A Conversation with Denny Strauser | Local Vocal | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A Conversation with Denny Strauser

Denny Strauser recently finished a three-year stint as soundman at Club Cafe - he did around 400 shows last year alone -- and his shades and beard are now popping up at venues all over the city. When the 23-year mixing-board vet isn't working...

How did you start working sound?
Back in the late '70s, there weren't too many soundmen out there, and not too many people had sound systems. So I bought a small system for my band, and learned how to do sound by miking up our U-Store-It rehearsal space. I'd mike it, record rehearsal every night, and then listen at my day job driving a bus the next day. [The next night] I'd tweak it after listening -- eventually people started asking me to do demo tapes and live sound. I realized [doing sound] I could work more, I wouldn't get as bored with the music, and I didn't need to worry about people showing up on time or learning their tunes.

Is there a difference between working one venue versus working one band?
With Squonk Opera, it's teamwork. When you work at [a venue], the bands come and go, and you might build up an acquaintance with them, but not a camaraderie, unless they play fairly frequently. I've been doing Squonk Opera for about a year and a half, and I've gone coast to coast with them, and I love it. I eat with them, sleep with them, you can really be a part of it.

What's the weirdest gig you've ever worked?
A friend of mine is a Hare Krishna. I knew him before he became a Krishna, when he was a keyboardist. But there's a Krishna farm about 60 miles north of Harrisburg, and they asked me if I'd do this gig there for a religious holiday. They had a parade there with an ox. I'm not a vegetarian-type guy, so the food was a little weird, and they asked me not to smoke cigarettes because it would desecrate their sacred ground. I showed up with a McDonalds burger, but I knew enough to stay in the van to eat that!

It's hard for me to say -- I've probably done over 5,000 shows since I started doing sound. I probably did almost 1,000 bands just last year! So it's hard to remember who played last week. With Squonk Opera, though, there are times when I'll walk up after a gig and say, "I did a really great job for you tonight." Then again, at the Arts Festival this year, I went up afterwards and said, "This is the worst job I've ever done for you." In general, when I can work with a good band, a good system in a good room, I think I can be an outstanding soundman. And on a good night, when I'm behind the mixing board, and the band gets the big applause, I feel as much a part of it as I used to feel standing on stage in the limelight.

Five thousand shows? Do you ever just listen to music for fun?
With Squonk Opera, whoever's driving the bus gets to pick the music we listen to. The first time out, when I got behind the wheel they said, "Denny, what you want to listen to?" -- I said, "Silence." When I get off work, the last thing I want to hear is music. It's a curse -- maybe if I take some time off, I'll come around to it. I have a really nice stereo at home, and I've only turned it on once since I got it hooked up, and then only because I was checking up a band I was going to work with.

Why doesn't your cat run off when you take it out riding?
The first time I took her on a bike ride, I put her in my bag and jumped on the bike and immediately started riding so fast she wouldn't think of jumping out. Now, the backpack is like a comfort zone. I took her on a 20-mile bike ride the other day, and on the way back, stopped at a bar -- probably wouldn't be prudent to say which one -- put her on a barstool, walked away, and when I came back 20 minutes later, she was still sitting there.

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