Petra Rocks My World!
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Bob Hartman interview Q&A

By: Josh Renaud
September 1998

My interview with Bob Hartman took three sets of email, where I gave him a bunch of questions, and then he wrote back. I have put all the questions and answers together below, and formatted them for the Web. Hopefully everything looks nice and clean. I didn't change any of the words in the questions or answers, though miscellaneous other stuff that was in the emails has been deleted.

How did you first get into playing the guitar, and was it difficult to learn?

I first started playing the guitar when I was 13. I just sort of decided I wanted to play. I liked music and thought it would be neat. I taught myself from books and watching other people, although there weren't many people in my hometown that played. I still don't read music.

What bands were you part of before Petra? Were they secular or Christian?

I was in one Christian band before Petra. It was called Rapture, and it didn't last very long but I wrote a few of the songs on our first album during that band. Before that, I was in some local secular bands.

What was it like playing Christian rock music in the 70s, before there was a CCM "establishment"?

It was very rough. There weren't many places to play and we were lucky to make our expenses when we did play. We also had to deal with the anti-rock message that many churches were giving out. I was really a wonder we survived at all. We weren't full time till the late '70's and then it was "hand to mouth" for several years. We played mainly in places that had started during the "Jesus Movement"...coffeehouses, etc.

How have you dealt with Petra's various rises and falls from popularity over the years?

Actually, there have been very few what I would call "stable" years for Petra. The peaks and valleys have let us know what a priviledge it is to serve God in this way and, I believe, they have kept us from getting complacent or conceited.

How have you dealt with the major personnel changes over the years? (the early 80s, mid 80s, and recently?)

When we lost Greg Volz as our singer, I didn't know if Petra would still be popular, but John Schlitt was welcomed with open arms by our fans. It is always hard to change personel but Petra is different from just a music group. It is a ministry that the members feel called to as a way of serving the Lord with their talents. I think many of our fans have recognized this, and for them the true test is, "do they still make good music?" and "do they still minister?"

What do you think of the state of "Christian music" today? Is it actually being used by God, or is it more of a profit machine?

Although I can't look inside anyone's heart, my feeling is that there are more people today attracted by the money and fame than there used to be. Perhaps it is because those things are more easily obtained in Christian music today than they used to be. But God is able to use efforts even when they come from wrong motivations. There are many artists that are putting out great Christian music that is being used by God in powerful ways.

How much time do you have to put into working with Petra now? What other projects or jobs do you have besides Petra?

My responsibilities with Petra are now confined to the writing and recording of Petra's albums. That means that there are times when I am very busy and other times when I am not. Since leaving the road, I have written a devotional book, written regular articles for an Argentine magazine, and written Bible studies for Petra's newest album.

Have you seen an improvement in family life and stuff since you stopped touring?

It has been great for my family and for myself since I left the road. It has enabled my wife and I to homeschool our son, which has been a great experience. I have greatly enjoyed being home and being with my family.

You played with Petra on the road for over 20 years.. Do any stories or special memories stick out in your mind?

I have many wonderful memories of my time on the road with Petra. I especially remember our trips out of the USA. Among my favorite memories are traveling by train through Germany and seeing the castles, and seeing the Fiords of Norway. Of course my best memories are of seeing the audiences respond to our music and message.

What do you think God has for your future? The future of Petra?

That is always a difficult question to answer. We have always tried to take things one step at a time and not try to guess where the Lord is taking us. That goes for me personally as well as for Petra.

How do you think the latest album turned out? Were you satisfied?

We had great fun making God Fixation. Of course there were things I wish were different, but that is always the case when we do an album. Overall, I think it is a fine representation of the band's talents.

What differences have you noticed between Pete Orta's guitar-playing style and your own?

Pete is much more of a spontaneous player than I am. I am much more planned in what I play. There are positives and negatives to both approaches. Pete has a great knack for coming up with "out of the ordinary" guitar parts.

What do you think of critics who say that all rock music, even "Christian rock" is of the devil?

Petra has dealt with those beliefs since our inception, but thank God things have gotten much better. In the early days we did'nt have all the "fruit" to point out, but now, there are so many testimonies of how Christian rock music has been used by God that the critics don't have near the influence they used to.

Many fans are aware that there was a version of "Killing My Old Man" recorded for the "Come and Join Us" project that never made it on the album. Are there any other "lost" Petra songs that were recorded but never made it to the ears of the public?

That really is the only one. There was some music recorded for Beat The System that was never finished as a song, but that's about it.

When you were touring, what was life like on the road? How did you guys keep occupied, and how did you stay grounded in the Word?

We all kept "occupied" in different ways. Most of our time was spent at the hall or in the hotel. On days off we would go to malls or do our laundry, go to movies, etc. Our spiritual lives on the road were kept alive by individual study as well as corporate times of fellowship and prayer.

How would you characterize your personality? What sorts of traits fit you best (such as being laid-back or outgoing, leader or follower, etc)?

I would consider myself to be laid-back and somewhat introverted. I would never have picked myself to be in any kind of public ministry. As far as a leader goes, I'm probably not a good choice. I am not a great "people person". And yet I would say that my introspection and analyitical thinking were good for planning a strategy for Petra.

What fascinates you? What things do you like to learn more about?

I like to learn about new things. I taught myself about computers (I'm still learning) and HTML programing, digital and midi recording, etc.

Do you have any hobbies or activities you like to spend time working on?

Yes, I have recently taken up tennis again. I played some before Petra started touring a lot, and since leaving the road I have spent time trying to get better and having lots of fun getting good exercise. I also follow professional tennis quite closely.

I'm interested in your homeschooling situation. How has that worked out so far? What are the advantages and disadvantages to homeschooling that you've encountered? Do you plan to continue to do this for a long time, or just a certain period of time?

It has worked out very well for us, largely because my wife and I both work at home, which allows us both to participate. I could see us doing this for quite some time.

You mentioned that during the early years of Petra you played in places that started during the "Jesus Movement." What was different about the atmosphere in places like that from a typical concert within the last several years? Did you personally approach ministry differently?

In the earliest years of Petra, we played mostly evangelistic concerts that were promoted by "Jesus people". Many times we would play open air concerts to attract an audience and then deliver the Gospel. As the Christian music scene developed, we found more and more Christians coming to our concerts, so we began ministering more to the "body", but never leaving our evangelistic roots.

Who has influenced you musically over the years? Are there any particular bands or places from which you draw inspiration?

As a teenager, I was very influenced by the Beatles. Later, I was influenced as a guitarist by Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Joe Walsh. when I first became a Christian, I was influenced by Phil Keaggy and Larry Norman. Currently, I am probably influenced by what ever is popular, to some degree.

I thought it was neat that you still can't read music, because I can't either. It sort of gives me hope for possibly learning to play guitar or something in the future. If you can't read music, how exactly do you go about writing the music (or even the lyrics, for that matter)? I'm not familiar with the music writing process at all: Do you write the parts for each instrument, or do you write some sort of "overall" music?

For most of the songs I have written, I have written a lyrical idea first. But I have also written the lyrics after the music as I did on most of the songs from God Fixation. Most of the time my demos are pretty complete with drums, bass, guitar, some keyboards and vocals. Many times in the arranging process things get changed and songs take a different course. The other musicians will add different things as the song evolves.

Just out of personal curiosity: I know you were at "Godstock" in Fairfield, Illinois a while ago as a speaker. I wanted to go, but I wasn't able to make it. What did you talk about? Do you do a lot of speaking engagements like that?

That was the first speaking engagement I have done this year. I talked about love, and the four different Greek words used to describe different kinds of love. I don't really want to do much traveling, so I have turned down a few speaking engagements.

How did you personally come to know Jesus?

An old friend witnessed to me. I was very open and had a very personal experience one night all alone. It was very real, which I think helped me to survive without any fellowship for the first few months. When I found a fellowship, I began to grow and really understand what had happened to me.

I also was interested to hear about "Rapture." How old were you at the time? How did that band come together; how did you get involved?

I was about 21. Petra's original bass player was the bass player in thatband. He was part of our fellowship and it happened naturally that wetried to get a band together. The problem was with our drummer who's sincerity became increasingly suspect.

Along those same lines, I don't believe I've ever heard exactly how Petra was formed. Did you go seek people out, or did God just bring you together with some people? What's the story behind the formation of Petra?

After Rapture broke up, John the bass player moved to Ft. Wayne, IN to go to Christian Training Center, a school based out of a church there. I had already begun jamming with Greg, the other original guitar player, when the Lord let me know He wanted me to go to that school as well. Greg and I both moved to Ft. Wayne to attend, and there Petra formed with a drummer who was also attending.

Just so I can explain this in my essay, could you explain the "Jesus Movement" and tell me about the "Jesus People" and who they were?

In the late '60's and early '70's there was a revival in our country that brought in many from what was known as the "counter culture". Basically, hippies, former drug users, "drop outs". These long haired "Jesus People", sometimes called "Jesus freaks" were responsible for many ministries around the country and birthed what we know today as Contemporary Christian Music.

Which school did you attend in Fort Wayne? What did you study? Did you obtain a degree?

After attending a secular college, (Bowling Green State University of Ohio) and earning a BA in Psychology, I went to the two year non-accredited Christian Training Center in Ft. Wayne. There was a program for ordination there which I did not go through. For further info, see my bio.

Of all the song lyrics and music you've written, what are a few of your favorites? Which do you think are the best examples of what Bob Hartman is capable of?

I look back on a few key songs that I feel the Lord has really used. For Annie, Graverobber, No Doubt, Creed.

You mentioned before that you wouldn't have picked yourself to be involved in public ministry because of your personality... How did God call you to the music ministry? Did you resist at first? Do you think this is an example of God calling someone to do something they feel they might not be capable of, in order to get them to depend on Him?

Yes, I do. I have always felt like quite an ordinary person who has been called and given a special grace by God to complete the work to which He has called me.