Nov 3, 2015

GLENN SCHWARTZ: THE FALL AND SALVATION OF THE WHITE HENDRIX

Jeff Stevenson 
TeamRock

With James Gang and Pacific Gas & Electric, Glenn Schwartz was set to be one of the great guitar heroes of the 70s – but then he was lost to a horrific religious cult. This is his story

Glenn Schwartz stands before 80,000 people and he knows what’s coming next. It’s Saturday December 28, 1968, and the first day of the Miami Pop Festival is in full swing. The ads promise three days of “Beautiful Music”, and for the next 72 hours the Gulfstream Park Racetrack in Hallandale, Florida will host the likes of Iron Butterfly, Steppenwolf, Canned Heat and Fleetwood Mac, as well as Glenn’s own band, Pacific Gas & Electric.

The glorious weather makes for the perfect environment for this music, and PG&E’s blistering blues rock chimes with the mood of the festival, Schwartz’s Riviera semi-hollow guitar reflects the sun and flashes like a bolt of lightning, and as he finishes his final solo, the crowd roar their adoration. It happens wherever and whenever they play. The place always goes crazy, screaming and cheering.

Glenn eyes the crowd. It’s as if the whole world, a true sea of humanity, is before him. From his vantage point, he sees what many of them are doing, can smell what many of them are smoking, and knows what he and his fellow bandmates and the other artists at the festival have available to them. The world and all of its pleasures have truly been laid at his feet.

But something is troubling him. It’s been troubling him for a while. Now that he’s in a successful, in-demand band, he’s seen up-close the perils of everything this lifestyle has to offer. He’s friendly with Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, and he knows the vices they struggle with. He grasps the microphone, and 80,000 people quieten down to hear what their new blues-rock messiah has to say.

“You know, my life seemed all right to me for a while, until I was no longer in control,” he says. “Then I was afraid. There was a revolution… and it took place inside me.”

He looks intently at the mob before him. Someone whistles. His bandmates nervously glance at one another. Glenn has done this before, grabbed the microphone and taken the performance off script, off the deep end, off the cliff. They’re in freefall now, and have no idea what he’ll do or say next.

With his guitar strapped in front of him, Glenn Schwartz points one hand to the sky and the other at the mass of people before him.

“The revolution that took place in me, it happened when I was saved through Jesus Christ,” he shouts into the microphone. “I accepted Jesus through a real need. I want you to know I’ve kicked drugs! No more drugs, man! And I’ll tell you something else. Christ is my saviour now. Yeah, Jesus has saved me. He can save you, too! Turn to Jesus, man – He’s the only way to heaven. Ask Him into your heart!”

Within two years, Glenn Schwartz had vanished from the spotlight, his head scrambled by fame, drugs or perhaps something deeper-rooted, to a religious commune in rural Ohio. He would spend the next decade there as a member of a Christian cult, the Church Of The Risen Christ, spreading the gospel of its leader, the Reverend Larry Hill, as part of the All Saved Freak Band.

I first came across the All Saved Freak Band in 1976, when I saw an advertisement for their first album, My Poor Generation. The album had been released three years earlier, and it was billed to Glenn Schwartz And The All Saved Freak Band. I wondered how Schwartz – a guitar god-in-waiting who had been dubbed “the White Hendrix” – had ended up in this group whose album cover featured a bearded preacher wearing an Amish hat and pointing menacingly into the distance.

I ordered the LP, and it was pretty good. There was some intense blues rock on two songs Glenn wrote, Daughter Of Zion and Great Victory, but the rest of the music and lyrics were so unconventional that I wanted to hear the two other albums mentioned in the enclosed note – Brainwashedand the oddly titled For Christians, Elves And Lovers.

Over subsequent years, I began to hear and read rumours of the dark history of the All Saved Freak Band, the Church Of The Risen Christ, and especially Larry Hill. There were horrific allegations about what went on at their base, a farm on Fortney Road in Windsor, Ohio. They may have preached peace, love and rock’n’roll for Jesus, but for Glenn Schwartz, the All Saved Freak Band turned into a form of hell on earth.

“On the day you hear Reverend Larry Hill has died, remember to wear thick-soled shoes because hell will be stoked up extra hot,” one reporter told me. “He’s a psychopath. Larry Hill is the Devil incarnate.”

PACIFIC GAS & ELECTRIC, WITH GLENN SCHWARTZ (REAR LEFT)

Glenn Schwartz was born on March 20, 1940 and raised in Euclid, Ohio. A musical prodigy, he started taking guitar lessons at the age of 11. By 14, he had won an international guitar-playing prize. He married young, at 21, to a woman named Marlene. They had two sons: the first, also called Glenn, was born in 1961; the second, Bob, followed two years later.

“Growing up, he was a great dad,” says Bob Schwartz today. “He was real friendly and kind of goofy. He’d do pratfalls to make everyone laugh. He acted like a big kid himself.”

Glenn spent most of his time picking up gigs with local bands, and he toured to earn money to send home to his wife and sons. But he wasn’t a domestic type, and he and Marlene would eventually divorce, remarry and divorce again (the second, and final split, came in 1972).

Schwartz passed through several local groups, including Frank Samson And The Wailers, The Pilgrims and Mr Stress Blues Band. But his break came in 1966, when Cleveland drummer Jim Fox was searching for a guitarist for his new band, The James Gang.

“Glenn came to listen to us play,” recalls Fox. “At one point, he came up on stage and started playing Jeff’s Boogie with us. He was phenomenal.”

The James Gang quickly became the city’s most promising band. Glenn played a natural-finish Epiphone Riviera hollow-body guitar that he had decorated himself. Among other things, it had a painted-on peace sign and flowers, together with the words “Help Me”.

Butch Armstrong was a 13-year-old budding guitarist when he first saw Glenn play with The James Gang in Cleveland. “The first time me and my friends saw Glenn, we all thought he looked like Jesus,” says Armstrong. “We didn’t know his name, so we just called him Jesus. He had hair down to his shoulders and wore sandals. There was a sound going around back then, something Clapton and the Stones were introducing to music, and we just couldn’t figure out how they did it. We could not get the licks right. Then we saw Glenn Schwartz and he knew how to do it, and he created that sound right in front of us! He used his fingers with the whammy bar and that was it. He became God to us in that moment. Everywhere he played, we’d go. Wherever Jesus went, we followed.”

Ramona Shay was a friend of Glenn’s. She recalls him enjoying the camaraderie of life in a band, and his enthusiasm for music. “On stage, Glenn would step out in front of the band and sometimes even move into the audience and play,” she says. “He played like he had been playing for centuries – never missed a lick, a beat or a note. He was spontaneous, with an honest simplicity and a tender straightforwardness. You looked into his eyes and never doubted that you could trust him with your life, your money or your wife. He was polite and respectful to all people.”

Glenn participated in everything that life in an up-and-coming band had to offer, including the sex and drugs. But like many young people at the time, he also began to explore different spiritual paths – Hare Krishna and Transcendental Meditation. He gave up eating meat for a while, though his spiritual questing never put a stop to the more carnal activities on offer to the band.

To the outside world, Glenn had it all. He was the hotshot guitarist in a band tipped for national success – he’d even been nicknamed “the white Hendrix” in local circles. Yet despite the attention and acclaim, there was a growing emptiness in his life, a nagging spiritual void that he couldn’t fill. It didn’t help that he was on the verge of exhaustion due to the constant touring, gruelling live shows and excessive drug use.

In November 1967, Glenn made the decision to leave The James Gang – and Ohio. He would head to California in the hope that a change of scenery would help him clear his head and calm his spiritually confused heart. The band’s local following was stunned.

“I was a big James Gang fan because of Glenn Schwartz,” says Butch Armstrong. “I was bummed out when he left the group. I didn’t think anyone could take his place.”

A friend drove Glenn out West, dropping him on a corner with just a suitcase and a guitar. At one of his first pick-up gigs in California, Duane Allman saw him and asked him to join the Allman Brothers. Glenn turned him down. Instead, he opted to throw in his lot with Pacific Gas & Electric, an eclectic multi-racial blues/soul/jazz/rock band, after meeting their singer Charlie Allen.

PG&E bassist and co-founder Brent Block recalls the first time he heard Glenn play. “We were all blown away by his talent,” says Block. “I had a very hard time keeping up with him. He was nearly a decade older than the rest of us, and had way more experience than we did. He was also an acrobat of sorts. He thought nothing of jumping off stacks of amplifiers and rolling around on stage. One night at the Cheetah Club, I saw him roll off the stage, fall maybe twenty feet, and he never missed a note.”

https://www.teamrock.com/features/2015-10-30/glenn-schwartz-the-fall-and-salvation-of-the-white-hendrix
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