—Article by David Menconi
About two years ago, Ed Bumgardner found himself once again doing something he really hates: Attending a funeral for yet another musician friend of his who had perished from issues related to substance abuse. It was a sadly familiar story, but this time it crystalized his resolve.
“He’d tried to get treatment but couldn’t, and by the time he did his esophagus was ruptured and it was downhill from there,” Bumgardner recalls. “He was just the latest in a long line of musicians gone too soon from alcoholism, overdose or suicide. And that was when I said, ‘Enough is enough. We’ve got to do something to help here.’”
That was the impetus behind Be Good To Yourself, a statewide program billed as “A Mental Health Initiative For North Carolina Musicians.” Bumgardner, a musician in various bands as well as the longtime former music critic at the Winston-Salem Journal, is one of several ringleaders.
Bumgardner’s Luxuriant Sedans bandmate Rob Slater, longtime Triangle concert promoter/activist Mike Allen and Chris Garges (drummer in North Carolina Music Hall of Famer Mitch Easter’s band Balderdash) are among the other principle organizers. The group is actively seeking to raise money to pay for musicians’ access to mental-health care and substance-abuse counseling, working through Pittsboro-based Abundance NC and MindPath Care Centers.
While the group will accept straight-up donations, its primary fund-raising vehicle is an album coming out this fall, “Be Good To Yourself,” featuring 27 original songs and covers recorded by artists from all across the state. Many of the album participants are tied to the Orange County district – country singer John Howie Jr., onetime Arrogance co-leader and UNC alumnus Don Dixon and Mipso singer/fiddler Libby Rodenbough.
Also featured on the album are two members of Chapel Hill’s venerable roots-rockers Southern Culture on the Skids, Rick Miller and Mary Huff. Miller says this was the band’s way of paying tribute to someone they were close to, the late great Sam Moss, a brilliant Winston-Salem guitarist who took his own life in 2007.
“Sam was almost like a mentor to us, a kindred spirit who turned us on to a lot of oddball stuff,” Miller says. “And when he ended up committing suicide, that was a big shock to everybody. When they asked us about this, he’s who we thought about right away. This is for a very, very good cause. It’s always been hard for musicians, and the pandemic has just made it even worse.”
Like most musicians, Miller has no lack of peers, friends and acquaintances who struggle with mental and physical health. He counts himself lucky to have mostly avoided such issues himself.
“I’ve never had what I’d call depression,” he says. “Just periods of being bummed. It never got to the point where it stopped me from doing things. But yeah, I’ve had family members and a lot of friends dealing with it. Counseling helps but can be so difficult to get, which is a shame. That needs to be fixed. There’s no way to fix severe, incapacitating depression than time, counseling and sometimes medication.”
The “Be Good To Yourself” album should emerge this fall on vinyl, compact disc and digital formats. Organizers are planning release shows across North Carolina, including in Chapel Hill. Meantime, ongoing fallout from the pandemic gives the work even greater urgency than usual.
“There have definitely been rises in depression, substance abuse and suicides since the pandemic started,” says Bumgardner. “In fact, two of the guys whose songs are covered on this record have died since we started this project – Neal Casal by suicide, and Justin Townes Earle by drug overdose. Almost half the songs on it are by North Carolina songwriters, and they all have something to do with the theme. The running order is sort of a narrative with a happy ending.”