The relationship between pioneer Christian rock musicians Larry Norman and Randy Stonehill, sometimes described as the Lennon/McCartney of Christian rock, was a controversial one during its more than forty years from its inception in 1967 until Norman's death in February 2008. For over a decade Randy Stonehill was Norman's protégé, colleague, collaborator, and one of his best friends, but disagreements about finances and relationships resulted in a twenty-year estrangement, and a brief reconciliation.
Larry Norman was first introduced to Randy Stonehill by Norman's sister Nancy in 1967. While Stonehill claims that he and Norman's sister were dating, Norman indicates that his sister didn't like him but invited Stonehill to Los Angeles for the Easter weekend in 1969, where he stayed unexpectedly with Norman in his apartment at 1140 North Gower Street, Hollywood. On Easter Sunday (6 April 1969), Stonehill attended the sunrise church service with Norman.
In April 1969 Norman began sharing his faith with Stonehill, who was then aged 17. While Stonehill refused to become a Christian until after he graduated from high school, Norman and Stonehill corresponded during the next year. After graduation from Leigh High School in 1970, Stonehill hitchhiked to Los Angeles and moved into Norman's home, a "little white cottage in Hollywood". On 12 August 1970 Stonehill was led to Christ by Norman in the kitchen of Norman's home. Stonehill's self-composed song "Norman's Kitchen" released initially in 1971 on Born Twice, Stonehill's debut album, arranged and produced by Norman on his One Way label, describes the circumstances. Born Twice had a live recording of a Stonehill concert at Westmont College in the fall of 1970 (only a few months after his conversion) on one side, and the other side recorded at Sunwest Studios in the middle of the night during 1971, with one song ("Christmas Time") co-written with Norman.
After the decision by Polydor not to release Stonehill's Get Me Out of Hollywood album which was recorded in England in April and May 1973 at George Martin's AIR Studios, and where Norman contributed photography, "faith and feedback", Norman stated that with the creation of the Solid Rock label in 1974 that he would finally be able to release his own and Stonehill's music more easily. Norman subsequently produced and released two Stonehill albums through Solid Rock. The first of these albums was Welcome to Paradise in April 1976, on which Norman sang harmonies, played electric guitar and piano, and took photographs and designed the album; In 1977 Stonehill played the role of a disc jockey on Norman's satirical Streams Of White Light Into Darkened Corners album.
There was a four-year gap between the release of Welcome to Paradise and the second Norman produced Stonehill album, The Sky is Falling in May 1980. Norman is credited as providing "background harmonies, piano, marimba, harmonica, japanese koto, electric and acoustic guitars, autoharp, steel drums, and electric bass....photography, album design, artwork, sandwiches and kitchen sink". Engraved on the Side Two Trail-Out Matrix was "Larry Norman Presents His Best Friend".
However, it was soon evident that Norman was not as adept at running the label and the label's artists, including Stonehill, were becoming impatient with Norman. Stonehill also alleged in David Di Sabatino's documentary, Fallen Angel: The Outlaw Larry Norman that Norman was not permitting him to hold the copyrights to the songs he had written. In discussing his departure from Solid Rock in an April 1982 interview, Stonehill indicated that the primary reason was the delay in getting his music released for which he blames Norman's excessive workload:
I think Solid Rock was good and constructive initially for most everyone's career and ministry. Larry is a man of real vision and fervor to do things. But that is a minus as well as a plus because he spreads himself so thin that it is hard to get things accomplished at a pace that serves everyone. When I spoke with Larry a few months ago about the whole thing, he said that he had come to see Solid Rock as a springboard company for young artists. That is really his first love, to take people who need to get a start with the recording aspect of their ministry and do one album and then not have to worry about their second or third albums. Not to take on the role of personal manager and build their career because Larry has a lot of irons in the fire and his own career, and that is a full time job in itself. So my situation was one, I think, of God saying, "It is time to move and time to stretch your artistic muscles in a new direction and experiment. . ." and that is fine and as it should be. I worked with Larry for 12 years and whenever you are in a situation where an old relationship changes there is always an emotional edge to it, but nothing to write home about. Larry said, "Well, if you are feeling that you have to do this then it is up to you to do as you feel God leads you. I would rather that you stayed and I would try to accommodate your needs as best as possible." But I really knew in my heart it was time to move, time to work with different people and do things on my own. So it was not a matter of "Can you match this deal or not, Larry?" It was just not a matter of that. My primary concern became getting my product, my music, my statements to the audience and doing it in a more streamlined and consistent fashion.
Additionally, Stonehill's divorce from his first wife, Sarah Mae Finch, in September 1980 and subsequent re-marriage later that year to Sandra (Sandi) Jean Warner was another factor in the estrangement between Norman and Stonehill, as Norman believed that Stonehill should have endeavored to salvage the marriage. Stonehill and others close to Norman allege that Norman and Sarah Stonehill were involved in a possibly adulterous relationship, and that this was one of the factors in the breakdown of the Stonehill marriage and the subsequent estrangement between Norman and Stonehill. In its review of Fallen Angel, the Orange County Weekly newspaper wrote that in the movie: "Stonehill alleges Norman screwed him out of songwriting royalties. Oh, yeah, and he and just about everyone at Solid Rock not named Larry Norman allege he was screwing Stonehill's wife, an indiscretion compounded by the fact that Norman was still married to [Pamela] Newman, while Stonehill was out on tour. In April 2010 Di Sabatino in discussing the reaction to his film, indicated: "As best as I can tell…they are reacting to a note that the OC Weekly made that stated something to the effect that Larry derailed the marriage. That simply wasn't the case…and neither was it part of my movie. Not ever. They are complaining about something that simply isn't my fault. Too, neither is the movie misleading. Randy Stonehill is IN THE MOVIE saying that his marriage came apart of its own accord. It has always said that." According to British journalist Mike Rimmer:
Fallen Angle features testimony from some of those closest to Larry that an incident occurred where Solid Rock staffers became convinced that Larry was having an affair with Sarah Stonehill. In the early hours of the morning while Randy was away on tour, staffers discovered Larry's car parked outside the Stonehill residence and so knocked on the door. As they describe it, a lot of time passed and eventually Sarah and Larry answered the door and were confronted.
In a June 1981 interview shortly after the implosion of Solid Rock Records and Stonehill's signing with Myrrh, Stonehill acknowledged that he and Norman were estranged: "[F]or the time being we are going our separate ways as business partners and artists". At this time Stonehill indicated that Norman had exaggerated Stonehill's celebrity in album blurbs, and also lessened Norman's role in his conversion:
I know the general public's view of my new life in Christ has been that I became a Christian through Larry Norman. It just seems, as you said, that the instantaneous moment of conversion is a quick miracle of God. But many things led up to it. It is the working of the Spirit to lead the person to the point of Conversion that is really the most important thing. It's getting to the line to step across it that is important. Yeah, that's really the essential journey that needs to take place. I just don't think that it is totally accurate to say that Larry Norman came to me in a blaze of light and led me to the Lord. I can look at my life and see that Larry was instrumental in planting seeds and being there in the final moment. But I can also see how the Lord sort of dropped crumbs in my path that led me to that moment of conversion where Larry happened to participate....I met Larry when I was 16 and I did have his input. He wrote to me and told me what he was doing He was very open about his faith and proud to be a Christian and that gave me a distinctly different slant on what I had always termed "religion!" It changed my stereotype about the church and religion because he was living such a committed daily existence.
Stonehill's 1983 song "Even the Best of Friends" reveals Stonehill's perspective on his now-strained relationship with Norman. Norman even saw references to their relationship in Stonehill's song. "Turning Thirty".
By 1984 Stonehill believed that he and Norman were mutually responsible for their estrangement, abut that reconciliation would require divine intervention:
When I look at my friendship with Larry I feel I am as responsible for the disintegration of the friendship as he is simply because in my misguided idea of what being a friend is, or love is, I didn't call him on the carpet when I needed to. At this point we've gone our own ways and I'm just trying to grow up and trust that relationship, if there ever is to be much of one again, to God – that He would bring us both to the point of willingness and maturity that we can calmly sit down and slowly unravel all the old strings.'
In 1985 Norman responded to Stonehill's earlier songs, in his song "Don't You Want to Talk About It", first released on 1985's Stop This Flight album, which describes this estrangement and contains references to Stonehill's songs. The line "Paradise is falling" references both Welcome to Paradise (Solid Rock Records, 1976) The Sky is Falling (Solid Rock Records, recorded 1977, released 1980), the only two albums produced by Norman for Stonehill, and his "Shut De Do", which was released on Stonehill's Equator album (1983).
In 1989 Norman released his album Home at Last, which contained two songs written in 1972, during a period when Norman believed Stonehill had turned his back on Christianity. The first was 'Queen of The Rodeo",  which Norman indicated in his 1989 Blue Book was "about a Christian friend who fell away from God. He got back on drugs and moved in with a married woman he called 'the Queen of the Rodeo'", while the other song, "He Really Loves You", which again references "the Queen of the Rodeo", and also Stonehill's conversion: "Think about the day we met/For so long I said that prayer/Then you finally bowed your head/Sitting in my kitchen chair./And once you walked where Jesus walked/But now you've run away", is about an encouragement to come back to God, to repent and start over: redemption, renewal".
In a June 1989 interview in CCM magazine, Norman discussed the demise of Solid Rock Records, but maintained that: "I think that's why everything is all right between me and those guys. And Randy and I stayed in rooms across from each other at a festival and talked and wrote to each other. I've most recently received a letter from Randy and I see him different places. I think we're friends." However, In discussing Norman's perspective on their relationship as indicated in the 1989 CCM interview, Stonehill asserted in August 1990:
There were a lot of falsehoods in that interview involving a lot of people, but what really troubled me was him trying to smooth it over, to say 'Yeah, it's all just fine, we're all just buddies.' Because he goes on living his life in a way that really concerns me, and so for him to associate himself with me or my friends sounds like we applaud or embrace who he is and what he does. And I want to say 'no.' Understand, the old days had some special stuff, and I love Larry, but I'm completely out of fellowship with him. As a Christian, I just have no other recourse than to do that....I remember my early relationship with Larry Norman, which for a season of time was a mutually nurturing thing. I prefer to to remember the productive stuff and to remember the good times. It was a really good chemistry between us. I learned a lot about controlling my turf on a concert stage from Larry, and I learned a lot about songwriting from Larry. I think Larry learned a lot about some of the primal elements of rock'n'roll and humor from me. So it seemed to be a nice exchange.
According to Norman in a 2005 interview, he and Stonehill had reconciled in 1993: "I was writing postcards to Randy back in 1981, I never stopped writing to him and then I was writing you know 10–20 page letters to him at the end of the '80s and in 1993 we finally got together and talked for eight hours and then kinda kept our relationship under wraps. We didn't really want the press jumping on it because partly what was happening with us was that he would say something and it would come out a certain way in an interview and I would read it, I would be in another country and I would be hurt. So the next time I did an interview I would try to address the question that he raised, hoping that he would, you know, know what the answer was, but then what I said was too explosive and so it got worse and worse until where we were mad at each other and so what we decided to do in 1993 was go silent, run silent, run deep. So we started communicating, writing, telephoning, faxing and decided to work on an album together. We did a deluxe version of 'Paradise' and then we did a lot of stuff, we even recorded some stuff."
In 1994 Norman included is a 16 page booklet with his release of his album Footprints in the Sand, that explained "'what really happened' at the end of the seventies, and 'why Larry stopped working with certain artists. You've heard the rumors. Now find out the truth.'"
By 1995 Stonehill was able to give an extended account of his conversion and the inauguration of his career without once mentioning Norman's name. As late as 2010 Stonehill continued to share the story of his conversion while omitting any reference to Norman.
In response to an "honest letter" from Stonehill, in November 1998 Norman wrote to Stonehill to apologize for and to explain his previous actions in relation to Stonehill and to attempt to heal their relationship. In that letter Norman wrote: "When I came back from England and married Sarah [Finch] and got into her paranoia and anger about you, I also got involved in the public squabble, and for that, as you remember, I have already apologized several times. I finally realized that by saying anything negative about you I was sinning.... When I quibbled with you in print it wasn't because I wanted to, but because Sarah was demanding that I stand up to you, protect her, etc." Norman concluded by writing: "I want to be friends with you but I'm not really sure I know who you are anymore. I don't know if you have confessed and repented of anything you have done to anyone – because I've never heard you apologize even once in the last twenty nine years". More significantly, especially to Stonehill, in this letter Norman released publishing of all of Stonehill's music recorded at Solid Rock, and even offered to buy back the master tapes from Word and give them to Stonehill. By 2003 Stonehill said: "When he finally turned my copyrights over to me that was tangible evidence to me that he valued our relationship more than any income he could derive from doing business with me. That spoke to me far louder than his letters. He put his words into action".
In February 2000 Norman released Where the Woodbine Twineth: The Cottage Tapes, Book One, which included four songs from Stonehill's 1971 Born Twice album, as well as Stonehill singing on early Norman performances from the One Way Records era (1970–1971).
On Legends Night at the Cornerstone Festival in Bushnell, Illinois, on 5 July 2001 Stonehill invited Norman to join him on stage and they performed the song "Good News" together in a surprise reunion during an encore to Stonehill's set, which had been initiated by Norman in the preceding months. After their performance, Stonehill and Norman spent hours together "hanging out back stage and then watching Daniel Amos play". Stonehill indicated in 2003: "It felt so natural too. That's the sign of real, primal, human connection".
In 2002 Norman also sang four lines on Stonehill's 1992 song, "We Were All So Young", as part of a group of veteran Jesus Music pioneers, that included Barry McGuire, Annie Herring of Second Chapter of Acts, Phil Keaggy, Russ Taff, Love Song, and Noel Paul Stookey, for Stonehill's album Edge of the World, "long distance through computer technology." In 2002 Norman re-released Stonehill's Welcome to Paradise album, with six bonus tracks, and the previously unreleased 1973 album Get Me Out of Hollywood.
A planned reunion concert at Creation Festival in summer 2003 was canceled due to Norman's health, resulting in Stonehill and Keaggy performing together instead. In 2003 Norman released Decade, which included 18 songs sung by Stonehill, from Born Twice, Welcome To Paradise, The Sky Is Falling, and Live At Greenbelt, and four previously unreleased Stonehill recordings.
Stonehill indicated in 2008: "Then he was silent again. I had hoped that in these last years we might continue to build on our recent reconciliation and even get together for some song writing and recording, sharing what we had learned about life and about our craft to offer something better than ever to the world. In 2004 Norman released And The Rampion Runs Wild: The Cottage Tapes – Book Two, which included unreleased early live recordings of Stonehill singing covers of seven of Norman's songs from Stonehill's unreleased Judgement Day At Speedee Mart album. Just after Norman's death, Stonehill reflected on his relationship with Norman:
I knew Larry Norman perhaps better than anyone, yet to this day I'm not sure that I really understood him completely. For as brilliant and insightful as Larry was, I'm not sure that he understood himself completely. This issue became apparent in the way he consistently seemed to "derail" relationships through out his life. Larry is the man who introduced me to Jesus. He led me to the door of eternal life, and for that singular priceless gift I am eternally in his debt. In my relationship with Larry, I experienced the beauty of brotherhood, the richness of creative collaboration, the mystery of human brokenness, and ultimately the overshadowing wings of God's all encompassing grace. After 20 years of friction and distance between us that began around 1980, Larry and I realized that what united us in Christ was far greater than what had separated us in our personal frailty and pride....The light of hope, however, that lifts my spirit is the knowledge that Larry's profound contribution to the work of God's Kingdom is eternal and that his struggles with his own demons is over.
Stonehill cooperated in the making of the 2008 documentary Failed Angel: The Outlaw Larry Norman: A Bible Story by being interviewed extensively for the project; recording all of the songs for the official soundtrack and for Paradise Sky, its accompanying album, funded by Di Sabatino; and participating in several question and answer sessions after its screening. On 30 December 2008 Randy Stonehill's album Paradise Sky, the official soundtrack to Fallen Angel, was released by Bryan Duncan's Red Road Records, which was advertised as Paradise Sky: A Tribute to Larry Norman, attracting some criticism: "It’s hard to see how Randy Stonehill recording new versions of his own songs, but this time without the involvement of the late Larry Norman, is in any sense a tribute. One has to wonder about the wisdom of stirring the pot by even going there, when this could have simply been promoted as Stonehill revisiting his early work for the sake of the music, period. While ten of the 11 songs were originally on albums produced by Norman, the other "Even the Best of Friends", is the one written that alludes to the breakdown in his relationship with Norman.
In Fallen Angel, Stonehill discusses his relationship with Norman, and also in several interviews subsequent to its release. Mike Rimmer sees "the disintegration of the relationship between the two men" as a significant part of the story of the film. In his interview with Rimmer in November 2009, Stonehill attempted to both acknowledge Norman's contributions and also to defend sharing in the film his perspective on Norman:
I think the pain of those times with Larry helped me learn to really be a Christian and to recognise that though you need to speak truth albeit in love, if God has forgiven you everything all the way from Heaven to the cross then that love demands that we forgive those who have wronged us. So my experience with Larry was really valuable in beautiful ways and in painful ways....It was strange for me and even a bit surprising that 20 or 30 years later, in doing those interviews with David Di Sabatino, I found myself revisiting the anger at times. I found myself tearing up at times, and not just because of being wounded but just the strange mystery of remembering this season with a guy that I deeply love and frankly, I will always love, even in spite of all the damage. I love him. I even find in strange ways I miss him at times. He was such a totally unique – albeit dysfunctional – but he was a unique and wonderful guy in a lot of ways....All I can say is that you have to just trust that I see this as a valid, vital piece of work. I know that for me, I'm not worried about repercussions or fallout from it. I believe when people see my participation in the film they'll see grace and forgiveness.... I think that if people tend to canonise Larry that's kind of their own issue and I just have to leave that between them and God. I've told people before that I truly respected Larry enough to tell the truth, with both the good and the bad, because to do any less would actually be disrespectful.
According to an April 2010 article, "Stonehill and Norman didn't talk to each other for about 22 years. Then in 2001, they had a brief reconciliation, but never rebuilt their friendship." The same article quotes Stonehill as saying: "I remember standing in my backyard, with tears in my eyes, a combination of love and anger in my heart, and looking up at heaven and saying 'I love you, you big jerk. Why didn't you call me? Don't you get it, there's no more time."
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