IRVING, Tex. — A couple of things really bug Chris Christian, the multi-talented guru of the Christian music business. One is any effort to define music as Christian .
"There's no such thing as Christian music. Music is generic," he said, explaining that there are only Christian lyrics.
The other annoyance is questions about why he changed his name from Lon Christian Smith. "That's a sore spot," he said.
Christian said some people mistakenly believe that he changed his name from Smith with the ulterior motive of tying himself to Christian music.
In fact, he says, he adopted his professional name at the start of a career that began in pop but which today puts him at the forefront of the Christian music scene.
20 Gold, Platinum Discs
At 34, the Abilene native runs one of the largest independent Christian publishing companies, LCS Music Group, and has been responsible for 20 gold and platinum records.
He also is president of Home Sweet Home Productions, his record-producing company based in Dallas with satellite offices in Beverly Hills and Nashville.
He's written songs for Sheena Easton, B.J. Thomas and Olivia Newton-John, with one of his earliest songs recorded by Elvis Presley.
With an easy, relaxed manner that matches most of his music, Christian has been described as a Steve McQueen look-alike, a not quite accurate description. But he has the kind of blond good looks that wear well for performing on stage.
He is known in the recording industry as the discoverer of Amy Grant, the Christian rock sensation renowned as the top-selling gospel artist who helped bring Christian music to a wider audience.
Christian has played no small part himself in broadening the audience with songs he writes and produces, many with lyrics of double meaning that don't always give the song away as religious in nature.
"Safe," recorded by Marilyn McCoo and Steve Archer, which wasn't written by Christian but was produced by Home Sweet Home Productions, is an example:
I'm safe, safe inside your love.
And there ain't nothing I can't face, safe inside your hiding place.
Christian thinks the double-meaning issue in lyrics is as overblown as talk about how Christian music should sound.
"People get caught up on whether Christian music can be rock," he said in an interview at his offices here. "We're just a bunch of normal people that happen to have a message . . . worth hearing.
"We as companies and artists, we want to give as quality a musical package as pop can give. We don't want it to be corny."
With religious roots in the Church of Christ, Christian's musical roots are in pop and the sound pervades his music.
Still, he said, "I think some records are anointed, and some aren't."
Singer Chosen by God
He also believes that Amy Grant was chosen by God. "I really think she was anointed. God just planned her to happen," he said.
Her "happening" can be credited in part to Christian, who in 1976 heard a tape she had cut when she was 16. "She was just a little girl and sounded sweet and wrote real sweet little songs," he said.
In Christian's office in suburban Irving is a sweetly sexy poster of Grant, clad in blue jeans, leaning over and holding a red high-heeled shoe in her hand. It is a harmless image, but one that helps add to the new look and sound that have become Christian music.
Christian's own climb up the music ladder began 15 years ago, when he was a student at Abilene Christian College pursuing a business degree while songwriting and guitar playing. He went to Nashville for the summer with $100 in his pocket and high hopes for his career.
It was there that he met Archie Campbell, one of the stars of television's "Hee-Haw," whose friendship gave him entree to several music industry contacts.
Song Recorded by Presley
He returned for three more summers, performing at Opryland and making friends with members of Presley's backup band, a development that resulted in the recording of Christian's first song by Presley himself--"Love Song of the Year."
"That was one of the first good songs, decent songs, I'd written," Christian said.