“Our brakes went out in Colfax, mon!”
“We heard that so many times at Humpty’s, usually from reggae bands, it ended up as a sign backstage,” laughs Blake Beeman, local sound engineer at the Crystal Bay Club casino. I personally always noticed over the years of working with Blake that overall, even in stressful scenarios (like when we disagreed on something or I dressed up as him on Halloween), he kept a very even-keeled, humble and funny demeanor. Depending on how long you’ve live in Tahoe, if you ever attended concerts at Humpty’s, Elevation, River Ranch, Crystal Bay Club, Sierra Vista, Rosie’s, Blue Agave, The Funk and Jam Fest, Commons Beach or Blues Days at Squaw, he’s the main guy that has been behind-the-scenes, and particularly sound boards, making sure the show goes on. While fans, as a general rule, tend to cheer for the band onstage, the unsung heroes of the show like Blake have been there for many hours before the doors open, dialing in the sound and lights.
Sound is vibration, and it can cause us to react in different ways. The way the sound comes out of the speakers to hit the crowd can affect our moods: it can make us irritable, elated, happy, depressed, connected, etc. I’ve joked recently that Blake’s fingers on a soundboard and his speakers have been the cause for so many hook-ups, friendships, marriages, and even babies, but the more I think about it, the more I find it not really a joke, but reality. His devotion to music has had a really powerful effect on the entire community, and world at large.
Blake was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and had his insurance canceled due to “incurable neurological disease.” The Crystal Bay Club and the community are joining together to throw a benefit to help with rising medical costs on January 15th. Dead Winter Carpenters, Jelly Bread and Carolyn Wonderland have donated their talents for a special event we definitely implore you to attend.
I met Blake around 2002 while he was running sound at Sierra Vista, then worked with him at the Crystal Bay Club from about 2005-2010 where I programmed their electronic music (aka “DJ Nights”) and was production manager for a short time (“the water and towel guy”). The amount of laughs was about equal to the number of things I learned about music, but this isn’t about me….
Born in Stuttgart, West Germany, Blake’s father was casual banjo player and Blake asked him for a classical guitar at the age of 5’ which his dad then broke immediately on the way out of the guitar store. Even though he didn’t know how to play, he formed his first band Italic Illusions using cardboard cutouts for amps, drums and speakers and playing to old Beatles records. “I played a tennis racquet for a guitar,” Blake says, and he fired his first in a long series of drummers for going home for bath time.
Around 1971, then located in Upland, California, he was the drummer for the band Half Moon and moved to guitar as a better drummer came to school. Playing rotating covers of the likes of Sabbath, Deep Purple and Steppenwolf at junior high dances, all was well until his amp caught fire and the crowd went crazy, tearing down decorations and they were banned from playing and more shows.
He moves to Pasadena, and was in the band The Wiz Kids, taking lessons from of Eddie Van Halen (“you could go in and learn all the Zeppelin licks you wanted for $10”). At that time he also started working at The Record Plant learning some sound engineering. Afterwards he moved to Hollywood to play with The Touch, where they played the circuit of Madame Wong’s, Starwood, and the Friday Battle of the Bands at The Whiskey A Go-Go, where whoever got the most beer bottles thrown at the stage was asked to play the next day for $200. During this time he had been able to save enough money to buy a PA, so he’d be mixing sound onstage while also playing guitar. Later, a fabled night at Madame Wong’s, which included a gig and a near “Crying Game” moment with a good-looking blonde, he heads north to Tahoe.
He built the Kings Beach Pharmacy with his dad, and started playing in bands again. “Then as life goes full circle….after years trying to land a gig in Hollywood I’m playing a wedding at the River Ranch and meet Dave Mason, who takes me on tour as his guitarist,” Blake laughs. They ended up opening for the likes of Crosby, Stills and Nash, Steve Winwood, etc and playing Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid. All the same time, he’s been playing with his local Tahoe band The Beer Gardeners for the last 21 years.
Yet he still comes back to Tahoe, where he brings his PA into the now-fable Tahoe City venue Humpty’s, (eventually turned to Elevations, now Sawtooth Ridge Café), to do sound for a couple shows. And that was historic moment as Humpty’s went on to host such bands as Cake, No Doubt, Ice-T and Body Count, Galactic, Yonder Mountain String Band, Merle Saunders and many, many more. After many years it was THE stop on the north shore for national touring acts. Another pivotal moment for both Blake and the sound industry, he meets Jim Gamble, one of the premier front-of-house sound engineers whom he builds the DCX board with. Considered one of the best soundboards in the world (the Crystal Bay Club has two of them), it cost him his good vision and hours of his life, but sounds like “angels singing” it’s so clean.
After the closing of Sierra Vista, the Crystal Bay Club opened, and Blake was able to bring his technical knowledge and expertise into the CBC, helping design and build both rooms for Roger and Elise Norman. There he was part of the team making the venue a nationally renowned “nursery for up-and-coming acts” that contained top-of-the-line production for live bands in both rooms. Standing behind the board at the CBC, he is also running lights, doing sound, and mixing the video cameras….”and I can still talk to girls at same time.”
I sat down with Blake for a few questions:
FB: What have been some of your favorite shows you’ve seen:
BB: That’s a near impossible question…I’ve probably seen about 6000 shows! I was roadie Yes for a bit, Jethro Tull “Thick as A Brick,” Band of Utopia (the band that went out on tour after Frank Zappa died), Gov’t Mule at Humptys, I did some of Bonnie Raitt’s acoustic tour, and it was when she was still not-sober ….she was out of her tree, but could sing like a songbird.
FB: Who would you love to see at the CBC?
BB: Warren Haynes for sure. Jimmy Herring…he’s come through with so many incarnations that have just blown the few people in attendance away. Widespread Panic holds him back so much, but I’d love to see him back again in one of his own bands.
FB: Up and coming bands you are loving?
BB:Fox Street All-Stars, Splitlip Rayfield…like Metallica of street grass.
FB: We started working together to do EDM. You didn’t like it at first
BB: No…not that, but sounded like clones of each other. A good producer would come in and I would notice.
But it’s been interesting to see it change all through the years of it getting big, first it was house, then breaks, then trip hop, then dubstep, now trap, now going back to house. People that started it out had to evolve because the crowd got sick of it. The electronic music scene became more than just a scene of drinking beer and water with buddies…people REALLY wanted to hear the tracks. That was really cool.…just like no one wants to hear the same cover band over and over again, people wanted to actually come out and hear the sounds these guys were making. And ya know, EVERYONE starts in a living room doing a house party (bands included).
FB: Any advice for musicians?
BB: Enjoy everything you do as a musician. STAY HUMBLE. Same with sound engineer.
FB: Any advice for up and coming sound engineers?
BB: If learning…be observant without being annoying. When people are working don’t bother them.
9 p.m. Tickets for the 21+ show start at $25, booths for $50. You can purchase pre-sale tickets for the show at the Crystal Bay Club cage or at http://www.cbc.tickets.musictoday.com/CrystalBayCasino/calendar.aspx
If you’d like to donate to Blake there is an internet donation site that you can go to and use Paypal. It is a two-step process. Go to the URL below. Once Tahoetopia comes up enter Blake in the search window on the top right. This will pull up topics relating to Blake. The first is a link to the donation portal.
Here is the URL: http://www.tahoetopia.com/
IS THAT BLAKE?
Photo credit: Truffles Ziz McCrushing