Jeff Saenz got home late the night of June 1st. He’d spent a long day at Modern Electric Sound Recorders, the recording studio he owns in Dallas, Texas, and was just settling in with his family when the power went out a little after 10 o’clock. Like many of his neighbors up and down the street, Saenz stepped outside to investigate. What happened next nearly killed him: While walking through his yard, he came in contact with a downed electric line in the dark and got electrocuted.
“Jeff was literally on fire in his front yard with 400 volts of electricity going through him for minutes until [his girlfriend] Monica and the neighbors could get him freed with a broom,” say Beau Bedford, a fellow producer and partner of Saenz’s who has worked with him at Modern Electric since it opened in 2012.
Saenz was rushed to nearby Parkland Hospital with third- and fourth-degree burns throughout 25 percent of his body, the worst of which was on his hands. He spent five weeks in the ICU and, devastatingly for someone who makes his living playing and recording music, had his left arm amputated below the elbow. Doctors are preparing to amputate his right arm as well, possibly all the way up to his shoulder.
Musicians in Dallas and several other parts of the country are now rallying around Saenz to help his family, including his and Monica’s two-year-old daughter Lola, and to protect the studio. This weekend there will be a benefit concert — dubbed Jeff Fest — held at the Double Wide bar in Dallas, with performances by Paul Cauthen, Jonathan Tyler, David Ramirez, and Matthew Logan Vasquez of Delta Spirit, among others. “Jeff is the nucleus of this whole movement of Dallas music,” says Cauthen, who recorded both of his albums and an EP at Modern Electric. “He’s kind of the heartbeat of it. And he’s just as selfless as can be. He’s the last person that ever asked about [getting] credit. He just wants to make it happen.”
Saenz, an avid motorcyclist, came to Dallas from Los Angeles, where he worked as an A&R talent scout for Warner Bros. and served an apprenticeship under Grammy-winning producer Dave Cobb. Since the opening of Modern Electric, the studio has produced or engineered artists like Cauthen, Tyler, Nikki Lane, Leon Bridges, and Joshua Ray Walker. It also birthed the Texas Gentlemen, who got their start as the house band. When the Gents played backup for Kris Kristofferson’s return to Newport Folk Fest in 2016, Saenz joined them on guitar.
But, as Bedford points out, Saenz’s contributions extend well beyond the work he does behind the mixing board or onstage. “He’s been sober for six and a half years and it’s been such a blessing to a lot of my friends that have struggled with addiction. He’s always been there for them to be able to talk to,” Bedford says.
Even Saenz’s horrific present circumstances haven’t dampened that spirit. “When I was in the hospital with him, all he wanted to do was talk about other people…and see how they were doing,” Bedford says. (If faced with the same situation, Cauthen admits, “I would’ve been wanting to jump out a damn window.”)
Jeff Fest is intended to be the first of many fundraisers to be held for Saenz. Bedford, who’s worked closely with local salon owner Ric Bowden, says he’s in talks to hold similar events in Austin, Nashville, and Los Angeles. The Gents are putting together their own show in Dallas later this summer. There’s also the Jeff Saenz Recovery Project Facebook page to help coordinate online donations and keep friends and supporters up to date. “I have a soft-target goal of raising a half-million dollars over the next two years,” Bedford says.
Though still in the hospital, Saenz is already looking toward his future, one that will likely see him operating with prosthetic limbs. While in the ICU, he even proposed to Monica. “[He’s like,] ‘I got my mind, I got my baby, I got my wife. There’s more to life,’” says Cauthen. “To be able to look at it from that perspective, it just shows he’s a hero.”
For those in the Dallas metro area, Jeff Fest kicks off Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Double Wide. Others can donate to Saenz’s recovery here.