During the Italian Renaissance, a number of philanthropic patrons lent their support to artists whose names are now synonymous with this era of creative flowering. In recent years, the Mobile Bay area has been experiencing its own artistic renaissance, particularly in the realm of music.
Much like its historical predecessor, this local musical awakening inspired Jeffrey Zimmer and his wife, Suzanne, to become modern-day musical patrons, much like the Medici family during Italy’s Renaissance. The Zimmers’ patronage has taken the form of local recording label Baldwin County Public Records.
Jeffrey Zimmer said the couple hopes their label will assist various artists in a music scene he describes as “vibrant and up-and-coming.” He says the label’s concept began under the shady trees of one of the region’s most beloved and unique music venues.
“I was really inspired by the Frog Pond at Blue Moon Farm,” Zimmer said. “On a shoestring, Cathe Steele created this beautiful, magical place. It was just a dream that she did it. We had also been going on the Cayamo Music Cruise and seeing a lot of singer-songwriters, which really made us aware of the songwriters that we have locally.”
As he and Suzanne experienced regional talent, Zimmer says they discovered a wealth of artists producing music that could catch on beyond the Gulf Coast. They also noticed most of these artists were financing their craft strictly through money generated through live performances.
The Zimmers knew show guarantees alone can’t generate sufficient funds for an artist to afford to record an album in a professional studio, or to obtain the necessary promotional resources to promote an album once finished. So the Zimmers decided to make Baldwin County Public Records a source of musical encouragement with which local artists could open the door to future endeavors beyond the region.
“Originally, the concept was to get the artists a CD, a video and a website,” Zimmer explained. “So many times you see an artist that doesn’t really look professional, even though they are writing beyond their years. We wanted to give them a suitcase of what they need to get started. Then it would be up to them to really pack that suitcase and move on out into the world.”
Zimmer says the biggest challenge of running Baldwin County Public Records has been finding the right artists to fill its roster. The label is looking for motivated artists — motivation that goes beyond the creative aspect. Jeffrey and Suzanne look for talented musical acts that want to dedicate their professional life to their craft.
The label isn’t seeking musical acts that are going to be “the next big thing,” Zimmer says. Baldwin County Public Records wants artists who have an equal abundance of talent and professional enthusiasm to go beyond their regional comfort zone.
“It’s taken a while to find our niche, as far as who we’re looking for and which artists are going to not necessarily make a big impact but really have the gumption and the drive that they’re willing to put some risk in and go out and tour and sell their music and themselves,” Zimmer said.
In 2015, Baldwin County Public Records introduced its first artist, Eastern Shore singer-songwriter Corey Rezner, shortly afterward releasing his album “Mercy, Mercy.”
Jackson, Alabama native Laci Wright was also an early artist; she used the label to introduce new listeners to her rich acoustic soul.
The label added a little country to the mix with the release of “Single Mama” from Pensacola’s Lauren Kay.
Gulf Coast supergroup Willie Sugarcapps chose to use Baldwin County Public Records as an outlet for their album “Paradise Right Here,” which was recorded over a three-day session at FAME Studio in Muscle Shoals.
The label also showcased the epic vocals and poignant songwriting of Gulf Shores’ Brittany Bell on a self-titled release.
More recently, Baldwin County Public Records was responsible for Harrison McInnis’ debut album “Love Remedy,” which Zimmer says has been years in the making.
“When we founded the company, he [McInnis] was one that I originally approached, and things didn’t work out,” Zimmer said. “It came full circle, and we ended up putting out his album. His CD release show at The Merry Widow was really fantastic.”
Later this month, Baldwin County Public Records will release Eric Erdman’s new album “It’s Not Like You Don’t Know Me.” Zimmer says Erdman was one of the first local artists with whom he struck up a friendship. Since then, he says his admiration and love for Erdman and his music has grown.
As someone familiar with Erdman’s live shows and albums, Zimmer admits Erdman’s studio work has never “sounded like him,” but believes this upcoming release should do Erdman’s songs justice on the studio level.
“I absolutely adore it,” Zimmer said. “It’s a three-piece, and I think it’s really, really special.”
Even though Zimmer says the label’s “bandwidth” and budget are small, Baldwin County Public Records has expanded its roster beyond the Gulf Coast. Last February, the label released Canadian singer-songwriter Scott Nolan’s album “Silverhill.” When Nolan entered Admiral Bean Studio, Nolan even recruited Willie Sugarcapps to serve as this artist’s backing band.
Scottish singer-songwriter Dean Owens has been working with Will Kimbrough on an upcoming release on Baldwin County Public Records. The label’s steady release of albums demonstrates the determination to be an impressive Gulf Coast-based label that could develop a national reputation. However, the Zimmers say they aren’t in it for monetary gain. Baldwin County Public Records is focused solely on its artists and their music.
“It would be fantastic if one of our artists, like Eric [Erdman], who works harder than anybody I know, takes off and sells a million records,” Zimmer said. “That would give us some breathing room to have more artists. We’re not in it for the money. It’s more philanthropy than anything else.”