National Rock Opera Company (1971)


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Recording Information

Classification: National Rock Opera Company
Alternate Classification: Brown County Chorale and Country Music Ensemble
Year of release: 1971
Language: English
Type: Stage cast

Alternate Covers


Jesus of Nazareth…………Dane Donahue
Judas Iscariot…………W. Dorian Harewood
Mary Magdalene…………Ann Brady
Pontius Pilate…………Daryl Wagner
King Herod / Peter…………Timothy Sens
Simon Zealotes…………Nikki Tyler
Caiaphas…………Andy Robinson
Annas…………Erich Barnes, Jr.
Women in “Peter’s Denial”…………Joyce Gordon, Shary Smith, Nikki Tyler

The above singers sing the parts of apostles, priests, soldiers, merchants, etc. Street crowd sounds were produced by the entire chorus plus Sandi B. Lewis and Janet R. Hascal.


Acoustic and Electric Guitars: Jim Lynch
Acoustic Guitar, 6 and 12-string Electric Guitars: Dave Bennett
Bass Guitar: M.E. Minor
Piano, Clavinet: Steve Burkey
Organ: Tim Packard
Tenor Sax and Flute: Larry Strother
Trumpet and Flugelhorn: Gil Botvin
Drums: J.A. Smith

Nashville Musicians (performed overdubs on the Brown County Chorale release[s])

Rhythm, Gut-String & Dobro Guitars: Tony Moon
Electric Lead & Dobro Guitars: Wayde Phillips
Steel Guitar: Pete Drake
Steel & Dobro Guitars: Lloyd Green
Piano & Harpsichord: Bill Pursell
Fiddle: Buddy Spicher

Track Listing

National Rock Opera Company release(s)

Act 1:
Overture / Heaven On Their Minds
What’s The Buzz / Strange Thing, Mystifying / Everything’s Alright
This Jesus Must Die
Simon Zealotes / Poor Jerusalem
Pilate’s Dream
The Temple
Everything’s Alright / I Don’t Know How To Love Him
Damned For All Time / Blood Money

Act 2:
The Last Supper
Gethsemane (I Only Want To Say)
The Arrest / Peter’s Denial
Pilate And Christ
King Herod’s Song
Judas’ Death
Trial Before Pilate / Superstar
Take My Mother Home

“Take My Mother Home” was chosen by Musical Director David Chase as a replacement for “John 19:41” an instrumental, and the concluding selection in the original album. It was Mr. Chase’s opinion that so doing enhanced this recording. Writer: Hal (sic) Johnson. Published by Carl Fischer, Inc.

Brown County Chorale and Country Music Ensemble release(s)

Side 1:
What’s The Buzz
Strange Thing, Mystifying
Everything’s Alright
Poor Jerusalem
I Don’t Know How To Love Him

Side 2:
The Last Supper
Peter’s Denial
King Herod’s Song

Audio Production Information

Produced by Tony Moon and Merv Shiner

Concept and Design: Pinwheel Studios, Nashville, Tennessee
Art Direction and Layout: Herb Burnette
Illustration (National Rock Opera release)Derek Grinnell
Cover Photo-montage (Brown County Chorale release)Julius Friedman

The illustration on the front cover was created by Derek Grinnell. The artist has projected the execution of Christ into contemporary times to follow the feeling of the album.

Recorded at Jack Clement Recording Studios, Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.A.

Historical Notes from a Fan

National Rock Opera program. Copyright Michael Kontras

As this fan has alluded to frequently on pages of this discography devoted to “knock-off” recordings (for which we apologize; he likes a good template when he comes up with one), everybody wanted to get in on the act when it came to Jesus Christ Superstar and its success. This did not merely extend to the realm of the inevitable attempt to cash in from the recording world; illegal stage performances of JCS (sometimes in concert, sometimes in full production) sprang up all over the USA, usually on college campuses. Companies with such official-sounding names as The Jesus Christ Superstar Company were cropping up and touring across the United States. Life magazine even featured a pirate show on the cover in May 1971.

Thanks to Robert Stigwood now being involved, money was spent on court action aimed at halting these unauthorized productions, the better to be able to present the official stage version later that year without competition and with a far better level of quality control. These efforts initially met with varying degrees of success; some productions were halted, while others were allowed to continue.

In the latter category stand the makers of this recording, The National Rock Opera Company. The fact that the opera seemed never to have been designed for live performance (to the untrained ear, the original concept recording suggested vocal parts too demanding to be done several times a week) did not stop this “bootleg” company from going on the road. Initially, they did not have permission from the publishers to use the material (which is more likely the reason for the inclusion of the non-JCS finale “Take My Mother Home” — such unauthorized touring versions would frequently incorporate other material of a religious nature, sometimes original, to claim they weren’t profiting from brand recognition), but a timely court order in their favor allowed them to proceed.

Backstage photo. Copyright Michael Kontras

Which they did, with swiftness — at least one leg of the tour played over 120 performances in 26 states in less than 6 months (running from July through December 1971). To hear the tour’s sound and lighting technician Michael “Zorba” Kontras tell it, “Our touring schedule was a grind. We averaged 5 shows a week with most of them being one-nighters.” However, as the time-worn axiom puts it, the grind produces results, and it certainly did for Dorian Harewood (Judas), who went on to massive success as an actor in such hits as Full Metal Jacket, I’ll Fly Away, The Jesse Owens Story, Roots: The Next Generations, Strike Force (with Robert Stack), and Viper. The tour would continue into Europe with cast changes along the way before closing up shop following its Holland run.

Early in the tour, running wild with ambition, the company decided they needed a product of their own that could be sold at the shows. One 12-hour night at Jack Clement’s Recording Studios in Nashville later, they had an 80-minute double album. Exploitation breeding exploitation, the company further struck an agreement with the recording’s producers, Merv Shiner and Tony Moon, to market highlights from the album as a separate “knock-off” recording credited to “The Brown County Chorale and Country Music Ensemble” (needless to say, a fictitious group). About half of the original tracks were excerpted and given country-style overdubs for this release, aimed at sealing up the “Western” market for JCS.

Often, “knock-off” recordings were graced with faux-sophisticated liner notes that attempted to add an air of authenticity to the proceedings. When The NRO Company’s efforts were repackaged as The Brown County Chorale, the following (along with a synopsis that served as an informal tracklist) was an example:

The idea of producing Contemporary Country Music album of Jesus Christ Superstar selections was suggested to Victor Lewis, General Manager of Packard, by Oscar Davis, Nashville’s “promoter emeritus.”

Lewis was instantly overwhelmed with excitement! Here was an idea abounding with success potential, Lewis reasoned. He quickly placed a conference call to Michael Moran, George Thomas, and Julius Barry, executive officers of the company.

Lewis reasoned, pleaded, and cajoled with tremendous and captivating enthusiasm. He was finally granted the permission he sought.

Mervin Shiner and Tony Moon, two of the most successful A&R men in Nashville, were retained to produce the album for Packard. The Jack Clement Recording Studios, the most modern facility in town, was contracted for the session. Some of Nashville’s very finest studio musicians were hired for this ambitious project. An outstanding vocal choral and music emsemble (sic) was quickly flown to Nashville and what began as a simple provoking idea, just 36 hours prior, suddenly developed into the artistically electrifying sounds concealed deep within the tiny grooves of the record inserted herein.

Gotta give ’em credit for basically admitting — albeit in diplomatic terms — that it was a cash grab right there in the liner notes, huh?

Ultimately, in August 1971, most of the major pirates were put to a stop when Judge Lawrence Pierce of the US District Court in Manhattan upheld a temporary restraining order halting all unauthorized productions of JCS anywhere in the United States. But it’s interesting to listen to a memory of JCS when — even for a moment — it belonged to the people.


4.0 out of 5 stars (based on 1 review)
Very good100%

Underrated Gem

April 21, 2022

I love this recording because it’s raw, unpolished and very rock opera! It just feels very different from everything we’ve heard and features a cast that does their own thing and aren’t afraid to rip their lungs out while performing. This goes especially for Dane Donohue who does some of the most bizarre and yet awesome screaming I’ve heard! He doesn’t only sing well, he can also act! Dorian Harewood is also a great Judas in my opinion. Though some might say he’s doesn’t have the necessary vocal range, he makes up for it by giving everything he has in every song and it just feels real to me. Apart from that there are some really interesting arrangements and the whole album feels like an actual experience, probably because it was apparently recorded in one night!

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