West Virginia man lives dream, touring world with rock acts
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — With a Soundwave file tattoo on his arm spelling out “Live The Dream,” Bruce Hendrix hoists a pint at Black Sheep Burritos and Brews, savoring the sights and sounds of his hometown.
“Man, I have 400,000 miles on American Airlines. I am only home for a week and I don’t want to go anywhere,” Hendrix said.
Hendrix is not an airline pilot, he’s “Haystax” - a nickname earned as one of the most trusted keyboard technicians in the music touring industry. And this summer, the 1986 Huntington East High School and Marshall University graduate is celebrating his 19th year in the music touring industry in style.
Hendrix has spent the first half of the summer in Europe on tour with The Hollywood Vampires (Alice Cooper, Joe Perry and Johnny Depp) as the keyboard tech and Depp’s guitar tech.
“I am on stage everyday. Sometimes, it is on the fun side of the stage and sometimes it’s on the responsible side of the stage - still here is my office on a Friday night - 150,000 people at HellFest,” Hendrix said with a laugh.
Getting from Huntington to L.A. to work with Fleetwood Mac didn’t happen overnight.
“It all goes back to being at the Huntington Civic Center on Sept. 9, 1979, KISS and Judas Priest. I just remember being there and the spectacle of it all, seeing Rob Halford and Gene Simmons. I knew right then and there that is what I wanted to do,” he said.
To help kick-start that rock and roll fantasy, Hendrix knew he wanted to play drums at Beverly Hills Middle School.
“I just knew as soon as they offered us a chance to be in band in junior high school I immediately came home and wanted to play the drums. Immediately, I was denied and told here’s your sister’s clarinet. If you want to play something play this. That lasted a year and we had a chance to change instruments. The next thing I did was drag home a sousaphone to get back at my parents,” Hendrix said. “Sousaphone led to bass keyboard for the jazz ensemble because I could read bass clef. That led to the keyboard and to Journey songs and REO Speedwagon. The next thing I know, I answered an ad in The Herald-Dispatch for a keyboard player at age 18 in City Heat.”
Hendrix, who recalls his first out of school gig playing keyboards with the Beverly Hills Jazz Explosion on the Plaza. Then opening for Taylor Dane at the Riverfront, said he became fully immersed in music at high school.
“I think my senior year of high school I had band, marching band, jazz ensemble, choir and music theory, English, Math and Social Studies, so four out of the seven classes were music,” Hendrix said.
Like many folks who grew up in the synthesizer-rich era of the 1980s, Hendrix began really geeking out over all the new technology.
“My senior year of high school my parents bought me a Commodore 64 and I plugged in my DX-7. That whole sequencing and programming and explosion of keyboards, I grew up with all of that,” Hendrix said.
Hendrix originally went to Marshall to get a degree in broadcasting but shifted to the technical end by getting a degree in electronics. He went to work at the Pied Piper, first fixing car stereos and then delving into fixing and selling keyboards. Here, one of the factory reps came in for a company, E-MU Systems. He left impressed, two weeks later he got a cold call from Chuck Sirack, who started what has become one of the world’s largest music stores in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
“I jumped at the chance,” Hendrix said. “I was a technical supervisor. If you needed to know how to do something, you talked to me. We specialized in Kurzweil keyboards and the keyboard was $20,000 that I was tech supporting. I’m immediately talking to Paul Shafer, who still used one on the Letterman Show up to the finish, and talking to Stevie Wonder’s people and Aerosmith were a big client.
“People would be like, ‘How do you do this, how do you do this quick? We don’t want to read the manual.’ That led me going out to do service calls at arenas and teaching keyboard techs. I quickly realized a lot of these guys on the road didn’t know what they were doing.”
By his mid-30s, Hendrix had been at Sweetwater for nine and a half years. He was “over the cubicle” and knew he needed to do something else and decided to dive in head first.
“I got a phone call from Nine Inch Nails and they offered me a gig on their European tour,” Hendrix said. “I just left. I just left without telling anybody. I just locked the house up and left. That was July 27, 1999.
“I flew straight into prepping for a tour and had no clue what I was doing. I had a great bunch of co-workers that took me under their wing. They told me right then, you are never going to do anything else. You know more than anybody we have ever met.”
Chronologically, Hendrix has worked for Nine Inch Nails then Matchbox Twenty, then followed into the world of R&B. There, he worked for Mary J. Blige’s “No More Drama” Tour - that led to gigs with Babyface.
Hendrix got off the road for a bit and moved to Las Vegas where he worked rotating shows with iconic performers like Cher and Bette Midler.
“That led to Stevie Nicks and that led to Fleetwood Mac,” Hendrix said. “And along the way Seal was in there, Guns ‘n’ Roses, and Meatloaf - and now Hollywood Vampires. That was absolutely amazing.
“The whole vibe of that group is to honor their dead, drunk friends, so it really is a cover band but Alice especially nails Morrison. It was just amazing, the three of them (Johnny Depp, Alice Cooper and Joe Perry) coming together. This particular incarnation of it was just stellar and they are just the sweetest guys in the world and just went out and blew everybody off the stage. It was the most fun gig I have ever had.”
While Hendrix is a veteran go-to guy for production, he also has plenty of musical chops, which have landed him on stage with some of the world’s largest bands, including Fleetwood Mac.
“I started with them when Christine (McVie) wasn’t there ... because they need two keyboardists in that band. I became that other keyboard player for the first year I worked for them,” Hendrix said. “I was there the day she came back and played one song and got back on stage - and that started the whole thing. She came and rehearsed with us.”
Hendrix said everyone is looking forward to this new Fleetwood Mac tour that has guitarist Mike Campbell, of The Heartbreakers, and Neil Finn, of Crowded House in addition to Mick Fleetwood, Christine and John McVie and Stevie Nicks.
“We’re looking forward to a new tour and a new sound,” Hendrix said. “I think the band is looking forward to being a little different. I think it is going to be a little more exciting. I hope the fans embrace Neil and Mike.”
Hendrix has been with Aerosmith longer than he has been with any other band.
“To be on stage, at the NFL kick-off party with Aerosmith with 200,00 people in The Mall, with fireworks going off - that’s just magic,” Hendrix said.
When Aerosmith is on tour, Hendrix cues several songs with a click that starts the video and lights, and thus Steven Tyler yells out “Haystax.”
“Standing on stage at any event looking over the sea of people. Oh, my finger is what starts the whole thing. You can get bogged down in the negative of this life, but no matter how bad, I just go back and think, ‘Would you like fries with that?’ There are people who I went to high school with that are no longer with us because of this city. They were going to be successful, so I am just very grateful to be able to live my dream and to let kids know you can do this. If you work really hard you can be on the road, making really good money and are the right-hand man to Steven Tyler. I am the the guy who makes sure that piano works before he sits down to sing, ‘Dream On.’ ”
While many artists and crews only see the inside of stadiums or venues and hotel rooms, Hendrix, who has been to nearly 50 countries, has tried to always carve out time to take advantage of traveling all over the world. Thanks to growing up with his dad’s darkroom at the house, Hendrix, a life-long photographer, never is far from his camera, which he was able to use just a few weeks ago during a one-of-a-kind tour of the Vatican.
“I saw this tour that starts at 6 a.m., and literally the Vatican key guy just opens the back door and lets you in the back door of the museum. There was six of us on the tour and each one of us got to open a door,” he said. “Whew, to be there when the light came on. That was one of those bucket list things that I didn’t realize was on my bucket list.”
Like a lot of middle-aged folks, Hendrix was drawn back home when a parent became ill. His mother, who has since passed away, was diagnosed with cancer, and he moved back home in 2010 to Huntington.
Hendrix, who has four older siblings, said coming home after so many years felt odd but right.
“It is crazy because I will be on stage at Dodgers Stadium for a sold-out concert on a Friday night and then I will be at the Walmart on Route 60 on Saturday night,” Hendrix said laughing. “It’s somewhat of a crazy culture shock sometimes.”
While Hendrix is back on the road with his “crew family,” he said when he is back home in Huntington this winter he hopes to be able to put together a presentation to get to some Huntington area schools, let his fellow band geeks know that if you dream it, and work it, you can rock it in the music business.
“My mom used to always look at me and say ‘How do you know this stuff?’ And I’m just like, I just do, I just got my head around it,” Hendrix said. “Every time I have a chance to speak to band kids, I really want them to know I was that kid sitting in the back row with a tuba and wanting to be a rock star.”
Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, http://www.herald-dispatch.com