Ben Jumper has been pretty good at seizing opportunities.
In the early 1970s, he was introduced to the music business when he joined a crew that loaded equipment into Memorial Auditorium. They got to watch the show for free. That led to a four-year stint with Charlie Daniels as part of his touring crew.
When he returned to Chattanooga, he decided to build on what he knew, so he and his wife, Katie, started Chatta/Tik Outlets and later, in 1981, Catering to the Stars. Three years later, he started Mid-America Entertainment Services, which supplied outdoor entertainment staging. In 1992, he started Crew One Productions, which provides labor for concerts and special events. He sold Chatta/Tik in 1987 and the catering business and Mid-America in 2004.
He nearly missed out on what has become his biggest opportunity, however.
One afternoon in 2004, Soundcheck Nashville owner Bob "Norton" Thompson matter-of-factly told Jumper that he wanted him to buy his business, which provides office space for music-related businesses; backline musical equipment for musical award shows; as well as storage, rehearsal, studio and warehouse space for artists.
"I thought he was kidding and I walked away," Jumper said of Thompson's offer.
A few days later, a mutual friend told Jumper he had really hurt Thompson's feelings.
"I was in his office the next morning apologizing," Jumper said.
Since buying Soundcheck Nashville in 2004, the Jumpers have tripled the size of the facility to 160,000 square feet, and they have tripled the business, Jumper said.
They've also expanded the company to include a Soundcheck Austin in Texas, and they purchased Center Staging in Los Angeles. Crew One now has 75 full-time employees in Nashville, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Austin and Burbank, Calif., and another 1,000 are contracted to work concerts and special events.
During the Nashville flooding of 2010, Soundcheck was essentially underwater and millions of dollars worth of equipment was lost. Jumper said the experience was "an emotional rollercoaster. And, it still is."
Q: I'm having a hard time picturing the offices at Soundcheck Nashville. Is it like a giant mall?
A: In a way, yes. Except for one of them, none of the businesses are retail shops. They are about artist relations and they are the heavyweights in music. Fender, Peavey, Shure microphones, StageCall Trucking, Meyer Sound and Ed Beaver Guitars are there.
You can literally walk in the front door of Soundcheck and book your trucking for a tour. You can book your video for a tour. You can rehearse for your tour and you can negotiate an endorsement deal. You have direct contact to all the industry people. It is the largest facility of its kind in the world and we've turned it into the standard.
Q: What is done at the office here in Chattanooga?
A: It is basically an accounting office for all four of our companies. We also share that office with Crew One, which provides labor here in Chattanooga.
Q: You have locker spaces at Soundcheck. Every musician I ever knew kept his stuff in his basement. Are these for guys that have outgrown the basement.
A: Yes. Some of these guys have huge collections of equipment. During the flood, I'm going to say there were tens of millions of dollars worth of equipment lost. I literally saw thousands of guitars go in Dumpsters. (One artist lost 100 of 121 guitars, Jumper said.)
Q: What was going through the flood and the aftermath like?
A: It was such a humbling experience. Just going through it. We were all in it together. Katie and I virtually lost our life savings overnight. The only reason we are back open is the bands said, "You have to come back. We need you." The businesses supported us. We managed to provide equipment for FanFest, which was a week or two later.
Q: Didn't Brad Paisley lose all of his staging and he was about to go out on tour?
A: Paisley was about to go out and Keith Urban [was also]. We have all of those people back.
A lot of bad happened, but I guess the good thing you can say is we are not just back, but we are back brand new. I've got Kenny Chesney in there rehearsing all month. Lady Antebellum has been there the last three days.
If there is any indication from our rehearsal schedules, the entertainment industry should be back better than last year, which was rough.
Contact Barry Courter at email@example.com or at 423-757-6354.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...
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