For Macon Magazine a few months ago:
Signs of Joey Stuckey’s curiosity and free-range eclecticism are scattered all over his downtown recording studio, Shadow Sound.
His equipment includes both knobby, old-school analog and the latest in high-end digital, and his instruments vary from the usual strings, keys, and percussion to ukuleles; a dulcimer; a Japanese shamisen used in kabuki theater; and a tarango, a Colombian mandolin with a resonant belly crafted from an armadillo’s armor. “All kinds of crazy stuff!” says Stuckey, who sings, composes, and plays his own music when he is not recording others. “If it makes a sound, I’m interested.”
Stuckey’s versatile enthusiasms achieve a kind of harmonic convergence on his latest album, “The Shadow Sound,” an omnivore’s buffet of blues, jazz, rock, and pop released by Virtuoso Music in February. “With this collection, I want to bring back the era of the ‘Guitar Hero,’ a time when names like Clapton, Page and Stevie Ray adorned the pages of every rock magazine on the planet,” Stuckey says. “Back when music was what really mattered.”
Of course, for Stuckey, music has always mattered, always has flooded his senses and pooled in the deep, sustaining chambers of his imagination. “Sound is my whole world,” he says — by default. Stuckey, 34, is blind. He survived a brain tumor as an infant, but it caused him to lose his sight and his sense of smell. Consequently, he became a sort of sonic savant, a human tuning fork.
“I don’t think my ears are necessarily, magically better,” he says. “The difference is that visual stimulus is so powerful that it dominates what you perceive. When I’m listening, that’s all I’m doing; I’m not staring out the window at the trees the way most people do. I get very excited about the hum of an air-conditioner or the burst of a car starting. There’s beauty in the sound of an elevator. My head is always full of beats and melodies, and I feel a rhythmic pulse going through me at all times. That’s just the way my spirit works.”
As a teen-ager, he discovered the hooks and riffs that drowned out most of the other racket. “I knew how to turn the radio on and off, but one day I realized that if I turned the knob, it changed to different stations,” Stuckey says. “One day I heard this very energetic music that knocked me out. It was a revelation. It was rock ’n’ roll. I knew that was what I wanted to do.”
He was born in Green Cove Springs, Florida, and moved to Macon when he was 15. Yes, he is kin to the dynasty of the Stuckey pecan log — beloved snack of sweaty, Dixie road trips — and his father was one of a set of musical twins named Eugene and Talmadge (a nominal hat-tip to the populist governor) who performed as “The Stuckey Twins and the Dodge County Playboys.”
“Um, I’m Southern,” Stuckey says with a laugh.
An academic prodigy, he already had graduated from a regular public high school in Florida by the time he moved to Macon, and he enrolled, at age 16, at Mercer University. Not content simply to play by ear, Stuckey, who had studied Braille, also wanted to read music. He found a mentor in professor Terry Cantwell, and together they embarked on some tactile, Helen Keller-style lessons, with the instructor scratching music notations into sand, which Stuckey then would touch and trace. So unlike many of the rootsy musicians he records and performs with, Stuckey actually can decipher those notes.
Stuckey went on to study with jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan, and he since has established himself as “a blind musician with an insightful vision.” He modeled his playing style after rocker Jeff Beck and the jazzier Wes Montgomery, while his vocal influences include Mel Torme and Gregg Allman (possibly the only time you will see those two names in the same sentence). A cuddly, barrel-chested Teddy Bear of a man, Stuckey possesses a set of pipes girded by a mighty diaphragm that powers some high-decibel blues shouting — no amp necessary.
At 21, Joey released his first album, Take a Walk in the Shadows, and he followed it later with Live and Stuff, and Live and More Stuff: The Sequel to the Prequel, both recorded at the historic Douglass Theater.
Around that time, another mentor, punk impresario Ian Copeland, who was a booking agent for Sting, observed, “Joey is one of the most amazing guitarists I know.”
In the 1990s, Stuckey worked the soundboard at Phoenix Sound Studios, which like its namesake “rose from the ashes” of the old Capricorn headquarters, and he started opening for acts as diverse as James Brown, Wet Willie, Trisha Yearwood, Ted Nugent, Bad Company, and Clarence Carter.
“Joey is a joy to play with because his timing is so tight — he never misses a cue,” says Macon drummer Stephen Chanin.
Stuckey named his studio after a song he wrote as a way of explaining his blindness to curious strangers.
“In my youth, I had some trouble being accepted because of my handicap,” he says. “The best way I new to talk about being blind with out getting crazy-detailed and going overboard was to go with a familiar concept of shadows. While not entirely accurate as to how I actually see the world — or don’t — I thought it would make a easy concept for folks to grasp. Later, because being blind is part of what makes me special as a recording engineer and brings something different to my projects, I named the studio Shadow Sound Studio.”
He acquired, among other bells and whistles, the console used by Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics. It draws artists from around the globe, such as Brazilian guitarist Felipe, as well as Capricorn veterans like Jimmy Hall, and it keeps Stuckey busy with custom studio work.
“I’ve done a ton of jingles, for everybody from politicians to chiropractors, to tattoo parlors,” he says.
Stuckey, who lives in north Macon with his wife, Jennifer, a professional midwife, is nothing if not a melodious multitasker. He devours audiobooks, and — as articulate as he is pitch-perfect — he writes reviews and columns for several music magazines. He teaches music technology at Mercer while operating www.WTMT.net, a streaming, 24-hour Internet radio station that promotes indie music in all genres. In 2006, his guitar chops and hail-fellow-well-met disposition landed him the role of Macon’s “Official Ambassador of Music.”
“I’ve been so busy recording other people and putting food on the table with the commercial stuff that I haven’t taken much time for my own music until now,” he says. “And I’ve never cared much for boundaries around genres.”
“The Shadow Sound” came about as a collaboration of sorts with Virtuoso founder Victor McLean, who has worked with Quincy Jones, George Benson, and Diana Krall, among others. McLean, as executive producer, helped Stuckey sift through his “eclecticka” and remaster some older tracks, and they rounded up an all-star ensemble to play on the project, including Randall Bramblett, Chuck Leavell, and David Ragsdale, the violinist of Smashing Pumpkins and Kansas.
“Joey will be an inspiration to the many kids out there picking up a guitar for the first time, and also to music fanatics who are searching for something unique,” McLean says. “We feel that Joey will have a Phish or a Dave Matthews-type following when you consider his material and the caliber of performance that he is capable of delivering.”
The album so far has enjoyed favorable reviews and climbing sales on iTunes and amazon.
“Everybody’s favorite track seems to be the last one, ‘Truth is a Misty Mountain.’ That one was recorded live for public radio, and it’s just me and my guitar,” Stuckey says. “The album has gone over big in Belgium, for some reason, and is getting a lot of radio play there.”
With any luck, some child, maybe in Brussels, is switching radio stations as Stuckey once did, or browsing the web, and discovering this fresh interpretation of rock ’n’ roll.