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'The house that music built'

The jingling of his very own house keys — to be presented at a March 10 dedication — will rival the sweetest sounds musician Bill Hahey has ever heard in more than a half-century of music-making.

Hahey will be the proud recipient of “House No. 63,” constructed by volunteers for Rogue Valley Habitat for Humanity. Dubbed “The house that music built,” the zero-lot-line structure on Sweet Road will feature Hahey’s long-awaited recording studio, simultaneously fulfilling lifelong dreams of home ownership and his own studio.

Blind from birth, the Ashland resident came to the Rogue Valley from Pennsylvania in 1983 and has become a familiar face — his long blond hair and beard standing out as he navigates Ashland's Main Street with the aid of his cane. He's often found playing myriad instruments, including guitar, piano and trombone.

Currently living in a small motorhome — his “tour bus” — Hahey has lived in everything from a teepee to a converted ice house with no kitchen save for a microwave that warmed his Pennsylvania “snapping turtle soup” for the two years he lived there.

Ready for his own house, the 61-year-old applied with Habitat for Humanity, ready to work his 500 hours of sweat equity. Initially denied because of debt owed on his motorhome, he buckled down, paid the debt and persisted.

A known optimist who rarely faces an obstacle he can't overcome, Hahey reapplied and was approved. Because he was required to physically work toward his house, a long list of local churches and musicians under Habitat’s Apostle's Build program stepped in to help with the more hands-on building aspects. A win-win for Hahey and those who enjoy his music, he worked his required hours by performing each Wednesday since last February at the Habitat Restore.

“It’s supposed to be sweat equity, but they couldn’t let me help build because of insurance. They don’t want a blind guy walking around and falling into rebar,” Hahey quipped.

Having long since “paid” his required 500 hours, Hahey continued the weekly gigs, entertaining customers and employees with his talent.

He was eager to participate in the design and creation of his new home, so Habitat for Humanity facilitators created a three-foot scale wooden model enabling him to design the house, which he tailored with an open-floor plan — no steps — and a heavily insulated sound room.

With help from the Commission for the Blind in Medford, a foam-filled soundproof wall will ensure neighbors only hear Hahey’s tunes when they choose. The commission also chipped in for equipment and training to complete his recording studio, ensuring his livelihood helps pay the mortgage.

Hahey, whose mother was Blackfoot, said a red-tail hawk flew over the construction site when he first visited — a good omen. Another favorite feature of his home, Hahey said, will be the soft rustling sounds of branches from a willow tree outside.

Brandon Phoms, operations director for Rogue Valley Habitat for Humanity, said it was heartwarming to see music contribute to creating and being incorporated into Hahey’s new home.

“Because music has played such an expansive role in his life, we really wanted to capitalize on that and allow it to be a catalyst for seeing the project to the end,” Phoms said, noting that, in addition to helping him perform in the store, Habitat set Hahey up with a fundraising gig, “The House That Music Built,” at Britt last year.

“It was a dream of his to play on a huge stage, so we helped give him that along with the dream of home ownership.”

Bob Alteras, a friend and fellow performer in the Peace Choir, said it was apropos that Hahey’s journey to home ownership would be musically focused.

“When Habitat put on the benefit for Bill at Britt, I went with some friends. I had been singing with Bill and knew he had an incredible voice, but I was just blown away by how great his band was,” he said.

“Here was this guy who can’t see, standing in the middle of the stage at a double keyboard, directing seven other people on stage and giving them cues when they come in. The whole set he played at Britt was all his own compositions. It was phenomenal.”

Alteras added, “Bill gives a lot of perspective to everybody who knows him. When I’m around Bill, he seems to really bring out the best in everyone else.”

Hahey said it was hard to believe home ownership would soon find him trading his motorhome for a permanent abode.

“I can’t wait to move my mixer in and all my instruments and other stuff. I told them I just need a place for a bed and a kitchen, but having a recording studio is my dream,” he said.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Blind musician Bill Hahey will get his own home — with a recording studio — thanks to Rogue Valley Habitat for Humanity. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]
Hahey will get the keys to his new residence in March. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]