Sunday, January 07, 2007

SF Chronicle Reviews Grateful Dead Gear

Santa forgot to get me the book "Grateful Dead Gear" so I'm going to have to take matters into my own hands. I'm a Deadhead and I'm a gearhead so this one's got me excited.

Here's the San Francisco Chronicle review:

The Grateful Dead was about a lot more than just Jerry Garcia and the others in the band: It was also about the extended family of Deadheads, whose devotion has made them apostles and messengers of the creed. Oakland resident Blair Jackson, senior editor of the audio production magazine Mix, former managing editor of BAM magazine, and founder and editor of the late fan magazine the Golden Road, has been one of the foremost Grateful Dead journalists for more than 25 years. The author of the biography "Garcia: An American Life," Jackson has written a new book, "Grateful Dead Gear: The Band's Instruments, Sound Systems and Recording Sessions From 1965 to 1995," about another major part of the Dead's history: its innovative use of technology. Covering everything from the Acid Tests of the early years through the band's famous Wall of Sound in the '70s and beyond, Jackson's book (Backbeat Books, $34.95, 287 pages, illustrated) goes onstage, backstage and into the studio to reveal how the music was made. An excerpt appears below:

The Grateful Dead's eponymous first album had been recorded and mixed in less than a week at RCA Studios in Los Angeles in the winter of 1967. When it came time to record the second album, "Anthem of the Sun," the band, influenced by the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper" and other highly crafted studio works, wanted to take its time recording and also experiment, much to the chagrin of producer Dave Hassinger.

Weird Times in the Studio

The Dead, with new drummer Mickey Hart in tow, returned to RCA Studios in October to continue sessions on the new album, working on "Alligator" some more and also dipping into "Cryptical Envelopment" and "The Other One." There was no question that adding the second drummer took these songs to new and exciting places, but things still progressed slowly in the studio, and increasingly there was friction between the band and Dave Hassinger. Believing the Dead might do better in a different studio, Hassinger shifted the action to American Studios in North Hollywood (which was "as tiny as RCA was big," bassist Phil Lesh remembered) when the band came down for more studio work in November. They tackled "Born Cross-Eyed" and "New Potato Caboose" at American, but Hassinger was not pleased with the way the sessions were progressing. The Dead had been smart enough to put a clause in their Warner Bros. contract granting them basically unlimited (though not free) studio time to make their albums, but this clearly went against Hassinger's instincts.

With Warner Bros. pushing for the Dead to complete the album sooner rather than later, Hassinger decided to try his luck in New York, booking time at various Manhattan 8-track studios while the band gigged in the area, and lugging 8-track reels across the country to work on vocals and more basics. They spent a couple of days working at Olmstead Sound in midtown Manhattan, which had a solid reputation as a good "live" room, having hosted scads of jazz sessions through the years for the likes of Jerry Mulligan, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Buddy Rich and Jimmy Guiffre, and other acts ranging from the Four Seasons to Richard & Mimi Fariña. The Dead also tried their luck at Century Sound, which was co-owned by the fine engineer Brooks Arthur, who'd worked on hits by the Chiffons, the Dixie Cups, Marvin Gaye, Neil Diamond, the McCoys, Astrud Gilberto and others.

"We'd work at Olmstead during the day," recalls (then roadie and future GD producer) Bob Matthews. "Then I'd pack all the equipment, go down a narrow staircase, put everything into the GM Metro van, and go over to Century, where we had a helluva time double-parking; you'd have cops all over you. Then we'd set up at the other building, where at least there were elevators. Plus they were playing shows at night. There was a lot of tension between Hassinger and (GD engineer Dan) Healy, but it was Bobby (Weir) who eventually sent him over the edge."

Engineer Brooks Arthur, who co-owned Century Sound, remembered, "Working with the Dead was my first experience with what I can only call pre-Woodstock Woodstock. I'd worked with Neil Diamond, I'd worked with Van Morrison, and I'd never seen anything like the Dead before. The Dead moved in there lock, stock and barrel -- guitars, drums, and family and children and friends and roadies and breastfeeding ladies and people sitting on the floor. It was flowers, peace symbols, beads, bells; the whole thing. Pot was everywhere. There was so much pot, the accountants upstairs would get high from the smoke going up through the air-conditioning system.

"Although I was helping Dave Hassinger, I didn't really hang out much with the group," Arthur continued. "What I remember most about those sessions was that everything took forever to do. I think Dave and I spent 48 hours just on the drum sound, getting the cymbals right, getting the imaging right for those guys. That was their M.O.; that was their style. Normally I could get an orchestra recorded -- I could get two albums done in the time it took to get a drum sound for the Dead. But I understood their logic. It was a different room for them, and they wanted to get a certain sound that was a departure from their old sound, so they took their time with their bass and drum sounds. Which microphone sounded better with this cymbal? What does it sound like when we stuff the kick drum, or unstuff the kick drum, or pop a hole in the head of the kick drum? You try a microphone in-phase, out of phase. Then you take a long coffee break, get high, and then there's lunch.

"Actually, the way the Dead worked then was more the way people did it in the mid- and late '70s. I had seen this a little bit working with the Lovin' Spoonful, who really cared about how their sounds went down to tape, but the Dead took it to a new extreme for me. This was also my first experience of a studio lockout -- where the room was booked by only one group for a while. I actually had to go and book time for myself at other studios around town to complete my own work while the Dead were there."

This East Coast jaunt was also notable because it was the first to include the roadie who would become the solid foundation of the Dead's road crew for the rest of their history: Larry

Shurtliff, known and loved by everyone as Ram Rod. Raised in Oregon, Ram Rod connected to the Dead through Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters (who had gravitated up to Oregon following the Acid Tests). A number of other Oregon folks would become part of the crew at different times.

By the end of their East Coast stay, relations between the band and Hassinger had deteriorated to the point where he wanted off the project. "I gave up in New York," he recalled. "We'd been working for a long time on that second album, and they had put down some new tracks in New York, and nobody could sing them (reportedly "Born Cross-Eyed"), and at that point they were experimenting too much in my opinion. They didn't know what the hell they were looking for. I think if you experiment you should have some sense of what you're ultimately going after, but they were going from one end of the spectrum to the other.

"One time during the making of the record, I went into American Recording (in L.A.), and the Dead had ordered so much equipment from Studio Instrument Rentals and other places you literally could not get into the studio! The whole album was that way. It was like pulling teeth, until finally I couldn't take it anymore. When I came back to L.A., the head of Warner Bros. asked me, 'Have you had enough yet?' and I said, 'Yeaaaah!' " Hassinger laughed.

From "Grateful Dead Gear" by Blair Jackson, © 2006, Backbeat Books. Jackson is married to Chronicle Deputy Book Editor Regan McMahon.

Here's a bunch of stuff about Grateful Dead Gear
Here's a Jerry Garcia guitar history
Here's an interview with Doug Irwin
Here's a bunch of info on the Wall of Sound
And don't forget, former Grateful Dead rodies have restarted the company Hardtruckers.


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