It was 1983 and Japan's most influential and widely read rock critic Masa Itoh was looking for something new in the genre he presided over, heavy metal. One day Itoh heard about a rock band called Stryper and flew to L.A. to catch a show. Itoh is a connoisseur of hard rock who has interviewed every major American band in history and, unlike his American counterparts in the music press, was able to look past the yellow and black costumes, the Bible-tossing-into-the-audience and the deeply religious lyrics to see them for what they were: a solid rock band that deserved respect.
Itoh flew back to Japan and announced that he had just found the next big rock band and his legions of fans responded by making Stryper's debut record The Yellow & Black Attack, the #2 rock record in all of Japan.
Because I was living in Japan at the time, my take on Stryper wasn't framed by the condescension and sarcasm that characterized much of the American press they received and continue to receive to this day. Because they were devoutly religious and refused to separate their beliefs from their music, they were relentlessly mocked by a rock press that simply couldn't mentally process the four boys from La Mirada, CA who had begun to remove bricks from the wall that separated rock from religion, which the rock music establishment had so carefully constructed and maintained for thirty plus years.
For those who got Stryper unfiltered, they were just a good, solid rock band, consisting of a talented rock drummer named Robert Sweet, his singer/songwriter brother Michael who wrote catchy melodies and was also a surprisingly strong guitar player, a flashy guitar player named Oz Fox, and a steady bass player named Tim Gaines. That sentiment was also shared by Bill & Wes Hein, brothers who ran Enigma Records, a mainstream rock label that signed the band not because of their religious beliefs but because of the music.
By the early '90's Stryper had faded from the scene, and in the ensuing decade and a half they all went their separate ways -- Michael releasing some forgettable (If you're down hearted/Need your motor started, Jesus is the fuel) and unforgettable (Red rants and raves, it comes in waves once calmed by you, And black always asks me, "Ain't it great to be alone") music, and Robert, Tim and Oz playing in various bands before they finally realized they needed to set aside their differences and get back together.
Today, Michael Sweet divides his time between singing for the '70's rock band Boston and Stryper, and Stryper is back and recently made a strong debut on Billboard's Hard Rock chart at #11 with the new album Murder By Pride. The record is a strong one, and one song, Four Leaf Clover in particular reminds us of what made this band special way back when.
Two decades later, many of the secular-fundamentalist rock critics who detested the band's mere existence are looking for work and Stryper is back on the job, hitting the road in support of a surprisingly strong record.
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