Joey Stuckey is a blind musician who teaches people how to hear
Joey Stuckey is a recording artist, a recording engineer and producer, a radio personality, a television host, and an educator. He is also blind.
The latter part is important not because it impairs his ability to do any of the former, but because it informs his work in those areas.
At 18 months old he had a brain tumor that destroyed his endocrine system, taking his sight and his sense of smell. He jokes that he has been a “professional blind person” for years now, and he’s comfortable with it.
Stuckey was 13 years old when he decided that music was what he wanted to do for a living. He discovered old-time radio dramas when he was lying awake all night sick with pneumonia. These radio dramas were written before the advent of household television, written to entertain people based solely on what they were hearing.
“I was inspired when I heard [these],” says Stuckey. “For a blind person, movies are pretty boring. For radio dramas, everything is told through music and dialogue. I thought, I want to do this – tell stories through sounds.”
A teenaged Stuckey would call the radio station at 2 a.m. and tell the DJ how much these programs meant to him. They struck up a friendship and the DJ started teaching him about sound. Stuckey worked his first job as a sound engineer at the planetarium in Macon after graduating high school at age 14.
He would record other students’ garage bands, and that’s when he realized he needed to do not just sound but music. “I realized music was the vehicle I wanted to tell my story through and express myself,” he says.
His dad helped him get a space in downtown Macon and Stuckey has worked as a recording engineer and producer ever since, with a $2 million recording studio that he runs full-time.
Stuckey released his first album, Take a Walk in the Shadows, at age 20. Since then he has released eight albums, performed with guys like Ted Nugent and Bad Company, and reached number nine on the Top 40 CMJ Jazz charts. In the meantime, he has also become a radio and television personality, a natural outgrowth of his desire to support and promote local and regional independent music.
“I have a web-based radio show, which is probably the dumbest thing to ever be put on the airwaves!” Stuckey laughs. “It’s basically a toned-down version of Howard Stern; it’s just two guys talking [and making fun of each other] and playing music. Our passion is independent music, so we play that.”
Stuckey also has a weekly television show in Macon called “Studio 41” that highlights middle-Georgia music because he feels like “it needs to be done.”
The initial concept came to him after doing several TV appearances in town. “None of the studios here in town are set up well for audio for musicians. There’s so much amazing talent here but every time they played on TV they sounded bad, so the uninitiated just think they’re bad [musicians] through no fault of their own.”
He offered to have live performances shot in his studio, which turned into a weekly spot on Wednesday mornings airing on NBC 41 featuring bands playing songs and doing short interviews.
“Studio 41” features everyone from established Georgia artists with gold and platinum albums under their belts to guys just starting out in the industry. “Anyone who’s out there working in the music scene, playing in a bar or at an open mic, as long as they’re out there we want to support that,” Stuckey says.
“What’s so tragic about this area in particular is that we have so much talent here, but the infrastructure to make [those artists] successful is lacking. What’s the difference between the talent here and the talent in Nashville, New York, or L.A.? Nothing but the infrastructure.”
Macon was once the mecca for Southern rock with guys like the Allman Brothers and Otis Redding recording at Walden Studio in the ’60s and Little Richard in the ’70s. One of the things Stuckey strives to do is highlight area artists and bring a little of that glory back. “I try to help fill that void and create a synergy of the studio, radio and TV show, and help support the community that is here. One person can’t do it all but I do what I can to try to build our music infrastructure.”
Stuckey is so passionate about building the local music industry that in 2006 the mayor of Macon named Stuckey the official Music Ambassador of Macon.
“It’s a wonderful place to come get inspired and do something musical,” Stuckey says. “Macon also claims the invention of the kazoo, so when I go out and perform I give out kazoos…it’s a silly thing, kind of infantile in a sense, but then again so am I!”
Stuckey’s work within the local music culture of Macon extends beyond his work inside the studio (be that recording himself, others, or the TV show). Another prong in Stuckey’s multi-faceted career is that of an educator.
In addition to recording and producing music for other artists, Stuckey also acts as something of a big brother in the industry, giving aspiring professional musicians as much guidance as he can in the areas of marketing and self-promotion. “The main problem is once the guys record an album, now what? I try to get them to understand marketing and what it means to help give their music a little traction.”
He is also a teacher in a more traditional sense. Stuckey teaches guitar, bass, voice, music theory, and music recording production as an adjunct professor at his alma mater Mercer University, and teaches master classes in improvisation jazz, guitar recording technology, and songwriting. He teaches from the unique perspective of being a blind person.
“I believe in using what you’ve got,” he says. “Being blind is who I am. I’m not saying people should go poke their eyes out to be a great artist, but that limitation shapes who I am and how I create art. I teach people how to use their minds and become more intuitive, become more open to things like improvisation and being creative spontaneously.”
He continues, “It’s much easier for me to play rock or blues or jazz or something spontaneously than it is for me to get a score and sit down and learn how to play it with an orchestra. Everything is taught from my perspective, which is different than a sighted engineer…[I go in and] teach things from a non-visual perspective, teaching [students] how to use their ears.”
Stuckey’s role as an educator also extends beyond the classroom: he has traveled all over the country giving inspirational talks about overcoming adversity as a brain tumor survivor. He is in the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame for his work in education. He gives talks to eighth graders to inspire them to follow their hearts. He is known as a tireless and extraordinarily generous member of the community, and everything he does works together to serve his greater goal of building Macon’s independent music industry.
Stuckey’s entire ethos as an entertainer, collaborator, community supporter and educator can be summed up thusly: “The only mistake you can make in life is not doing what burns bright in your heart.” For Stuckey, his heart burns bright with music.