I first met Wally back in 1972 when I started mastering at Artisan Sound Recorders in Hollywood. Many hit records, recorded at Heiders, were mastered at Artisan. (I first met Steve Barncard there too, but that’s a different story.)
In 1974 Artisan built a mastering room at 1600 N. Wilcox which was a block from Heiders. Wally liked to eat lunch at Huston’s Pit Barbeque next door to our studio and I would often wave and say “Hi”. That was about the extent of my contact with him for several years.
Then, in 1984, Wally began mastering dozens of Big Band recordings, which he owned and had been archiving for many years. Wally had long since sold his studio and rather than just be retired he chose to dabble in a record label called Hindsight Records. At this time I was working for LRS in Burbank. The owner, Steve Guy, had been working on these titles with Wally. (I can still remember the two of them returning from lunch at Bob’s Big Boy with a whole strawberry pie, and the two of them devouring it.) Anyway, Steve suffered a nervous breakdown around this time, and found it too much to deal with working with clients. (…and Wally had a reputation for being a tough client) Steve “passed the torch to me” and thus began a wonderful working relationship with Wally, a legend, who I so much admired.
But… my first session with Wally was a disaster.
This is my story: Wally had an outboard “black box”, built by his friend, bassist, Ray Pohlman. I’m not sure to this day what it did or was supposed to do, but Wally was sold on it. He left it at LRS and it needed to be patched into our mastering console. Steve Guy had showed me the preferred spot to patch it in, and just prior to Wally’s arrival I did just that. I ran a 1 kHz tone off an MRL alignment tape through the chain, everything seemed fine, and in walked Wally. Now, I was nervous, and I think Wally could sense this. He asked me if everything was ready to go and I replied “Yes”. He asked me when I had arrived at the studio, and I replied that I had been there about a half hour. He sort of grunted and handed me the master tape. I rewound it and pushed Play. The right channel immediately started sputtering and Wally started sputtering too! I reached over to the patch bay and wiggled the mult that fed the output from the “black box” to the right channel (his old recordings were all mono).
Suddenly the problem was corrected and I looked over at Wally and smiled sheepishly. Rather than being pleased that I had found ( and quickly corrected) the problem, he “went off” on me saying that ‘an engineer that calls himself a professional always shows up at least an hour prior to a session’. He want on to say that ‘a professional engineer always pushes a patch cord in and out of the hole three or four times’. He went on further to say that ‘a professional engineer would have put up an alignment tape and confirmed that everything was passing signal properly’. (I had done all this, except for the ‘hour prior arrival’, but sensed that the best tactic at this point was to apologize and promise it would never happen again, which I did. ) We proceeded with the session with no more problems.
At the conclusion he asked me if I cared to join him for lunch at a nearby Sizzler restaurant. (They had an “all you can eat” lunch.) At first I was going to decline…I was still nervous, and really wanted to just get out of there. For some reason, I found myself saying “Sure”. To make a long story short, we had a marvelous time. He launched into several stories of working with Benny Goodman and Stan Kenton and Bing Crosby. I found them all fascinating. We became fast friends. I actually got to the point that I could ALMOST relax when working with him. I never forgot those “professional engineering” tips, and I can’t remember ever having another technical problem on one of his sessions. We went out to lunch or dinner after every session, and I will always look back with great fondness on those memories. I miss ya Wally!