For three decades, Jon Gibson has been one of the best kept secrets in popular music - but don't tell that to his legion of fans. Tough to describe and tougher to classify, Gibson's a white guy who sounds like Stevie Wonder, a sweet balladeer who pioneered Christian rap, and a singer who reeks attitude in his mission of justice and ministry.
After returning from service in the Army at age 20, Gibson was signed to Dick Griffey's new Constellation label. For days Griffey had great fun tricking a number of his Solar artists with Jon's tape (they thought it was Wonder). Jon's debut came as a guest vocalist for 3 songs on Bill Wolfer's Wolf album. During the process of making that album, Jon met his musical idol, Stevie Wonder, and worked with a crew of great musicians, including Michael Jackson. Wolfer returned the favor the next year by producing Gibson's debut album, Standing on the One. It was a fine debut, showing that Gibson was more than a Wonder-clone, and that he had songwriting skills to go with his great voice.
But Gibson was torn between his desire for pop stardom and his need to give testimony to his Christian faith, and he signed with the Frontline Christian label for On the Run, a partial re-release of Standing with a few new cuts, including the CCM #1 "God Loves A Broken Heart." It became the first of a string of over 20 top ten CCM hits.
On his next album, Change of Heart, Gibson released the beautiful ballad "Friend in You" as well as the first CCM rap hit, "This Wall," featuring a then-unknown rapper named MC Hammer. By this time, Gibson was regularly topping the CCM charts, and his next two albums, the wonderful Body and Soul (with Stevie Wonder on harmonica) and the edgier Jesus Loves Ya, moved him to the A-List of Contemporary Christian artists. The title track of the latter LP stayed at #1 for eleven weeks and became the top selling CCM single of 1991. He then followed with Forever Friends, which yielded 5 top ten hits.
Frontline Records ran into serious financial trouble and Jon decided to create his own record label, resulting in a nearly 3 year hiatus before his next disc, Love Education, perhaps his best and most eclectic release.
Jon then got married and took time off from his music. Surprisingly, when he was ready to come back he found how short were the memories in the Christian music world. He searched for a record contract for 2 years, finally landing with Gospel label B-Rite in 1999 for his The Man Inside disc, a consciously urban-sounding album made with master producer Tommy Sims. It didn't fare well, and Gibson again decided to take his career into his own hands, creating his own Imagery Records and releasing his first praise album, Soulful Hymns, in 2002. By the time he and his wife had their third child, Gibson had become a music minister at a California church and put his recording work on the back burner. But he slowly spent the next several years putting together the pieces of a new album. While songs leaked here and there on the internet, Gibson didn't complete the full album, The Storyteller, until Summer of 2012. It was a triumphant return for Gibson, boasting some of his best compositions of his career.
Throughout his career, Jon Gibson has straddled many musical styles and confounded those who tried to label him, creating consistent, original music. While this lack of categorization has limited the promotion of his career -- was pop or urban radio really ready to play a blue-eyed soul singer who sang about his faith? -- it has gained for him a small but fiercely loyal following and a catalog of really wonderful music. If you haven't heard his stuff, seek it out.
By Chris Rizik