HOUSE OF THE RISEN SON

NANCY JACKSON MADE CHUY'S NIGHTCLUB INTO A MUSIC MECCA. NOW SHE'S DOING THE SAME FOR THE EAGLE'S NEST CHRISTIAN EMBASSY.

"At this point," Jackson says, "it became apparent to me that we were in jeopardy of losing everything we had built over the years. Without the exposure and ticket sales from the amphitheatre, we were taking a serious hit."
Jackson considered selling Chuy's name and equipment, to recoup some of the cash sunk into the business. But Magolino remained schizophrenic on the subject of either honoring the old Chuy's lease or writing a new one for a buyer. And without the guarantee of four walls to call home, no buyer in his right mind would purchase the club.

Jackson and Simmons had reached a crossroads. During the year since Jackson's "wake-up call," both had become increasingly involved in Eagle's Nest, playing several times a week with the Praise and Worship Team. Spiritual things were becoming more important than profit margins--which, thanks to Met and Magolino, were disappearing, anyway.

"God has a way of leading you to doors," Simmons says. "It was time to leave the club, and that lifestyle, behind. Hayden Square going bankrupt, and Met and Magolino hassling us, was Him showing us to a door through which we could do that."
Then, perhaps, God went a step further--and opened that door. Jackson was pregnant. Her doctors were amazed.

"No one could believe it," she says. "I had everything I wanted, out of nowhere. I had what I had been praying for, and I could only conclude that God had given it to me."
With no end in sight to the debacle with Magolino--and concerned that her high-risk pregnancy wouldn't benefit from added doses of tension and aggravation--Jackson decided to close Chuy's in October 1992.

"The best show in town" would be presented exclusively at Eagle's Nest.
@rule:
@body:The news that Jackson and Simmons were quitting the nightclub business to devote more time to Eagle's Nest Christian Embassy raised eyebrows among friends in the music community.

"No one could believe that I hadn't become born again and immediately gotten a lobotomy to match," Jackson says.

Local jazz singer extraordinaire Alice Tatum, Jackson's closest friend, admits she was suspicious and concerned.

"At first I went, 'What are you doing to yourself? You're giving away what you've spent your life building,'" Tatum remembers. "But then I heard the music at Eagle's Nest, and how good it was, and I understood completely."
One of the main reasons it is so good is Israel Houghton, a polite young man with infectious enthusiasm for his calling--which is to be the Eagle's Nest "Music Pastor." At 22, he is a bona fide musical wonderkid and the leader of the Praise and Worship Team.

Introduced to Eagle's Nest by Jackson and Simmons in 1992, Houghton plays five instruments (though he sticks mostly to keyboards in church), sings with velvet precision and could perform in any band of his choosing out in "the secular." In fact, Motown A&R men have been attempting to lure him out into the world of mainstream pop, rock and soul. But Houghton says he prefers to stay at Eagle's Nest, working on a forthcoming Praise and Worship Team album to be distributed among parishioners, and his own solo compilation of Christian songs.

"There is no greater satisfaction than what I get to do here," Houghton says. "We get to a certain place onstage, a place that goes way beyond a jam session. Sometimes we don't even know how we're playing the complex stuff we're playing. We just lean back and say to God, 'Whatever You want to do, do it through us. However You need to jam, do it through us.'"
The team (which generally hovers around a core of eight or nine players, plus six women singers and a 65-member choir) features musicians who have played live with the likes of Lyle Lovett, Glen Campbell, Colleen Callahan, Trevor Rabin, Big Pete Pearson and other notables.

Yet they've all scaled back their secular careers, because they like playing at church far more. According to Jim Simmons, that's because of the "liberty" the musicians have with the "team."

"There are no restraints on what we do up there," he says. "You have the freedom to play exactly what spirit dictates."
This band, you see, doesn't rehearse. Nor does it play any of its 200-odd songs the same way twice. It's all improvisation; remarkable considering the polished sound.

Classifying the sound is difficult. Houghton describes it as "R&B, gospel, jazz; a regular Heinz 57 mix." The band has been known to break into James Brown-style funk, reggae, rap and hard-rock renditions in a single service.

Most often the music sounds like robust pop-rock, run through a Christian filter--no sex or drugs, leaving only one branch of the rock-culture trinity, the music, left standing.

It's a mix that appeals. Church officials are to open a new 4,000-seat amphitheatre and religious-training complex in Scottsdale next year, quadrupling their space. Although Pastor Maiden is vague on how much Eagle's Nest has grown recently, he does say the church "is on the move." And he gives a large measure of the credit to band members, especially Jackson and Simmons.

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