December 07, 2005 Lehigh Valley, Pa.
For every middle-aged American who's ever strummed a guitar as a teenager and dreamt of "making it" in rock and roll, The Difference, an award-winning rock and roll band at Air Products (NYSE: APD), shows that success in music is achievable later in life, so long as you hold true to your passion and have lots of fun along the way.
The Difference, formed in 2000 and honored in 2001 at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as the Best Corporate Rock Band in America, has lived up to its namesake, an Air Products corporate motto that says that the company's people—through their integrity, passion and understanding—is what sets it apart in the marketplace, by truly making a difference over the past five years. The Difference has played more than 200 charity/corporate events and recorded three benefit CDs, raising over $300,000 for various non-profit organizations and causes, including the Muscular Dystrophy Association, American Diabetes Foundation, American Heart Association and local charities.
"People our age identify with us in that you never stop wanting to do the things you love," says 50-year-old Ed McKendry, lead guitarist/vocalist and Air Products' manager of electronics marketing communications. "I've been playing guitar my whole life, and the desire to do that just doesn't go away at 50. While there's not many 50-something-year-olds doing what we're doing, especially within a corporate structure and with a corporate blessing, it's never too late to find time for the things you enjoy. The band's been a great vehicle for meeting people and seeing places we never would have thought possible."
For 53-year-old drummer/vocalist Sal Nicrone, group leader of chauffeur services at Air Products, The Difference represents a second chance. "I had pretty much sold all of my equipment and given up on music," Nicrone says. "We knew each other for years, knew we all played, but it never occurred to us to put something together and form a band. But once we did, we knew we had something special. People say don't you get tired of dragging all of that equipment around. But once you're up on stage, it's definitely worth it. I'm thankful for a second chance to play with some great musicians and do some good in the process."
In the Spotlight at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
Since competing in and winning the Fortune (magazine) Battle of the Corporate Bands in 2001 at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, The Difference has maintained a presence at the Hall. The Difference entertained at the 2002 and 2003 editions of the Fortune Battle (once a band wins it is no longer eligible to compete), and conducted, along with drummer Liberty DeVitto of Billy Joel's band and guitarist Jeff Carlisi of 38 Special, a music teach-in for students of the Cleveland school district at the 2005 edition of the Fortune Battle, which was held Oct. 7-9 in Cleveland. The Difference also participated in a jam session Saturday night at the Hall with Carlisi, DeVitto, G.E. Smith and Southside Johnny.
"Just being there is incredible, not to even mention performing," says 48-year-old Steve Eck, acoustic guitarist/vocalist and Air Products' access control systems administrator. "The magnitude hits you and it's simply overwhelming."
Fifty-one-year-old Jim "JT" Meyer, lead guitarist/vocalist and Air Products' electronics business support specialist, echoes Eck's comments. "I just kept smiling on stage and thinking, 'Am I really here?'" says Meyer. "I mean I look over and I see Liberty playing, and I can't believe it. It's awesome. Struggling musicians out on the road in the trenches would die for this opportunity. To be able to raise money for charities on top of this is the greatest."
Fifty-four-year-old Terry Wetzel, Air Products' manager of office support services and the band's sound technician, says he enjoys the front-row view he gets of the band's performances at the Hall and other venues.
"With me being out in front, I get to see the audience response from a different perspective," says Wetzel. "I hear the positive chatter and see how happy we're making people. It's rewarding. Every time I think we've reached the top, something more spectacular comes along."
Recording Albums, Raising Money
Most musicians agree that "recording" is almost as much fun as playing live. To date, The Difference has recorded three charitable albums—"Rockin' for Charities" (2001), "Anything at All…for Charity" (2003), and "Grow" (2005).
The Difference's latest CD, "Grow," is titled in tribute and dedicated to founding member Barry Grow, who died of cancer in 2003. "We miss Barry a lot, as a person and as a musician, as he was really a fundamental part of the original band," says 52-year-old Joe Hilgar, guitarist/vocalist and Air Products' global strategic sourcing manager in procurement. "His spirit is there every time we go on stage or get together and jam. I'm glad we dedicated the new one to Barry, and I'm real pleased with the product. I think it's our best effort to date."
The album is described by The Difference as lighter than the previous two. The band has been getting an increasing number of acoustic gigs and the band wanted to capture that spirit with an acoustic, easier sound. "Grow" contains 17 tracks, including covers of songs by the Eagles, Johnny Cash, the Doobie Brothers and The Beatles, plus four originals—"Grow," "When She Smiles," "This Day" and "Vacation Mode."
"Grow," written by Meyer, is the title track and an instrumental that's inspired by Barry. "It reflects the fun we had playing and visiting different areas together," Meyer explains.
"When She Smiles," by Eck, is a strong piano-led ballad. Eck notes that it's a love song written years ago and originally recorded for, and played at, his daughter Kristy's wedding in 2002. The lyric "you can't see how much she's cried when she smiles" means that "everything's OK when she smiles," Eck says.
"This Day," penned by Nicrone, gives insight to a father's thoughts on his daughter's wedding day. "The song is an expression of the emotion a father feels when he gives his daughter away to a guy he barely knows," Nicrone explains.
Perhaps the most laid-back song on "Grow" is the Jimmy Buffet-inspired "Vacation Mode," which resulted from McKendry's first Buffet concert in Phoenix several years ago. "The song talks about just hangin` out and everything going smoothly, like when you're on vacation," McKendry says. The band members agree that their favorite line of the song is—"nothing you can give me is better than time."
For now The Difference is having the time of their lives doing what they enjoy most and making a difference through it.
"I have so much gratitude to be a part of this," Eck says. "It's what music is meant to be about. We make people happy. We make people feel things. And on top of everything, every time we go out we raise money for something important."
To purchase a CD, hear about upcoming live dates, or to request a booking of The Difference for your charitable event, please call drummer Sal Nicrone at (610) 481-4392.
About Air Products
Air Products (NYSE:APD) serves customers in technology, energy, healthcare and industrial markets worldwide with a unique portfolio of products, services and solutions, providing atmospheric gases, process and specialty gases, performance materials and chemical intermediates. Founded in 1940, Air Products has built leading positions in key growth markets such as semiconductor materials, refinery hydrogen, home healthcare services, natural gas liquefaction, and advanced coatings and adhesives. The company is recognized for its innovative culture, operational excellence and commitment to safety and the environment and is listed in the Dow Jones Sustainability and FTSE4Good Indices. The company has annual revenues of $8.1 billion, operations in over 30 countries, and over 20,000 employees around the globe. For more information, visit www.airproducts.com.