scratchy LP, probably on a phonograph player from the 1930s or so,
begins playing and a man clears his throat. Horns and woodwinds slowly
swell and unveil, coming into tune in the background, finding a place in
the rotating spheres.
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to this evening's performance, Babb and Schendel's musical extravaganza, Lex Rex, a tale of the ancient world. The conductor is ready. The actors and actresses are all assembled. So, without further ado, Lex Rex.
gorgeous organ, something straight out of an early Genesis album, is
followed by soaring Yes-like guitars. The two syncopate. Drums, voices,
and bass join in. So, it begins, and the spheres rotate quickly now.
The Unbreakable Glass Hammer
been listening to progressive rock since a very tender age in the early
1970s. Albums by Yes, Kansas, and The Moody Blues were in abundance in
our home and I've been an ardent fan of prog rock ever since. Even
during the genre's lowest moments of popularity, in the late 1980s and
early 1990s, I clung hungrily to every release by groups and artists
such as Kevin McCormick, Marillion, Echolyn, and Spock's Beard.
I did not encounter Glass Hammer until 2002, ten years after the band
was formed in Chattanooga, Tennessee, by multi-instrumentalists Steve
Babb and Fred Schendel. My ignorance was not Glass Hammer's fault.
Through tenacity, perfectionism, and impressive marketing skills, the
band sold their music in every venue possible, including on the various
American shopping television networks during the early 1990s. Babb has
told me that he and Schendel have, unlike many of their prog rock
brethren, made money from their Glass Hammer releases from the beginning
of the project’s existence. In fact, they’ve made decent money, and
they have used it to expand their own sound and explore new musical
Indeed, on the eve of releasing their fourteenth studio album, Ode to Echo (available
March 11th), Glass Hammer are not only at the top of their own personal
game, they’re confounding the odds. At a time when even leading music
magazines, such as Classic Rock, are predicting the death of
rock, Glass Hammer is at its absolute best, selling music, and
attracting the fans and attention they deserve. And they’ve done it not
by compromising, either musically or lyrically, but by always bettering
themselves, their art, and their relations with their fans.
I first heard about Glass Hammer from the deeply intelligent and gregarious author Amy H. Sturgis.
In the process of nerding out at a coffee shop in Princeton (during a
conference for libertarians) over J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and all
things mythic, Amy asked me if I knew a progressive rock band with the
wonderful name of “Glass Hammer”? I hadn't. The band is from her own
state of Tennessee, and she knew them well. More importantly, they loved
Tolkien. In the rock world, that might not mean as much as it might, as
many bandsincluding hard rock giants Led Zeppelinhad loved Tolkien.
Babb and Schendel love the stories of Tolkien and Lewis, and have
written albums about Middle-earth, the Shire, Hobbittic bars, and
Perelandraas evidenced by albums titled Perelandra (1995), The Middle Earth Album (2001), and Shadowlands
(2004). Additionally, Babb is openly Christian. In his lyrics,
interviews, and public appearances and pronouncements, Babb never
compromises his beliefs. Not shy about his religious beliefs or
political views, he is a committed father and husband, attends Civil War
reenactments, and has served faithfully in his church.
Lex Babb, Lex Schendel
After learning of Glass Hammer from Amy, the next album released by the band was their 2002 masterpiece, Lex Rex.
Almost every Glass Hammer fan regards this album as either their best
work or very near the top of the long list of their releases. Certainly,
countless fans of progressive rockboth in America and abroadnow
consider it a seminal work within the genre.
Its reputation is
well-earned and richly deserved. In particular, one must admire the
story with such obvious profundity. Rather than the mythic worlds of
Tolkien or Lewis, the subject of almost every previous Glass Hammer
album, Babb and Schendel recreate the world of Golgotha and the
execution of the King of Kings on a tragically beautiful Friday
afternoon at 3:00. There, a Roman soldier, a hero of the empire,
discovers that all he had learned and believed about king and country
was a mere shadow and foretelling of the eternal truths of the real
king, the Lex Rex. The logos was not the empire, as the greatest stoic of his day, Emperor Marcus Aurelius, would later argue. The true Logos was the Incarnate Son of God, the enfleshed Second Person of the Holy Trinity, who is truly God and truly man.
together an abundance of exquisite music and musicianship, odd time
signatures, a host of moogs and organs and every other imaginable form
of keyboard, a little bit of the atmosphere of vaudeville, and you have a
brilliant, timely, and timeless piece of art. Perhaps most
importantly, in a move that echoes what Tolkien accomplished in
literature, the story serves as Christian art, rather than as Christian
Babb and Schendel had played in a number of other
bands prior to 1992, and the two began recording what can only be
described as progressive rockthen at its absolute lowest point in terms
of popularity and commercial viabilityaround 1985 in Oak Ridge,
Tennessee. Not surprisingly, each had grown up listening to and loving
the music of Rush, Genesis, Triumph, Emerson Lake and Palmer, and, of
course, Yes. Recording what they most cherished, neither thought there
would be much of a market for the music. Looking back at their first
years, Babb explained, in a 2006 interview with Classic Rock Society, his own ignorance of the situation:
was very naive about the prog scene at that time. So naive, in fact,
that we really didn't know there was a scene. I thought that Fred and I
could bring about the revival of prog, or at least introduce it to a new
crowd. We figured, “Hey! A lot of brainy types read Tolkien, and brainy
types listen to proglet's get the two groups together!” So we did our
progressive rock thing with a Tolkien theme. To a certain extent it
The two found progressive rockwhat they originally
called "fantasy rock" in order not to turn away potential listenersto
be the right vehicle for their stories. "I enjoy writing in the grand
style," Babb has said. "The bigger the better."
Distinctive Voices, Unified Voices
1994, Babb and Schendel, along with Steve's wife, Julie, founded Sound
Resources, a studio near Chattanooga in 1994 that focuses on producing
commercials and jingles. It is, first and foremost, a commercial
advertising agency. Armed with the latest studio equipment, the three
encounter musical talent on a daily basis from the commercial side of
Sound Resources. In addition to so many astounding things about Glass
Hammer is the sheer quality of those who come and go with the band. A
number of immeasurably talented folks come and go from Glass Hammer in
no obvious pattern. For one album, this musician (and especially voice)
is needed. For another album, all of the voices are needed. In this
way, Glass Hammer is as much a projectalways revolving around Babb and
Schendelas it is a group. Currently, one of the three lead singers of
Glass Hammer is Jon Davison, also the replacement for Jon Anderson and
lead singer of the venerable progressive rock act, Yes. Davison is an
excellent singer in his own right, but he does possess the uncannyif
not somewhat spookyability to mimic Anderson's unusual singing voice
Since Lex Rex, Glass Hammer has grown openly
and increasingly Yes-like. This, in no small part, comes from the
recruitment of Davidson on vocals. While some critics point this out as
a negative, Babb just laughs it off, noting his appreciation for the
greats of progressive rock. He never downplays his philio-pietistic
love of Anderson and all things Yes. If anything, I suspect that for
every criticism Babb dismisses, he might just throw a Yes flourish into
the next album to playfully spite those critics. It will be interesting
to see if this Yes-like trend continues.
While I certainly like
each Glass Hammer singer, my favorite singer has been the angelic Susie
Bogdonowicz. She brings a certain humanity to progressive rock that
probably cannot be praised highly enough. There's no doubt that some of
the criticisms leveled against prog rock have some basis in truth.
Certain bands have encouraged the bizarre and long
(keyboard/guitar/drum/etc.) solo, often notes chasing notes for no
reason other than to chase notes. (And, yes, some prog musicians played
before audiences while wearing capes and codpieces. One famous prog
keyboardist even knifed his keyboard during a performance in the 1970s.)
Yet most prog musicians are at the top of their game no matter what
their instrument, and so it takes a very strong and confident voice to
match the prowess of the instrumentation.
Bogdonowicz has shown
that she can hold her own, in a perfectly feminine fashion, with the
most testosterone-driven keyboard solo imaginable. No where is this more
obvious than on Glass Hammer's cover of Yes's classic song, “South Side of the Sky" (from the 1971 album, Fragile).
In what can only be considered heresy by nearly every die-hard Yes fan
and by most progressive rock fans, I think that Bogdonowicz's is voice
is the voice to accompany this fierce opus. Bogdonowicz will be one of the three leads on Ode to Echo.
one could pick up any Glass Hammer album and not feel that Babb and
Schendel had not given everything they possible could have given. These
two throw themselves completely into their work. For example, Babb
faithfully answers every email that comes to Glass Hammer, and he does
so with good humor and intelligent wit and enthusiasm. Even in a genre
full of perfectionists and obsessive compulsivesI say this as a fellow
traveler!Babb and Schendel are at the top of the list, and their fans
love them for it.
It's not just the music that Babb and Schendel
take seriously. Every aspect of Glass Hammer is carefully considered
and expertly handled. The packaging for the CDs is immaculate and
artful. Additionally, it's clear as well that from the "making of"
videos of the albums and extras on the CDs that the members of the band
really respect and love one another. Though mostly a studio project,
Glass Hammer have played a few times live. Not only are they brilliant
live (much to their own surprise), it's equally obvious that they
appreciate their fans as much as their fans adore them.
essence, Babb and Schendel have created not just a progressive rock
project, but a dedicated community of good persons seeking what is true
and what is beautiful.