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How Stryper found God and brought Christianity to Sunset Strip, by those who were there

Stryper in 1985
(Image credit: Paul Harris/Getty Images)

Tom Beaujour and Richard Bienstock's new book Nothin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion tells the story of the rise of hair metal, when Hollywood's mean streets were littered with girls and men who dressed like girls, when the air grew thick with hairspray, and when the party didn't stop until the next one was well and truly underway.    

Poison's Bret Michaels describes the book as "A backstage pass to the wildest and loudest party in rock history," while Ratt singer Stephen Pearcy says, "If you want to relive the explosive decade, this is as close as you're gonna get." And, let's face it, both men were there: on the front line, fighting the glam wars from mascara-smeared trenches.

In the excerpt below, the focus is on the unexpected rise of Christian rockers Stryper, as told be the people who were there. 

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Michael Sweet [Stryper singer and guitarist]: Around 1983, that’s when we had a few of our friends in the music world who had changed their lives come into our rehearsal studio and tell us about God. And that’s when the light went on for us. And Oz [Fox, Stryper guitarist] had grown up in a Christian family. Tim [Gaines, Stryper bassist], his dad was a preacher. And Robert and I came to know God through Jimmy Swaggart. My brother started watching him on television when we were kids, like I’m sure a lot of people at the time.

Robert Sweet [Stryper drummer]:  I would watch the telethons. I mean, he was very famous. He’d sold over a hundred million records, which very few people know. His cousin was Jerry Lee Lewis.

Michael Sweet: We were kinda more drawn to his music than his preaching. My dad’s a big Elvis fan and Jimmy kinda sounded like Elvis.

Robert Sweet: Even as a little kid, something was pulling on me and I remember talking to my family about accepting Jesus. And I did when I was fifteen years old. I think it was April 20, 1975.

Michael Sweet: So we actually accepted Christ, the whole family, and then we started going to church. But the more Robert and I got into music and playing the clubs, the less we were going to church. And that whole cliché that goes along with rock ’n’ roll, you know, sex and drugs, I was doing all that. 

I remember standing out in front of Gazzarri’s [famed Hollywood nightclub] and the Arthur Blessitt folks, they would walk down Sunset Boulevard with this big wooden cross with wheels on the end of it and they would preach to people on the Strip. And I was one of the guys that they preached to. Here I am knowing that what they’re saying is true, at least according to my beliefs. But at the same time I’m standing there with a drink in my hand smoking a cigarette and talking to Stephen Pearcy. So I wasn’t living the life.

Robert Sweet: Then one day I just looked at the guys and I said, “Guys, this is how it’s got to be.”

Michael Sweet: It was an easy thing for us to say, “All right, let’s do it.” We said a prayer, we started rewriting lyrics, and from that day forward we changed everything and went down a different path.

Vicky Hamilton [Guns N' Roses, Poison and Faster Pussycat manager]: After working with Mötley Crüe I became friendly with Wes and Bill Hein. And Wes was like, “Maybe you try and book Stryper and help us with this.” I had never heard of Stryper, but when I figured out it was Bobby and Michael from Roxx Regime who I used to see at Gazzarri’s, the instant rapport was there. But I had no idea they were Christian. 

I went to their rehearsal space in La Mirada, I saw the 777, the Isaiah quote on the wall. It still didn’t dawn on me. And my parents were fundamentalist Christians! You would think that that would not slide by me. But back then I smoked a lot of pot and whatever.

Anyway, I decided that I would help Stryper and that I would start booking them. I booked them at the Country Club to open for Bon Jovi, which was Bon Jovi’s first night in town.

Michael Sweet: They had a decent following. I would like to believe that we pulled a lot of those tickets as well because we did have a big following there. The only thing I remember about that, it’s the only time I’ve ever really met Jon. I didn’t even really meet Jon. He didn’t really have any- thing to say. He just kinda did his own thing. The rest of the guys all said hi and were very cordial and very nice. Jon was just Jon.

Robert Sweet: I remember the drummer for Bon Jovi walked up to me, he looked at my drum set, and he said, “What the eff is that?”

Vicky Hamilton: That night was the first time I saw them throw Bibles at the crowd. They had stickers in them, with the 777. I saw them hit a girl in the head with a Bible and it sort of knocked her back a little bit. I was like, “Okay . . .”

Michael Sweet: Drummers always throw out drumsticks, right? Guitar players throw out picks . . .

Wes Hein [co-owner, Enigma Records]: And people were clamouring for these Bibles. It was pretty amazing. Nobody was throwing them back at the band or anything.

Michael Sweet: In the early days we used to throw out Bibles with no stickers, and they used to get left on the floor of the venues. Then we started putting the sticker on and they would all get taken, because I think people viewed it more as a souvenir than a Bible.

Wes Hein: Sometimes the band would come to us and say, “Hey, can you advance us some money?” They were buying all the Bibles themselves. So I’d cut them a check. Because if they had, you know, twenty shows for a particular tour, think about the number of Bibles they’d need for a show, times twenty.

Vicky Hamilton: After that Bon Jovi show I took a meeting with the woman that was their investor, who was somebody they knew from the church.

Michael Sweet: That person’s name is Daryn Hinton. She was part of a ministry called the Eagle’s Nest. Her dad was an actor, she grew up in Bel Air in the movie industry. She had inherited some money and whatnot and so she invested in the band.

Daryn Hinton [manager, financial backer]: I saw them first at a Bon Jovi concert at a little place called the Country Club. I had already pre-judged in my mind that they were doing this as a gimmick and using God’s name. But after seeing the show, and seeing and feeling the spirit and seeing the reaction from the kids, I was totally turned around.

Michael Sweet: I remember being in the dressing room, and I open the door and Daryn’s standing there and her mascara’s running down her face. She’s crying. And she told me she was there that night to kind of rebuke us, telling us we were doing the wrong thing. But then she said, “I am so touched by what I saw tonight.” 

And two nights prior I’d asked God, I said, “God, we need money, nothing in this world happens without money.” I asked for $100,000. So now this is just a couple days later, and Daryn says, “If you’re interested, I have $100,000 I’d like to invest.” Same amount.

Vicky Hamilton: The next thing you know she’s buying them a limousine and they’re striping it out in yellow and black.

Michael Sweet: We didn’t paint it yellow and black. It was a black limo and then we had yellow pinstriping put on it. I never really got the limo thing but, you know, Daryn liked to do things, and still does to this day, in a big way. She just thought, Okay, we’re gonna have our own limo, we’re gonna get our own billboard on Sunset Boulevard – which we had, she paid for that, too – and that will make everybody around town go, “Who are these guys?” It made noise. It created a buzz. And you know, if you don’t have people talkin’ about ya, then you don’t have people talkin’ about ya.

Vicky Hamilton: I remember them pulling up to a gig at Radio City and I got in the car with them and they’re, like, leading a prayer circle. In the limousine! And girls are sort of beating on the window to try to say hello to them and stuff. It was a little odd for me.

Robert Sweet: We prayed in the limo, sure. But that’s all part of it all, right? Where would we be without beautiful women? None of us would exist. So thank God for it.

Michael Sweet: But we really went out of our way to not partake in that stuff. Prior to Stryper we did. But during Stryper? No. But we did have a lot of girls that followed us around from venue to venue.

Robert Sweet: With Stryper, we were always one hundred percent rock ’n’ roll. We’re not these Christians who are trying to be rock ’n’ roll guys. We love rock ’n’ roll music. But when it comes to Christianity, we mean what we say.

Wes Hein: When we were getting ready to put out the first record [the 1984 EP The Yellow and Black Attack!], we were getting phone calls going, “When it’s out, I want to buy a box.” And we’re like, “What do you mean you want to buy a box?” “We’re going to give them out at our church.” And then the shows, I was seeing how well attended and well organised they were. The Christian community was starving for a band like this, because the music was great.

Ron Goudie [producer, Enigma Records]: They were some of the best musicians I’ve ever worked with. The Sweet brothers, they’re not twins, but they’re like twins, they can finish each other’s thoughts and all this shit. And they’re fantastic players.

Bill Hein [co-owner, Enigma Records]: A lot of Christian kids liked rock ’n’ roll, and they were bored with a lot of the Christian music they were hearing. It just didn’t speak to them. So Stryper comes out and they’re doing rock ’n’ roll. If you like Ozzy Osbourne, if you like Judas Priest, but you’re a Christian? Well, here’s Stryper. Put it in rotation.

Michael Sweet: We were different, man. We really were. That’s why it’s even more disturbing when people say, “Ah, it’s just a gimmick.” Those people weren’t there. They didn’t walk in our shoes. They didn’t live it. They have no right to say it was a gimmick because they don’t know. They don’t have a clue.

Tom Beaujour and Richard Bienstock's Nothin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion is published on March 16.

Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion book cover

(Image credit: St. Martin's Press)