6 of the Best Live Sound Engineers in Phoenix
The spring of 1989 was a period of birth for me: It was the first time I ever played a gig at a club with a PA of its own. The place was Time Out of Mind in South Phoenix. Not the most reputable club, as some of you may recall, but a place that I got my first experience working with a gigging musician's best friend or worst enemy: The Sound Man.
If I remember correctly, the sound guy's name was Gary. I was very intimidated by him, but I tried to play it cool and act like I knew what I was doing when he asked me to check the mics. There were monitors on stage, and when he asked me if I could hear everything I needed to hear, I said, "Sure," I think, and we played, and that was that.
I have no recollection of how it sounded on stage -- other than loud -- and afterward, I gave Gary some of our beer, and he seemed happy. Lesson learned, I suppose, in that tipping the sound person, even if it is just Bud in a can, is still better than pissing them off. We talked to some of the best sound guys in town to learn about their favorite shows, pet peeves, and more.
Twenty-four years later, I now know just how important a good sound guy or gal is. We're pretty fortunate here in Phoenix to have some really great engineers who can make your band, regardless of style or equipment, sound pretty damn good. If you treat them well and remember that they're working to make the experience a good one for the crowd that's paying their nightly wage, they will make you sound even better; treat them like shit, and, well, that is exactly how you will sound.
Phoenix boasts some of the best in the country who have gone on to bigger and better things -- guys like Jim Coleman, who works with the Red Hot Chili Peppers now, and Jeff Hauck, who works with Soulfly, are local legends. Steve McDonald ruled the board at Hollywood Alley for years and occasionally had to convince people he was not Sammy Hagar. Steve made many bands sound much better than they probably were over the years, but he took his talent to the beach in L.A. and hasn't looked back.
A couple others who I have to mention are expatriate Arizona sound guys Grasher Johnson and Jamal Ruhe, who are both twice as talented as they are cool. And I would be remiss if I did not include the late, great Nino Notaro, who twisted many a knob in Phoenix during his life, making local and national metal bands sound great. As I talked with musicians from all around the Valley about their favorite sound engineers, Nino's name came up again and again.
As much as all of those guys deserve attention, I reached out to six of the best engineers the Valley has to offer. These dudes are working in some of the coolest venues in town and were nice enough to respond to a short survey from Up on the Sun. Here are their responses, in no particular order: