When Eric Essix walked into the Alys Stephens Center Sept. 1 at 8 a.m., it marked a milestone of sorts for the talented guitarist: He was "officially" employed.
When was the last time he could say that?
|Birmingham native and accomplished jazz guitarist and recording artist Eric Essix now has a “day job,” too. He began full-time Sept. 1 as the new artist coordinator for the Alys Stephens Center.
"Well," he says, pausing as a smile creeps across his face, "actually it's been 20 years since I had a 'real' job."
The laughter that follows his remark reveals Essix's sense of disbelief that it has, in fact, been two decades since he was officially employed. It also gives a sense of his excitement for what is to come in his position as the new artist coordinator for UAB's Alys Stephens Center (ASC).
Essix, a Birmingham native and accomplished jazz guitarist and recording artist, has somewhat traded in the make-a-record tour, make-a-record tour lifestyle he has lived for much of the past 20 years. He'll continue to make music and tour, but he says he wants to focus more on helping artists and students. He also plans to enroll in school and build on the degree he earned from Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music in 1993.
As the ASC's artist coordinator, Essix will facilitate the contracts between the artist's agency representing ASC performers and UAB. He also will work with the ASC hospitality coordinator to ensure all facets of an artists' visit to UAB meet the highest standards.
The position requires excellent marketing skills, and Essix will be charged with using social media platforms to promote artists and performances.
"Eric really is a triple-threat; he's an artist, an educator and a marketing professional," says Jessica Simpson, director of marketing and programming for the ASC. "Having someone who comes to the business as an artist is a huge asset to the ASC on many levels. In addition with the opening of ArtPlay - the Alys Stephens Center's new Arts Education & Outreach Center, there is a vast array of opportunities to expand Eric's role."
While Essix may not have had a real job for two decades, he's been plenty busy. He's recorded 14 albums in that time and toured almost every major city in the United States, along with stops in India, Hungary, the Ukraine and the Caribbean to name a few. "That's actually a 24/7 job — harder than anything I've ever done," he says.
Essix has played every major venue in Alabama — including the ASC many times — and clubs, theaters and concert halls throughout the country. He's also coordinated much of his own marketing through the years. He even co-founded the hugely successful Preserve Jazz Festival with Jason Henderson in Hoover five years ago. All of these experiences have made him ready for his new role.
"When I found out about this position and read the qualifications for the job, I felt like I had been working all my life for this," Essix says. "It encompasses so much of what I do and what I have done for the past 20 years."
Despite Essix's world travels, he is a Southerner at heart. His love of Birmingham and Alabama has been made evident in his music, including three albums he was inspired to write -
"Southbound," "Somewhere in Alabama" and "Birmingham," his most recent recording. Essix spent most of his childhood on Birmingham's north side in Fountain Heights, and his high school years were spent in Orlando at Forest Lake Academy boarding school.
After high school, Essix worked for UPS as a delivery driver for 11 years. "I have so many people come to my shows and say, 'Yeah, you were my UPS driver,'" he says. "That was my first life, I guess."
He applied to Berklee in he mid 1980s and was accepted, but was not offered a scholarship. The money he was making at UPS was too good to turn down at the time, so he continued to drive the big brown truck. He also made two commercially successful records - "First Impressions" and "Second Thoughts" - in his down time and played local venues relentlessly.
He reapplied to Berkley in the early 1990s and was accepted again - this time with a scholarship.
"Those two records, I think, were the reason I got the scholarship," Essix says. "I had every intention of going to school much earlier in life, but when I started working at UPS I decided, 'I think I'll stay here for a while.' But I was good with that. Everything happens in its proper time."
It was at Berklee where he had what he calls his last real job. He was a studio manager in the music production and engineering department as a work-study student. At age 33 and with a degree in hand, Essix left Boston in 1993 and headed home. He couldn't have been happier.
"Boston was a nice place to visit - a great town," he says. "I've got nothing bad to say about Boston. But I'm a Southerner. Even flying in, when I got over Tennessee air space, I was like, 'Yeah, I'm home.'"
He didn't stay long, however, recording his hard-driving third album "Third Degree Burn" featuring a new band called Modern Man. He hit the road soon after, and that's where he stayed until this opportunity revealed itself.
"I really wanted to transition out of touring and performing year round," Essix says. "It's been constant - being on the road, performing and all of the things that go along with that. I wanted to get away from that a little bit and try something else."
Shift in focus
Like many musicians, one of Essix's main goals through the years has been to leave a legacy of great music. But he says somewhere in the past three years, it became more important for him to leave a different legacy - teaching and inspiring young people.
"I felt like that would be more lasting or just as important as great recordings and great performances," Essix says. "Great performances come and go and people remember them and then they're just that - memories. They don't really affect people's lives in a way that I wanted to affect people's lives, which was giving more in terms of community and that kind of thing. I thought teaching would be the best way to do that."
Essix taught himself to play guitar by listening to albums by Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5 and Al Green. He says he's not a great clinician when it comes to music theory, but he has plenty of experiences in other areas of the music business he believes can help aspiring musicians.
"I know a lot about making and producing records," Essix says. "And the things that I feel like I'm good at and have some knowledge about, I want to share as much of that as I possibly can."
While Essix is looking forward to teaching students at ArtPlay, he's also excited about the opportunity to continue his own education.
Essix says one of the reasons he wanted to go to Berklee was to "learn all I could about my craft.
"A lot of musicians just play and they don't add the educational component to their lives," he says. "There are tons of great musicians out there that don't have degrees - but personally, in order for me to climb the highest heights, education is so important. I want to go as far as I can. Teaching to affect people's lives and continuing my own education are things important to me now."
But fear not, music lovers. Essix is not finished playing and recording music. He's putting the finishing touches on a solo Christmas album expected to be released before Thanksgiving, and he will continue to play and record while he is working in the ASC. He'll also to continue to do short tours from time-to-time.
"I don't want anybody to think I'm stuck behind a desk, doing 9 to 5 now," Essix says.
"That's definitely not the case. In fact, I think having this position will present more opportunities for me to do my own music, which is why I got into this business in the first place. Now, I'll be able to pick and choose the things I want to do as opposed to jumping on everything that comes my way. That's a very liberating feeling. Now I can be a little bit more selective and creative.
"And I never want to stop playing," he adds. "I'm not necessarily an entertainer, but I enjoy performing. I love making music in front of people. As long as I have that desire - which will always be there - I'll always be playing somewhere."