The mid-1980’s are remembered as a time of big hair and synthesizers. Cassette tapes and Members Only… we could go on …
Here in “the biggest little state in the Union,” (another 80’s thing, kids), there was a special musical moment in 1986 that brought together musicians, politicians, media personalities and even the Catholic Bishop at the time.
That event was Bandwagon, a program founded in 1986 to support local charities modeled after the legendary Band Aid tune “Do They Know its Christmas.” The project included TV specials and an album, Three Sides of Hunger which featured songs co-written by Bandwagon founder (and music industry insider) Al Gomes and performed by RI-based recording artists John Cafferty, Mark Cutler, and Jim Beaupre. One song “A Piece of Our Hearts” featured soloists Cheryl Wheeler and Gail Greenwood (Belly) plus a 150-person celebrity chorus.
We spoke to Gomes recently as he looked back on that special day when “A Piece of Our Hearts” was recorded.
“The session was inspired by Sir Bob Geldof’s Band Aid single ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ and his Live Aid concert. Music benefits had happened before going back to George Harrison’s successful ‘Concert for Bangladesh,’ but Sir Bob’s efforts were on a global scale that had never been seen or attempted before.”
“The Rhode Island music scene was known for doing so much for the common good with benefit concerts that I thought that we needed to tap into and be a part of this new worldwide movement that was happening involving charity making a huge difference through music,” explained Gomes.
The project was expected to last about six months, but ended up going much further.
“It was huge. My thought was that it would be a 6-month project that would make a moderate impact. It was an immediate success and turned into a four-year run with many off-shoot events and projects that continued to raise awareness as to what was happening to the poor in New England. And then it got national press and began to involve organizations and events all over the USA. Sir Bob Geldof himself said that it was one of his favorite projects that spun out of his Band Aid efforts.”
The project addressed issues of poverty and homelessness, and Gomes got a firsthand look at the problem.
“To put myself directly into what was happening with the sad truth of global poverty, I was allowed, with the help of a local agency, to follow someone around for one day who was living on the street. They never allowed this before, but they believed in what I was proposing. At the end of the experience, I realized what a major problem we had here in Rhode Island and decided that the project was going to cast a light on what was happening right here.”
Gomes continued, “Sir Bob has a quote he always shares, ‘That the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.’ Doors began to open to us that never seemed possible. The fact that we all went into this pure of heart is the reason it succeeded so well.”
Close to 150 people packed the studio at Normandy Sounds in Warren for the recording. I wondered how Gomes pulled together such a wide variety of “performers.” “Once I told people that Bandwagon was going to be all about us,” he explained. “the floodgates opened and the word ‘yes’ came quickly to anything we needed help with including the amazing people that made up the Bandwagon chorus.”
Gomes believes a project like Bandwagon could thrive in 2020.
“That is entirely possible. I think that ‘A Piece of Our Hearts’, the main track of the three-song Bandwagon EP, has taken on a new meaning. I truly believe that with everything going on in the world right now, we’re all in some kind of need. So the song’s line ‘let’s give a piece of our hearts’ goes for everyone. We need to give a piece of hearts, of ourselves, to every moment in our day. The way we treat each other is going to tell how the world will eventually turn out. The way you behave in your car in traffic, opening a door for someone, giving someone a smile in the market, making sure you’re not affecting someone’s peace and quiet in their neighborhood, and, yes, doing charitable work. This is how it’s going to change things.”
Proceeds from Bandwagon’s work continue to support local charities. The Bandwagon EP Three Sides of Hunger is available on all major streaming platforms including Spotify. “All of the proceeds go to the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen, which is doing amazing work in helping to fight poverty,” noted Gomes.