The Birth of the M56, by Dale Manquen
The 1960s saw a tremendous amount of tape recorder development. In addition to new Ampex products, which included the AG350, MR70, AG440, and MM1000, there were new companies that entered the market. Scully, 3M, MCI, Stephens and AutoTec were among the new entries. At the same time, individuals were building custom configurations with new track formats using heads built by Lipps, Nortronics, IEM, Norton and Applied Magnetics. The 3 and 4-track recorders using ½” tape were soon eclipsed by 8 and 12-track 1”, and then 16 and 24-track 2”. The jump from 4 to 24 tracks took place in the blink of an eye – about 5 years! During this time studios were also scrambling to update their consoles with more inputs, more busses, and more flexible monitoring to accommodate overdubbing, the new way of recording.
Narrative as told by the pioneer audio engineer John T. Mullin:
IN 1944-LIKE THOUSANDS Of other GIs just before D Day-I was in England.Because of my background in electronics, I was assigned to the Signal Corps, troubleshooting a probem the Army was having with radio receivers that were picking up severe interference from the radar installations that blanketed Britain.
I became so intrigued with what I was doing that I would work until two or three in the morning. I wanted music while I worked. The BBC broadcasts filled the bill until midnight, when they left the air. Then, fishing around the dial in search of further entertainment, I soon discovered that the German stations apparently were on the air twenty-four hours a day. They broadcast symphony concerts in the middle of the night-music that was very well played, and obviously by very large orchestras. I had some experience with broadcast music and knew what “canned” music sounded like. The American networks wouldn’t permit the use of recordings in the early 1940s, because they claimed the quality was inferior. You could always spot the surface noise and the relatively short playing time of commercial 78-rpm discs.Even transcriptions had some needle scratch and a limited frequency response. There was none of this in the music coming from Germany. The frequency response was comparable to that of a live broadcast, and a selection might continue for a quarter of an hour or more without interruption.
An interesting interview with the man responsible for creating the LP record.
The following narrative was told by Edward Wallerstein (1891-1970) about the development of the LP record in 1948.
IN 1938 I HAD persuaded William S. Paley, president of the Columbia Broadcasting System, to purchase the old American Record Corporation, which controlled Columbia Records, for the sum of $700,000. On January 1, 1939,this purchase became final, and I found myself president of the newly acquired company. As soon as we had moved from the small place American Records had at Broadway and Fifty-seventh Street to 799 Seventh Avenue, there was discussion of a joint rese arch project with CBS for the purpose of making a longer-playing record. Nine years later this was to culminate in the LP.
Wally had a dance band in the 40’s and Biff Dawes found an acetate (one-off-disk recording) of the band live:
check out THE WALLY HEIDER ORCHESTRA
Ginger passed away May 19, 2000 at the young age of 59. (She came to be with us on Christmas Day 1999 with the hope treatment for her cancer would buy some time.) We later flew to SF and had a wonderful celebration of her life. There is a memorial bench in Golden Gate Park with her name that reads “for the city she loved, etc.” I would love to hear any and all stories you might have about Ginger. We visited every year and spent many hours with her at the Fillmore, Heider Studio (Christmas party), and enjoyed all the stories–Airplane/Starship, Doobie Brothers, Grateful Dead–hope to return again this year–what a wonderful time! Thank you in advance! Vicki
Aaron Cohen to wallyheider2
show details 18 Jan 2010
I’m writing a book about Aretha Franklin’s “Amazing Grace” album, which Ray Thompson engineered for Wally Heider. If you could help me get in touch with anyone from Wally Heider\’s company who participated in this live recording, and would be able to speak about it for the book, I would be most appreciative and overwhelmingly grateful.
aaronc [at] downbeat.com
When Wally Heider was an assistant engineer at United/Western Studios on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood, he was the biggest big band enthusiast on the planet and would take his portable tape recorder to gigs and record the show so the guys in the band could hear their performance. He kept the recordings for his own enjoyment. He made friends in all the big bands of the day, and when bands came to United/Western to record, they would ask for Wally as their engineer. Thus, Wally’s career took off.
Wally opened his first studio, Studio One – an overdub/mixing room, at the corner of Cahuenga and Selma in Hollywood. Remote recording came first, however, and other stories will be told about the company’s remote recording adventures.
Wally later built Studio Three at the same location. The story of Studio Three’s creation goes something like this: Bill Putnam’s Western Studio Three was one the hottest (most single hits) studios in town and Wally wanted that hit sound for his new room. He booked a half hour of time at Western Three, measured the room, copied the surfaces and control room as much as possible, and built his own Studio Three.
This is part two of this article. To see part one, go to http://wallyheider.com/wordpress/archives/rebel/39/
Between late 1968 and early 1969 I made several trips to San Francisco to help prepare the studios for opening day.
The original staff members included studio manager Mel Tanner, formerly an engineer at Coast Recorders in San Francisco. Ginger Mews ran the traffic office and Harry Sitam was the tech engineer. George Fernandez joined the group a short time prior to opening day. Although based in Hollywood, Frank DeMedio remained the chief tech engineer.
Wally put me up in the Lafayette Hotel (now the Midori) on Hyde Street, directly across from the studio. Well, the Lafayette was not exactly deluxe accommodations. I only slept in the Lafayette, however, and spent all my time working in the studios. Most weekends I went home to Southern California.
This is a photo of the Wally Heider Recording truck on location during the recording of Boston, Long Beach 77\’.
I was on the sound crew for Boston and I happened to take the photo. It is fairly low res. but it might be good for this site. The recording can be heard on Wolfgangsvault.com It was a memorable experience as we had phantom power problems that day …. we eventually sorted it out and I think the excitement of that show was captured by Wally\’s team as it was.
One time I was examining a horn miking setup in Studio B (at Ivar) with Wally. He told me the coolest, simplest horn miking technique I have ever heard of. “Sherman,” he said, “we always used to put the horn mike slightly above where the player’s horns were when they were seated. Especially for a live gig.” Why did you put the mikes off-axis? “The horn arrangements were/are very complex. You never knew which horn player was going to play a solo. So we mike them from slightly above so that when they stood to take their solo the would be exactly on-mike and would automatically be raised in the mix for their solo. If you got the mike position just right, you didn’t even have to touch a fader.”
Wally was always sharing secrets like these. He knew SO much! He is the one that should have written a book on how to do sound engineering!
Sherman Barrymore Keene
A long long time ago I was speaking to Wally who was visiting me in the original Studio 3 off Selma. One thing I remember that Wally told me was that, when the studio was first built and wired, that there was a terrible hum in the (ancient) recording console. No matter how well they grounded everything, there was still a terrible hum. So Wally knew that old RCA 77s (ribbon mikes) were good as hum finders, so he hooked one up, put on a pair of headphones to monitor the mike’s signal and went hum fishing. He walked all over the control room and studio and finally concluded that the hum came from directly below the console!
So they started digging. The dug down (I forget how many feet) and discovered a huge power line and, even worse, a huge power transformer. Wally “persuaded” the power company to move the transformer somewhere other than under a recording console in his recording studio. Once they did that, the studio was perfectly quiet.
This is the studio where Ampex (with Wally’s coaching and encouragement) delivered the world’s first eight track! Can you imagine? Eight separate tracks! Musicians went crazy. Up to then, there was live to mono, live to stereo 2-track and live to disc. Dave Grusin’s first (at least I think it was his first) album was recorded live direct-to-disc at The Mastering Lab starring Dave and Doug Sax. Dave was the master of passive electronics and Doug was an extraordinary disc mastering engineer. So one night, long ago, Wally Heider’s got an eight track and the world hasn’t been the same since.
Please only use returns for separating paragraphs, the software here will display word wrap properly on display; if one puts extra returns at the end-of-lines, the text will look bad and hard to read on the page and I’ll have to go in an fix it. This happens because the fields one enters text into when editing is a different size than displayed.
1 This is an extra long line that goes to the end of the paragraph without extra line breaks.
2 This is an extra long line that has an extra line break entered in the line and I’m sure that
it will look bad when it is published.
Also please note that using returns after a paragraph will improve readability on the page as opposed to a solid long block of text.
I seem to remember Wally not around for a week, which was odd for “Mr. Hands On”. This was in ’69
or so. Turned out he heard about some tube mics for sale, in France! I think they were U-67s or 47s.
I started working at the L.A. studios when the takeover by Filmways was in swing. Having Wally take a back seat was not a good move. There was enough work running the studios, remote recording, Jimmy Hite’s empire in the smaller studios and the now added RCA studios with Grover Helsley scoring in studio A.
As a young lad I started from the bottom as a runner. Tape machines were adrift 24/7 in a sea of studios. Thanks to the great dedicated people I worked with it all worked. The learning environment was incredible, there you had the best remote crew, Biff, Mike and Charles Carver, Ray Thompson, Billy Mays & Billy Youdelman, Paul Sandweiss and all the rest .
Sherman Keene made sure we blossomed into fine studio employees. If you wanted to work yourself up to an engineer “ohm lad” was there.
We had an extensive collection of mics, Mark Bergallia & Phil O ‘Conner ran the inventory. I worked with a lot of very talented people. Tchad Blake, Sean Fullan, Stacy Nakisone helped to swap the 440’s, MM1200’s, outboard gear of all makes, whatever the session needed we got it done.
In 1979 we took delivery of the 1st. Ampex ATR 124, the machine was well received, we had a remote booked and they wanted to use it, so we had to transport it to the remote truck, we put it on the lift gate and while it was going up the gate flexed due to the weight of the machine and it went down on my right foot. Well we took the machine to the shop and checked it out. It was fine, solid. So I started to limp around the next day and Michael Carnavalle a 2nd engineer saw me and coined the name “Ratso Rizzo” since I’m short also.
Soon I moved up to the maintenance dept. and was working with Harold Hill, Tim Boyle, Greg Stephens, Peter Butt, who was also taking out all the capacitors in the signal path on M24 Dolby –A’s to improve its performance. I learned from the best to align and keep the tape machines on line. It was great to work on API’s and discreet Neve consoles.
I remember David Holman using up to 4 – 440 two tracks with VSO’s for slap, on top of the EMT plates and echo chambers under Ivar Street for the ‘Grease’ sessions. Our St.4 was very popular and it was separate from the rest of the studios. We made it a ‘’LEDE’’ room which at the time, was not well received by all. At the time Jim Sieder was involved with it and he did a great job. The room after we finished was handsome and the bottom end was so tight it hit you in the gut and you felt it.
Incidentally , when Tom Dowd booked the room for Kenny Loggins( Keep the Fire) sessions ,he had problems and we moved him to St. C and found that Martoni’s restaurant next store, had been using our power in their kitchen causing spikes & noise problems……..
I must say I gained a lot of experience & knowledge in a short time. It would be normal to work till the wee hours of the morning, then drive to the Santa Monica pier for sunrise.
There’s so many people and stories we haven’t heard from.
Thanks for the memories and it’s great to have a place to revive them.
As I was researching my history about the times with Wally, I was deeply saddened to know of the
passing of Nicky Hopkins and John Cipollina; two of the best musicians ( and most fun to be around)
I ever worked with.
I left Wally after a “difference of opinion” over the CSNY dates. Wally somehow got a hold of me and
back to 245 I went to do “Nilsson Sings Nueuman”. Barncard had been hired after I left and was on
that session. Allen Zentz was the lead, Pat was tape op, great guy. That album turned out to be one
of the most challenging anyone of us had done: 50 or so multiple overdubs, echo pans, vocal pans in
30 ips delay echo. Turned out it was above Allen’s head, but thanks to Barncard, the four engineers pulled that great record off. Wally fired me after that date; as Wally was tit for tat for me quitting.
I went on to RCA in Hollywood with Harry and did “The Point”, how great to meet with Wally in the
morning after my all night sessions with Harry. We remained friends, but I knew I could never be a
staff engineer and continued my career as a free-lancer.
Me and Russ did some bookings for them, and waited and waited; I can’t remember if we cut any tracks?
Maybe some of you remember; a new black Lincoln Continental, two-door, all leather. He let me and mygirlfriend use it when he went to LA for the weekend; what a great slide and what a typical Wally
gesture ( which insured showing up and paying attention, which was also a Wally trait).
I must have been to 245 earlier, only Russ and Ginger would remember. I do know in 1969, I worked on Quicksilver Messenger service “Shady Grove” with Dan Healey, and “Baby’s House” with Steve Miller band with the great Glyn Johns. I did some work with Russ; he taught me the basics, and it helped me become a real engineer. I’d known about “slap back” echo and “re-injection”, but Russ made it a signature with Creedence Clearwater.