AHHH, NEWCASTLE: A CITY MADE UP OF ART, WAVES, INTRUSIVE ROADWORKS, AND A WHOLE BUNCH OF CHARMING INDIVIDUALS. THIS MONTH I HAD THE ABSOLUTE PLEASURE OF SPEAKING TO THE WONDERFULLY ECCENTRIC AND INCREDIBLY CONCISE MR JON FOX – AN AMERICAN MIGRANT WHO HAS GENEROUSLY DECIDED TO SET UP CAMP IN OUR LOVELY AUSTRALIAN TOWN, AND WHO HAS BECOME A GRADE-A PLAYER OUR LOCAL GIG COMMUNITY.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Jon landed head first onto the industry’s lap. An appetite for sublime tuneage was built into his bones, having been blessed with a musically gifted mum.
‘I was kind of born into it. My mother was a concert pianist… I grew up with, like, 60 to 80 students going through my house every week,’ he explained. ‘She had friends who had a nightclub act in the 70s that rehearsed in our basement. I was just transfixed by the drummer, and that really was the beginning of my thing for music.’
At the sweet age of seven, Jon began learning percussion and eventually kick-started (kick-drummed?) his rock and roll career by joining a small hair metal band in his teen years. When high school ended, Jon decided to go off and study in the Big Apple, where he ultimately learned the technical ways of the mellifluous musical world.
‘I went to the Institute of Audio Research in New York City, which is where I got my audio degree, and from there my life started to become a bit of a wander,’ he said. ‘The opportunity came to go down to Texas. So I took my recording degree… And I never even walked into a recording studio. I just did live stuff.’
After taking on a couple of industry roles throughout the US, Jon finally made the big move to ‘Straya in the late 1990s after a short stay in Germany, and has been working his audio magic down under pretty much ever since.
‘I landed here in ’98 with an eight-month pregnant wife from Germany, knowing no one, having no job,’ he told me. ‘I got a job at Star City Casino, in the Star City showroom. My first big gig in the country was The Rocky Horror Show. It was all these big famous people from Australia who I didn’t know from a hole in the wall, and I think they really liked that about me.’
Jon spent some time in Sydney, before moving north to the Central Coast. He eventually relocated to Newy about six years ago after accepting a full-time position at The Small Ballroom, where he remained for another three years.
‘I’m freelance at the moment. I gave up the Ballroom about a year and a half ago; I was just up for a change. I take care of The Entrance Leagues Club at the moment and they do occasional gigs,’ he said. ‘I also work at Lizotte’s, which is one of the biggest honours to be able to work at. Especially because I get that it is, like, the premiere music restaurant in the country, hands down.
‘Brian Lizotte… I mean, his company used to feed me when I was on tours in America before I even knew him. And that just shows how small the industry actually is, globally.’
When he’s not busting his butt at a plethora of music venues, Jon actually spends a lot of his time teaching local kids how to smash out rimshots and perfect paradiddles.
‘The other half of my life is teaching. I teach down at a place called Stratford Music in Woy Woy. I teach private students, and I run a band class that has been running for about four years now – that keeps me really busy,’ he explained. ‘I love that gig because there’ll be a time when I’m too old to dump a truck and all that stuff, so I reckon teaching the next generation is going to be the end game for me at some point.’
Besides working as a sound tech prince and an overall drum wizard, Jon has spent a lot of his life performing music in a variety of bands, including a group in Texas that supported huge 90s outfits such as Candlebox and Fishbone. The latter, in particular, has actually had a huge impact on his personal creative output.
‘I played in a big band in San Antonio, Texas, called Truck,’ he told me. ‘Fishbone… Aside from just being musically eclectic and indefinable – they could go from metal to ska to funk to soul all in the same song – they taught me what it was like to grow up as a black guy in my generation in LA, and I thank them for the education they gave me.’
Some other notable tunespirations include The Beatles, Soundgarden and Van Halen.
‘I grew up on metal. I graduated from high school in ’87. Van Halen are like gods to me,’ he laughed. ‘Alex Van Halen is probably one of the biggest influences to me, drumming-wise, just because I love that band so much and it was such a rocking thing to be able to put your headphones on and just cane out.’
But among all his prominent influencers, Jon reassures me that not even a famous feather-haired, severely leather-clad bloke can match up to the example set by his incredibly talented mother.
‘The greatest musician I’ve ever known still to this day is my mum,’ he said. ‘She had to be ten times better than every man next to her to be considered the same, and she was ten times better.’
It isn’t just his grouse mum who has had to face some daunting challenges in the industry; Jon too has dealt with some pretty severe hurdles. Not only did he relocate his entire life to a foreign country, but the hectic nature of his job also requires a lot of blood, guts and dedication.
‘I think we all need to be diplomats. If you ask any of us [sound engineers] about doing festivals, where it’s just one band after the other… It’s just like this onslaught of people, and by the time you’re done, you just don’t want to talk to anyone,’ he mentioned. ‘Like, I’m the most conversational person in the world, but if you talk to my missus, when I’ve had a big run she’s learned that I’m not being quiet because I’m not interested, I’m just so tired.’
We almost have to time-travel in our heads, to think forward… I mean, we’re translating people’s art. We’re making sure it gets heard by everyone and we don’t fuck it up.’
Nevertheless, Jon’s position does come with a poopload of perks, and you can only imagine the amount of ripper people our lovely friend has met. He’s worked with wickedly iconic acts such as Billy Joel and Jerry Lewis, and spent a period of time in the early 2000s playing drums alongside Rose Tattoo. Christ on a cracker, he’s even had his fingers in Doc Neeson’s ears!
‘I got hired and fired by The Angels in ’99,’ he chuckled. ‘Doc is one of my favourite people I ever knew – may he rest in peace. He was a beautiful, beautiful, BEAUTIFUL human being.’
‘Probably one of the coolest chats I ever had was I got to work staging at the Voodoo Lounge tour for The Rolling Stones back in ’94 or ’95. I got to have a chat with the drummer before he went up on stage,’ he told me. ‘Up walks Charlie Watts, like an ultimate legend… And we just started talking about drums.’
But Jon doesn’t just appreciate the international big shots; he also thoroughly enjoys working with a number of Newy’s nearest and dearest.
‘Rachel Maria Cox… They’re rad! They’re doing this thing and it sounds different… And it’s great,’ he gushed.
‘Mark Wells is an Australian genius, and probably my favourite local act to mix. His album is one of my favourite albums to listen to, hands down,’ he added. ‘It rides in my car, and when my girlfriend and I go on a road trip, it’s the first thing that goes on.’
In fact, Jon is absolutely stoked with his move to Newcastle, referring to it as an epic area full of countless opportunities and a sterling musical community.
‘That’s one of the great things about this town. There’s still a population in this town that gives a damn, that hungers for live music, and that’ll pull their finger out and go down to the Wicko. It doesn’t even matter who’s playing, they just know there’s going to be music,’ he said.
‘I have never felt more at home in a place in my life than in this town.’
Well, Jon, feel free to stay forever, because your presence makes our city just that little bit brighter! What a guy, eh?!