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John Degroff


John DeGroff was the founding bass player for classic Christian rock band Petra. However, after a couple albums, DeGroff left the group and kept a low profile for years. Now he's back with his mostly instrumental album SALT and he sat down with Jesusfreakhideout's own John Underdown to discuss the project's details, Petra's legacy, and staying faithful to God over the years...
This interview took place on: July 26, 2018.




  • JFH (John Underdown): How did this album come about? Was it a passion project that sat on the back burner for a while or was it more spontaneous?

    John DeGroff: Some of the tunes were written years ago. "Runnin'", "From Yes To No..." and "Wish I Was A Child Again" were actually all ideas started way back when, back in my Petra days. I just didn't have an outlet for them then. "I'm Your Man" and "Theme For A Perfect Day" were written in the '90s. The rest of the material is relatively current...meaning within the last couple of years.

  • JFH (John): John Schlitt sang vocals on a few tracks and you both have a common connection through Petra. How did he get involved?

    Album Cover

    DeGroff: Two years ago this coming December, my wife and I went down to Indianapolis to see John do a Christmas concert. He was my only choice for vocalist so I asked the promoter of that show to tell him I'd be there and would like to speak with him before he left. I just approached him with the idea for the project and told him that I only wanted him on 3 tunes and the rest would be instrumentals. He agreed. It was that simple. After seeing him perform and listening to him when we did the Petra reunion shows in 2004-05, I just loved his voice. He has the perfect type of range and intensity for prog rock, even though he told me he's not a prog rocker, but simply a straight ahead rock singer. Nonetheless, getting him on the project was a perfect fit.

  • JFH (John): Were there any other former Petra members who contributed to the project? Who are some of the "friends" here?

    DeGroff: No, there's no other Petra connection. With only one exception, I've known all the other players (or "friends"..) for years. Dan Leu (guitar on the tunes [John Schlitt] sang) is an old friend from West Unity, Ohio, where we grew up together. We played in bands together throughout high school and even afterwards. Curtis George, drums, is from here in Warsaw, IN where I live. I work with him in a local classic rock/blues band. John McCorkle, keyboards, is someone I met at a jam with some friends. He's played in local bands in this area and is a brilliant player. Just amazing. Garry Jones, who plays harmonica on the closing tune, started out as a drum student of Petra's original drummer, Bill Glover. Garry loves the blues and plays incredible blues harp as well as guitar and drums. In fact, it was at Garry's house where I first met John McCorkle. Kevin Kyle is the one person I was only introduced to recently, although I'd seen him play a few places around town. He's an incredible guitarist with an amazing backstory and testimony, which we don't have time for here. My wife, Jennifer Savage, played flute for about 8 bars on one of the instrumentals. The studio owner and recording tech, Eddie Prather, played lap steel on one tune as well.

  • JFH (John): One thing that stands out about this album is how bass-driven it is. What were some of the basses you used in recording?

    DeGroff: Wow, I pretty much brought most of my musical arsenal into the studio for this. I have two Ibanez Sound Gear 6 string basses. One is strung with standard gauge 6 string bass strings, which are very heavy. I used that for the vocal tunes. My other Ibanez 6 string has lighter gauge strings, simply because I use that bass when I play in the classic rock band. We tune down a half-step and lighter strings just work better for that. I have a Hagstrom 8 String which I used for the two short "lead" sections on "Silk And Cookies", as well as the middle section of that tune. I also used it as a sort of backing instrument on "Celebrity Squat Thrust", where I just played chords on it. I also used a Rogue Fretless on two of the instrumentals, a Fender Squire 4 string that's strung with piccolo bass strings and a Carlo Robelli acoustic bass. The piccolo bass is on "Dave's Living Room", is the lead section on "Sneeze", as well as the middle section of that tune and also on "Silk And Cookies". The acoustic bass is on "Wish I Was A Child" and the last section of "Silk And Cookies". It's the part that is overdubbed with flute. Just for the record, I also played acoustic guitar. I have a somewhat rare American made Epiphone Texan model that I've had since high school. That's the acoustic guitar you hear on the project.

  • JFH (John): When looking over the set list, all the titles really catch the eye, like "Dave's Living Room", "Silk And Cookies", or "Celebrity Squat Thrust". What inspired these titles?

    DeGroff: I'm also a free lance journalist and just seem to come up with weird song titles all the time. I have a notebook with a couple pages of just unusual title ideas. "Dave's Living Room" is interesting. Dave is Curtis's (the drummer) uncle, who is an excellent drummer in his own right. He played for a band called Graverobber, which is Shawn Browning's creation. (Shawn, by the way, is the owner of the label I'm on, Rottweiler Records. But you probably knew that...) Dave lives about a half mile from my wife and I. When I first moved here, he invited me down to jam a few times. The main lick for that song was something I came up with while jamming with Dave in his living room. Hence, the name. I have no explanation for "Silk And Cookies" other than it just sounds funny. The same goes for "Celebrity Squat Thrust". I know that title kind of pushes the envelope, but think of it as a very bad idea for a game show.

  • JFH (John): "From Yes To No And Back Again" was a standout due to its different movements through the song. How did this track come together?

    DeGroff: As I've already said, this one was initially written way back in my Petra days. It's pretty much inspired by King Crimson, who along with Yes, is one of my all time favorite bands. I just liked some of the different musical ideas and found a way to thread the different sections together. The lyrics changed some over time, but I wanted to stay with the idea lyrically of talking about someone who just can't make a firm decision about their life. We've all known those people who just sort of go with the flow and never really settle down. The idea of "you can be your own best friend or your own worst enemy" is something I believe is very important. A lot of people just don't want to take any kind of responsibility for themselves or what happens for them. We seemingly have an entire generation that's headed in that direction. Being a Christian actually centers on personal responsibility. You and you alone are responsible for accepting Christ as your Savior. I could start getting into a very long theological thread here, but I think your readers understand this already. Salvation is of course eternal, but it also changes your day-to-day worldly existence. And that can be the hard part...the letting go and giving up part that allows you to finally make Christ your anchor.

  • JFH (John): When composing these songs, what is the creative process like for you? How do you decide on a track's tone or what instruments to include?

    DeGroff: Compared to some writers, my creative process would probably be considered very haphazard. Sometimes it starts with an interesting lick I've come up with while practicing by myself at home. Sometimes an idea from a free-form jam with friends. My lyric writing is the same way. Some lyrics almost write themselves. Others just seem to take time, trying to get the right wording, the overall phrasing and flow. I don't have one set in stone way of doing things, other than this: never rely on your memory. Write it down and/or find a way to record it. If you don't, you will lose that VERY INCREDIBLE IDEA, you just know you'll remember. As far as overall "tone" or what instruments to use in the final mix, that all comes from a lot of experimentation. I spent so much time at home working on all the parts for "Dave's Living Room" that my wife can't stand to hear it any more.

  • JFH (John): What were some influences on you during the making of this record?

    DeGroff: Well, when it comes to listening to music for my own enjoyment, it's usually either prog rock or instrumental jazz. I like a lot of classical music as well. Beethoven, Bach and even Wagner are my favorites. I'm fascinated with how composers on that level can create all the parts. One major influence for me, and not just on this project, has always been the bass playing of the late Chris Squire of Yes. I draw from hearing a lot of different styles of music all the time. One good example on SALT, is the flute part on "Silk And Cookies". I was listening to a smooth jazz channel one night and heard a fretless bass part with a flute playing the same lick over the top. I can't remember who the artist was, but I liked the overall sound. Since fretless bass is not something I've spent a lot of time with, even though I have one, I decided to use my acoustic bass instead. It gave a very unexpected quality to the tune, especially for a release on Rottweiler.

  • JFH (John): It was good to hear some Christians just jamming out and making instrumental music. I think more Christian musicians should explore that territory. Is there trepidation for you in doing a mostly instrumental album or is this a natural expression for your music?

    DeGroff: No, no trepidation of any kind. With the vocal tunes, I learned a while back that being a vocalist is not my gift. I've always been a very "riffy" bass player...to the point where in some bands people would yell at me to not "...play that blanety blank stuff!". If you want to call it a "natural expression", then I guess it is. I was sort of inspired by Chris Squire's "The Fish" on the Fragile album. It's an amazing multi-tracked bass solo. Paul McCartney was actually the first bass player to multi-track bass, on the George Harrison song "Think For Yourself" from The Beatles Rubber Soul album in 1965. So, since this is my project and I'm not playing anyone's music except my own, you're correct in saying it's an "expression".

  • JFH (John): You were one of the founding members for Petra, which went on to become an influential band in the Christian music industry. Were you surprised at the success the band had over the years?

    DeGroff: That's kind of a hard one to answer. At the very beginning, it was definitely a struggle. We had a hard time getting gigs at first, the record label really didn't know what to do with us and truthfully, none of the original members were good vocalists. Plus, we never really had consistent, reliable management back then. The band actually did cease to exist sometime around 1980 or so. It's to Bob Hartman's credit that he kept it going and was able to get vocalists such as Greg Volz and then John Schlitt on board. He's an incredibly prolific song writer and his vision has always been one of ministry, as well as music. Musical as well as worldly success is one thing, but I have to admit that I often have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that the Lord used Petra as a worldwide ministry. I also [am] always a bit taken aback when people remember myself as well as Greg Hough and Bill Glover from the early days. I really appreciate being remembered, though.

  • JFH (John): Looking at the Christian music industry now, are you excited to see what it has become or do you have reservations about its current state?

    DeGroff: Man, another hard question here. On the "up" side, the one good thing I've noticed about Christian music in general is the acceptance of different genres of music. Back when we started, Christian music was mostly what was in your hymn book, Southern Gospel, and church musicals written by Ralph Carmichael. Now, bands like the rest of the Rottweiler Records roster are accepted, have an audience and even get some airplay. You have Christian rap/hip-hop, Christian boy bands, Christian blues artists like Glenn Kaiser, country, jazz...practically any style out there has Christian musicians involved and is finding an audience. That's great. Every genre has an audience, so why shouldn't Christians be ministering to that group? The "down" side is that the support just isn't what it used to be. The traditional role of a record company is no longer there. The major labels play it safe and don't support too many new acts. Traditional radio does the same. It's Internet radio that is helping a lot of the newer acts get heard, but that's limited and funding is often sparse to non-existent. For a lot of newer bands and artists, you're going to spend a lot more money than you're ever going to recoup. I know it's not just about money, but the reality is that you have to survive and at least pay the bills. There are two things that will kill a band in a heartbeat: money and ego. Too little of the first and it's hard to even make it to the next gig. Someone has too much of the second, and you end up not being able to be an effective ministry.

  • JFH (John): It seems like a common theme for artists these days to have some crisis of faith that leads them down an edgier path, so it's encouraging to see someone so many years later who still holds to the faith. What has helped you stay close to Jesus after all these years?

    DeGroff: Wow, kind of threw me a curve ball with this question. Well, I could do one of three things. Ignore it and not answer. Give you the rainbows, unicorns and fuzzy bunnies type of happy-happy-joy-joy answer some people want to hear. Or...I could be honest. I think I'll choose honesty. Seems to work best. I was living in Nashville when my father died in 2003. At that time, I'd really screwed up and backslid. Without going into the myriad, sordid details, let's just say I got involved with people and situations I should not have. I went through a divorce. I'm an only child, no brothers and sisters. So after dad died, I inherited a house back home in West Unity, Ohio. I was playing in a jazz/fusion band called Cosmonaut Bob that had one CD out, but nothing happened and things were just going downhill. I felt like I was being given a chance to start over. Practically as soon as I moved back, Hough and Glover approached me about playing with them in a band they had called GHF. We did a lot of the older Petra stuff we played on originally, as well some stuff both Greg and Bill had written. I also started working with Dan Leu again. It was through GHF and the Petra reunion shows that I met my wife Jennifer. I started writing for a music/entertainment paper in Fort Wayne, IN, as well as my home town paper. I also became very political. It's through being given a second chance, which a lot of people never get, that I came to really appreciate the power of God to forgive us and renew us, and to also appreciate the freedom we have in America to be able to take that chance in the first place. Right now, with the fact that we're seeing our country practically ripped apart by liberalism and those who want socialism here has made me more than ever aware that being a Christian carries with it a responsibility. We have God given rights and freedoms that have been fought for. People who haven't even read the works of Alexander Solzhenitsyn want to take all that away and set up a socialist government. The end result of that for Christians will be concentration camps. Beyond being a musician, I feel that I have to use what gifts and abilities I have to make a difference, not only to the lost but also to the believers who are choosing not to see what's really happening. How far out on the limb am I now?

  • JFH (John): What's next for you? A tour? Another album?

    DeGroff: I've had more than one inquiry about playing this material live. First off, we can't. Two of the instrumentals could never be done live. I'd have to hire 3 or 4 more bass players. After that, there's just not enough material right now to warrant a full concert. However, everyone involved with the project hasn't ruled it out. As far as another project, yes...of course. I have the music mostly written right now. It's just a matter of time and, unfortunately, a matter of money. So, therefore, Lord willing and everything falls into place, I do want to do another album and even some shows. Not just yet.

  • JFH (John): Where can people find out more about your work?

    DeGroff: I have a [facebook] page, www.facebook.com/DeGroffProjects as well as the GHF facebook page at www.facebook.com/ghfrocks. There will be some upcoming special offers that will be announced soon through those sites, as well as www.RottweilerRecords.com. If you haven't done so, please check out the lyric video for the single "Runnin'." www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0a5eZDp8VA&feature=youtu.be Since I've already gone political on everyone, I'd like to say that I write for a political site called Clash Daily, at www.clashdaily.com This is a very conservative site, just a click under Ted Nugent in attitude, that is entirely run by Christians. My editor is the pastor of a church in New Hampshire and the site's owner, Doug Giles, is a 2A advocate, author, cigar company owner and a truly born again man of God who feels that Christians were never meant to be doormats. Feel free to check it out.


    John DeGroff's latest album, SALT is available now wherever music is sold!




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