Is he an electrical engineer, an educator or a musician?
Photo:Tritschler operating his vintage Ampex tape machine and his custom mixing board Photo By: Mike Clare
This is where Joe Tritschler lives.
Confining Tritschler to the page is a daunting task. Does the story begin with his career in music? Does the homemade – in every sense of the word – studio in his basement start the conversation? What about his academic career and life as a teacher at Wright State University? How do these different facets come together in one man?
Just who is this Crazy Joe Tritschler anyway?
His first recordings, under the moniker Yer Average Joe, feature a more hard rock edge that owed a large debt to Jimi Hendrix and Black Sabbath. His later band Crazy Joe and the Mad River Outlaws has released three full-length albums and an EP. Their early sound leaned heavily on rockabilly, but always brimmed with a nostalgic sensibility that could have just as easily been released in 1964 as 2004 – think The Stray Cats if Brian Setzer were a nerd.
That may sound harsh, but with a 2008 disc titled King of Nerd-A-Billy, it seems a title Trischler has more than come to terms with. He sometimes plays with rockabilly stalwart Deke Dickerson, but their first meeting sprung from Tritschler’s other talents.
“The story was he had amplifier problems and I told him I could probably fix his amp in his hotel room,” Tritschler said. “We propped it up on bibles and I fixed a couple solder joints and he was like, ‘Wow.’ If he didn’t think of me as a musical resource, I think that he found I could at least be a technical resource.”
That’s not to say that Crazy Joe can’t jam.
His effortless playing and lightning-fast licks denote a player whom has taken great care and calculation in the practice room. The tunes have evolved into more ballad-driven and somewhat jazzy over the years, but at the center of it all is Tritschler and the Crazy Joe persona.
It is a character that seems to be in constant contradiction. He plays in a rock band, but he has a doctorate. He has an authoritative expert knowledge of several fields, but at times seems self-conscious and overly nervous. He earns a living as a college instructor in the modernist field of electrical engineering, yet he surrounds himself with a world perhaps best described as utterly and unapologetically retro.
The contradictions also exist in his studio. His home blends in seamlessly to the suburban community that surrounds it. The basement is only accessible through the garage and the first thing inside the door is a washer and dryer. Just beyond that sits a rather non-descript workspace. However, closer inspection reveals the truth. It’s not messy, but there is a sense of controlled chaos. A column of drawers that in any other house might contain screws, bolts, nuts or tools is labeled with all manner of electronic gadgetry. Several projects in various states of completion sit on the workbench, but all of this is quickly forgotten with a step into one of the two other rooms.
Both studio spaces are small. The control room resembles a set for the classic TV show “Star Trek.” All of the equipment looks simultaneously futuristic and old-fashioned. It’s a perfect amalgamation of the Crazy Joe aesthetic, and with good reason: He built virtually every aspect of the studio himself.
Understand the depth of that statement – he didn’t go to a music megastore or website and “build” a studio by buying all the necessary components. He soldered all the connections and assembled it all by hand, beginning with the console.
“That was the first big thing I tried to build, which is totally ludicrous – it’s the most insane thing you can try to build from scratch,” Tritschler said. “This whole mess started when I was 16 and got a beautiful Ampex eight-track tape machine, but couldn’t afford a decent console; or any console, for that matter. I had also recently caught a glimpse of the schematic for a very popular mixer at the time and was horrified by the number of integrated circuits in the signal path. So I decided to build a console from scratch. That turned into a quest to build a studio with everything built from scratch.”
The studio space is bigger than the control room, but imagining a full band inside its confines is hard to picture. Still, a noticeable difference in sound quality can be heard just in speaking voices, and when asked about it, the conversation quickly gets a little tough to follow.
He stuffed the rafters with unfaced R19 insulation and covered it with a few layers of fabric. He did the equations to get the right coefficient of absorption down to 250 hertz.
Tritschler realized pretty quickly that the technical talk might be a bit thick and quickly backpedaled.
“I hang out with nerds all day,” Tritschler said.
He looks like an electrical engineer, which just so happens to be the field he earned his doctorate in.
That’s right – the guitar-slingin’ rock star who also tours with rockabilly mainstay Deke Dickerson is also a bona fide doctor. However, in typical Crazy Joe fashion, even that aspect of his life is far from traditional.
“Most engineers with Ph.D.s do research – that’s the whole thing,” Tritschler said. “You publish in peer-reviewed journals; you collaborate with people on base, on contracts, whatever. I never wanted to do that. The only thing I ever wanted to do was teach.”
Teaching certainly comprises a large role in Trischler’s world and he seemed most comfortable when talking about that aspect of his life. Crazy Joe does not teach the classes – Dr. Tritschler does. When he talked of breaking things down into easily digestible components, there are no self-deprecating digs or uncertainty. His passion and love of working with undergraduates carries an authoritative tone.
When he talked of his music though, he deals out far fewer compliments.
His nervousness and self-consciousness never surfaces in an overt or cartoonish sort of way. He’s composed and laid back at times, reminiscing about the first time he heard Black Sabbath in his buddy Richard’s ’66 Impala. When he talks about teaching, the manic side disappears. He recalls his days as an adjunct when during exams or quizzes he would write on the board when his upcoming shows would be taking place, before erasing it amid the chuckles of his students. He laughs about how students sometimes do a bit of research on Dr. Tritschler and find out about Crazy Joe.
“The end of the semester last spring, one of my students says ‘I just found out who you are’ and I’m like ‘Oh no, I don’t even know what that means,’” Tritschler said.
And there lies perhaps the most striking dichotomy of the Dr. Tritschler/Crazy Joe personas. His accomplishments in every field he has tackled cannot be denied. He earned a doctorate, he built a studio virtually from scratch and he has recorded a half a dozen albums and toured internationally as a rock guitarist.
Yet, when playing or discussing his music, he can’t help but lob verbal jabs at himself.
While showing how different approaches to recording sound in contrast to each other, he played two different versions of the same song. The first was cut live with other musicians in an attempt to recreate the way it was done before ProTools and endless computer tracks. The second featured Tritschler overdubbing all the instruments. He moved around the room nervously as the tracks played. He seemed conscious that he was blocking the sound of the speakers. He shifted around uncomfortably, and chimed in to poke fun at his singing or how the track was a cheesy love song.
Perhaps it boils down to just how much music means to him. He said he probably would have never gotten involved with engineering if it wasn’t for falling in love with his dad’s old albums and the way they sounded. He still lives close to his parents, and an obvious admiration springs up when he talks about how his dad was an electrical engineer.
“He had a work bench with a bunch of test equipment and a bunch of old parts,” Tritschler said.
His dad had a keen eye for classic electronics and the stockpile of pieces and parts allowed a young Joe to experiment.
“Especially in the 1970s, tubes were not considered cool. People were throwing that stuff out, but he kept all of it,” Tritschler said. “I just had all of this stuff to play around with.”
Ultimately, conveying who Tritschler is with words becomes a futile endeavor. His songs need to be heard and his studio needs to be seen to truly get at the answer to where Crazy Joe comes from.
The “crazy” in Crazy Joe ends up being little more than a title, similar to his title of doctor – both required effort and dedication to be realized. His academic career required hours upon hours of toil and trouble, just like the development of his musicianship.
It began when his mother bought him a plastic Willie Nelson guitar from the Big Bear Supermarket and continued when he jammed a microphone into an acoustic guitar and hooked it up to a reel-to-reel deck, cranking it up until it distorted. Even then, we start to see the different facets coming together to make up the whole. His first forays into engineering came when his parents wouldn’t buy him an electric guitar or amp that distorted. He was forced to find a way.
“I guess from the very beginning, my approach to problem solving was just to start trying weird stuff,” Tritschler said. “I was always miserable doing just one thing. I guess I can’t really picture having done it any other way.”
For music, audio equipment and more information on Crazy Joe Tritschler, please visit his website at crazyjoe.org.
Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com