The Day John Easdale said “Yes!”:
The entirely unnecessary but true story behind the 2005 benefit CD
OF HANDS AND HEARTS:
MUSIC FOR THE TSUNAMI DISASTER FUND
It has been nearly 12 years since the release of “the BEST benefit CD ever released!” (according to ‘Executive Producer’ Stephen SPAZ Schnee). In this feature, SPAZ looks back on a project that that many have forgotten about. Except for him…
An idea, good or bad, starts with a spark deep within the recesses of your brain. Most times, it doesn’t grow beyond a dim glow before it snuffs itself out prematurely and quickly shrinks into the shadows. However, there are times when an idea’s fans are flamed by a desire to make a difference in the world, big or small. And when that idea is encouraged by others, it begins to quickly build up steam and, when all the right elements come together, it becomes a reality. This is a (hopefully) brief story about such an idea that started as a spark and quickly spread like a wildfire. It was for a good cause – to help people in need. And it really started becoming a reality the day John Easdale said, “Yes!”
But let’s hit the rewind button and go back a week to 10 days earlier….
The spark of the idea was born on December 26, 2004 when a magnitude 9.1 earthquake in the Indian Ocean created a series of tsunamis that killed well over 200,000 people in 14 countries. The affected areas included Indonesia, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka and many others. The loss of life was devastating. Within 24 hours, I was trying to think of a way to help. Donating $20 or $100 just didn’t seem enough. Maybe throw a concert? But with so many other events for the same cause happening at the same time, I thought bigger. How about a benefit CD? With encouragement from my boss at the time, Mark Grindle, we approached the owner of Norwalk Distributors - the company we worked for - and told him of this idea. He gave us a green light if we could get some good artists involved. It was an exciting moment. But the idea was still just that – an idea. It wasn’t even close to becoming a reality. Yet.
So, I started thinking that if I could get quality music from great artists together on one collection, it would benefit everyone. The person that purchased it would get two CDs worth of quality music for a low price, the artists involved would get exposure and best of all, we’d be able to donate all proceeds to a charity (CARE). I didn’t want to just cram a bunch of mediocre music on there because it wouldn’t seem like a bargain for the person buying the disc. However, we needed to cover all costs (printing, pressing, mastering, etc) so I knew that everyone needed to donate their time, music and their art to the project. But would artists be willing to do such a thing? I was about to find out…
With this idea burning brighter every hour, I decided to write down a list of artists that I knew, had connections with or ones that were easily accessible through their websites. This was before Facebook and social media so it was a little harder to connect with artists. Thankfully, it was not impossible. I was not going to attempt to contact McCartney, the Stones or any high profile artist – that would be insane to think that they’d even consider hopping on board. However, there was still plenty of great artists that just MIGHT say “Yes.” I figured that if I couldn’t get a single artist involved within the first week, I’d drop the idea altogether and refocus my attention on a different project. But I’m glad to say that the very first musician I reached out to, Dramarama frontman John Easdale, immediately said, “Yes!”. He did not hesitate to get involved and he kindly offered me my choice of one of the new, unreleased (at the time) Dramarama songs that they had recently recorded. I chose “Try Five Times.” From that very moment, the idea became a reality.
John’s involvement encouraged me to move forward in approaching other artists for this release which I named OF HANDS AND HEARTS (or OHAH for short). I sent out e-mails, made calls and sent messages through websites, hoping that I’d get more responses. The Red Elvises, who had spent many vacation days in the areas affected by the tsunamis, were eager to be involved. Within a few days, I received a phone call from Australia. It was Reg Mombassa, a renowned artist in his homeland as well as a fantastic singer/songwriter/musician (Mental As Anything and Dog Trumpet). He not only offered to do the cover art for the release, he also let me choose a then-unreleased Dog Trumpet track for the compilation. Everything was falling into place rather quickly
And the positive responses kept coming in from many more of my favorite artists that I reached out to. Here are a few of them (not in any particular order):
Paul Collins let us use “All Over The World,” which I put as the lead track on Disc One. For me, putting it as the very first track was kind of an homage to Status Quo, who opened Live Aid with “Rockin’ All Over The World.” Not the same title, but similar. Essentially, the song set the tone of what was to follow.
R. Stevie Moore let us use his recording of “Dates”, which was a collaboration with XTC’s Dave Gregory. A master tunesmith and musician, R. Stevie was definitely one of the first I approached and one of the first to say “Yes!”
Joe Nolte of The Last offered up a few new demos – I picked the song “I Know” (a different version than the band released a decade later)
Adrian Belew (King Crimson/David Bowie) donated “Survival In The Wild”, taken from his album Here.
The Fixx gave us a rare version of “Fatal Shore”. While I immediately realized that the song title might be offensive to some, the band’s management encouraged me to stick with the song. I’m glad they did.
Annabella Lwin (Bow Wow Wow) handed over a previously unreleased solo track “Sacred Ground.” It was a thrill to see her live a decade later when she mentioned the benefit CD before she performed that song!
Supersuckers/Eddie Spaghetti – We not only got a killer Supersuckers song (“Bubblegum & Beer”), we also got a killer solo track by the band’s leader Eddie Spaghetti (“Sleepy Vampire”)!
GANGgajang’s “Anodyne Dream” is a song made up almost entirely of Rock song titles (leaning heavily on the Australian side of things since they are from Down Under). I was so grateful that they let me us that one. They are Aussie legends and nice chaps.
The Donkeys’ “No Way” was one of my favorite singles during the great Power Pop/New Wave/Mod scene of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. The band allowed me to use the single version for this release. What an honor it was to be able to share it with so many who may have missed it first time around
British Blues band Nine Below Zero’s “Go Girl” was one of many tracks we were able to choose from. That one seemed to fit, mood-wise, so we ran with it. Any number of great tracks from their indie albums would have worked just as well.
The Rubinoos gave us a choice of many new recordings. In fact, I was able to listen to all the tracks from the then-unreleased Twist Pop Sin album before choosing “In The Worst Way.” But as any Rubinoos fans knows, you can’t go wrong with any of their songs.
Barry Holdship is a friend and sorely overlooked singer/songwriter. Like a mix of Bobby Fuller, Buddy Holly and Elvis, Barry creates timeless music that still gives me shivers. I was so happy he let me use “Stuck In Time.” I must admit that I kept going back and forth with a few of his songs but switched to this one at the last moment because it fit the flow of Disc One the best.
Ray Mason is another great and underappreciated artist that I absolutely adore. His “I Own The Ending” is a wonderful slice of Pop that sounds retro but still feels fresh. He was so kind to let us use it.
Bobby Whitlock & Kim Carmel: The lovely “Beautiful” was given to us by Bobby Whitlock and his musical partner Kim Carmel. Yes, THAT Bobby Whitlock. The Derek & The Dominos guy! The Rock ‘n’ Roll legend. Yup. (Thanks for getting him involved, Dave!)
Wang Chung were not just about having fun (tonight). They put out some amazing music that didn’t fit in any category. “Akasha” is a great tune that took the listener to a different part of the universe.
Michael Carpenter is a brilliant singer/songwriter from Australia. “Thinking About You” is an uplifting, hook-filled slice of fabulousness. Thank goodness he allowed me to use it because it is so joyful, even after hearing it 1,000 times!
BMX Bandits are Scottish legends. Fronted by the most excellent Duglas Stewart, who allowed me to use “The End Of Time.” Duglas is groovy and you should be a fan.
Joe King Carrasco, a Tex Mex legend, let us use ‘Cu Ru Cu Pa,” a track off of his Hot Sun album. Joe has been making music for over 40 years and remains one of the coolest guys in Guac ‘n’ Roll!
Robbie Rist is an actor and great musician. He offered up “Moron Man,” an unreleased track by his band Wonderboy, which still makes me wish that final album would eventually come out! I kinda hope that he didn’t choose that song because he thought I was a moron, man?!
John Wicks of The Records gave us a then-new track called “Rising Stars” that he wouldn’t officially release for a few years. He is one of the coolest cats in Power Pop and an artist that I have admired since I was 1979!
Wormstew is my brother Mike. He also operates under the name Chissum Worthington and plays guitar in L.A. Punk vets Pussy Cow. I love his stuff and I, of course, had to proudly show off his talents.
And lets not forget great tunes from Kevin Gilbert & Thud, Kyle Vincent, Suburban Legends, Jeremy, The Dotted Line, The Sunbeams, The Virginia Sisters, The Randies, Eugene Edwards, The Letter Openers, The Twinkles, Underwater City People, Midway and Bang Sugar Bang, Guitar Gangsters, Rosetta Stone, Guitar Gangsters, Dillon Fence, The Lolas, The Waking Hours
It wasn’t all wine and roses, though. There were many artists that didn’t respond or declined contributing to the project for various reasons. I totally understood and didn’t dwell on them. But then again, there were a few bad bumps in the road. Three incidents immediately come to mind.
1. One manager of an indie band, who I adored, refused to even let his band consider it. Why? Because he felt slighted that I could not get his band’s songs into the hands of a respected director a few months earlier. Huh? How was I supposed to do that? I barely had access to anyone in my office let alone outside of our building! I worked in music distribution, not A&R or movie production.
2. One label owner said that he would be glad to give me a song from a band that I wanted on the compilation. After a few days, he had one stipulation: if he gave me that track, then I’d have to take a track from another band on his label. For taking tracks from two of his bands, he offered me something enticing: he had already booked a few months of adverts in a respected music industry magazine and would gladly let us use one of those paid spots to promote OHAH – free of charge! I readily accepted. Sadly, when the album came out and we were preparing the ad for print, he stopped returning phone calls and we never got to advertise in that magazine. But that is the music biz for ya!
3. There was a fast-rising indie R&B artist that had a few songs that were perfect for OHAH. His label quickly agreed to giving us a song. I had added it to the running order and it sounded really great alongside all of the other tracks I was working with at the time. When it came time for the label guy to sign a contract allowing us to use the track, he said he’d be glad to sign it and we could discuss money at a later time. I reminded him that he was donating the track for a benefit CD. He said he understood that and that we could discuss a payment (to him) at a later date. Again, I told him that all the artists were donating their music for this project and nobody would be paid. He reiterated that we could discuss money at a later date. I never called him back after that conversation and I removed that song from the final track list.
Apart from those instances (and a few behind the scenes scuffles and fist fights), the project was a great experience…
On Of Hands And Hearts, every track was meant to create an emotion, a feeling. Hope, happiness, melancholy and passion. I spent days listening to the track list over and over again, trying to get the right vibe for listeners. I’d move songs from the middle of Disc One to the end of Disc Two. I wanted to give the listener the best experience possible. I was hoping that each CD would represent a virtual benefit concert: there’d be a great opener, some high energy songs after that, then slow things down before picking right back up and ending each disc with a pensive closer. Every single day, I’d change it up until I had it just right. I wanted to raise the listener’s spirits, inspire them to move forward… And with 49 songs, I always wanted to reward their kind donations with some great music.
In the end, I think we succeeded… and we did it together. It was all about the compassion that we - all of us involved - felt for the families left behind and the desire to bring joy back to the world. While I picked the songs, wrote most of the liner notes and coordinated things, I still think of OHAH as a collaboration between all the musicians, artists and those behind the scenes like my buddy Jim Roe, who did the lay-out, Ron Simms (marketing), Dave Rayburn (project assistance), Kayt Owens and Frank Thomas (proofreading) and so many others. While writing this, I might be using ‘I’ to emphasize personal choices and opinions, but I try to use ‘we’ and 'us' as much as possible in tribute to all of those people that worked on the project with me.
The CD was released on March 22, 2005. I was able to take a copy to show my dad, who died of cancer two days before it was officially released. I’d like to think he was proud of what I had done. And I’m sure he would have hated some of the songs on there… but that is what dads do!
Post-script: Months after the release of the CD, the label, Integrity Records, and distributor sadly shut down but not before the CDs made their way to e-tailers and retailers around the world and money was sent to CARE. I don’t know specifics because I was not involved with the financial aspects but I do know that everyone should be proud to have been involved with this release. We didn’t change the world but we did make it a better place. Of that, we all can be proud.
It wasn’t “We Are The World” – it was way better!
And to think that it all really started on the day that John Easdale said "Yes!"
Keep on truckin’,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee-->