Helping Hands 

As New Orleans continues to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, two local music companies have pitched in to help the effort with benefit CDs.

"We put together albums and sell them," Johnny Phillips, vice president of Memphis-based Select-O-Hits, one of the South's biggest rap and gospel music distributors, says, "and we seem to do it fairly well, so it seemed like the best way to help. This was happening in our backyard. Most of the retail stores and artists we work with either had their homes and businesses destroyed or their fans and customers were in that situation. Throughout the Gulf Coast, people we work with were affected by the disaster."

The album Phillips has assembled -- Hip-Hop Helps: After the Storm -- features major talents such as Pastor Troy, Young Buck, Lil Flip, David Banner, Haystack, and Memphis groups such as 8Ball & MJG, Al Kapone, The North Mississippi Allstars, and Yo Gotti. Phillips hopes that the benefit disc will both assist people in the affected areas and resuscitate retail sales in the region, where Phillips has seen the music industry impacted at every level.

Blues musician Chris Thomas King's New Orleans home, which housed his recording studio, was ruined by Katrina. "Chris has nothing. He's had to cease operations," Phillips reports. Phillips says that The Benjy Davis Project, a group on Bogalusa Records that played up and down the Gulf Coast, had a street date for their new album slated the week after Katrina hit. "It's a great album, but [timing] just destroyed that release," Phillips notes.

"Katrina closed down between 75 and 90 [record] stores," Phillips says. "Many of those won't open back up again. [South Mississippi chain] Bebop Records & Tapes had stores in Gulfport and Biloxi that were totally destroyed. All our New Orleans mom-and-pop accounts are gone. Frankie's One-Stop in Shreveport, Louisiana, is out of business. Not because he had damage -- his account base is gone.

"Best Buy had nearly 15 stores closed. Twenty-five stores in the Trans-world chain, including Wherehouse and FYE, were closed. And 20 Sam Goody stores were closed. In downtown New Orleans, Virgin Records and Tower are closed. There are not enough people around to support them, and the folks that are there don't have any money. We have seen marked increases in sales in the Houston area, but they're nowhere near what you'd expect from the added New Orleans population," Phillips explains.

Select-O-Hits has pressed 25,000 copies of Hip-Hop Helps, Phillips says. "No rapper or label that I called turned me down," he notes. "Every penny of profit will go to the Red Cross."

Meanwhile, Memphis International Records hopes to raise $50,000 for the Recording Academy musician's assistance program MusiCares with their own compilation CD, Rise, which also hits stores this week. Label co-founder David Less sees the project as a "proactive way" to help musicians affected by Katrina and Rita. "Watching the drama unfold on TV was riveting, and everyone had a sense of hopelessness. We were flipping between news channels, wondering how we could help."

Like Phillips, Less and his business partner Bob Merlis initially considered making a donation before deciding to commit to a CD.

"Bob pointed out that every record tells a story," he says, "so we decided to make the album thematic. We had enough songs in our own catalog, but we were determined to make this a community effort."

Out-of-state labels such as Yep Roc, Artemis, and Humungous Records got involved, as well as local imprints Peabody, MADJACK, and Ardent. Within a month, Less culled the material to selections by Memphis musicians Big Star, Jim Dickinson, Jimmy Davis, and Rob Jungklas, New Orleans' Iguanas, and Memphis International artists Sid Selvidge, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Harmonica Frank Floyd, Red Stick Ramblers, and Louise Hoffstren, who provided the title track.

Dozens of people offered their services gratis, including music publishers BMG and Pure International, FedEx, San Diego-based pressing plant Reel Picture, graphic designer Brooke Barnett, and recording engineer Kevin Cubbins.

"There wasn't time for the train to slow down, because we wanted to have Rise done in time for the Voodoo Music Experience festival," Less says. "Amazingly, I had a good record with marquee names done within a month. We made 2,500 records, which will sell for $20 apiece. All the money goes directly to MusiCares. Buy it now, because we will not repress."

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