Until a video of "Stand by Me" had gone viral on YouTube, Roger Ridley had sung and played guitar anonymously on the streets of Santa Monica, Calif., for years. The video begins with Ridley and then mixes in 40 other musicians from around the world. It's part of a 10-song collection called Playing for Change: Songs Around the World.
Producer Mark Johnson got the idea a few years ago when he heard Ridley's voice on a street in Santa Monica.
"I approached him after the performance and said, 'Hey, if I come back in an hour with some recording equipment and cameras, I'd love to record you, film you, add musicians around the world to it,' " Johnson says. "And he looked at me really funny, sort of thought I was crazy. But he said, 'OK, if you come back, we'll do it.' "
Another strong voice on "Stand by Me" is Grandpa Elliot, a staple of the New Orleans street scene, where he's been playing since age 6.
"You know, in New Orleans it's interesting, because a lot of the best musicians play on the streets," Johnson says. "And so Grandpa [Elliot] is known by everybody in New Orleans as one of its greatest musicians and an icon of New Orleans music."
These are just two of the many voices and instruments heard on Playing for Change. The song always starts with Ridley, then Johnson puts headphones on Grandpa Elliot in New Orleans, then plays those recordings for a tribe of Zuni Indians to add a drum, and on and on for a total of "37 other musicians that never met around the world."
Click the audio link at the top of the page to hear Renee Montagne's full interview with Mark Johnson.