Petra at 50: PETRA (1974)


In celebration of Petra turning fifty years old in 2022, and reflecting on the role their music has played in my life, I begin going album by album with a look at their 1974 self-titled debut, Petra.

The Backstory

Left to right: Greg Hough , John DeGroff, Bob Hartman, and Bill Glover

In the throes of the Jesus Movement of the early 70s, a reaction to moral decay, drugs, music, and more of the late 60s, Bob Hartman was saved while attending Kent State University, the site of the infamous shooting of protestors in the spring of 1970. Hartman, a guitarist, met John DeGroff, a bass player, and they formed the band Dove. It didn’t last long. Both ended up moving to Fort Wayne, Indiana, to attend the Christian Training Center. But there they would met Greg Hough, like Hartman, a guitarist, and a drummer by the name of Bill Glover. Together, they would form a band they called Petra.

They didn’t have big dreams of playing huge venues. They simply wanted to spread the word of God to their peers through their brand of music, which in an of itself was different. Rock music was, by and large, not the province of evangelical Christianity in the early 1970s, or any brand of Christianity. Many churches were very much anti-rock, and many preached that it was the tool of the devil. Opposition to Petra from Christian circles is something that would not go away for nearly two decades. Still, Petra sought to use the medium to proclaim gospel truth.

After playing at various Midwest locales, including a Christian coffee house called The Adam’s Apple, Petra was noticed by Craig Paino of Myrrh Records. The label’s founder, Billy Ray Hearn, signed the band and agreed to produced their debut album, recorded in a small southern Iilinois studio with a sub-$1000 budget, which would simply be called Petra.

Album Overview

The debut album is different because, with this and the follow up album, Petra didn’t have a lead singer. That meant Bob Hartman sang lead on most songs, with Greg Hough handling a couple of them. Hartman has a very unique singing voice and he does a decent enough job, but it is easy to see why, on later albums, someone else would be the front man.

This album is less about the voice anyway. It’s more about the idea, and that idea is a rock album with a Christian message. As I’ll speak more about below, this is a very evangelistic album. Musically, you hear a lot of dual guitars, which were more common then than they are now. It was the early 1970s and it sounds like it. You hear shadows of the styles of other more prominent secular rock bands of the age, as well as in the lyrics, some of which seems to be a direct response to lyrics of other songs.

My Origin Story

I didn’t come across this album until my Petra fandom was more than a decade old. When I was 24 in 2000–01 I ordered a bunch of older Petra albums I just hadn’t gotten around to adding to my collection yet. Most of those albums had songs included on compilations I was already familiar with, but I’d never heard anything from Petra, so it was a fresh listen to me. At the time I wasn’t impressed because I was comparing it to a Petra sound I grew up on and loved more. However, as you’ll read, as time has passed I’ve come to appreciate this debut album much more.

Album Information

  • Released: 1974
  • Album Length: 34:04
  • Producer: Billy Ray Hearn
  • The Band: Bob Hartman (guitar, banjo, vocals), Greg Hough (guitar, mandolin, vocals), Bill Glover (drums, percussion), John DeGroff (bass)
  • Songs written by Bob Hartman unless noted below.


1. “Walkin’ in the Light” (3:17) – Bob Hartman comes right out on the opening track and lays out the fact that Petra is a rock band, and an unapologetically Christian rock band at that. A sweet dual guitar riff opens the song, and the first lyrics of a Petra song are, “I’m rockin’ with the Rock / Rollin’ on the road that takes me to the King.” So right away they are identifying themselves with Jesus Christ, then follow with, “I’ve been up and down your city / And I wish you could see all the love you need.” So not only do the members of Petra know Jesus, they want you to know Him too. The song reflects a style of the times, as well as lyrics: “Walkin’ in the light every day and night, livin’ in the Spirit is really out of sight.” The song features an extensive dual guitar solo, which Bill Glover’s drums complement nicely. Then, after another go at the chorus, the instrumental continues for an extended outdo. This is probably my favorite song on the album, as it’s a great opening track which lays out just who Petra is and what they are about.

2. “Mountains and Valleys” (2:49) – Next up comes a dramatic shift to a ballad. The message is that when you fall down you have to pick yourself up because the Lord will always give you another try, and it’s those times when you fall you realize how high the peak is with Jesus. This song is just kind of there to me.

3. “Lucas McGraw” (3:24) – This is the most unique song on the album, a real novelty in which Hartman breaks out the banjo and Hough the mandolin. It’s a bluegrassy song sung from the perspective of a couple of hillbillies who are talking about one of their old running mates who isn’t coming around anymore. Why? Because apparently he’s found Jesus and his life has changed as a result. In the end they ask, “Ya know we’ve all been wonderin’ / If what you got just might be real. And all the while we’re laughin’ / Is it really God, is it really God / Is it really God you feel?” The style is a bit silly, but it’s a good song.

4. “Wake Up” (3:40) – This song feels different and for good reason. It’s written by Greg Hough and he sings the lead. The lyrics speak to the need of a person just living their live to “wake up” because there is coming a time you’ll need to be, and you don’t know the time. I like the groove in this song.

5. “Backslidin’ Blues” (4:31) – Hartman writes and sings what is essentially a prayer in the form of a Christian blues song. He’s one who sees he’s been down the wrong load and the’s too tired to carry the heavy load. Satan’s marking him and he can’t take it no more. This might be the most famous song from this album. It was apparently a favorite of those early concerts and it’s not hard to see why. I love the guitar runs in this one.

6. “Get Back to the Bible” (2:22) – Another dual guitar riff to open this one, and it rocks! This song is short, simple, and to the point. Get back to the Bible! Boom! I get the feeling Hartman may have written this in direct response to George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” (1971) when he sings, “‘Hare Krishna’ may be fun to say but it ain’t gonna get you to heaven.” This song calls the listener to return to the standard he or she may be tempted to depart for lesser things. Another great guitar solo here as well.

7. “Gonna Fly Away” (4:55) – The longest song on the album, in length at least, is essentially about the rapture — Christ returning to meet His own in the air, a reference to 1 Thessalonians 4:17ff. And true to Hartman’s lyrical form, he gets evangelistic: “Where you gonna be when the trumpet blows? All that’s left of me is gonna be my clothes / I’d really like to see
You flyin’ next to me.” As is common with this album, this track also has a pretty cool instrumental outro.

8. “I’m Not Ashamed” (3:03) – This is another Greg Hough offering, and as with “Wake Up,” you can kind of tell it’s different. There’s a kind of jazzy/bluesy shuffle to this one, but also more of those dual guitars which feature so much on this album.

9. “Storm Comin’ (4:31) – This is another song with Jesus’ return as a major theme: “I’m just waiting for the day when Jesus will come and take me by the hand / There’s no need to worry, He’s gonna take me to the promise land. I hope you’ll be there too / Jesus is waiting for you.” Hartman writes from a pre-tribulation rapture, pre-millennial perspective, which I agree with. The timing makes me wonder, though, how heavily Hartman was influenced by Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth, which came out in 1970. He writes evangelistically with an expectation of Jesus’ return.

10. “Parting Thought” (1:32) – Not really a song so much as it is, well, a parting thought. “Here’s a song sung with you in mind / Maybe it will make you think about Him one more time / And if you can, please try to understand / Jesus is yours for the asking.” And that’s it… a summing up of what this album has been all about lyrically.

Ranking the Albums

  1. Petra 

There’s nothing else to rank yet. Where will this album rank when it has competition?

The #Petra50

Now it’s time to start a playlist of my fifty favorite Petra songs of all time. This list will evolve as this series progresses, and things that are on the list may/will eventually fall out of the list. I’m not going to waste time putting songs on this list I know won’t be there in the end. I’ll stick with stuff I really like, and then we’ll see where they end up in the end. So here we go…

  1. “Walkin’ in the Light” – A great opening statement. Love the guitars. The drums complement well. This song is Petra.
  2. “Get Back to the Bible”
  3. “Lucas McGraw”
  4. “Backslidin’ Blues”

Parting Thought

The constant theme of this album is “Are you ready? Where will you be when the time comes? What’s gonna happen to you? Jesus is coming back. What then?” I love the evangelistic zeal of this album coupled with its expectation of Christ. Plus, it rocks… a lot more than I remember. It’d been a while since I had listened to this before I gave it a few listens in preparation of writing this. In the future I expect I’ll listen to it much more. This was a solid debut album. You can listen to it here.

We’ll stop there for now. Next up, we fast forward three years for Petra’s sophomore effort, Come and Join Us. So come back and join me for that one.


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