Christian rock pioneer Dana Key died from a ruptured blood clot Sunday night at the age of 56.
The co-founder of rock band DeGarmo and Key was serving as senior pastor of The Love of Christ (TLC) Church in Cordova, Tenn., at the time of his death and will be honored this Thursday at memorial services at a nearby event center.
Credited as one of the early innovators of the Christian rock genre, Key and longtime friend Eddie DeGarmo founded DeGarmo and Key over thirty years ago, having wanted to "communicate a clear, honest Christian message through straight-ahead rock 'n' roll."
Not long after their first album, This Time Thru, hit stores in 1978, the band emerged as one of the biggest names in the growing CCM field in the 1980s. Together, they recorded 17 albums, picked up seven Grammy nominations and 17 Dove Award nominations.
DeGarmo and Key also wrote major hits for other artists including Amy Grant and Sandi Patty, and influenced generations of Christian musicians, including CCM artist Todd Agnew.
"Dana was a mentor and role model to me," recalled Agnew after hearing of Key's death.
"He signed me, recognizing something I didn't even see. He is the reason most of you know me," Agnew wrote in his blog Monday.
DeGarmo, meanwhile, recognized his longtime friend as much more than just an extremely talented musician.
"He lived his life fully dedicated to building God's kingdom with every breath he took. He was a true pioneer," said DeGarmo, who had been friends with Key since they were about 7 and led him to Christ at the age of 15.
"He could preach the Gospel in a way that compelled thousands to accept Christ and he could play guitar and sing like you were getting a glimpse of his soul," DeGarmo told CCM magazine. "He was my friend and my brother. The world will miss him. I will miss him dearly."
According to TLC Church, the memorial service for Key will be held at the Woodlands Hills Event Center on Thursday from 1-11 p.m.
Key is survived by his wife, Anita, and their three children.