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This idealistic viewpoint is typical of Marshall, whose own approach to Christianity is, to put it mildly, unconventional. By comparison with the smiling, well-groomed, aggressively nice employees at Joshua's, the Christian bookstore a visitor must walk through in order to get to Road Home's Englewood offices, Marshall looks like a member of the homeless community. He sports long, unkempt, salt-and-pepper hair and an equally shaggy beard, and his taste in clothing leans toward T-shirts that look as if they do double-duty as drop cloths. According to Dawnette Newman, a former Road Home employee who continues to volunteer for the ministry, "People think he's a hippie, Harley-riding kind of guy, but he's given his life to promoting Christian music, and I think that's pretty noble of him."
In spite of his being a native of Colorado Springs, a community with a reputation as a Christian hotbed, Marshall, 44, wasn't born with a silver cross around his neck. His family was less religious than dysfunctional--Marshall says his father was an alcoholic. He found succor in rock and roll, particularly the music of the Beatles; among his proudest possessions is a copy of the Fab Four's Yesterday and Today album that includes its original, banned "butcher" cover (the photo shows the quartet posing with baby dolls covered with raw meat). As a teenager, he played in several garage bands--the claim to fame of one, dubbed Bedlam Research, was a slot opening for Music Machine, a one-hit wonder whose "Talk Talk" reached Colorado stations in late 1966. Still, Marshall had no illusions about a career as a rock star. "I was in those bands," he says, "because my parents were gracious enough to buy me equipment."
During his adolescence, Marshall attended a few Christian meetings--"mostly," he insists, "because it was easy to meet girls there." But he began to explore spiritual issues in earnest during a two-year period after high school graduation, when, he says, "I tried every hallucinogenic there was. I was doing and dealing drugs, and I got into vegetarianism and just about everything else."
This period of soul searching and debauchery came to a head in 1971, when a friend of Marshall's, fresh out of prison on a narcotics rap, got into Eastern metaphysics. He convinced Marshall to accompany him to Southern California in order to join a monastery led by a guru headquartered there. Within days, the pair was hanging around the SoCal communities of Hunt-
ington Beach and Costa Mesa--but when it came to actually signing up at the monastery, Marshall got cold feet. He fell in with a crowd of dope-smokers like himself, and when one of them told him about what he calls "the Jesus of the Bible," he was smitten. The Christian bug had sunk its teeth into him.
He was not alone: By happenstance, Marshall found himself at ground zero of the Jesus Movement, a collection of flower children who saw a connection between hippie values and New Testament theology. Likewise, he was present at the birth of what was then known as maranatha music. Maranatha (a Greek word meaning "the Lord cometh") was rock and roll with a Christian message. At the time, most of the leaders at Christian churches saw this precursor of CCM as an unfortunate besmirching of the gospel with evil jungle music, but Marshall believed it was a way of delivering the word of God in a new and exciting package.
When he returned to Colorado later that year, Marshall had a new purpose in life. He wound up at the Holy Ghost Repair Service, an East Colfax street ministry led by the late Charles McPheters. According to Marshall, McPheters was a "flamehead"; he defines the term as "a charismatic in the most radical sense. He was afraid of nothing, he had no fear, and he was so out there that he was an inspiration." When McPheters needed someone to put on a Barry McGuire concert (called "The Jesus Birthday Party") in Colorado Springs in December 1972, he chose Marshall--and Road Home was born.
At first, Road Home was something of a sideline for Marshall; his main focus became a Colorado Springs business known as the Praise Company, where he sold maranatha albums and leather-craft items ("Leather Bible covers were hot back then," he says). In 1978, the operation moved to Denver; five years later, the Praise Company was put to sleep, and Marshall began to split his focus between concert promotion and management of Steve Taylor, a Denver Christian-music performer who has become a leading CCM presence (he co-wrote and produced the last two Newsboys albums). During the early Eighties, shows by Taylor and guitarist Phil Keaggy, another Christian superstar, frequently played to packed houses at the now-defunct Rainbow Music Hall, leading Marshall and others to predict that Christian music was on the cusp of breaking through to the mainstream.
Marshall retains that optimism today, even though the last ten years at Road Home have been a struggle. To get the word out about the 35 to 40 dates a year he promotes in Colorado's Front Range and Western Slope communities, Marshall mainly uses direct mail (at least 4,000 churches in Colorado, Kansas and Wyoming were informed of the Chapman date) and contacts with youth pastors at houses of worship such as Cherry Hills Community Church (best-known parishioner: John Elway). He also places ads in religious and secular publications and buys spots on Christian radio stations, most of which don't air the kind of music he promotes. These efforts have resulted in larger attendance at many of the recent concerts Marshall's promoted, but that doesn't mean he's swimming in dough. He's the only full-time Road Home staffer, and without an army of regular volunteers, the ministry would fold. Dawnette Newman, who worked part-time at Road Home for two years before moving on to a more lucrative job at Christian-oriented KRKS-FM (where she hosts a Sunday-night CCM program), says, "It was discouraging to discover that Rob was just scrimping by. I'm amazed that he's stuck with this for so long."