Jeff Downey never let geography stand in the way of his creativity.
From the little town of Bethlehem to the city of Angels, the Henry County native continues to surround his life with music and film.
Downey graduated from Henry County High School in 1980 and went into EKU’s music and theater program. While at college he continued to play in bands like the Toys. Downey quickly learned from college professors his music and theater degree wouldn’t help get performing gigs in rock bands. During a trip to Disney World in Florida, Downey’s fiancée got a job doing costume design. Six years after graduation from high school he felt he had to take his chances and moved with her to Florida.
“I started doing sound and handling bands and promotion at clubs from Daytona to Tampa” Downey said. “It was lucrative then. Club owners really didn’t know how to handle the bands they had coming in the door.”
Despite job stability and the fun lifestyle of the sunshine state, Downey felt like Florida was somewhere to retire, not a place to settle down while you were still young and ambitious. He wanted to attend the Music Institute in Los Angeles, Calif., and in 1992 he made the move. Despite living in large cities in Florida, L.A. was different in every way.
“I realized all the extras in the films being made were out of work musicians and the people who wanted to be actors were waiters,” Downey said.
Downey soon got a Screen Actor’s Guild membership after working as an extra and playing music on the side. The environment Downey lived in cultivated his creativity and opened the door to new opportunities and experiences.
“When you live in an apartment building with creative people all around you it is inspiring. I lived around people doing music, film and writers. It opened me up to other things,” Downey said. “I started doing stand in work as an extra, but I was also doing music auditions, writing scripts and it was a very different atmosphere. Everyone around me was doing something creative.”
Downey had never been to a club where musicians had to pay to play. Places like the Whiskey A Go Go have a ‘pay to play policy.’ The club gave musicians tickets to sell and that is how bands get paid. If they don’t sell them then they are out the money. During this time, Downey had an audition for Ozzy Osbourne’s band. He kept the rejection letter for a period of time as a souvenir and then in the spirit of Osbourne he burned it.
“I started doing a lot of work mostly as a stand in,” Downey said. “You can see me in the film Glimmer Man, From Dusk to Dawn. I had a nonspeaking role where I played Tracy Ullman’s son Buddy on her show. I worked in films with John Travolta and Sharon Stone. Robin Williams was the funniest. He kept calling me Ted Nugent.”
Downey went home when his brother was diagnosed with cancer. He decided to move home to take care of his elderly parents, Claude and Agnus Downey. He quickly joined the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and worked concerts in large venues like Freedom Hall. He did more stand in work in Simpatico with Nick Nolte and Sharon Stone while they filmed in Louisville.
“I thought I would have the best of both worlds then,” Downey said. “My parents moved in with me, I was doing music and film here in Kentucky. My daughter Hannah had been born and everything thing seemed good.”
Life put a few obstacles in Downey’s way and the outlook didn’t seem so inspiring. Downey’s father had open heart surgery and soon passed away. Downey’s mother passed away within a month of his father
Downey went back to school and graduated at 39 with a theater degree with a concentration in lighting and sound. He began writing music again. His daughter Hannah was older and it was during this time that inspiration came back to Downey and Freaker’s Ball started to form.
“I knew our guitar player, Eric Harris from playing in other bands, our singer and other guitarist Douglas Paul, had lived in L.A. writing and making music, we have Jerry Wethington playing drums and we’ve been together a year in January,” Downey said. “People always talk about how kids can be a hindrance, but it was totally opposite for me. My daughter brought me to a place in my life where I thought about what mattered and started writing again.”
Downey also played guitar for a while in the band Valhalla before it dissolved. Freaker’s Ball played last weekend at the Henry County Bash and several times at Expo Five in Louisville. The band does a mixture of Paul’s original compositions and covers.
“It’s fun to take my daughter to some of the places I play music at,” Downey said. “You only take breaks from music. You never really quit.”
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