Paying It Forward

At one point in my teenage years I wanted to become a sound engineer. I liked sitting behind the mixer, blending the sounds the individual microphones picked up into the whole piece that the audience heard. In one of those interesting twists that compose a life, I had the opportunity to learn, at least for a short while, from one of the masters of the craft.

He went to the same church I did. I really don’t know but I suppose he was in his mid-twenties when I started nipping at his heals, begging him to let me hang around him. I was sixteen or seventeen at the time. My interest in sound was more about being cool than any understanding of the art. I had a very basic understanding of electricity, nowhere near enough to understand the complexities of the equipment I wanted to work with. I had even less of an understanding of the physical properties of sound. What I knew was standing behind that huge control panel with more buttons, knobs, and meters than anything I had ever seen was the coolest thing I had ever seen. And I wanted to be that cool guy.

I bugged this poor guy insistently. He was always patient and friendly but a little distant. I kept asking. As opportunities came up I got to run sound for various groups at the church. Every chance I got I would ask my ‘friend’ (at this point he probably didn’t think of me as a friend) about how to do it better. Several times he asked me to come and help him set up. Maybe he didn’t ask. Maybe I just showed up. At any rate, he never threw me out, never yelled at me for doing it wrong. He’d show me how to do it right and let me do it over. I remember helping him set up one time, I was suppose to tape down the cables. I ran the tape across the cables about every five feet. He said, “yeah, that’s good but that’s not how we do it.” He showed me how to do it and then left me to do it over again. On the occasions when he came to shows where I was doing the sound, he always told me I was doing good. I probably sucked.

I don’t remember exactly how it happened but finally, one day, this friend of mine, Jack Joseph Puig invited me to come sit in on one of his sessions. Holy cow, I thought I had really made it. We met at church and rode to the studio in his Porsche, a restored ‘bathtub’ model. That day was a learning experience from start to finish. He was telling me about cars stereos, speakers, and music in the car on the way there. He didn’t seem to mind talking shop with some kid. It was cool.

I had no idea what Jack was working on. He just invited me to come to the studio one day. So, imagine my surprise when I walk into the studio and find Sweet Comfort band sitting there. Actually, we got there way ahead of the band members to make sure the studio was ready. So, the surprise was in watching them walk in. Best I can remember and figure out, Sweet Comfort band was working on their Breakin’ the Ice album. I don’t remember much about the music that day. I remember a lot of the discussions with Jack. I remember the control room of the studio like it was yesterday.

The mixer was the biggest I’d ever seen. I remember thinking, “crap, I’ll never be able to remember what mike is on which channel.” Puig went through all of the equipment, explained every piece. Answered questions. And then he went to work. Obviously, I couldn’t do any of the mix but it was awesome to watch and hear the sound come together. This was back in the days of analog when everything was recorded to tape. Jack showed me how to cut tape on a machine designed for the purpose. It had a splicing block right on it.

I’m not sure what happened after that. Jack got busy or maybe I didn’t progress enough. I looked into a couple of sound engineering schools but they cost a lot of money that I didn’t have and really didn’t know how to get at that time in my life. Much of what Jack taught me is still with me. I still use the skills that I learned way back then. Whenever happened, Jack was one of the good guys.

Jack Joseph Puig is very successful today. Several of the articles I read called him one of LA’s first call sound engineer/producer. Good, I’m glad. I was an annoying, little kid. Jack Joseph Puig could have told me as much and sent me on my way. He didn’t. I suspect that he doesn’t even remember me. That’s fine. I’m sure a lot of wanna-be’s have crossed his path. I think it is terribly cool to be able to say that I knew Jack, that he invited me to sit in on some of his work. Jack Joseph Puig probably does not remember me but I think of him every time I touch a microphone.

Thank you, Jack. Thanks for the memory.


[posted with ecto]

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