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David Hekhouse Lets Music Take Him Here, There and Everywhere

The force behind Jensen's MainStage and Rock Camp gives local bands and musicians a place to play

David Hekhouse has spent the past two decades ostensibly living out every teenage boy’s wildest rock ‘n’ roll fantasies.

He and his band, The Tearaways, have recorded six studio albums, including a recording session at the inimitable Abbey Road Studios in London, made famous by The Beatles. They have played repeatedly at fundraisers hosted by Tom Hanks, and they have hobnobbed with stars of music and film. They have toured all over the world, and performed at the renowned Cavern Club in Liverpool more than a dozen times. And, of course, they even played a gig at the perennial mountaintop of rock stardom and the envy of burgeoning rock bands everywhere, the Playboy Mansion.

But long before he was rubbing elbows with celebrities and jamming at legendary venues, Hekhouse says it all started with one simple concept: A passion for music.

“I’ve played in bands and worked in music stores since early high school,” said Hekhouse, a 45-year-old father of three and manager and vice president of Jensen Guitar & Music Co., 2830 De la Vina St. “I started out doing the garage band thing, and then having a little bit better than a garage band, and then doing the local music store thing.

“I have just always tried to follow my heart, and music is where my heart is.”

Hekhouse was born in Santa Barbara, but grew up in Connecticut. After graduating high school in the East, his heart led him back to the West Coast to attend the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, where he received much of his musical education. Then, in 1985, he returned to Santa Barbara and took a job teaching at Jensen’s, where for the past 25 years he has been able to pass along his invaluable life experience to others through music.

Hekhouse has been delegated much of Jensen’s day-to-day responsibility by founder and president Chris Jensen, who originally opened the doors in 1973. A few years ago, Hekhouse made an executive decision that would change the face of Jensen’s Music, and fill a conspicuous void in the local music scene.

“About three and a half years ago, I had just gotten back from Europe, and things seemed to be a little slow everywhere — I didn’t really see many all-ages concerts going on — so I decided, ‘Let’s build a stage,’” Hekhouse told Noozhawk. “I kind of thought, ‘If you build it, they will come!’ So New Year’s Day three years ago, I got out the Skil saw and some other tools and built a small stage as an experiment — and the experiment worked.”

David Hekhouse, right, and The Tearaways, which are quite a bit more than a side gig for him.
David Hekhouse, right, and The Tearaways, which are quite a bit more than a side gig for him. (The Tearaways photo)

Jensen’s MainStage began as a simple Saturday afternoon rock showcase for local talent. But as calls began pouring in from agents and bands looking to book gigs at the fresh venue, Hekhouse realized they would need more space. So about a year later, a larger stage was built and the wall was moved back to accommodate bigger events.

One thing that Hekhouse has organized for the past three summers via the MainStage is Jensen’s Santa Barbara Summer Rock Camp, a full-day weeklong music camp for youth. According to Hekhouse, kids are taught the basics of playing music, but perhaps equally important are some basics they are taught about life.

“Rock Camp is like a full-life experience for kids, not just a music experience,” Hekhouse said. “They learn things like diplomacy, because that’s what being in a band is all about — you have to know how to listen to the other guys, and also how to take charge when it’s your turn.”

The Rock Camps have been an unmitigated success, selling out each of the past three years, and Hekhouse and company are expecting this summer’s camps, beginning the first week in July, to do the same.

In fact, the Rock Camp model garnered so much attention in its first couple of years that a few parents decided they might want to get in on the act. After receiving several inquiries about the possibility of starting a Rock Camp for adults, Hekhouse began to mull over the idea.

While flying back from Liverpool, he and his business partner, Tearaways drummer Jesse Benenati, began discussing the prospect.

“We basically decided, yeah, we can do this for adults ... but we’re going to do it on a much bigger scale,” Hekhouse recalled. “We have this acronym WAG, which stands for We Are Going. And if we’re going ... Oh, we’re going!”

And thus MainStage Dream Tours was spawned.

Dream Tours is literally a fantasy camp for grownups. Hekhouse and Benenati decided they could take ordinary people who may feel as if they missed their opportunity to live out their rock ‘n’ roll dream, and make it come true. Over the course of a couple of months, the duo train people to be a part of a band, they learn a set of classic rock songs, and even write an original song together. But that’s all just an appetizer.

When Hekhouse and Benenati feel that the new band is ready, the main course is served. They take them to Liverpool to play a gig at the Cavern Club, hallowed ground for rock fans all over the world. The Beatles are reported to have played more than 300 shows at the legendary club. Over the course of a week, the band is treated to private tours of Beatles landmarks such as Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields, and they get the chance to rub elbows with some famous names from rock ‘n’ roll history. Highlights include a private lunch with John Lennon’s sister, Julia, and a sit-down pub session with Allan Williams, The Beatles’ first manager — more infamously known as “the man who gave The Beatles away.”

The climax of the week is a trip to London, where the band gets an all-day recording session in Studio 2 at Abbey Road, quite possibly the most famous recording studio in the world. But Hekhouse says that the entire experience is about much more than just music.

“On a Dream Tour, we really become life coaches, because it’s not just about the music,” he explained. “It’s about how you conduct yourself in situations you’re not necessarily accustomed to. My goal for people is to teach them how to hang. You’ve got to be able to have a beer at a hard-hat bar, and also be able to conduct yourself at a state dinner.”

So far, Hekhouse has done three Dream Tours, and he says that each time, his students have been absolutely transformed — from mere rock acolytes to full-blown rock ‘n’ roll performers, with the swagger to prove it. He and Benenati have their fourth adventure scheduled for June.

“It’s just the most mind-blowing experience for people,” said Hekhouse. “It really changes their lives.”

For Hekhouse, it has been the cultivation of relationships over the course of his career that has allowed him to share his experiences with others. But when he’s not jet-setting around the globe as a rock star, life coach, tour guide, and sherpa, Hekhouse is home in Santa Barbara, making sure that Jensen’s MainStage is providing a place for the next generation of musicians to start on their own path.

Noozhawk's Vivien Alexander, right, and Laurie Deans rock out during their recent
Noozhawk’s Vivien Alexander, right, and Laurie Deans rock out during their recent “Summer of Love” performance at Jensen’s Main Stage. (Alexander family photo)

Thanks to Hekhouse, Jensen’s MainStage has become one of the premiere venues for all-ages concerts in Santa Barbara. Girls of Rock Night, featuring all female talent, has quickly become a fan favorite. Also, Covered by 20 Night was recently launched, in which 20 or more different local bands each cover songs from a specified genre of music, and each band gets 10 minutes to perform. Beatles night, ‘50s night, a raucous Michael Jackson night and, most recently, Summer of Love night featuring songs from 1967, are just a few of the events that Hekhouse has organized, with outstanding results. In fact, during Summer of Love night, Noozhawk’s own Vivien Alexander channeled the 1960s, replete with headband and knee-high red leather boots, as her band Don’t Ask rocked out a Tommy James & the Shondells medley of “Crimson and Clover,” “I Think We’re Alone Now” and “Mony Mony.” Although Alexander forgot her “Lasso of Truth,” a great time was had by all!

Bands never have to pay to play at the MainStage, according to Hekhouse, and the $5 admission fee is either shared with the talent, or put toward Rock Camp scholarships.

“It provides a lot for my psyche to watch burgeoning talent develop,” Hekhouse said, “so I derive satisfaction out of that, and I know a lot of other people seem to as well.”

Whether sipping a pint of Guinness during a Dream Tour in Liverpool, playing in front of a packed house at a Tom Hanks fundraising event with The Tearaways, or emceeing a Covered by 20 night locally, Hekhouse remains true to his passion for music, and teaching. And if you ask him, that’s what life is all about.

“My motto for people is this: Whatever it is you’re doing, you better enjoy it, because you can measure success on many different levels, but you should be able to look back years after you’ve finished doing what you’re doing, and really say, ‘Wow, that was a lot of fun!’” he said. “Because then it was all worth it.”

Click here for more information about Dream Tours, Rock Camps or Jensen’s Music.

— Kevin McFadden is a Noozhawk contributor.

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