Project Unity

Music Legend Alan Parsons Teams Up with Unity Shoppe

by Brett Leigh Dicks

A few weeks ago, The Unity Shoppe’s food deposit was an empty
vault. While the rest of the organization’s Chapala Street facility
was buzzing with activity, the storage area lay ominously silent.
Stacks of crates sat vacant. Signs labeled soup, vegetables, and
fruit presided over barren pallets. With the holidays just around
the corner, a hint of nervous resignation resided in the voice of
Tom Reed, executive director of The Unity Shoppe. “We’re having a
tough time with food right now because donations are way down for
some reason,” he said. “This room should be filled with food, so
this is a near disaster. … We are going to have to start buying
food and we simply don’t have the money to do it.”

Nonetheless, with more than 300 families expected for
Thanksgiving and at least 200 estimated to visit in the six weeks
before Christmas, The Unity Shoppe is bracing itself for the
busiest time of the year. Luckily, help to fill those food shelves
is close at hand. December 3 is the start of The Unity Shoppe’s
annual telethon, one of Santa Barbara’s most reliable outpourings
of community support. This year, in addition to the telethon, music
legend Alan Parsons is throwing a special concert at the Arlington
Theatre to mark the telethon’s 20th anniversary.

Many performers have helped raise funds for The Unity Shoppe
throughout the years, but Parsons’s involvement is special: Though
his career spans five decades and he’s lived here for the past
seven years, the concert will be his first-ever public performance
in Santa Barbara. That’s hard to swallow considering his musical
legacy — not only did the Alan Parsons Project create contemporary
classics such as “Games People Play,” “Time,” “Sirius,” and “Eye in
the Sky,” Parsons has also worked behind the scenes with the
Beatles, Pink Floyd, Ambrosia, and Al Stewart.

So how does one of the most influential musicians in
contemporary music come to the aid of a grassroots charity? “We had
a fundraiser a couple of months back and Alan Parsons wandered in,”
said Reed. “We talked and he came down and saw the operation and …
he got excited. … [H]e decided that the first thing he does here in
town should be something that helps the community. It is our 20th
telethon, so we reserved the Arlington for something special. And,
as luck should have it, this is it.”

A Dignified History

For 90 years, The Unity Shoppe has been a pillar of support for
Santa Barbara’s low-income families. Oblivious to political
affiliation, religious belief, or ethnic identity, The Unity Shoppe
started out in 1917 as the Santa Barbara Council for Christmas
Cheer, providing holiday gifts to families in need. It’s since
grown into a year-round operation that distributes more than $2.5
million worth of merchandise to nearly 15,000 people each year.

The people serviced by The Unity Shoppe are directed from 242
referral agencies, including non-profits, churches, schools, and
hospitals. The centerpiece is a store that offers free and very
discounted food, clothes, toys, and school supplies to families in
need. Complete with shopping carts and check-out counters, the shop
is exactly like a traditional market, providing customers the
dignity of shopping like everyone else in order to meet their

The fundraising focus for the store is the annual Unity
Telethon, a telephone drive on KEYT hosted by celebrities and
famous musicians. Started with the assistance of Kenny Loggins,
musicians such as Clint Black, David Crosby, Olivia Newton John,
Toad the Wet Sprocket, and even the Red Hot Chili Peppers, have all
come to town to take part.

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, the Alan Parsons Live
Project, with Christopher Cross in support, will perform at the
Arlington on Sunday, December 3. For Parsons, such an event is the
perfect chariot for bringing his music to town. “I think music has
always been there as a calming influence, no matter what the
context,” said Parsons. “It’s a settlement of conflicts and a means
of making people reach into their pockets and be a little more
generous than they otherwise might have been.”

The Parsons Program

One of Alan Parsons’s first jobs was at EMI’s West London tape
duplication plant. There he encountered the master tape of the
Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a recording that
immediately broadened his musical fascination. He was soon working
at Abbey Road Studios as an assistant engineer on the Beatles’
Abbey Road album. It wasn’t long before Parsons took the engineer’s
chair, laying down three albums for Paul McCartney and giving
George Harrison a hand on his musical landmark All Things Must
Pass. But it was his contributions to another British band where he
really made his mark.

His engineering for Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon garnered
Parsons a Grammy nomination, the first of 11 in his career. The
record company, sensing the record’s lasting significance even in
its infancy, sent Parsons to the ceremony. And although Stevie
Wonder’s Innervisions beat out Dark Side that evening, just about
every household in the world subsequently came to own a copy of the
Parsons-guided masterpiece.

“And I am reminded of that almost every day,” laughed Parsons.
“Occasionally, I’m a little bitter about it because, unlike
everyone else involved, it didn’t make me rich. It was what came
after it that made me comfortable. When I was working with Pink
Floyd I never earned more than 50 pounds a week. But … if it wasn’t
for them I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you right now. So I
have a lot to thank them for.”

Parsons’s appreciation is reflected in the affection he still
holds for the recording. Rumor has it that, from time to time,
Parsons can be found behind the console at selected clubs around
Southern California mixing the live sound for a Pink Floyd cover
band. “It’s true,” said Parsons. “They’re called Which One’s Pink?
and they’re actually really good. … I mixed the live sound for Pink
Floyd as well as the studio work, so this is just like going back
30 years and doing it with Floyd.”

After Pink Floyd, Parsons moved into production and the
anathematic sounds of Pilot and Cockney Rebel. After meeting Eric
Woolfson in the mid ’70s, the two formed the Alan Parsons Project,
a forum for revolving vocalists who colored the duo’s lush musical
landscapes. But it also gave Parsons the opportunity to expand his
musical armory even more.

“It wasn’t a deliberate act of being a control freak of any
sort, it was something that just kind of happened,” said Parsons.
“And looking back, I suppose I did have just about every job with
my name against it — engineer, producer, writer, and artist. But
being the artist was something I never expected. I thought I would
be producing a series of albums by various artists and being
perceived as the artist was more something that was bestowed upon
me. It wasn’t really my choice.”

A string of successful concept albums followed, with the
pinnacle being 1982’s landmark album Eye in the Sky. The dawn of
the ’90s saw Parsons and Woolfson go their separate ways, but
Parsons continued to work with Project inductees Ian Bairnson and
Stuart Elliott under the name the Alan Parsons Live Project. Amid a
healthy schedule of live performances, Parsons recently released
his first studio recording in five years.

The Latest Project

Like his previous recordings, A Valid Path embraces the
longstanding tradition of Parsons’s collaborative spirit. Recorded
for the most part in his Santa Barbara studio, the album features
David Gilmour, PJ Olsson, and The Crystal Method — even fellow
English transplant and Santa Barbara resident John Cleese makes an

Though Parsons admitted he’s far more comfortable behind a
traditional recording console than a computer screen, the digital
age makes collaborating much easier. David Gilmour, for instance,
recorded his contributions in his own studio in England. “Such is
the way of the modern recording world that you don’t have to do it
all in one place,” said Parsons. “You can do it via the Internet or
swapping CDs with people and that’s how I worked with David
Gilmour. … It’s a good way of doing things because it wasn’t very
likely that David would fly here to Santa Barbara and work in my
studio. He’s a busy guy.”

And so too is Parsons. With The Unity Shoppe benefit lurking
just around the corner, the Alan Parsons Live Project is also
preparing for a series of appearances throughout Mexico. He also
recently re-mastered his back catalogue, and is getting it ready
for the first stage of its re-release. March will herald the
appearance of four classic Parsons albums: Tales Of Mystery and
Imagination, I Robot, Eye in the Sky, and Vulture Culture. The
other six albums will be released in May and September.

For a man who so influenced studio recording during one of
music’s most revolutionary periods, Parsons doesn’t seem eager to
be part of the ongoing digital revolution. But living in Santa
Barbara might have a great deal to do with that. “I feel more
comfortable working with an engineer to operate the computer these
days because I wasn’t trained to make records with a mouse and I
don’t really feel as happy doing it,” declared Parsons. “It’s very
specialized and dynamic and you have to spend a lot of time keeping
up. … I’m at the stage where I don’t need to be in my studio every
day of my life. I have a very comfortable personal life and that is
much more important to me now.”

Hopefully, his helping The Unity Shoppe with the concert next
weekend will make some of the less fortunate people in our
community a little more comfortable, too, this holiday season.

The Alan Parsons Live Project plays with
Christopher Cross at the Arlington Theatre on Sunday, December 3 at
7 p.m. in a benefit for The Unity Shoppe. For tickets, call
993‑4408 or visit For more on The
Unity Shoppe, visit


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