Occupy Wall Street Movement Gets By With A Little Help From Its Musical Friends

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Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young spent their early careers soundtracking a revolution – and they’re ready to do it again. Baez, Crosby and Nash, and Dylan – via documentary director Michael Moore’s cover of “The Times They Are A-Changin'” – are helping to soundtrack the Occupy Wall Street movement, via the new compilation Occupy This Album (released May 15).

The album’s executive producer, Jason Samel, says that the support of legacy artists has helped the Occupy Wall Street movement gain steam among an older crowd.

“There are baby boomers out there running these huge corporations, these massive banks we’re fighting against, and they forget that they were on the picket lines 50 years ago, fighting against some of what we’re fighting against now – the way our government acts,” Samel tells CBS Local. “Our hope is that music – music they know, whether it’s Jackson Browne or Joan Baez – can get through to them.”

But it’s not all about living in the past, either. Samel’s 99-song Occupy This Album compilation features plenty of artists who weren’t around to decry the Vietnam War in song, let alone born then. Big names like Tom Morello, Yoko Ono, Patti Smith, Blondie’s Deborah Harry, Willie Nelson, Ani DiFranco and more may draw people in, but the four-disc collection is a mix of politically-charged rock, folk and electronica, both young and old, familiar and unknown. Samel’s goal with he album’s eclecticism: “Trying to reach people who wouldn’t normally go down to Zucotti Park [the original home of Occupy Wall Street] or even bother with the Occupy Movement.”

Once you know the story behind Occupy This Album, however, the roster of artists on the compilation becomes even more impressive. Samel’s goal of documenting the Occupy Wall Street movement, which began last September, through music gained steamed when documentary director Michael Moore got involved.

“I was contacted by Michael Moore’s people because I owned a couple of domains that they were interested in building an Occupy websites on,” he says. “I developed a relationship with them early on – about a week into the movement. A few weeks after that, I asked him if he wanted to be involved in the album. He said, ‘Sure, so long as I can sing Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times Are A-Changin’.’ I thought, ‘Oh sure, let me call Bob and make sure that’s alright with him [laughs]‘.”

(Moore reached out to Dylan directly and eventually got an enthusiastic approval to include his cover, which the liberal director first performed in his 1997 documentary, The Big One. Listen to his cover below.)

From there, Samel used Twitter to track down a number of artists who appear on the compilation, but he also spent time down at Zuccotti Park, making friends through “the people’s stage.” His conversations led him to Pete Seeger’s grandson, musician and activist Tao Rodríguez-Seeger, who introduced him to Woodstock folk duo Mike & Ruthy, who introduced Samel to the Guthries and Warren Haynes’ management, who introduced him to Third Eye Blind’s people. Within a month, Samel had nearly 20 artists on board for Occupy This Album, released through his Music For Occupy label and with proceeds benefiting the Occupy movement.

But the album almost hit a snag. “One of Michael Moore’s producers texted me saying Jackson Browne, David Crosby and Graham Nash were on some talk show and someone asked them why they don’t make a benefit album for Occupy,” Samel says. “This was before we had announced our album and anybody really knew much about it. They said, ‘Oh, we’d love to!’ I immediately scrambled to figure out how to contact Jackson Browne and Crosby & Nash. These are some of my idols, and I had no idea how to do that. But I started making calls, and eventually I found the right people that lead me to Crosby & Nash’s manager, and they immediately jumped on board.”

In the end, Samel and his cohorts gathered “99 artists for the 99 percent,” but he says that’s just the beginning. “There were musicians who wanted to be part of the album but they couldn’t be because of their record label or their management,” Samel says. “Still, I know at least 99 more artists who would want to help with a second Occupy album.”

– Jillian Mapes, CBS Local

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