‘Brother’ John Rydgren

On my new EP, The Shape Of Things That Hum, there’s a track called ‘Brother John’, a tribute of sorts to a remarkable man with a remarkable voice. He appears in the form of samples taken from records, air check recordings and station idents for his LOVE radio show. Most will never have heard of him but I’ve been collecting his recordings for many years now and thought this would be the ideal time to write up a proper introduction for those wanting to know about the man behind the voice.

I’m not sure how I first found the work of John Rydgren, it may have been via Otis Fodder and his 365 days project or maybe the single vinyl bootleg of his ‘Silhouette Segments’ album that began circulating around 2003. I can’t remember what drew me to it, it may have been the psychedelic cover (I’m a big advocate of judging a record by it’s cover).


Anyway, as soon as I heard that baritone voice, the hip but sometimes dark delivery and the selection of music he chose to recite over, I was hooked. Many compare Rydgren to Ken Nordine and they certainly do have a lot in common. The crucial difference is that Rydgren was a man with a message and that message was spreading the word of the Lord. “Oh, he was a preacher”, I hear you cry, well yes – he was a Pastor and the American Lutheran Church‘s Director of Radio/TV and Film – but not in the clichéd fire and brimstone sense that we picture when one thinks of such things.

Rydgren – who also went by the moniker Brother John – was much subtler than that and chose to integrate God’s word into his radio shows, intertwined with subjects that the youth of the day could relate to. Sex, drugs, rock music, fashion, cars, it all went in with a Lord’s eye view on each and every one. The creation of the world was turned into a psychedelic trip with allusions to heavy rock and growing weed, a girl with thigh length boots he was checking out suddenly gets him thinking about who had made the girl – “quite a design”.

As well as weekly radio shows Rydgren was broadcast to Vietnam for the troops, intermingling his playlists of rock and pop of the day (Stones, Beatles, Byrds) with short segments he’d written and narrated. Over easy listening backing tracks he planted seeds for the listener to think about the relevance of god within their everyday lives. It was never heavy-handed or overblown and certainly never preachy. His messages were usually slipped in after setting a scene a teenager could relate to, bringing the church into the present day as opposed to the stuffy idea of it being something your parents foisted upon you. One of his often used motifs was, ‘they say…” before going off to quote an example of a commonly held belief before turning it on it’s head.

He was always playful but deadly serious, especially when talking about the Lord, almost to the point of morbidity on occasion as his voice dropped lower and lower in register. He was also very anti-drugs, regularly interviewing musicians of the day and quizzing them on the need for weed or LSD to gain enlightenment. As a Pastor for the Lutheran church he tirelessly spread the word in the form of spoken word radio plays and stories ranging from Moses to Elijah to Xmas tales of Theodore and the Angel, most of which he wrote and co-narrated.

All of his records are promo only radio station issues or were sold at church meetings and, as a result, are incredibly hard to come by. Originals, if you can find them, fetch a high price. Ridiculously rare interview 7″s for radio shows occasionally turn up, flexi discs, religious tales, Xmas stories and sampler records of radio inserts are among the unknown quantity of recordings he made over the years. The best of these is the double album ‘Silhouette Segments’ – literally segments from his radio show ‘Silhouette’. This includes the ‘Dark Side of the Flower – a meditation on the decline of the hippy movement over what sounds like a lost David Axelrod track.


‘Worlds of Youth’ and ‘Contata Of New Life’ are two similar releases and it’s this last one that Rydgren is ironically best known for, although it’s by default and not actually for any of his vocal work. An internet debate has raged for years over where DJ Premier sampled the main hook from for Nas‘Nas Is Like’ and it appears that crate diggers have honed in on the backing track to one of Brother John’s pieces on the aforementioned album. The track is question, ‘What Child Is This?’, has John reciting over a version of ‘Greensleeves’ and Premier himself has said that the label of the record he sampled was pink with a fish on it, the same as the Lutheran church record label. (side note: my copy of Contata has plain black labels with silver lettering and is 12″ sized, i’ve never seen a Lutheran 10″ record but I’m sure they exist). Where John took this version of Greensleeves from is still open to debate but it’s a shame that most internet searches of his name will bring this up rather than any detailed information of his life and work.

Sadly John suffered a stroke whilst on air in 1982. Over time, with therapy, he was able to recover somewhat but had to relearn to read and speak from third grade level. He returned to work in the 80’s for a few years but died in 1988 aged 56. I was lucky enough to track down John’s son, Shane, and obtain his permission to use the voice of his father and am very excited to be able to release such a song knowing it has the blessing of a family member.

You can hear the track Brother John, as well as the rest of the EP, here:


28 thoughts on “‘Brother’ John Rydgren

  1. Brother John – I loved WNOB w/Brother John. I would listen to him for hours during my Jr and Sr. years in high school – 1968- 1970.
    Good times!

    I think of those times a lot now that I’m older. Things were so much less complicated back then.

  2. What a terrific tribute! Brother John was my uncle; my mother, Janice, his sister and Shane’s aunt. I would love to get in contact with that side of the family.
    – Denice Goad Hasty

  3. I’m so pleased to see this wonderful tribute page to Brother John. I was 13 living in Cleveland and as a budding musician, lived music. One evening I decided to see what was on the FM side of my little radio box. Then I reached 108 WNOB AND IT CHANGED MY LIFE!. In 1968, lp cuts from Almond Bro, Yes, Tim Buckley, King Crimson…it was Brother John and his Love format. So years later I acquired cassettes of his AM radio airchecks from a NY station and the Silhouette Segments. I never forgot that blissful time. I last heard John’s voice in 1988 in Boston while listening to a radio station transmitting from Chicago; it was a smooth Jazz format. It was then that I wanted to contact him but soon found out it was too late. If anyone has any airchecks from WNOB 108 Cleveland 68-70 please let me know. Thanx again for your Blog! Oh, I met someone years ago who went to Harvard Divinity School who loved studying cultural shifts in religion and turned her on to Bro John-she flipped out!

  4. I remember “Brother John” very well. I would record his early morning show (i.e., 4am) every week off Armed Forces Radio during my gig in Vietnam. However,I would contend his segments were broadcast long past 1968 as I was in RVN most of 1970, and was turned on to the likes of Tom Rush and Richie Havens (imagine, Richie Havens’ “Handsome Johnny” and “Minstrel from Gaul” on Armed Forces Radio broadcast in Vietnam!!). His broadcasts allowed me to keep a true perspective while I was a stranger in a strange land. Thank you John Rydgren!!

  5. A number of years back a friend of mine came across: “Introspect* Written and Narrated by John V. Rydgren.”

    We were never sure what it was aside from some sort of ‘Christian propaganda’, and that it preceded the Jesus Movement of the early 1970s. We thought it was fairly odd, but also pretty cool!

    Years later, I heard selections from ‘Silhouette Segments’ interspersed between space age pop on one of the shows at Luxuria Music, and have ever since become a big, big fan of the work of Brother John and his cohorts.

    Thanks for the blog and for bringing Brother John to the attention of a new generation!

    *I’ve entered this as a listing at “discogs”, but it’s not for sale. 😉

  6. i remember brother john…i have a question…about 1970-71 on what was kabc-fm in L.A. their used to be a dj that played tunes with political commentary…i remember it was on late at night…the dj’s first name was alan…he also was a big fan of fred neil and would play the song “the dolphins”…what was his last name and who were the other DJ’s on kabc0fm at that time? thanks

  7. I worked with John and the American Lutheran Church on most of his recordings, including the original silhouette radio show, contata of new life, segments, etc. I did most of the interviews for the radio show, and john subed my voice for his. We did many trips to NY, Detroit, Vegas, LA, together. I have lots of pictures, etc.

    I new John personally as well as his wife and son John and Daughter. His daughter had called me back when he passed away. I did not know he remarried and had another son. Would like to see if John (first son) is still around or daughter. I saw john after he left the church in NY and also in LA, he was a good friend.

    Hal Dragseth, his protege at ALC still lives here, and we are Facebook friends. I have lost touch with the other people who worked there as I know there studio is no longer there. John did all the engineering on all these sessions, along with Fritz his engineer, Mike Shields and Hal.

    I know about the Omni release, are the other programs released also. I assume ALC has the rights to all this stuff. I have the vinyl copies of everything John did, they are in mint condition.

  8. Hi there, just reviewing the Omni reissue for a magazine today and I came across your blog. Thanks for all the hard work and loving research that resulted in this double disc gem of a release. It’s bringing me a great amount of deep joy!

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