Off the Record

Music News

Off the Record
Photos by John Anderson

End of an Ear

Much like Riverboat Gambler Mike Wiebe's Chronicle-sponsored trip to the chiropractor (see "Rattle Me Bones," April 21, 2006), OTR visited the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians' third hearing clinic this year on Monday at the Gibson Guitar Showroom to find out firsthand the effects of a life perpetually turned up to 11. Funded this year by the Cain Foundation, the clinics are a direct response to the results of HAAM's 2008 customer satisfaction survey. Thus far, 180 musicians have been screened and received custom earplugs, while four additional sessions are scheduled to take place next year. "Musicians can't afford not to protect their hearing," stresses Soriya Estes (pictured), of Central Texas' Estes Audiology Hearing Center, which partnered with HAAM earlier this year to provide its services. "Hearing loss is irreversible. This is their profession and livelihood."

The $25 consultation is basically a two-step process (three for those who need help getting the wax out). First, there's the actual screening, which involves listening through headphones to tonal beeps of varying volumes and pitches, kind of like sampling an isolated vocal track by Van Halen. Then, impressions of both ears are cast for Etymotic Research filtered plugs (a $150 value), which reduce low bass, midrange, and high treble notes all by the same decibel limit – a choice of 9 decibels, 15 decibels, or 25 decibels – whereas foam plugs primarily cut out and muffle the high end. Since opening one's mouth also opens the ear canals a bit, singers wear a bite block when getting their casts made.

OTR is pleased to report that his hearing checked out all right, but some notable locals didn't fare quite as well. Michael Kingcaid of What Made Milwaukee Famous, who visited an audiologist about six months ago after experiencing some hearing difficulties, bemoaned that his "low end was gone," while Omar Vallejo has moderate to moderately severe damage in his high-end frequencies (pitches from 2,000 to 8,000 hertz). "After 25 years, there's going to be some damage," relates the Vallejo bassist. "It's probably about as bad as my liver."

Some Tidbits OTR Gathered During His Examination:

• According to Soriya Estes, it's safe to listen to 80 decibels for an eight-hour time period. For every five-decibel increase in volume, the safe period is cut in half (e.g., 85 decibels equal four hours).

• Orchestral musicians have some of the highest rates of noise-induced hearing loss due to the sound pressure in the orchestral pit.

• The main hazard for musicians is actually the drummer's high hat cymbals.

• Humming creates some internal hearing protection as it contracts the bones of the middle ear, blocking a portion of the sound from being transmitted through to the inner ear.

• That ringing sensation after loud shows takes 16 to 18 hours to resolve.

• iPods now come with a feature that allows users to set a cap of 80 decibels on the volume to reduce the damage caused by earbud headphones.

Emergency Broadcast System

Jody Denberg
Jody Denberg (Photo by John Anderson)

Stepping out of the studio booth at KGSR on Monday night, Jody Denberg looked exhausted but relieved. Last Friday, the veteran local deejay announced his resignation after 19 years as the station's voice and vision, effective after KGSR's annual anniversary show Dec. 5 with Rosanne Cash, the Gourds, and Bob Schneider. "The number one factor was personal," relates Denberg, who recently turned 50 and was diagnosed with diabetes. "The best thing I've had to offer is my passion for things, and I'm kind of burnt out. I need to take better care of my health." Making the decision a bit easier were the layoffs of KGSR staples "Big" Jyl Herschman and former Music Director Susan Castle. "I don't begrudge anyone here for those decisions," Denberg relates, "but it is a little less fun without them." A New York native and early Chronicle contributor, Denberg found his voice at the University of Texas' The Daily Texan before working his way up the ladder at KLBJ, serving as music director toward the end of his 10-year tenure ("I got into it to get free CDs, and I got all of them"). In 1990, he helped transform KGSR from a smooth-jazz station into the adult alternative beacon it remains today. He also served as executive producer for KGSR's Broadcasts series, which, since Volume 5, has raised more than $2 million for the SIMS Foundation. "It's not false modesty to say I'm not KGSR," Denberg counters. "The brand is strong enough to be operated by other people that have a similar passion. Maybe it's time for another person to put their perspective on it."

Random Play

Jesse Dayton (l) backstage with Roky Erickson
Jesse Dayton (l) backstage with Roky Erickson (Courtesy of Jesse Dayton)

Billed and disguised as Captain Clegg & the Night Creatures, local honky-tonk hero Jesse Dayton put forth a Frankenstein of American music last Tuesday for Rob Zombie's Hellbilly Deluxe 2 stop at the Austin Music Hall, with a psychedelic go-go version of the Misfits' "Hollywood Babylon" and the rockabilly raunch of Banjo & Sullivan's "I'm at Home Getting Hammered (While She's Out Getting Nailed)." Roky Erickson made a cameo for "I Walked With a Zombie," which took a Western turn behind the Night Creatures' pedal steel. "How cool was that?" asked Dayton afterward. "He's the father of the horror-rock genre."

Ray Benson and Carolyn Wonderland were among the artists who took part in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's tribute, Kozmic Blues: The Life and Music of Janis Joplin, on Saturday in Chicago. The following evening, Wonderland, who's working on a new album at Bismeaux Studio, sat in with Guy Forsyth and Kris Kristofferson at Levon Helm's weekly Midnight Ramble in Woodstock, N.Y.

Hate to be the one to stop the rumor mill, but Kanye West hasn't purchased the top floor of the Austonian, according to condo spokeswoman Cile Montgomery.

Yet another bombshell from Emmis Communications: The entire staff for Hot 93.3 – "#1 for non-stop hip hop" – was laid off on Tuesday. The station is unveiling a new format on Friday.

High Voltage

The fourth annual HAAM Benefit Day on Sept. 22 raised $164,000, led by a $25,000 matching grant from Topfer Family Foundation. For the occasion, 170 local businesses donated 5% of their sales and/or made a donation to the nonprofit, which has provided low-cost medical and mental-health services to more than 1,600 artists to date. "It's a testament to how amazing our community is and that they recognize the importance of the work that we do," beams HAAM Executive Director Carolyn Schwarz, who set a goal of $150,000. The 2010 edition is set for Sept. 21.

On Friday at Stubb's, Conor Oberst apologized once more for his Bush-baited tirade against Texas at Fort Worth's Ridglea Theater in 2005. His Monsters of Folk – with Austin's Will Johnson out front for a chilling rendition of "Just to Know What You've Been Dreaming" – made up for it by donating $1 per ticket to HAAM, totaling approximately $2,000.

Local salon Birds Barbershop raised more than $500 for HAAM at last weekend's Fun Fun Fun Fest, cropping about 70 heads on-site. To make a donation or apply for membership, visit

Music news

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Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, Estes Audiology Hearing Center, KGSR, Jody Denberg, Jesse Dayton, Carolyn Wonderland, Augie Meyers, Jerry Wexler

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