Bob Sloane talks about his career (from an interview and edited conversation with Rudy Cheeks)
I was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, raised and lived most of my life (next door) in Seekonk, Massachusetts. I knew what I wanted to do when I was 10-years-old. I didn’t have headphones back “in the day.” I used to listen to this Black Sabbath album and I used to put my head between the speakers while lying on the floor. I inadvertently discovered that this was the apex of the music and it made it sound like I had headphones. I used to listen to that one and countless other records and I knew back then that I wanted to be involved in music as far as recording and producing it.
I went through the Seekonk public school system and did well in school. I was an athlete and played a couple of sports, most notably football. I went on to play college football. If I’d had my druthers, I would have gone to college to study recording and producing of music, but I talked to my dad who didn’t think it was such a good idea. But he reached out to his friend, Danny Gittelman, the founder and head of US Records (a successful company based in Fall River, MA) and someone instrumental in launching the recording career of the late Whitney Houston. I was told that the music industry was largely Jewish and that, as an Irish kid, there was not a whole lot of opportunity for me and that I should choose another career field, which I did.
I graduated from Springfield College in 1983 with two degrees but, by 1987, I still had a hankering to get into music in a big way. I bought an 8-track professional recording system and my idea was based on listening to radio jingles (commercials). They were mainly canned music with verbiage over a 60 second bed. So I came up with this idea of making original music beds for jingles. I went around to all the advertising agencies in Providence and they all thought that I was out of my mind. But, lo and behold, that’s what you have today: custom made musical jingles made by major production companies and artists. I missed the boat on that one.
But I continued on and recorded a lot of local bands and read over 35 books on producing and recording music. I worked with the 8 track system for a number of years and had a lot of fun with it. In 1990, I met (the late) Jimmy Reynolds, who was then the front-of-house sound engineer at the Church House Inn in Providence. At that time, I was a recording studio assistant to Phil Greene (veteran producer of over 20 gold record albums, including New Kids on the Block and Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch and numerous jazz albums) and I learned an awful lot through Phil. Jimmy asked if I’d do front-of-house sound (running sound for live shows in nightclubs) but I told him I was a studio rat, I can’t do that. He said, “yes you can.” Jimmy was a big proponent of me getting into that.
Soon The Call and the Century Lounge (two former nightclubs in Providence) opened up and Jimmy again approached me about doing front-of-house sound and this time I did it and ended up working there for about 8 years. I got invited to do a show with Kim Trusty up at Chan’s (a jazz/blues club in Woonsocket). I had gone to the club and fell in love with the place.
Around 1999, I was looking into starting a remote recording company. Once again, a lot of folks thought that I was out of my mind. They said, “It’s not like running a pizza shop.” Friends of my father’s said I should just go out and get 5 credit cards and max them out because no one is going to give you a loan (for that). So I worked on a business plan for the next 6 months, came up with a business plan and eventually I got an SBA loan where the government backs 80% and you’re on the hook for 20%. I reached out to Phil Greene to see if he could help design the truck/mobile unit and, within a week of getting the truck ready to go out and do a show – and we had no idea where we were going to go – I got a call from the Black Crowes to do a live show at the Orpheum Theater in Boston.
(Bob went on to produce a number of albums. One of his most recent projects, Timeless by John Hammond, won a Blues Music Award from the Blues Foundation, perhaps the highest honor in blues music)
About 7 and a half months ago, I was sitting on my back porch by my pool and I was reading a story in the paper about how Seekonk High School having a shortfall of $85,000 for school transportation. I had read numerous stories about schools lacking funds for this and lacking funds for that and I started thinking, what can I do? Aside from being a music professional, I’ve also had a business career in sales and marketing for 30 years. I also have all these personal relationships with all these touring national blues artists that I’ve been working with for the past 15 or 20 years. I thought, maybe I could put on a concert series. Back when I was in high school in 1977, I put on a concert at the Seekonk High School with a popular local band, the Wild Turkey Band, and it was a sell-out. I thought that I could do this for the Seekonk High School and for schools across the United States. I have contacted a lot of schools who have signed on for the program and a lot of national touring caliber bands and artists have all expressed interest in helping out.
I look forward to the success of this program for many reasons: for the high schools (for monetary reasons), for the blues artists (for exposure reasons) and it all seems to be going well. We have a website, www.bluesforschools.org. It is still under construction but a lot is already up there. We have some dates for performances already and everything is looking good. Bob says that his goal for schools that sign up for 5 shows is $35,000. There will be no administrative costs for the schools.