Pop quiz: Who holds the title of “Best Guitar Player in the World”? Is it: a) Eric Clapton; b) Jonny Lang; c) the hairy dude from Guns ‘N’ Roses; d) Caleb Quaye?
If you answered a), well, you’re wrong, at least according to a) himself. On a Late Show with David Letterman appearance a while ago, Clapton was asked how it felt to be the “BGPW,” to which he answered “I’m not, Caleb Quaye is.”
The answer to that question can be found this Saturday evening, when Caleb Quaye will be performing a free concert in Missoula.
The best guitar player in the world. In Missoula. For free.
Pop Quiz 2: What’s the catch?
The catch is that Quaye will not be performing any of the music from the most critically fertile period of his life, when he played with Elton John, Mick Jagger, Pete Townshend and the like. Caleb Quaye’s music, ever since his 1982 conversion from rock-and-roll hedonism to a life in pursuit of spiritual fulfillment, is a strictly Christian affair.
Before your body locks in uncontrollable spasms at the thought of the slow sonic torture that is “contemporary Christian music,” though, consider this: Caleb Quaye is a better musician now than he was then. “Oh, most definitely,” Quaye said from his home in Pasadena, Calif. “I am a much better guitar player, a much better musician than I was back in those days.”
So don’t expect any harpsichord-and-drum-machine solos. Quaye maintains that his musical heritage is one of the few things that survived his lifestyle change. “The great thing about what I do now is that I get to blend all the influences that formed me as a guitar player: jazz, blues, gospel and rock. I understand that most people are not big fans of Christian music, but in my mind there is no reason why both the music and the message can’t be meaningful.”
For New Hope pastor Alex Chai, Quaye’s appearance is his church’s equivalent of the mini-blimps that float over businesses offering big sales. “We’d like for Missoulians to be exposed to our church and who we are,” says Chai. “Caleb is a master musician who brings cultural relevance to spiritual music,” he says, adding that his church’s services—which he describes as “non-denominational in feel”—are already built around a house band playing through a high-tech sound system.
“A lot of people have funny ideas about regular church services,” says Chai. “We think of ourselves as a safe place for people to check things out—our preaching is low-key and conversational and our services don’t require the fill-in-the-blanks knowledge needed for many religious rituals.”
As for Quaye, he has no regrets that his music is no longer the end-all of his life. “Absolutely, my music can be considered a tool in the service of a higher power,” he says, “but music is also much more than a tool—it can unlock people’s hearts and minds so they can lay hold of the truth.”
Caleb Quaye performs at the New Hope Christian Fellowship Church, 345 S. 5th West, at 7 PM on Saturday, Sept. 23. FREE.