When Rich Ulloa was 15 years old, he discovered his favorite band. It was 1970, the Beatles had just broken up, and he was struck by the Beatlesque tunes like "Without You" and "Day After Day" by a British band called Badfinger. Ulloa bought all six albums by Badfinger and rushed out to Dania Beach to see them when the band performed at the pirate-themed amusement park Pirates World in 1971 and again in 1972.
As Ulloa listened and relistened to the band's oeuvre, he noticed a commonality in his favorite Badfinger songs — Pete Ham wrote them.
"Pete Ham was always my favorite musician," Ulloa tells New Times. "He took his life in 1975 at only 27. When I learned it two weeks later by reading Rolling Stone, I couldn't believe it. Only John Lennon's death affected me as much."
In the years following Ham's death, Ulloa became a staple in Miami's music scene. He opened the record shop Yesterday & Today Records in 1981 and founded the local independent label Y&T Music in 1991.
Around 2004, he told friends his dream release: a Pete Ham tribute record.
"I thought a tribute record could show that Pete was a one-in-a-million songwriter," he says. "Harry Nilsson covered 'Without You,' which was nothing like the Badfinger original. When someone can completely reinvent the way a song sounds, that's a sign of a great songwriter."
But Ulloa wasn't quite ready for the task.
"I didn't feel I had the resources or the industry contacts to make it happen then, but I never let go of the idea," he adds.
In 2021, he circled back to Ham after releasing Put Down That Weapon (Make Music Not War), a collection of protest songs recorded by South Florida artists.
"The first person I reached out to was local producer Fernando Perdomo. He ended up producing nine of the songs and did a version of 'Savile Row.' The first song we recorded in July 2021 was Amanda Green doing 'Name of the Game.' Momentum built; artists and friends connected me to other artists. The project just kept growing from word of mouth."
In June 2023, Ulloa's dream was realized with the release of the double album Shine On: a Tribute to Pete Ham.
"We started out thinking it would be 15 songs, but more and more people contributed, so we decided to do all 32 songs that Pete wrote for Badfinger along with three other songs he wrote that were never recorded outside of demos," Ulloa says. He recruited some personal musical heroes to lend a hand and a tune. "My friend [and former New Times writer] Lee Zimmerman connected me to Melanie. Tobin Sprout from Guided by Voices did 'Dear Father.' Mary Karlzen played 'We're for the Dark.' Nine of the artists have South Florida ties."
Timothy LaRoque is one of the local artists featured on the album, offering his take on "I'm in Love."
"Rich picked the song, and I love it; it's an upbeat song," LaRoque says. "Pete Ham can hit the high notes. I wanted it in a key I could hit, so we toned it down. Initially, I was going to do it more like Badfinger's, but we gave it more of a jazzy feel."
And like many of these tribute records Y&T Music puts out, Ulloa wanted the proceeds for Shine On to go to a good cause. One dollar from every CD sold and 100 percent of profits, after the recording expenses are recouped, will go to Mental Health America of Southeast Florida. While Ulloa was careful to say Ham was never diagnosed with a mental illness, Ulloa feels the good work the Broward County-based organization does could stop someone else from taking their life.
"They have suicide hotlines and creative arts programs that help keep people engaged."
And now that Shine On is out in the world, what's next for Y&T Music?
"I can retire now. This was my dream project," he kind of jokes, but then adds, "If I can, my second dream project is to put together a tribute to Joan Armatrading. She's my favorite female singer of all time. I want her blessing to do it, and then I'd like all women singers. But first, every project starts with a dream."
Shine On: a Tribute to Pete Ham is available on streaming services, while physical CDs can be purchased via amazon.com.