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What inspired me to have a desire to work in the professional music recording industry?

In our lives, we have a number of people who inspire us to be the best of who we can be. My parents, grandparents and a handful of special aunts, uncles, cousins and friends have inspired my life and desire to work in education and with the study of history. But, who inspired me to get involved in the professional music industry? While growing-up in rural Northeast Texas, I only knew a few people who actually played musical instruments and none of them directly influenced me to have an interest in music recording. I did play the baritone in the middle school band program when I was attending school in Sulphur Springs, Texas, and I did teach myself how to play the trumpet (an instrument that I still love to this day— though I have not picked one up in at least thirty years), but neither of those experiences in music truly inspired me to have an interest in music recording.

Did my parents, grandparents or other family members have an impact on my interest in becoming a part of the professional music recording industry? Yes, but indirectly. For example, I may have inherited an interest in music from the fact that so many people in my family did play musical instruments— at least at one point in time in their lives. I had a number of cousins who played instruments in their school band programs-- in fact, each of them played the drums. My great-aunt, Nell Long played the piano at our church. (I have also learned subsequently, that my great-grandmother {on my Mom's side of the family} had been a gifted musician and taught each of her children how to play an instrument and that my grandfather was actually quite good at it. However, while growing-up, I did not know any of that information.) I can also remember as a child going to a number of civic functions with my grandparents and our cousin Doug Estes (electric guitar and bass), my great-uncle Jack Grant (saxophone) and another cousin, Mark Chapman (drums), often played in a band at those meetings or events. I always enjoyed listening to them-- and both Doug and Mark, in particular, were always willing to chat about music (something that I have always enjoyed). My grandparents worked closely with the people (like Billie Rose Chapman and Rod Henderson) at the Hopkins County Civic Center and believe it, or not, in Sulphur Springs, a tremendous number of great hitmakers in country music came and put on concerts in the auditorium from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s. While each of those experiences may have played a part in my interest in working in the music industry, there was another very important factor that came into play. I would say that what inspired me to have an interest in working in the professional music recording industry was quite similar to that of most of the people of my generation and even the one before me who stepped into the industry. My inspiration came from the music that I listened to growing-up and having the desire to create my own playlists of it, so that I could hear my favorite songs over and over again. From there, I developed an interest in who recorded those songs and where they were recorded, but, this point in my own personal timeline occurred at the time that I was in college at The University of Texas at Austin— more on that in a moment. It was this experience that led me to have a desire to work in the professional music recording industry.

This image is of a small stream which feeds Vaden Creek in the North Hopkins community in Hopkins County, Texas, near the town of Sulphur Springs where I grew-up. In the fall, it is a particularly beautiful place.

I was born and raised in rural Northeast Texas, near the town of Sulphur Springs (though I never truly lived in it). I truly grew-up in the country. Even people who lived in Sulphur Springs at the time would tell you that someone like me was from the country. In fact, the small communities in which I was raised (combined) still have fewer than 400 people living in them, though very few of the families today are still involved in agriculture in some capacity. When I was born in the fall of 1974, my grandparents (on my Dad’s side of the family where we lived) were in the twilight of their long and distinguished careers in education and were increasingly spending more and more of their time with the family farm— which meant, raising cattle. My mother’s parents were living in much the same vein, though they lived in Collin County, Texas, in the growing suburb of Plano at the time. While the city of Plano today is densely populated, at the time, my grandfather was still farming (row crops and grain, mostly) hundreds of acres of land in what is today shopping centers, housing additions and restaurant chains. After his death from cancer in the late summer of 1987, the city experienced the booming population growth that characterizes the development of the DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth) Metroplex area to this very day. We visited them about once a month. I sent a great deal of my time growing-up with my Dad’s parents, which, in effect meant that I was around raising cattle and baling hay almost everyday. I was also allergic to some of the grasses that we cut for hay, which meant that I spent a great deal of my time sick, as well— mostly from either hay fever or enduring bouts of asthma. It was largely because of this that I spent a lot of my time listening to the local radio station, which was the only one that was ever playing in my grandfather’s old brown and red Ford pickup truck.

Our local radio station (at the time there was only one) was an AM-radio station, KSST (AM-1230) and believe it or not, it played every genre of popular music. If you were listening to KSST in the late 1970s and early 1980s, for example you would have heard country, disco, pop, rock, blues and even (late at night) the occasional jazz number. The very first song that I remember hearing that has stuck with me from my childhood was “Lyin’ Eyes” by The Eagles (1975). I also remember hearing songs from the Bee Gees, Kool and the Gang, The Commodores, Sheena Easton and Rita Coolidge. But, I certainly heard country music as well. The earliest songs I remember hearing were from such artists as Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Barbara Mandrell, Kenny Rogers, Crystal Gayle, Eddie Rabbit, Ronnie Millsap, Don Williams, Gene Watson, Charlie Rich, Charley Pride, Dolly Parton, Johnny Lee, The Bellamy Brothers, The Oak Ridge Boys, Alabama, Steve Wariner and George Strait. In fact, when I was a kid, I remember a friend of my grandparents-- Jim Anderson, bringing country music artist Gene Watson with him on a couple of occasions to visit them when he would come up from Houston. My parents still have the album that he took the time to autograph for me on one of those visits-- in fact, he had just had a number-one hit song, "Fourteen Carat Mind," at the time (This song was released in 1981 and a picture of the autographed album is shown above.). It was at about this time that my musical palette began to change as my grandparents retired from working in the small, rural school district where I had gone to kindergarten, and I started going to school with my Dad in town— who worked in Sulphur Springs, as did my Mom at the time. Plus, I became much more heavily involved in the local soccer youth soccer program, as well, and both of these changes in my life would have a tremendous influence on my love for music and my musical influences, too.

During the time that I attended elementary, intermediate and middle school in Sulphur Springs from 1982-1988, my taste in music changed. The first major change occurred during the trips to see my grandparents in Plano, Texas. While taking the drive (which took an hour-and-a-half) to my grandparents home, my Mom and Dad started listening to an oldies station, KLUV 98.7 (an FM-radio station) located in Dallas, Texas, which played classic rock and pop songs from the 1950s, 1960s and the early 1970s. After listening to this station, I became a huge fan of the Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Supremes, Johnny Rivers, Glen Campbell, Aretha Franklin, The Eagles and especially— The Beatles. My Dad saw that I loved the music of The Beatles so much, that he took me to a place called Unclaimed Freight and bought a jam box (a radio and cassette player). Later, he saw that I had a true interest in actually recording the music from the radio and making playlists to listen to on my own. We traveled to Dallas and purchased a Magnavox stereo system which he tied into our incredibly tall antenna tower. I will never forget making that trip to Dallas with my Dad, as it is one of my favorite childhood memories. The stereo system had a rack mount CD-player. I remember the salesman showing us a compact disc (CD) that had a ton of scratches on it. He put the disc in the player and it played just fine with no skips. To this day, I will never forget what he said next, “It just sounds great doesn’t it. You could use this for a hockey puck and it would still play perfectly with this player.” The stereo system gave me my first opportunity to make music recordings. Since tapes were so expensive, I would just buy blank cassettes, wait until my favorite songs would come on the radio and then record them and make my own playlists. It was not until I started being able to attend dances hosted by local churches for teenagers at places like the First Methodist Church and the First Christian Church (of which, we were members and attended regularly when I was going to school in town), that I truly started listening to the pop and rock music of the 1980s from such acts as the J. Geils Band, Aerosmith, Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, Genesis, Bon Jovi, Cher, Heart, Survivor, Fleetwood Mac, Belinda Carlisle, ZZ Top, Def Leppard and Chicago. (When I worked in the music industry, I would be incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to work with or meet a few of my heroes who recorded some those songs, such as David Thoener, Mike Shipley and Csaba Petocz.). In 1988, my Dad became the superintendent at North Hopkins ISD, where I had attended kindergarten and in the area in which we actually lived, but a place in which, since the time that my grandparents had retired from education, I had really not had a lot of connection with up to that time.

In high school, at North Hopkins, I eventually started listening to the music that was on my grandfather’s radio in his farm truck once more and this reconnected me to country music at a time in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the genre was going through a true renaissance. I enjoyed listening to Travis Tritt, Little Texas, Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Alabama, Restless Heart, Keith Whitley, Steve Wariner, George Strait, Clint Black, Vince Gill, Brooks and Dunn, Lorrie Morgan, Shenandoah and Dwight Yoakum. I started listening to country music in high school after joining the baseball team during my junior year and finding success in something other than just academics. In school, I really enjoyed my Journalism, English and History classes. After graduating from North Hopkins High School in 1993, I began my studies at The University of Texas at Austin. In the beginning of my college experience, I wanted to be a history teacher and a coach, but after going to a series of concerts, dance halls and while listening to the music in my grandfather’s truck when visiting the family farm at home, I changed my major to try to figure out a way to step into the business of recording music. I was also very lucky-- while I was working in the communications program, I had a cousin who worked in a drum shop and was also a professional session musician who played in a number of country, rock and blues music bands in Austin, at the time-- Keith Robinson. For a pair of my class projects, Keith brought in his bandmates and I recorded them. It was a great experience for me and a tremendous amount of fun. I was hooked. I wanted to work in the business and to record great music. (I will tell the story of how I became an assistant engineer for a major record producer and had the opportunity to work with so many wonderful engineers, artists and musicians in another post some other time.)

I wanted to work with the best and to learn from them, too. I began to look at studios where my favorite music was being recorded and at who the engineers were that actually engineered the music that I had loved and cherished at the time. The studios were places like The Castle, OmniSound, SoundStage, Emerald, The Sound Emporium, Masterfonics and The SoundShop which were located in the Nashville metro area and Ardent Recording Studios which was located in Memphis, Tennessee. Among the engineers whose names I kept reading in the credits of every cassette and compact disc from country music at the time were Chuck Ainlay, Bob Bullock, John Guess, John Hampton, Ron Treat, Scott Hendricks, Pete Green, Kevin Beamish, Mike Clute, Lynn Peterzell and Mike Bradley. And too, there were the assistant engineers— names like Craig White, Mark Capps, Patrick Kelly, Russ Martin, Julian King, Aaron Swihart, Rickey Cobble, David Boyer and Marty Williams. But there was one name that kept coming up over and over again in my research and it seemed like he was the engineer behind the creation of so many of my favorite songs. It was a dream of mine to be able to have the opportunity to work with him as an assistant engineer. I would be blessed to have that opportunity— and now, I want to take the time to tell you one of the greatest stories in the history of professional music recording. It is the story of the amazing journey of the life and career of my friend and a truly legendary, Grammy-Award winning, recording studio engineer— Steve Marcantonio. (The image is of my friend and a great mentor, Steve Marcantonio posing with the Grammy-Award for engineering that he would earn in 2016 after his work on the documentary for the legendary Glen Campbell, "I'll Be Me.)

This picture is of the patch bay and gear racks at Curb Studio in Nashville, Tennessee. My friend, Craig White, had just completed an overdub session when I snapped this photograph.


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