Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Almost $10,000 raised in 24 hours for Lester Chambers, says nonprofit exec

For classic rock musician Lester Chambers, it only took 24 hours and one picture posted on Facebook to raise almost $10,000 to help a beloved, but almost overlooked, musician with greatly needed funds for living expenses thanks to a nonprofit organization that exists to help musicians across the country.

After just 24 hours of the post going viral across Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, in an exclusive interview today, Rob Max, Executive Director of the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, shared that Lester’s fund received close to $10,000 in just one day, which will go directly to help Chambers with his living and medical expenses.

Max noted that the donations came in from “around the world, including Australia, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States.” Several key figures well known in the music world made Lester Chambers’ cause their own, and made early and repeated recent donations to his fund as well. Max said, “We received an e-mail from Yoko Ono’s office this morning, and they were glad to see that the word was getting out and hoped that Lester’s cause would get more attention now” that the message was spreading via Facebook and social media.

The picture (seen left) that struck a chord with so many has a poignant sign, hand-printed in pencil, taped to a RIAA gold record, being held up by a man whose face is unseen. The sign reads:

“I am the former lead singer of a 60’s Band. I performed before thousands at Atlanta Pop 2, Miami Pop, Newport Pop, Atlantic Pop. I did not squander my money on drugs or a fancy home. I went from 1967-1994 before I saw my first royalty check. The music giants I recorded with only paid me for 7 of my albums. I have never seen a penny in royalties from my other 10 albums I recorded. Our hit song was licensed to over 100 films, TV & commercials without our permission. One major TV network used our song for a national commercial and my payment was $625 dollars. I am now 72, trying to live on $1200 a month. Sweet Relief, a music charity is taking donations for me. Only the 1% of artists can afford to sue. I AM THE 99%.”

The photograph has the following Facebook message underneath (sic) by Lester Chambers:

“If you feel moved by this outrage please share this with the world! Its TIME to tell the truth!!! HELP Me make this VIRAL so everyone pays attention to the Artist who bring joy to life...I’m about to be 72.....IT’S TIME!!!”

Underneath the post on my Facebook screen it shows “Artie Wayne and 11,978 others like this.” Additional Facebook details note that the picture has been shared 9,479 times, and there are presently 2,358 comments of encouragement written to and about Lester.

Chambers’ wife Lola (who lives separately from Lester) was the one who’d initially contacted the organization on his behalf to share Lester’s situation with them for consideration. They were indeed receptive.

“When I first got in touch with him two years ago, he was living in a house that someone gave him to stay in, but it was under construction and it had no roof, so there he was, 70 years old, sleeping on an air mattress in a house up north of San Francisco,” laments Max.

He continues, “My original goal is that I wanted to build a fund that would support Lester’s living expenses for 5-10 years. But I want to make it clear that our organization pays bills directly for the artist. We pay rent, we pay hospital bills and for medicines, we pay for surgery; we are a good steward with the monies that come in.”

During the 60s, Chambers had made many friends in the music business, including John Lennon and Yoko Ono, as well as Shep Gordon, who Chambers personally introduced to singer Alice Cooper in the 70s. Gordon has been Cooper’s manager ever since. Max noted that Yoko Ono “was the one who originally gave us $20,000 to help get Lester’s fund started” two years ago.

Gordon and Cooper also “made a contribution two years ago, and we rented a nice house for Lester, used the funds for his medical treatment and we got him on his feet again,” said Max.

Things were going well for a while, and because Chambers didn’t feel comfortable relying on charity support, he tried to get back into the music game himself, when some folks came along and wanted to bring Lester back out into the music world. As Max explains, after five months their abilities didn’t match their intentions, and “there wasn’t enough money left at the end of a few gigs to help Lester pay medical bills much less living expenses.” Then Sweet Relief Musicians Fund stepped back into the picture to help.

Fortunately, today, Lester can still sing, and although he performs in select engagements and benefits when possible, it’s still hard for him to get to shows. As Max explains, when they first met almost two years ago, Lester “had cancer three different times, he was on the verge of losing his eyesight; he had cataracts and desperately needed treatment that was beyond what Medicare was offering, and he’d actually become homeless.”

Today, Lester’s son Dylan lives with him and is his primary caregiver, an indication of the love behind people who want to help the one they love. Max expresses great admiration for Lester Chambers: “Here’s a man whose music career has been now going on for 60 years; he started singing gospel when he was 9 years old, and there’s not many people alive with a music career like Lester Chambers.”

In the past 24 hours following Chambers’ post, many others active in the music industry are sharing Lester’s story with all of their Facebook friends, responding to Chambers' requests to “help me go viral.”

Musician Julian Lennon also made the cause his own on his Facebook page, posting today, “some things never change” along with Chambers' picture.

Music industry former executive Artie Wayne, whose own public battle for royalties is well known across social media, knows well what it means to “go viral.” Wayne took personal interest in Chambers’ cause and devoted his blog post to it yesterday, titled, “Hang On Lester Chambers...Help is On the Way.” Surely we are, like the song by songwriters Alan O’Day, Artie Wayne and Sally Stevens says, livin’ in a Facebook world.

Max noted that in the beginning of their nonprofit, the record labels were most generous among the donors to care for musicians. The mission of the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund “provides financial assistance to all types of career musicians who are struggling to make ends meet while facing illness, disability, or age-related problems. In other words, Healing Musicians in Need. We all have received so much out of music. It’s time to give a little back!”

One important distinction should be made, lest people who see the Facebook picture think that Sweet Relief Musicians Fund is an organization waving a flag and carrying a sword against the music labels. That is absolutely not the case. “We are not involved in any way with what Lester is trying to do with his royalties, but we wish him all the success, always.” says Max.

The music for which Lester Chambers has become known and ‘almost famous’ in the past 40 years especially began with a song recorded by the Chambers Brothers in 1966, which reached new heights in 1968, “Time Has Come Today.” Credited on the label as co-written by Chambers’ brothers Joe and Willie, the second verse is the one that proved prophetically autobiographical:

“The rules have changed today; I have no place to stay, I’m thinking about the subway; My love has flown away; My tears have come and gone; Oh my Lord I have to roam.”

Thanks to Bill Bennett, Rob Max and the team at Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, plus the generous donations of celebrity friends and strangers, Lester Chambers roams no more; today he has a safe, warm place to live.

The journey for funds, though, is not over. At age 72, Lester can still anticipate needing funds for medical bills and costly prescriptions that his social security simply cannot cover. If you’ve ever loved the music of the 60s; if you’ve ever hit a cowbell and sung along with Lester, on “Time Has Come Today” on your radio; if you’ve ever known what it’s like to have more bills than income, any donation in any amount will be welcomed. The direct link to Lester’s fund is https://www.sweetrelief.org/program/lester-chambers-fund/ .

A fitting soundtrack is in the accompanying video from The Chambers Brothers’ 1965 appearance on the old “Shindig” TV show doing Curtis Mayfield’s song, “People Get Ready.” Thanks to Facebook, thanks to Lester Chambers’ courage in sharing his situation, thanks to the generosity of Yoko Ono, Julian Lennon, Shep Gordon, Alice Cooper and the thousands of people who gave from the heart, the train continues rolling down the track, for Lester’s sake.

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