But I think those two are the ones that….. you know, just very, very – I won’t say “shallow,” but just not super in-depth, but not just totally imbecilic either. They have an insight of how the battle of the spirit world is going on, and they’re not afraid to write about it. I think that’s pretty cool.

Did you ever read any by Randy Alcorn?


“Deadline,” “Dominion,” “Edge of Eternity?”


Oh, all excellent! Kind of in the same vein, a little bit – the same writing ability as the Left Behind Series…


But a different storyline. Not with end-times…

You know what? I’m into music; I don’t do a lot of reading except (chuckle) my home improvement magazines. I’ve got a pile about a foot high. I read ‘em on the road, but I haven’t been on the road for awhile lately, so I’m like backlogged, so I hate to say it, but I read the Bible and my home improvement magazines, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m sorta two books behind on the Left Behind series.

Going back a little bit after you left Head East, just before joining Petra, what did you do for a living?

I worked as a mining engineer and actually I did that for four years, and then for a year, just before I joined Petra, I was with that same company, I worked as a cost and scheduling engineer. It was God providing it: I worked in a tool and die factory for about six months, right after I left Head East, sweeping the floors, doing a little bit of drafting and learning to build…. create dies out of planing machines. It was real interesting, but it wasn’t paying anything. And as time went on and each new bill came up from my old habits, I was trying to get my life together, and God would provide a new job that would increase my salary enough to incorporate that new bill, that new payment. That was very cool how He did it, and in five years I went from supremely in debt to getting out of debt totally. Then I joined Petra, and then went right back into debt again! (laughter) So…. you know, some of us just don’t… can’t figure it out! (laughter) But I’d learned a lot. I learned that a 9-5 job is not a 9-5 job for me – it’s a 12-hour day, so I might as well do music.

So you knew, then, that it was God leading you back to Petra?

Absolutely. There’s no doubt in my mind about that.

And despite the negative kind of feedback you’re getting now, how do you know that God is telling you to keep going?

Good question. I’ll have to say that… OK… one of the reasons why I felt back, back even when I was out of music totally and I hadn’t thought anything about Petra…. I mean, I was a big Petra fan, but the idea of being part of Petra was like being able to fly to the moon without a rocket. And I felt, OK, apparently I’ve blown it; I used my voice for the secular side of things and I probably have blown it to ever sing again, so OK, that’s cool. But deep down I felt like: you know what? It sure seems like a waste, ‘cause I sure learned a lot in the secular system and I’m not too shabby. It sure seems a waste that I’m not using my voice. But I said, well, in my own thinking, it was because I was such a sinner – which was totally wrong, but that’s the way I could justify it.

OK – to make a long story short – I always felt that it was wasteful, and I know that God is not a God of waste. So I… when Bob called me and said “John, would you consider singing for Petra?” I knew for a fact that I was supposed to, because it was like all the pieces came together. All the paths. You know, why was I so anxious to be in the Word when I’m not that much of a reader? Why did I go through all this other stuff? Why did I spend seven years touring in front of 20,000 people a night? You know, all of a sudden: bing, bang, boom – I’m totally built and ready to take my position in Petra and make it a successful entity.

In this case, why do I feel, even with so many things going against us at this moment? We are a world-wide recognized ministry and just spending 28 years to build that name up, that recognition, that understanding that stands for what we stand for – it just doesn’t make sense to me to throw it away because we’re not the newest, coolest, happening-ist, youngest thing happening right at this moment.

So at this time, right at this time, I feel that if Petra was over, it would be a waste, and God is not a God of waste. And that’s speaking today. Now as time goes on, if more challenges just stand in our way, and you know, that kind of thing, there will come a time when I say “God, I’ve done my best. And although I don’t feel right about this, I’m calling it quits, because it’s stupid to carry it on.” But I don’t feel that yet; and even when I start to think that way, it’s like “OK – are you doin’ it because it’s not easy for you or are you doin’ it because you just don’t feel it’s supposed to be carrying on any more?” And I’ll have to feel like, you know what? There’s too many signals telling me it’s time to quit and there’s not enough telling me I should stick with it. So, that’s the kind of thing that I have to face, and until I see that total “what’s the use” or “it’s over now” or God coming and saying “John, it’s over now, you’re supposed to do this now,” then I’ll be totally content and I’ll know that I’m doing God’s will and it’ll be cool. But until then, I am to persevere.

Well, you have a lot of people praying for you that you keep going.

I know, and that’s another thing. I’ve got a lot of very loyal friends that are praying for us, for Petra’s ministry, and that doesn’t come back void either. So we just need – I just need to be cautious and be open and find out what God has in store.

Well, you have a third solo album coming up – that’s something that’s being planned, and you know, perhaps God will use that in a way to keep you going.

I sure hope so. I mean, I would like to see that. I’m anxious about doing another solo record. I want it to be even better than the first two; and I’m very proud of those two. I’m doing it a totally different way; it’s a whole new ball game. I’m very, very much in charge of the whole thing. It’s just a whole different ball game; it should be very interesting. I think there’ll probably be a lot of interest because it’s being done so different.

As far as style, or…?

Style, no, not necessarily. As far as no support from a record company, doing it totally independent, possibly not even using a record company except my own to do it. The idea of not using a record company scares me. On one hand it scares me, on the other hand I’m super excited about it.

The industry is so much different now than what it was when you first started in Christian music. What are your thoughts on that?

Well, I think that we lost a vision. We lost a vision of using Christian music as an evangelistic tool and as an encouragement tool. I think that for a while I saw a boldness in Christian music, saying “we’re going to be leaders, we’ll use this music to bring across the message of Jesus Christ and see where it takes us.” As time went on and there were some success stories, including Petra, everybody got more involved in the money side of things. Everybody’s gotta buy groceries, that’s cool – but it got to a point where it was so dominating that they started thinking: “The world does this, the world does that, the world does this,” and we started becoming a cheap copy of the world. And that just doesn’t work.

I think that’s our… that’s a problem now. We’re so concerned with how the world does things, and part of it’s because most of Christian music’s controlled by secular systems now. Not that – and please understand that I’m not pointing fingers at any Christian labels or anything else; they all have some fantastic artists that are doing amazing things – but I think the general feel of Christian music has lost it’s leadership vision. And that really hurts; that’s a shame, because we could be leaders rather than followers, but I think right now we’re just a little bit too much followers.

So you’ve read Steve Camp’s 107 Thesis?

Oh yeah – Steve has a heart to put it where his heart is. He’s got the courage to write it down and say “this is what I think, and this is what is happening, and according to me this is what’s going on, and you guys need to change.” And that’s boldness and you can’t get more bold than that. When I read his thesis, I’m going “Steve, I can’t argue with any of it, you know.” And that’s all I can say.

It’s done him…… I won’t say it’s been a great thing for him, I mean, I think it’s hurt him, financially, but he still stands behind it very strongly and he’s very adamant about it, and I’m proud of him. He’s an encouragement to me, he’s a bold Christian who wants to see Christian music be used in a bold way, and shoot – how can you argue with that?

True. Is there anything you feel that you as a person can do to help bring about a change?

I guess… You know what? I used to be God’s policeman, until He spanked me and said “stop it!” Since then, the only thing I can do is be the best Christian artist I can be, to be the boldest Christian artist I can be, but be as relevant as possible without losing, without compromising it all, which usually means the only way you’ll ever hear me on secular radio is by direct intervention of God. But that’s OK, because God’s that big. And so I’m excited about the fact when He does do that. But I will always be able to look anyone in the face who wants to sit and say “So you’re a Christian?” I said “You darn right I am; just listen to my music, listen to what I have to say, listen to the interviews.” There’s no doubts about where I stand. And I think that’s the best I can do to help out Christian music, and in turn, be an example that God can use.

Well John, I’d really like to thank you for taking the time to do this interview, and to talk about all these things. One thing you say that you want to show people that you are a Christian, that you stand for the Lord. We just want to tell you that in all your live shows, your solo shows, your music – we can see that you are keeping Jesus at the forefront of what you do. I mean, there are so many bands that kinda wash over that nowadays. And we just want to let you know that we are so very grateful that Petra has taken a stand for the Lord, both in the past, the present, and the future – and we are praying that there still will be a future.

Well, Sue, thank you; and on behalf of Petra and the ministry and everybody involved with it, we sure appreciate you all; the Petheads that are fanatics that are encouraging to me – every time I start to get down, I just read a couple of emails and go “whoa, cool!” And so, it works together – we pray together, we work together… as long as there are folks out there that believe that Petra can make a difference, you know what? That may be God putting it on their hearts to let us know, and we’re gonna do our best. We’re gonna do our best, and I just want to make it very clear also: just because I’m a Christian doesn’t mean I’m perfect. I blow it every day, but you know what? I’ve got a God who forgives and says “Go on, son; it’s go.” And I think that’s very important to understand I’m not perfect, but I’ll tell ya what: I try very hard to be as Christ-like as possible.

And that does show.


Thank you very much!