My Bio
Biographical sketches and in-depth articles. Get to know me!

Freedom Express

Cruise around this site and you'll learn a lot about my beliefs: Sri Ramakrishna, Buddhism, Joseph Campbell, vegetarianism; "sacred travel" in America, China, Japan, the Philippines, other parts of Asia--all paint a sort of cohesive picture, don't they?
So you might be surprised to learn that the man commonly called "the Laughing Buddha" and "the Temple Guy" was once a member of an evangelical Christian rock band (named "Freedom Express") that played in prisons and on street corners, yeah?
From somewhere around 1977 (I think) until 1981 or 2, I played the trombone in a group headed by James Samuel "Nick" Pratt ("Nick" was just a nickname--get it?) Nick had been a professional musician in his younger days, and since his conversion had been heading up groups that played to attract a crowd before a preacher preached. The whole thing was based at a peculiar institution called "The Canyon House," formerly located in Sierra Madre Canyon, near Pasadena, CA; I'll write more about my weird years there another time.
Anyway, with this rock/R&B/gospel outfit, I've played in a drug dealer's front yard. I've played in rescue missions. And churches, of course. And I've been in more California prisons than I can count. Playing, I mean.
So here's a look at the whole band, then individual shots of a few members. No one is being featured for any particular reason; these are just the shots I have from way back when.

Start with Jere (sp?) Hernandez (vocals), the long-haired girl (seated) and go clockwise: Nick Pratt (in the hat), bass, guitar, trumpet, vocals; Jimmy Roy, smokin' hot guitar (frequently compared to Jimmie Paige); Steve Maurer, drums; Jim Shepherd, trumpet, flugelhorn; Bill Cates, the only full-time "pro" in the group, a music teacher who played sax, clarinet, flute, and about everything else; yours truly, with the usual Bible in hand; on the far right, Bob Murch, guitar; and (standing) Kathy Spurney (I think), vocals.

Nick on the bass (UPDATE: R.I.P.)

My buddy "Shep" (as horn players we stood side-by-side)

Our youngest member, when Jere started in the band, she was still coming to practices in a Catholic high school uniform

A long lost friend, Steve and I were at Pasadena City College and Cal State L.A. together; then we taught together for three years at Chaminade in Canoga Park (now West Hills), CA. He was also best man at my first wedding. He was a madman on the drums; now I think he's an M.D. somewhere with lots of kids; wish I could find him. (Yes, I Googled; lots of results, nothing concrete.)
(UPDATE: Found him on Facebook at last!)


  1. Found this from a search of "Freedom Express". I was part of the band for a short time around 1986 or so. I too, would like to find the guys.

    1. Hi. Sorry I didn't see this earlier. Well, Steve Maurer and I are in touch; I've learned that Nick passed away a few years ago.

      I'm afraid I don't recognize you from your (teeny tiny) picture, but I wasn't around much after 1981. Thanks for checking in (and sorry again!)


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