Ever so often I play a gig where the sound is unbearably bad. Last night was one example. In short, from where I sat, it sounded like the rest of the band was in another room playing inside an iso booth with burlap bags over the microphones. Reminds me of a gig during my youth that happened in Amarillo, Texas. Here’s the entry from my gig journal —
One of the first bands I belonged to was called AmaJam. Why? Because we were all from Amarillo, Texas (except for one guy from Dumas), and we attempted to jam. Amajam’s first, and third from last, gig was at a local Amarillo park festival on Memorial Day. The local sound shop must have brought out every piece of sound gear they owned and chain-linked the whole thing together. I remember the way it hit me when I first arrived at the park. It looked like a cityscape – endless uneven towers of black speakers. The huge openings on the speakers reminded me of the floodgates at the bottom of many hydroelectric dams.
I’ve always wondered why so many sound people are hard rock fans, and why they think every performer wants to sound like Sammy Hagar. It must be the Jack Daniels. The hard liquor was already flowing with the sound crew as we unloaded and set up our jazz group. I went out front to see how we looked. Well, like Lilliputians perched between the big guns of a battleship is how we looked. When they were ready for a mic check, the guy at the mixer yelled “KICK!” through the monitors and almost blew me off of the drum throne. I have never since heard a human voice amplified to that level.
I was afraid to oblige him, wondering what damage would be done to my body by the subsequent audio explosion if I actually hit the kick drum. So I taped it gently and watched an old cottonwood tree shed its leaves 200 yards away. After that the sound guy said, “OK. You guys are on!” They cared nothing about checking the other instruments. The horns and keyboard would not be heard, and the bass and guitar were, naturally, set to maximum volume.
The downbeat of the first tune felt like a tactical nuke has just been detonated on the stage. I remember very little after that, except for the look of absolute ecstasy on the face of every member of the sound crew as they bobbed their heads and mumbled (I could read their lips) “Rock ‘n roll, man!”
That we opened with Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower” was beside the point. It sounded like Sammy Hagar.