In 1959, the big news in Sydney, Australia, was that the Billy Graham Crusade was coming to town. “Who’s Billy Graham?” I wondered when my parents asked if I wanted to attend the Crusade with the young people from my church. The biggest thing in my 9-year-old life was the song, “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley.
I decided to go because I wanted to ride a bus and see the Sydney Showground. There were thousands of people everywhere. It was the first time I’d ever heard anyone with this dynamic, powerful message. Wow! I thought, I really need to do something. At Mr. Graham’s invitation, my Sunday school teacher took me down to stand at the front of the podium.
I listened to the incredible sound of “Just As I Am” coming from the 1,500-person choir. Already I had been singing in my local church choir as a boy soprano, but from that moment on, I wanted to be in a choir like that.
God was stirring my heart through both the message and the music. That meeting was the first serious decision I’d made for the Lord. I was 9, remember, so while I didn’t understand everything, still something in my heart wanted to go on and do things for God.
My parents were excited. It was everything they’d ever hoped for their son. They were godly people and brought up my two older brothers and me in an Anglican church.
My brothers and I received classical training in piano. Our parents were horrified when the Beatles came along, but that didn’t slow my interest in rock ‘n’ roll. As an adult, I entered the music industry as a mastering engineer, and in 1974 I joined Festival Records. Unfortunately, by then I was completely off the rails with God. My lifestyle was sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
As a teen, I had mowed lawns to earn enough money to see the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary. They were my idols. In 1977, my brother worked for a local radio station that was starting a folk music program, and they needed someone to interview a member of Peter, Paul and Mary. My brother offered me the opportunity.
I wrote to Noel Paul Stookey. A year passed and I heard nothing. Then I got a phone call in the studio one day at Festival.
“Is this Warren Barnett?” a voice on the other end asked. “This is Noel Paul Stookey here.” He was in Sydney for a concert, and he had time for an interview beforehand.
I met up with him backstage at the concert. I asked about Peter, Paul and Mary’s early days and how they came together. In the middle of all this, Stookey asked me a question: “Warren, where are you with the Lord?”
Right there–as my interview time was running out–I rededicated my life to the Lord.
On the Monday following the interview, I told everybody at work how my life had been changed. My bosses said, “Well, that’s fine, Warren, but don’t start telling everybody.”
I prayed, “Lord, don’t let me be involved with anything that’s going to bring me down again.” The first record I had to cut that day was by the band Black Sabbath.
“I can’t cut this,” I told my boss, “because I’m a child of God, and this is satanic to me.” He told me to do my job or get fired.
I went home and asked the Lord what I should do. Should I be cutting this record?
I sensed God saying, “You should be cutting those records because you’re the only light in that world of darkness. I put you there for a reason.”
As far as I know, I was the only Christian working at Festival. I never preached around the studios, but the word soon got around, “Hey, Warren’s a churchie!”
Some people did come and ask what all this God stuff was about and wondered why I wouldn’t go to the parties, why I couldn’t be involved in the binge drinking sessions anymore.
My answer was, “I just believe in Jesus, and He’s changed my life.”
Six months down the track, I knew something was brewing when Festival Records got the distribution rights for Word, a Christian label in the United States affiliated with A&M Records. One day I was called to a board meeting with all the executives. They said, “Look Warren, we’ve got this record company called Word.”
A big smile spread across my face.
“Well … do you know much about this Christian stuff?” they asked. “Look at this list of artists. There’s an Amy person here. Who’s that?”
I just laughed. It was Amy Grant, who was about to tour Australia with Michael W. Smith. Festival had no idea what to do with them. I just prayed for them and for me, asking God to lead me–and He did. In the coming years, I was able to help Festival re-master and distribute Christian music in Australia, and I made contact with several Christians involved in the industry and helped them spread the Gospel through their music.
I certainly strayed far from God after I gave Him my heart as a boy, but He didn’t drop me at all. People say to me, “Warren, tell us about when you found God.”
I answer, “No, I’ll tell you about when God found me.”