Since 1972, Petra has been regarded as one of the leading pioneers of Christian rock music. They’re regarded as one of the most popular Christian rock bands in the world. Although the group officially disbanded in 2006, there have been reunion shows and a few album releases.
In Greek, “Petra” means rock. Among followers of the Holy Bible, they recognize Petra as the city that was carved into sandstone cliffs. Its location is approximately fifty miles south of the Dead Sea. Once upon a time, it was a thriving city until a series of biblical events turned it into a deserted community. The story about that is covered in Jeremiah 49:18.
In the Beginning
When Bob Hartman and John DeGroff met the first time, the two briefly formed the group, Dove before disbanding to attend Bible School in Fort Wayne, Indiana. While there, they met Bill Glover and Greg Hough. It was these four men who founded the band we know today as Petra.
When Petra first came together as a Christian rock group in 1972, the music style was similar to the guitar-favoring eclectic material that was dominant at the time. In the beginning, they first played in Midwest venues in their quest to spread the gospel through music.
The Jesus Movement
The late 1960s and the early 1970s was an era that mixed evangelism with rock music as a method to reach out to an audience in the form of what was called Jesus Music. As a counterculture known as the Jesus Movement, musicians like Petra encountered opposition from members of the Christian community who felt God’s Word and rock music had nothing in common with each other.
For Petra, this unique style of theirs won over the attention of Myrrh Records. In 1974, the label released Petra’s debut album and the group was recognized as one of the most radical groups in the music industry at the time.
It was also at this time Hartman and Hough shared lead vocalist duties. Petra, as an album, introduced a series of singles that put Petra on the map as the first contemporary Christian blues recording artist to have a song put on vinyl. This was accomplished with “Backslidin’ Blues.”
As a group, Petra stood out as a rare Christian rock band. This was only part of the appeal as the talent roster was able to establish they could reach the audience just as efficiently as groups like the Allman Brothers.
This was a formula that worked in Petra’s favor going into 1977 when the group recorded and released Come and Join Us. It was an album purposely put together to reach an audience that was not self-proclaiming Christians. This was an evangelistic approach that would serve as the boldest statement any Christian-based recording artist would ever produce at the time.
Going Through Changes
Before Come and Join Us was recorded and released, Petra underwent some key lineup changes. This included guest vocalist Greg X. Volz as Hartman felt his own vocal style wasn’t a good fit for the rock and roll genre, even if it was Christian based.
For Petra, recording the album was met with a series of disagreements. This included Myrrh’s refusal to name the album God Gave Rock and Roll to You, which was suggested by Hartman. They opted for Come and Join Us instead, despite the fact that “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” was the standout single that sparked both the Christian community and the music industry at what felt like unprecedented levels at the time.
Even though Come and Join Us proved to be a commercial failure after it was released in 1977, this still served as a pivotal moment that would shape Petra’s career as a world-class musical act. With Hough venturing off to form his own band, as well as DeGough doing the same, it was Hartman and newly recruited Rob Frazier on Petra’s roster. Together, the two worked on the band’s third studio album even though there wasn’t a record deal in place yet. In the process, Hartman approached Volz for help. Volz agreed to serve as Petra’s drummer and vocalist. He accepted this offer instead of joining REO Speedwagon as their lead singer.
As a trio, it didn’t take long for Petra to win over another newly formed recording label, Star Song Records. 1979’s Washes Whiter Than was an album loaded with ballads and easy-listening rock that served as a stark contrast from the edgier material that was previously released. These songs of encouragement were designed to win over young Christians with a friendlier tone instead of in-your-face evangelism.
After “Why Should the Father Bother?” was released as a single, it was the first time Petra tasted success on the radio. Furthermore, the band was finally recognized for its world-class talent. Up to this point, they were merely regarded as radicals in the world of Christiandom.
Unfortunately, Washes Whiter Than still fell short as a commercial success story due to distribution issues. By the time there were enough copies available to be sold to the public, the interest in the album’s recording had waned. So, the big breakthrough that could have been was still slightly out of reach.
After Washes Whiter Than failed to deliver and Petra’s future met with uncertainties, Frazier left to pursue other interests. This left Hartman and Volz to debate if Petra should continue as a band or not.
Then along came Mark Kelly, the former lead vocalist from One Accord. He, along with John Slick, met Hartman while they were at the same bible study. The trio had a jamming session together that prompted Hartman to recruit them to once again build Petra’s roster to four. Oddly enough, neither Kelly nor Slock so much picked up an instrument or sang while with the band. But, they were still the two most important factors that would turn Petra’s fortunes around.
Going into the fourth album, Star Song Records brought in a producer that could do for Petra what needed to be done. This is where Jonathan David Brown came in as he was already experienced as a Jesus Music album producer. In addition to him, Petra hired Mark Hollingsworth to become the band’s manager and promoter.
These men, along with drummer Keith Edwards, recorded and released Never Say Die in 1981. As it turned out, this was the big breakthrough Petra needed. “The Coloring Song” shot to the top of three Christian-based radio charts and has since become a southern gospel favorite. This, along with “For Annie” and “Chameleon” became crowd favorites. Also, the controversial “Killing My Old Man” became a fan favorite among the contemporary Christian community. This was the song that the previous label, Myrrh Records, refused to include in the album, Come and Join Us.
The performance level and popularity of Petra allowed them to tour as an opening act for Servant. This was an experience that helped the group polish their live performances as a band. As a result, Never Say Die became a commercial hit that would forever change the course of Petra’s musical career.
As a band, Petra’s music style began much like The Eagles and Lynyrd Skynyrd. However, in order to continue their appeal to a young audience, that style was adapted according to audience preferences throughout the 1980s. These changes continued even into the 1990s as alternative rock began to take over the music scene.
Petra’s formula for success worked as the group’s popularity saw one sold-out concert performance after another after the success of Never Say Die. On the Christian radio charts, they maintained their dominance as an elite musical act.
Despite the changes in music style throughout the years, the central core of what made Petra who it was as a band remained the same. Not once did they steer to the left or right as they adapted their musical style in order to best suit the times. This is what made the group so popular on a worldwide level and why they’re still regarded as one of the most popular Christian-based rock bands in history. In some cases, they’re even more popular than the mainstreamers.
Petra adapted as a means to remain relevant to a young and impressionable audience. This included gearing up in themed costumes as a means to promote the musical material they were producing. This began with Never Say Die, which then transferred to More Power To Ya in 1982.
As successful as Petra became, the group still found itself at odds with members of the Christian community who questioned their unusual method of spreading God’s Word. This became especially obvious after the release of “Judas’ Kiss.” It became one of the focal points of the backmasking controversy that plagued contemporary Christian music.
After the incredible success of More Power To Ya came 1983’s Not of This World. It shared the exact same rock and roll edge that refused to hold back Petra’s brand of spreading God’s Word as unapologetic Christians.
What made Petra a standout favorite was the fact they had no interest to be in competition with fellow Christian bands. For Petra, why compete for the attention of an audience that’s already following the Lord? Instead, competing against bands like Journey and Styx that have reached a mainstream audience that hadn’t turned to Jesus Christ yet was the primary focus here.
When Beat the System was released in 1985, Petra realized the height of its success as a band. As a Christian rock group, no other musical act could measure up to what Petra had achieved so far. However, the group did experience additional lineup changes. With Slick out to pursue other interests, Petra brought in talent that shifted its musical direction to favor keyboards and synthesizers.
Beat the System was a very different recording than the previous three albums but it was an experiment that worked in Petra’s favor. This synth-heavy collection of rock music became the biggest commercial seller Petra had so far as a studio recording. After this came Captured in Time and Space, which was released in 1986. This served as Volz’s final album as a member of Petra before he decided to move on.
Due to artistic differences that were taking their toll, Greg Volz parted company with Bob Hartman and the rest of the current Petra lineup. It was also at this time the group met with financial issues that perhaps suggested Petra’s days as a musical act were numbered.
Before deciding to give up, Hartman turned to John Schlitt. The former vocalist from Head East turned to Christianity and left rock music entirely before Hartman convinced him to use Christian rock as an opportunity to spread God’s Word.
Joining Schlitt were Dino and John Elefante, two brothers who also became Petra’s new producers. The Elefante brothers first earned their claim to fame as songwriters for Kansas as well as Barren Cross. Already familiar with Christian rock music, these brothers played a key role in Petra adapting to yet another new musical sound that would catapult the band’s success level even higher. When Back to the Street was released in 1986, this became Petra’s this album in a row to earn Grammy Award nominations.
As a rock group, Petra was beginning to steer back to a musical formula that focused more on guitar. Also, after years of being shunned by the Gospel Music Association, Petra earned three Dove Award nominations. This was significant as it seemed some of the reluctant members of the Christian community finally realized Petra’s brand of music wasn’t so evil after all.
When This Means War! was published in 1987, it was Petra’s musical statement against the spiritual warfare people undergo in a world that continues to deceive the masses. The material not only took a stab against the devil but against evangelists that made accusations about the Christian rock group that was based purely on personal opinion. Even after what’s already fourteen years in the music industry as recording artists, some of the leading members of the Christian community continued to criticize the band.
What This Means War! triggered were Prayer Warrior groups that were formed by Petra. This continued going into Petra’s next album, On Fire!, which was the band’s heaviest rock-oriented recording yet. With Petra’s influence at its highest, they began to sponsor children through Compassion International. They also advocated an amendment in the Constitution to allow prayer in public schools.
In 1990, Petra won Long Form Music Video of the Year from the Dove Awards. The footage featured a series of music videos that featured ministry segments. The album, On Fire! also became the fifth recording from Petra to earn a Grammy Award nomination. The popularity of the band was increasing at this time. Touring with them was Josh McDowell, an evangelist who shared the view that Christian rock music wasn’t nearly as demonic as some of the religious leaders made it out to be.
When Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out was released as an album in 1989, it won over youth leaders and church ministers who were impressed with McDowell’s defense of Christian rock music. Petra’s latest recording focused on worship songs. This was an experimental music formula that became the first contemporary Christian album of its kind. Between “King of Kings,” “The Battle Belongs to the Lord,” and “Take Me In,” Petra’s hard rock approach to singing praise to God was a formula that paid off. Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out became one of the best-selling albums that also happened to become certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.
Petra’s twelfth studio album blasted open the door for aspiring recording artists who were also devout followers of Jesus Christ. It also put the critics who were so harsh against Petra and the Christian rock scene to shame as most of their voices were finally silenced.
The Power of Belief
Beyond Belief was Petra’s thirteenth studio album, which was released in 1990. Along with the title track, it released “Creed,” “I Am on the Rock,” “Love,” and “Prayer.” The hard rock edge that was a Petra trademark became more obvious in this recording as they continued to shift in the direction of producing a big arena rock sound. This recording became Petra’s second certified gold seller by the RIAA. It was also responsible for its first Grammy Award win in the newly created category, Best Rock/Contemporary Gospel Album. It also won a Dove Award for Rock Album of the Year, Rock Recorded Song of the Year for its title track, and Recorded Music Packaging of the Year. This also marked the first time the Gospel Music Association honored Petra with Group of the Year.
In 1991, Petra wanted to shift away from the arena rock style that had become their signature sound since the mid-1980s. This was a risky move as they were at the pinnacle of their career. Hartman’s songwriting style also began to change as the material became more personal in nature. The result of these changes brought forth the 1991 recording of Unseen Power. This became the first album in Petra’s career that would be released by a secular label, Epic Records. Even though Unseen Power failed to make an impression on the secular music market, it did become the most successful album Petra released to date. It was also the most successful album released by any Christian artist at the time as it sold six million records.
This led to the newly developed Hard Rock Cafe approaching Petra for memorabilia to display in its chain of restaurants. This was the first time a Christian band was approached to do such a thing, to which they agreed. They were also the first Christian band to perform at 1992’s Farm Aid. In 1992, Petra earned its second Grammy Award for Best Rock/Contemporary Gospel Album for Unseen Power. The group also won a Dove Award for Rock Recorded Song of the Year for “Hand on My Heart.”
Now as a band with twenty years of experience under its belt, Petra’s 1993 release of Wake Up Call witnessed yet another change in direction for the group. Part of the reasoning behind the change was an aging collection of musical artists that showed signs they were growing out of the edgier style of music that made them so popular at a worldwide level. Instead of hard rock tunes, Bob Hartman and the Elefante brothers produced a series of ballads and easy-listening tracks.
This new calling as recording artists paid off yet again for Petra as Wake Up Call earned the group’s third consecutive Grammy Award. This time it was for Best Rock Gospel Album. It also won Rock Album of the Year. The standout favorite single released from it was “Just Reach Out.”
After Petra finished touring for Wake Up Call in 1994, Bob Hartman chose to retire from spending so much time on the road. As the only founding member left of Petra, this marked the end of an era. From 1995 until 2002, Petra carried on without him, despite rumors that the band was destined to break up.
1995’s No Doubt was a recording that featured a new lineup. The focus to reach a younger audience that lost interest in hard rock was a decision that showed promise at the start but didn’t do quite as well commercially as hoped. It did, however, earn a Dove Award for Rock Album of the Year. 1997’s Petra Praise 2: We Need Jesus also met with a similar fate. Commercially, it didn’t do so well but did win a Dove Award, this time as its best Praise and Worship Album.
The downward spiral of a post-Hartman Petra continued. Along the way, additional lineup changes were made with the hope that Petra would be able to rise up again as a world-class Christian rock group that still had strong fan appeal. It wouldn’t be until Bob Hartman returned in 2003 that Petra would see a revival with its twentieth studio album, Jekyll and Hyde.
Farewells and Reunions
Jekyll and Hyde was a recording that had Petra return to the heavier guitar riffs that served as the band’s trademark sound. It was the most aggressive recording Petra had ever done as a band that had both the critics and fans regard the music with heavy metal influence. The recording earned Petra its thirteenth Grammy Award nomination, and it also put Petra back on the map, hinting perhaps the group wasn’t quite ready yet to call it quits for good.
However, despite rumors of Petra recording another studio album, John Schlitt made the announcement in May 2005 that he and Bill Hartman decided Petra was due for retirement. During Petra’s farewell tour, it recorded the live album, Farewell. The album was recorded on October 4, 2005, in Franklin, Tennessee. There were special appearances made by Greg Volz and John Lawry that had these men perform a handful of songs as previous members of the band.
In 2007, John Schlitt and Bob Hartman reunited to independently release a praise and worship album, Vertical Expressions, as Guys from Petra. This prompted reunion shows, as well as additional recordings, that also included a fortieth-anniversary tour in July 2013.
In 2014, Petra was rewarded with SESAC’s Legacy Award. As a group, it forever changed how Christianity was viewed worldwide. This didn’t just apply to the band’s music style but also how to better understand God’s Word as it was written as gospel in the Holy Bible. Petra took the Great Commission, as charged by Jesus Christ, very seriously and applied this to the musical material that was produced. Even though it sparked controversies, the message was driven home among open-minded believers, as well as even some non-believers.
In 2000, Petra became the first Christian rock band to be inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Considering this group wasn’t well-received at first by the Christian music genre, this was quite an accomplishment. Petra established itself as more than some musical act that knew how to win over an audience. It also served as a ministry that changed the lives of those who really did have the ears willing to hear for the better.
Top 10 Petra Songs
#10 – Thankful Heart
The importance behind “Thankful Heart” was Petra’s message to remind people that God didn’t give mankind a spirit that’s always complaining. This was a 1986 release from the album, Back to the Street. It was among the tracks that saw a softer side to Bob Hartman as he, along with Petra’s roster at the time, expressed. There was so much praise given to Jesus about feeling blessed with a “Thankful Heart” that it deservedly earned its place as a Christian rock fan favorite.
#9 – Don’t Let Your Hearts Be Hardened
From the album, This Means War!, “Don’t Let Your Hearts Be Hardened” became one of Petra’s greatest hits after it was released as a single. The song’s message was simple enough. Among the fan base that follows Jesus Christ, this Scripture-loaded tune continues to serve as a reminder of how believers should live their lives. We’re all stuck in a world that seems too cold and too hard for its own good and that seems bent to turn human beings to become the same way. This was something Petra recognized as Christians who knew how important it was to avoid the lukewarm trap that still has so many people trapped.
#8 – This Means War!
In 1986, “This Means War!” was the title track from an album that put the enemy on notice that he’s destined to lose a war he had no chance of winning in the first place Petra made it clear they were a Christian rock band, even if some members of the church community believed otherwise. Not only was “This Means War!” a direct strike against Satan, but it also served as a message against televangelists like Jimmy Swaggart.
Discerning Christians who understand God’s Word didn’t see Petra as some group performing the devil’s music. What they saw were dedicated followers of Jesus Christ who used their gift of musical talent as a tool to preach the full truth associated with the gospel.
#7 – Judas’ Kiss
The intensely controversial “Judas’ Kiss” featured some lyrics that blatantly inserted a backmasking message that sent some members of the Christian community into an outrage. When a part of the song is played in reverse, it stated “What are you looking for the devil for when you oughta be looking for the Lord?”
For Petra, this wasn’t the first time they purposely inserted a “secret” message inside a song as a means to spark a person’s spirit to wake up and pay attention. It wasn’t the last time, either. For Petra, it wasn’t always about some hit song that became a favorite for its entertainment value. It was about sending a message and doing exactly what Jesus Christ admitted he was sent to do by God.
What was the message? The message was to jolt the lukewarm Christian out of a state of slumber and be lit up as if their own souls were set on fire. Jesus Christ himself stated in the Holy Bible that he came to ignite the spirit. He even admitted he wished it was already lit as he knew the attention span of the population had reached an all-time low.
Two thousand years later, Petra strove to achieve the same spark among an audience the band recognized needed a good wake-up call. As to be expected, the song erupted like a volcano that pitted two contrasting opinions against each other. Petra’s goal to achieve this effect worked.
#6 – Killing My Old Man
When “Killing My Old Man” was first recorded, it was supposed to be included on Petra’s second studio album, Come and Join Us. However, Myrrh Records felt it was too inappropriate so they left it out. Then, come 1981 it was released as a single from Petra’s fourth studio album, Never Say Die. The song was about shedding the old self in favor of embracing the new. If there was ever a song that was best associated with killing the flesh so that the spirit within can thrive, “Killing My Old Man” is it.
#5 – The Coloring Song
In 1981, “The Coloring Song” became one of Petra’s all-time classic hits that remained a fan favorite. Coming from the album, Never Say Die, it was a song that gave listeners a soothing approach to the brilliant colors that shine from a Christian. “The Coloring Song” became Petra’s signature tune as it was among the most requested songs made by the fans throughout the stretch of the band’s career. This was one of the few songs that the majority of the Christian community agreed was contemporary gospel music at its finest.
#4 – God Gave Rock and Roll to You
In 1977, “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” was a single from Petra’s second album, Come and Join Us. What makes this song stand out had more going for it than the controversial and revolutionary sparks it created. When it was first released, it served as the boldest statement anyone in Christian music ever made at that time
The appeal behind “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” wasn’t about the song itself for its entertainment value. It was about the overall message. When Jesus Christ walked among man, he was the most controversial figure that ever rocked the Roman Empire. To this day, the Lord still remains the most controversial subject, despite the fact that mainstream media refuses to talk about him or even mention his name.
“God Gave Rock and Roll to You” was a song about the reality that everything mankind has been exposed to wouldn’t have been made possible without God. According to Christians who pay attention, there’s no such thing as the impossible when it comes to what he can do. This includes the possibility that rock music was used as a communication method by God to reach an audience that otherwise never would have learned about him.
#3 – First Love
“First Love” was a ballad that came from the album, On Fire!, which was released in 1988. By the end of the year, it was the tenth most played single on the radio. This endearing favorite acknowledged God will always be the first true love of a Christian’s heart. However, in order to love God, one needs to learn to understand and love Jesus Christ first. While many religious denominations insist otherwise, history continues to prove them wrong, even when their followers still can’t see it.
The beauty of “First Love” was the declaration to make a commitment to stick with Jesus no matter what the world had to say about it. This is still an issue that plagues mankind today. It will continue to do so for as long as it remains deceived.
“First Love” was a song about encouragement, which among the Christian community is a vital source to draw positives from. The world itself is drowning in negative energy, which is why it will forever remain doomed. However, God’s promise, via Jesus Christ, pointed out there is another world, along with another heaven, on the way.
#2 – Mine Field
“Mine Field” was a song Petra recorded and released in 1988 from the album, On Fire! This impressionable Christian rock number pointed out the obvious the world feels like a war zone. What made this song a major fan favorite among discerning Christians who understood was the reality that the Holy Bible wasn’t meant to be preached as a collection of stories told as if they were fairytales.
Ever since man handed control of the world to Satan, it has literally become a “Mine Field.” It isn’t a war that’s simply physical as we see the destructive pattern mankind has been on all this time. It’s also a spiritual war that has Satan’s goats stubbornly running to the left while Jesus Christ’s sheep faithfully follow him on the right.
“Mine Field” also served as a reminder that sometimes that greener grass on the other side isn’t always as it seems. Remember, the Holy Bible pointed out the entire world has been deceived. Only genuine believers who follow Christ, along with God’s Word, have managed to see through those veils of deceit. Again, the bible states those who learn the truth will be set free. However, along with that freedom comes the realization of how delicate the world really is and why it’s destined to perish.
#1 – Love
In 1991, “Love” became a number one hit on the US Billboard Hot Christian Songs chart after it was released as a single from Petra’s certified gold album, Beyond Belief. Not only was this one of the group’s biggest hits but it was 1991’s most popular Christian rock song as it dominated the music charts more so than any other tune that was played on the radio stations that year.
The beauty behind “Love” was the recital of scripture about what love is really about. Love is patient and love is kind. Real love doesn’t have the time or interest to deal with the world’s troubles as the world itself is too prideful for its own good to understand it. As much as worldly people claim what they do is for the love of humanity this isn’t true. It never was. What fuels them to do what they do is vanity.
Discerning Christians who favor Jesus Christ over the world already know this. Petra’s “Love” was a song that perfectly laid out how God’s love for mankind was expressed through Jesus Christ. “Love” remains as a song that holds fast as a fan favorite among a community of believers who won’t sway simply because the world wants to tell them otherwise.
Top 10 Petra Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
Classicrockhistory.com claims ownership of all its original content and Intellectual property under United States Copyright laws and those of all other foreign countries. No one person, business, or organization is allowed to re-publish any of our original content anywhere on the web or in print without our permission. All photos used are either public domain creative commons photos or licensed officially from Shutterstock under license with ClassicRockHistory.com. All photo credits have been placed at the end of the article. Any theft of our content will be met with swift legal action against the infringing websites.