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Group formed as heavy-metal Christian rock band, 1983; original members include Robert Sweet (born c. 1960), drums; Michael Sweet (born c. 1964; wife's name, Kyle Rae), guitar and vocals; Oz Fox (real name, Richard Martinez; born c. 1962; wife's name, Leslie), guitar; and Timothy Gaines (born c. 1963; wife's name, Valerie), bass. Band members originally performed together in rock band Roxx Regime before forming Stryper, 1983; released first record, 1984; released first album, 1985. Addresses: Record company-- Enigma Records, 1750 East Holly Ave., P.O. Box 2428, El Segundo, CA 90245-1528.
"We're gonna rock!" The cry rises up from a stage surrounded by screaming fans, augmented by the thunder of drums and the wail of heavy-metal guitar riffs. Not uncommon. What is uncommon is that the sentence isn't finished. "We're gonna rock--for the Rock, Jesus Christ." When it comes to Stryper--Michael Sweet, Robert Sweet, Oz Fox (Richard Martinez), and Timothy Gaines--initial impressions of yellow-and-black spandex and long flyaway hair may be deceiving. Nonetheless, the group is based not on deceit but on the Truth they use the vehicle of rock music to spread.
Before rocking for God, the band rocked for fun. The Sweet brothers were part of Roxx Regime, a band into which they first recruited lead guitarist Fox, and later Gaines as bassist. Though they considered themselves a Christian band even then, their lifestyles belied the fact. According to Michael Sweet in a Rolling Stone interview in 1987, "We thought we were [Christians], but then on the weekends we'd get together and be guzzling the beers and doing our own thing. We got caught up in playing just regular music, and you don't think there's any wrong with it. But there really is, you know." To Stryper, the wrongness of playing secular music is that they were ignoring what they felt they should have been playing. Said Robert Sweet in the same interview, "the wrong is if you know the truth and you don't tell people. See, we felt there was a much more deeper meaning to life than just sex and drugs and party, party." The band's commitment to change in 1983 was supported strongly by Michael and Robert's mother, Janice Sweet. "I always thought that the potential was there for somebody to do [Christian rock], and I thought it may as well be these guys."
Stryper, whose name is derived from the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament ("With His stripes we are healed") released their first mini-LP, The Yellow and Black Attack, in 1984. It was followed a year later with the album Soldiers Under Command, which, according to People magazine in April of 1986, sold 275,000 copies. Compared to heavy metal groups like Quiet Riot, the numbers were not significant. But in the world of contemporary Christian music, 275,000 was a respectable number. To Hell With the Devil, released in 1986, made an even bigger impact, moving quickly into the Top Forty and selling nearly half a million copies in a matter of months. In God We Trust, released by Enigma in 1988, was to fare even better.
For all their success, controversy about their sound and their intent have come from every direction. One Los Angeles Times critic seemed to indicate the band's lack of sincerity by pointing out Michael Sweet's claim that an audience could "glorify God" by requesting that MTV air Stryper's video "Calling on You." Disgruntled young evangelists picketed concerts, denouncing the "worship of idols" by Christian fans, while older Christians indicated the inappropriateness of Stryper's clothing and stage performance. Says Robert Sweet, "If you can't draw people's attention, you can't tell them what you're trying to say. God outlines what sin is. It's not clothing or length of hair. Sin is a wrong attitude."
During concerts, the group tosses miniature Bibles into the audience and occasionally employs the help of born-again motorcyclists--Bikers for God--to help with crowd control. Before performances they pray. When fans follow the group to the hotel, they have been known to sit in the lobby and read the Bible with them. Of their unusual combination of message and medium, drummer Robert Sweet commented in People, "I'm tired of people being turned off to God. They think God is boring, that if you get Jesus, you've ruined your good time. But that's not the case." Bassist Tim Gaines adds, "It's good for kids to have something positive to look forward to, rather than a let's-go-kill-ourselves attitude." One way or another, Stryper is delivering a message fans may or may not be picking up anywhere else. Says Janice Sweet of the band's popularity and success, "It's because of the source behind this band and what they stand for. They glorify God, and there's no doubt that God is doing a lot of miracles for this band."
by Meg Mac Donald
- Selective Works
- The Yellow and Black Attack Enigma, 1984.
- Soldiers Under Command Enigma, 1985.
- To Hell With the Devil Enigma, 1986.
- In God We Trust Enigma, 1988.
- People, April 14, 1986.
- Rolling Stone, February 26, 1987.
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