When he was a young man, Virginia native Jim Ebert played gigs around the Washington DC area as a guitarist, keyboardist, and vocalist. However, he soon discovered that producing and mixing music was his true niche. He proceeded to enjoy a career as a multi-platinum record producer, working with a number of famous musicians, including Madonna, Ice Cube, Toni Braxton, and Meredith Brooks.
But Ebert’s career and, indeed, his very life entered a dire situation in 2001, when he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. At that time, he received four different medical estimates. The most favorable estimate gave him 7 years to live. The least favorable estimate gave him just 1 year. Such news put him “in a state of mania,” he admits. “I had a two-year-old son, and he was all I could think about.”
Surgery was out of the question, as Ebert’s tumor was considered inoperable. So he embarked on a course of treatment that involved chemotherapy and brain radiation. He never spent any significant period of time as a hospital in-patient, though he was compelled to take short periods of time off from work at the end of each chemotherapy cycle.
By the time his chemo treatment was halfway through, he had already outlasted the one-year survival estimate. Then he proceeded to outlast the other three estimates. And then came the day when a brain scan compelled doctors to give him remarkable news – he had beaten the cancer and its supposed terminal virulence.
At that point Ebert was in a truly grateful mood. He wanted to give back in some way. So, merging his professional skill set with a desire to help people in his former embattled predicament, he established Cancer Can Rock, an organization that provides world-class recording services to musicians with cancer. Ebert credits the assistance of co-founder Bruce Parker, a musician who has fine organizational skills and “good positive energy,” with helping the foundation take off since its inception in 2013.
Cancer Can Rock isn’t about seeking a cure. There are already plenty of organizations dedicated to that worthy cause. Rather, this Virginia-based charity organization is about “getting these musicians into a studio with professionals and producing a tangible result for them and their families during what is otherwise an unsettling time for them.” The songs Ebert has recorded for this charity “have provided both pride for those who have survived and solace for those who have survived them.”
Cancer Can Rock isn’t about seeking a cure… [it’s] about “getting these musicians into a studio and producing a tangible result.”
At this point, some 20 musicians have recorded with Cancer Can Rock. Ebert adds that two more musicians are slated for recordings in August. The recording sessions tend to last from 8-10 hours. And since these musicians are battling serious health problems, Ebert says he definitely keeps an eye on them to “make sure they’re holding up.”
Most of the Cancer Can Rock musicians are non-professionals, whose careers have involved something other than making music. They have ranged in age from 21 to 65. The majority come from the Washington DC metropolitan area, but some have come from other regions of the country. Ebert adds, “We also will travel to them when needed.”
Most musicians tend to record original compositions (as opposed to cover songs of famous bands). True to the “Cancer Can Rock” name, the majority of musicians record songs in the rock’n’roll genre, though some record songs that belong to the Americana genre, and several others have played music belonging to different genres.
Ebert relates that, regardless of genre, most of the songs have a positive message. On that note, he says that he aims to create a “positive vibe” and “easygoing atmosphere” in his studio. While the musicians are focused on recording their music, “hopefully they can forget they have cancer.”
Indeed, music has been touted for its ability to provide an escape from psychological distress. Ebert says “it’s an awesome experience” to watch these musicians escape their burdens while busy with their music in the studio. “I’ve learned and grown” through observing them, he adds.
“I try to stay in touch as best as possible with the musicians and their families,” says Ebert. Sometimes, however, the musicians or their family members are the ones who reach out to him. He relates how one musician’s wife approached him right after her husband had died and told him that Cancer Can Rock “had provided him with one of the greatest days of his life.”
Such feedback encourages Ebert to grow the foundation. He currently seeks to add to his volunteer staff and “eventually grow to full-time positions.” He hopes to reach the point where he can record about 50 musicians with cancer per year.
Cancer Can Rock has its own compilation CD, which features the songs of its first twelve musicians. Ebert adds that the musicians can put their songs on any sales platform they wish, and that the foundation splits any proceeds with the musicians.
He now has almost 30 years of experience recording and producing music. “It is my profession and what I love to do.” He now works with indie, major-label, and developing artists. He also provides recording and mixing instruction to small groups and individual students.
Ebert, who lives in his home state of Virginia, has spent significant time in the music epicenter of Los Angeles and still returns to the West Coast a few times a year, sometimes on behalf of Cancer Can Rock.
“You’re told you have a year to live as a matter of fact, when it’s actually an opinion,” he says. “Every couple of years, I let that doctor know I’m still here.”
He used to ride motorcycles for a hobby, but he says “that ship has sailed” due to his diminished vision. He still enjoys getting out and socializing, as well as spending time with his son. This son, now 20 years old, was just a toddler when his father was first diagnosed and told essentially that his condition was a death-sentence. As it turned out, Jim Ebert had a lot of life ahead of him.
As grateful as he remains, some part of him takes issue with his “terminal” diagnosis, particularly with the doctor who gave him the bleakest prognosis. “You’re told you have a year to live as a matter of fact, when it’s actually an opinion,” he says. “Every couple of years, I let that doctor know I’m still here.”
Musicians with cancer who are interested in the Cancer Can Rock experience can apply here.