Stephen Funke spent years in South Florida doing sound for local bands. The quality of his work was stellar. Hard work, dedication, and determination finally landed him a spot with one of the most beloved rock bands on the planet, Cheap Trick. In anticipation of Cheap Trick’s upcoming concert on March 14th at Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, Stephen hopped on to the Jitney to share his story. Without a doubt, it’s a tale of a humble, local boy done good.
Let’s get this out of the way, is your name pronounced Funk, or Funky?
Stephen Funke: Funky….it’s German. In German it’s pronounced Funka.
So how did you originally get involved with sound?
I did lights for a band while I was in the navy. While we were touring, some groupie friends told me a Chicago band was looking for a soundman. Although I’d never done sound before, I told the band I thought I could do a decent job if they give me a chance. They hired me.
You weren’t born in South Florida, were you? How’d you end up in Miami?
No. I was born and raised in Green Bay. That Chicago band I worked for was looking for warmer weather. The bass player of the band was an ex-Army Ranger from Nam, so he could be a bit much to handle. We got to Rock World in Orlando, and another band, The Heaters, offered to hire us. To get away from the bass player, the lightman and I agreed. We made it to Fort Lauderdale, and after hanging out at the Elbo Room, we decided to leave the band. We slept in a park in downtown Ft. Lauderdale and the next day, we sold some blood to get money for food, a six-pack of beer and a bus ticket, and went to Miami. That was like ‘79/80’.
So now you’re in Miami. What next?
I worked 18 months for a cover band called Zimmeron. But then I was fired because the brother of the lightman wanted my job. So I became the fulltime sound guy for Cats on Holiday and The Front. The promoter of 27 Birds and Flynn’s, Richard Shelter, also started using me as the house sound guy.
Alright. How did Stephen Funke make the leap from South Florida to Cheap Trick?
Well, as Shelter brought more national names to South Florida, I started mixing bands like Suicidal Tendencies, DOA, and Girls School. By the mid-80s, I got hired by a touring lounge band. I left the tour after about four years, and ended up as the sound engineer for a club in Aniston, Alabama. Six months later, after I had the sound system dialed in for them, they fired me. I then had to decide….back to South Florida or Wisconsin. That was Labor Day 1989. I went back to Wisconsin and got a regular job at a glass and mirror company. I also did sound for a popular cover band called Billy Shears and eventually got a job setting up the sound system for a small concert club (Studio East) in Green Bay that had bands like Saigon Kick and LA Guns play there. After that, I got hired by Rad Audio, and that’s when I started doing mostly vocal systems for concerts. A friend of mine, the tour manager for Ted Nugent, hired me as stage manager for the Nugent/ZZ Top 2003 tour. They kept having problems with feedback on the monitors, so I became monitor engineer as well.
You really paid your dues!
Yep. Then when Cheap Trick’s monitor guy took a leave of absence to tour with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, they hired me. When the guy finished his tour, Cheap Trick kept me instead. I eventually quit because I wanted to work the front of the house.
So how did you get back to Cheap Trick?
I did sound for Micki Free and Shalamar, and in October, 2011, I went to see Cheap Trick during the Dream Police orchestra shows in Milwaukee.The Cheap Trick tour manager asked me if I could hang out backstage and check things out after the stage collapse on Ottawa. The next week, the guys unanimously agreed to hire me back permanently.
So this time you’re satisfied being a monitor guy? You’ve been with Cheap Trick a long time.
No. Not really (laughs). But I like the guys, they’re good guys. They’re more than my employers, they’re my friends.
Very, very cool. Okay, I know you own a bar in Green Bay.
Yep, Funkes BC. The BC stands for the original owners, Barb and Carol. I bartended there for like 10 years before taking it over. The bar is doing well.
Okay, last question. How much longer do you plan on doing this?
Well, it’s getting harder, but at least one more year. Next year is the 50th year anniversary tour and they’re planning some big shit. I’d like to be a part of it, just like it was cool to be involved with their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I did the monitors that night right up on that stage with them.
I’m really proud of your success. Very few people make it to the very top of the sound game. Thank you for taking the time to do this interview.
Hey, I have very fond memories of my time in South Florida. It was a very special place at a very special time for me. Lots of great talent that was never discovered. See you next week in Hollywood!