J i m ...M u s s e l m a n
Here’s a summary of the label’s history excerpted from the liner notes that Jim Musselman, the founder of Appleseed Recordings, wrote for last year’s Sowing the Seeds – The 10th Anniversary, a 2-CD celebration of Appleseed’s first decade in the music industry:
"I often dream about music, and I have long believed that my dreams are not just fantasies but blueprints and signposts for coming years. So I followed my dream and decided to start a record label. But not a typical label – this would be one that had a mission. One with a vision.
I have long seen the power of music to move people and to create social change. Before founding Appleseed Recordings, I talked at length with my friend Pete Seeger about music’s ability to galvanize, to heal, to spread thoughts and feelings. We shared our concerns about how many older folk songs – still relevant, still wise – were no longer being sung, and about preserving and extending the tradition of music as a medium of both history and entertainment.
In my pre-Appleseed career as a Washington, D.C.-based attorney working with Ralph Nader, I traveled the country for eight years, crisscrossing America in a Guthrie-esque way, seeing the nation and its citizens up close, learning the best ways to listen and to communicate. When I was organizing local communities to fight back against multinational corporations, I would start our open public meetings with a song, figuring that unifying people in singing was an important first step to unifying them in political action.
I utilized music as a tool for unity in my work from coast to coast and eventually beyond – in 1996, I felt a pull to visit Belfast, Northern Ireland, to see what daily life was like in a war zone. I was shocked when I arrived there, seeing children trying to grow up in an everyday environment of tanks, machine guns, divisiveness and hatred. I decided to focus my anger into something positive, the way a windmill channels the wind to create energy. I connected with the great Irish singer and songwriter Tommy Sands and we worked to use music as a bridge, not a wall, between the Catholic and Protestant communities, integrating the music of the two cultures and bringing children of both faiths to sing together. This was the sort of meaningful impact I could have with my own record label. (You can hear those kids sing on “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” on our Where Have All the Flowers Gone: The Songs of Pete Seeger and Sowing the Seeds – The 10th Anniversary releases.)
I came up with the name “Appleseed” for our label for several reasons. I liked the concept of Johnny Appleseed planting seeds and then moving on to the next town. We would do our best to sow the seeds of social justice, non-violence and peace through music. In addition, friend and inspiration Pete Seeger has had a column in Sing Out! magazine for close to 40 years called “Appleseeds” and he always loved that name.
A major Appleseed goal is to foster the next generation of Woody Guthries and Pete Seegers and unique new talents with something to say. One of the key aspects of folk and traditional music is that it continuously changes and reinvents itself. Far from being a brittle echo of times long ago, this is a music that remains vital and vibrant, reminding us where we are going by looking at where we have been. From the seeds of the legendary voices of folk, traditional and topical music, there have emerged new voices to carry on the tradition and to twist and alter it powerfully and unpredictably to make it their own. We will continue to give exposure to those voices. Our catalogue of releases includes not only the giants of American musical activism such as Pete Seeger, Tom Paxton, and Holly Near, but their lesser-known comrades in the trenches – Kim and Reggie Harris, Pat Humphries, Charlie King and Karen Brandow, Si Kahn and many more. From overseas, we have presented equally fearless and outspoken musicians – Tommy Sands (Ireland), Dick Gaughan (Scotland), Sharon Katz (South Africa), Vedran Smailovic (Bosnia), and Martyn Joseph (Wales), among others.
In keeping with my early conversations with Pete Seeger, the label also celebrates traditional music. One such artist who brings the living, breathing sound of our almost forgotten past into the present is Tim Eriksen, who has recorded two solo CDs and another one with his band, Cordelia’s Dad, for Appleseed. Tim’s authentic approach to historical musical styles was featured in the “Cold Mountain” movie, and the esteemed roots music producer T Bone Burnett is one of his biggest fans.
Ten years have passed since Appleseed first flowered. Would I have ever imagined that we would release albums by musical legends and longtime personal favorites like Pete Seeger, Donovan, Roger McGuinn, David Bromberg and others? Or that we would have renowned artists like Jackson Browne, Ani DiFranco, Bruce Springsteen, Wyclef Jean, and Tim Robbins record songs for us? Or that approaching Springsteen to record a song for Where Have All the Flowers Gone would eventually lead to Bruce recording and performing so many Pete-related songs for audiences in the new millennium, all sprouting from the conceptual seed we had planted?
When the Iraq invasion occurred, we booked Pete into a studio the next day to record an updated “Bring Them Home” and several other anti-war or pro-peace songs. We were subsequently called traitors and told that the songs would receive no airplay because this was a time for a united front in America. My own definition of true patriotism is not flag waving but speaking out in a democracy when you see something that is unjust or wrong. That is the job of each citizen and, I believe, for responsible musicians as well. Despite the many technological and demographic changes that are reconfiguring the music industry, Appleseed still believes in music as a potent instrument of social change. Our three tributes to the music of Pete Seeger have raised close to $150,000 for social justice and environmental charities. One of our most recent releases, the multi-artist Give US Your Poor, is a fund- and consciousness-raising project that features Springsteen, Pete Seeger, Natalie Merchant, Jon Bon Jovi, Bonnie Raitt and other diverse artists of conscience, often in collaboration with currently or previously homeless artists.
We live in a world where anything is possible through non-violence, hope, and activism. Empowering people through music is crucial, now more than ever. We will carry on. Fighting against injustice, doing not what is popular but what we feel is right, musically and politically. Our artists’ music has been used to help spread positive sociopolitical change and the balm of peace from South Africa to Sarajevo, from Northern Ireland to our own country. Ten years later the dream still lives. And I don’t ever want to hear that alarm clock go off . . ."
– Jim Musselman, president and founder, Appleseed Recordings
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For Jim's comments on Appleseed's history and musical/political/philanthropical philosophy, the label's ties to Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen, and a startling revelation about Jim's one-time role as back-up singer for Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt, please follow this link to his recent interview in the Huffington Post