‘Tears For Ukraine’: Detroit musician’s song aims to unite the world

DETROIT, MI — “You have 24 hours,” Eric Rhoads told Detroit-area musician Billy Craig a few weeks ago.

“Make me cry,” he added.

Rhoads, a painter by passion and publisher of the monthly Radio Ink read by industry executives across the country, was not demanding a ransom. But his request to Craig to chart a lead for the ever-evolving “Tears for Ukraine” had the urgency and power of one. (Video at the end of the story.)

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Like so many around the world, Rhoads was haunted by the sights and sounds of war pouring into his Austin, Texas, home from Ukraine, which he said reflected the United States of a way beyond sovereignty.

Its cities – and those of Russia – are like ours, with avenues of shiny modern buildings teeming with fashionably dressed people, chatting on cellphones and dispelling images of long-suffering Eastern Europeans and live through dark and despotic times, Rhoads told Patch in a phone interview Tuesday.

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We look a lot alike, he said, and Russia’s invasion shatters our own sense of security that “those sorts of things can’t happen in civilized societies.”

“It’s possible,” Rhoads said. “And it could happen here. It was a good revelation.”

“We need an anthem to unite the world”

This is the urgency he wanted Craig to feel.

“We need an anthem to unite the world,” Rhoads recalled. “We need to pay more attention to that, so maybe it won’t happen again.”

Rhoads spent 50 years in the radio industry, starting at age 14, and can “count on the one hand the times something like this happened that united the world.”

“We are the world”, which opened the hearts and minds of the world to famine in Africa in 1985, had that power.

Rhoads didn’t have the connections to attract superstars like Michael Jackson, Lionel Ritchie and others who performed “We Are the World.” But he had a social media connection with Craig, a household name in Detroit musical circles who joined Brownsville Station as lead guitarist when the retired band started touring again about a decade ago.

For all Rhoads – and Craig too, for that matter – knew at the time, Russia’s war on Ukraine could end as quickly as it began. That didn’t happen, however. The Russian onslaught was relentless for a 28th straight day on Thursday as world leaders gathered in Brussels for an emergency NATO summit.

“Freedom is not a guaranteed thing”

Craig, who lives in New Baltimore, about 40 miles from Detroit, fell for the idea.

Rhoads had written some of the lyrics and had a title for the song. But that’s all it was — a few lines on paper that Rhoads says didn’t begin to meet his goals for “Tears for Ukraine.”

Ukraine was also on Craig’s mind.

For a few years, as a powder keg after enough burst into the world, he had a recurring thought:

“What if you were just in your house, just living, and all of a sudden you hear this urgent knock on the door, you open it and there are three soldiers at your door?” Craig told Patch in a phone interview on Friday. “You have your whole family, and you’re a father of three kids, and those soldiers dragged you and 10 other guys and they shot you?”

On February 24, the thought became less random when Russia invaded Ukraine.

“When that started happening, we’re sitting here in our homes, comfy, bitching about gas prices and stuff like that. Can you imagine?” he said. “All of a sudden a foreign nation decides they want to start bombing and attacking us. I can’t imagine. We throw what we can in a suitcase and leave because the bombs and the armies are coming.”

Craig channeled the flow of emotions into the lyrics. He added a few of his own, then enlisted his friend and Rock Island Records business partner Matt Jacobs, who made enough money with plastics industry startups to retire early, and asked him what he could do with it.

Jacobs, who lives in Grand Haven in western Michigan, saw what Rhoads and Craig saw – a unifying moment for the world.

“We haven’t seen that,” Jacobs told Patch in a phone interview Tuesday. “You have people who will take to the streets and say, ‘I am going to leave my family to fight for our freedom,’ and a president who will say, ‘I will not leave.'”

And, like his fellow co-authors of “Tears for Ukraine,” he doesn’t see Russia’s invasion as an isolated border dispute between neighboring nations.

“Freedom is not a guaranteed thing,” Jacobs said. “If you don’t think it could happen here – we’ve seen the potential for that – but it’s really a matter of concern for what’s happening on an individual level in Ukraine.”

Jacobs and Craig worked on the lyrics throughout the night, and within a day and a half Craig had put the collaboration on a melody and recorded a scratch track for Rhoads.

‘Let’s go before this song’

After hearing it — and wiping away tears — Rhoads pushed the song forward.

He emailed radio executives who read Radio Ink and said, in so many words, “Let’s get ahead of this song,” Craig said, adding that the endorsement was atypical: “He doesn’t that.

Rhoads also convinced Joel Denver, the founder of radio and music news and promotion site All Access, to also support “Tears for Ukraine”.

“When you have a whole industry saying, ‘We have to accept this message,’ it goes into the mainstream and isn’t our song anymore,” Craig said. “It’s the song of the people. Americans have a lot of heart in the way they support Ukraine.”

Within a week, the official “Tears for Ukraine” video featuring Craig backed by the Detroit-based band Elsie Binx was drawing thousands of viewers. This week, the song is trending on Spotify and is playing nationwide, including Detroit legacy rock station WRIF.

The Currency of Goodwill

Along with making sure the song was loaded with emotion, Rhoads had another condition for Craig: the song’s motto is goodwill. Any financial gain will go to verified charities supporting Ukraine (they are listed on various websites promoting the song).

This settled an argument Craig had had with himself.

The idea for the song was good, as good as any in a decades-long career where he flirted with stardom but never really broke through. “Tears for Ukraine” could be that song. Still, the idea of ​​profiting from it, financially or in personal capital, did not sit well.

“People might see this as opportunistic and self-promotional,” Craig said. “My whole thing is absolutely to support the Ukrainian people.”

On the other hand, says Craig, “nobody ever said [Alan Jackson] was expletive or opportunistic” with “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” the country singer’s anthem to 9/11. “It was pure heart.”

The song earned Jackson his first Grammy Award for Best Country Song. It has also won several awards at the Academy of Country Music and Country Music Association Awards, including Song of the Year.

Scroll through the sites where “Tears for Ukraine” is available and published, and you’ll find comments peppered with phrases like “song of the year” and “Grammy.”

“It makes your legs grow,” Craig said, but he’s quick to point out that the attention the song has garnered is not in this league.

It wouldn’t be a bad turn for a guy who’s been writing songs for as long as Craig. He’s close to his exact age, citing an industry that may favor artists who attract young fans to concerts and music purchases, admitting only that he’s “not a kid.”

His career roadmap is as long and winding as the Beatles’ song, he said, with a few touches of fame. “Tears for Ukraine” came at a time in Craig’s career when he thought he was done writing lyrics.

He recorded six albums which garnered “a ton of airplay”, he said, “but it was always hard to break through and make a career honest to God, to be honest to you”.

When Rhoads got in touch earlier this month, Craig had his sights set on Rock Island Records with Jacobs in a partnership that came out of nowhere.

Both Craig and Jacobs grew up in Big Rapids, Michigan, despite not knowing each other and graduating from high school several years apart. His older brothers, however, knew Craig and they reconnected on social media.

‘Make me cry. And he succeeded.”

Jacobs had been retired for a few years when the pandemic hit. He’s had plenty of time in quarantine to decide what to do next. His choice surprised everyone around him.

“I’m a businessman,” he said. “I had never played music in my entire life, not an ounce.”

He took a guitar and wasn’t very good at it. He tried to sing and was no better — not a huge surprise, Jacobs said, because he was that kid in church whose choirmaster was always trying to get his voice under control. His wife, Tracey, pushed him and wouldn’t let him quit. He found a guitar teacher and a vocal coach. His greatest promise was as a lyricist.

As a self-taught businessman, Jacobs understands the power of impossible goals. He wants to record a minimum of five original songs in a studio. He gave himself three years to win a Grammy.

“People in my family can’t believe it,” he said. “I haven’t listened to music or understood it, but if you’re that person with zero ability who can do at least five original songs, you can prove anyone can do anything. what.”

Is “Tears for Ukraine” a song that will make them famous?

“I don’t know where this will go,” Craig said. Besides, he said, “that’s not what it does for Billy Craig. We shed tears when we see this stuff happen, we stand up and support each other in any way we can. .”

Craig is not a superstar, like Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie were when they led a coalition of artists in “We Are the World”.

“I hope this helps him become one,” Rhoads said. “I think that would be a really sweet way to reciprocate. Out of the blue – we know each other, over email – I reach out to him: we need to do this, we need an anthem, we need to unify people. Write a song called “Tears for Ukraine” in no time.

“Make me cry. And he succeeded.”