Stu Nunnery’s Journey from Music to Hearing Loss to Music… Again!
Stu Nunnery is performing for audiences once again armed with his Phonak hearing aid. Photo by: David H. Wells/The Wells Point
Stu Nunnery is probably best known for his music released in the 1970s. If you remember his music or recently discovered some old recordings on YouTube or your parents’ attic, you’re probably thinking what happened to that guy?
Released in 1973, Nunnery’s self-titled debut album resulted in two songs on the American pop charts and a #1 hit in – of all places – Brazil. The track was called “Lady It’s Time to Go.”
“I continue to be hearing-challenged of course, and maintain hearing rehab, but the life I’m creating out of what I “can” do has only been enhanced by the better technology in the new aids.”
But in 1978, while working as a jingle singer in New York City, Nunnery suffered sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) and tinnitus in his left ear. What followed was a 30 year journey without music.
Nunnery was getting up from a nap and within weeks all hearing in his left ear would be lost. He continued to make music with his reduced hearing.
Then it happened again in his right ear. With the help of steroids he went back to the studio, but it wasn’t the same.
All of a sudden a musical journey that began with him as a four year-old playing the piano by ear, which turned into a career he had no designs on until – as he puts it – “the fates found me in Stockbridge, Massachusetts,” was eventually finished.
Hearing Solutions caught up with Stu Nunnery to find out what brought this baby boomer and Phonak hearing aid wearer, now in his 60s, back to music. Read our interview with him about his incredible story.
What kind of treatments did you receive for your hearing loss over the next 30 years? What did you think of the music business during that period?
After steroid therapy, I received no further medical treatment as there were none to be offered. In 1983 I fell into the alternative food and healing community, and the Natural Products Industry, and began a lifetime of seeking therapies and modalities that would reinforce my health, and at the very least, I hoped, prevent any further loss from occurring.
I had no interest in making music for many years, as it was either too painful emotionally or physically to even try. I had also “moved on” to my new passions, health and a variety of platforms that allowed me to tell my story and inspire others about the things I was learning. Oh yes, and earn a living.
Emotionally, were you able to fill the gap that music left?
I put it this way, while my work gave me purpose and satisfaction, it was never able to provide the full expression and soulful joy I experienced in making music. And never did I believe in all that time that I would be able to play, sing or record music ever again.
What was it like in 2008 to discover you had fans from around the world and they were encouraging you to make music again?
The discovery of fans from around the world at a very challenging time in my life gave me a tremendous and needed lift, and a very good feeling about myself and my work that had eluded me for three decades.
For the very first time, that music came alive again and I was determined to get those songs on a CD where they could be played again.
I never thought at that time about making music again, just repackaging my previous work and connecting with those fans again.
You’ve re-released your first album on CD and are about to start house concerts and performing again? Compared to what it was during your early years, what is your opinion of the music business today?
My return to music is all DIY – do it yourself – as I was warned and encouraged by music industry friends that it would be. I had no problem with that initially and I’m still in the DIY phase.
But now that the CD is out and I have been rediscovered globally over the past two years, I am seeking management and guidance for the next big steps – recording, performing and shepherding dollars that should be coming my way from sales, downloads, publishing and performances.
I am also embarking on a revised speaking career, as I believe that will probably provide as much income as music will, given the industry’s current bias.
The current Music Business is not an artist’s industry anymore, it’s simply product based and cold and nothing I can foresee anything good coming out of for me right now above and beyond my own DIY efforts.
I’m thankful for social media and the many venues that have been created for artists to sell their songs, wares and stories. Until such time as I can take some bigger steps that will have to do.
How would you describe your musical sound now or what you would like it to be?
Actually, one of the better things to be found in music today are the many genres. When I started out, artists were asked to be “like somebody” and if you were an eclectic song writer or artist, as I was, companies had a tough time pigeonholing you.
But I wrote good songs and that got me in and moving.
Now I feel very comfortable returning to the scene and with an eclectic mix of songs, styles and storytelling, without fear of being lost or pigeonholed.
I can appear on any number of playlists with different songs and that’s very exciting. It fits my method well. So I’m writing what comes and I like what is showing up.
My skills now are much broader and more honed. I am very anxious to show what I’ve been working on to the public ASAP.
What special considerations do you need to make from a technical perspective to both protect your hearing and to get the sound you want?
I’m still experimenting with several things. I can play and sing with only my [hearing] aid in the right ear. I believe that sound will improve when I get a Phonak CROS for my left ear, which has no hearing.
The CROS will give me left-sided sound and broaden what I can hear with just the aid and no further amplification.
I’ve also gotten special ear monitors from Sensaphonics in Chicago that I can wear in the studio and for live performances, when needed, so I can customize and control the sound coming in without damaging my existing hearing.
I’m about to start doing House Concerts and will find out what I need to find out from them working solo with piano and guitar. I’m also thinking about the kinds of sounds and instrumentation that will give me the best backup on stage – if in fact I choose to use other musicians.
What will my new “band” look and sound like? People? Tech? I like the many possibilities that weren’t available many years ago.
How have modern hearing aids changed your life?
Today’s hearing aids are offering us “hearing lost” [individuals] many things – not only improved amplification and clarity – but for me a whole new range of musical sounds that were lost to me for 30 plus years.
They’ve transformed not only my responses to music, but my life in many positive ways.
I continue to be hearing-challenged of course, and maintain hearing rehab, but the life I’m creating out of what I “can” do has only been enhanced by the better technology in the new aids. And I’m just a beginner with the technology and the new toys at this point, so I feel very good about what is ahead.
What advice do you have for others with hearing loss that may be acting as an obstacle in their lives?
Hearing loss can be an awful thing to live with. Add relentless tinnitus, as I and many others have had for many years, and you have a tremendous challenge.
There is of course no one size fits all method for addressing those challenges, though I sincerely hope we find resolutions for tinnitus sooner than later.
I began to rethink my hearing loss when music returned to me in the form of those fans from around the world in 2008. It then became a seven year journey to find out what I “could do” aurally and musically and then find assistance to enhance, if possible, my abilities.
That assistance came in the form of hearing rehab and vocal coaching I might never have sought out but for my desire to return to music.
Not coincidentally, inspiration also came from such wonderful artists as Richard Einhorn and Evelyn Glennie and through others in the Association of Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss (AAMHL) in Washington, DC.
That and the fact that several of my celebrated music buds have their own hearing loss has helped take the stigma away for me and for all of us. For many years we all hid out with our losses, and after I left the music business, no one talked about it or their own difficulties for many years.
That’s changed. Today with [over] 30% of rock musicians with hearing loss and 50%-60% of classical musicians with hearing loss, this is no longer a matter to be hidden.
And it seems everyone is taking steps to protect their hearing – whatever is left of it – from the very loud ‘60s, ‘70s and beyond.
Time to talk about it and to get more people back to making music again, whatever it takes.