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The Musician Is a Master
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Release Date
June 1, 1978
Myrrh Records

One evening in 2008, I joined a few hundred people at Judson University's chapel to watch—and hear—a bit of history. Phil Keaggy, backed by a full band, was playing every note of his magnum opus, 1978's all-instrumental album The Master & the Musician. The maestro guitarist and his bandmates played the entire record in sequence, and received a rousing ovation afterward.

It was the 30th anniversary of that record's release, so Keaggy celebrated with a handful of such concerts. (Here's one of the songs from that tour). Many who attended were, like me, 50-somethings who had bought the album when it first came out. We were still young in our faith and excited about the new Jesus Music, which had not yet evolved into the mega-marketed, multi-million-dollar empire that we now know as Contemporary Christian Music (CCM).

The Master & the Musician went on to become his best-selling record, and Keaggy went on to grow with the industry—sometimes comfortably in the middle of it, sometimes on its edges, sometimes eschewing it altogether with indie releases that included little, if any, overtly Christian content.

Keaggy didn't write for record companies. He didn't write for radio. He didn't write for the church. His songs weren't crafted to fit any sort of formula.

Thank God.

Keaggy just wrote the music he wanted to write, and released it to the world—Christian market, secular, crossover, it didn't matter—and let the listeners, and the critics, decide for themselves. Sometimes it was astonishingly good, sometimes not so good, and sometimes almost forgettable. But over the course of 50-plus solo albums, his music has always been imaginative, daring, pushing beyond boundaries, both real and perceived, of what "religious" music should sound like.

Those are just a few reasons Keaggy will receive the prestigious Golden Note Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) at its Christian Music Awards ceremony today in Franklin, Tennessee. The Golden Note, reserved for those who have achieved "extraordinary career milestones," has previously been won by Michael W. Smith, Lindsey Buckingham, Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Reba McEntire, and others.

An ASCAP spokesman said that Keaggy's "influence on both the contemporary Christian and mainstream music markets is immeasurable."

The Master & the Musician certainly illustrates this, as Keaggy deftly straddles the fence—or is he bridging the gap?—between the secular and sacred. By 1978 he had already released three acclaimed faith-based records—What a Day, Love Broke Thru, and Emerging—and was one of the most respected artists in the business.

But when Master came out on NewSong Records, a Christian label, people didn't know what to do with it. It was all-instrumental . . . nary a Jesus lyric to be found. How could it possibly be called "Christian"? Faith-based radio programmers and religious bookstore owners were left scratching their heads.

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The Musician Is a Master