Sound Man

Posted on July 18, 2009 – 9:23 PM | by OldManFoster
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For 10 years now, Jim McClain has been recording live performances by most (if not all) of Sacramento’s legendary underground rock bands. His dedication to recording bands such as Magnolia Thunderfinger, Sex 66 and Mother Hips (to name but a few) has made Jim something of a local legend in his own right. With his warm smile, friendly nature and enthusiasm for local rock, Jim has become an indispensable one-man audio/visual curator, helping to chronicle, catalog and preserve Sacramento’s music scene.

Jim“The band that prompted me to get started with this whole affair was Sex 66,” McClain recalls. “A friend of mine got me to go to the Heritage Festival in June, 1999, and a couple of bands that really impressed me were Sex 66 and Jackpot.” This marked a turning point for McClain, who had just moved to Sacramento. Soon he was attending shows at Old Ironsides regularly, and familiarizing himself with the local bands.

“I wasn’t really the kind of person that would go to bars or anything,” Jim remembers. “I saw that Sex 66 was playing [at Old Ironsides] fairly regularly, so I went down there one night and was just blown away.” It quickly occurred to McClain that nobody was documenting Sacramento’s live music scene. So he bought himself a cassette recorder and did just that.

Soon, McClain was asking sound engineers at shows if he could make recordings directly off the soundboard. “I was surprised, because everyone was so cool with it,” says McClain, who mostly records at Old Ironsides, The Blue Lamp, The Distillery, or during the Summer Concerts Series at Caesar Chavez Park.

“It’s how good a guy he is [that] allows him to go up to the sound guys and just plug into the board now,” says close friend and photographer Jay Spooner. “The reason he’s able to do that stuff is that he’s such a great guy. He knows all the bands, and the bands really love him.”

These recordings are all part of Jim’s extensive live music archive. McClain is now on his ninth “book” of CDs storage cases, with sleeve after sleeve of local rock shows dating as far back as 1999. By McClain’s estimation, he has over 200 of these recordings on CD, and another 100 on cassette tape.

“The more I got to know him, the more I realized that he had a ton of this stuff,” says long time promoter Jerry Perry, who himself has amassed a large archive of local recordings and memorabilia. “He is just a genuine music lover, and he’s genuinely a fan of the local music scene.”

McClain’s modest one-bedroom apartment is a virtual vault of local music memorabilia. Show fliers for bands such as Red Planet, Pop Gun, The Decibels and Rock the Light line the walls. Above McClain’s command center (an old desk with a computer monitor, stereo, turntable, DVD player, VCR and other assorted electronic gear) is a framed collage of band stickers. On one couch rests a foot tall pile of show fliers, many of which advertise too-awesome-to-be true Cattle Club shows (ex: Nirvana opening for Dinosaur Jr!)

“I have a long history of collecting bootleg recordings.” McClain says, recalling a time when, as a teenager, he would record live music off the radio during the BBC Rock Hour. Prompted by the now-defunct magazine, Live Music Review, McClain made the publication’s mantra “Go see a live band” his religion. Recording local bands, it seems, was the next logical step in McClain’s music-loving evolution.

“My recording technique is not completely professional,” McClain’s admits. “because I don’t do a multi-track recording. It’s a live mix.” His recordings are raw, sometimes reflecting sound variances such as level changes and feedback. Asked if he’s ever thought of recording bands in a studio setting, Jim chuckles, “Everybody asks me if I have a studio and I always tell them that my studio is the club.”

“He’s got his own particular mics that he uses,” says Mike Farrell, guitarist for bands such as Daisy Spot, Sex 66 and Th’ Losin Streaks. “So when I see the mics, I think ‘Oh, Jim McClain must be here,’”

For all his dedication and hard work, Jim is quick to point out that recording bands is strictly a hobby, not a career. “I don’t charge,” McClain notes. “A lot of the bands I see are struggling young bands. I have had a few bands give me 20 bucks or something. And then I’ve got some people that are great about buying me beers. I’ll say ‘just buy me a Guinness at the bar.’”

“I’m really easy about giving these recordings out to the bands, pretty much,” Jim adds. “A lot of [bands] use them for review.” In fact, bands such as Freight Train Riders of America, The Gynas and The Groovie Ghoulies liked McClain’s recordings so much, they released them as EPs.

Jim now augments his audio recordings with multi-camera video recordings of shows. “I got to thinking ‘It would be great to have video to go along with my audio.’” laughs McClain, who shoots these videos largely on his own. His videos for bands like Th’ Losin Streaks, The Brodys and The Ancient Suns and be viewed at

“I consider Jim to be one of the biggest fans and one of the hugest supporters of Sacramento’s local music scene,” reiterates Farrell. “He’s like the fixture that everybody knows and everybody likes,” adds Spooner. “He’s a treasure.”

“The main reward for me is just knowing that I’m making some really great recordings,” Jim says with a smile, adding, “I certainly want to encourage anybody that doesn’t go out to see a band to try to go do that.”

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