Suntree man pours his pain into CD

By Billy Cox

Baltimore attorney Lee Ashmore has handled more child-custody cases than he can count, but he's never had a client turn it around like Craig Deanto.

Nearly five years into a messy struggle for custody of his two teen-age children, Deanto of Suntree has released an anthem for children -- and parents -- being jerked around in the judicial system. It's an eight-song compact disc called "Who Hears The Cries," assembled by Grammy Award-winning producer Walter Orange of The Commodores.

"Craig's got a quality product here," Ashmore says. "If he can get his songs into some radio rotation, I see no reason he can't have a top-selling CD."

"I'm still in awe, man," says Deanto, an electronics engineer. "I mean, I'm not a performer, and I never intended to get into this business. But when I heard the final version of what Walter did with my songs, I was in tears."

Deanto's circuitous journey into Orange's South Florida recording studio began in 1998, when the children were visiting from Maryland, where their mother lives. They swung into South Beach on a whim, where they stopped at a cafe and listened to Kim Thomas, who was covering Top-40 tunes. Deanto liked her style so much, he approached her after the show to tell her about some songs he'd written concerning broken families.

Thomas, who worked with Orange's Gold Room Productions, passed the lead along to Orange. Deanto wound up getting an invitation to bring a demo tape and his guitar to Gold Room for an audience with the man himself.

"It was a little intimidating, sitting there with all these gold records and Grammy awards staring back," recalls Deanto, who'd never played with a band and considered his six-string a hobby.

But Deanto's melodies and lyrics -- centered thematically on children being caught in a tug-of-war between courts and feuding parents -- apparently struck a nerve. The first raw track he unveiled, "Who Hears The Cries," would eventually be the title cut.

It features exasperating sentiments such as: "Well daddy's crying and momma is too/A judgment is passed and everyone will lose/And that's the way it is/And that's the way it's been/Solomon's sword would've been less of a sin."

With major assists from Thomas, Commodores' guitarist Mikael Manley and Frank Cornelius Jr. (from the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose family), Orange coached Deanto and buffed his music into an accessible package ideally suited for pop markets. "Who Hears The Cries" debuted commercially in January from Motown Cafe in Universal Studios, but the marketing is up to Deanto. He's been taking his CD to radio stations from Daytona Beach to West Palm Beach, and Ashmore has been working radio markets in Baltimore.

In Glens Falls, N.Y., Suzanne Brawley (Fromtling) designs Web Sites for missing children, and after hearing Deanto's songs, she volunteered to build to help promote his material. Brawley hopes "Who Hears The Cries" will be perceived as considerably more than background music on the car radio.

"Craig's been through a terrible ordeal with the courts, and his words and music have a way of making people listen," Brawley (Fromtling) says. "But his songs aren't gender regulated. They deal with a system that sometimes forces parents to do what's not in the best interests of the children."

"Who Hears The Cries" is available at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Melbourne and at Beach Wave in Cocoa Beach, as well as and

"I'd like to think people can take the lyrics and apply them to their own situation," says Deanto, whose children are living in Maryland. "Dealing with the courts is tough, but you can't just sit around feeling sorry for yourself. You have to keep trying. This music is part of how I've tried to work my way through it."