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Byline: Brad Kava
SANTA CRUZ, Calif. _ His Gourd record label specializes in subtle sounds of Celtic and Americana music _ but Neal Hellman's biggest seller is an album that features "Jingle Bells" played on chain saws and power drills.
The idea for "A Toolbox Christmas," which has sold 110,000 copies, was a stroke of marketing genius.
It was the kind of out-of-the-box thinking needed to keep an independent record label alive, particularly one that wants to create quality original music in a highly competitive sea of mass-marketed teeny bopper bands, free downloads and chain record stores that charge as much $4,000 to display one album.
Hellman, 52, was at a trade show in 1996 talking to a buyer from the Wireless catalog about its bestselling products _ a pair of men's silk boxer shorts with a tool belt on them and "Jingle Cats," the album featuring, yes, cats, manipulated through the …