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Texas Rockers Rally For Producer Who Survived High-Voltage Shock

Patch logo Patch 7/8/2021 Mark Konkol
a man wearing a hat: Modern Electric Sound Recorders owner Jeff Saenz has a long recovery ahead after surviving a high-voltage shock. © Photo by Rico DeLeon Modern Electric Sound Recorders owner Jeff Saenz has a long recovery ahead after surviving a high-voltage shock.

EAST DALLAS, TX — The thing that draws me to Texas is the music. Specifically, the modern melting pot of Americana and rock 'n' roll, country, blues, soul and R&B that for nearly a decade has flowed out of Dallas and Austin to small and large stages across the country — sometimes on the way to the Grammy Awards.

That's what steered my storytelling tour of America to the Lone Star State. I hoped to share happy tales of traveling bands readying for fall tours and new record releases.

But those will have to wait due to a freak accident — and there's no better way to describe it — at the heart of a tragic, and miraculous, story of what happened after the power went out in East Dallas on June 1.

It was a clear night after a record rainfall.

Music producer Jeff Saenz heard what sounded like a thunderclap just before the lights went out on his block.

And, like many of his neighbors, he stepped outside to see what all the commotion was about.

Saenz's Modern Electric Sound Recorders business partner, Beau Bedford — a founding member of psychedelic Texas-boogie band The Texas Gentlemen — said no one saw what happened.

They only heard Saenz's screams.

"Jeff went to see what was going on. He came into contact with a downed power line. Not the line that goes to the house. The 400-volt, main city power line," Bedford said. "It was in his front yard. He stumbled upon it, and it conducted to him."

Saenz was burning. With the help of neighbors, his fiancée, Monica Cooper, separated Saenz from the live wire with a broom. They used fire blankets, which Saenz had recently bought as a precaution while he tinkered with motorcycles, to put out the flames.

Cooper's teenage son, acted heroically, too, Bedford said.

"Jude held Monica and Jeff's daughter, Lola, in his arms while calling 911," Bedford said. "He remained calm and cool while watching the craziest accident unfold right before him."

Saenz was rushed to the hospital, where he remains in intensive care with third- and fourth-degree burns covering more than 25 percent of his body. He's undergone six surgeries so far.

Earlier this month, doctors amputated his lower left arm. And later this week, Bedford said, Saenz is set to undergo surgery to amputate his entire right arm, which expected to speed his recovery and return home.

What's amazing, friends who have visited Saenz said, is that surviving a near-fatal, high-voltage electric shock hasn't changed him.

'Whatever You Need, Bro'

Saenz, 43, was a founding member of J. Charles and the Trainrobbers, and singer and guitar player in The Strays — a Los Angeles garage-rock band that scored a song on Tony Hawk's Pro Skater video game — before opening Modern Electric at 4141 Office Parkway in Dallas.

a man wearing a hat: Jeff Saenz performs live. (Photo by Rico DeLeon) © Provided by Patch Jeff Saenz performs live. (Photo by Rico DeLeon)

Saenz has engineered records by Reverend Horton Heat, Dead Flowers, David Ramirez and unreleased demo tracks for Leon Bridges, who was named the official 2021 Texas State Musician by state lawmakers.

Modern Electric is the beating heart of a multi-genre music scene in Texas frequented by the likes of country music singer Paul Cauthen, Nikki Lane, Bridges and their contemporaries.

Modern Electric producer Jason Burt was a financially struggling restaurant server and church guitar player until he met Saenz, who hired him to help out around the studio for 50 bucks a day.

That was 10 years ago, long before Burt — who performs under the stage name "Electrophunck" — developed into one of Texas' most sought-after producers and songwriters while collaborating with Saenz and Bedford, his best pals.

"Looking back on that time, I'm not even sure that I deserved it. But that's how Jeff is. He's a conduit for making things happen," Burt said.

"Whether it's Leon [Bridges], who is my buddy that I've written some songs for, coming in to do some demo recordings or some young kid I believed in … Jeff treats everyone the same. He let us come into the studio for free when we didn't have money to front it, and he'd engineer the session. Jeff never closed a door on me. It's always, 'Whatever you need, bro.'"

a man sitting on top of a laptop: Jeff Saenz (center) engineers a song for country singer Paul Cauthen at Modern Electric Sound Recorders. © Provided by Patch Jeff Saenz (center) engineers a song for country singer Paul Cauthen at Modern Electric Sound Recorders.

Even as Saenz prepares for surgery Thursday to amputate his right arm near the shoulder, he's still concerned about the crew of musicians at Modern Electric that he considers family, business partner Bedford said.

"I got to see him in the hospital. It was just after they had taken his lower left arm off. And I walked in his room and all he wants to know about is how everybody else is feeling," Bedford said. "It's all so traumatic … and Jeff wants to know if everybody else is OK, and he's in unbelievable spirits."

Modern Electric studio manager and backup singer Taylor Nicks said Saenz greeted her with a wink, and a "Hey, girl," during a recent hospital visit.

"I was feeling anxious, and it was a great relief to know that my friend is still there, lucid and mentally sharp like always. When I walked up to him, he said, "Kind of freaky isn't it?'" Nicks said.

"I told him that I was glad the rest of him is still here and, 'It's good to be in front of you.' He said, 'It's good to be in front of you, too.'"

The road to recovery will be long and uncertain, except for one thing: Saenz won't be alone.

"He's got bro insurance," Burt said. "I'm upset and distraught with the situation but 100 percent positive that our crew has his back and whatever Jeff does next it's going to be as bad-ass as everything he as already done."

Since the accident, Texas musicians, artists, strangers and friends have rallied around Saenz and his family.

"In just every avenue that someone could reach out to help, they have," Nicks said. "There has been the most profound outpouring from our community and beyond to support Jeff, his family and his business."

Saenz's artist pals sold T-shirts and shop rags, booked studio time, donated art, guitars and gear for silent auctions and established the Jeff Saenz Recovery Project, an online fundraising hub.

diagram: Image provided. © Provided by Patch Image provided.

On Sunday, the Modern Electric's crew is set to host "Jeff Fest," a fundraising concert headlined by some of Saenz's favorite artists including Cauthen, David Ramirez, Matthew Logan Vasquez of Delta Spirit, Jonathan Tyler, Thomas Csorba and Sir Woman, on two stages at The Double Wide in Dallas.

"Jeff is so stoked. He's so emotionally driven about people. He's empathetic and sympathetic. This outpouring from all our friends and extended community is lighting up his world in the hospital," Bedford said. "Beyond the money we raised, having the support of our community has given him so much strength and encouragement."

Saenz is already talking of his comeback, a recovery that could take a year or longer for him to heal and get fitted with prosthetics.

"He's not sure what he might be capable of, but he's already preparing mentally for how to face the challenges ahead," Nicks said.

"He was telling me we're going to need a Pro-Tools tech who can be his hands for a while, so he can get back to producing records. He seemed to have a lot of grace for himself. He wasn't angry or upset or 'woe is me.' … He told me that [overcoming his injuries] was his path to endure."

She Said, 'Yes.'

Saenz recovery journey started by following through on a proposal that kept getting delayed by other people's joy.

He had taken gemstones from a family heirloom and had them placed in a ring of his own design in preparation to ask Cooper to marry him in what his pals expected to be a grand romantic gesture.

Then, Cooper's good friend got engaged. Another of their best pals announced planned nuptials. So, Saenz waited to pop the question to Cooper, an act of kindness to give milestones in his friends' lives the space they deserved.

Then, the accident happened. "Monica has been by Jeff's side every day. She and Jeff are the strongest human being I've ever gotten to witness," Bedford said. "They have no complaints, take every day as it is, and as a team they're just rolling with it."

Once Saenz was "out of the woods," Nicks said, he asked friends to bring the engagement ring to his hospital room.

Saenz asked Cooper to marry him.

She said yes, and shared the news on social media.

When Nicks asked about the proposal during her visit, Saenz told her he had learned that there's no such thing as perfect timing.

The singer's speaking voice fluttered with emotion as she recounted Jeff saying from his hospital bed, 'I couldn't wait another minute."

It sounded lyrics to a love song that hasn't been written yet.

The stuff that pulls me toward Texas.

Mark Konkol, recipient of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting, wrote and produced the Peabody Award-winning series "Time: The Kalief Browder Story." He was a producer, writer and narrator for the "Chicagoland" docuseries on CNN and a consulting producer on the Showtime documentary "16 Shots."

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