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.
In 1970, Studio Four was completed on Cahuenga, near Sunset next to Martoni’s restaurant – the infamous biz hangout of the day. There never was a Studio Two in Hollywood, only Studios One, Three, Four and the studio complex in San Francisco.
A Universal tube console with rotary pots was installed in Studio One’s control room, which was twice as large as the actual recording room. The studio was designed for overdub use. (In 1965, my band recorded some songs in Studio One’s tiny room. Wally was the mixer and the recordings sounded great. When the time came for overdubs, and prior to playing the track, Wally would announce, “H-H-Here it comes!”).
The entrance to Studio Three’s control room was at the corner on Cahuenga. Equipment entrances existed on Selma for both studios, although equipment was schlepped through Studio One’s control room.
An eight- buss DeMedio-engineered solid-state console embodying Universal electronics sat in Studio Three’s control room. Instruments sounded wonderful in Studio Three. Drums were usually placed under an overhang above the glass partition between the studio and control room. Separation was not a problem and baffling could be kept to a minimum.
Monitoring was achieved in all control rooms through Altec 604E’s installed in DeMedio-designed cabinets. Open-back Jensens, the kind you’d listen to Muzak through at your local hardware store, sat above the meters on the consoles.
Tape machines were continually shuffled between the studios. In addition to 3M two and four-track recorders, some sessions were recorded on Ampex 300 series and 440 two and four-track machines. Most sessions, however, were recorded on a 3M eight-track recorder. Trying to stay ahead of other studios, legend says Wally made a deal with 3M Company where he would get their latest cutting edge tape machines, tape, etc. several months ahead of anyone else.
In the summer of 1968, Wally hired me after auditioning some 45’s I recorded at United Audio Recording Studio in Santa Ana, CA. He had by then sold the business to Filmways Corporation but still ran the studios and day-to-day operations.
The staff mixers were studio manager Bill Halverson, Larry Cox, Rik Pekkonen and John Golden. Ray Thompson handled remotes. Wally referred to this stellar group as his “heavies”. Joan Barnes ran a small but busy traffic office, which was connected to Studio One and accessible through the Selma Street alley.
Upstairs, chief technical engineer Francisco “Frank” DeMedio maintained his tech lab. Henry Saskowski, Tom Scott and Vic Zaslov were maintenance engineers. Also on the second floor, were the company offices, echo chambers and a room housing a cutting lathe and tape storage.
Every new engineer paid his dues with Wally. My initial duties were varied, including picking up Wally’s car when serviced, delivering and retrieving rental equipment, trips to 3M in Camarillo, transferring Wally’s transcriptions to tape then editing out pops with a razor blade, cutting demo disks for publishing clients, and helping Frank prepare equipment for the new San Francisco studios.
One day Vic and I were delivering a 3M eight-track rental to Sunset Sound in the company panel truck. The machine was not secure enough and when the truck turned the first street corner, the machine slid to the other side of the truck, creating several large protruding dents in the truck’s side panel. When Wally saw the dents, he just shook his head and walked away. Somehow, Vic and I kept our jobs.
Eventually I became a second engineer on sessions, at times assisting the likes of Hugh Davies, (Hugh was moonlighting from Capitol), Chuck Britz, Mic Lietz, and Eddie Brackett, (Eddie usually showed up with his outboard equipment rack, his “hit hat” and a wad of gum that he chewed at top speed). Occasionally, I would second a session with Bones Howe when Johnny Golden wasn’t available. Some of the artists performing during those sessions were Waylon Jennings, The Association and The Fifth Dimension.
Another time, I was assisting Mic Lietz in Studio One on a mix-down session of Bing Crosby’s version of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude”. (Yep, Der Bingle!) During rewind, the tape came apart at a splice and tiny pieces flew around the control room. Mic and I spent hours finding the pieces and spliced them back together, finally completing the mix-down. Luckily, the tape was Scotch 201 and did not stretch.
One-microphone remotes were the initial sessions I “mixed.” The first being a Redd Foxx show at his club on La Cienega Boulevard, and the second assignment was to record an interview with Ray Chales in his office for Billboard Magazine’s talk show.
Rik Pekkonen was to be Wally’s “heavy” at the new studios in San Francisco. Rik, however, decided not to relocate from Los Angeles. I offered to go instead and Wally agreed, but wanted a “heavy” to replace Rik.
Prior to joining Heiders, I worked for former Gold Star mixer George Fernandez at United Audio Recording Studio. I suggested that Wally contact George to be his “heavy”. Wally did, and George agreed to work in the San Francisco studios.
Russ Gary, 2006
— part two: San Francisco ….