Back in 1985, Joey Harvey was a skinny 15-year-old at Hixson High School.
Like a lot of teenagers, he was into music, but he couldn’t play an instrument. When a friend mentioned that she was in a band that had sound equipment but no knowledge of how to use it, he jumped at the chance to help. Nevermind that he knew nothing about running sound. It was his chance to be a part of a band.
Harvey has been a part of the local music scene ever since. In fact, he calculated recently that he has probably worked with more than 2,000 acts over the years while on the road or working at local clubs like the old Lizard Lounge.
Q: What was the first band you worked with?
A: The first band was Hank in around 1985. I went to school with the guitar player, Leigh Jeffries. She said they had a sound system and no idea how to operate it. It didn’t come with instructions either.
Q: What did you know about running sound?
A: Nothing. It was a leap of faith. I was already into the music and wanted to be a part of it somehow.
What was cool was my mom let me skip school on Fridays sometimes so I could go out of town with the band. I don’t think she exactly knew what all that meant, but it was cool.
Q: Hank was a good band that got some buzz going. Where all did you guys play?
A: We did Nashville, Knoxville, and I remember one show in South Carolina. We were hired by a fraternity, and they paid us to stop playing after 15 minutes. I think they thought we were a ZZ Top cover band or something.
Q: How long did it take before you felt like you knew what you were doing?
A: In the early ’90s, I started doing stuff with Sound Lab ... just learning. That helped me greatly. Then I worked with Irie Nation. They kind of became Milele Roots, which is still playing. Their stuff is very involved so you had to know what you were doing.
I also worked with Kreed, and for a while I would end up doing shows where I would do sound for whoever was playing.
I traveled with The Features out of Murfreesboro and did several tours with them. They opened for Kings of Leon and I did their first UK tour in 2003. I occasionally work with them still. We are still friends.
I should also mention I worked with Steve Casey and his concert and festival services. He really helped me along.
Q: What is the key to being a good sound man?
A: Diplomacy. I’ve gotten way further with diplomacy than I have technical ability. That, and don’t leave (the event). Stay through the show and do your job.
Q: For people who think running sound is just turning the volume knob up and down, what is one thing about doing it that is tougher to do than people think?
A: There are several things. One is being able to discern frequencies so you can avoid those really loud squeals that no one likes. You have to figure it out quickly. It’s a drastic learning curve that takes a little time to learn.
Somehow, some way, my hearing has survived. I’ve been around some very loud sounds and I can still hear you.
Q: What is it you like about being a sound engineer?
A: I guess just the music and being able to ... shape it in my way. And, hopefully I’m shaping it in a way that the band would agree with.
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 ...