RUSS GARY’S Recollections Part Two

This is part two of this article. To see part one, go to

San Francisco

Russ Gary in Studio C in San Francisco, 1970

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.

Wally’s plan was to construct Studios A and B on the main floor and Studios C and D upstairs. Studio B, intended to be a mix-down and dubbing room, never materialized and instead became a lounge/game area. Each control room differed somewhat, but the studios were all nearly the same in size as Studio 3 in Los Angeles. The maintenance shop was across the hall from Studio A’s rear entrance. Between the shop and exit into the alley another room served as a tape copying /storage area. Across the hall from these rooms, former film storage vaults were considered for use as echo chambers, but served as storage for tape.

Originally constructed by Dave Mancini, Studio C was scheduled to open as soon as possible in the New Year. Frank DeMedio delivered the custom built console (nearly a clone of the console in L.A.’s Studio Three) in late February. Rack mounted Universal Audio 500 Equalizers paired with 550 Filters were normaled to faders 1-16 on the console. Four UREI 1176 Limiter/Compressors, a single graphic equalizer (either Langevin or Altec), a UREI filter set, a digital metronome and a pair of Pultec midrange equalizers completed the outboard package.

A few months later, Studio D, whose control room contained equipment nearly identical to Studio C, was ready. A short time afterwards, Studio A opened with a Quad Eight console with thirty-two input channels installed in the control room. Monitoring in all three studios was essentially the same as in Los Angeles: Altec 604E loudspeakers in DeMedio-tuned cabinets powered by McIntosh MC275 amplifiers.

Live stereo echo chambers, Two and Four respectively, existed upstairs in rooms off the rear hallway leading to Studio D. One of them is still in use. McIntosh MC240’s powered the speakers inside the chambers. The chambers were patchable to and from the control rooms via a rack of five McIntosh MC240’s in the maintenance shop. Chambers One and Three were built a few months later on the roof.

The initial microphone compliment consisted of Neumann U-87, Sony C-37A, Sony ECM 22, Electro Voice RE-15, Shure 546 and SM 56. The original tape recorders were 3M eight-track and two-track as well as Ampex 440 two and four-track machines. Occasionally, a Scully recorder would appear, but I believe they were rentals.

The first session commenced in Studio C in March of 1969. George Fernandez was mixing and I was his assistant. George surprisingly left the studio and joined the mixing staff at KYA-AM in San Francisco. Wally said to me, “OK, Russ, you’re the mixer now.” Then he bellowed, “But-but-but, service, service, service! Do whatever they want! S-S-Straight ahead!”

My first mixing assignment was to record a Las Vegas based group, “George & Teddy and The Imperials.” During this period, Wally gave me tips on recording big bands that has served me well.

Around this time, RCA booked time to record Jefferson Airplane’s “Volunteers” album. Al Schmitt was producing and Ritchie Schmitt was mixing. RCA’s rep, Pat Ireci, nicknamed “Maurice Man” by the Airplane, was representing RCA’s interest as well as acting as referee. “Volunteers” may have been the first commercially released recording made in the new studios.

The studio’s first sixteen-track recorder, built by Jeep Harnard, arrived during these sessions and was immediately placed in service in Studio C. The Ampex deck had been converted to accommodate two-inch reels and groaned and squealed as tape spooled from reel to reel. The electronics were nearly clones of the Ampex 440’s. Initially, there were bias trap problems in the machine’s record amps and Wally promptly flew Jeep in overnight from Florida to fix them.

Ampex MM 1000 sixteen-track machines soon arrived. Because of their huge size and weight, the MM1000’s were difficult to maneuver between control rooms. I preferred using the 3M machines.

In March, CCR booked time for a test recording in Studio C. I was nervous about recording such a big act and was wondering how I would set up the band in the studio to achieve optimal results. On recording day, the roadies began setting up the band’s equipment without discussing it with me. I asked about it and was told, “This is the way we did at RCA.” The band bounded in and we quickly recorded two instrumentals. From then on, that set-up for recording rhythm sections has served me well.

Eric Jacobsen, the Lovin’ Spoonful producer, came in to mix an album’s worth of tracks recorded by Norman Greenbaum at Coast Recorders and the catchy songs on the multi-tracks sounded quite good. Mel warned me that Eric could be tough but I got on good with him and we enjoyed working together. One of the songs, “Spirit In The Sky” became a huge hit, thanks to a DJ in Seattle who played it repeatedly.

Studio D was now in service and the staff was increasing. Engineer Jerry Martin came on board and Dave LaBarre joined the shop staff.

Philips/Mercury booked time and I recorded the first of two Blue Cheer albums and a Harvey Mandel album in Studio C. Blue Cheer played so loud they were heard throughout the building.

By this time the studios were going non-stop. Jefferson Airplane began working nights exclusively in A.

I also co-mixed sessions for Mendlebaum with engineer Marty Cohn. Ray Ruff was the producer. Marty and I became good friends and on the weekends I stayed in town, Wally would let us use his Lincoln Continental to cruise around.

CBS permanently booked Studio D until their new facility, formerly Coast Recorders, was retrofitted for them. CBS did not use Studio D much of the time and Wally’s agreement with CBS allowed Heider’s to book it when available, which was quite often. It was a sweet deal for the studio.

Fantasy Records began signing contemporary artists and recording them in their small studio in Oakland. Producers Ray Shanklin, Jesse Osbourne and Ed Bogas brought their eight-tack masters to Heiders and I mixed several albums for them. Some of the artists were Alice Stuart, Billy Joe Becoat, and Parrish Hall featuring Gary Wagner.

Eric Jacobsen returned and periodically I recorded four albums for him. It took a year’s time. We made Norman Greenbaum’s follow-up album, LP’s for Willie Truckaway (William Seivers), Miss Abrams and The Strawberry Point Third Grade Class (spawning
the hit, “Mill Valley”) and The Stovall Sisters’ rocking gospel album. (The Stovalls also sang backing vocals on the Greenbaum and Truckaway recordings). Except for an occasional session in Studio A and a few tracks previously recorded at Coast for Truckaway, these albums were recorded and mixed in Studios C and D. During these sessions I met lots of wonderful local musicians that I would work with on a regular basis. I learned a lot from Eric and truly enjoyed working with him and his artists.

In May, CCR returned to Studio C and recorded the single “Green River” B/W “Commotion.” The studio and I had passed the band’s earlier audition. Tracking went smoothly, but when it was time to record vocals, none of the condenser microphones in the locker complimented John Fogerty’s voice. I tried them all, and a Shure SM 56 became the eventual choice. The microphone also befitted the Sun Records mood of the two songs. Following that vocal session, Wally brought in some Neumann U47’s from LA. I used them to record Fogerty’s vocals thereafter.

In July of 1969 I moved my family from Southern California to Tiburon, the neighboring city of Mill Valley. Wally paid for the move by covering the expense of a U-Haul truck rental. The truck had a faulty fuel gauge and ran out of gas on the Golden Gate Bridge! After six months, however, I no longer had to sleep in the Lafayette Hotel.

The staff was growing as well as changing. Engineer Stephen Barncard joined the group. Ginger Mews left and was replaced by Jayne Martin.

I recorded more sessions with terrific artists: The Steve Miller Band, Jesse Colin Young, Syndicate Of Sound, The Supremes, Sly Stone, Joy Of Cooking and Clover.

I was still earning assistant engineer wages and asked Wally for a raise in pay. He huffed and puffed, but gave me a small increase in salary. This scenario occurred a few more times during my tenure at the studio.

I made albums in Studio D with A. B. Skhy, and an instrumental album by Jerry Garcia and Howard Wales for producer Alan Douglas.

CCR returned in July and we completed the Green River album in Studio C.

Two of my favorite experiences were utilizing both Studios C and D to record Fantasy LP’s for The Brothers Four, and a Cal Tjader album in Studio D. Both albums were produced by Ed Bogas.

In October 1969, Wally explained that Bill Halverson was not available to begin sessions scheduled in Studio C with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The group was eager to begin recording and requested I work with them until Bill was available. The first track we recorded was their hit, “Woodstock,” followed by versions of “Teach Your Children,” “Our House” and “Helpless.” Those sessions were social affairs, at times with members of the Jefferson Airplane and others in attendance. I won’t forget the image of Grace Slick perched on a stool in the control room observing the proceedings. After the first week of recording Halverson took over with Steve Barncard assisting. Later on, I recorded a few sessions with Graham Nash for his “Songs For Beginners’ album.

CCR returned to Studio C and we made the album, “Willy And The Poor Boys.”

In January 1970, with Wilbert Harrison and Booker T. And The MGs opening for them, CCR played a homecoming concert in the Oakland Coliseum and asked me to record the performance. Wally provided the remote truck with one 3M eight-track recorder. Henry Saskowski was my assistant. National General Corporation filmed the show for a future TV broadcast.

CCR recorded “45 Revolutions Per Minute,” in Studio A. It was a wacky promo single thanking DJ’s for playing their records. It was the only time CCR recorded in Studio A.

During this period, producer Gary Usher booked time in Studio C to record The Wackers. They were very good, strongly influenced by The Beatles and CSN&Y. I happened to be standing in the traffic office when Gary walked in. We got on and I recorded the album. Those were some of my favorite sessions.

Ken Hopkins joined the staff. Around this time I recorded a second album for Blue Cheer, mostly in Studio D. Also during this period, I recorded an album in Studio C for Fantasy artist Abel.

CCR and I reconvened in Studio C to make “Cosmo’s Factory,” possibly the band’s most acclaimed album. I was impressed how prepared the group was in the studio, never taking more than a few weeks to record and mix their albums. We were working days and Fred Catero was recording Santana in the evening.

One of the perks of working for Wally was that he allowed the staff gratis use of the studios if they were not booked. During these periods I produced an album by Redwing, a Sacramento group that was signed by Fantasy, and co-produced two albums with Russell DaShiell for his band, Crowfoot. I also produced recordings for Gideon Daniels and his group, Power.

In November 1970, CCR booked a full month in Studio C to record “Pendulum.” This time, the other band members participated more and attended all of the sessions. While not in the booth for mixing, they would come in for playbacks. After the record was released, Tom Fogerty left the band.

In June of 1971 and now a trio, CCR wanted to record their single, “Sweet Hitch-Hiker b/w “Door To Door.” Studio C was booked and for the first time the band recorded live in Studio D. Tracking and instrument overdubs for both songs went smoothly. Mixes were made and the single was finished in one session. There would be no more live CCR recordings made at Wally’s.

Fantasy was building new offices and studios across the bay in Berkeley and had contracted Frank DeMedio to build the console for their first of two studios. The control room was not unlike Heider control rooms, the biggest difference being the Fantasy console embodied API electronics.

In August 1971, I accepted a position producing and engineering Fantasy artists. Except for a few projects, however, I always returned to Wally’s for mixing. In September, CCR decided to record their European tour and Wally supplied a remote package that performed flawlessly throughout the thirty days of touring.

CCR Drummer Doug Clifford decided to record a solo album at the band’s Berkeley headquarters, “Cosmo’s Factory.” I hired Wally’s remote truck and the resulting sound was excellent. Afterwards, I founded DSR Productions with Doug and CCR bassist Stuart Cook. Frank DeMedio built a wonderful remote recording truck for us that is still in use today. In 1977, my family and I returned to southern California.

In 1980, Wally Heider Recording was sold and became Hyde Street Studios. I tip my hat to owner Michael Ward for keeping the studios running for 26 years.

In September 2006, a group of former staffers, freelancers and current employees gathered at Hyde Street for a Mix magazine photo shoot celebrating 37 years of continuous studio operations at 245 Hyde Street. I enjoyed roaming the historic halls, seeing old friends and remembering such an important time in music history, I felt good about being among the first group of people to work there. I also felt some sadness because so many artists that use their workstations and project studios may never experience the thrill of working in a major recording studio.

Because of Wally Heider, I have had a fulfilling career in the entertainment industry. I will always treasure my time spent as his student and employee.

Russ Gary
December 2006

One thought on “RUSS GARY’S Recollections Part Two”

  1. Great story, Russ! Those CCR albums you did at Wally Heider’s sound great on SACD.

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