BY GARY BRUNCLIK
I had a conversation with Paul Dieter, FOH engineer for Jackson Browne, at a show a few weeks ago and at some point, our conversation turned to our experiences in the early days of audio. It got me thinking…
Do you remember the Saturday gigs? I do.
Looking back over my career, I both miss those early days, and of course I am grateful for how far myself and the industry have come, and for the mere fact, I survived it at all. I remember back in the late 70’s and early 80’s audio was just starting to come into it’s own in technology. Some of the manufacturers, at the time, state of the art are gone. Some have matured and become giants, some have been relegated to the discount bins at Guitar Center, and new ones have come to shape our industry.
I know there were easier paths. I could have been an electrician. I could have been a phone company installer. I could have been a regional supervisor of some big chain-retailing giant. it would have been a more stable, normal life. Then I ask myself, “Why would i have taken that easier path?” Look at what I would have missed.
I started my audio career as a monitor engineer. I was playing in a band, chasing the singer-songwriter dream of getting signed. In my town of Milwaukee WI, at that time, the music scene was alive, abundant and music venues were plentiful. The drinking age was 18, so the clubs were alive and there were many places to play.
This was long before any bands “broke” from my town. Few ever did as Milwaukee is not a music industry hub. But plenty of production managers, engineers, and titans of our industry got their start in Milwaukee. The BoDeans, and The Violent Femmes were years away from being born, but the clubs were alive with bands like Cheap Trick, REO Speedwagon, Off Broadway, Head East, Survivor, and all the other Midwestern bands that were slumming the clubs in town.
My first real mixing gig came at the Palms—the largest rock club in the city at the time. Looking back, I had no clue how that club would impact my life and career. It was stocked with gear from manufacturers like BGW & Phase Linear and Macintosh amplifiers, MXR and Neptune equalizers.
Line Array? What the hell was that? Getting a 31-band third-octave EQ felt like I was on the cutting edge. We did not have any 4-band variable parametric EQ. That was years away yet. Acquiring Yamaha 2115 wedges that we could bi-amp was the cats’ ass. Stepping up from a Kelsey into a Yamaha PM1000 for FOH and an Audy Instruments six-mix discrete monitor console was game-changing. The speaker boxes did not even have wheels, but I lugged those double 18 bottoms, those JBL 4560’s and JBL 90 degree horns and I stacked them as high as I could with all the enthusiasm I could muster.
Weekends were the time for gigs. Saturday night always brought out the muzoids and techies to hone their skills and practice upon gear that, although antiquated today, was the best offered at the time. Digital was not even in our dreams yet, after all cell phones had not even been invented.
Yeah those were the days. I played in a band like most of us. I was doing sound when I was not playing, but I was being paid more for doing sound, (well…what I didn’t consume) than I was playing in a band. After I paid dues to the company store, I decided I liked eating and paying my bills more than I liked being a legend in my own mind. I had no idea how long I would pay those dues.
I plunged into sound and picked up a side job in car audio or it may have been vice versa but in my heart that was the way I saw it. Those early years at the Palms had me mixing the likes of Todd Rundgren, Alvin Lee, Elvin Bishop, The Cars, The Romantics, Def Leppard, Thomas Dolby, Wang Chung, Dire Straits, U2, The Boomtown Rats, a little band called Aerosmith, The Talking Heads and a band coming through town twice in a station wagon. That band was called the Police. I still to this day am quite grateful I got to mix and see so many superstars of today before they blew up. I am grateful I got to mix all those bands at one time in my career.
I distinctly remember the Plasmatics show. Wendy O’ hit the national news the next day after being beat up by the Milwaukee Police while trying to arrest her for lewd and lascivious conduct after she made love to an ax handle on stage. Milwaukee had a reputation, Wendy O’s arrest, George Carlin’s arrest at Summerfest for the seven words, Sly Stones drunken run in with police at an early Summerfest gig, yes my town’s fathers were not digging this new counterculture. But we sure were.
However, times changed, technology grew up, and is was become more about business than about music—with expectations and everything. Things took on an air of seriousness. However, I believe most of us did or still do it for the music. It is our passion or we would not be here. Through it all, we advanced with the times. We grew up, we got serious, we took our craft as a calling, we made it our career.
Sure I’ve been screwed, we all have at some point. Despite the obstacles, despite all my bad decisions, despite someone in my life telling me I was not cut out for this, or them, I persevered, and overcame those obstacles. You do too, everyday. I never once questioned my journey, although others influential to me did, I did not. I try to remember all the people I have met, the camaraderie of a tour bus just before it takes on a petting zoo aroma and those experiences that would offend some people’s sensibilities. I chuckle now, if someone asks me for a little more orange in his or her mix. I have been given a great palette of color to work from. Mistakes were made, successes were had, and more memories were developed that quite frankly, I can remember.
Now I love passing on those memories, those stories, and those experiences to a newer generation coming up. I get much fulfillment from passing on my mistakes, and my successes so someone else can learn and carry the torch. Sometimes I get a little jealous that technology was not as abundant for us as it is now on those Saturday nights.
Yep, I could have been a lot richer, I could have had a million dollar IRA, I could have held a lofty position with the Acme Boring Company but what would I have missed?
Yep, I very definitely remember the Saturday gigs…
Gary Brunclik has been an engineer since the early 80’s. He has been mixing FOH and monitors for over 30 years and is currently FOH Engineer at the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee, WI and the BMO Harris Pavilion at Millwaukee Summerfest when not on the road touring. He has had the pleasure of mixing and production or tour managing groups such as Travis Tritt, Everclear, 3 Doors Down, Soul Asylum, The Bodeans, David Copperfield, Skillet, FIve for Fighting, and The Ultimate Thriller among others. He currently is FOH and TM/PM for Scott Bradlee and the Postmodern Jukebox.