Audio A, minister to renew friendship at benefit

The Rev. Ernie Perry of Broadway Christian Church knew Audio Adrenaline when he was a minister in Chesapeake, Ohio, before the band became famous.
The Rev. Ernie Perry of Broadway Christian Church knew Audio Adrenaline when he was a minister in Chesapeake, Ohio, before the band became famous. Lexington Herald-Leader

Audio Adrenaline was on stage at the Ichthus festival in the early 2000s when Katelyn Perry looked up and saw her dad, the Rev. Ernie Perry, dancing on the stage with his other daughter, Kyleigh, and some friends.

Katelyn and some pals from Southland Christian Church, where Perry was on staff at the time, asked him, "How did you get up there, dancing at Ichthus with Audio Adrenaline?"

Perry replied, "You had to play basketball with them when they were nobodies. You had to know them when they were sleeping on your floor."

Being on stage at Ichthus was just part of a longstanding friendship that will be renewed once again when Audio Adrenaline plays Broadway Christian Church in Lexington, where Perry has been the senior pastor since February.

That Audio Adrenaline is playing a concert will be a surprise to many Christian music fans, who know that the band broke up in 2007 after vocal problems left lead singer Mark Stuart unable to perform. The voice problems still plague the frontman and Owensboro native, but Perry says he has seen Audio A perform few times in recent years as fund- and awareness-raising events for its Hands and Feet Project, a charity that supports orphanages in Haiti.

"I've seen them do a comparable concert a couple of times," Perry says. One was at Kentucky Christian University, where the group formed in the 1980s. "They'll do a lot of the old Audio songs, the hits. We told them to bring in the bigger speakers, so they're going to rock it a bit. ... Mark is also a great worship songwriter, though some of the worship songs that he has written have come out of some dark, difficult times in his life. So we'll rock, we'll worship, and they're going to tell their story — the history of Audio Adrenaline."

It is a history that Perry witnessed firsthand when he was starting out as a minister in Chesapeake, Ohio, just north of Ashland.

He and his wife, Pam, had graduated from Kentucky Christian in 1979, when they went to work with a mission in Chesapeake and he ended up being the youth minister at Chesapeake Christian Church. Perry says the youth group started out small but quickly grew as he and other youth began reaching out to troubled kids in the area.

"Our youth group was made of misfits," Perry says. "Kids from broken homes, dysfunctional homes. They had stuff in their ears and eyes and nose long before that was the cool thing to do — we're talking the mid-'80s here."

Perry gets choked up a few times as he flips through a photo album from those days. Several times, guitars and drums show up in the pictures; this was a group that liked to rock hard. That made them open to a group of Kentucky Christian kids who were forming a band.

Perry stayed in touch with the school, working with its annual student conference, Summer in the Son. That's how he met the guys who would become Audio Adrenaline, originally formed as A-180 in 1986.

"They liked our kids and related to our kids," Perry says. "They came to Chesapeake, Ohio, and rented an old dilapidated house, and they were so poor — college students."

The youth group chipped in to give the band silverware and furniture. They went to Perry's office for devotions and to use the phone.

"They'd say, 'Hey, Ernie, can we use your phone? We need to find a truck to get to the show tonight,'" Perry says. "I'd say, 'Are you serious? Tonight?' "

The relationship ranged from business, such as helping the band find gigs, to spiritual counseling to pure friendship. One summer, a youth group member played bass on tour with the band when Will McGinniss couldn't travel because of an illness in his family.

"Mark Stuart and his girlfriend would baby-sit our daughter sometimes," Perry says. "She'll brag that Mark Stuart changed her diapers."

And it's a friendship that endured after the band signed on with Forefront Records, changing its name to Audio Adrenaline and recording the hits Big House and Hands and Feet.

As Stuart's vocal distress grew, Perry says, he saw the band go through the difficult decision to shut down the band.

"There are going to be a lot of people there Saturday night who remember them from back in Chesapeake and Ashland and have watched them through the years," Perry says.

After all, they became rock stars, but they never stopped being Kentuckians.