John Schlitt was born on February 3, 1950 in Lincoln, Illinois, but grew up in Mt. Pulaski. From an early age, he began developing an interest in music, joining a band called Vinegar Hills Hometown Band Something Different when he was 13 years old.
Schlitt graduated from Mt. Pulaski High School in 1968. It was during this time that he met future wife, Dorla Froelich. Schlitt then enrolled in the University of Illinois to complete a degree in Civil Engineering which he received in 1974. While still in college, he joined the rock band Head East.
Shortly after Schlitt joined the band, they released their first studio album called Flat as a Pancake. The album was a success, and was certified Gold by RIAA. Schlitt continued to enjoy success with the band, but also developed a dependency on cocaine and alcohol. After releasing six albums with Head East, Schlitt was fired in March 1980.
Schlitt tried to retake his musical career, but was unable to because of his addiction which, according to him, led him "very close to suicide". During this time, Schlitt's wife, Dorla, became a born-again Christian. After much insisting, Schlitt reluctantly visited Dorla's pastor. He has said in interviews that he had already decided to end his life and agreed to the meeting only "so my wife would be able to say 'he tried'". However, Schlitt ended up accepting Christ as well, which helped him quit drugs and alcohol.
After his conversion, Schlitt left the music scene and started looking for a job. He began cleaning at a factory, but eventually became the mining engineer, and later the cost and scheduling engineer, for a mining construction company. Schlitt also sang with the praise and worship team of the church he was attending to.
In 1985, Schlitt was approached by Petra's founder and guitarist Bob Hartman, who invited him to audition for the band. Petra, who had lost their singer Greg X. Volz, had just finished their Beat the System Tour. Schlitt accepted the offer and sang his first show on February 3, 1986. That same year, he went to the studio to record his first album with the band, Back to the Street.
During Schlitt's tenure with Petra, the band enjoyed what is considered their most successful times. In that time, the band had two albums certified Gold by RIAA, while also earning 4 Grammys and several Dove Awards. In total, Schlitt released fourteen albums with Petra until their retirement in 2005. Despite this, Schlitt and Petra have continued to perform sporadic shows in the following years. His travels and performances with the group reached all 50 American states as well as over 35 countries.
While still with Petra, Schlitt managed to record his first two solo albums: Shake and Unfit for Swine. Both albums were well received by critics. After Petra's retirement in 2005, Schlitt collaborated with Bob Hartman in a project called II Guys from Petra. The duo toured several venues and released an album called Vertical Expressions.
Schlitt has also worked on other projects like Project Damage Control, which also features drummer Louie Weaver.
In addition, Schlitt released his third solo project, titled The Grafting in 2008. Dan Needham, Schlitt's son-in-law, produced the album. The album was released with premier performances of the tracks "The Grafting" and "Only Men" by Schlitt on the program Celebrations. The telecast was aired internationally by the Daystar Television Network. In May 2008, John Schlitt toured India, playing eight dates in six cities with an all-new backing band, StoneJava. With this new backing group, John played songs from his solo CDs, along with many Petra favorites, to positive reviews. John has continued his solo career releasing The Greater Cause (2012), The Christmas Project (2013), and Go (2019).
In 2016, Schlitt joined Billy Smiley, from Whiteheart, to collaborate on a musical project called The Union of Sinners and Saints. The project features Whiteheart's Anthony Sallee on bass, guitarists Jason Fowler and John Ellis, and Steve Brewster on drums.
He also lends his vocals to the Jay Sekulow Band.
Schlitt met his wife Dorla while in high school. They married in August 28, 1971. The couple has four children together: Kari, John Kyle, Kris, and Krey, all adults already. Kari is married to musician and producer Dan Needham, who had worked in the album Petra Praise 2: We Need Jesus and on several of Schlitt's solo albums. Schlitt and his wife live in Franklin, Tennessee.
- Back to the Street (1986)
- This Means War! (1987)
- On Fire! (1988)
- Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out (1989)
- Beyond Belief (1990)
- Unseen Power (1991)
- Petra en Alabanza (1992)
- Wake-Up Call (1993)
- No Doubt (1995)
- Petra Praise 2: We Need Jesus (1997)
- God Fixation (1998)
- Double Take (2000)
- Revival (2001)
- Jekyll & Hyde (2003)
- Jekyll & Hyde en Español (2004)
- Petra Farewell (2005)
- Shake (1995)
- Unfit for Swine (1996)
- The Grafting (2008)
- The Greater Cause (2012)
- The Christmas Project (2013)
- Go (2019)
with II Guys From Petra
- Vertical Expressions (2007)
with Project Damage Control
- Project Damage Control (2005)
- Mechanism (2010)