Founded in 1997 by activist attorney Jim Musselman, Appleseed Recordings is an independent, idealistic and internationally distributed record label devoted to releasing socially conscious contemporary, folk and roots music by a wide array of established and lesser-known musicians. The West Chester, Pa.-based company’s approach has led to a catalogue of mor than 100 well-respected CDs, two Grammy Awards, ten Grammy nominations, and, most importantly, has produced music that is actually helping to change the world.
Appleseed’s roster includes CDs by such enduring folk stars as Pete Seeger (one of Musselman’s leading inspirations), Donovan, Tom Paxton, former Byrds leader and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member Roger McGuinn, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Al Stewart, Eric Andersen, and Holly Near, and a younger generation of sociopolitically aware musicians that includes John Wesley Harding, Christine Lavin, Kim and Reggie Harris and The Kennedys. Among the guest artists who have participated in Appleseed releases are Joan Baez, Steve Earle, Ani DiFranco, Wyclef Jean and Billy Bragg, all creative firebrands.
What has led such a caravan of musical giants to Appleseed’s door is the label’s policy of giving full creative control to its artists. There’s no demand for a hit single (although we wouldn’t reject one), no corporate ownership dictating censorship of controversial lyrics, and loving attention is paid to packaging that’s eye-catching and informative. With national distribution by Koch Entertainment Distribution LLC, international distribution in twenty countries, and digital download sales through all the major US download sites, Appleseed music is readily available to listeners everywhere.
Following its original mission statement of “sowing the seeds of social justice through music and exploring the roots and branches of folk and world music,” the label has released CDs of lasting and historical value. There are albums of Underground Railroad and Spanish Civil War songs, archival recordings of previously unreleased traditional American folk ballads, a fund-raising CD to combat homelessness, and expanded reissues of out-of-print LPs alongside the contemporary music in Appleseed’s catalogue. The company also backs up its altruistic outlook by contributing a percentage of its profits to environmental, human rights, and other progressive organizations.
One of Appleseed’s first and most influential projects was Where Have All the Flowers Gone, a 2-CD multi-artist set devoted to mostly exclusive new versions of songs originally written, adapted or performed by international folk/activist icon Pete Seeger, a leading inspiration to Musselman. The 1998 release, the first of our three Seeger tributes, featured such notables as Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt (on a Grammy-nominated duet), a pantheon of other folk/roots music greats, actor Tim Robbins, writer Studs Terkel, and Bruce Springsteen. Musselman had approached Springsteen with a wish list of 14 Seeger songs to pick from; “The Boss” wound up recording a half-dozen tracks and submitted a tenderly sung rendition of the African-American spiritual/civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.” Years after its inclusion in the first of Appleseed’s three tributes to Seeger’s music, and years before Springsteen reused the recording (and many other songs suggested by Musselman) as the title track of his 2006 We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions CD, Bruce’s version of the song was used by NBC-TV news as the soundtrack to a video montage of self-sacrifice and suffering in New York City in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, broadcast nightly for a week. Grieving families also played the song for comfort in the wake of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. The title song of Appleseed’s first Seeger tribute, recorded by Irish singers Tommy Sands and Delores Keane, Vedran “The Cellist of Bosnia”) Smailovic, and a chorus of Catholic and Protestant Irish school children, was played daily outside the peace negotiations between Northern Ireland and England and was described by Minister of Parliament John Hume as “a vital bridge of hope and healing between the two sides.”
The Appleseed/Seeger/Springsteen connection has continued in recent years. In 2003, Musselman added some updated lyrics to Pete Seeger’s Vietnam-era protest, “Bring Them Home” and recorded Seeger’s new version on the day of the US invasion of Iraq for inclusion on 2003’s Grammy-nominated Seeds, the third of Appleseed’s Seeger tributes. Springsteen subsequently added still more lyrics when he performed the song on many of his “Seeger Sessions” tour dates, performed the song on “The Late Show with Jay Leno” and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and a live recording has been included in updated versions of Springsteen’s CD/DVD.
As a longtime activist who worked with consumer advocate Ralph Nader to champion various safety and environmental causes, including the mandatory installation of airbags in motor vehicles, Musselman finds great satisfaction in combining his commitment to social justice with his passion for music: “We are more than a record label – we are a vision, in many ways using music as a tool of social change and peace. We also are unlike most labels in that we initiate many of our projects and then approach artists to share that vision.”
“Appleseed has built its reputation as a label unafraid of politics, a place where an artist can speak his or her mind without fear of censorship.” – All Music Guide
“Despite its weighty mission statement – “to explore the roots and branches of folk and world music and sow the seeds of social justice through music,” no less – the Appleseed label is no over-worthy do-gooder. . . . It has spread the word to free-thinking bohemians and quietly built a roster that includes such legends as Pete Seeger, Roger McGuinn, Donovan and Tom Paxton. . . . In keeping the folk fires burning, Appleseed does it with vim, vision and a heap of imagination.” – Uncut, UK
“The label thrives on music without egos. . .” – Rock ’n’ Reel, UK
“The Appleseed ethos can be encapsulated as the attaining of justice and inspiring change through the power of song . . . Folk and Roots music, you gotta love it! Appleseed, thanks for the activism and the first decade of musical memories.” – FolkWax
“As it remains true to its founding mission – to preserve and promote folk and traditional music while inspiring social and political action – there is no doubt that when the hour of accounting comes for record labels, Jim Musselman’s Appleseed Recordings will be one of the infant's handful allowed to pass peacefully into the golden beyond.” – Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
“The worthiness of this idealistic indie is beyond question.” – Mojo, UK
The August 2009 release of Appleseed’s 100th CD, Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Running for the Drum, was the occasion for this interview with label president Jim Musselman in venerable Crawdaddy magazine, one of the very first music magazines (after Sing Out!) to cover folk and rock music in a non-teenybop fashion.
The Allentown, Pa., Morning Call profiled Appleseed founder and president Jim Musselman on the afternoon of the February 8, 2009, Grammy Awards. Later that evening, an Appleseed CD, Pete Seeger At 89, won a "Best Traditional Folk Album" Grammy, the first Grammy win for the 11-year-old label. click here to read
The February 9, 2008, issue of the Philadelphia Sunday Inquirer published an interview with Jim Musselman about Appleseed: click here to read
The December 21, 2007, issue of Goldmine published a feature on Appleseed containing an interview with Jim Musselman: click here to read
In April 2006: the music industry periodical Encore ran an in-depth interview with Jim Musselman: click here to read