The Home Grown Music Network
Movin' the Groove
by Lee Abraham
"I like music that's from the heart and soul, and the stuff that moves me the most strives to cover new territories musically" says Lee Crumpton, founder of The Home Grown Music Network. Each day Crumpton empties his post office box which is usually full of new CD's from bands trying to get into his rapidly growing and increasingly influential network.
"Most of its not very good, but occasionally I come across something I like and then the research on that band begins," explains the 27 year-old radio DJ-turned music biz entrepreneur. "Organic Grooves," the HGMN's 3rd compilation CD, a sampler of the network's bands will be released on June 9th. Although bands like Juggling Suns, the Ominous Seapods and Jiggle The Handle are far from household names, these emerging "jam bands" are selling out venues around the country, due in part to the exposure generated by the HGMN sampler CD's and mail order catalogs.
Crumpton is a natural born networker with no formal business training, but he's learned to "conquer the little challenges that come up each day." He worked his way through high school and college as a DJ on WSFL radio in North Carolina, making business connections and taking careful notes along the way.
After five years on the air, Crumpton began to "burn out on the same old crap we had to play." Salvation came with "Sunday Night Alternative," his open format weekend program which enabled him to play the music he liked. Music that was nowhere to be found on the radio. Sunday Night Alternative featured local and regional bands doing "live in studio" acoustic performances, as well as playing their independently produced CD's.
One day in 1994, he went to pick up the new CD from Purple Schoolbus, a local band that was beginning to build a following in North Carolina. "I brought a list of suggestions on other radio stations and magazines that they should send their CD to, they looked at me and said "we haven't thought much about this stuff, want a job?" laughs Crumpton. Within a few weeks he was named president of "Elprup (purple spelled backwards) Records," managing the band's live shows and merchandising.
"I started discovering all these other bands that just blew me away, and I was like, well, Purple Schoolbus isn't making any money, they're struggling, basically just surviving, and the same with all these other bands. Maybe if we get all these other good bands and come up with a good idea so that everybody can work together to make it a cooperative effort, then maybe we can push the thing ahead a little bit, instead of us all going into debt in an effort to survive."
"As an independent artist you have to have a great product to make it because you've got to start at the bottom and gradually grow to the top, whereas a major label can take anything and put enough money behind it to make people buy it." In 1995 he sent out invitations to bands that met his very selective criteria for quality and commitment. The network started with 12 original members, it now has over 50. The last shipment of his quarterly catalog was 15,000 copies, the new catalog has already shipped 25,000 and he's ordered more.
Working "full time and then some," Crumpton has combined his critical ear for great music with a knack for being in the right place at the right time, positioning himself at the forefront of the "Groove" music scene, a genre of rock largely born out of the collective consciousness and transcendental mind expansion experienced at Grateful Dead concerts. Perhaps as a natural progression after Jerry Garcia's death a few years ago, this mutated brand of highly improvised, multi-influenced music is filling the void left in the wake of the Grateful Dead.
Certain aspects of the scene are unmistakable: concert taping and tape trading is encouraged; bands tour relentlessly and jam extensively onstage with set lists changing every night; dancers in varying stages of grace and undress that are almost as entertaining as the music itself.
"We've been involved with the HGMN since the beginning," says Dana Montieth, singer/guitar player and songwriter for the Ominous Seapods in an interview before their recent Las Vegas debut. "ts been a great thing for us. The network's mail order for the CD's and things like that have really helped, plus they put on some killer festivals. Most notably, they had one on a mountain top in North Carolina that was just completely out of control. There were about 900 people there, you had to drive three or four miles up this one lane dirt road to this amazing natural amphitheater. All those people in a beautiful, fairly remote spot with killer tunes from a lot of original bands, it was bliss!"
In addition to spreading the word by way of compilation CD's and free catalogs sent to record stores and radio stations around the country, the HGMN has a website (versanet.com/homegrown) which hosts an "internet radio" program and also links to the web sites the bands in the network. "Buzz a band," is an innovative service that allows anyone to telephone each band's hotline for tour dates, CD release information, by calling just one number (919-753-8567).
Bands in the network are required to forward useful information on friendly venues (and places to avoid), radio stations, local fans that are willing to give bands passing through a place to crash, and each month all the members bands are sent updates. But can bands do more than "just survive" as an independent? Crumpton is certain they can.
"A good example of being successful as an independent is Ani DiFranco, she's got the "do it yourself" attitude, and is selling hundreds of thousands of records, all from a company she started and she owns." Crumpton has found that each band has their own take on getting signed to a major label. "Most bands have that as their dream in the beginning and then as they get out there and have dealings with people that are involved in that corporate end of the business, a lot of times they get turned off. They start dealing with these people and they realize that, "hey its not as good as we thought it was.""
Whether getting signed is the goal or not, all HGMN bands have independently produced CD's and are cris-crossing the country, always looking for new venues to play. Some club owners are already recognizing the HGMN and they know that if a band is in the network they are hard working, full time, talented band.
"When I book a band from the Home Grown Network, I know I'm going to get an intense live performance," says Rudy Jalio, owner/operator of Legends Lounge, who is also the Las Vegas representative for the network. "These bands combine all sorts of different elements, like jazz, funk, blues, bluegrass, and so on, to come up with this "groove" sound that people love to dance to. We're really excited about having Stir Fried at Legends on 4/24. They're a Home Grown Band that includes Buddy Cage from the New Riders on pedal steel. I've heard their CD, its really good and I can't wait to see them live."
Crumpton reflects on the spread of his network around the country and the unexpected hot spots for his beloved groove scene, "Over the past three and half years we've turned a lot of people on to some really good music and they've told their friends, who tell their friends and so on. It just keeps growing."