Culture & Criticism From the Far Distant Realms
Appleseed Recordings is an independent record label that was founded by Jim Musselman in Pennsylvania in 1997. Before creating the record company, Musselman once worked with Ralph Nader as a consumer advocacy attorney (he’s the guy who fought Chrysler Chairman Lee Iaccoca tooth-and-nail to make air bags in vehicles standard equipment). After years in Washington, Musselman decided to take his fight for justice and equality to the radio, launching Appleseed, which now boasts a catalog that features over 160 records. An unlikely success, Appleseed has showcased an array of voices (Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, Roger McGuinn, Rambling Jack Elliott) in an effort to return the music to the people. Similar to what was happening at the height of the Cold War with the Folk movement, Appleseed is about furthering the conscience of the society through the eloquence of art. It’s a lofty mission, to say the least. And Musselman will likely die trying to reach the ears of every person throughout the world with his message to keep demanding change.
After 21 year, Roots and Branches shows that Jim Musselman remains as passionate about the music as the day he opened Appleseed’s doors. And The Electric Review was fortunate to catch up with him for this interview on November 14th, 2018.
I grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania and went to college at Villanova. After I took my undergraduate degree, I went to law school at Syracuse University. Following law school, I got a job in Washington working with Ralph Nader doing consumer advocacy work.
Yes, he was right there to boost me on so many emotional levels.
No, I’m not actively in practice. But I sometimes will do advocacy work on social issues I believe are of extreme importance.
When I was in high school I heard Bob Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street” and it changed my life. The words [in combination with the music] blew me away. The experience of hearing this song led me directly to Phil Ochs and Pete Seeger and Joan Baez – to that whole Folk lineage. But rest assured I am not a musician. I have no musical background. I can’t read or play a note. I can’t play any instruments and never took a music course in my life.
I launched Appleseed because I wanted to use music as a bridge to connect people, using music as means for positive societal change. It’s about bringing people together for hope, healing and social change – with music acting as the bridge. It’s about raising awareness of relevant social issues and moving toward positive change. What’s more, I believe these artists are our ‘Wisdom Keepers’ and I wanted to record their voices. Really, I want to keep Folk music alive. Some of these songs have been around for 300 and 400 years. And they need to be preserved.
Yes, 100%!! We won’t take any corporate money. Over the years, people have offered to fund CDS and do publicity for the records. And I have said no to this. I don’t want to create any hint of a corporate culture.
I want to stay true to the Bohemian Spirit of the music. I don’t want to have to answer to anyone or anything but the art and the artists….
The first CD featured Dick Gaughan, the Scottish singer and activist. It was called Sail On. Looking back, I knew we had made it when I was driving over the Golden Gate Bridge and a song -“Geronimos’ Cadillac”- from the CD came on the radio . The first major CD we did was Where Have All the Flowers Gone – The Songs of Pete Seeger. This was a double CD and had Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Indigo Girls and Tim Robbins (among others) doing Pete’s new songs. In terms of challenges, we encountered nothing compared to the challenges of today with Google/You Tube’s streaming insanity, which is an unsustainable business model. I really fear for future musicians unless these dynamics somehow change.
Well, Springsteen actually said no the first two times I asked him. But the third time he said yes. And over the years he’s done 7 songs for Appleseed. I think Bruce understands instinctively what we’re trying do here. And Pete was a friend for years. Stewart was somebody I admired. I was a big fan of his long before I recorded him. I felt John was one of those ‘Wisdom Keepers’ I referred to. A writer who captured the essence of America with his music. I guess was able to get them interested in contributing by getting them interested in the Folk process itself. For example, Springsteen – who was a true rock and roll kid – said he really knew nothing about Folk until I exposed him to it via the Seeger CD…
Yes, on Folk radio. Really, it’s hard to get radio play in today’s world. I would say Appleseed is really a sapling among so many tall redwood trees. But over the years NPR has featured a few of our songs, and when people heard them, they were touched by the music. But nonetheless it’s hard to reach people today.
A lot of it probably has to do with technology. Everybody is being bombarded with so many things at once that it’s hard to get people to focus.
Well, I measure success differently than most people do. For me, it’s not about Grammy Awards, but how we are touching human beings. I get so many letters from people who have been empowered or moved by our music. And that’s how I measure success. For example, Appleseed opposed the Iraq War from day one. And I was called un-American. But time has proved that I was on the right side of history. As I said, the role of the label has been to bring these issues to the people. But I guess I am most proud of how the artists we have recorded have been on the right side of history.
I just follow my heart and passion and don’t plan on any road out. What happens, happens. I tend to just follow where my heart goes. But I have been honored and humbled by this record. Every single artist I approached came through for me. And right now I just want to stay in the moment and continue to take it all in. Really, this CD captures the state of America in 2018. It’s got all the issues confronting us right now as a nation. As one artist told me: Roots and Branches should be in a time capsule, because this album is our collective story. And that’s just what I wanted to capture…