What impressed me wasn’t the music. I’ll take Jim Abdo’s word how good it sounds in the 1,100-sq. ft. state-of-the-art recording studio behind his Ashland home. (He calls his business “BrokenWorks Productions.”)What got me was the quality of the silence. A monastery couldn’t be more meditative.
And that seems to be fitting since Jim sees his work—he prides himself in humbly helping fellow musicians manifest the music in their souls—as a mere continuation of a lifelong mission, defined by his unabashed devotion to his spiritual path.
When I visited Jim for the first time a month or so ago—I’d interviewed him briefly on the phone a few years back—it was as much to experience his studio as it was to meet the man. He’d resurfaced in my consciousness when I saw him playing guitar as part of the Camelot Theatre Company band for a show. I hadn’t intended to write a column about him. So what changed my mind?
As he toured me through his elegant studio, painted from a palette of burgundy and bone, I was taken by his sincerity, his effusive gratitude for the close ones in his life and, especially, by the 120-decibel smile for which no switch or equalizer could diminish.
But still, having been a reporter once a upon a time (before I morphed into a marketing guy and then into a Realtor) I was drawn to drama only, the stuff of tabloid dreams. I would not, then, have thought to write about a guy like Jim. No, for that reporter in me, his life has been far too charmed and decidedly devoid of drama. And the characters he chose to describe, aside from a building contractor whose mistakes nearly drove Jim into bankruptcy, are far too kind and benevolent. (He’s effusive about the innate goodness and contributions of his wife, of his brother, of old pals and playing partners.)
Another challenge I faced is that while the core of Jim’s life is his Christianity—he’s considerate as heck about not offending my beliefs and those of those of others—how could I write about the guy without making it sound like testimony? (Neither of us wanted that.)
I decided not to worry. Instead, I would simply answer the question: How, at age 55, did Jim Abdo become who he is now, a happy, self-possessed man who succeeds with a skillset encompassing an aptitude for electronics, a bent for the spiritual and an ear for music.
As a kid growing up in Long Beach, Calif., Jim’s parents signed him up for lessons with the trumpet at age nine and the violin at 10. “I did terrible at both,” he says. “I had no discipline to practice.”
The guitar was different. He was in junior high by then. And it was his choice, not his parents’. After six months of formal lessons and “a big enough chord vocabulary,” Jim, an admitted “big Monkees fan,” was hooked.
“One of the best things happened when a friend invited me to go to his church,” says Jim. At once he not only found his faith, but he and two church pals started a rock and roll band. Jim’s course was set.
Calling themselves Aslan, for the Christ-symbolic lion in the Narnia series, and playing contemporary Christian tunes, the three-piece made it pretty big, touring the country as far east as New Orleans; they played the Mardi Gras on Canal Street in 1976, with beads raining down on their heads. The most prestigious gig was at the Anaheim Convention Center packed with 10,000 people. “How cool was that!” Jim recalls.
“It was great. I got to do all the things touring musicians love to do, but with just the rock and roll. No drugs or sex,” he says. “Imagine, a rock and roll musician who can actually remember the 1970s!”
Meanwhile, Jim, the nascent tinkerer-technician who would someday operate a super high-tech recording studio, was serving the band in another critical capacity. As a kid, Jim might have disdained practicing the scales on his trumpet or violin, but he couldn’t keep his hands off electronics, taking apart old radios and, miraculously, putting them back together.
So, with his band dependent on the amplifiers and other electronic gear they towed behind their in a six by twelve U-Haul trailer, Jim took himself to a Radio Shack. “I bought a soldering iron, a spool of solder, rudimentary hand tools and books about electronics.”
From those days and through today, Jim’s life has seemed spiritually syncopated, with one fortuitous opportunity driving to the next, with the career and personal segues silky smooth. “I always felt very taken care of, blessed and guided.”
For instance, the band that had provided so much pleasure and a real income—“We never made a lot of money, but we always made enough.”—disbanded nearly on the eve of the birth of his and his wife Diane’s first child. He felt gifted with the chance to concentrate on being a full-time family man.
Through connections he made at church, Jim took a job with a company that repaired electronic calculators. And that led to work with a company that developed test equipment for telephone companies.
When the company relocated to the Rogue Valley in 1988, where Jim’s band had played gigs in Ashland churches, Jim was happy to make the move. By then, he’d become a self-taught computer programmer, writing complex code most of the week while serving as music minister for Ashland’s Simple Faith Fellowship. (The church reaches out, in particular, to college studients.)
As a hobby and a sideline, Jim’s love for making music had moved him to furnish a 200 sq. ft. space in his house with recording equipment. Despite the cramped quarters and the need to record larger groups in alternative venues, he managed to produce a dozen or so albums for area bands.
When the demand for his services grew, he decided to construct a dedicated and highly sophisticated space behind his home. The project, designed to meet the highest industry standards, took three years; he’s only now completing the finishing touches. All six spaces, including the bathroom “if we want a brighter sound,” are wired for recording. Construction techniques and materials create spaces that are 100 percent acoustically detached from one another and from the outside world. A fire engine may speed by unheard in the control room; at 4 a.m. when a heavy metal drummer is cranking it, the next-door neighbors have no inkling.
Making the studio work, Jim leveraged an aptitude for electronics, an ear for harmonies and a familiarity with arrangements. But it’s clear when I hear him speak about his clients, that he’s successful because his ear is attuned not only to the music, but to their hearts.
“People bring me their creative ideas, and they’re entrusting me to take it to the next level. It’s not about me. I have to check my ego at the door.” Then Jim adds, “It feels like being part of throwing somebody a great party.”
When I mentioned to him that it sounded like he was describing another manifestation of his “ministry,” Jim paused a few long beats before saying. “I don’t tell people that.” Then he laughed. And cranked up the decibel level of his smile one more notch. Despite the soundproofing, you might have been able to hear it in Medford.
(Alan “Rosey” Rosenberg is a Realtor with Real Estate Depot in Ashland. You can reach him at 541-778-8949 or at email@example.com