Jon McDowell

From Bass Player to Sound Company Owner

Growing Up Without Growing Old

Hundreds of bar bands around the States are looking for a few things — a singer that can captivate an audience, a guitar player who can play quieter than 110 dB and a rhythm section that can hold the whole thing together. Jon McDowell, known to his friends around Rockford, Ill., as Jonny B, could help with the rhythm section bit, since he’s been playing bass in local bands for over a decade. The fact that he also owned a set of mains and a lighting rig when he joined his first band was a bonus.

The father of the guitar player in Vision, a progressive rock band that he played in during the early to mid-90s, owned a console, snake and a handful of monitors, so the two came together and formed Mr. G Productions. “When I joined that band, it was like a match made in heaven,” McDowell says. “But then the band broke up, and the sound company kinda ended. I still have the cabinets laying around,” he adds with a laugh, “if you know somebody that wants ‘em.”

He moved from that band to another, continuing to add P.A. and lighting gear, and in 1999, launched Jonny B. Enterprises Inc. ( McDowell started out with a house gig at a local bar where he did sound for bands like Saliva, Drowning Pool, Soil and Stephen Pearcy from Ratt. “It was the ‘80s bands, but it was good exposure, and it was a semicontrolled environment — unlike touring — where I knew how everything should sound.”

From the club dates, which he still does at a handful of venues around town, McDowell expanded into servicing outdoor events. It began with the Block 5 Party in Rockford — he started on the side stage in 2001 and then took over the main stage in 2003. This past Labor Day, he worked at The Iron Horse Bike & Music Festival just outside of Sabula, Iowa.

Unlike many who own and operate regional sound companies, McDowell has kept his day job at Martin Automatic Inc. in Rockford, Ill. He’s been there 17 years and is currently in charge of the company’s electronics lab. “I get to work with electronics, so it’s hand-in-hand with the sound stuff I’m doing,” McDowell says. “I make most of my own cabling, and a handful of my cabinets I made myself. I also have ultimate flexibility.”

As an example, he points to a recent phone call he received from a former brother-in-law who books the Badger Music Theater in Reedsburg, Wisc. “He called me up at 10:30 in the morning, saying that he needed two mixing consoles with at least 40 channels for a Great White show that night,” McDowell says. “So, I walked into my boss and said, “I’ve got a chance to do sound for Great White tonight. If I get the time off, great; if you need me to be here, that’s fine, too.’” After making sure his day gig was covered, McDowell was off, and the show went on as planned.

While he’s proud of the steps the company has taken over the past eight years, McDowell is the first to admit that Jonny B. Enterprises Inc. is the newcomer in town. “I handle the overflows — the little stuff that nobody wants to do,” he says.

For instance, he recently did a show that featured a handful of second-stage Ozzfest bands. “We brought in a 10-box P.A., two monitor boards and a lighting package for $500. Nobody would have touched that.” Yet, he did, after talking to the show’s promoter and finding out that only a small amount of tickets had been sold. “I gave him my minimum operating cost, but it’s one of those things that I’ll help you out now, you help me out later. I’ve got a monitor guy who is kind of green, so it was a perfect chance for him to get a bunch of experience on a 40-channel front of house console. I showed up just in case, but it was a nice little test for the guy.”

At the same time, there are the jobs that he gets from referrals. One example is work at this year’s Iron Horse Combined Driving Event in Caledonia, Ill. The job came to McDowell from a guy who manages a band that he does sound for occasionally. He went out, met with the event planner and then got to work, putting together a system that would work on the 400-acre property. In fact, this was the type of gig that combined his experience with electronics and pro audio.

McDowell had to set up a P.A. inside a tent where a horse-and-buggy competition was planned and then set up another pair of speakers about a quarter of a mile away so that fans could keep up on the action. He found a half-dozen FM radios, went on eBay and purchased an FM transmitter. Then, he set up the distant system with a couple of Yamaha CM15Vs on a stick, a Crown XTI-4000 amplifier and a noise gate. “Anybody else would have been looking for multithousand-dollar professional links,” he says. “I went out and spent $300 on eBay and got the job done.”

That’s not the first time he’s used his electronics knowledge to build gear. In addition to the company’s cabling, McDowell built the eight Labhorn subs he uses. “I refer to them as my children,” he says with a laugh, “because it took me nine months to build the eight of them.” The Labhorns are part of the company’s “A” system, which also includes eight Electro-Voice MTH-1 mains, powered by QSC amps. The company also has a smaller 10-box “B” system (four MTH-1Xs and six MTH-1s) and an eight-box “C” system (four Peavey DTH Concert Sub Is and four Peavey DTH-S4s) that are used for club dates.

For consoles, McDowell uses a Ramsa WRS-852 together with a Soundcraft Spirit Monitor II as the company’s main rig. The 10-box rig has a Soundcraft Series 2 board for FOH and a Behringer MX-8000 for monitors, while the eight-box setup gets a Mackie 1604VLZ. McDowell will be looking under the Christmas tree for a digital board this year. “Maybe something Yamaha,” he says. “Depends on whether Santa thinks I’ve been good or bad.”

McDowell’s looking to add one more small rig before the season changes. “In the winter, it boils down to bars and bowling alleys around here,” he reports. The “D” rig currently includes a pair of JTR Growler subs and Yamaha CM15Vs with Crown XTI-4000 power, but McDowell is looking to add and subtract some things. He’ll also use that smaller rig for sidefill on his bigger gigs.

For a monitor rig to go out with the “A” system, McDowell supplies eight CGM 212s (although he specifies Baltic birch and different horns); EV Eliminator KW subs and tops are used as sidefills and the drum fill is an EV Eliminator KW sub plus a wedge. QSC and Crown power that package. The “B” system has eight Yamaha SM15Vs and a pair of Peavey SP4s for drum fills with QSC power; the “C” system has two Peavey SP12Ms, two SP15Ms and two JBL JRX125s for drum fill, plus Behringer power.

Currently, the company has four employees, including McDowell, who work most of the events. The company’s owner believes it’s part of his re-sponsibility to educate the newbies, so he holds classes at the shop to teach them about which equipment works on each musical genre, as well as the ins and outs of the pieces of audio gear.

As he continues to build his business in Rockford, McDowell is looking to pick up the occasional regional tour, and he’s polished his touring chops on the Jagermeister Tour. “So, I’ve had my taste of it and would love to get to the point where I can quit my day job,” he says. “Maybe in another three or four years I’ll get to that. But, I don’t want to get too big before I have the people to handle it, either. Like a lot of people say, it’s not the shows that you don’t take that hurt you, it’s the ones that you do take where things go wrong that hurt.”


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