The Mountain Glory Story
Making Music and Friends for Three Decades
A First April
Mountain Glory was born during a time of great social change and spiritual creativity in the United States - the late 1960s and early 1970s.
In April, 1971, a folk trio called "Happy" was performing at a post-student body election party in Young Hall on the campus of Pasadena College. "Happy" was comprised of Greg Morse, lead guitar; Michael Pitts, lead vocals, harmonica and guitar; and Dana Walling, bass.
After their set, one of the victorious candidates that night, David Best, approached the trio who he knew casually. David mentioned how much he enjoyed hearing them play. Soon, they invited David to go get his guitar from his dorm room that was just above the lounge. He quickly retrieved it and returned. They started playing songs they all knew, and then began teaching new ones to each other. No one remembers how long they played that night, but by the time they finished, something new had emerged.
Not long after that first evening of making music, the four college students went to Conrad's coffee shop on the corner of North. Lake Avenue and Walnut Boulevard in Pasadena. Besides enjoying some non-cafeteria food, their main purpose was to come up with a name for the new group. After much discussion and prayer, "Mountain Glory" was chosen. It seemed to portray their home region, the West, and capture the country, folk and rockabilly music flavors they were melding into a new sound. Plus, it spoke of their Christian faith rooted in a mountain called Calvary - the place of their Lord's glory in self-giving love and sacrifice.
But it was also the early 70s so the group's original business card had a slogan line that obscured as much or more than it revealed: "We'll Tell You More When We Get There." Mountain Glory's letterhead was more direct: Western style letters spelled out "Mountain Glory" around a sun-like sphere that appeared to rise over a stylized mountain range. At the bottom of the stationery, on a smaller version of that "mountain" were three crosses.
Their own introduction in the songbook, Mountain Glory Songs put it this way:
"Many times God has used mountains to reveal himself to His children. The Bible tells the drama of places like Mount Sinai, the Mount of Olives, the Mount of Transfiguration. But the greatest of all was a rugged, scarred hill outside the city walls of Jerusalem: Golgotha, the place of the skull. By God's love in Jesus, such a hill as this was transformed to a place of hope, mercy, eternal beauty, and love - Mount Calvary. And so our name . . . MOUNTAIN GLORY; and our desire . . . to be used to share His glory.
We want to share our lives, the life and glory that Jesus through His love has given us, in word and song. Our prayer is that as you sing, play, and listen to these songs, you will be lifted to the "mountain of the Lord" . . . you will experience MOUNTAIN GLORY."
Those early years would include singing at every conceivable event on the campus of Pasadena College and just any about church -- large and small -- that could be reached in a day or two's drive from Los Angeles. And coffee houses, the current craze of the college and young adult world. Little known ones, and occasionally a national landmark folk/comedy venue such as the Ice House in Pasadena or the place on the West Coast for Jesus Music at the time, the Salt Company in Hollywood.
In the spring of 1972, the Reverend R. E. Highley, founder of Highley Music Company in the 1930s who was then known as the "Flying Parson of the Air" offered to record the group.
Highley's one stipulation was that they record "Church in the Wildwood." They agreed, and it was the only song on the album that was not written by one of the group members. And the only one recorded "live to tape," with one guitar and David, Greg, Michael and Dana gathered around one microphone. Highley, David's maternal grandfather, had acquired a tape of the Little Brown Church's tolling bells. The bells would serve as the introduction to the song that had made the "little brown church in the vale" famous. The song was recorded late in the evening, so they opened the studio doors to pick up the sounds of crickets "singing" in the California night.
Highley arranged for the band to record at a small studio located, literally, in orange groves of Ojai, California. The little studio itself was a work in progress. Often, after recording some tracks, the band would have to stop so the engineer could rewire the board to allow the next set of tracks to be taped.
But the primitive technology didn't inhibit the resulting record from clearly reflecting the band members' variety of music influences. Legendary pedal steel guitarist and producer Al Perkins later commented he could hear influences of the Beatles, Byrds, folk and country music in those tracks.
Later that summer, the band premiered their new record, Happy is the Man Who Knows the Lord, at the historic Little Brown Church in the Vale in Nashua, Iowa. The week long series of services was promoted as "Adventures in Song." And for the West coast raised members of Mountain Glory, it was another kind of adventure being in rural Iowa with their guitars, long hair and Edwardian jackets! But they were received warmly by the church members and community.
Soon after that week, Dana entered seminary, Michael and David took positions as youth pastors in local churches and Greg returned full time to college.
While in seminary, Dana got a copy of Mountain Glory's custom album into the hands of the president of a major Christian record label. The music executive liked it, and offered to repackage and distribute album, if the group would return to public performances and touring.
After prayer, and consulting with family and friends, "the Boys" (as the Reverend Highley always called them) regrouped in Pasadena in September, 1973. They added a drummer, Dale Smith, as a regular member of the group.
Income was always a challenge. Each member was working some kind of job, in addition to rehearsing, writing songs and traveling. For Michael, in addition to all this, he was the father of a new baby boy. Eventually, Michael chose to leave Mountain Glory for more stable employment where he could be home to help raise his son and enjoy watching him grow up.
David, Greg, Dale and Dana continued traveling. In April 1974, Mountain Glory embarked on a six week cross country tour. It was the band's first major exposure outside the western United States. They performed to wide acceptance in New York's Central Park, a Lincoln Center plaza and the historic Ruggles Street Baptist Church in Boston.
But as with many bands, the road would exact a toll. In early autumn of that year, Dana had accepted a youth pastorate, and Greg returned to finish his college degree. By late 1974, David was liquidating the band's instruments, sound system and van.
A Mountain Glory Mystery
But amazingly, though by all appearances officially disbanded, the band kept getting together! Now, some might have reasonably asked: Is Mountain Glory just four aging, self-indulgent baby boomers who refuse to give up their rock and roll fantasies? Is it just a nostalgia group paraded out to let people know what the Flower Children/Jesus Movement 1960s and 70s were like? Or could there be something else going on here?
Mountain Glory is four men who lived, worked and played together for nearly 30 years. Men, who, through many different changes in their lives, families and locations, stayed in touch, grew in friendship and ministry far beyond the music-making of the group itself. So, when Mountain Glory gets together to sing, there is great value to each of the members and the music is a structure to bring us back together physically, in one place.
Each derives a real pleasure in music, individually, but when Mountain Glory makes music together there is another dimension. Mountain Glory making music becomes a visible expression of the love, affection, admiration, commitment: the harmonies sung, the arrangements of the music itself, portray the interrelationships of their lives. As the band members often comment when telling people they still get together and sing, "We don't know if anyone else enjoys it [our music], but we sure do have fun!"
But what is undoubtedly food for their souls is not the end. Part of the "Mountain Glory mystery" is the appeal the band still has with people of all ages (You guys are better than ever! or I've listened to my mom and dad's record of you and it's my favorite). Could it be that this very closeness, intimacy, intensity which the members of Mountain Glory share is somehow being communicated to the audience?
Listeners may not know how to define or describe it, or even know its happening, but they sense something different about Mountain Glory. It is not that Mountain Glory's music is the "latest," the "hippest," or "hottest." Maybe it is this "community of enduring friendship". . .
The mutual love and respect,
The unadulterated joy of a being in one another's presence that breaks out in
Unrehearsed laughter or smiles,
Of being still genuinely amazed and respectful of one another's gifts--
Maybe it's all this that people "see" when they hear the harmonies and listen to lyrics and instrumentals of admittedly simple songs.
And maybe this was why the pain was so great when Mountain Glory's bass player was struck with cancer. Dana fought valiantly, but in the end the cancer destroyed his body. But not before the four of them got together on April 23, 2000 -- Resurrection Sunday. David had traveled to San Diego to see Dana on different occasions since the cancer was diagnosed. David had planned to make another trip in mid 2000. Michael called David in April. "I don't think you should wait any longer."
David made travel arrangements immediately. Greg was contacted and agreed to meet at Dana's home the afternoon of Easter. David arrived in time to share Easter dinner with Dana and his family, Michael and Suzanne.
After dinner, Greg arrived and the four went to Dana's living room and did what they'd been doing together for 29 years from that first April in 1971-play and sing together. 29 This April they knew more songs, but had less time.
David, who'd set up a simple micro cassette recorder, wondered if Greg could bring down some of his professional recording equipment to San Diego the next day. Dana, extremely weakened by the cruel cancer, said, "I want to record. Let's go to Greg's house [nearly a two hour drive north of San Diego]." After careful consideration, and hesitation from many, but not Dana, it was agreed. They'd drive to Greg's studio on Monday and put down some tracks!
The next day, Michael, Dana and David met Greg at his studio in Orange County. Greg's son, Evan, engineered the session. When the recording session extended into a few hours, the band expressed concern that going any longer would tax Dana's energy. When asked, "Are you getting tired? Shouldn't we stop now?" Dana replied firmly, "No, I'm fine. Let's keep going. I haven't had this much fun in weeks." And so they did, singing and recording more music.
Mountain Glory's CD, One More Ride represents Dana Walling's last ministry through music that he offered in a recording. In just six weeks after this session, Dana died.
Dana's funeral was a sad, but glorious service remembering a life well lived. Before he died, Dana had requested that David, Greg and Michael sing at his service. He wanted them to sing Michael's song, "At Home in Jesus." Dana even made suggestions about who could play bass for the group that day. The unanimous response of the other members to Dana was kind, but unequivocal: "There'll be no bass player substituting for you that day, Dana." At the funeral, when Mountain Glory sang "At Home in Jesus," there was a microphone exactly in the position where Dana stood every time the band played. On it hung his cowboy hat; behind it, was his silent bass guitar.
A Mountain Glory Ministry
The music of Mountain Glory continues. People continue to rediscover it through the Internet or friends. And others find it for the first time.
The future is in God's hands; Dana would want the band to continue playing. And so a most recent personal appearance was appropriately enough, at the invitation of his daughter, Nicole. She asked that Mountain Glory perform the prelude music for her wedding, just one day before the fifth anniversary of her Dad's death. Inserted among the traditional wedding songs, Mountain Glory performed "Happy Is the Man Who Knows the Lord," and Dana's own "That Jesus Loves Me Stuff."
Mountain Glory's ministry continues through its recorded music. People are inspired and encouraged through the good news of God's love in Mountain Glory's songs. And sales of Mountain Glory CDs benefit the worldwide ministry of Towel & Basin.
In addition, a portion of the proceeds from each sale of "One More Ride" is given to the Dana Walling Endowed Scholarship at Point Loma Nazarene University. This fund helps students participate in LoveWorks and other ministry experiences. In this way, Dana's life and legacy continue to influence students and offer compassion to those suffering around the world.
Four men forged strong friendships over a quarter of a century of making music and keeping gospel fellowship. What a particularly powerful witness to both emerging student leaders and all servants of Jesus around the globe.
To God's glory, may the next decades find Mountain Glory still making music with friends and making friends through music!