By Ken “Pooch” Van Druten
I lost a friend, and a mentor today. It hurts to lose a friend. Especially someone that has been in your life for over 20 years.
I was first introduced to ML in 1986, only I didn’t remember that until later.
In 1993 I was mixing a lot of bands that had kind of gone past their expiration date and had spoiled. Mostly hair metal bands that were no longer playing places like the Forum. We were playing places like Harpo’s, and the Stone Pony, and the Station. At the time I lived in Los Angeles, but was touring with one of said hair bands and we were playing one of those kind of clubs called the Bronco Bowl, in Dallas, TX. I remember ML Procise came rolling in like he owned the place. He got VIP parking, everyone knew who he was, and was calling everyone “honyocker.” Later I learned that this was one of his sayings that he used as a term of endearment. If ML called you a honyocker, you were part of the team.
Right off the bat, he made me feel important. He was courteous and praised my mix. Later that day I learned who he was. ML was a mixer. He was one of the best. He was one of the best FOH mixers in the industry. He mixed acts like the Beach Boys, Michael Jackson, ZZ top.
It was 1986 and I was a teenager filled with angst, anger and hormones. I loved going to concerts, and I played guitar in my own band thinking I was gonna be the next Eddie Van Halen. My friends and I made the three-hour drive from my home in Northern California to the Mountain Aire festival in Angels Camp, California. It was a great place to see a concert. Gorgeous foothills of the Sierra mountain range was the backdrop.
My friends and I were going to go see Night Ranger, but they weren’t the headliner. ZZ top was the headliner. After Night Ranger played a great set culminating in “Sister Christian” and “You Can Still Rock in America” we were going to leave and make the long trek back to San Francisco. But one of my friends said “Let’s stay and watch a little of ZZ top.”
I was floored. ZZ Top sounded AMAZING. I had never heard any band sound like that. It sounded just like the records and the radio. We stayed for the whole show.
We were down near the front, and afterwords it took a long time to get the audience out. As we shuffled by the FOH area I was drawn to all of the equipment and cool looking gear with big knobs and buttons. As I was staring at the equipment, a short stumpy looking man with a flowing beard came over to me and asked me if I liked the show. I said it was amazing, it SOUNDED amazing. He thanked me, and told me he was the band’s sound engineer.
I asked him “How do I get to do what you do?” He suggested several things, but I was so enamored by the equipment, that I really don’t remember what he said. He spent about 5 minutes explaining things (it felt like an hour). It was a profound moment for me. It was a game changer. I wanted to do what THAT guy was doing. As I look back on that moment, it really changed my life. The fact that he took a few minutes out of his day to talk to a teenager that was interested, speaks volumes as to the man he was.
Back to 1993…
I had graduated from Berklee College of Music several years before, and was working as a mixer, but had not yet scored any major clients. ML came, guns blazing, into the Bronco Bowl. Later that day, I made the connection that he was the FOH mixer for ZZ Top who I had met years earlier. We spoke of it, and we instantly had a connection. He realized he had influenced a kid, I realized I was in the room with a legend.
I continued on in my career path for several years, building my clients. Getting better and better gigs. Finally in 1998 I was working with Robert Long (currently PM for Kiss and Motley Crue) on many gigs. He and I were longtime friends and business partners. Robert got the call to be the guitar tech for Paul Stanley. He and I were already on tour with another band.
Robert asked “Should I go?” I answered “ What? Are you friggin nuts? You gotta go. Just don’t forget about me when you are huge.” He didn’t.
While teching for Paul Stanley, Robert (then known as Ragman) was plotting and scheming to try to get me a job with KISS. When Toby Francis decided to leave Kiss for another client (ironically I think it was ZZ Top), Robert pushed hard on Toby and ML for me. Toby didn’t really know me – he had met me a few times, but he didn’t really know me, and ML really didn’t know me either. But BOTH of those guys backed me 100% for the job of FOH for KISS, solely on the word of Robert. I will never forget that. Both of those guys took a chance on a guy they didn’t really even know, and it forever changed my clientele.
For the next 10 years ML Procise and I were thick as thieves. We worked together with hundreds of clients. ML was on top of his game, and so was I. It was a symbiotic relationship that happens only once in a lifetime and even then, only if you are lucky.
ML was fiercely competitive. He hated to lose. He was loved and hated by many. If you were family, he would defend you to the end, and fight others on your behalf. You wanna know the secret? You wanna know what made ML so successful in this business?
He was the first guy to figure out that the live event industry is a service industry. NOT a gear-driven industry. He figured out that by making friends with the people running the equipment (engineers, systems and techs), and keeping them employed, he could make millions for a sound vendor and keep all the clients happy. It’s simple, but it’s brilliant. By keeping a stable of top independent engineers surrounding him at his beck and call, he had what the managers and bands wanted. Good people. And in return he kept the top independent engineers working all the time. Job security for people that don’t have it.
Once you were part of ML’s family, you were in for life. ML called me at least once a week just to see how I was. He wanted to know how my wife was. He wanted to know if everything was OK. It was a symbiotic relationship that lasted until now. Some of the best years of my life so far. Of course we had our differences, and there were definitely times where we fought like brothers. All was not always bunnies and rainbows, but in the end we had a love, respect, and friendship that was beyond a work colleague. He had that affect on a lot of us.
In the last years of his life he was torn apart emotionally by the loss of his wife Debbie. She was the core of his family unit, and when she passed from cancer, he was lost. I watched as this once strong man was destroyed by grief. His health deteriorated, and finally I think that he just wanted to be with his wife again.
I owe a lot to the man ML Procise. I don’t want to remember him like he was in the last years of his life. I prefer to remember him as the bad ass engineer that he was at that ZZ Top concert that changed my life.
You are a legend, you were my friend, I will miss you. Until we meet again.