Before Scott Stapp became the lead singer for one of rock music's biggest bands of the last decade, he got a crash course in rock 'n' roll politics from an unlikely source.
"The perfect preparation for fame was to be involved in the church that I grew up in. It was full of gossip and backstabbing and jealousy and people who tore other people down," Stapp says. "I don't want to say that it was the whole church, but it just seemed like that's what I was exposed to."
If Stapp's name doesn't ring a bell, his former band's moniker -- Creed -- probably will. During the late '90s, Creed helped resurrect the rock-music scene and sold 30 million copies of its three albums in the process. Despite an onslaught of attacks by music critics, Creed delivered songs--such as radio hits "With Arms Wide Open" and "Higher"--that elevated the group to stardom.
But long before Stapp's brooding, posturing onstage style captured the hearts of the masses, a series of childhood events had laid the foundation for what would come in the singer's adult life.
When he was 5 years old, Stapp's biological father walked out on the family. For the next six years, his mother, Lynda, worked two jobs yet still required welfare assistance to take care of her son and two daughters, Amanda and Amie.
Another defining moment occurred when Scott's mother remarried, to Steven Stapp, who she had met at church. Steven was a retired Air Force man and a practicing dentist in Winter Park, Florida, near Orlando. In his younger days he had played baseball and basketball for the University of Alabama and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Scott, a three-sport athlete at the time his mother married, Steven, immediately bonded with his stepfather.
"I just fell in love with this guy," he says. "He came in and really shaped me spiritually. I learned how to write lyrics by being told to write Psalms and Proverbs. I had to write a commentary on each chapter and what they meant to me. And then my father checked them for spelling and grammar, and if there was anything wrong I had to rewrite it."
Scott's church experience during his youth also shaped his future in a way that he wouldn't understand for years to come. His family attended a Pentecostal church where "a lot of people spoke in tongues and did all of these other things", he says. "I would always pray as a kid, 'God let me do that.' I was kind of asking God to show me a sign," he explains. "I remember being a 9-year-old kid and lying in bed praying 'God, please turn my light off. And if you turn my light off, I'll be a preacher.' I was putting God to a test."
Those youthful feelings of being drawn to God but not understanding how he fit in with His plan became even more self-evident to Stapp, now 31, as he pursued his music. As Creed gained popularity, the mainstream press took bits and pieces of Stapp's past and proceeded to paint his parents as religious fanatics. The rock star played along at times but now realizes that he was going through the same thing many other church-raised young people have experienced.
"I was running from God," Stapp says. "I really felt like I was called into the ministry, and I didn't know what it was and I ran from it. I think it's pretty normal--and maybe I'm wrong, but I'll say it anyway--for young teenagers to rebel. And I rebelled, I ran as far away as I could from the church and ran right into a rock band, which was about the most evil thing that I could call my dad and tell him I was doing... I think that was the ultimate form of rebellion for me."
Steven admits he was greatly concerned by the prospect of his son chasing after rock 'n' roll glory. But he also knew there wasn't much he could do to change his mind. He simply advised Scott to "always honor God, yourself and your family." Those encouraging words combined with lots of love and prayer were what helped the rock star's parents keep the peace.
The elder Stapp also was unfazed by the mainstream press and its negative portrayal of his and his wife's parenting skills. Seven found it amusing that most reporters claimed he was "a minister" when actually he had been a deacon and Sunday school teacher at Calvary Assembly of God in Winter Park. He now attends nondenominational Church in the Son in Orlando. "The story wouldn't have been good enough if I was a dentist," he jokes. "It was juicier when I was a Pentecostal minister."
Perhaps the most amazing part of Scott Stapp's story is how his band rose to stardom amid an era of boy bands and teenage-girl pop stars. Creed burst onto the scene with a sound that included grunge and metal references but offered a decidedly different lyrical twist. Stapp's writing contained the volatile combination of messianic truth and spiritual uncertainty, mostly because he understood much of the Bible but not as much about his own place in the kingdom of God.
With other rock bands such as Marilyn Manson and Rage Against the Machine preaching anti-God and anti-establishment messages, Creed's questioning yet positive songs separated them from the pack. The band's first hit, "My Own Prison", described "a vision of a cross" and "the pain that was given on that sad day of loss." Stapp was unknowingly reaching out to a massive audience that was likewise searching for spiritual truth.
"I definitely think that it was a very instrumental part in why we connected and why we had so much success," Stapp says. "Because, to be honest with you, I don't think the songs are all that amazing--especially when I listen back to the first two records."
Scott's father agrees that Creed's success was not based on the music alone. Before the band took off, Lynda Stapp believed in her heart that Scott would become an evangelist and would reach the masses. It wasn't long before she and her husband realized how her expectation actually would come to fruition. "We think that (Creed) was brought to the level because God wanted it to happen," Steven says. "They've ministered to a lot of people and got a lot of people back in church and a lot of people saved through their music."
According to Steven, he still receives phone calls and letters from Creed fans who want the band to know how much Scott's music has influenced their lives. But for Scott, the idea of reaching out to the lost and hurting wasn't something he had initially bargained for. Beginning early in the band's career, music journalists labeled Creed a Christian band. Christian music fans started to take notice as well and openly longed for the group to make a public statement of faith. The prospect made Stapp and his band mates uncomfortable and somewhat perturbed. "For a time, early on in Creed's career, I was kind of mad about that," Stapp says. "We weren't a Christian band. I was a struggling Christian. I was never asked once, when I was in Creed, if I was a Christian. I was only asked if the band was. They weren't, and they actually resented me for the label. They didn't have those beliefs, and they wanted to be in a prototypical rock band. Because of those comments and opinions that people tagged us with, it was affecting their fun."
By the time Creed released its third album, Weathered (2001), the luster of fame and fortune was wearing off. Stapp and is wife of 16 months, a 19-year-old model, had divorced. He was raising their son, Jagger, by himself.
Stapp knew he wasn't living right and was dealing with feelings of guilt and condemnation. He tried even harder to separate himself from his Christian faith.
"I didn't feel like I was worthy of the tag." Stapp says. "When you're a Christian and you're in the public eye, people who don't believe are looking at you. They would've seen a double side with me. They would've seen a guy who's this way in faith, and then they would've seen that I was just like them. I was drinking. And after my divorce, I kind of went a little haywire with women. Nothing crazy, but stuff I know I shouldn't have been doing. That was no example. My walk wasn't right. I know that's an excuse, but when you're looked at and analyzed, there's a bigger responsibility to some degree that you have. I didn't want to accept it."
Things only got worse for Stapp. In February 2001, he got into a fight with the operator of a tattoo parlor, and two months later he was incited into a barroom brawl by a man who Stapp claims had been paid $10,000 by a national music magazine to push his buttons. A car accident, a bad case of pneumonia and harmful vocal-cord nodules took his life to a new low. In hindsight, Stapp says he should have taken more time off before hitting the road again, but external pressure from management along with internal pressure to please everyone drove him to take Prednisone, a steroid like drug, to help reduce his inflamed vocal cords.
On December 29, 2002, at a concert in Chicago, Stapp was incapacitated by the drug's powerful side effects and the show was cut short. Some concertgoers sued both the band and the promoter and Creed later apologized for the incident on its Web site. The class-action suit eventually was dismissed.
Steven knew his son was hurting physically and emotionally, so he flew to Philadelphia for the band's final tour date on New Year's Eve. The two remained close throughout much of Creed's existence despite media reports that they had a chilly relationship. "I went up to the concert and when I saw him, I just hugged him and told him that I loved him and that he was going to do a good job," Steve says. "Sure enough, he put on one of his best concerts ever."
By the end of the Weathered tour, Scott had grown weary of the jealousy and gossip surrounding the band. Ultimately, it was his waning desire to travel that caused Creed to take an extended break and eventually call it quits in June 2004.
While Stapp was still searching for direction, he received a call from executive producers of The Passion of the Christ Songs, who wanted him to contribute a song. They flew him to Los Angeles for a preview screening of the movie. The film was heart-wrenching for him and helped him finish a song he had already started, titled, "Relearn Love." More important, Stapp found himself coming full circle in his spiritual journey. "The Passion of the Christ was the final nail in the coffin of my old life," Stapp says. "God had already started working in my life. I know that story (of Jesus) like the back of my hand, from being brought up in church. I've never told anybody this before, but I preached in my youth group when I was a kid. I thought that was my calling in life for a while there. So I knew that story. I was in such a bad place that I finally turned to God and things started moving from my head to my heart."
Since the disbanding of Creed, Stapp has enjoyed his time away from the spotlight. He takes great pleasure in being a regular dad. But his music career is far from over. He is working on his debut solo album, releasing on Wind-up Records. Ironically, he is label mates with Alter Bridge, a band formed by the other members of Creed. On the surface it looks like business as usual, but Stapp says there's no guarantee how long this newfound career will actually last. "God may take me in a completely different direction," he says. "I don't know. Right now I'm just going day to day and trying to do what's right and trying to see what God wants me to do with my life. It seems like old doors are closing for good and all these new doors are opening."
In many ways, Stapp has returned to his former existence. He now yearns for the consistent church life that he once rebelled against. In the meantime, he relies on two former youth pastors, Rick Berlin of Shreveport, Louisiana, and Fred Franks of San Francisco, for spiritual guidance and support. "I'm getting drawn back into the church," Stapp says. It's so funny--when you start making changes in your life, all of a sudden, you start bumping into all of these Christians...It seems like God is putting new people in my life and building this good foundation for whatever He's got in store."
Stapp also relies heavily on the support of his family, and according to his dad, can also thank fatherhood for helping him see the light.
"He's still struggling, but he's getting a little older and a little more mature," Steven says. "He's a daddy and he realizes that whatever he does, his son thinks that's the way to do it. He understands more about how important it is to be a good example for his son."
And as he continues to share his story with the public, Stapp is doing his best to fight off the occasional bout of spiritual stage fright. It's something he's dealt with his entire life, and now the stakes have been raised even higher.
"There's going to be a lot of expectations of me--and I don't know that I'm going to do this, but I'm not perfect--so, yes, I'm going to sin," Stapp says. "I'm not using that as an excuse and I'm not going to do that on purpose. But if I do, which I'm sure I will, how's the Christian community going to treat me? Are they going to turn into the name-callers? I'm afraid of that stuff."
"But I've got to remember (that) God has not given me a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind. So I've just got to do what I believe is right whether people understand it or not."
Chad is a freelance journalist based in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. He is the contributing editor for New Man magazine and executive producer of a sports TV show called 'The ProFILES'.