|"Cherry Pie" rocker devotes song to Alzheimerís group in emotional tribute
By Gary McKenzie - Photos by JoŽlle Doye
When rural Blanchardville native and rock Ďn roll vocalist John Swenson, 46, takes the microphone onstage during his evenings as a featured singer with the band Cherry Pie - itís often to belt out classic hard rock songs - cover material, from Americaís top hitmakers of yesteryear including bands like Journey, Boston, Styx, Bon Jovi, Poison, Def Leppard, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and the like.
Pec graduate and rural Blanchardville farm boy and former star football player John Swenson has been belting out heavy metal songs for rock band "Cherry Pie" for more than a decade.
But alas, for those who know John best, and in particular, his family, they know thereís an introspective - and deep thought processing, soft side that can produce original music that moves the soul.
So much in fact that his most recent project, a ballad type song - is dedicated to his mother - Marian "Midge" Swenson of rural Blanchardville - and to his late father, Harland, and specifically, Harland Swensonís battle with Alzheimerís Disease.
The song (The Long Goodbye) drew praise and critical acclaim when it was introduced in media circles earlier this week. Swenson was slated to be featured earlier this week by Madisonís NBC affiliate WMTV - 15 in Madison for his participation (and along with his Cherry Pie bandmates) in gifting the songís proceeds, and all these monies to potentially be raised from the sale of such to the Alzheimerís Association.
John performed a debut, introducing his new song at the Alzheimerís Walk Team Captain Breakfast Tuesday, July 24 at Oak Park Place in Madison. According to the Alzheimer's group spokeswoman - Diane Hanson, the event Tuesday was an official kickoff for the people interested in participating in the walk or who are in charge of coordinating walkers for their teams.
If you are interested in becoming a team captain, please contact The Alzheimerís & Dementia Alliance at 608-232-3400 or firstname.lastname@example.org
John will then perform and sing the song, "The Long Goodbye" live at the walk coming up Sept. 29.
Any Pecatonica Valley Leader readers desiring to listen to a sample of the song and or to order it, please visit: alzwisc.org
One of the groupís largest fundraising events of the year is the Dane County Alzheimerís Walk and 5k Run on Sept. 29, at Warner Park in Madison.
"The walk will incorporate a two-part "debut" of Johnís very powerful song," adds Hanson.
"My Dad - Harland, lived a good life, 85 years, but those last five years were hard and got progressively more difficult for my mom," said John, in a recent interview with the Leader.
"I remember having talks with her and I imagine my siblings also did - saying that if it gets to be too much - if taking care of Dad gets too difficult, itís okay, itís alright to put him into a home. It got so that he was quite a handful."
"But really, I suspect that somewhere inside, she made a vow to herself and said that was not going to be an alternative. I donít think she could bear the thought - of being separated and she took care of him until the day he passed away. She didnít take the easy way out - she dug in her heels and developed an attitude of no, not ever was she going to put him into a home."
"Until death do us part - is of course, part of a wedding vow and the thought of a song originating from the story came to me very quickly in terms of the melody - and as I thought about it, I decided I really need to record this song," recalls Swenson. "Personally, I donít play guitar and as this song came together, I felt like it would be something pretty good, but I needed help - and thatís where my friends and the band came through, helped put music to it, recorded it - and they all thought it was a great idea and would be a positive way to help raise funds for a good cause."
"The song, yes, itís about my dad, but I wrote it from my momís perspective, in an attempt to convey what she mustíve been going through. I also made it into the musical video because I had still pictures and video of my parents."
"It was the pretty emotional day, back on Motherís Day, when I presented the song and video to my entire family. I even got to the point while working on it, asking myself, do I really want to go through with this? ....because, itís so emotional to my family. But then I thought, yes, I need to finish it because maybe itíll give all involved a little bit of closure and maybe we can do something good to help someone else experiencing the same sort of thing."
Hanson noted recently that to have a local band, helping families with Alzheimerís, through song - is a unique development.
"Imagine watching the person youíve loved passionately for years, slowly slipping away from you. Imagine being that person - knowing that from one day to the next, you wonít know what to expect and wonít know who or what you will remember. - Now, imagine loving both of these people and watching them struggle together day by day," says Hanson.
"John knows just how this feels. John responded to the death of his father through Alzheimerís disease the best way he knew how. To make a song about it."
"Not only did John Swenson write and produce the song, "The Long Goodbye" but he is also donating a percentage of the proceeds from the song to the Alzheimerís & Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin, a local organization in Madison. Alzheimerís & Dementia Alliance provides support and guidance for the many individuals and families who find themselves battling with Alzheimerís or dementia. They also educate people on the importance of early detection and diagnosis as there are things you can do to slow the progress or even temporarily halt it," adds Hanson.
"Iíd like to emphasize that the musicians that played on the recording did it without any compensation from anyone. I offered to pay them all for their time but they all said that this was more than "a song". It was a chance for them do be a part of something special that could help other people," adds Swenson.
Cherry Pie singer/songwriter John Swenson is a crowd pleaser and lends a theatrical twist (above) while performing classic hard rock songs on stage. Heíll perform twice in upcoming Wisconsin State Fair gigs when the band is sponsored by Budweiser - at the Bud Pavilion.
"They are all good guys. The musicians are as follows: Michael Sean-Acoustic guitar; Dan Walters-Bass guitar (he is also the new bass player in Cherry Pie); Frank Babeck-Drums (also in CP); Jeremy Jayson-Lead guitar; Jeff Radi-Keyboards," adds Swenson.
"I told them how I wanted the song to sound and they came through BIG TIME."
John and his bandmates in the Milwaukee/Madison based band can be accessed online at: www.cherrypie.org
Cherry Pie has been together for over 12 years, playing cover songs/classic rock. The band plays regionally in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and has also played corporate gigs in Missouri, Kansas and elsewhere. John lives in Sun Prairie with his wife, Maria, and in addition to being a singer who performs with a band around 70 dates per year, John is also an employee of Dane County-based ABC Supply Company.
John Swenson is also in an all original "progressive metal/power metal" band called HEDDA (www.heddatheband.com) and the new groupís debut compact disc entitled "THE STORM" is due out in late August or early September of this summer.
Johnís siblings include his three brothers Dave, Jim and Jason - and one sister, Diana.
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