Put Down That Weapon Has South Florida Artists Singing for Peace

Sweet Lizzy Project covered "Universal Soldier" on Put Down That Weapon.
Sweet Lizzy Project covered "Universal Soldier" on Put Down That Weapon. Photo by Alejandro Menendez
Now would seem to be the perfect time to release an album of protest songs covered by South Florida musicians. But the makers of Put Down That Weapon (Make Music Not War) didn't crank out this album as a way to capitalize on the recent mass calls for societal reform. Though the timing of its release is perfect, the compilation album was years in the making.

About three years ago, local musician Jim Wurster sent Yesterday & Today Records cofounder Rich Ulloa, a cover of a Bobby Gentry song. Ulloa loved the rendition so much that the pair quickly started brainstorming a release for Ulloa's record label, Y&T Music.

"How about we do an album of all South Florida covers of antiwar songs?" Ulloa recalls asking. "We quickly made a list of 40 songs that we'd like to see on it, and then we started asking around and approaching artists. It was a very slow process, but it came together and is well worth the wait."

Most of the fifteen songs that comprise the final release were on  that original list, including Bob Dylan's "Masters of War," Yoko Ono's "Now or Never," and Pete Seeger's "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" While the majority of the cuts date back to the 1960s, the golden age of the protest song, artists were allowed to update lyrics as they saw fit.

A surprise wild card made its way onto the record and wound up supplying the album's title.

"I asked Amanda Green to sing a Black Sabbath song, 'War Child,'" Ulloa recounts. "She asked to do Midnight Oil's 'Put Down that Weapon.' Midnight Oil is my all-time favorite live act that I've seen 13 times, and the song ended up being our title."

That said, Ulloa loves all the covers on the album.

"Arlan Feiles does a version of Dylan's 'Masters of War' that is just chilling. Sweet Lizzy Project did an incredible music video for 'Universal Soldier' that takes the folk song to another level," he says. "We were going to have only 14 tracks, but I saw Turtle Grenade play at Sweat Records. She is an artist with a unique voice. She reminded me of Mary Hopkin, who covered 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' We had her close the record with that song because it's pro-peace rather than antiwar. We wanted to end the record on a hopeful note."

With such a positive message behind the album, Ulloa wanted to make sure any money it generated would go to a good cause. One-hundred percent of the album's sales, whether on Amazon, Bandcamp, or any other online retailer, will go to Guitars Over Guns, the Miami-based music education program. Additional donations will be encouraged during the album's virtual release party on Thursday, August 20.

"Eleven of the artists made prerecorded videos. They're going to introduce the songs and talk about why they chose it," Ulloa says of the party. "They're also going to talk about the great things that Guitars Over Guns is doing. If you go on to the Guitars Over Guns page and make any pledge, any amount, we will mail you a physical CD or get you a digital copy if you prefer."

Making sure the album benefits future musicians goes hand in hand with Ulloa's motive for compiling the album.

"A lot of these songs are from when I grew up in the Sixties. I want to encourage new artists to speak out in their music about issues important to them," he explains. "We live in a partisan age, and a lot of artists don't want to rock the boat and possibly lose fans. But I think the best songs are those written about what you're feeling about the issues that matter to you."
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David Rolland is a freelance music writer for Miami New Times. His novels, The End of the Century and Yo-Yo, are available at many fine booksellers.
Contact: David Rolland