As he leaned back in the chair, with a freshly brewed cup of coffee in his hand, the tattoo on his left shoulder peeked out from under the sleeve of his 7Seconds t-shirt. That was when he started to tell the story about the song he wrote, recorded and released in memory of his father-in-law who died from lung cancer.
Mike Ransom, an air traffic controller for the Federal Aviation Association, moved back to Moorestown after spending a few years working in Jacksonville, Fla.
Ransom graduated from Moorestown High School in 1999, and went on to Rutgers University where he met his wife, Amanda Price. Ransom graduated from Rutgers in 2003 with a degree in sociology, and went on to work for the FAA in 2005.
But Ransom does more than maintain and control a safe, orderly flow of air traffic. On the side, Ransom has his own record label company.
“When I was down [in Jacksonville] I wasn’t as involved in music as I would have liked. I wanted to find a way back in, but I couldn’t find anyone to start a band with, and I didn’t know if I had the time,” he said.
In 2007, with a little push from his wife, Ransom got back into the music industry.
“I had done a record label years before and my wife suggested ‘why don’t you start a record label again?’” he said.
Ransom’s business partners, who are also air traffic controllers, joined in his company. Shortly after, his wife became the fourth partner and the operation manager.
After that day, Unable Records – a punk rock record label company – was born.
Since moving back to his hometown in September 2008, Ransom keeps in touch with his partners in Florida via email.
Ransom said his record label signs punk rock groups because of his personal background and interest in the genre.
When Ransom was younger, he was a member of a band called Point Blank.
“We played all over New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and put out a few records – a six song EP in 1996 with Chapter 11 records, and we put out songs on a bunch of compilations. Our other full-length record was a record released on my label,” he said.
From 1995 to New Year’s Eve 1998, Point Blank performed and recorded songs in various local recording studios. The band broke up before it could release its third album, he said.
But Ransom remembers the opportunity the band was given by Chapter 11 records.
“When I was a kid, and I was in Point Blank, my brother’s friends started a record label company and took a chance on my band,” he said.
Ransom wanted to “pay it forward” and give bands the push they need to make it to the next level.
“I am not going to be able to take anyone into the top 100. I just don’t have the capability or the resources to do it. Maybe if this was my full-time job I could. For me it’s more about giving the band a shove in the right direction,” Ransom said.
There are many genres of punk rock. Since Ransom’s company only signs punk rock bands, he will take any and all variations under one condition.
“I will sign a band that branches off into ska, or reggae, or does a little something different. But for me it has to tie back into punk,” he said.
“I grew up with punk. I know the market. So I can sell to that market.”
Ransom said there is one band in particular that stands out from the rest his label has signed over the years. It’s the first band Unable Records signed.
The Bastard Suns are a punk rock/ska band from Atlanta.
“They were our first signing, and they are, in my opinion, probably the most talented band on the label,” Ransom said, adding the only connection he currently has with the band is dealing with them in their first release.
With two young children, a wife and a job as an air traffic controller, Ransom said giving bands that don’t have the resources money or even knowledge of how to make it in the music industry is his goal for his record label company.
“For me it’s not about finding the next big thing, and making hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s about giving a band the opportunity that maybe otherwise they wouldn’t have,” he said.
Ransom said he always wanted to start a band again. He said he has been writing since he was a teenager and has not stopped. After his band broke up, starting another band has presented its difficulties. It turned into never ending “next weekends.”
He did release all songs recorded by Point Blank under Unable Records, but Ransom said once you start something, it’s difficult to push it to the side.
“The first thing I recorded of my own was in 1998. I am back in it now. Since 1998, since Point Blank broke up, I have wanted to get back into it. It’s one of those things, once you do it you have got to do it again,” he said.
He said even if it took him another 15 years he will set a band together and get into the studio.
Ransom came back to “West from El Paso,” a song he wrote and dedicated to his father-in-law.
“I was continuing to write new material and my father-in-law got sick. He was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer on Dec. 7, 2011,” he said.
Ransom said his wife and her family lived in Monmouth County, but when her father, Bernie Price, retired, he moved to El Paso, Texas.
“We weren’t particularly close, Bernie and I. We had a son-in-law, father-in-law relationship. He was an outstanding guy, but once he got sick I really started to think about things,” he said.
Bernie’s “left field diagnosis” scared the entire family. When his wife, Amanda, flew out to El Paso after getting a “this is the end phone call,” Ransom was stuck doing a project for work in Atlantic City. In his hotel room, he wrote “West from El Paso.”
“I wrote it originally to him,” he said.
He sent the lyrics to his wife in El Paso, and she showed them to her father.
“I wanted to express to him how unfair I thought his predicament was, and to let him know how I felt about him,” he said.
After Bernie read the lyrics, Ransom said he was extremely appreciative.
“He told me I think it’s beautiful, thank you, and I love you,” Ransom said.
Bernie ended up improving over the summer, but around Thanksgiving he got worse.
“He went from doing well to very sick in a matter of days, and unfortunately he passed away on Dec. 7, 2012. Exactly a year to the day he was diagnosed.”
Bernie never got to hear the song, but Ransom played the punk rock dedication at Bernie’s memorial service. To further honor his father-in-law, Ransom recorded the song with a drummer and released it as a benefit for the Lung Cancer Foundation of America.
Ransom said every dime raised from the song’s purchase would go to the foundation.
“It’s the most important song I have ever written, and I wanted to do more with it than play it at a memorial service. I wanted to keep Bernie’s memory going,” Ransom said.
For more information about the benefit or to purchase “West from El Paso” visit www.unablerecords.com.