441: The Fire Still Burns
In early 1984 a buzz began floating around Christian New Music circles in Southern California about a new band that wasn't in the usual Maranantha! pipeline. Pushing infectious rhythms with honest lyrics, these four young men from Arcadia, California were known as 441 and were about to turn heads from outside the "Orange Curtain".
After three albums and a whirlwind of grass-roots enthusiasm, 441 left the strange Christian music scene, hopefully a bit better than they found it.
Now, they return with the same mission.
Young John McNamara always wondered what the commotion was at the Giali household just north of his in the sedate foothill town of Arcadia, California. Meeting a member of this clan at a school lunch table, neighbor John Giali clued in the other John on the passion he and his older brother, Steve, had for music. John soon visited, and was spellbound by noise coming from Steve’s drums and John’s guitar.
“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 musical instruments. I learned a lot about rock and roll music from both of them and John taught me to play,” McNamara reflects.
The Giali family also had a profound spiritual influence on McNamara, who eventually came to follow Christianity through regular bible studies led by the Giali’s father, Joe.
Soon, McNamara had a six-string of his own and began writing songs. John and John played together often, and many years later they happened to play at a fellowship for young Christians where Glenn Holland attended.
Glenn lived just a half a mile south of the other boys but they had not associated much in school. After Glenn converted to Christianity in high school, he seemed drawn to music and recording, which set up the chance meeting with John and John.
Friendships ensued and Glenn elected to learn the bass guitar. Within a few years, Steve and Glenn were hashing out rhythms from some of their favorite bands.
“Glenn would have little to do with what I had liked before that time and he was way into The Police, U2, Joe Jackson, etc. So we worked a bit and got pretty good at mimicking the guys at the top of the heap.”
John Giali soon joined the sessions in Glenn’s parents’ garage and the trio could feel the momentum building.
After auditioning a few different singers, things fell in place when they reached out to McNamara. John already has some impressive songs written and the quartet was off and running.
After a few gigs with band names like “The Leisure Boys” and “Mr. Wilson,” Steve came up with the simple numerical reference that indicated the unified direction of the group.
441 recorded a demo in the garage and sent it to as many people as they could.
That tape yielded only one response, but it was an important one. Randy Ziegler ran the seminal and very popular concert series at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. 441 was well familiar with this venue, all having seen such old and new iconic groups as Randy Stonehill, Larry Norman, Keith Green, The Way, Second Chapter of Acts, Phil Keaggy, Benny Hester, Darrell Mansfield, Love Song, Undercover, The Lifters and Lifesavers.
Randy just wasn’t interested, he was fired up about 441. Events progressed quickly at that point, leading to a record deal with a new promoter, Harry Barnes and recording with Doug Doyle at 3D studios, who had just finished with the legendary Vox Humana by Daniel Amos.
Randy set up opening gigs with Benny Hester and Undercover and the response was fantastic. People ate up the energy of songs like In His Presence and the infectious beats of Break Out.
4-4-1 was released in November, 1984 and shot to number 1 in sales in Southern California. Break Out debuted at the top spot on Contemporary Christian station KYMS in Orange County and the band had to turn away concert requests.
“If you’ve ever seen the movie, That Thing You Do!, it was reminiscent of what happened with us,” said Steve. “Hearing our song on the radio for the first time, watching it shoot to number one, in our little slice of the universe – it was surreal.”
441 had shocked the Christian music business.
4-4-1 stayed in the top 40 for a full year, but it was time to expand out of the confines of SoCal and make their mark nationally.
Mourning Into Dancing, 441’s second release, debuted in CCMs Top 40 Albums chart in 1985 and the title track rose to #2 in national Christian Rock airplay. Appearances at the renowned Cornerstone and Ichthus festivals in ’86 allowed the band to bring their energetic pop-rock to a wider audience and they were welcomed with open arms.
All was not well at home, though, as label boss Harry Barnes found himself on the wrong end of a raw deal with his record distributor. Harry had expanded the label to include Undercover and the excellent Adam Again, whose releases were also selling strongly. Harry would not see a fraction of the money owed him and Blue Collar Records, from such a promising start, was no more.
441 took this cue to end their run as well.
“We weren’t the type of band that lived and breathed the lifestyle,” said John Giali. “We all had or were finishing college and wanted some different things for our lives, so we walked away.”
McNamara and Holland, the principal songwriters, still had some stuff left in them and released a third album as 441 under the Broken label, titled Sacrifice. Produced with the late Gene Eugene of Adam Again and Lost Dogs fame, Sacrifice represented a sonic and lyrical departure for the band, moving into more introspective and emotional territory.
“I still very much wanted to do music,” said bassist Glenn Holland, “and I wasn’t done trying. Sacrifice was a fun experiment, and we were hoping to get a bit more attention from it than we got. There are still some very special moments on that record. After all that we had been through, especially with some of the disappointments in the so-called Christian music biz, it was a record we needed to make.”
Years quickly passed, families were started, careers were developed, and the boys drifted apart.
Yet the burn for musical expression is a steady one.
441 reformed to participate in the Broken Records Reunion Concert in 2005 with Undercover, Altar Boys, Choir and Crumbacher.
The evening was a bittersweet one, as bassist Holland had cancer surgery just a few days before the gig and missed the event. Truly a Broken Reunion.
Nonetheless, the remaining members and guests Ronnie Martin (Joy Electric) and Joe Medrano (filling in for Holland on bass) served a spirited and energetic set to the capacity crowd at Mariner’s Church in Irvine, California.
The success of the concert only fanned the flames to do more, and the idea of releasing a live album off the Broken event was discussed.
The surprise was McNamara and Holland never stopped writing, so the band went into the studio for the first time in 20 years with Jason Martin (Ronnie’s brother and leader of Starflyer 59) to record two new songs for the album – Inside Me and Rain Fall Down.
“I was shocked at how quickly the ideas started coming out once we began working on music again,” said Glenn. “It really feels like we haven’t missed a beat.”
441: Broken Reunion was released on March 28, 2008 with a live show in Mission Viejo, CA to a warm reception.
“We have no idea where this will lead us,” claimed Steve Giali, “but we’ve still got the fire to put something out there and see what people think.”