TUESDAY, MAY 1,2i01 MAKING A DIFFERENCE heaven Kassem grins as he discusses an album-release party with recording artist Wild Child. —^ Chad l^ssem discusses iipcdmlhgcbncerte with the Blue Heaven Studio's musical director Jimmy D. Lane. Kassem sits in th^^front pew of Blue Heaven Studio, the former First Christian Church of Salina. He bought the church In 1997 and converted Into a recording studio In 1998. /••• m ^ Kassem spends most 'Of his day at Acoustic Sounds, his record and CD distribution business, at 'lOOOW.Qm, ' Salina. Reviving, sharing blues music close to heart of recording studio owner Chad Kassem PHOTO STORY BY EVAN SEMON MMKI he sun strikes the stained-glass windows of the church, bathing the sanctuary in yellow. Chad Kassem gazes up at the wood beams of the ceiling. Imagine a ship with a wooden decic flipped upside down. That's what the inside of this church looks like. It's Kassem's blue heaven. He sits in the front pew of Blue Heaven Studio, the former First Christian Church of Salina. He bought it in 1997 and converted it into a recording studio in 1998. He tells how he moved from Lafayette, La. to Salina 18 years ago, to get sober. How he overcame his addictions. How he persevered. How he prospered. How he's able now to give back to Salina by supporting local businesses, creating jobs for people trying to clean themselves up, and by saving a historical church. And he talks about music. "Music moves me, I love everything: classical, jazz, quality pop, rock," Kassem said. "But to me, blues music, man, blues music has the most feel, and is the foundation of so much music. Blues moves me." It's really the music that's motivated Kassem to help others and to help the community Until recently, Marc Sheforgen was a newspaper reporter at the Salina Journal. Now he works for APO Records, Kassem's record label. He grabs a poster featuring The Blues Masters at the Crossroads, a concert that Kassem has produced every year since 1997. He holds the poster in the air. "Look at this," Sheforgen said. "You think selling 400 tickets pays for these artists? You think this is a moneymaker? This is a money loser. Chad does this for the community. He's trying to give Salina, Kansas something it has never experienced. A culture that you wouldn't have without Chad." Kassem's real moneymaker has been his record business. Wliile still drying out, he learned there was a market for classic used records. As the rest of the world was going digital and to the CD, Kassem was cornering tlie market on old and some new vinyl with a mail-order business. He added a record label, APO, for reissues of classics and to market the \5f » t-tf APO records has 13 artists on its roster including the late Chicago blues legend Jimmy Rogers, and his son, Jimmy D. Lane, the musical director of the record company and of Blue Heaven Studio. recordings made at tlie Blue Heaven studio. Blue Heaven specializes in recording old blues musicians - highly respected musicians who haven't made many records. Now that he's made his mark on the record industry, Kassem hopes to branch out, to help those who've got problems like the ones he's learned to deal with. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. "I've hired people in the past to help them get on their feet," he said. "Some stick with it, some don't. Hey man, you do as much as you want to do, you get what you put into it." His current project is to reopen a halfway house for substance abusers. Kassem lived at the PatliFinder hallway house, which is now shut down. It's not shut out of his memory, though. He said that with the help of friend Jerry Norris and lire community, he hopes to set up a new halfway house.
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