Outer Banks singer-songwriter Chuck Larson had moved beyond trying to “make it” in the music business when he was rewarded with a payoff from an unexpected direction: A song he copyrighted in 1971 was chosen by rapper Ice Cube to promote a video game — released nearly six decades later.
It’s quite the leap for a musician who sang lead for the acoustic/electric country rock band Snuff. The group opened for national acts and enjoyed chart success back in the 1970s and ’80s.
Chuck (“call me Coyote”) Larson — well-known in the Outer Banks area as an accomplished musician in his own right — decided to walk away from the music business after that run and go to sea for more than 20 years. The U.S. Navy veteran wound up working on container ships and in the maritime industry.
Eventually, Larson returned to his music studio, happily recording and writing, when he got “the call” from Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc., a company that was creating the third in a series of 2K Games’ popular action-adventure video games called Mafia.
They wanted to know what it would take to license Larson’s song “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven (but nobody wants to die).”
“The video developers liked my song, so they wanted to take a clip of the chorus and rap over it,” Larson explained. The rapper was none other than Ice Cube. “He was going to rap over a clip of that song as part of the trailer for their video game Mafia III.”
Larson didn’t have to think long.
“Their offer was so generous,” he says. “I said screw it and took it.”
The song was a winner from the get-go: It not only won the 1974 American Song Contest, but it was recorded by the likes of the folk group The Limeliters. How many songwriters can claim their song was performed by both Glenn Yarbrough and Ice Cube? In fact, they used the sample from the recording by Glenn Yarbrough and the Limeliters.
The game is set in fictional New Bordeaux, circa 1968, fitting the era in which Larson wrote the song. Sarah Anderson, 2K Games senior VP of marketing, called it a “great track.”
“You can almost hear the grooves in the vinyl,” Anderson says. “It feels really of-the-period, blending that ‘60s sound with something powerful and new that conveys the intensity of the story in such an emotional way.”
The piece was used to promote the new game in extended online trailers and 30-second TV ads. The videogame — Mafia III — was released last fall.
The transaction was, as Larson influence Kinky Friedman — a New York Times best-selling author, singer-songwriter and Lone Star statesman — likes to say, “a financial pleasure.” But Larson says he received no other credit or personal recognition for the use of his song. In fact, he was afraid no one would believe him.
“I took a picture of the check so people couldn’t say, you didn’t write that.”
Lack of a spotlight is of little concern to the man who says he’s had so many “brushes with fame” that the polish has worn off.
Today Larson, who just reached a major age milestone (“I’m in the sheer obstinacy stage”), has lots of thoughts on how the business has changed, both financially and musically.
“When we grew up, we could air our tires for free and put quarters in machines to hear music,” he says. “Now, we put quarters in machines to air up our tires, and we hear music for free.”
It was partly that absurdity that made him walk away from the music business for a while.
“A friend was asked why he quit the music business,” Larson explained. “He says he was tired of playing songs he didn’t want to play for people who didn’t want to hear them.”
Larson has no regrets.
“I managed to take a break soon enough to save myself from financial ruin,” he says. “There’s an old saying — ‘how do you make a million in the music business? You start out with two million.’ Sure there are people making money, but they’ve engineered it so the content is now almost royalty free. They don’t download it; they stream it, so no one owns it. It’s selective listening.”
Living in a tourist community, Larson still likes to play a few gigs in summer, but he spends most of his time in his recording studio, writing and sending out material.
He produces TV soundtracks and other “minor stuff” to pay the bills, but that doesn’t mean he’s not looking for his next big hit.
“I finally got it down to one thing — the song,” Larson says. “I am a songwriter. I want to write my magnum opus. I’ve still got some songs in me.”