On The Job Training

Or how to be many and still be one


Directing the action, from behind a set of drums or at the controls in a production studio, filming a commercial, or recording new talent, Roscoe Dabney III feels right at home.

Directing the action, from behind a set of drums or at the controls in a production studio, filming a commercial, or recording new talent, Roscoe Dabney III feels right at home. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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As I pull into the Talent Factory, the sweet sounds of jazz float from the multi-purpose studio. It’s the Starlighters — Mike Steelman on keyboard, Howard Brown on guitar, Colleen Brown’s lilting vocals and Roscoe Dabney III, pacing the flow of the music on drums.

“Are they recording?” I ask Arden Edgell, an engineer at the Talent Factory, intrigued already by the improvisational riffs and the unpredictable shifts of the music.

“No,” he says in a normal tone. “Just practicing for Saturday night.”

I walk into the studio, turn on my camera and flash and look for vantage points to shoot these relaxed and adept musicians. The playful jazz riffs and veers, but comes back always to that thread of a melody.

Dabney knits it all together with the flourish of his drums, pacing them all. Dabney is a pinwheel of activity, a colorful whirl of expertise and insight. First and foremost a musician, but he’s also been a pastor, a cameraman, a television producer, a police officer, a production coordinator, a teacher, a leader, and a seeker of talent. Whew!

Did I forget to mention that his rapid-fire speech makes it almost impossible to keep up with a pen and paper?

Like the drums he plays, Dabney can move into one riff or the other without a hint of where he will take you. A symbol crashing that softens out to a smooth swish, while a snare drum keeps the tempo, a bass drum beats a steady rhythm and you are hooked into his music and his telling tale of dreams fulfilled and alive with promise for the future.

They finish their practice session and Dabney and I exit to the production room. It is a long, narrow room filled with monitors, cameras, recording equipment and electronic cords for everything.

“Coffee?” Dabney asks.

“Sure.” I respond and Dabney disappears for several minutes.

When he returns I ask a leading question; “How?”

“You mean, ‘How did I get into the television, studio production, music business?’”

“Exactly.”

Dabney’s first dream as a child was to be a cop. It took some time, but as a Marine he could get an early discharge if he was accepted as a cop on a police force. No problem. Right. Passed the exam, did everything right, but he was “one-half inch too short.” In 1969 Tulsa, Okla., during America’s dark days of racial segregation, that was shorthand for saying “we don’t hire blacks.”

Dream on hold.

So instead of accepting that defeat, Dabney turned to civil rights demonstrations and marches to crusade for opportunities for those who came along next.

But life is strange and things work out in unexpected ways. In 1985, Dabney was ordained as a minister and in 1992 he had become a police department chaplain in San Clemente, Calif. That seemed as close as he would get to fulfilling his first dream — but then, life wasn’t quite through with him yet.

The fulfillment of Dabney III’s second dream came about in a curious way.

When Dabney lived in Tulsa as a child, he had lived near a television station. A friend let Dabney and his playmates into the studio to watch shows being produced and televised live. He was fascinated with the technology. He and his friends started building cameras and sets at home, pretending they were filming and recording. It was something he always wanted to do.

But it seemed like an impossible dream.

Then, unexpectedly, one of his childhood friends called him in 1974, having recalled Dabney’s passion for TV production. So the friend asked if he’d like a job as a camera operator at TBN, Tulsa Broadcasting Network, the local cable station.

It was the beginning of a career, passion, and education that continues today. He learned almost everything about broadcasting at TBN.

“On the Job Training,” he called it — military shorthand for the school of hard knocks. The sort of education you get when you go where Captain Kirk has never ventured.

But I digress, once again.

As a director/producer of his own TV production company in 1976, he produced commercials, documentaries, and weekly programs for clients. His crowning achievement during this period was doing a documentary about Muhammad Ali in Deer Lake, Penn. in 1980.

Dabney learned to play the drums and other instruments while a young teen with too much time on his hands.

As a musician, he has rubbed shoulders with some great entertainers, including B.B. King, the Gap band, Natalie Cole, The Platters, Bobby “Blue” Bland and Albert King. Back in the day, he and his group put together a business plan to get a loan to establish a dream called; the Talent Factory. They set off to apply for the loan, only to discover the bank closed. Bank holidays are so inconvenient. Once again, dream on hold.

Dabney III never went back to the bank for a loan; personal issues arose that made it too difficult to continue.

He did keep the Talent Factory going by playing his music, being in various bands and touring the country as an intro act for other, more famous bands and inviting groups to use him and his Talent Factory as their stepping stone to a wider audience.

photo

Setting up a sound and video check for an upcoming advertisement, Arden Edgell sits in front of a green screen and reads some dialogue. Behind the camera, John Kesterson gets the focus and sets the lights.

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Roscoe Dabney III sets up the first camera and positions the image before dialing in a few special effects.

All his years of being a musician, television producer, cameraman, chaplain, and police officer finally brought him to a place where the jazz in his heart found a home and a studio to bring it all together in a fine musical crescendo.

He and his family came through Payson in 2004 on their way back to San Clemente from Texas. Dabney and his family stayed here for 10 days to help a minister set up a production facility at a local church. When everything was working as the minister preferred, he was so happy he invited Dabney to stay, saying he could find a place for a man with his talents.

Back in San Clemente, he found no work and he remembered the invitation to come back to Payson. His family wasn’t thrilled, but they made the move. In Payson, remarkably enough, he finally fulfilled his dream of being a police officer. He served as a Tonto Apache Police officer for four years, the “oldest rookie” on the force.

But the Talent Factory never left him — and Payson offered a chance to pursue that dream as well. The facility offers many production services, including recording, voice-overs, announcing and scripting, studio and location filming, commercials, documentaries, special events, screen writing and corporate presentations.

Staff members include producer, composer, writer and voice actor Arden Edgell, engineer and musician Ronnie Abram and audio engineer and IT specialist Phil Castle.

So in a long and eventful life, Dabney managed to turn all his dreams into reality, while also opening doors for others. How many of us can say that?

This article didn’t go where I wanted it to. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, an article is like life, like jazz, like dreams — you just have to improvise and trust to the melody.

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