Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster Producer Notes
The American Roots Publishing Story…So Far…
American Roots Publishing was a dream planted in my subconscious by a conversation with Joe Ely two years ago.
I knew from a previous conversation with him that Joe had been writing a novel. When I asked him how it was going, Joe told me he had spoken to a publisher who said, “Joe, I love this book but I wouldn’t know what to do with it.”
Wouldn’t know what to do with it, I thought. What is he talking about? We have Soundscan. Joe tours. He has a fan base. Give me the damn book, I know what to do with it!
I couldn’t let go of our conversation. Although I hadn’t read Joe’s book yet, I started thinking about all the wonderful books, music and art that undoubtedly goes unread, unpublished and unseen because they aren’t deemed profitable enough. I thought about the literature, music and art that I love, that my friends and I immerse ourselves in daily, that is a vital part of our American culture though not necessarily part of mainstream consciousness.
After brewing in my head for several days, I began to write my thoughts down on paper. The thoughts evolved into a rough draft of a business plan for a nonprofit organization with three goals: To preserve regional culture through literature and art; to link artists and communities through focused education programs which will preserve, reveal and celebrate regional traditions; and to support American artists who honor regional traditions by giving them an outlet and venue for their work.
I convinced Joe Ely, through his helpful publicist Lance Cowan, to let me read his novel, hoping to make it American Roots Publishing’s first release. I read Super Reverb in one night and as I expected, it’s both engaging and entertaining. Joe, in his infinite kindness and generosity, gave me permission to move forward using his name and novel as the foundation of ARP. It changed my life and I will always be grateful to Joe for giving me this chance.
With Joe on board, I immediately called on my colleague Kathi Whitley and insisted that she join the board of directors as secretary. For many months it was just the two of us brainstorming, plotting and planning, She’s been a constant source of advice and encouragement. I’m quite certain I would have given up without Kathi in my corner.
Al Bunetta introduced me to Tom Frouge during the Americana Music Association conference in September, 2002. Tom jumped in to ARP with both feet the first night we met, scribbling ideas on a napkin at Café Margot while we ignored a Buddy Miller show across the street. I hope Buddy forgives us. Tom is the Vice President of ARP and his creative mind, kind heart and friendship is a daily gift.
Bobbie Eakes encouraged me at my very worst moments. I burdened her with a lot of my troubles at the time and she might have felt so sorry for me that she agreed to be on the ARP board. Whatever it was that convinced her, I’m thrilled that Bobbie is with us and am grateful for her friendship.
My dear friend and ARP Treasurer Steve Fishell gave hours and hours and hours of his time to co-produce this project and to guide the artists, musicians, engineers and the rest of us toward the artistic channel Stephen Foster’s compositions deserve. Without Steve’s enthusiasm and dedication, I know we would still be floundering. Instead, our first project is in your hands in no small part because of Steve Fishell. Steve, you are THE MAN. Tracy Gershon, Sam and Katy Fishell, thanks for letting us borrow him for all these months.
We wouldn’t have the credibility any new organization desperately needs without our esteemed advisory board lending their names and expertise. Thank you Cameron Strang for making us cross the t’s and dot the i‘s on the business end, Emmylou Harris for your spirit and generosity, Steve Garvan for your publishing brain, Woz for inventing the Apple Computer (I’ve loved you since 1984) and Jack Sullivan for your academic mind and love of bluegrass.
When co-producer David Macias suggested doing a Stephen Foster tribute as a fundraiser for American Roots Publishing, I had two thoughts: 1) Certainly this has been done before and 2) Why in the world would David give us this incredible project?
I quickly got the answer to both. With just a little research I found that (surprisingly) there has never been a singer/songwriter tribute to Stephen Foster and (not surprisingly) David Macias is one of the most generous and compassionate individuals I’ve had the pleasure to know.
It goes without saying that without David, this project never would have happened. For that, I am eternally grateful to David, Deb Markland and Bob Goldstone at Emergent. I’ve stopped wondering how David accomplishes all that he does. I’m just thankful that he is on our team.
Of course, without the artists who donated their time and talents, we wouldn’t have a musical collection at all. We are forever grateful to these amazing artists, some who have had long storied careers and some who are just beginning the journey. All of them stepped up to the plate to arrange and record these traditional Stephen Foster songs to raise money for our cause.
It’s only fitting that Raul Malo is our title track artist. It was Raul who, after several late night conversations at various pubs in Milwaukee, talked me into moving to Nashville in 1995. I’ve known him longer than anyone else in this town and I’m absolutely thrilled that he loaned his timeless voice and musical sensibilities to “Beautiful Dreamer.” Thanks to Raul and the other magnificent artists who join him on this project: John Prine, Mavis Staples, Ollabelle, Alison Krauss, Yo Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Mark O’Connor, Michelle Shocked, Pete Anderson, The Duhks, Grey De Lisle, Suzy Bogguss, David Ball, Beth Nielson Chapman, Roger McGuinn, BR549, Judith Edelman, Ron Sexsmith, Henry Kaiser, Will Barrow, Alvin Youngblood-Hart and all of the musicians and producers and engineers who worked on this CD. Special thanks to Yvonne Staples, Wood Newton, John Ingrassia, Larry Welk, Kevin Welk and Al Bunetta.
I am most grateful for Paul Whitfield, my own true love. Firenze, Baby, Firenze.
American Roots Publishing’s first project, Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster is dedicated to my grandfather, the late Ellis Leavitt, to whom I owe everything.
American Roots Publishing Update – I put American Roots Publishing out of business in 2007. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, there was a ton of administrative and IRS paperwork and it was taking up way too much of my time. It’s much easier to just find the money to do the projects I love and hope they break even or are profitable enough to do the next project.