Quarantine All-Stars band together for MusiCares COVID-19 benefit song
The Quarantine All-Stars, spearheaded by Atlanta-based musician Scotty Wilbanks, who plays keyboards in Luke Bryan's live band, is raising funds for the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund with their "Quarantine" virtual jam.
Working with high-caliber musicians such as Brad Paisley, Chuck Leavell and Journey’s Jonathan Cain for the first time is impressive enough. But that the occasion served to raise money for music industry workers not usually in the spotlight — lighting and video crews, caterers, bus drivers, stage managers — made it even sweeter.
Scotty Wilbanks — Grammy-nominated producer, longtime keyboardist for Third Day and current touring keyboardist for Luke Bryan — sat in his Canton recording studio on March 29, and unable to sleep and frustrated with the coronavirus interruption to normal life, he started to jam.
He stayed up most of the night, crafting a demo recording with bass, drums and keyboards, and when he woke up the next day and listened back, he was happily surprised.
“I was like, this sounds cool. And that’s not the norm!” he said with a laugh.
That cool-sounding creation would become the funky, horn-infused instrumental, “Quarantine,” and in the ensuing weeks, Wilbanks would tap into his musician contacts to remotely record the song to benefit the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.
Atlanta-based Scotty Wilbanks played with Third Day for 14 years and currently plays keyboards in Luke Bryan's touring band.
Credit: Ethan Helms
Credit: Ethan Helms
A text chain among the other members of Bryan’s band, including guitarists Michael Carter and Dave Ristrim, drummer Kent Slucher, bassist James Cook and fiddler Kevin Arrowsmith yielded immediate affirmations. (Bryan himself introduces the video for “Quarantine.”)
Other veteran musicians such as drummer Sonny Emory, bassist Sam Sims and saxophonist Jeff Coffin also quickly joined the group that Wilbanks dubbed The Quarantine All-Stars.
Of course, a wish list existed in Wilbanks’ head, and he even wrote parts of the song with those musicians in mind.
“I thought, this needs to sound like Brad Paisley, and for the Steve Wariner part, how would Chet Atkins play this? When I wrote the ’80s-(sounding) section, I’m such a big Journey fan, and I had kind of talked to (the band’s keyboardist) Jonathan Cain a few times, so I called his manager and said, ‘Should I reach out to him?’ I did, and he jumped on board right away.”
The Quarantine All-Stars – 22 including Paisley and Wariner – performed their parts remotely and sent their files to Wilbanks.
“It became a game of build it and they will come…and then kinda wait,” he joked.
But with one participant, Wilbanks was able to sit in on the session.
Chuck Leavell joined the Quarantine All-Stars, a supergroup of musicians mostly from Georgia and Tennessee, to aid MusiCares. The song was written by Atlanta-based Scotty Wilbanks (right), who currently plays keyboards in Luke Bryan's touring band.
Chuck Leavell, who lives in Macon, invited Wilbanks to meet him at Capricorn Sound Studios to track his piano contribution. Recounting their day spent together still makes Wilbanks giddy.
“I cut my teeth listening to Chuck Leavell piano parts. I’m such an Allman Brothers fan, and even on this quarantine song, I’ve got three drummers,” Wilbanks said. (The Allman Brothers were noted for their double drum attack.)
But it was genuinely the allure of helping fellow musicians through MusiCares that spurred Wilbanks to complete such an intricate project.
“Our industry was one of the first to shut down, and it will be one of the last to come back,” Wilbanks said, echoing the sentiments of many venue operators and musicians. “I’ve always said that MusiCares is the Red Cross for musicians. They are always there in a crisis, and the (effect of this pandemic) goes so deep, way beyond the people on stage. That’s what I wanted to bring awareness to and raise the flag for. I’ve never met Brad (Paisley) or Steve (Wariner), but a lot of guys bought into (the project) because they believed in the cause.”
The YouTube video for “Quarantine” includes a red donation button; but even merely watching it will bring exposure to the cause.
All of the musicians on the song videoed themselves while recording their respective parts, and video editor Steve Thomason presided over the complicated task of fitting the visual puzzle pieces together for the snappy visual video. It was a days-long task that included Wilbanks noting on the audio tracks which musician was playing on each part to then mirror with video.
“Hopefully people will watch this video, and it will make them smile or tap their foot and donate what they can,” Wilbanks said.
And the added bonus?
“It’s strange to think that one of the highlights of my 25-year-career came out of a quarantine.”
Melissa Ruggieri has covered music and entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 2010 and created the Atlanta Music Scene blog. She's kept vampire hours for more than two decades and remembers when MTV was awesome.