Appleseed Recordings

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Appleseed Recordings
Founded 1997 (1997)
Founder Jim Musselman
Distributor(s) eOne Entertainment
Genre Folk, roots music
Country of origin U.S.
Location West Chester, Pennsylvania
Official website

Founded in 1997 by activist attorney Jim Musselman, Appleseed Recordings is an American idealistic, internationally distributed and independent music label devoted to releasing socially conscious contemporary and traditional folk and roots music by a wide array of established and lesser-known musicians. The West Chester, Pennsylvania-based company’s approach has led to a catalogue of more than 100 CD titles to date, two Grammy Awards, and eleven Grammy nominations.

Partial label roster[edit]

Appleseed’s roster includes CDs by “heritage” artists Pete Seeger, Donovan, Tom Paxton, Tom Rush, former Byrds leader and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member Roger McGuinn, Sweet Honey in the Rock, David Bromberg, Jesse Winchester, Buffy Sainte-Marie, John Stewart, Eric Andersen, Al Stewart, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and women’s music pioneer Holly Near, international performers Johnny Clegg (South Africa), Tommy Sands (Northern Ireland), Aoife Clancy (Ireland) and Dick Gaughan (Scotland), and by a younger generation of musicians, many with sociopolitical leanings, that includes John Wesley Harding, Kim and Reggie Harris, Angel Band, Christine Lavin, Tim Eriksen and Lizzie West. Among the guest artists who have participated in Appleseed releases are Joan Baez, Bonnie Raitt, Steve Earle, Ani DiFranco, Wyclef Jean, Tom Morello, Emmylou Harris, Jon Bon Jovi, and Billy Bragg. Bruce Springsteen has also recorded five exclusive songs for Appleseed.

Pete Seeger tribute CDs[edit]

In 1997, for Appleseed’s first major project, Musselman approached numerous well known musicians and other creative artists (writer Studs Terkel, actor/writer/director/musician Tim Robbins) with a request to each record a song written, adapted or performed by Pete Seeger for a tribute album to highlight Seeger’s musical contributions and his tradition of mixing songs and political activism. The resultant 1998 2-CD Where Have All the Flowers Gone: The Songs of Pete Seeger,[1] included 37 newly recorded versions of Seeger-related songs by Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne & Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Terkel, Robbins, DiFranco and many others. The release won the American Federation of Independent Music Award as the “Top Independent Release of 1998,” and the duet by Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt on “Kisses Sweeter than Wine” was nominated for a 1999 Grammy as “Best Pop Collaboration.”

From Musselman’s list of fourteen suggested Seeger songs to cover for the Seeger tribute, Springsteen recorded six songs and submitted his version of the traditional African-American spiritual/modern civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” for the compilation. Years after its inclusion, Springsteen’s version of the song was used by NBC-TV news as the soundtrack to a video montage of self-sacrifice and suffering in New York City in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, broadcast nightly for a week. Grieving families also played the song for comfort in the wake of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. Springsteen later reused the track and some of the other songs Musselman had suggested) for his own 2006 CD release, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions.

The title song of Where Have All the Flowers Gone, recorded by Irish singers Tommy Sands and Dolores Keane, “The Cellist of Sarajevo” Vedran Smailovic, and a chorus of Catholic and Protestant Irish school children, was played daily outside the peace negotiations between Northern Ireland and England and was described by Minister of Parliament John Hume as “a vital bridge of hope and healing between the two sides.”

Appleseed issued a second multi-artist Seeger tribute, If I Had a Song: The Songs of Pete Seeger, Vol. 2,[2] in 2001, and a final two-volume set in 2003, Seeds: The Songs of Pete Seeger, Vol. 3.[3] The latter title was nominated for a “Best Traditional Folk Recording” Grammy award, and both releases also helped generate money for charitable and activist organizations. Seeds also contained an updated version of the Vietnam-era protest, “Bring Them Home,” recorded by Seeger, Bragg, DiFranco and Earle, on the day of the US invasion of Iraq with additional lyrics by Musselman. Springsteen later added some lyrics of his own and included the song in his live performances, TV appearances, and on the live CD/DVD from a Seeger Sessions tour.

Some of the profits generated by Appleseed’s three Seeger tributes were donated to the environmental Hudson River Sloop Clearwater organization to clean up New York’s Hudson and to help support Sing Out! magazine. Seeger was one of the founders of both Clearwater and the folk periodical.

In 2007, Appleseed worked with the Give Us Your Poor organization at UMass Boston to release Give Us Your Poor, another multi-artist CD designed to raise funds and public awareness about the rising crisis of homelessness in America. Among its exclusive tracks was the first-ever collaboration of Bruce Springsteen and Pete Seeger, performing together on the song “Hobo’s Lullaby.”

“Heritage” artists[edit]

Many formerly high-profile musicians from the Sixties and Seventies have had their first studio recordings in years, sometimes decades, released on the Appleseed label. The worldwide icon of the spirit of the Sixties, Donovan, came to Appleseed to release his first CD in eight years, 2004’s Beat Cafe. Tom Rush, one of the first artists to record songs by Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and James Taylor, returned to the recording studio for the first time in 35 years and emerged with What I Know,[4] his Appleseed debut, which was subsequently named 2009 “Album of the Year” by the International Folk Alliance organization, based on airplay. The multi-instrumental folk/blues/bluegrass/roots musician and vocalist David Bromberg had retired from recording in 1990 before cutting Try Me One More Time[5] for Appleseed in 2007; the CD was nominated for a “Best Traditional Folk Album” Grammy. The Native American singer/songwriter/artist/activist Buffy Sainte-Marie released Running for the Drum, her first new CD in 13 years, on Appleseed in 2009. Jesse Winchester, another well-established performer from the Sixties, hadn’t released a new studio album in ten years before 2009’s Love Filling Station[6] was issued by Appleseed. His CD was named one of the year’s best by VH1’s Bill Flanagan on the CBS Sunday Morning television show,[7] who described the CD as “delicate, powerful and moving. . . perfect music for sitting in front of the fire on a cold night.”

Historical releases[edit]

Some of the label’s other releases were intended to keep important traditional music alive, such as Kim and Reggie Harris’s Steal Away: Songs of the Underground Railroad[8] and Get On Board: Underground Railroad & Civil Rights Freedom Songs, Vol. 2,[9] which have been used as teaching tools by various black history museums and schools. In 2000, Appleseed released two discs of “field recordings” of traditional American folk songs collected by Anne and Frank Warner on trips down the Eastern Seaboard starting in 1938, Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still[10] and Nothing Seems Better to Me: The Music of Frank Proffitt and North Carolina.[11] Their recordings included authentic, unvarnished versions of songs such as “Tom Dooley,” “Whiskey in the Jar,” and “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” which became folk staples through Frank Warner’s performances and songbooks decades before these historic recordings were finally released through Appleseed. Spain in My Heart: Songs of the Spanish Civil War[12] is another multi-artist compilation released by Appleseed and features an international cast of musicians, including Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger, Mexico’s Lila Downs, Nicaragua’s Guardabarranco duo, and Ireland’s Aoife Clancy and Shay Black.

To celebrate its ten-year anniversary in 2007, Appleseed issued Sowing the Seeds – The 10th Anniversary,[13] a two-CD sampler of catalogue highlights that also included exclusive new recordings by Pete Seeger & Bruce Springsteen (a second historic second collaboration), Donovan, Ani DiFranco, Kim and Reggie Harris, and several more new Pete tracks.

In early 2009, Appleseed won its first Grammy – for “Best Traditional Folk Recording” for Pete Seeger’s 2008 At 89[14] release.

Label’s mission[edit]

As a longtime activist who worked with consumer advocate Ralph Nader to champion various safety and environmental causes, including the mandatory installation of airbags in motor vehicles, Musselman finds great satisfaction in combining his commitment to social justice with his passion for music: “I started [Appleseed] because I had seen a void in music tied to social justice and social change, and also seen people not recording folk songs anymore . . . . I wanted to put out music with a message of hope and healing and to record these folk songs . . . . and we were in danger of them being lost forever. . . . I think music can reach people in ways that other mediums can’t. Music touches an emotional chord in someone and tends to speak to people in a lot of ways. . . . Music can break down walls and build bridges between people with different political and social views.”[15]

The UK music magazine Uncut has confirmed that Musselman’s vision is a successful one: “Despite its weighty mission statement – “to explore the roots and branches of folk and world music and sow the seeds of social justice through music,” no less – the Appleseed label is no over-worthy do-gooder. . . . It has spread the word to free-thinking bohemians and quietly built a roster that includes such legends as Pete Seeger, Roger McGuinn, Donovan and Tom Paxton. . . . In keeping the folk fires burning, Appleseed does it with vim, vision and a heap of imagination.”

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