Robbie Stokes

Robbie Stokes

Unsung heroes of rock abound behind the scenes. Essential to any show, the hard-working crew people keep the train on the tracks and the big dog barking. For this week's musings, and in keeping with the local, regional and SIU Carbondale angle, I will sing the praises of a few of the many illustrious audio engineering and production personnel who have, if I may paraphrase David St. Hubens in the movie "Spinal Tap," "...drifted through my transom."

My associates over the years have moved on to some cool endeavors — not just the musicians, but the technicians, as well. They are my friends more than "employees," and I always want them to get out there and DO IT TO IT.

Geoff Miller does corporate sound in Chicago. Mike Sharp has been sound tech/recording engineer at the famous Fitzgerald’s in Berwyn, Illinois for nearly three decades. Eric Hansen, formerly on the production team at House of Blues-Chicago and now running a corporate A/V business in Austin, Texas. Scott Munson, former sound technician at Winston’s in San Diego, then House of Blues-San Diego and now with Live Nation.

Brian Shulenberg is the sound guy for the band Cornmeal, out of Chicago, and works at the city’s well-known Deltronics electronics repair outlets. Scott McBride graduated from SIUC and went to the Fort Collins, Colorado Civic Auditorium. Andrew Beer also graduated SIUC and moved on to audio company Logic Systems in St. Louis. Mike "Wake" Wakefield, my associate for years at Gatsby’s, runs his own audio concern out of Benton, Illinois, and Mark Armitage, ditto — up until recently — out of Louisville, Kentucky.

Gary Griffith now works as recording engineer/multimedia communications specialist in the School of Music at SIUC and is, thankfully, still our consultant. Alex Kirt of the Woodbox Gang holds a position as audio instructor and assistant professor at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville. Ken Benson is A/V engineer for the History Colorado Center in Denver. Dan Goett has been doing something out of the ordinary in helping to manufacture pipe organ parts, also in Colorado, while still playing the odd Woodbox Gang gig and teaching guitar. The Woodbox Gang is playing at this weekend’s Wander Down Fest near Carbondale.

Andrew Linley is a partner in a sound company in Effingham, Illinois, and was hired as front-of-house engineer at one point by Five Finger Death Punch. He has also toured with Paramore/Hello, Goodbye and Pentatonix/Rachel Platten. He is touring now with the very up-and-coming band Highly Suspect and also plays in a band (The Penny Serfs) with the road crew from The National.

Kyle Toth moved on to production manager at the Rose Theatre in Omaha, Nebraska, but prior to that had an enviable career with a major cruise line. As a car guy, one of my favorite stories regards when Kyle got flown to Europe to do sound and production at the dock near one of the line’s big cruise ships for the roll-out of the then-new Porsche Panamera, with the event held at the harbor at Nice, France. Somehow the lucky son-of-a-gun, along with another official, was also able to drive the Panamera from France to a second and similar debut in Italy. Note: You can get PAID for this!

Some associates haven’t stayed in the biz, though they were aces. All were and are my brothers (and a few sisters) in arms.

The technician with hands-down the most stupendously memorable credit list has to be my friend and former associate Tony Alaimo, from Joliet and Chicago. Tony is a drummer who came to the SIU School of Music over a decade ago and found his way to my business (Robco Audio) as an intern. He has taken a different tack by obtaining the requisite permit and becoming a PYROTECHNICIAN, and now works for Strictly FX, one of the live music world’s top touring effects production companies. If you saw Beyonce, Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake and other Super Bowl Halftime performances in the last decade or so, you have seen this former Saluki blowing stuff up as Strictly FX has done six of those shows. The company has won the prestigious Parnelli Award in the effects category nine times. Pyrotechnics, lasers, cryogenics, confetti ... they do it all. With headquarters in Chicago, Nashville and Los Angeles, the company is a force to be reckoned with worldwide.

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Tony has worked major tours on every continent except Antarctica and in every state in the U.S. except Alaska. Those tours include: Shakira, rapper Travis Scott, Justin Bieber, Ne-Yo, Roger Waters (two different tours), Black Eyed Peas (nine months worldwide), Korn, Chance the Rapper, Eminem, Bad Bunny, Coldplay, J. Lo, Cheap Trick, Rob Zombie, Ariana Grande, Spice Girls, Motley Crue, Black Sabbath, Mastodon, Green Day, Britney Spears, Kanye West, Drake, Kiss, Blink 182, Lil’ Wayne, Kings of Leon, Eric Church, Rascal Flatts, Taylor Swift, Aerosmith, Fall Out Boy, Skrillex, Yes, Jason Aldean, X Japan, The Weeknd, Avenged Sevenfold and many more. Tony just finished up the Aftershock Festival in Sacramento, California, has a gig coming up at the Hollywood Bowl, flies home to Chicago to do pyro for a Chicago Wolves game, then is on to Saudi Arabia to ramrod a WWE event. Impressive!

It just goes to show you that time spent here in the ‘Dale learning, working and playing can lead to great things. Bet!

A few tidbits to close out this week’s effort:

Sharp-eyed locals who used to see our high-school rock band The Viscounts may recall that we had a bespoke and very Halloween-sounding instrument called a THERAMIN, a field proximity device, made from published plans by band saxaphonist/rhythm guitarist Dick Berry.

R&B great Martin "Big Larry" Albritton, much like the Chicago Cubs’ Harry Caray when commentating on a game, used to mangle the odd last name when announcing band members over the mic. For quite some time when touring with Larry we would notice that he would shout-out rhythm guitarist Ray Ramirez as "Ray Remorse." I thought it was just a punk-rock nickname!

I met Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead for the first time at their infamous St. Louis Armory show in 1968. He was playing Frisbee in a hallway on break and I got up my gumption and approached him, no problem, as there was zero security. I told him our band Devil’s Kitchen was moving as a group to San Francisco and asked for any tips on survival. He replied, inscrutably and quite Zen-like: “It’s all survival, man.”

Michael McKean’s "Spinal Tap" character name David St. Hubens was inspired by singer Derek St. Holmes (Ted Nugent Band). St. Holmes was mentioned in my "Gatsby’s" article Oct. 10.

Column | Robbie Stokes: Memories of Carbondale's Gatsby's: The Byrds, REM, Steven Tyler and more

Au revoir, folks!

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Robbie Stokes is a longtime musician in the Carbondale music scene and the owner of Robco Audio.


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