Last summer, Jesse Keys was on tour with Midland, and he knew he was in trouble. “I was really struggling with my sobriety,” says Keys, who was a member of the country trio’s road crew. On a Sunday, he called a musician friend in recovery to ask for help. By Thursday, he was at the Caron Foundation’s treatment center in Pennsylvania.
Three days in, he was “crawling the walls,” feeling the facility wasn’t for him. He planned to leave, but Todd Whitmer, Caron Foundation’s national gift officer, suggested a different, smaller program offered by Caron on the same campus. The hitch was that, unlike the initial program, the new plan did not take insurance. Whitmer suggested Keys apply to Caron’s Neil Lasher Music Fund, which picked up the cost of Keys’ treatment. “We’re not going to leave you out in the cold,” Whitmer promised Keys.
On April 28, Keys celebrated nine months of sobriety. “I am forever grateful to the Neil Lasher Music Fund because I wouldn’t have been able to personally pay to go to that program,” he tells Billboard from the road with Disturbed. “It is very important that people know that this help is out there.”
As well regarded as Neil Lasher was as a record label and publishing executive with stints at Chrysalis, SBK, EMI Music Publishing and as a consultant to then-titled Sony/ATV Music Publishing, his greater legacy is his work helping those in need of drug and alcohol recovery treatment. Lasher became a certified alcohol and substance abuse counselor and in 2012 was honored at the MusiCares MAP Fund benefit concert.
A year after Lasher’s April 2020 death from COVID complications, the Neil Lasher Music Fund at Caron Treatment Centers was created by Lasher’s longtime partner, Jill Jordon. Two years since its formation, the fund has helped more than 30 individuals and raised more than $1.1 million to provide financial grants for drug and alcohol recovery treatment for those in the music industry and their families.
It hopes to raise even more on May 10, when LaPolt Law’s Dina LaPolt will be honored with the Thomas J. Moran Caron Music Award at the 29th annual Caron New York Gala at Cipriani 42nd St. Longtime Caron supporters Lauren & Jay Springer will receive the Richard J. Caron Award of Excellence. Grammy winner Autumn Rowe and Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes will perform.
“Tom Moran loved music – all genres – and was a fierce advocate for fairness and diversity. He would have loved knowing Dina, especially her intelligence, generosity and spirit in helping musicians on so many levels professionally and personally,” Whitmer says.
Attorney LaPolt, who celebrated 25 years of sobriety in April, is on the NLMF board. Even though she only met Lasher a few times, the fund’s encompassing work spoke to her.
“If there’s a struggling songwriter or the daughter or granddaughter of an executive, we will absolutely not only help with the intervention, but then the Neil Lasher Music Fund will pay for them to go to the Caron Foundation,” she says. “It will pay for the flights, whatever else we need to do to get the person there [so] the costs are covered. So that’s why it’s very important to me to raise money for the Neil Lasher Music Fund, as well as the Caron Foundation Fund. A lot of my clients have been through their amazing program. if I can help carry on [Neil’s] legacy and message, I’m very much into doing that.”
“We will do everything we can to help that person get to Caron,” Whitmer adds, “including significant funding through the Neil Lasher Music Fund and oftentimes collaborating with MusiCares.”
Lasher was sober for more than 30 years before his death and is credited with helping launch Safe Harbor Rooms backstage in 1997 in conjunction with the Recording Academy’s MusiCares foundation. Now commonplace, the rooms provide a sober space at music events nationwide. Lasher’s affiliation with Caron goes back to the early 2000s, when he joined its New York board.
“Neil was so incredible giving back to people who have addiction and substance abuse problems, because he went through that himself a long time ago,” says Universal Music Publishing Group North America president Evan Lamberg, who met Lasher when they both worked at EMI Music Publishing. “When he passed away, Jill didn’t think his legacy of being so unconditionally compassionate to people should disappear.”
Jordon reached out to Lamberg and a number of other high level music industry executives who knew Lasher to help launch the fund and link it with Caron.
In addition to the New York gala, NLMF/Caron host a number of events annually, including a Los Angeles breakfast held during Grammy week.
Though not a founding member of the board, LaPolt attended the first fundraising breakfast in Los Angeles and asked how to get involved.
“She’s been a force of nature helping us rally awareness,” Lamberg says.
ASCAP chairman/president and longtime friend of Lasher’s Paul Williams, who has been in recovery for more than 30 years and is a founding board member of the NLMF, remembers from experience the saving grace that can be found through recovery programs such as those offered through Caron.
“I’ve heard it said that you have to want sobriety to get sober—not always the case,” he says via email. “I didn’t know how much I loved it or wanted it until the drugs and alcohol were out of my system. A 30-day stint in my second rehab delivered a better understanding of addiction and the recovery community became family. Nature abhors a vacuum, so when you take the substance out of an addict’s life you better replace it with something constructive or old behavior returns with a vengeance. That’s why Caron is such a vital part of the process. It was a powerful collaboration. Neil delivered a healing hand that I believe was guided by pure love.”
In addition to NLMF’s scholarship arm, NLMF also includes the Neil Lasher Music Endowed Fund, which financially supports Caron’s music programs, including music studios and music therapists.
For LaPolt, the music program is key, especially for artists. “The easy part is stopping the drinking and using. The hard part is staying stopped. And sometimes there’s a big disconnect with creative people because regular people don’t get them,” she says. “They think differently than the rest of us, which is why we get all this amazing art and this amazing music. So, music therapy really helps figuring out the why and the staying stopped.”
Williams calls Lasher “an angelic warrior of light [with his] long white hair and white scarf flowing,” a description that resonates with anyone who knew him. “He was a sober Clarence from It’s a Wonderful Life. With the Caron Foundation always ready to step up to the plate, hundreds of lives were saved. And through the Neil Lasher Music Fund that gift lives on,” Williams continues. “We lost Neil way, way too soon, but his spirit has a life of its own.”
Whitmer, who considered Lasher to be his best friend, helps see to that. “Neil was just somebody that wanted to help,” he says. “He believed in service; he believed in you’ve got to give it away to keep it. And, you know, he was always there when somebody reached out. He’s certainly still with us every day in what we do.”
Information on the Neil Lasher Music Fund can be found here, as well as information on the May 10 gala.