441, 4-4-1

John McNamara

John McNamara’s 441 Autobiography

4-4-1 singer John McNamara
John McNamara, circa 1988 (photo: Steve Acosta)

I met John Giali at a lunch table in the cafeteria of our grade school and we started a friendship right away. His family had just moved into a house about five houses up the street from mine. He has three brothers and so I pretty much spent the next ten years of my life as a kid playing with them. We played sports, built tree forts, swam in their pool, skateboarded and did lots of other normal kid stuff. The one thing that was different from other kids in our area was that John and his brother Steve had a collection of rock and roll albums that was unparalleled. They also had the best stereo equipment and musical instruments like Steve’s drum set that was set up in his room and John’s electric guitar. I learned a lot about rock and roll music from both of them and John taught me to play the guitar ( I still have the same one today).

I was also led to faith in Jesus Christ at their home one night during a Bible study that was taught by their dad, Joe Giali. It is the most important decision I have made in my life along with marrying my wife Kristin. Steve and John were the first Christians I knew and they introduced me to Christian rock and roll recording artists like Randy Stonehill, Larry Norman, Keith Green, The Way, Second Chapter of Acts, Mustard Seed Faith, Malcom and Alwyn, Barry McGuire, Phil Keaggy, Benny Hester, Darrell Mansfield, Limpic and Rayburn, Richie Furay, Love Song, and Aslan. I fell in love with the music of those artists and today I can still remember the concerts I went to with John and Steve to see their live performances, especially at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa.

We were inspired by those musical artists to form our own musical groups. We started many different bands during our teenage years, mainly performing in garages. I remember one time we actually practiced in the Giali’s living room (if Carol Giali is reading this it was Steve’s idea). It was the typical garage band career and like many others we were not making a huge impact on the music industry. However, we were having a great time because we loved copying our musical heroes. We played cover tunes from those Christian rock artists for a long time and eventually wrote some songs of our own. The venues we played included backyards, church functions, schools, and even a local music and comedy club / bar called the Ice House (David Letterman got his start there). The bands sort of faded away as we all moved on with Steve and John going to San Diego to attend college there and me finishing a geology degree in Los Angeles.

A couple of years later Steve and John were in another garage studio at the home of Glenn Holland’s parents. I had met Glenn a few years earlier during the garage band days with John and Steve. They were auditioning singers for a new band and asked me to try out so I sang along on the new music from U2 and Police they were rehearsing. They liked my performance so we quickly formed a new group (with the name Mr. Wilson), wrote some songs and recorded a demo tape at Glenn’s home studio. It included Mom and Dad, Judgement Game, Love’s Irony and Break Out, all of which were eventually recorded on our first album. Glenn’s mom and dad deserve a medal for allowing our band and Glenn’s brother’s heavy metal band to take over their house during those years.

That demo tape yielded only one response and that was from Randy Ziegler at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. He invited us to meet with him in Costa Mesa and soon we had a record deal with a friend of his named Harry Barnes. We were the first band on Harry’s brand new label called Blue Collar Records. We wrote some more songs for the album including one of our most popular songs In His Presence written mainly by Glenn. We recorded that first album with Doug Doyle at 3D studios in Costa Mesa, which he had built himself in his garage. Doug was a great collaborator with us as we wrote some of the songs in the studio like Fish on the Car. The band name 441 and the logo with the typewriter style letters were developed by Steve during this time. The band name really became a source of identity for us when Russell Heistuman’s artwork for the first album was completed. We all started to feel like 441 was a real rock band when we saw the album cover and the labels for the tapes and LPs.

Randy quickly placed us on the bill with Benny Hester (who was a big music hero of mine) at Calvary Chapel’s Saturday night concert, which was the pinnacle of the Christian rock music concert scene at the time. I felt like it was holy ground after seeing all my favorite Christian artists perform there since I was a teenager. It was the largest crowd we had ever played to with over 2,000 enthusiastic kids crammed into the building. Having an album that I made with my childhood friends and playing on a Saturday night at Calvary was more that I had ever hoped to do musically in my life. My wildest dreams for a music career had been met as of that moment when those kids screamed at the top of their lungs for our songs.

John McNamara leads 441 at Calvary Chapel
John McNamara at 4-4-1's first concert at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa

What came next was totally unexpected and a pure delight to experience. Our album was heavily promoted by Harry and he did a marvelous job of getting our song Break Out on a local Christian radio station. It was the most popular radio station in Orange County at the time and Break Out went to number one on their play list. Break Out stayed in the top 40 for many months and 441 won best new band of 1985 on that radio station’s local contest. As a result of the instant popularity of the album we were booked for concerts all over southern California and other locations around the country. We were invited to play at the Cornerstone festival in Chicago, Icthus festival in Kentucky, as well as other large Christian music festivals during the next two years. Throughout our travels we met many of the Christian musicians we had looked up to as teens like the time we played at the Anaheim Convention Center with Phil Keaggy and Darrell Mansfield.

The whole experience was very exciting and almost dreamlike at the time. We were part of a phenomenon of new Christian music that was just starting to take off across the country and we were on the front edge of it. I always relished the opportunity we had to travel and meet a wide variety of people across the country because of the success we had with music. Sharing our faith in Christ and singing music we had written together was a very satisfying experience. The people I met and the relationships developed from the 441 band years will last forever...especially my friendships with John, Steve and Glenn.

John McNamara/ February 12, 2006