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This One’s for My Buddy Dwight

You don’t know Dwight. There’s really no reason you should. He’s not a recording engineer or live sound professional. He doesn’t make audio products...

You don’t know Dwight. There’s really no reason you should. He’s not a recording engineer or live sound professional. He doesn’t make audio products. He’s never edited sound for film or video, and as far as I know, he’s never written a song. He does, however, know a little bit about acoustics, and he’s enamored of speakers, regularly playing back vintage vinyl jazz through four-way 1970s Pioneer monitors in his backyard, converted-garage man-cave. He’s my 71-year-old retired neighbor, husband of Stella, father to Paul, Nicole and Vanessa. When I returned from AES last October, he stopped over to let me know, lightheartedly as is his manner, that he had lung cancer. Stage 4. It had made it to his liver and there were spots near his brain and on his spine. And he was gonna fight it. We went inside to play euchre, the two of us being from the Midwest and all.

A couple years ago Dwight and I started playing games at the end of the day, a few times a week. He taught me dominoes, or “bones” as he calls it, and we often play cribbage and euchre. We eat snacks, sometimes Stella brings us dinner, we have a beer, and we tell stories. We turn each other on to music. As I’ve learned more about his life and the details of the era he grew up in, and learned how his mind works and the types of jobs he’s done, it struck me that Dwight could have easily been a chief engineer and lived a life in the recording industry.

He’s the type of guy who built his own computers in the early 1970s and still won’t buy a laptop because he can’t upgrade the hardware himself. (Though he does enjoy his Kindle and his online gaming.) He built a TV from a Heath kit in his teens, and he could take apart an engine before he hit puberty. He will repair the refrigerator or dryer himself, just by figuring it out.

These past two years he’s been installing solar panels on his roof, even through the chemo. The weekend before his radiation started he installed an oven hood and vent in the kitchen, a long overdue project he had promised Stella. Even now he’s figuring out how to hang strategically placed, aesthetically pleasing curtains and materials to improve the sound in his backyard room. He just knows how things work.

Dwight was born and raised in Toledo, coming of age when Detroit and Cleveland and dozens of other cities were exploding with fresh sounds. He soaked it all up. Then he joined the Navy. He was stationed in Guantanamo Bay in 1963, right after the Bay of Pigs, and would take leave to Jamaica and the islands. He was on an aircraft carrier in the Suez Canal in 1964, then off the shores of Vietnam in 1965. He has seen a bit of the world, and he has more than a few stories to tell. Great stories.

He learned printing in the service, and he worked in large-scale printing, on the machine side, when he made his way to the Bay Area in the late 1960s. He’s also worked for AT&T helping to build international communication centers and been plant manager at a candy factory. He has a knack for implementing large industrial machine systems and keeping them working. He just as easily could have landed in San Francisco and hooked up with Wally Heider or Fred Catero or David Rubinson and started a career in the studio.

Dwight loves music, and he appreciates quality recording. He treasures his vinyl, his Billie Holiday, Ahmad Jamal, Stevie Wonder, Gloria Gaynor, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and on and on. We listen to a Berkeley jazz station, and I found out he loves harmonica, turning me on to the magic of Lee Oskar. I’ve turned him on to Lyle Lovett, Wilco, the Avett Brothers and many others. It’s fun.

I don’t write this to share a sadness. Cancer sucks, there’s no other way to say it. We all have someone like Dwight in our lives, someone who exhibits remarkable spirit no matter how bad the circumstances. Someone who both understands what it is we do and someone we always seem to learn from. This one’s for my buddy Dwight. And for your buddy Dwight, too.

Tom Kenny, Editor, Mix