EARLY VERSIONS: 1978 – 1979
The Lifesavers (and Undercover) formed out of members that came from two earlier bands, J.C. Rose and Boaz. Both bands started in 1978. They were described by John J. Thompson as “edgier than Larry Norman and Love Song.” Chris Wimber was in Boaz before forming The Lifesavors, but J.C. Rose and Boaz had line-ups that were changing and intermixing. By 1979, J.C. Rose was Jim Nicolson, Joe Taylor, and Dave Hackbarth while Boaz was Chris Wimber, Danny Pavlis, Ray Hersom and Rick Alba (among a few others). J.C. Rose was also noted as having a demo tape, but it is unknown if Boaz ever recorded. Gary Wilson joined J.C Rose on drums, and then 4-6 weeks later they split up. Jim Nicolson, Joe Taylor, Danny Pavlis (drums), and Rick Alba (bass) started Undercover. Undercover started rehearsing in a greenhouse owned by Danny’s parents. Chris Wimber and Ray Hersom formed The Lifesavors.
Ric Alba had this to say about the two bands: “I played keys in Boaz starting in 1978. I met them when my drummer-since-childhood Frank Pipitone auditioned and joined J.C. Rose. Frank and I had ‘got saved’ at a hippie bible study group at the home of Ross Mann, and we had a hippy folk trio with Ross that broke up when Frank joined J.C. Rose. Ojo had a friend, Chris Wimber, with a band that needed a singer and keyboard player, so Ross and I joined up and there was Boaz.
Chris’ dad being John Wimber, we found ourselves opening for Lonnie Frisbee a number of times. Then we got some local notoriety for going, (gasp) “New Wave” when I wrote the song, “Francine” in 1979. This was the only Boaz song to outlive the big switcheroo of personnel when JC Rose and Boaz became Undercover and the Lifesavors.
I had secretly idolized Taylor and Nicholson for their prog-rock abilities, as I was becoming a huge fan of Yes and Chris Squire at the time. I would have muscled my way into a band with them sooner but J.C. Rose’s bassist, Jerry Davis, had become a good friend of mine and I respected that. Jerry became John’s bassist for the Vineyard worship team, which lasted many years after that.”
FORMATION: 1980 – 1981
The Lifesavors were an early Christian pogo punk/new wave band that formed in 1980. According to the liner notes to Undercover’s Volume 1 compilation, The Lifesavors were formed by Chris Wimber (the son of Vineyard founder John Wimber) and Ray Hersom. Wimber and Hersom had previously been a in a band called Boaz before forming The Lifesavors. Their first concert as The Lifesavors was at a roller skating rink in Yorba Linda sometime late in 1980. Undercover and a band called The Chosen Ones also played at the concert. It is unknown at what point Mark Krishchak joined the band, but a live demo called 3-14-81 Live (recorded at a church in Downey, CA) contains at least one song credited to Krishchak on a later album. Krishchak served as the early leader of the band performing as lead vocalist, primary songwriter, and lead guitarist. In early 1981, The Lifesavors and Undercover were both asked to release albums through The Ministry Resource Center (MRC) label. By the time The Lifesavors released their debut full length album Us Kids, Hersom was not in the band and two new members were listed. Joining bass guitarist Wimber and lead vocalist / guitarist Krishchak were Kevin Lee Annis (brother of Mike Stand of the Altar Boys) on drums and Michael Knott on rhythm guitars. Knott has later stated that he was about 16 or 17 years old at this time.
Altar Boys bassist Ric Alba also worked with The Lifesavors at one point. According to Alba, “I did some keys for the Lifesavors, but was never a member. They were forming while Undercover was at the same time. Lifesavors rehearsed in Ray Hersom’s living room when Chris and I were renting spare rooms in Ray’s house. At that time though, Ray was in Undercover. At the same time we held open jam sessions at the house, often attended by Kevin’s (Lifesavor’s drummer) little brother Mike, who became Mike Stand.”
Knott described the band’s early sound as “psuedo punk rock songs.” Many outlets refer to Us Kids as the first Christian Punk album (although No Sham! by the Bill Mason Band preceded it by two years). The album’s producer Thom Roy refers to the sound as Power Pop. The band had its fair share of controversy in the early days, including being banned from playing at Calvary Chapels because Knott would dance on stage during concerts. But the band also played local California rock clubs with other punk icons, including Darby Crash.
A bootleg from 1982 features Krishchak, Annis, and Knott – as well as mentioning John, Brandon and former member Ray. It is unknown who John and Brandon are. They also talk about recording their second album on their own label. Eight songs from the bootleg were never released, so those were probably meant for the new album that never materialized. MIchael Knott mentions writing one of the unreleased songs called “For You.”
At some point in 1982, Krishchak leaves the band and Knott takes over to record the two song You and Me single. John and Brandon are not listed on this release. The line-up for the single is just the trio of Knott, Wimber, and Annis.
CONSTANT CHANGES: 1983
At some point after they recorded the 1982 single, Brian Goins was brought into the band. One live photo with Knott, Wimber, Annis, and Goins does exist, but according to Annis there was only one concert with this line up. The band began recording the first version of Dream Life with Knott on lead vocals and guitars.
At some point during the recording, Knott says that John Wimber told them that he wanted the band to travel around the United States planting churches. Knott didn’t feel led to do that, so he left the band and formed Idle Lovell. Kirk Heiner joined the band after Knott left. According to Heiner, at this point they decided to re-record the vocals on Dream Life, with Goins singing lead vocals on about five songs and Heiner handling lead vocals on about six. Knott’s background vocals were left in the mix, as well as some of his guitar work. Most songs on the Dream Life album are credited in part to Knott. At the time of the album’s release, Annis and Wimber are still listed as members, with Kirk Heiner now listed as guitarist and Brian Goins listed as the new vocalist.
Goins was not able to tour for Dream Life, so Krishchak was brought back in for the tour.
LOST YEARS: 1984 – 1985
One oddity exists from 1984 – a demo usually referred to as the Lost Nashville Demo. Sources have confirmed that Krishchak was the band leader at this time. Kirk Heiner had this to say about the song writing process for the album: “The song ‘Voices / Lost in the Darkness’ was completely written by me. The other songs were pretty much written by Mark Krischak but came together as a collaboration of Mark, Chris, Kevin and me. We recorded late that evening. Chris, Mark & Kevin had all flown in earlier, but I flew in a day later than the rest because at the time I ran a business. We got to the recording studio around midnight. The building was amazing: a two story brick building with a two story waterfall in the entry. The recording room was large enough for a full orchestra. It had a new technology system of recording using glass sheets hanging in the air. Wires connected to the glass would vibrate, sending back a perfect recording of the sounds in the studio. We had a studio musician show up for the keyboard tracks. He worked for Refuge Records. I had been working on the song ‘Voices’ that was about all of the voices that try to influence us. Some good, some bad, some just our own thoughts. I asked the keyboard player if he had any kinda scary, haunted house type sounds in his synthesizer, so he pulled one up. When he did, it was playing through these huge speakers in the recording booth. It sounded like the devil himself came out of that keyboard – scared the crud out of all of us. I said, ‘Put that thing back’.”
After recording, The Lifesavors embarked on a major tour. Heiner recalls: “Right after that recording we began a national tour with Rick Cua (formerly of the Outlaws) and a heavy rock band called Jerusalem. It was an amazing experience. 21 guys in a bus for a month touring over 20 states and even into Canada. Every stop a different band seemed to be the “Big Deal” of the night. One stop it would be Rick Cua, and other venue it would be Jerusalem. In Canada, we were the big hit. They were all wearing Hawaiian shirts in honor of the California phenom band and a couple hundred kids danced in the front of the concert singing every word of all our songs.“
Heiner also went on to record a solo album, which contained the song Voices. According to Heiner, “My solo album was never released. We were shopping to secular record labels trying to reach a larger audience.”
Dream Life was also the last official album by The Lifesavors before Knott took over for good and changed the name to simply “Lifesavers.”
PERMANENT NAME CHANGE: 1986
At some point between 1984 and 1986, several changes occurred: Krishchak left the band (with Knott taking over as leader), Wimber also left (to be replaced by Brian Doidge – formerly of The Chosen Ones – on bass), and the name of the band was changed slightly. In 1986, Lifesavers signed to Frontline Records and released Kiss of Life. The name was not the only thing to change – Knott also steered the band in a more alternative direction, drawing comparisons to The Psychedelic Furs. Some sources also claim that Knott no longer likes this album, even though some songs do occasionally make it in to his solo live shows from time to time.
SIDE PROJECT: 1987 – 1999
In 1987, Knott decided to take Lifesavers in a darker direction, both musically and lyrically. This major change in direction caused him to also change the name of the band to Lifesavers Underground (also known as L.S.U. or L.S. Underground). Several albums were released under this name and it appeared that the Lifesavers were no more.
In reality, the Lifesavers were just dormant and in 1991 Knott would begin releasing albums under both names. 1991’s Poplife saw the Lifesavers head in a more surf rock direction. It also saw an entirely new band behind Knott, with Michael Sauerbrey on bass guitar and Steve Hindalong (The Choir) handling drums.
The Lifesavers went quiet for a few more years until 1995 when they released Huntington Beach. This album saw the return of Doidge on bass guitar and the addition of Chuck Cummings on drums. Huntington Beach was also the heaviest Lifesavers album to date – a return to their punk rock roots. Songwriting was split between Doidge and Knott on this album, with less spiritual lyrics that focused on many humorous aspects of life on the title beach.
The late 1990s saw several Lifesavers album re-issued by various labels – Kiss of Life in 1995 on Alarma records and both Us Kids and Poplife on M8 records in 1999. After that, the Lifesavers went dormant again for almost a decade.
RESURRECTION: 2008 – Present
In June 2008, the new bass player for the Lifesavers, Joshua Lory, announced that a new album was being recorded. Joining Lory and Knott on the album would be Nick White on drums and Cliffy Huntington on guitar. No definite plans or release dates, but songs were being worked on in Beach Boys / Ramones vibe.
As of December 2008, 16 music demos were completed and ready for the lyric and harmony writing process. Accoring to their MySpace page, “Our goal is to make the ultimate soundtrack for Summer, rockin’ songs with lush vocal melodies from start to finish!”
The album was recorded and released in 2013. Two mixes were completed of the album. The first one by Masaki Liu was released in cardboard sleeve as the “Kickstarter Edition.” In 2014, the second mix by J. Powell was re-issued as a digipack by Retroactive Records as the “Retroactive Edition,” with modified and expanded artwork.
To Be Continued…