Out from behind the scenes

·3 min read

A public-minded jingle writer from P.E.I. has released his hand-washing tune across Canada to be used free on radio stations.

Gus Hillstrom is the man behind Wash Your Hands, a jingle currently making its way across the country.

Just days before the jingle debuted on The Guardian’s website, Hillstrom sent a copy to Tuff City radio station in Tofino, B.C.

“My intention … is to find a sponsor who would donate their airtime to run the jingle on the air as a public service announcement,” he said.

The project started as Hillstrom watched as the COVID-19 virus make its way to Canada.

Alarm bells began to ring the more he learned about the disease.

Even before P.E.I. was locked down, Hillstrom was getting ready.

“I stocked up on everything,” he said, including a case of toilet paper from A-1 Vacuum.

The first few words for the jingle came to him in April.

An early video shows a bearded Hillstrom singing a recognizable but quite different version of the current catchy tune.

Then in July, the COVID19 pandemic reached the nursing home where his mother, 94-year-old Loretta, lives.

In addition to worry about his mom, he was worried about himself. Hillstrom, who had a serious lung infection 15 years ago, is protective of his respiratory system.

“A dark cloud came over my life,” he said.

As the pandemic continued, the newly hatched jingle idea stayed with him.

Then, new COVID-19 variants were discovered in early 2021.

“I gotta do something with it now, I can’t let it go,” he thought.

Hillstrom got in touch with the Department of Public Health.

“I found the instructions, so I basically lifted those and worked them into the jingle and then tried to make the whole jingle work in 30 seconds. And that’s the hard part,” he said.

Hillstrom knows because he has been writing advertising copy and jingles since the 1980s.

Back in 1986, Wade Doiron at Doiron’s Garden Centre asked Hillstrom if he could write a jingle for the business.

Hillstrom had never made one before, but he had a strong music background so he agreed.

Doiron offered Hillstrom $500, which all went to studio time.

“And the next thing you know I got a song on the radio, and let me tell you how excited I was,” said Hillstrom. “And it’s still on, 30 years later, it’s still on, the original version.”

Jingle writing became a side hustle for Hillstrom who spent close to two decades as a sales executive with CBC.

Now retired, he continues to freelance in advertising, which gave him time to perfect his latest tune.

“When I like it, I work on it,” he said.

“I can write an initial idea in minutes. Like, when it comes to me, I write it down. But I can spend hundreds and hundreds of hours crafting it to get it to where it actually fits and works within a 30-second format, with all the right words so you can clearly hear it, it’s singable and understandable.”

Once he had his pandemic jingle whittled into shape, he took it to producer David Rashed at The Studio at the Guild in Charlottetown.

The two met in 2002 and have been collaborating ever since.

“Gus has been doing advertisements since he was 20 years old. Advertising and making creative that works for his clients – it’s only a natural progression to sing,” said Rashed.

“With his music background and his advertising background, it’s the perfect storm. I don’t think he can help himself.”

Alison Jenkins, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Journal-Pioneer