Girder Music has recently remastered and re-released classic Christian rockers DeGarmo & Key’s first three studio albums: 1978’s This Time Thru, 1979’s Straight On, and 1980’s This Ain’t Hollywood. Yes, folks, there really was a time when music artists released a new album every year. But I digress. Each of the three discs is a noticeable improvement sound quality-wise, with far more depth and crispness than the original releases. Their emergence provides a welcome opportunity to detail DeGarmo & Key’s history and state why they still matter today, some 27 years after their last album came out.
Eddie DeGarmo and Dana Key were childhood friends who first discovered rock’n’roll, DeGarmo playing keyboards and Key playing guitar, and then found Jesus. Devoting themselves to the then-scant world of Christian rock, their debut album This Time Thru was music manna for starving young Christians seemingly condemned to spend forty years wandering through the soft pop and syrupy slush that was 99.44% of Christian music at the time. Leaning toward the progressive side of arena rock, DeGarmo & Key were Styx without the silliness. Key’s soulful vocals, intertwined with his powerhouse guitar and DeGarmo’s deft keyboard work, was something to behold, immediately winning the band a small but devoted following.
The band’s sophomore album Straight On was a delight. The sound was more spacious than on This Time Thru, and the songwriting was growing more direct and confident. This was an album Christian rock fans could play for their unsaved friend without fear of immediate nose-wrinkling. Naturally, the Christian music industry ignored it.
1980’s This Ain’t Hollywood was a departure from the first two records. The songs become more compact, the arrangements more straightforward mainstream rock/pop. The lyrics became more compact and focused as well. This Ain’t Hollywood was sufficiently safe to make it the first-ever Christian rock record nominated for a Grammy. It lost to The Imperials.
After an excellent live album released in 1982, DeGarmo & Key returned the following year with Mission of Mercy. It took the more mainstream inclinations of This Ain’t Hollywood to the extreme, trading in prog and mainstream rock for shiny pop/rock. Although the band’s original fan base was dismayed, the new direction, which was necessary to continue making music while providing such luxuries as food and shelter, worked. Christian radio eagerly latched onto anthems such as “All The Losers Win” and “Let The Whole World Sing.” 1984 saw Communication continue in the same vein. Oddly enough, one of the album’s few rock tracks, “Six, Six, Six,” was the major hit and even briefly received airtime on MTV before it pulled the plug, claiming the video was too violent. Yes, really.
DeGarmo & Key next went for a somewhat new wave-ish sound on their next album, Commander Sozo and The Charge of the Light Brigade, then to the delight of original fans, went into muscular arena rock mode on the following year’s Street Light. This time, the video from the album didn’t get banned by MTV.
The band continued in this path for five more studio albums and one live release before calling it a day in the mid-1990s. DeGarmo went on to work in the music industry while Key became a pastor. Sadly, Key died in 2010 from a ruptured blood clot. He was 56.
What made DeGarmo & Key work, regardless of which phase they were in musically, was both overriding skill and, especially in the pop and arena rock phases, a fierce commitment to ministry. The band put their money where their mouth was; for example, the first run of 1987’s D&K on cassette featured special packaging containing an additional cassette of the album to be given away as an evangelical tool. DeGarmo & Key hewed close to the fundamentals lyrically, constantly reinforcing faith’s foundational truths along with providing ample rallying cry material for young believers to use while contending earnestly for the faith. They had the chops to go toe to toe with the world, but DeGarmo & Key chose instead to follow in the steps of nail-pierced feet.