Jeff Saenz almost died in his backyard on the night of June 1, 2021. The musician, producer, and owner of Modern Electric Sound Recorders—the Dallas studio where Leon Bridges, Paul Cauthen, Nikki Lane, and many other local and national musicians have recorded—was at home in Little Forest Hills when he went outside to investigate why the power had gone out. In the dark, Saenz stepped on a downed electrical line and was electrocuted. Rescued by his fiancée and a neighbor, he spent 10 weeks in the hospital, initially losing his left arm below the elbow and eventually needing his right arm amputated as well. Immediately, Dallas and Fort Worth musicians rallied to hold fundraisers for Saenz and his fiancée, her son, and the couple’s toddler daughter. (You can donate here.) Just over a year later, Saenz is back in the studio and performing. Recently, we talked to him about his return.
“When I came out of my medically induced coma, my fiancée said, ‘Hey, baby, you were in an accident. They had to amputate your left hand.’ My first thought was Guitar is gone. Guitar has been the conduit to my life. The majority of the people in my life I know because of the guitar.
“That thought of how this would affect my music stayed with me and haunted me for a couple weeks. Even as a producer, how am I going to communicate my ideas to an artist who I am collaborating with on a song? I’m so used to being able to pick up a guitar and showing them the chords that I’m thinking about. Or sit behind a piano and figure out a vocal melody or sit down behind the drums and crudely play out an idea to a drummer. If I can’t do that, what lane do I have to occupy in the studio?
“There came a day when I was FaceTiming in the ICU with Max Poscente, who I was collaborating with on music. He said, ‘Hey, man, I’ve got a new song idea I can show you if you’ve got a second.’ I was a little apprehensive because being introduced to a new song meant that I would have to engage, and I would find out if I had any valid spot in the studio.
“As he started playing it for me, ideas just started pouring out and it just felt so incredible to be participating in music. There was a major realization that I could still be a part of this; I can still be part of songs. If I’ve got a way to translate these ideas and bring these songs to fruition, then everything’s going to be OK.
“That song is on Max’s next project—under the moniker About You—coming out soon, which is very much a collaboration between he and I. If you were to tell me prior to this that I would make maybe my best work as a producer after the loss of both my hands, I would laugh, but it’s definitely something I’m really proud of.
“Technically, I made my return to the stage three months after the accident at Jeff Fest 2, a musician-organized fundraiser for me at Granada. I’d only been out of the hospital for three weeks at that point. I didn’t even know if I’d have the energy to see the show, let alone perform. But I just decided at the last minute to run up and jump onstage for the encore of the show. A lot of the people that had performed that night were up there on the stage, and we performed “Willin’,’’ by Little Feat.
“It was exactly a year after my accident that I got to really get back to performing. I used to be a part of the larger collective of the Texas Gentlemen before it was whittled down to a defined band. I had the guys come together and made a set list of 15 fun songs that people could enjoy at Double Wide.Nothing down. Nothing sad. I just wanted to reclaim the day. There’s no reason for June 1 to be some dark day on the calendar for me. I’m alive and with my family. We did songs from the Beach Boys, the Dead, Neil Diamond, Springsteen.
“We couldn’t find a time with everyone’s schedule to rehearse prior to the day of the show, so we rehearsed at soundcheck that day. And then we just jumped up there and played. It felt wonderful. I look forward to much more of that.
“The studio is still up and running, and we’re busy enough to be paying the bills. I do have some things from the past that I have not yet finished. I have a project we started a few years back, and we’d recorded pretty much the whole album minus the vocals, so it’s kind of serendipitous that I have that to work on.
“I don’t know exactly what the future holds at this point, but I’m just trying to take the opportunity every time I can to collaborate with my good friends on music.”
This story originally appeared in the September issue of D Magazine with the headline, “Still Willin’”. Write to [email protected].