The Orbitsuns — from left, guitarist Jeremy “Leroy” Biltz, singer/guitarist Vinnie Dombroski, Liz Fornal on vocals and tambourine, and bassist Bob Hecker — record Bob Seger’s “Sunspot Baby” for the vinyl EP project. Behind them on drums is Jimmy Paluzzi, not pictured.

The Orbitsuns — from left, guitarist Jeremy “Leroy” Biltz, singer/guitarist Vinnie Dombroski, Liz Fornal on vocals and tambourine, and bassist Bob Hecker — record Bob Seger’s “Sunspot Baby” for the vinyl EP project. Behind them on drums is Jimmy Paluzzi, not pictured.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Musicians band together for the Pope Francis Center

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published October 16, 2020

  Pope Francis Center Housing Specialist Chris Harthen, also a fan of the Hard Lessons, helped to arrange the “Songs That Got Me Through It” recording session Sept. 13.

Pope Francis Center Housing Specialist Chris Harthen, also a fan of the Hard Lessons, helped to arrange the “Songs That Got Me Through It” recording session Sept. 13.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

METRO DETROIT — Under a broken movie screen amid bright lights and piles of concrete off to the side, the Orbitsuns finish their 10th take of Bob Seger’s “Sunspot Baby.”

With Mike Pigeon at the recording table, the country rockers recorded several versions of the classic song Sept. 13 at a temporary studio inside the former St. Clair Shores movie theater at Greater Mack Avenue and Nine Mile Road.

Singer/guitarist Vinnie Dombroski — clad in sunglasses and a baseball cap — set the tone as Liz Fornal on vocals and tambourine, bassist Bob Hecker, guitarist Jeremy “Leroy” Biltz and Jimmy Paluzzi pounding on the drums put all their might into recording the best delivery of the song each time.

The Orbitsuns were among several local rock bands from St. Clair Shores, Rochester, Ferndale and other cities that recorded a cover song from a Detroit/Michigan artist for the vinyl EP “Songs That Got Me Through It.” Third Man Pressing is scheduled to press the EP, an extended play record, which is more than a single song but not quite a full album.

The EP will be released Nov. 28 online and at the Third Man Records Cass Corridor Detroit store as part of Small Business Saturday. Proceeds from the vinyl EP’s sales will benefit the Pope Francis Center, a Detroit shelter that assists the homeless.

Dombroski said it was the Orbitsuns’ drummer Paluzzi who suggested “Sunspot Baby.”

“That’s a jam,” Dombroski thought. “Why not? Let’s do it.”

Alternative rockers Sponge, which Dombroski also fronts, pays homage to Iggy Pop with “I Won’t Crap Out.”

“When people think of Iggy, it’s not quite one of the songs they think of,” Dombroski said. “I love the song.”

Other bands lending their time and talent are Jennifer Westwood and the Handsome Devils and glam trio the Ricky Rat Pack. The Firewalkers are bringing their style of rhythm, blues and soul to the project. The Hard Lessons fans are in for a treat as the musicians have reunited to cover “Only Good for Conversation” by Rodriguez.

Jennifer Westwood and the Handsome Devils — a quintet that includes Westwood on vocals, guitarists Dylan Dunbar and Jackson Smith, bassist Chuck Bartels and drummer Katelyn Corrl — put their spin on “My Man-He’s a Lovin Man” by Bettye LaVette.

Guitarist Ricky Rat, bassist Laura Mendoza and drummer Joe Leone, of the Ricky Rat Pack, relived the days of Hamtramck punk rock by cranking up the amps to record “So American” by the Mutants.

“We loved that song when we were growing up,” said Rat, of Royal Oak. “I think this project is so cool. It’s an honor to be a part of this with all these Detroit musicians. It’s such a good cause. So many good musicians are willing to step up.”

Rat looks forward to the finished product.

“Vinnie is such a pro,” Rat said. “Everything he does comes out great.”

Sponge and Pope Francis Center Housing Specialist Chris Harthen connected in 2018 for the first live charity concert to benefit the outreach center. Held on a rockin’ Thanksgiving Eve at St. Andrew’s Hall in Detroit, Sponge fans soaked up the band’s music, including the hits “Plowed” and “Molly (16 Candles)” while raising money for the shelter.

Sponge returned for a sophomore effort in 2019, again on Thanksgiving Eve. The plan was to continue the tradition in 2020, but because of COVID-19, this year’s November concert is canceled. Still wanting to help out the homeless shelter, Sponge and Harthen came up with the idea for the EP.

“When you are going through hard times, what are some of the things that get us through them?” Harthen said. “For many of us, it’s music.”

Located at 438 St. Antoine Street in Detroit, the Pope Francis Center provides services to approximately 200 individuals experiencing chronic homelessness each day. Guests are welcome from 7 to 11 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays for two meals, access to hot showers and grooming services, laundry facilities and housing assistance.

Free medical, dental and legal support through rotating clinics also is available. Bike repair and mail services are provided as well. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pope Francis Center has moved its services outside, using tents, generators and heaters, plus a shower trailer.

“We’ve still been able to help people. It’s been different,” Harthen said. “We’re seeing some families that are working two, three jobs that just can’t get into an apartment.”

Dombroski has visited the Pope Francis Center on two occasions and appreciates the work the shelter is doing.  

“Sponge has been great working with the Pope Francis Center,” Harthen said. “It’s inspiring to our workers as we get to do this today. To have the music community come together to help us is amazing.”

Because of COVID-19, concert halls, bars and clubs have been closed, impacting musicians who make their living playing music.

“It’s decimated (the music industry,)” Dombroski said. “Promoters are crushed. We’ll lose a lot of clubs. Will it ever be the same? Not for a long, long time.”

Dombroski said that gathering for the “Songs That Got Me Through It” recording session “kind of makes things feel normal for a minute.”

For more information on the Pope Francis Center, visit popefranciscenter.org.

For more details on the EP, visit Spongetheband.com