My First Encounter with Wally

I first met Wally at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1966. But first let me set the stage…

I grew up in Las Cruces, New Mexico and attended New Mexico State University. I loved electromechanical gadgets, and I began a lifelong romance with tape recorders when I was in high school. My first recorder was a Masco recorder that I bought from a newspaper ad for $25. I did all kinds of modifications to this machine and my later Concertone 1401 and Magnecord PT-6R. When I was ready to graduate, I interviewed all the normal campus recruiters from the oil and aerospace companies (and the CIA). I also took a wild fling at finding a job in tape recorders, writing letters to Honeywell, 3M and Ampex.

As a result, I was invited by 3M to St. Paul to interview someone named John T. Mullin. I had no idea what Jack’s historical contributions were, nor had I ever been involved in a professional recording session. (Most of my recording was just disk-to-tape copies of friends’ records.) For some reason, Jack liked me and offered me a job. If I had known the odds against me landing that job, I never would have tried! I moved to St. Paul in May of 1965.

Jack’s wife died a few months later (maybe mixing tranquilizers and alcohol – a deadly combination), leaving Jack with 3 small kids. One of the reasons for his wife’s depression was living in Minnesota. Jack had been coerced into moving from California to Minnesota by 3M, and neither he nor his wife liked St. Paul. When his wife died, Jack decided to return to California. He flew to Ampex in Redwood City, and they offered him a job on the spot. When Jack told 3M that he was leaving, 3M literally offered him anything he wanted for him to stay. He chose moving our lab to the Mincom facility at Camarillo, CA.

Jack and Ken Clunis (and mechanical designer Don Kahn and mechanical engineer Ray Smith) had designed the 3M Dynatrack Isoloop recorder, and by this time they had delivered a pilot run of 6 machines to Capitol Records, Radio Sweden and Leo Hulsman, owner of the Solo Cup Company. The Dynatrack machine was a quantum leap above anything then available (pre-Dolby), with an extra 10 dB of signal-to-noise ratio and flutter, primarily scrape flutter, 10 dB less than any Ampex machine. Unfortunately, Dynatrack utilized a non-standard format, recording two tracks for each channel of audio. A 3-channel machine used Âæ” tape and 6 tracks.

The customer enthusiasm for the Isoloop machine was great enough to get 3M’s interest, and the result was a re-design of the machine (more like a whole new machine since everything was changed) to provide NAB-compatible single-track-per-channel operation in addition to optional Dynatrack. When I joined 3M, this work was already underway, and much of the design was being executed at the Camarillo Mincom plant. (3M had Revere and Wollensak consumer and A/V recorders and Mincom instrumentation recorders, all combined in the Revere-Mincom Division. Revere and Wollensak were manufactured in Chicago, and all the Mincom operation, which was the residue of the old Bing Crosby Electronics Labs Jack Mullin started, was in Camarillo.)

Jack and Don Kahn were making trips to Camarillo to consult with the Mincom designers working on the transport and signal electronics redesigns. I soon became the ‘delegate of choice’ for these trips since I had no wife or kids, making me the most mobile member of the group. By Spring of 1966 Mincom had prepared a new lab for Jack with carpet on the floor and walls that went all the way to the ceiling to give us a quiet environment. Jack, Don and I moved from St. Paul to this new facility beginning around Memorial Day. (I rode my Honda 305 Super Hawk motorcycle from St. Paul to Camarillo in 2 1/2 days over one of the holiday weekends.)

Our prototype machine consisted of a transport hogged out of 1 1/4″ jig plate and signal electronics modules with hand-stuffed printed circuit boards. I think the first outing for the machine was the NAB Convention in Chicago in the Spring of 1966. The next milestone was the first actual use of the new 3M machine in a recording session at Monterey. The machine was mounted in a pair of Halliburton aluminum portable cases. Unfortunately, the case for the electronics only held 3 signal modules, but we were operating 4-track NAB. The fourth module was placed in a cardboard box that was taped to the top of the Halliburton case – not very pretty, but functional.

3M 8 track Front
(Monterey Jazz Festival, 1966)

At this point in my career I had still never been involved in a real recording session. I was still just a lab rat. I thought the plan was to take the machine to Monterey for a bit of testing to see how it worked. Now, back to our story…

Scotty Lyall, our one and only 3M pro audio salesman, and I drove to the Monterey fairgrounds with the machine. There I was introduced to a big fellow named Wally Heider, and his recording crew of Bill Halverson and Grover Helsley. They were set up to record in the back of Wally’s truck, behind the stage. We pulled out the 3M machine and set it up on one of Wally’s shipping cartons near the right rear door.

3M 8 track Front

Left to right – Dale Manquen, Grover Helsley, Scotty Lyall
Upper – Bill Halverson, Wally at console, unknown
(Monterey Jazz Festival, 1966)

About this time I made a comment that it was great to have this chance to run as a backup in parallel with their Ampex 351 recorders. “Backup? What backup? The 3M is going to be our primary machine!” came the reply. I didn’t sleep for two days, worrying about this virgin machine that had my fingerprints all over the place. Was it really ready for action?

I remember that Grover and Bill were a bit apprehensive about this newfangled gadget. They doubted that they could ever do a reel changeover as fast as they could on an Ampex. I wasn’t a hotshot recording engineer, but at least I knew that changing reels on the 3M was duck soup. There were no mechanical brakes to fight and the threading path was very open. I challenged the boys to a race to see who could thread tape faster on the respective machines. I honestly don’t remember if I won the contest or not, but they saw that the threading was so simple and fast that their fears subsided. By the end of the Festival, they were both quickly threading the machine like experts. They also soon appreciated the ease of shuttling the tape to a cue point for a playback. Good thing they took over those task because I would have had a hard time since my fingers were crossed for the whole weekend!

Dale Manquen at the Monterey Jazz Festival, 1966
Enjoying a gormet lunch

The Festival was a great success. That year bandleader Don Ellis, a flugel horn player, burst upon the jazz scene, and we captured the moment on the 3M machine. I can remember doing playbacks from the 3M machine out of the back of the truck to all the band members after the show. It was absolutely thrilling.

Wally liked what he saw and heard, and he placed an order for an 8-track 1″ machine convertible to Dynatrack, with a set of portable cases. I was destined to moonlight for Wally on trips to San Diego (Mickey Finn’s), Hawaii (Beach Boys), Seattle (Bob Dylan), Lake Tahoe (Bill Cosby), Salt Lake City (the Monkees) and New York (the play “Boys in the Band”), usually accompanied by that first 3M 8-track.

Jack Mullin taught me about the design of tape recorders, but Wally taught me about how they got used. There is nothing like having a machine break down 15 minutes before the Beach Boys hit the stage at the Honolulu International Center to change your design philosophy to KISS, KEEP IT SIMPLE (and easy to repair quickly) STUPID. This was the beginning of the trail that eventually led to the conception of the 3M M56 16-track recorder.

Wally and Jack, thank you. God bless both of you.

Leave a Reply