Salvation Air Force

Salvation Air Force

Salvation Air Force is Canada's first Christian Rock and Roll Band. During their thirty-year history they toured widely in the US and Canada, and recorded a number of well-received albums on the Myrrh Records label, and worked extensively with Larry Norman.


SAF first formed in the spring of 1972 by Donnie Gossett (guitar, keyboards, vocal) with his cousin Leon Rogers (bass) and school mates Ron Stelting (drums, vocal) and Grant Dunning (guitar, flute, vocal). The band only played 2 concerts with the first at a private dance which they perceived as an outreach and the second for a 4-Square Church youth group service. Bassist Leon was not able to attend the second concert so Donnie's brother, Michael Leon Gossett filled in on bass. The band's material consisted primarily of Donnie's original compositions such as "I Am" and "Jesus Is Like The Morning Sun" as well as popular crossover cover songs such as Crosby, Stills and Nash's "Carry On" and Mylon LeFevre's "Gospel Ship". Shortly afterwards Donnie disbanded the group.

Within a few months Donnie and his brother, Michael decided to reform the band using the same name along with school mate, Chuck Kenyon on drums as Chuck provided the drumming on their first album recorded by The Gossett Family entitled "We Are One". In the summer of 1972 the Gossett Brothers attended a music conference in Dallas called "Prelude To Explo" where they met Larry Norman and played him their homemade recordings. Larry was particularly impressed with Donnie's hard rock version of his own song "The Last Supper". As the band began to develop material, most of which was written by Donnie, they deemed they needed a fourth member and recruited Ken Halsey (piano, trumpet, vocal). Since Ken was also a songwriter they performed several of Ken's original compositions as well as a mainstay of songs written by Donnie.

This chapter of the band had their debut in November 1972 opening for Larry Norman at the Vincent Massey Theatre for Larry's first appearance in Vancouver. The band continued to develop new material and play local concerts but then in the spring of 1973 Ken Halsey left the band (although stayed closely connected as he eventually married Donnie and Michael's sister, Jeanne).

In the summer of 1973 the Gossett Brothers reformed with a new chapter of the band by bringing back original members Leon Rogers (now on guitar) and Ron Stelting (now on piano, trumpet and vocal) along with Chuck Kenyon on drums. Eventually Ron was dropped from the line-up as SAF continued as a 4-piece. In September 1973 The Imperials performed a concert at the Vincent Massey Theatre but brought no band with them. Michael suggested they use Donnie and Chuck as their rhythm section which they did as Donnie and Chuck backed up The Imperials without any rehearsal or preparation. Opening for the Imperials that night were The Latinos whose drummer was leaving the band after that concert. When The Latinos heard Chuck's skill on drums they immediately offered him a job as their new drummer. Chuck then toured with The Latinos across North and South America for the next few years.

The Gossett Brothers arranged for various available drummers for their remaining concerts which unfortunately led to a difficult and disillusioning experiences scrambling to play concerts. This prompted the Gossett Brothers to take a break from SAF and accept an invitation to join the rhythm section of Living Sound for a 5-month 9-country tour of Asia. Playing over 150 concerts in a large variety of situations, conditions, languages, climates and cultures helped hone the communication and musical skills of the brothers. Donnie particularly increased his songwriting and was the featured soloist both instrumental and vocally of the band even though he was the youngest at only 18 years of age.

The Touring Years

The Gossett Brothers returned to North America to reform Salvation Air Force with Ron Stelting on drums and Leon Rogers on guitar. With their increased skill and insight as to how operate a band both on and off stage, they immediately became the leading Christian rock band in Canada. In the summer of 1974 they played the Lodestone Festival along with Ron Salsbury & J.C. Power Outlet and The Way (band). After making an impression on Dana Angle, leader of The Way, he offered to produce Salvation Air Force and secured studio time for them in Southern California. The band also played the prestigious Praise '74 Festival along with almost every significant Christian artist of the time. In October 1974 SAF recorded their first single at Buddy King Studio in Huntington Beach, California, the home studio for the many bands of Maranatha! Music.

Then in April 1975 SAF headed out on their first nationwide tour playing the Canadian Prairies and the American Midwest. They played the prestigious Adam's Apple in Fort Wayne, Indiana, home of Honeytree and Petra (band). Their hard rock sound was welcomed in contrast to the softer sound of most of the west coast artists of the day. The Gossett Brother's sister, Judy Gossett, frequently sat in with the band in concert adding her vocal prowess, piano and percussion skills to the mix. Returning from their successful tour the band rolled their van when they encountered a freak snow storm in Wyoming. Stuck in the small town of Sheridan while they waited for their van to be repaired they requested to store their music gear in a nearby Four Square Church. Not only did the Pastor Steve Smith agree to permit them to store their gear but also provided them lodging and an impromptu concert schedule in local parks, churches and schools. What seemed to be an "Accident" (the concluding song of SAF's set in those days) became a new state to tour in as 9 high school students converted to Christianity during SAF's concert.

The band continued to play in their home province of British Columbia, as well as Alberta, establishing a blend of rock, pop and gospel. Leon Rogers left the band to be replaced by Brian Loewen on guitar and vocal while Brian was still a high school student. The band presented their comedy and music to appreciative audiences hungry for Christianized rock and media. The band was also the first to sell t-shirts at their concerts in lieu of having an album. Since Brian had to return for his final year of high school, SAF left on their fall tour of 1975 through as a 3-piece (Donnie, Michael, Ron) and were occasionally supplemented by Judy. At the end of 1975 the Gossett Brothers decided that SAF would no longer be a steady line-up as before but would be the Gossett Brothers supplemented by sidemen and so Ron Stelting was no longer in the band (although he did return many times later).

The Studio Years

In January 1976 The Gossett Brothers spent the month recording their first album at Buddy King Studio with Dana Angle producing once again. Dana suggested using the drummer for The Way (band), Alex MacDougall, for their sessions and thus began a long-standing relationship. Also supplementing the brothers were many of the finest musicians of that day including Al Perkins (formerly of Stephen Stills' Manassas), Mike Escalante (of Psalm 150 and Andraé Crouch & The Disciples), Sandra Crouch, Nancy Short (of The Archers (musical group)), Bruce Herring of The Way (band) and Joy Strange Cull (of Parable). Sister Judy Gossett also provided both lead and backup vocal. Although SAF was primarily known as a rock band, the Gossett Brothers accepted the advice of the producer and engineer to have their first album as a mellow representation of their music. After a month the album was 80% complete but needed mixing and a few parts added. The Gossett Brothers left the album for Dana to complete in their absence but Dana was able to make little progress so in March 1976 Donnie relieved Dana of production responsibilities.

SAF fulfilled concert commitments with Chuck Kenyon back on drums along with sister Judy on vocal and percussion and singer Wendy McRitchie. Donnie also hired Alex MacDougall and his brother, Beau MacDougall (of Steve Camp, Wing and a Prayer, Terry Talbot) to complete the new chapter of SAF for their spring tour of 1976 opening shows for Honeytree across Canada. Ron Stelting's younger brother, Rick Stelting also joined the band on sound for the tour and was frequently involved in technical roles with SAF. Donnie was also been bitten by the recording bug and began to record in his own facility and to develop his skills as a recording producer and engineer.

The Gossett Brothers returned to Huntington Beach to complete their album but Donnie became ill from such a stressful schedule on the road. Michael attempted to complete the album without Donnie's presence but he was unable to. The Gossett Brothers began to market their album to the various Christian record labels of the day. Much interest was expressed but the choice finally came down between Myrrh Records (the largest Christian label at the time) or Solid Rock Records (operated by Larry Norman). Continuing with negotiations the Gossett Brothers returned yet again to Huntington Beach to finalize their first album. They immediately left on their fall tour of 1976 across the Midwest U.S. starting in Chicago with Brian Loewen on guitar and vocal (finally out of high school) and Brian's friend, Kevin Ault on drums. Sister Judy also played with the band for most of the tour. They opened for Randy Stonehill in Columbus, Ohio at the University of Ohio and for Terry Talbot of Mason Proffit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. However, the Gossett Brothers became quite discouraged by touring without an album that was released to the public. They made a decision to avoid further touring until their album was released.

Negotiations continued with SAF signing with Larry Norman in February 1977 and handing him a finished album. However Larry was tied up with many other projects alongside his own career. In July 1977 Larry requested the Gossett Brothers to come to Hollywood for formal interviews, press kits and publicity photos particularly for the album cover. Some of the publicity photos were taken at Mama Jo's Studio in North Hollywood where Larry was just completing production of an album by Pantano-Salsbury, (formerly The J.C. Power Outlet). While there Larry spontaneously suggested adding a song written and produced by Larry to the album which was completed within a few hours. Larry also suggested the title "Strangers In A Strange Land".

Working with Larry Norman

The Gossett Brothers returned to the Pacific Northwest expecting their album to be released any day. In the meantime they held off on all touring only playing one concert in 1977 which broadcast live by radio. They also continued writing and recording their own material in their own studio which was growing by the day. Although Michael had written a few songs, Donnie had written 95% of the material up until this point but now Michael began to express himself as a writer, first by writing his own ballad "Seeker In The Shadows" and then co-writing over 100 songs with Donnie. The Gossett Brothers now expressed themselves not only as the band Salvation Air Force but also as Gossett Brothers Studio. They began to have some of their friends like Sherman Andrus (of Andraé Crouch & The Disciples, The Imperials, Andrus, Blackwood & Company), Reba Rambo, Jim Gilbert and Beau MacDougall to record their compositions in their own studio. Various artists like B. J. Thomas began to express interest in their material.

Frustrated by repeated delays in the release of their finished album the Gossett Brothers hoped to motivate Larry Norman by writing a comedy song about their dilemma using their bent tongue-in-cheek sense of humor called "April Blues". The Gossett Brothers wrote SAF's foremost anthem as inspired by the album title Larry suggested. At one point Larry considered adding it to the album but deemed its style and recording approach was too different than the rest of the album and should be deferred till a later album. Still the Strangers album was not actually released until August 1978 over 2.5 years after most of it was recorded and ironically on the Myrrh Records label as negotiated by Larry. The Gossett Brothers were disappointed as the album no longer represented their musical approach or best material.

Aware that the Gossett Brothers had amassed an unusually large amount of recorded tracks (whereas few artists had their own studio and facility to create such volume in those days) Larry Norman suggested the next release be what he called a Bootleg-style album even as Larry had released several of his own albums -- as underground basement tapes of the avant garde and obscure. Larry reviewed dozens of tapes and selected what he believed were the best track list but the Gossett Brothers hated his selection -- deeming it as novelty and not how they wanted to represent themselves as their art and expression became more sophisticated. Instead they proposed an album entitled "Passing Glances" with new renditions of their best material from the second half of the 1970s. SAF only played twice in 1978 with one of the performances as the headliner for the "Lodestone 78 Festival".

As their music evolved the material became divided into 2 camps: Donnie's own original material almost always performed completely by Donnie and the jointly written material usually sung by Michael with most of the instruments played by Donnie and sometimes supplemented with Alex MacDougall on drums. SAF headlined "Searchlight 79" but with Leon switching to sound and adding Gary Schellenberg on keyboards. They also opened for Larry Norman yet once again in Creston, B.C. at the Creston Civic Centre.

The Gossett Brothers continued to record the "Passing Glances" tracks as well as writing and recording new material as inspiration hit which it so frequently did in those days. With Passing Glances 50% complete the Gossett Brothers decided to release their own underground album only on cassette of the completed Passing Glances tracks and various other songs entitled "Prayer Warriors On Parade". This album was not commercially available and sent out to their friends as a preview of their upcoming official release. However, the response to "Prayer Warriors" was much more positive than anything SAF had produced before. "Prayer Warriors" had more of an edge inspired by the new wave/punk music movement of the day and featured songs such "Avenida Alabanza", "Polarized", "Strangers" and "At The Border".

While still completing Passing Glances, SAF continued to write and record new material and released a second underground album within six months of Prayer Warriors called "Not Sleep Music" which was even more warmly received than Prayer Warriors. 1980 also marked more than 5 years of agreement the Gossett Brothers committed to in 1974 and so Michael became engaged. It also became evident that though the band had matured and developed into an artistic presence the days of SAF were drawing to a close.

Although the band had actively toured nationally during the mid-1970s the band only played a few concerts during the second half of the 1970s. They scheduled one final concert a week before Michael got married called Searchlight 1980. To commemorate the concert Donnie hastily assembled a third underground album of material from 1977-1978 entitled "Zero Avenue". SAF recorded a few more tracks in the summer of 1980 but Donnie determined it was time to formerly end the band although the studio partnership continued till 1984.

Post SAF

Donnie formed a band with Geri Karlstrom to play in nightclubs called The Fabtones and then joined Michael's own band called The MLG Band as drummer along with Ben Karlstrom. Michael played numerous times as The MLG Band through 1980-1984. In 1980-1981 Donnie recorded 24 songs for a never released solo album called "Tell Me Why". Donnie produced an album for Michael of old SAF material along with new collaborations called "The Flow" in 1982. Michael also sat in with Donnie for "The Donnie Gossett Band" in 1983 along with drummer Tony Chamberlist, guitarist/vocalist Bruce Crump and Judy Gossett. Donnie also recorded three praise and worship albums in 1983-1984 and then went into software development including on best selling video games such as Simpsons Road Rage, Jackie Chan Stuntmaster and MTV Sports Snowboarding.

Michael has spent most of the last 20 years working in Christian media while Donnie has spent much of his time working in software. Donnie still writes and records music having released 7 albums of new material in the last 6 years plus assorted re-issues.

Chuck Kenyon has gone onto play drums and percussion with a variety of artists in the lower mainland including The Timothy James Band, The Duncan-Lindberg Band and Jonny & The Stickmen. Chuck's son, James was married in 2004 and Chuck's daughter is in college.

Leon Rogers has continued to play bass and be the worship supervisor at several churches and all 3 of Leon's sons are musicians. Oldest son Johnathan Rogers is skilled on the flute, while middle son, Brent Rogers, is accomplished on both drums and guitar and played through the mid-west for several years with his band Surrender. Youngest son Colton plays both drums and bass and has recently won a high school battle of the bands.

Ron Stelting has continued full-time in music playing with a large variety of bands and artists in Canada, the U.S.A. and Europe include Sweet Dick. Ron also facilitates drum circles as well as is the resident percussionist for the Simon Fraser University Dance Department. Ron has 2 children: Ryan and Satya.

New Millennium Reunion

In 2000 Salvation Air Force released a best of album entitled "We Shall Rock!" In 2003 Salvation Air Force produced a documentary DVD of the history of the band entitled "Behind The Not Sleep Music". After a 24-year hiatus Salvation Air Force played their first live performance at the Back To The Blues Festival at Chilliwack Heritage Park in Chilliwack, B.C. Canada on August 21, 2004 along with Darrell Mansfield, Larry Howard, Graham Ord, Surrender, Beyond The Blues, The Knitting Club and Karen Lee Batten (from Canadian Idol).

The latest project from SAF is a new studio album entitled "Bleed The Dream the album" released to coincide with a live performance by Salvation Air Force at the Back-to-the-Blues Festival 2005 along with Glenn Kaiser, Darrell Mansfield, Larry Howard, Graham Ord, Beyond The Blues, First Born Live, Breaking The Bondage Blues Band, Trimmed 'n' Burning, White Moses and the Fury, Gene Murphy and the Knitting Club, Rick Bouthillier and Son, Dusty Shoes and Crystal Hicks.


* "The Rock And Shock Song / Free Indeed", SAF Records 1974 debut single
* "Strangers In A Strange Land", Myrrh 1977 studio album
* "Zero Avenue", SAF Records 1978 studio album
* "Prayer Warriors On Parade", SAF Records 1979 studio album
* "Not Sleep Music", SAF Records 1980 studio album
* "We Shall Rock!", 2000 best of album
* "Let's Boogie For Jesus!", 2003 comedy album
* "Legends Of The Force", 2004 live-in-concert album
* "Bleed The Dream", 2005 studio album
* "The Last Flight", 2006 studio album


* "Behind The Not Sleep Music", 2003 documentary DVD
* "Back-to-the-Blues", 2004 live-in-concert DVD


Further reading

External links

* []

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