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Behind the Board: Curt Hall, Sound Man Extraordinaire
by Mark Wright
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s my band finished our first set at Terre Haute’s Teepee Tavern last Saturday, I set my guitar on its stand and headed straight to the table I had been eyeing. “How’s the balance? Vocals coming out okay? Anyone too loud?” I asked the man in the ball cap.
“Your vocal needs to come up a little; other than that, it sounds pretty good.”
That’s high praise coming from the most respected soundman in the Wabash Valley, Curt Hall. I was merely doing what many of us musicians do when we see Hall sitting in the audience on one of the rare nights he is not mixing some other band. Hall is a sound god to us; he’s the one we want working the board, he’s the one we consult if there are problems, and he’s the one we want to hear say, “It sounds good.” You will hear that from virtually every musician in the area.
There are a few sound men around who do admirable jobs mixing for local bands on weekends. And then there is Curt Hall. For about the last 35 years, 53-year-old Hall has been good enough at his job to make a living doing it full-time. “At first, when the gigs were not so plentiful, I tried doing other weekday jobs—being a mechanic, working in an electrician’s shop. But it eventually got to be, hey, I can make more money on a weekend than I do all week doing this stuff. And about that time churches started calling and saying, hey, will you come in and fix this for us, or install a system for us, and it just took off from there.”
Hall estimates he does sound for about 80 shows a year, some simply by going in and mixing, and others providing the entire sound system and setup. He has done shows in every state except Alaska and Hawaii, and most of the Canadian provinces. Acts such as B. B. King, Vince Gill, Sandy Patty, Sawyer Brown, the Little River Band, Cheap Trick, and the Spinners have utilized Hall’s talents, and many other old-time bands like Herman’s Hermits, who are now coming back and playing smaller festivals, often find Hall behind the board.
******** “I was doing sound for some big function in Philadelphia in a hotel ballroom back in 2008. Vince Gill and Newt Gingrich were both on the bill. So we got everything set up, and then Homeland Security made us all leave so they could sweep the place for bombs or whatever. Then they wouldn’t let me back in, because I wasn’t on their list. I said to them, ‘Okay, when Newt is up there in the dark and no one can hear him, my name is Curt Hall. I’ll be sitting right here.’ Sure enough, five minutes later they come and get me.” --Curt Hall ********
The music bug bit Hall early. “I remember walking home from kindergarten in Carpenterville, Illinois, and hearing this rock band practicing in a basement. I wandered in there and sat on the steps and listened to them day after day.” For Christmas that year, he asked for a revolving pinwheel psychedelic light like the drummer of that basement band had behind him, and a tape recorder. “I didn’t get the light, but my parents bought me a little reel-to-reel tape machine and I went around recording everything. I thought it was amazing how it would slow down when the batteries got low, then speed up with new batteries. I guess I was already messing with effects.”
That little reel-to-reel machine has evolved into Chief Lemon Head Studio, a state-of-the-art facility he built beside his home near Lewis, Indiana, where he just finished recording his 4th CD this year. Hall makes this studio accessible and affordable to everyone. For 45 dollars an hour, an incredible bargain even the most indigent of us musicians can afford, any band or artist can utilize both Hall’s studio and his ears. And believe me, Curt Hall will make you sound exactly the way you want to sound.
When Hall is not working on a CD or doing a show, he is installing and tweaking systems in various venues around the area, including many churches. He has cultivated enough of a reputation that he has all the work he wants, filling his weekdays between his mostly-weekend shows.
Hall has come a long way from his first sound gigs with local bands. He recalls going on the road for a while in 1982 with Dee and the Red Hots, living out of hotels and running someone else’s system. Today, he can set up his own hanging cabinets: eight boxes, each with two tens, two sixes, and 2 ones—and give you all the power you need. Or you can go with a smaller setup; Hall has 3 different systems he will use depending on the needs of the venue.
Hall was doing sound for the Macdaddys, a popular Terre Haute band, in The Verve one night right after it opened in 2000. Connie Wrin, The Verve’s owner, came up to him and told him she had never heard such good sound. “Hey, I’ve got this little festival coming up, and I want you to do it.” That little festival was the first Blues at the Crossroads, and Hall has done the sound every year. It is now one of the premier music festivals in the Midwest, attracting thousands every year. “I couldn’t have the festival without Curt. He’s that good,” Wrin says. “I just love Curt Hall.”
With the hundreds of gigs Hall has worked, I knew he had to have a good story or two. “I was doing sound for some big function in Philadelphia in a hotel ballroom back in 2008. Vince Gill and Newt Gingrich were both on the bill. So we got everything set up, and then Homeland Security made us all leave so they could sweep the place for bombs or whatever. Then they wouldn’t let me back in, because I wasn’t on their list. I said to them, ‘Okay, when Newt is up there in the dark and no one can hear him, my name is Curt Hall. I’ll be sitting right here.’ Sure enough, five minutes later they come and get me.”
As much as he enjoys working the big acts, Hall enjoys working local events such as the Blues at the Crossroads and the Casey popcorn festival, which he does every year, also. “When you get people like Connie and Bennie Morgan (in Casey), people who appreciate music and want to bring it to the people, it’s a joy.” I would put Hall in that category, too. He brings music to the people in an inconspicuous way. He doesn’t want to be noticed.
“A guitarist once told me, ‘You don’t choose music, it chooses you.’ And that’s so true.” I am glad, and so are many listeners who may not even be aware of it, that music chose Curt Hall.
You can check Curt out on his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=chief%20lemon%20head%20studio
or contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org