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Chapter Three
The Middle Years
June 1970 - May 1972

In June 1970 Sons of Thunder took the first steps toward expanding the band and modernizing its sound even more. Burnett Thompson, a highly talented recent high school grad from Springfield, Virginia, joined as keyboardist. Though he stayed only through August, he added considerably to the band’s performances that summer. (He left to study music in Vienna, Austria, and today is one of Washington, D.C. ’s most respected jazz pianists.)

In August of that summer Sons of Thunder performed for several evenings at “The Upstairs,” a Christian coffeehouse in Virginia Beach sponsored by Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, and situated in a converted nightclub one block from the boardwalk. (SOT returned to the Upstairs each August for the next four years.) The band also performed every Thursday evening during July and August for a coffeehouse in Salisbury, Maryland sponsored by local churches and held at Asbury United Methodist Church, near Salisbury State College (now University). 
     

Phyllis Wade

In the fall of 1970 two new singers joined SOT. Phyllis Wade and Hendricks Davis, close friends from Washington, D.C., were both college students attending Fourth Presbyterian at the time (Phyllis at Roberts Wesleyan University, and Hendricks at Defiance College). Phyllis, who had studied under Roberta Flack, sang in a similar style and with deep feeling. Hendricks, who could remind you of Harry Bellafonte, provided SOT for the first time with a male singer on the frontline. Both were powerful, gifted vocalists, who fit in wonderfully with the others.
     

Hendricks Davis

Leslie White also continued to sing with SOT for a while that fall, then left to marry Charlie Williams.

That winter Robin Woodhams moved from the area for a few a months, leaving the bass-player position open. Steve Halverson joined to fill that spot. The son of Dr. Richard Halverson, Fourth Presbyterian’s pastor, Steve was an exuberant performer, and also a talented rock and gospel singer, who brought new vocal options to the band. He played guitar as well, in addition to congas and other alternate percussion. Though he hadn't played bass before, he quickly transferred his guitar skills to the instrument and became a strong player.
     

Steve Halverson

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Ed Weaver

Ed Weaver also joined as keyboardist. Fourth Presbyterian’s organist at the time, Ed was a multi-gifted player skilled in classical music, rock and jazz. He also sported a Farfisa organ with a Leslie cabinet (eventually two), which added a new dimension to SOT’s sound. Ed was also a gifted arranger, and Blaine soon shifted much of the band’s music direction to him. Under Ed’s direction, SOT began to move more to a classic rock sound, with a Fifth Dimension vocal style. Donna Gadling also helped arrange many of the vocal parts, and continued to provide keyboard support.
     

In spring 1971 Robin moved back to the D.C. area and rejoined Sons of Thunder, as a singer. Steve Halverson continued to handle bass for most songs, though Robin covered it on some, allowing Steve to play guitar or percussion.
     

In less than a year SOT had morphed from a five-piece band with a folk-rock style to an eight-member group with a heavier rock style and more complex arrangements. This new lineup stayed the same for the next year-plus, through the spring of 1972, with Robin, Phyllis and Hendricks singing on the frontline, Ed on keyboard, Donna on second keyboard and vocals, Steve on bass, Blaine on lead guitar, and Don on drums.

In March ’71 the band was joined by Charlie Ruh, the light-show genius whom they’d met at the Billy Graham coffee house in New York in June ’69 (see chapter two). Charlie moved from Philadelphia to Bethesda, and was part of every SOT performance from then on. At a Sons of Thunder concert you’d not only hear engaging music, but watch a highly professional light show on a huge rear-projection screen behind the band, on which words and images flashed that reinforced the lyrics of the songs.
     

Charlie Ruh

In May ’71 this new lineup joined Larry Norman to perform for an outdoor event connected with the Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly, which was held in Rochester, N.Y that year.

SOT needed a place to meet, practice and store its growing stock of equipment. Dan Hurkett, a close friend of Steve Halverson’s, graciously provided the use of his home for this purpose, on Walhonding Drive in Mohegan Hills, Maryland (near Bethesda). Steve and Ed also both moved there, and Blaine lived there as well for a while. The home also provided a wonderful retreat-like setting for the band – backing onto a creek and woods, and just a short walk to the C&O Canal path’s entrance north of Glen Echo.
     

Debbie Halverson

In June ’71 Debbie Halverson, Steve’s sister, joined Sons of Thunder as sound technician. Though just out of high school, and SOT’s youngest member by several years then, she fit in perfectly, and proved to be the band’s ideal sound engineer, staying in that position till June 1974. Debbie eventually developed a strong vocal talent of her own, sang with the band at SOT reunion concerts in 1978, 95 and 2000, and today sings with Blaine and Becky in a D.C.-area band. But during her tenure with SOT in the ’70s, she stuck to running sound, drawing on her natural musical senses to keep the singers and band well-balanced.
     

The band worked full time that summer 1971, performing many nights during June, July and August, for churches, conference and beach events, in addition to its weekly appearances at Fourth Presbyterian's college meetings, which 200-300 students were now attending. It returned again to the Upstairs Coffeehouse in Virginia Beach for four evenings that August. SOT also performed for a rally in Ocean City, Maryland, sponsored by the Navigators, at 15th Street and the boardwalk, which a large crowd attended. The Navs reported that about 100 committed their lives to Christ at the event.

From the beginning, by the way, Sons of Thunder made ministry their top priority at every performance, and continued to throughout their tenure. This emphasis didn’t diminish the quality of their music in any way, and they worked very hard to provide a top performance of compelling music. But they carefully chose their songs, many of them original, for their ability to touch the hearts and consciences of those in their audience, and to move them to respond to Christ. The band saw “responding to Christ” broadly; many in their audiences were already Christian and, far from needing to be preached at, needed encouragement and the reminder of God’s infinite love for them. Many of SOT’s songs were chosen especially to strengthen the faith of Christians present. But SOT also made a point of urging those who weren’t Christian to give their life to Christ. About eight times in a typical concert band members gave brief talks, sharing about their personal relationship with Christ, and about why a song just played or about to be was meaningful to them. Before the final song (from 1969 on almost always “Oh Happy Day”), a member gave a longer “final rap,” urging those who needed to, to give their life to Christ. Apart from the occasional evangelistic rally at which SOT performed, an invitation wasn’t given to come forward. Still, the one giving the final rap clearly explained why accepting Christ was important, and convincingly enough that many committed their lives to Christ at SOT concerts over the years.

Following every performance, too, band members would remain as long as needed and talk with anyone wanting to chat. Through this practice the band provided considerable counsel and encouragement to a multitude of people over it’s 7-1/2 years together.

SOT continued to perform most weekends through the fall, winter and spring of 1971-72, while members worked during the week or (in Blaine and Don’s case) attended seminary and grad school. The band’s popularity and opportunities continued to grow. On March 24, ’72 SOT performed at the Kennedy Center, for an evangelistic rally featuring the band plus New York gang-member-turned-evangelist Nicky Cruz. The event was sponsored by Baptist churches in Washington.

Then in May SOT performed for the Virginia Conference (annual state meeting) of the United Methodist Church. And so at one time, most Methodist pastors in Virginia got to hear Sons of Thunder and learn about their ministry.

Outside of the summer of 1971, SOT had been part-time since its inception in June ’67. But by spring ’71, members were sensing the time had come to commit to it full-time and year-round. The opportunities to perform were now sufficient to justify it. And members were passionate enough about the idea that they decided to go for it, and so in June ’72 Sons of Thunder became a full-time operation. Five years of active part-time performing had paved the way for this monumental step of faith.
     

SOT's lineup from June 1971 to late spring 1972 (L to R, B to F): Don Williamson
(drums, singer), Ed Weaver (keyboards, singer), Steve Halverson (bass, guitar, singer;
wife Sharon Halverson in front), Charlie Ruh (lights), Debbie Halverson (sound),
Hendricks Davis (singer), Donna Gadling (keyboard, singer), Blaine Smith (lead
guitar), Robin Woodhams (singer), Phyllis Wade (singer)

          
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Sons of Thunder
P.O. Box 448
Damascus, Maryland 20872
sot@nehemiahministries.com

   

Celebrating America's Pioneer Christian Rock Band

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