There must be days when Jamie Hilboldt feels like he's in a time warp. He jokes about being old but some of his best-known employers, such as Archie Bell and Gary Puckett, were established stars when he was just starting high school. He's the youngster in Gary Puckett and the Union Gap's band photos. He's playing songs that were hits 40 years ago, but he's not in a cover band. But he's a high-tech keyboard player who never leaves home without his MacBook Pro and AudioBox USB. He even used to work as a tech for synth pioneer Dave Smith's software company Seer Systems, creators of the Reality soft synth. However you may categorize some of the bands he plays with, a dinosaur he is not.
From his early years in Elmira, New York, Jamie Hilboldt and his brother Lannie played music. "We had only musicians in the family," he remarks. Initially, Jamie played guitar and sax while Lannie played trumpet and bass. (Lannie Hilboldt is still a gigging bass player.) But when one of Jamie's bands needed a keyboardist, he found a used Vox Jaguar organ, and he has been playing keys ever since.
Hilboldt spend the 1970s touring with show bands, playing everything from fancy resorts to Elks lodges. While touring, he often helped teach younger MCA Records artists how to survive on the road. By the early 1980s, both Hilboldt brothers were working a house gig on South Padre Island, Texas. While there, Jamie took college classes on the side and played in the college jazz band. "I played the Texas Jazz Festival with the college jazz band and ran into sax player extraordinaire Kirk Whalum and his then-keyboard player Rick Jackson, who convinced me that I needed to move to Austin, which was really becoming a hot spot for music. As fate would have it, the house gig ended a month later, and I became an Austinite."
While working with a variety of Austin-based acts (including Rotel and the Hot Tomatoes, which played at several U.S. Presidential inaugurations and twice performed at the White House), he met a musical director from the Las Vegas show "Legends in Concert," which led to a series of tours with "Legends," mostly overseas.
Back in Austin, Hilboldt learned that the Funk Brothers were doing promotional appearances for the new movie Standing In the Shadows of Motown, needed a keyboard player for a few dates, and were opening their tour in Austin. Hilboldt got the gig. One thing led to another, and before long, he was playing keys for the legendary Archie Bell and the Drells. "I can play 'Tighten Up' forever," laughs Hilboldt. Over the years, he has performed with such artists as Shawn Colvin, Ray Benson, Gatemouth Brown, the Platters, the Coasters, the Drifters, the Marvelettes, and even the Duke Ellington Orchestra (under the direction of Mercer Ellington).
Hilboldt's current main gig came his way when a connection from "Legends" recommended him to Gary Puckett, who was looking for a new keyboardist. "I had to go to Nashville and audition, then wait while they went through some 30 other guys," he recalls. "In Puckett's shows, you have to cover the keys and the orchestra parts and sing all at the same time. Never a dull moment on this gig!"
Today, Jamie Hilboldt tours the world as the keyboardist with Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, though he also occasionally gigs with Archie Bell, WC Clark, and a few others. Wherever he goes, he brings his PreSonus AudioBox USB and MacBook Pro, which provide most of the sounds for Puckett's live show. "The AudioBox is perfect for touring," he explains. "It's small enough to fly anywhere, it's reliable, and it's built like a tank. It never fails. Not to mention it delivers crystal clear sound. The sound is always perfect. What more could you ask for on the road?"
Hilboldt also uses his AudioBox USB in his project studio. "I had been using a M-Audio FastTrack Pro," he recalls, "and I was on my second one because they weren't holding up well. I walked into Guitar Center here in Austin and told the sales guy, 'I need an interface that I can treat like crap and that will still work and sound great. I literally throw this in my 49-note keyboard bag and fly it every weekend in the overhead compartment.' He suggested the AudioBox USB, and it immediately became my road buddy."
Anyone who tours a lot will tell you that the equipment takes a beating, and reliability is critical. So just how tough is the AudioBox USB? Relates Hilboldt, "In Perth, Australia, during a soundcheck that was going downhill fast, a tech backed into my rig. I caught my MacBook Pro but couldn't get the AudioBox as it bounced along the floor. My backup—I have two AudioBoxes just in case—was still in the hotel, and I was getting a sinking feeling. I picked up my AudioBox, and to my surprise, it didn't have a scratch. I can't say the same for the theater's wooden floor! I plugged my AudioBox back into my Mac, the light came on, and it worked perfectly. Most interfaces would be in pieces!"
Hilboldt has one half-serious request for future AudioBoxes: "Can it get even smaller?" Probably not, Jamie—but spoken like a true road warrior!