Most Importantly, Qualified

A conversion from punk to useful human being.

By Sully March 20, 2017

To be clear, I was not an engineer sycophant when I was a puppy. But I had concluded – based upon my hours of experience – that force of personality and the imitable ability to hang typically superseded any true mixing ability.

This mangled Aristotelian logic brought me to some simple conclusions: the louder and friendlier a guy was, the less qualified he was. Quiet and unassuming? Well obviously still waters run deep. Time would later prove this and many of my other theories worthless, but I was 22 and knew everything.

Turned out Redford would be the beginning of my conversion from punk embryo to useful human being. He demonstrated to me that in addition to being loud, funny, and sarcastic, he was most importantly qualified.

He was batting in the Show and I was pretty impressed with myself for hitting off Little League pitchers. Never once, though, did he point that out to me.

He so dwarfed me in skill … yet had absolutely no need to mention it.

In fact, quite the opposite, during the day he would ask me questions and solicit my opinions.

At night, he’d spin up a mix that made Frankie sound way better than he had any right to, finish his drink, shake my hand assuring me we’d “fooled them again,” and then disappear. I’d spend the rest of load-out striking the PA while collecting murmured compliments from the exiting audience.

With each one I dutifully disavowed my role in the night’s success promising to pass the praise on to the mix engineer. And I always did. Or I mostly always did. Secretly I hoarded small pieces of each note and nod, hoping later to puzzle them together into a map that might point me to the Show someday.

I’ve lost track of Redford. But no matter. I’ve never lost track of the course he accidentally or purposefully set me on. It took 18 years of hindsight to truly appreciate the beauty of his unintended education.

Had he spoken at me, I would have turned all medieval and disaffected twenty-something on him, demonstrating my lethal ability to maim with a single contemptuous roll of my eyes. Instead, he included me as an equal part of his adventure, casually pointing out things he had discovered along the way. I was free to participate or not, but I was welcomed along if I wanted to come.

When it came time for the show, he would continue to point out the foibles of the world with one hand while he made the PA broadcast his right to speak with the other.

I think about Redford sometimes when I’m faced with someone young, eager and already in possession of the secrets of the world. It causes me to pause and consider inflicting patience on them instead of strychnine.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly comfortable vetting young engineers by drowning them under mountains of broken cables and castors to see how badly they really wanna play… But I know in doing that, I’m striking a bargain to pass on information that was passed on to me. The method of delivery, though, will determine how well they absorb those lessons.

In the end, they’re the next round, no matter what we say. My generation will pull the bus door shut after our final load-out, and then it’ll be their turn to live out all of the Jackson Browne songs. Might be nice though if we offered them a drink when we see them off to the Show.

Editor’s Note: Find out more about Jim “Redford” Sanders here.

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About Sully


Sully collects cuneiform prediction software and the souls of FOH mixers. He’s currently serving as the system engineer on the Bruno Mars 24K world tour.
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