Various Artists: Be Good to Yourself | Self-released; Nov. 8

In 2019, after losing friends and fellow musicians to suicide and drug overdose, Ed Bumgardner decided he’d had enough.

The Winston-Salem-based bass player reached out to longtime collaborators, guitarist Rob Slater (Sneakers) and drummer/producer Chris Garges (Fred Wesley, Don Dixon), with the idea of a benefit album.

To channel the helplessness they felt about the mental health crisis, the three veteran musicians and native North Carolinians assembled a group of like-minded artists who are whole-hearted believers in the healing power of music and the strength of the state’s unique collaborative arts community.

On November 8, a star-studded roster of local artists will put their best foot forward in the fight against the brimming crisis with Be Good To Yourself—a benefit album to assist uninsured North Carolina musicians facing mental health and substance abuse challenges.

Two years in the making, the project began as a 10-track concept. The sweeping entrance of the COVID-19 pandemic the next year illuminated even deeper issues within the music industry, such as the compounding stress of unemployment and financial precarity without access to affordable mental health care. Social distancing mandates further complicated the recording process, but with the help of 29 additional studios across the state, the cast of musicians were able to safely complete the album from a distance.

The final product, a 23-track collection, is spread across two albums and features over 60 musicians, including several local to the Triangle, such as Mipso’s Libby Rodenbough, Rod Abernethy of Arrogance, and Whiskeytown’s Caitlin Cary. Each of the artists—all but three from North Carolina—offer talent to a spanning list of covers, hand-selected by Bumgardner to construct a congruent story arc. The concept itself, too, exemplifies the interwoven nature of the state’s music community.

Among the critical players of the native, nurturing scene: Peter Holsapple. The now Durham-based artist got his start at R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, where he met Chris Stamey, along with Mitch Easter and Bobby Locke; together, they formed Rittenhouse Square.

“I think people have this perspective that if you’re a musician, life is all fun and games,” Holsapple says. “That’s why they call it playing music. But it is work to do it the right way. It’s a conscious effort to come up with something from your soul that, hopefully, will touch someone else. Otherwise, you’re working in a vacuum.”

The pandemic, Holsapple says, has been a “modified vacuum” for many musicians. But he also is five decades into the profession and knows that the mental health crisis predates the pandemic.

“A lot of us have had mental issues stemming from the music business,” he says. “I stand proudly as somebody who has been able to walk myself back from that with counseling. But there’s nothing out there directly accessible by musicians who are between gigs and freaking out and need somebody to talk to, to help them sort stuff out.”

Therein lies the necessity of Be Good To Yourself.

Holsapple goes just as far back with Bumgardner and Slater as he does with Stamey and refers to the trio as the “brain trust” behind the project.

“They have all endured a lot themselves as professional musicians,” he says. “It’s not a smooth ride. You can’t count on anything; you just take it and hope that somebody hears it and it somehow resonates with them.”

On the album, Holsapple lends his accordion acumen to Bo Diddley’s 1961 track “Pills,” which the New York Dolls brought to greater fame on their self-titled 1973 LP. (“When you’re 16 years old, and the New York Dolls’ record comes out, and everybody else in the city wants to hear “Can’t You See” by Marshall Tucker Band, you feel an empathy with the song,” he says.)

The topical significance is clear.

“Everybody’s medicating somehow or meditating,” Holsapple says. “So the hope is you can get some help, and ideally, forgo the need of medication. But if you need medication, you can get somebody who can prescribe it for you. That’s what this record is all about.”

Holsapple encourages people to buy several copies and give them as gifts to friends and neighbors over the holidays.

“For the cost of a few coffees, this project not only points out the need for mental health for North Carolina musicians—but also that our music scene, which has been around for ages, is a really healthy place to be a musician,” he says. “If we can get the mental health thing available for more of us, it’ll be even better on that front.

Raleigh-based rock vet Jack Cornell, formerly of The Fabulous Knobs, presents his perspective of the surmounting mental health crisis in a now-universal language: the meme.

“It says you have like a $500 car carrying $8,000 worth of gear to drive four hours to a gig for just $25 and a free T-shirt,” he explains jokingly. “And that’s it, right? We’ll do whatever we have to do to play.”

Cornell has been playing music with Terry Anderson since the 70s, and the pair has collaborated on countless records under several band names, including Terry Anderson and The Olympic Ass-Kickin Team. This connection brought him into the project to record vocals for the track “Betty Ford.” Penned by Anderson and their Ohio-based friend, Erica Blinn, “Betty Ford” fits well into the healing portion of Bumgardner’s envisioned story arc.

The song’s title points to a place where one goes to better themself in a time of crisis. Its driving lyric—‘You better get your ass to Betty Ford’—is a humorous take on the taboo subject of seeking help.

“It’s a kind of tongue-in-cheek song, and in some ways quite literal,” Cornell says. “The song is a lot of fun to play. But there’s an absolutely honest bit about ‘You need to get some help, we all want you to be well because you’re kind of a jerk right now.’”

A critical component of the local arts community is that those within the deeper generational layers continue to pave the way for new artists whose contemporary contributions strengthen the deep roots of regional traditions.

Faith Jones joins this project as one of those newcomers shaped by the sounds she was raised on in Durham and the storytellers who inspired her own stories.

“We’re coming of age in a really crazy time,” says Jones, who graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill last year but walked just a few weeks ago at a delayed ceremony. Before the pandemic, her post-grad plans involved moving to New York City to pursue theatre. But in the stillness of her forced pause, things shifted.

“During the pandemic, a lot of my priorities changed,” she says. “Honestly, I was in a huge depressive episode for much of 2020. And I feel like as artists, we’re uniquely positioned to feel emotions very deeply, which makes our art really good, but it makes living day-to-day very tough.”

Bumgardner contacted Jones via her UNC songwriting professor, Florence Dore, after hearing her rendition of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” on Cover Charge, the Cat’s Cradle COVID-19 relief record produced by Stamey.

Startlingly expressive, Jones’ vocals on the album evoke an even moodier take on Jimi Hendrix’s “Manic Depression.”

She considers the circumstances of her personal mental health crisis with wisdom well beyond her 22 years. As a recent college graduate, she feels fortunate to have been raised by empathetic parents in a generation that is considered to be more forthcoming about struggles and solutions like therapy. She describes her mother as “radical for her time,” allowing Jones and her siblings to take personal days from school on an as-needed basis.

But also, as a Black woman, Jones recognizes that her experience is not broadly reflected across the Black community.

“I can’t speak for all the Black community, of course, but there’s a historical inclination to not talk about things like that and not put your business out there,” says Jones. “That was a means of protecting us from the eyes of white people and white judgment and racism, this historical response to generational trauma. But thankfully, my mom was different. Growing up, I really felt that shift inside my household. At school, I found the people of our generation are more open to talking about it.”

Among the micro-generation defined by their entrance into “adulthood” during a global health crisis, Jones’ vocal talent and unique perspective are invaluable to a project that was created to both benefit and reflect a diverse community of suffering artists.

Proceeds raised from the album—the record sales, as well as merchandise and any performances related to it—will go directly to the nonprofit organization Abundance NC, which will make disbursements to the professional health care group MindPath Care Centers, whose psychiatric professionals are offering prorated services for artists. It’s a partnership that ensures that North Carolina musicians have a number to call when they need help.

This willingness of contributors to offer themselves to fellow artists is what Be Good To Yourself is about. Enabling these artists to take care of themself ensures that issues of mental health and substance abuse will not stop the music

“As has always been the case, North Carolina has an incredibly high caliber of musicians, all of whom have vision and voice,” Bumgardner says. “But the great thing about NC musicians is that they don’t mind donating their most viable means of currency—their talent—to help somebody else.”

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