This story doesn’t involve Wally to any large extent, but it describes Wally’s willingness to stretch the envelope.
The Beach Boys were headed for the Honolulu International Center (HIC) in Hawaii, and they hired Heider Recording to record the performances. This was to be the first double 8-track remote, two machines running together, making redundant recordings with a slight overlap so that nothing got lost. The 8-track 1″ format was still fairly new, and not many people had two machines that they could send out on a remote, but Wally had two 3M Model 23 8-tracks ready for the job.
What Wally didn’t have was an 8-bus console to feed the 8-track machines. Frank DeMedio was working on an 8-bus console that would eventually be used in Wally’s Studio 3, but it wasn’t finished.
Wally invited me to travel to Hawaii as the tech, accompanying Bill Halverson on the job. I guess he figured I knew the tape machines inside out, and I could probably figure out any console problems. To help me become familiar with the console, he suggested that I visit Frank’s home, where Frank and his Dad were building the console, sometime prior to the trip for a familiarization by Frank. That sounded like a good plan.
Time went by and there was no familiarization trip. Finally, time ran out, and the night before the trip I went over to Frank’s place. What I found was only the pieces of a console. I asked if there was anything that I could do to help, but Frank suggested that I just make myself comfortable for a while as they finished up. That was maybe around 7:00 p.m.
Since the console was due to be loaded onto a pallet at the airport around 10:00 a.m. the following morning, I assumed that things were under control and I would soon be able to get a rundown. By about 9:00 p.m. I was starting to get concerned. Things were still scattered around the room. My offer to help once again was refused.
By about 10:30 p.m. it was obvious that things were totally out of control. This time my offer was accepted, and I was put to work on the meter panel. The three of us feverishly worked through the night. About dawn I had to start getting ready to go to the airport for a mid-morning flight. As I climbed into the shower at Frank’s house, Frank was just trying to send signals through the console for the first time. When I finished dressing, I found the â€˜tested’ console almost ready to go. A number of the input channels had big strips of masking tape marked “NFG”. There wasn’t any more time to troubleshoot the remaining problems. I headed for the airport, and the console did get loaded onto the pallet in time.
The flight to Hawaii was my first experience of flying First Class. At least the Beach Boys knew how to treat a guy right! I had so many Mai Tais that I think I was still cruising at 35,000 feet when the plane was coming down on approach to Honolulu. We stayed at the Kahala Hilton hotel on the other side of Diamondhead, the hotel for Hollywood celebrities.
The hotel is quite a ways from Waikiki, but the hotel offered a shuttle for those wishing to visit Waikiki. One night I took the shuttle, but it was so late that I decided to stay later than the last return shuttle. I figured I would just walk home. If I kept the ocean on my right, I couldn’t miss the hotel. As I was walking back in the dark, I could hear the surf, so I knew I was headed in the right direction. Since there was a nice rock wall along the roadway on the ocean side, I decided to walk on top of the wall to avoid the auto traffic. It wasn’t until the next day that I discovered that the edge of the wall was a sheer drop to the surf below. The road had been carved rather precariously around the edge of Diamondhead, and the drop to the beach was 100 feet or more. If I had gone over that edge, nobody would have known where I was or what happened.
We checked out the equipment and did some testing when the Beach Boys rehearsed. I remember one particular a capella song that they sang just for fun. What beautiful harmony (when they weren’t stoned!)
The warm-up acts were different for the two nights. One night was Paul Revere and the Raiders, and the other night was Dino, Desi and Billy. I don’t remember who was on which night. At almost the last minute, Bill Halverson cut a deal with that night’s warm-up act to also record their performance. They came on stage and we fired up both 8-track in record. Then we noticed that one of the channels on one of the machines wasn’t recording! During our alignments everything had been fine.
I swapped a bunch of cables from channel to channel, and it appeared to be something related to the record head, maybe missing bias or some other symptom. I tore into the machine, frantically pulling off trim plate to gain access to the head connectors. Parts were strewn all over the place. After much poking around, the channel came back to life. I replaced all the covers and got the machine back on line just as the warm-up act left the stage. The machine ran fine for the rest of the gig.
Bill Halverson later said to me “When I saw all those parts scattered around, I was sure that we were down to just one machine for the rest of the trip. I don’t care if you don’t do a single thing more while we are here. You have already earned your way on this trip!”
It wasn’t until maybe a year or more later that I found the real problem with the record circuitry. One of the pins on the cable to the record head had been improperly crimped, with the crimp on the insulation of the wire rather than the stripped conductor. My prodding had caused the uncrimped wire end to make physical contact with the pin, restoring operation. Eventually the problem returned, but this time I was able to complete a leisurely diagnosis in Wally’s shop.
The Beach Boys had rented a fleet of Honda or Yamaha motorcycles for scooting around the island. One of the group had ridden his motorcycle to the HIC, but after the show he didn’t want to ride it back to the hotel. Being an avid motorcycle rider, I volunteered to take the bike back to the hotel. I hopped on the bike and rode along that same road around Diamondhead with the rock wall, shaking my head at my own stupidity. It was a typical balmy tropical night and the ride was wonderful. When I was almost at the hotel, I realized that I really didn’t need to immediately return the bike.
I pulled a U-turn in the hotel driveway and decided to ride around part of the Island. Oahu couldn’t be that big, and if I kept the ocean on my right again, I couldn’t get lost! So off I went, riding along in the warm breeze. Before long I had left Honolulu behind me and I was riding along the coast. Although things got pretty desolate, I kept going. I figured I would soon be around to the backside, and I knew there was a highway across the waist of the island that we had used on one of our sightseeing trips.
Then the engine sputtered and I ran out of gas. I was able to find the gas shutoff valve and turn it to the â€˜Reserve Tank’ position. I had no idea how far the motorcycle would go on reserve, or how far I was from a gas station. Well the answer to the second question was “What gas station?” On the backside of the island everything was dark. The road was empty and there just weren’t any gas stations to be found. I had underestimated my progress around the island, too. I still had quite a ways to go before I finally found the road that cuts across the mountains to Honolulu. I did make it back to Honolulu, but then I had a hard time finding a gas station that was open. I must have been running on fumes when I finally pulled into the station. I had gone on reserve about 35 miles back. I bought some gas and rode back to the hotel, parking the bike in the designated area with the other bikes.
While we were in Honolulu, an acquaintance of Wally’s named Herbert Ono, took us out to dinner. Herb owned Sounds of Hawaii, a small recording studio in Honolulu. Needless to say, he was awestruck by a full 8-track setup with two machines. We went to probably the best Chinese restaurant in Honolulu. The restaurant’s owner played in a band with Herb, and the service and food was excellent. If we liked something, they just kept bringing it until we couldn’t eat any more. This was actually my first time to eat Chinese food, and I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction.
Not long after I got back to Camarillo, things took a strange turn. Our salesman, Scotty Lyall, who worked out of 3M headquarters in St. Paul, had come out to Camarillo while I was gone. Jack Mullin was also on vacation, and Scotty was a bit miffed that he couldn’t talk to anyone. When he found out where I was, he raised a big stink about me moonlighting with Wally, and that other customers were complaining that 3M was showing favoritism to Wally. The truth was that Wally’s machines had an excellent reputation for reliability, and sometimes a group would insist upon renting one of Wally’s machines rather than using the host studio’s own 3M machine.
Scotty spoke to the plant manager, who spoke to Jack Mullin, who spoke to me. The word was that I must stop moonlighting for Wally. Jack didn’t really agree with the decision, but he was the designated messenger. I was really offended; to say nothing of the extra income and fun trips I would miss.
I replied that our relationship with Wally was very beneficial to 3M. My work had led to several innovations that came from ideas related to the use of the machines by Wally and his customers. Furthermore, the excellent reputation of Wally’s machines set all the 3M products a cut above our competitors’ products. (Our 3M products were very popular in Hollywood, much more so than in New York City or Nashville.) My remote gigs with Wally were opportunities to demonstrate our products to the local recording folks, much like my contact with Herb Ono in Honolulu. And lastly, if anyone else wanted to pay me to maintain their machines, I was available.
All of this was shoved back up the line, and after due consideration, Scotty was told to put a lid on it, noting that he should be thankful for all the benefits to 3M. I continued to moonlight for Wally even after I left 3M in 1969 to go to graduate school. I was even able to borrow a 3M M79 from Wally for comparative testing when I was working for Ampex in 1972, but that is another story”.
The Beach Boys were so stoned during their performances that I don’t think any of the tracks we recorded were ever released. Frank’s console was gutted and completely rebuilt. I stayed in touch with Herb, and several years later he invited me to return to Honolulu as his guest – as long as I gave his 3M M56 16-track recorder a thorough checkup. The machine had a bunch of PC cards and other components that I recognized as being some of the hand-built prototype cards that I had helped build. Turned out Herb had bought the machine from Glen Phoenix, and Glen had apparently built the machine himself out of bootlegged parts!