Every once in a while you pour your heart and soul into a project that for one reason or another never sees the light of day. Unfortunately, that's just what happened in the case of a collection of songs I produced for Commerce Bank in 2005.
I've known producer Jenny McGinley since we were kids growing up in South Jersey. Our professional paths first crossed when Jenny's responsibilities as an Account Director for Tierney Advertising occasionally brought her to Baker Sound, but it was only after she left Tierney to become Commerce Bank's eCommerce Manager that we had the opportunity to collaborate on a music project.
Part of Jenny's job was to develop the bank's WOW!Zone, an interactive website dedicated to teaching kids about money and banking. After making numerous improvements, Jenny wanted to promote the site by producing a CD of original songs titled Money Rocks. Inspired by the classic Schoolhouse Rock TV shorts, the album would feature catchy, finance-themed tunes designed to educate kids while getting them excited about visiting both the bank and the WOW!Zone. The giveaway would be available at bank branches throughout the region.
Production couldn't have gone more smoothly. Jenny and I complied a list of topics and agreed that each song should have its own musical style. We quickly settled on five tunes bookended by a cute theme song titled "Count on Penny" (referencing the bank's popular "Penny Arcade" coin machine). I wrote the songs over the next two weeks and sent the lyrics to Jenny for approval. After a few minor tweaks she gave me the go ahead to start recording.
The first cut was a retro-rock tune called "Harder 2 Barter." Popular Philly artist John Faye (The Caulfields, IKE) gave a terrific vocal performance, supported by Jeff Kay's solid guitar work and an eclectic blend of Farfisa organ, turntable scratching, and sound effects. It's a fun track that kicks off the album with a lot of energy.
I suggested the narrative that sets up each song as a way of keeping listeners engaged. The dialog was voiced by my son Kirk Butler, his schoolmate Monique Spadea, vocalist Yvette Myles' nephew Khaaliq Burroughs, and her granddaughter Miyah Hammond. This group also sang on several tracks, including the next one. Shifting to a bluesy, folk vibe, "It All Adds Up" features Byron Smith on vocals, popular South Jersey bandleader Kenny I on fiddle, and Jeff as usual on guitars. Byron handled the whistling that follows the fiddle solo with no problem, but struggled with the tongue twister that occurs shortly thereafter. He eventually nailed it, and I provided a rough mix to the kids so that they could practice that section prior to their session.
For the next cut, Jenny suggested humanizing the ATM machine by calling it "AToM," and this struck me as the perfect opportunity for a rap. The singing parts were handled by Yvette Myles, her daughter Dyani Myles, and my former UArts student Lauren Lark, who also contributed some soulful ad libs. VS Talent put out a casting call for the male lead, and after a few auditions we found a young man who was a natural performer and brought a ton of personality to the rap I had written. (Regrettably, his name does not appear in my notes and I don't recall his name.)
The next track features vocalist Paul Jost on a bouncy Randy Newman-inspired tune titled "Budget Pie." I'm especially proud of the drum programming on this one, and I enjoyed the opportunity to apply some of the horn arranging skills I had learned at Berklee. The horn section includes Matt Cappy on trumpet, Ron Kerber on tenor sax and clarinet, Fred Scott on trombone, and the late, great Bill Zaccagni on baritone sax and bass clarinet. For backing vocals, Paul is joined by Chet Brown, Yvette Myles, and Patty Balbo, who also contributed the ad libs that peek through as the track develops.
The final tune, "That's What I Want," is the most ambitious of the bunch and gave me a chance to explore some of the gospel vocabulary I had picked up while performing with Aretha Franklin. I wrote the piece with Yvette's voice in mind, and she delivered a totally committed performance. I was a bit concerned about the choral parts; we didn't have the budget to record a full gospel choir, so I knew this would have to be approximated by overdubbing a smaller group. It took a while to record, with Yvette, Dyani, Patty, "Big Ric" Minter, Chet, and Paul together in the booth recording multiple passes of each phrase, but the end result was surprisingly effective. The "Budget Pie" horn section makes a second appearance here, and Jeff shows his versatility with a convincing Matt "Guitar" Murphy impersonation. Of the six songs in the collection, this one is my personal favorite.
As I indicated, the story has a rather disappointing ending. Jenny was thrilled with the finished music and put together a beautifully designed CD package. But Commerce decided to postpone the release after entering into acquisition talks with TD Bank, and when that deal was finalized the following year the project was permanently shelved. Jenny departed shortly thereafter, leaving behind boxes of unopened "Money Rocks" CDs. (She is currently U.S. Marketing Director for SCA Hygiene Products.) I was heartbroken. I had worked really hard on the project, and my team of musicians had contributed wonderful performances that deserved to be heard. But this is why I tell young people interested in pursuing music careers that they'd better be truly passionate about their vocation: there are going to be many disappointments along the way, and that passion is what will enable you to "pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again."
Chuck Butler is celebrating his 30th anniversary as Baker Sound's in-house composer. For more information about Baker's music division, visit our dedicated MONSTER TRACKS website.