Christian hair metal band Stryper became the ’80s spokesmen for O.C.’s religious right-wing

By on June 6, 2019

“The religious right find their spokesmen in the Christian rock band Stryper…” Night Flight’s Pat Prescott informs us at the beginning of the band’s video for “Soldiers Under Command,” seen here in our “Take Off to Right-Wing Rock.”

This vintage “Take Off” originally aired on November 29, 1986, and you can now watch it on Night Flight Plus.

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The Christian hair metal band’s “Soldiers Under Command” video shows them onstage and off, backstage and behind-the-scenes.

Bassist/keyboardist Tim Gaines is seen getting help putting on his mascara, although all of the band members had mastered the self-application of makeup since high school.

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Stryper’s genesis began not with a big bang but a whimper (only about half of what you’ll read in this blog post is true, the rest is “fake news” we made up).

Drummer Robert Sweet, his younger brother, lead/rhythm guitarist Michael Sweet (who is definitely not Texas senator Ted Cruz!), lead guitarist Oz Fox (nicknamed “Oz” in high school for his Ozzy Osbourne impression), and Gaines formed the band in Orange County in 1983.

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These typical heathen hair metal cock-rawkers –originally called Roxx Regime — frequently gigged on the O.C. (never “The O.C.”) and L.A. metal circuit.

For their stage clothing and logo — and later cheap paraphernalia like bible bookmarks and glow-in-the-dark rape whistles — Robert Sweet developed a wasp-like (not W.A.S.P.-like) yellow & black-striped color scheme.

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After they became born-again Christians, the Sweets decided Roxx Regime needed a new name (plus, there were too many bands with “Roxx” in their name).
They became “Stryper,” pronounced like “hyper,” which is how they described their high-energy live shows, but Gaines continually mispronounced it as “Stripper,” believing it was because they were popular on the Sunset Strip.

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“…Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind” (1st Corinthians 6:9)

Stryper said it was an acronym for “Salvation Through Redemption Yielding Peace, Encouragement and Righteousness.”

They also said it was inspired by “Isaiah 53:5,” a cheerful Old Testament quote, which they added to their logo. The “stripes” – “… By His stripes we are healed” — referred to wounds made with a leather whip, but Stryper swore they weren’t into S&M at the time.

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The Sweets also told rock journos that during their heathen days they used to get drunk and steal road signs.

The color scheme may have actually been inspired by a Cliff Notes pamphlet for the Old Testament, which Robert gave to Tim because he hadn’t yet read all sixty-six chapters of the book of Isaiah (as religious scholars like to point out, Isaiah was Jesus’s first black friend).

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Stryper were soon signed to Bill & Wesley Hein’s Enigma Records, the Torrance-based indie label who’d already signed Christian rockers Mötley Crüe, as well as secular acts like Berlin and the Untouchables.

In 1984, Enigma released their six-track EP The Yellow and Black Attack, which gave “Special Thanks” to “#1 Jesus Christ (The Boss Man)” on its back cover.

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Its success surprised nearly everyone, considering the EP was primarily sold in the gift stores of several megachurches — like Saddleback Church in Lake Forest — as well as spinner racks in gas stations and car washes owned by Republican evangelical types.

Glum Tower Records employees working the day of the band’s first in-store were particularly surprised, since Stryper set an attendance record (several Stryper fans asked for autographs on the bibles they’d tossed out to them at their shows).

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Read more about Stryper below.

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Continuing the militaristic right-wing theme from their Attack EP, Stryper posed with automatic weapons on the cover of their first album, 1985’s Soldiers Under Command.

According to Billboard, advance orders of 100,000 copies led to it being Enigma’s largest ever album shipment.

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Despite zero radio airplay — remarkable, since musically they were often indistinguishable from more “Satanic”-sounding bands like Iron Maiden, Bon Jovi and Winger — Soldiers bubbled up on Billboard‘s Top 200 album charts for nearly a year.

Soldiers was, however, favorably reviewed by CCM (“Contemporary Christian Music”) and Jesus is My Rock… Star (sadly defunct), as well as secular rock magazines like Kerrang!

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During the ’80s, Stryper’s album sales exceeded five million copies, and their 1986 release, To Hell with the Devil — inspired by Mötley Crüe’s 1983 Christian Rock anthem “Shout at the Devil” — even earned a Grammy nomination for “Best Gospel Performance by a Duo or Group, Choir or Chorus.”

However — like another popular Christian Rock band, Kansas — Stryper were at one point accused of using their beliefs as a sales gimmick.

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To remind everyone of their one-time “bad boy” status, the band members decided they should each commit a single criminal act, to be revealed in their press kit bio.

Since they’d never broken any laws before, the band checked out a book on Southern California laws from a public library.

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Robert Sweet decided to rip the “Do Not Remove Under Penalty of Law” tags from brother Michael’s mattress, which led to Michael removing the warning tags off his brother’s pillow.

After Gaines read it was illegal in Dana Point to use your own bathroom if the window was open (it’s true!), he defecated in a friend’s bathroom (a double-flusher!) and then asked his friend to call the cops, but it was pointed out to him that it had to be your own bathroom.

Oz Fox, meanwhile, failed to return the law book to the library, thus committing his singular criminal act.

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Watch Stryper and other right-wing rockers in our “Take Off to Right-Wing Rock” on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.