Reprinted from MIX magazine February 1978
The Story of Wally Heider Recording
by Wally Heider With Terry Stark
When the words independent recording studios are used, the first name that comes to mind ’ is Wally Heider. Phrases like “institution”, “a legend in his own time”, “the grand old man of recording” invariably follow. Wally is still very active in the recording industry, both as an independent producer-engineer and as consultant to Filmways/Heider Recording, the company he sold to Filmways some nine years ago.
The following are some excerpts from a rap session held in Terry Stark’s office. Terry is the president of Filmways/Heider Recording and started in the recording industry with Wally some eight years ago.
Terry: How did you get started in this business, Wally?
Wally: Well, I was practicing law up in Oregon, but I really didn’t like what I was doing. I came down here to talk to Bill Putnam at United Recording Studios; Bill said he wouldn’t hire anybody from out of town because he was afraid that he’d be responsible for their moving down here and then things wouldn’t work out, but he said that if I wanted to come down he’d be more than happy to talk to me. So I moved my family down here and we rented a house.
I went to work for Bill at United as a part-time apprentice. I had some tapes that I had recorded of Terry Gibb’s band, live. Bill played them back in the studio and when he heard them he said “I’ve got myself a part time apprentice.”
I remember the first thing I did. I was sifting in the traffic office and a tape transfer came in. All. the other engineers were tied up. They said “Here, Heider, make a copy of this tape.” So I punched in and went down to Studio A, which had this great big monster patch panel. I didn’t have the slightest idea of how to patch, never having seen a patch bay. So, I waved down an engineer in the hall and asked him how to patch in for a mono transfer. So he showed me and taught me how to set the levels. I had a little notebook there and I made a note, “Studio A Tape transfer, mono: go from jack out, from 62 to 65” 1 just made myself a mechanical list so if I ever got caught in a tape transfer in Studio A again, I’d know how to do it.
Well, I finally snuck through that one and got back downstairs, punched out, sat down at the desk and surprise, another tape transfer. I thought, “I’ve got it made.” Unfortunately, this one was in Studio B. Son of a gun. Same story. I went out and hung around in the hall until somebody came along that looked like an engineer and I asked him “How do you patch in B?” notebook and made a note there and pretty soon I had myself a bible. The notebook got pretty thick. Eventually, when I did the same thing over and over again, I’d leave my notebook at home. This was back in 1959.
Anyhow, the latter part of, 1960, Les Brown came in to do an album for Steve Allen’s label, Signature. Butch Stone booked the date and he said “I’d like to have Wally Heider with us,” and I went to engineer.
I set the band up, as if they had been on location. Sax, trombone, trumpets, I didn’t split. I wanted head-on sound. I’d never recorded a band like that in the studio before, and it was really tougher to set it up that way. We were on a two track and the balance had to be exactly right, because there was no mixdown.
Normally when you were an apprentice in those days, you’d start out doing narration, then you’d start overdubs and eventually work up to engineer and do full sessions.
Terry: So you went ass-backwards and started out as an engineer. How long were you there as an apprentice? How long was it before you made engineer?
Wally: Oh, Id say about a year or a year and a half. Boy, I was in fat city. Bones Howe was there and Bones was the heavy. I can remember when he asked for a guarantee of two hundred dollars a week and they wouldn’t give it to him so he left.
From there I went to Las Vegas as chief engineer for United. I stayed there for about a year and a half. While I was there, I had my remote equipment leased to United. I had a deal with them that I’d get 40% of the billing or something like that and. they would carry the insurance. Well, Dave Pell and I bad a remote in New. York. I think it was Kay Stevens, live, and somewhere along the line we lost a mike. I asked United to put it through on their insurance and they refused and I ended up paying for the mike myself. Needless to say, we had sort of a hassle over that and that’s when I left United. I’ve still got a wire around somewhere that was sent to Las Vegas saying that Heider was barred from the studio.
Terry: So what did you do when you quit?
Wally: Oh, I hired Rick Foche on a part-time basis and moved to the comer of Lexington and Highland in Hollywood. By this time I had a three track machine and I was doing three to two track transfers. It was a little “Mickey Mouse” room. There was an office across the hall that wasn’t occupied and for an extra twenty-five bucks they told me I could have that.
My first big job was to go to Chicago to record Sinatra, Martin and Davis, live, for a week. I went there alone, no maintenance engineer, just me. I had this big three track upright recorder and I rented another one. Anyhow, they had a thirty five piece band and I was stuck in a hat check room where I couldn’t see anything.
Those tapes never were issued. Sinatra was made president of Reprise and some of the stuff was pretty, well, it was pretty funny. But the band got paid recording scale. I really didn’t know what in the hell I was doing, but I had a lot of fun and the tapes sounded good.
So, this camera store was on the comer of Selma and Cahuenga and I asked the fellow who was in there if I could have just one small corner of it, or at least half the corner. I didn’t lease the whole comer because I wasn’t that sure of things. I had a gal who was head of the office and a bookkeeper and Grover Helsley was the maintenance man. The maintenance room was about 4’ X 6’. You couldn’t get a machine in there and close the door.
We did a lot of vocal overdubs. That’s practically all we did. I remember we had one client come in with a 14 to 16 piece choir. I tell you we had wall to wall people. We set up two mikes with the girls on one and the guys on the other. This was back in 1965. In 1967 we built Studio 3 and then about a year later I sold to Filmways. That was the latter part of 1968.
Terry: Then Studio 4 was built after the San Francisco. studios were built. When did you start putting your first remote truck together?
Wally: Well, you know the first truck was just bought to haul things around. We could squeeze a small board in it if, necessary but we never recorded with that truck unless we were forced to. I had a trailer I used to haul behind by car when I first came down from Oregon and I did a little remote recording in that but that was back in the early days when I was with United. Actually, the first truck we put together was in 1971. When I say the first truck I mean the first truck actually built for remote recording. An awful lot of input by an awful lot of people went into the design of that truck. We had built one in 1970 that didn’t work out too well, so we sold it to one of our competitors in the east. Ray Thompson, who is still the head of Remote Engineering at Filmways and Tom Scott and myself we’re probably the most instrumental in planning the truck. We put together a board that is still there. It’s been update many times since then, but it breaks up in five pieces and we have special packing cases for it, as you know, that the board can be shipped by air anywhere in the world.
The original board was built by API. This was not mixing console. It was made strictly for live, remote recording. I don’t really know how many albums we’ve recorded in that truck, but I would have to say that the majority of the live albums that have been released in the United States have been recorded in our remote facilities. Our second truck was built sometime later.
Terry: What kind of mixing board did you start with?
Wally: The board I brought down from Oregon was a Ross board. It had six pots each side.
Terry: Where did that “gray board” come from?
Wally: Frank DeMedio built that for me. I’ll never forget the first time we used that board. Frank was working on it madly with his partner trying to get it to us for a Columbia session of Stravinsky at the Legion Hall. He finally got the board finished and brought it to us about 7AM on the day of the session. We were sitting around holding our breath waiting for a snap, crackle or pop, but it worked beautifully and we just sailed through the session.
Speaking of the Stravinsky session, John McClure was the A&R man for Columbia Master Works label, and was a very sharp guy. Stravinsky was very weak. They had a doctor there and between sessions Stravinsky would lie down and they would give him some brandy or massage his chest. Someone else would rehearse the orchestra and then Stravinsky would come out with his cane and he would lead the orchestra as much with his cane as with his baton.
McClure was probably the most professional A&R man I have ever seen and the most sympathetic. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone do the things that he did during this Stravinsky session. He would come to him and say “Maestro, about this”. And Stravinsky would say “Oh, yes, E sharp. I remember now, thank you very much.” I can remember Stravinsky being well in a movement, six or seven minutes, and McClure hitting the talkback. It would stop the session and silence would fall over the orchestra. Now here was Stravinsky conducting his own music. Who knew better how it was to be conducted? McClure would say; “Maestro, back to bar 167. Wouldn’t that perhaps sound better just a little bit slower?” Then it really got quiet. Stravinsky would go back through the score and look and say “yes, you are right. We’ll do it again,” Can you believe that? An A&R man being so in tune with the conductor, he could call him on something as basic as tempo and be right. Here you had Stravinsky six or seven minutes into a piece of music and in the condition he was in, you hassled him too many times he would just fold and you’d end up with a conductor laying on a couch and that would be the end of the session. That was classic example of an A&R man really performing perfectly to the Nth degree.
Terry: Man, it sounds like you’ve really had some experiences over the years. Now, tell me, if you had to do all over again, would you?
Wally: This may sound kind of corny, but I consider myself one of the more fortunate people around. I always enjoyed this business, and the people in There are too many of us that are stuck in jobs that hate, thank God I’m not one of them. I’ve been around this business a few years, and if I have my way, I’ll around a lot more.
Terry: Let’s have another beer!