Former Korn Guitarist on Fame, Fragility, Family and Faith
Brian "Head" Welch, founding guitarist of metal band Korn, visited Parkview Christian Church to share his highs and lows on the road from rock to the church.
Thousands of people came out to hear a former crystal meth addict turned Christian tell his story.
Brian Welch, more commonly known by his nickname “Head,” was at Parkview Christian Church Saturday and Sunday for an on-stage talk with Pastor Tim Harlow. Welch, a founder of the metal band Korn, struggled to overcome a crystal meth, prescription drug and alcohol addiction while part of the band. He now flies solo in his music career, but is not alone. According to Welch, he has found Jesus and has him by his side.
Welch, 41, spent close to three decades using drugs of various kinds, starting with marijuana and alcohol as a teenager and later moving to cocaine and meth while an internationally-touring musician. As the band’s fame rose during the late 1990s, so did Welch’s dependencies. It was when Welch brought his drug use home, after the lengthy rock tours, that his bottoming out truly began. But thanks to an acquaintance who took him to church, Welch found a place to be comfortable with his own faults, and the turn around began.
The large stage at the front of the auditorium-style space was set for what looked like a concert on Saturday. Purple crinkled velvet banners hung floor to ceiling as a backdrop. After showing a video message that Pastor Tim's daughters made as a Father's Day gift to him, the man of the hour, Brain "Head" Welch was introduced. Welch was graciously welcomed by the crowd and took a seat on stage with the pastor. His hair was in thread-wrapped braids and his arms covered in tattoos. Not to be outdone, Pastor Tim rolled up his sleeves to reveal his own tattoos, albeit temporary ones, and the retelling of Welch’s life began.
Welch met his band members in his hometown of Bakersfield, Calif., “home of Buck Owens and Hee Haw.”
He started playing guitar at 10 years old, after his father talked him out of playing the drums. Welch used to get picked on as a child and did not feel accepted until he discovered his love and talent for music. His brother, father and peers would ask him to play songs on his guitar. In junior high he met, Reginald “Fieldy“ Arzivu, who eventually became Welch’s counterpart on bass in Korn. Fieldy originally played guitar but Head noticed he was struggling, and suggested he try bass because it had less strings. According to Welch, James “Munky” Shaffer, a guitarist in Korn, started playing guitar after a part of his finger was severed. Head sold Munky his first electric guitar for more than it was worth. Munky's Dad was not too happy with him once he realized he was swindled.
In 1993, the group Korn was formed with Welch, Munky, Fieldy, drummer David Silveria and vocalist Jonathan Davis. The band played small time venues until they made a name for themselves. Head quit his job at Pizza Hut when he learned that his first record deal would include a $40,000 payment to each member. But the payment did not come through as quickly as expected and he was forced to sleep on friends’ couches until it did two months later.
Head in the Clouds
Korn’s big break came in the form of a tour with metal god Ozzy Osbourne. Welch was and still is a huge fan of Osbourne's music. Welch recalls a moment when Ozzy walked into their dressing room after a performance and spoke to them. The bandmates just looked at each other because no one had any idea what Osbourne had just mumbled. Sharon Osbourne, wife of the unintelligible rocker, came to the rescue with a translation of "Ozzy is very proud of you," said with her British accent. The Parkview crowd erupted with laughter.
Welch and his wife Rebekah had a baby in 1995. They decided adoption was best and found a loving family for their child they believed they couldn’t care for. Welch was two months away from going on tour.
Giving their baby up was too much for them to handle sober and according to the rocker, they went straight to a “drug house" after giving the baby up at the hospital. Unfortunately, this is when the drug and alcohol cycle progressed further and Welch began regularly snorting cocaine and using crystal meth.
His wife gave birth to their second child, a daughter they named Jennea, in 1998. The rocker said the birth of his daughter inspired him to try again to get clean. He stopped doing drugs, joined a gym and even started eating healthier. Two months later, while on tour in Japan with Rage Against the Machine, his friends said to him "You're not going to watch Rage sober, are you?" He had a couple of beers and that spiraled him right back into all of his old drug habits.
Welch started to bring his intense drug habit home to his wife, and began providing her with crystal meth as well when he was on break from his tours. The two would have horrible fights when coming down off of the crystal meth high, often leading to violence between them. While on tour with Metallica, Welch heard through friends that his wife's drug problem had become worse and she had allowed fellow users to move into the couple's home. He immediately went home and removed his daughter from the house. The couple's marriage soon ended in divorce with Welch getting full custody of his daughter.
Jennea went on tour with the band. Welch would come off stage after sets and change diapers. Eventually he hired a nanny to help with the care of his child.
Being a single dad prompted Welch to once again attempt to quit using drugs and alcohol. His sobriety lasted much longer this time and he was even able to tour with Korn while sober. It wasn't until the terror attacks on 9-11 that the rocker gave into his desire and thought “if they are going to send anthrax to our country, then I am going out drunk.” He began abusing more prescription drugs and was "taking 17 Vicodin a day at one point."
Along with his music career, Welch also dabbled in real estate. It was during a real estate deal that he met a man who happened to be Christian. According to Welch he thought, "all Christians were like Ned Flanders" from the Simpsons. Welch thought the people at church were weird because of the way they threw their hands into the air.
"I was on meth for three days straight and these people were acting stranger than I was," Welch said.
There was something about what he heard that day about Jesus’ acceptance that touched him and according to him he "received Christ that day and from then on went home and talked, every single day, to Jesus.”
A couple of weeks later he had a "spiritual encounter that was so pure and clear from another realm that came into the room and lifted him out of his muddy gutter.”
Welch then went to his daughter Jennea and told her “I'm going to quit my band and I'm going to raise you now.” Jennea was 5 at the time and had been cared for by nannies. Her face lit up.
Jennea is now almost 13 years old and her father asks "the Lord to give him strength" as his daughter has a bit of "Bieber fever" and prefers Justin Bieber and Bruno Mars to metal. He jokingly asks people to "pray for him" to help him understand why the daughter of a metal dad won't listen to metal.
Welch belted out a "Baby, baby, baby...oh!" and shook his head. Pastor Tim reminds him of all of the parents whose children listened to the music of Korn and were forced to listen to the "Roooooooooar!" and that the "Lord says forgive."
Penny Moreland and her daughter, Taylor sat in the front row of the Worship Center and both laughed at the story of the rocker's struggle to accept his daughter's choice of music. Mrs. Moreland said that "she did not know who Brain Welch was or even the band Korn for that matter" but her daughter did and was looking forward to hearing his testimony. She said she "enjoyed hearing his story and was glad to have such great seats for the service."
With the strength of religion on his side and his promise to his daughter fresh in his head, he did as he said and quit the band Korn in 2005 while a $25 million contract was on the table.
"Signing that contract would be like signing his relationship with daughter away," Welch said.
He chose to dedicate himself to raising his daughter and sharing his newfound faith with the world.
Welch tattooed the Scripture verse Matthew 11:28, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" on his neck for its “very special meaning.”
He was baptized in the Jordan River that same year. Since then he continues to make music and released his first solo album titled "Save Me From Myself." In 2007, he penned an autobiography by the same name.
A description of the book reads, “Head continues to share his personal life with an unflinching forty-day devotional of scriptures that have helped him to mold his Christian faith and find light during life's darkest moments.”