John Schlitt woke up one morning in 1980 on the couch after having passed out the previous night. Staring him in the face was his young son, John Kyle.
As he was looking at his son, a voice in his head jarred him: “You know, you’re worth more dead than alive.”
Whether or not it was true, Schlitt believed the voice.
His wife, Dorla, whom he married on August 28, 1971, was tired of covering for him. She was done covering up his drug and alcohol addiction.
Schlitt had been the lead vocalist for the band Head East, which was becoming more and more popular with tours taking them all over the country, but he fell into drugs, especially cocaine and alcohol. When his addictions continued to interfere with his music, the band fired him.
That was in early 1980. After being let go from the band, Schlitt went on a six-month bender where he was either coked up or drunk 24 hours a day. Yet, he managed to survive.
That morning after he woke up on the couch to his son’s harsh assessment, Schlitt sat in front of his two kids and contemplated how to end his life.
“I determined I wasn’t gonna use a gun because that would be too messy,” explained Schlitt. “I started trying to figure out what kind of combination of pills I could do to make it quick and as painless as possible.”
Dorla tapped him on his shoulder, snapping Schlitt from his thoughts. She reminded him that the previous night while he was drunk he had agreed to go with her to her pastor’s house.
While Schlitt spent the previous six months getting high and drunk, Dorla found Jesus and got saved. She would often try to tell him about Jesus, but he didn’t want to hear about it. He figured when he was too old to have any more fun, he’d return to Christianity. His mom was Catholic and his dad was Lutheran so they let him decide which church he wanted to attend when he was old enough. His choice was not to attend church at all.
“I believed in God. I prayed to God every night, but I had no idea who Jesus was and that’s not good.”
Schlitt agreed to go with Dorla to her pastor’s house that night, but he still had plans to move forward with his planned suicide. He wanted her to see and know that he had tried, but committed suicide anyways.
“I went in with an attitude to this pastor’s house and came out with the Holy Spirit and my life changed.”
Going Back to Music
After meeting with Dorla’s pastor, Schlitt stepped away from music completely. He was searching for God’s perfect plan for him and his family. He decided to put his degree to use and found an engineering job.
Then one day five years later, he received a call that would change his life forever. The call was from a friend who asked him if he was interested in singing for the Christian rock band Petra. Schlitt jumped at the opportunity. His friend asked him, “Don’t you think you should pray about it first?”
Schlitt’s reply was, “Yeah.” However, he already knew his answer.
“I knew and became a part of Petra’s ministry and it went on for 20 years like it was a day and half and I’ve been blessed,” stated Schlitt. “I’ve had a very blessed life.”
To say his time with Petra was well-spent would be a monumental understatement. Along with Petra, Schlitt has been inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and the Hard Rock Café. During his time with Petra, the Christian rock band earned four Grammy Awards, ten Dove Awards, and three RIAA Certified Gold Albums. Additionally, they are the only artist to simultaneously have four albums in the Top 100 of SoundScan top Christian albums. Individually, GospelMusicChannel.com (now uptv.com) named Schlitt the best rock singer in Christian music history.
Petra officially retired on New Year’s Eve 2005/New Year’s Day 2006, although they play every so often at revivals and benefits all over the world.
Stepping away from Petra allowed Schlitt to branch out on his own full-time and establish himself as a solo musician. He had already released two 10-track albums (Shake and Unfit for Swine) in back-to-back years (1995-96).
In 2008, Schlitt released The Grafting followed by The Greater Cause four years later. In between his solo projects, he lent his talents to other groups, such as The Union of Sinners & Saints, Project Damage Control, and the Jay Sekulow Band.
And Now … Go
Eight years after his last official solo album, Schlitt released the 11-track rock album Go on February 28, 2020.
According to Schlitt, his new album relays the message that we as Christians “don’t have the luxury to sit around and be excited about our own comfort zone. We need to go out and preach the Word. We need to get out there and make a difference because we’re soldiers of Christ.
“Going means to sit down and wait and be attentive to what God is going to tell you through the Holy Spirit, but once He has, you’ve got to get up and go.
“In this country, we’re so busy being concerned about our own comfort we’ve forgotten what the Great Commission was in the first place. We have a God that loves and cares about us, but He also gave us a commission to go and tell others. I think every once in a while we lose that because there’s a lot of fear and uncertainty, but that’ the enemy basically stopping us from doing our commission.”
In other words, Go is about going out and spreading the gospel throughout the world and making disciples of all nations.
Schlitt’s newest album has a more up-to-date and current sound than his previous records. Go flows really well with The Greater Cause, as if it is an extension of the 2012 album. Both albums, along with Shake, have a similar rock ‘n roll feel to them.
A friend suggested the title of the album to Schlitt after they had already written most of the other songs on the record. The friend told him that the album had a lot of go in it and that he should name the album Go. They didn’t, however, have a title cut or a song that went with the album’s new name so Schlitt wrote the song “Go” with producer Mark Townsend.
Schlitt liked the song so much that he made it the first track on the album. When he listened to the record for the first time in order, he liked what he heard: “As I listened to all 11 songs after I put them in order, they all worked in harmony. And that is very unusual, which to me is just another sign of God.”
The second song on the record, “Feel It,” is about the Holy Spirit. It’s about walking with a surety and a confidence that you can feel only when you walk with the Lord’s guidance.
“Can you feel the security of God? Can you feel the fact that you’re not walking alone? Can you feel God’s confidence?” Schlitt said of the skillfully aggressive rock tune. “That’s where this song came from.”
“Fighting the Fight” is the fourth song on Go. Ryan Horn, a friend of Schlitt’s, wrote the song and sent a demo of it to Schlitt. He told Horn that the song was beautiful just the way it was; however, Horn insisted that the song was meant for Schlitt to sing.
As a favor to Horn, Schlitt put the song in front of producer John Lawry who felt the same way. Schlitt eventually acquiesced to record the song. Since Horn wanted the song performed in Schlitt’s distinct style, Lawry and the artist changed some of the words and turned it into something that more closely resembled something that he would sing. The results were better than he could have hoped for.
“It’s one of the most beautiful songs I think I’ve ever sang. I love the message. It says I’m not perfect. I know I’m a sinner, but I’ve got a God who died and shed His blood for me. I want to fight the fight. I want to fight against my nature, against the simple nature of man. And I want to do the best I can. Every day, all of us are fighting a fight. We’re fighting against ourselves because we are naturally sinners.”
As the song implies, we’re fighting a spiritual fight where our goal should always be to please our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. But how many of us are able to say we do this every day? If not, we should seek forgiveness and go forward … just as Schlitt has been able to. He and Dorla remain happily married and have four children together.
“I can’t complain one bit. God has been very gracious and has kept my family safe despite the stupidity of my choices and I praise God for the fact that I’m never forgotten, always forgiven. And I try my best to please him every day.”
Schlitt’s come a long way since that day he woke up on the couch to his one-year-old son staring at him. Fortunately for Christian music fans and everyone he has touched through his music, Schlitt decided that day to get up and go with his wife to her pastor’s house.
For more information about John Schlitt and his music, visit his website.
John Farrell is a Digital Content Writer / Editor of Inspiration.org.
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