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Bruce Hendrix

Bruce Hendrix may not be a household name, but he's got massive street cred where star performers are concerned. Bruce worked his way up from humble beginnings to be the go-to guy for giants like Supertramp, Stevie Nicks, Seal, Aerosmith, Motley CrŁe and more. As a touring keyboard technician, he's been around the world as one of the most trusted names for performers. We recently tracked him down in Chechnya for this exclusive interview:

Alesis: How long have you been a Keyboard Tech?

Bruce Hendrix: Iíve been a keyboard tech pretty much for my whole working life of 25 plus years. I started playing keyboard in high school and always had an interest in electronics. From my first little Radio Shack Moog, I popped it open and when I had a key broken I couldnít afford to take it to the local music store so I just did it myself. I went from there to Service Manager at Sweetwater for about eight years. In 1999 I went on tour with Nine Inch Nails and never went back to the cubicle.

Alesis: Where has your job taken you?

BH: The last couple weeks have been really crazy. Iíve been to Hong Kong, Iíve been to Chechnya, Iíve been to an Island off the coast of Greece, back home for a day, and now I head straight from Chechnya to San Francisco to do a Stevie Nicks show tomorrow.

Alesis: How long have you worked for Stevie?

BH: Just this year I got the job with Stevie Nicks. Before that I was in Vegas. I worked for Bette Midler and Cher. Before that I was the keyboard tech for Aerosmith for about eight years. Iíve worked for Matchbox Twenty and countless others it seems. Iím actually flip-flopping right now between the show here in Chechnya thatís with Seal and shows in the states with Stevie.

Alesis: How did you first hear about the iO Dock?

BH: I first saw it at the Winter NAMM show in 2011.

Alesis: How do you use the iO Dock, on tour or in studio? What are you connecting to it?

BH: Iím actually using it as a sound module, and plugging straight into the PA from it. Iím running a couple different virtual synths. Then, in my studio, it functions as a sound module and now I donít have to spend $32,000 on a Fairlight and I have all the sounds. That Fairlight app was actually the first iPad app I bought. My love of the Fairlight goes back to when I was a huge Duran Duran fan, back in the day you know, being a keyboard player. The Jupiter 8 and the Fairlight were what I wanted. I was lucky enough to find a Jupiter 8 many years ago and purchase one, but could never quite afford the price tag on the Fairlight.

Alesis: I understand other members of Stevieís band have iO Docks too. How are they using them?

BH: Every member of her band has one. They use them for everything from the better outputs on the headphones to using them in the studio. They had all kind of heard about it but as soon as I showed them the iO Dock and I walked in the dressing room and was like, ďLook at what Iíve got.Ē immediately the answer was, ďCan we get one?Ē It was useful in a variety of places like hotel rooms and such. Just being able to carry that as your music station, even just the GarageBand app and little MIDI keyboard and your iPad and youíve got a studio now.

Alesis: Over your career, what are the biggest changes youíve noticed in music industry?

BH: Going to virtual instruments and getting away from just the power of keyboards in general. When I started out I would have a mixer filled with samplers and synths and not have 16 channels of different synthesizers to do a show and now I can walk into a show with a laptop or an iPad, I can do a show, almost any band I do, I can almost do a show with just the iPad and the iO Dock to get output. I wish we could get something like MainStage, you know, to launch multiple plug-in apps together so I can have the Fairlight and the iMS-20, and say, a drum machine all open in a single environment where I could use them all at once to multitask. I think thatís one drawback, but still weíre using the iMS-20 and it sounds great! Just the quality of listening through the headphone jack trying to use that to get to a PA as opposed to plugging into the iO Dock just opens it up. The sound is more open--itís huge. It makes interfacing for real-world live shows possible finally. And it looks really cool. The dock seems to fit perfectly on nearly every major keyboard off to one side so I can literally, like on a Motif or Fantom, just set the iPad up there and it fits. It fits perfectly. I originally started with it up on stage with music. I had to put sheet music up so we scanned everything in and made them into PDFs and we were able to use sheet music. As soon as we got the iO Dock it was like, Wow! This really opens things up. I can put a whole new arsenal of synthesizers with professional level output that we can use with this thing so it just opened up a whole new market.

Alesis: Have you ever used any other Alesis gear?

BH: Well, letís start with the MIDIverb, the square tabletop, 1986. Letís see...MMT8, HR-16, HR-16b, 1622 mixer, 3630 compressor, QuadraVerb II--Iíve used Alesis gear my whole career. Weíre still using the SR-16 as a reinforcement box. We trigger sounds out of it. At one point I had the original black-face ADATs. I even had a QuadraSynth for a while. Iíve literally been through the beginnings of Alesis. I remember when the MIDIverb was a tabletop unit and I would call in and be able to talk to the guy who designed the thing. Itís just been an amazing company to deal with and to watch them grow over the years.

Left to right: Bruce Hendrix (Keyboard technician/programmer), Carlos Rios (Guitarist), Michael Grimm (Opening act), Ricky Peterson (Organist/Keyboardist), Darrell Smith (Pianist/Keyboardist), Waddy Wachtel (Music Director & Guitarist), Jimmy Paxson (Drummer), Al Ortiz (Bassist).

In 1999 I went to work for Nine Inch Nails and we were using a DMPro. We discovered a bug where if you tried to trigger two sample-based sounds at the same time the machine wouldnít play either of them and would just go silent. Nine Inch Nailsí biggest hit, ďCloserĒ starts with four beats kick drum and then a snare on two and four. When we put all the samples in the DMPro, we got silence on two and four. So I called Alesis and they were so amazing because what they did is unheard of with most music companies. They said, ďYes, that is a problem.Ē Alesis fixed the problem, and sent me a new chip. That incident cemented my longevity with Nine Inch Nails and my commitment to Alesis. Trent was completely blown away that I could pull that kind of a fix that quickly.

Alesis: Whatís the best venue or event youíve played?

BH: The one that sticks out more than anything was the 2003 NFL Kickoff party with Aerosmith. It was in Washington, D.C. We were on stage, the Capitol was in front of us, the Washington Monument was behind us and there was 150,000 people in the crowd when Aerosmith did ďDream On." They did a fireworks display over the top of us and we were broadcast live to millions of people. Iíll never forget standing on that stage looking out over that sea of people. My hair is standing up just thinking about that. It was definitely the coolest one Iíve ever played.

Alesis: Whatís the funniest thing to happen at one of your events?

Ricky Peterson (Organist/Keyboardist).
BH: Uh...somehow, they convinced me: The last night that Aerosmith and Motley CrŁe played together, the dancer/background singers who were the girls in Motley CrŁeís song, ďGirls, Girls, GirlsĒ--one of the girls actually got detained by U.S. customs due to some passport issues. So, for some reason--it seemed like a good idea at the time--they dressed me up in drag and I danced on stage with Motley CrŁe. So, I was one of the ďGirls, Girls, GirlsĒ that night. Another cool one was our keyboard player for Aerosmith got detained, again a customs issue, and I ended up having to play keyboards for Aerosmith for two nights.

Alesis: Why do you think Stevie remains so popular?

BH: Sheís amazing. Amazing, unique voice, great writing, she just has that niche with the ethereal crowd. Thereís no one else like Stevie. At 60+ she just gets out and wails, and has this vibe with the crowd that Iíve never seen with any other performer. She still, every night if itís possible, she walks down to the front row and shakes everybodyís hands in the front row and gives them hugs. Iíve never seen anyone do that.

Alesis: What's on tap for you in the coming year?

BH: Stevie Nicks is going to Australia in November and December. After Christmas, I honestly donít know what my life brings. What I do is a very small industry. You just get your reputation up, and you know different production managers and really pretty much as soon as you finish one tour, you just email all of your old bosses and people in the industry. Iím the luckiest guy alive because I do get to work with people who make music I love. I get to be there and be part of the creative staff.

Alesis: What recommendations would you have for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

BH: My advice is to work for about 15 years and learn everything about everything, then youíll be qualified. If you donít truly love technology and love music, you are not destined to do this job. It isnít for someone who isnít truly passionate about music. This is something I really find truly lacking with a lot of younger guys: They only learn how certain pieces of gear work. Thatís all well and good, but I understand how a synthesizer works: no matter what synthesizer you throw in front of me, I know how it works. No matter what mixing console or board, I understand the concept of how it works at a fundamental level. Understanding signal flow and the basis of synthesis, and the basis of electronic music, thatís the key.