The Birth of a Studio

e(Introduction by Stephen Barncard, producer of Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Grateful Dead (American Beauty) and many others.)

Veteran music executive George Daly (www.bit.ly/130BIMq) has been involved in the music-entertainment world for four decades, encompassing the roles of Major Label A&R head, musician/songwriter, manager and producer. He currently is the CEO of Universal Music Group distributed Indy label, About Records.

George and I have been friends since the ’70’s when he headed the Columbia Records office in San Francisco. We collaborated on projects ranging from the first recordings of the original Tubes, to eventually working together on a Laura Allan project, then later at Elektra Records in LA, where he got me a job, and, where finally, due to his support and after he left for Atlantic Records to head the Artist & Repertoire division at Atlantic, I followed him up as head of A&R at Elektra. We recently talked about his experiences in the early days of the famous San Francisco Wally Heider Recording Studio.  It has been commonly thought that the Jefferson Airplane was the first band to make music and be recorded there with their hit album Volunteers, recorded in 1969. Well, that’s not true. There were some other players, months earlier, who “broke in” the about-to-be-legendary Studio C and the brand new Wally Heider’s.

Here’s the story, as George lived it:


I was in the first band to play at Wally Heider’s Recording, but it’s not exactly the way it sounds.

Janis Joplin

I knew Bill Graham slightly from the music scene in San Francisco. Janis Joplin was a friend of mine by late ’67 and she and I had stood in the small crowd at the tree-lined “panhandle” of the Golden Gate park that year watching Jimi Hendrix and his band play on a flatbed truck for about 100 people in the middle of the day.

We were sharing a half-pint of Southern Comfort with Chick Casady when Bill walked up. It was apparent he liked Janis, respected her, and he talked to us awhile until Jimi and the band started up. Janis and her band had played the Avalon and California Hall by then, and, as I remember, they wanted to play his Fillmore Auditorium as it was called in those days, play maybe for the first time, I don’t recall, but Bill was the key to that. She had a nice talk with him, and then I remember Jimi and the band played for only about 20 seconds, and just stopped. Jimi mumbled something into the mike like “Whoa, we’re doing this for you” and proceeded to tune his Stratocaster at full volume, then they started all over again. That’s what those times were like, the music mattered.

I meet Bill again at the Fillmore. I was a musician and songwriter, trying to get my band on a show there, but Bill said to me, and promptly, no.  Summer of Love? Bill wasn’t buying it. My band just wasn’t important enough for him to book us, but would I like to sell tickets at the window? So I did that, for just one night, just enough time for me to decide that wasn’t going to be my entry point into stardom.

Bill Graham

Bill could be a funny guy. Some years later he and I would occasionally hang out and socialize at my Columbia Records/CBS office at Wharfside.  And, invariably, if someone was within earshot, usually an attractive woman, he would ask me if I wanted my ticket-selling job back. That was his New York City humor, but that’s another story.

Persistently I called Bill again around the late summer or fall of 1968, again wanting to know about the possibility of my band opening one of his shows. He didn’t come to the phone, so I left a message with one of the women there.  A week later he finally called me back.  Bill Graham had to wait on the line for me to come to the phone in those pre-cell phone days, while they found me where I was living, “crashing” really, on the top floor apartment at the NE intersection of Fell and Cole, right next to the same park Janis and I had watched Jimi play in.  Bill had a gig for me all right, but not one that I was expecting.

He was brief on the phone: “Some guys need a band to play at a new recording studio being built on Hyde Street, to play loud for a couple of hours, they’re almost finished building it, but, they haven’t heard any music in it yet!  So if you want to, call them quick, it’s $20 each and they’ll record you. Bring a band.” That was serious money for a 22-year-old musician in San Francisco in the ’60’s, and I said “yes”. My band had splintered up by then, but no problem. The next day, the group that went with me down there to Hyde St. consisted of my friend, guitarist Jamie Howell, who recently recalled that day for me, and, who was even then, a respectable and gifted Texas Les Paul player, Paul Dowell, a talented folky guitarist and unusual singer who became a guitar tech for the Airplane and Starship and who, sadly, left that scene under uncertain circumstances in the ‘early ’80’s, being off the radar for many decades now, and presumed deceased, and, this is where memory gets dimmer, the excellent drummer Sammy Piazza, not yet in Hot Tuna.

That apartment building where I was living at Fell and Cole had some serious players around in those years. In or adjacent to that top floor corner apartment were often to be found Grace Slick, Jack Casady, Paul Kantner and Marty Balin. And, Janis Joplin lived diagonally down the narrow, tree-strewn park on the South side on Lyon and Oak.  Janis once invited me to her tiny apartment where to my amazement I saw that she had patiently wall-papered the whole of the living room, floor to ceiling, with her classic “beads in the hair” wall posters. This wasn’t just narcissism, this was a true artist making the world in her own way. But, back across the park at that crash-pad upper apartment, the enormously talented bassist Jack Casady and his brother, the very kind and gentle Chick Casady, both come to California from the DC area like me, were also welcoming friends; they offered me a place to stay, a roof over my head, a space with some great musicians around, which the young musician gratefully accepted.

Back in DC I had founded and played in several serious bands, starting with the Hangmen, and our regional #1 single, followed by the Dolphin with Bob Berberich and the immortal Roy Buchanan on Telecaster guitar, and, then my last DC band, a trio, The Grin with Nils Lofgren, another world-class DC guitar player.  We had been signed to Monument Records, then to Seymour Stein’s new Sire Records, after which a young and talented producer, Phil Ramone,  had produced a single for us. But none of that mattered now – I had come out with Nils to the Coast – I was just another young long-haired musician with a guitar case. Looking back, Jack let me in to live there at Fell and Cole for free, with a generosity that I know now I never repaid. Thanks Jack, as I said recently, I still owe you one and more.

But things happened very fast in the sixties in San Francisco if you were in music. Even though it wasn’t on the stage of the Fillmore, the offer by the famous Bill Graham to play somewhere down on Hyde Street was very much welcomed.

Our little pick-up band met at the lobby of what was not yet called “Heider’s”, with hammering, sawing and much sawdust in the air. We were given a short tour of the two-story work in progress and then we dragged our gear into what became studio “C”.  Jamie’s recollection, recently, was that at the time the Jefferson Airplane wanted badly to record in this new Hyde Street studio complex, and RCA Records, their LA label, was also anxious for that to happen. Because of this urgency, the LA-based studio owner was pushing everybody, carpenters, painters, electricians, contractors of all sorts and audio engineers, to finish the rooms up quickly for the “dates” to start. My clearest memory of standing in that lobby was that the place seemed direly unready for anything, unpainted, unfinished and with tools and workers everywhere.  However, in Studio “C” at least the glass was in place and the mixing board was wired up in the control room.

We pushed our gear into that empty studio and set up at the farthest corner from the “booth”. We plugged in and tuned up not sure what exactly to do next. There were three guys behind the glass, and the older one, Wally, came out and introduced himself, but, only by first name, not as the owner, and said, “Play anything you want guys, but make it loud, we’re going to record you”. Microphones were set up and so we began.

We played in that raw unfinished room, it seems to me now, for about two hours. Playing mostly blues jams and some songs we all knew, Dino Valenti’s – nee, Chet Powers – Get Together was one song I remember. And the sound level?  In those days we all had tube Fender amps of the 40 and 80 RMS watt variety. But 4_double_walls_doorbeing tube amps, these sounded much louder than those wattage numbers look. The amps, black and beige Tolexed Fender Showman, Twin and Bassman, all had high-efficiency speakers, and, in the case of the Twin, large dual super-loud JBL aluminum dome speakers. We ripped the air in there, laying down the music at a horrendous volume for that moderately-sized room with only bare sheet rock for walls.

I also remember what was interesting to me as we roared on: what the three guys were doing behind the glass window.  As we played and sang they leaned, listened, bobbed, ducked and just ran around like mad men with hammers and strips of material, tacking and jamming stuff everywhere. Looking back on it now, they were frantically trying to stop the music/noise from entering the console area. As well as doing all that, Jamie remembers clearly, they were “rolling tape”, with several microphones; a recorder ran during the session, in the control room, it was all part of the deal.

After lots of songs, riffs and blues jams we were tired and hungry, our ears were ringing, and we were done. Again it’s Jamie who exactly remembers the three men in the booth, as I mentioned, I remember only one of them from that day, Wally Heider. And, the main reason I remember him being there is not because we later became friends, but because, when we met, he was a guy, the boss, who was very nice to us young, unknown musicians.

However, I should note here, I eventually did get to know Wally better, as not much later I was hired by CBS to be  the San Francisco Columbia Records Artist and Repertoire (A&R) head. Then I was the newly

George Daly
George Daly at CBS Records in SF 1972

-minted executive who would sometimes approve the Columbia studio billing upon which Wally and the studio sometimes depended for their existence. The young man that, astonishingly, even the mighty and wonderful Clive Davis would visit at his Mill Valley home.  So, the roles were reversed as I started at Columbia in December, 1969, and then I had the $20 to give back to him, so to speak.  In fact, during those later years, Wally and I saw much more of each other. He even had a gift made for me, a very nice “Wally Heider Recording” black leather personal “Calling Card File” business card holder, something that I still have, complete with my name embossed in gold on it along with the studio’s name, a memento of a fine man and some great recordings.

But, on the day I met him, the day we recorded at the un-opened studio four years earlier, he was a harried engineer – yet still pleasant enough to the unknown musicians working for him for 20 bucks each, the money he handed us in cash as we packed up in the studio. And Wally’s un-called for kindness was important to me at the time, maybe more than all the later contact we had.

To the best of our mutual recollections, mostly Jamie’s and more than forty years later, the three guys that day were Ken Hopkins, engineer and Wally Heider, and a man they called either Maurice or Pasqualles (I remember Pasqualles, he remembers Maurice), who, if Jamie’s memory is correct, was a favorite RCA engineer, sent up by the LA record label to help iron things out to prepare for the Airplane’s recordings to come.

Tech Backstory

Here’s a little detail that may interest the technically inclined reader: Wally once took me aside in LA and said he had made a great discovery, that you could record a song using only one model of microphone, and ”it sounded great”. They had done just that, he said, with a new recording made at his LA studio.  And it was great, the song was Marrakesh Express by Crosby, Stills, and Nash. The microphone on the kick drum, snare, vocal, guitars, etc.? The lowly and long-discontinued, PA-oriented Shure SM-56 dynamic cardioid, then just $45 dollars each at Coast Recording Supply on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood.

The lives of each of those musicians in that room never really intersected again. Jamie the Texas guitar-slinger had great success in both music (with Jimmy Witherspoon and others) and, later, in the high-end real estate business in San Francisco, Sammy became a well-known Bay Area drummer with several groups, most notably Hot Tuna with Jack.

As for me, San Francisco was good to me too in those years before I trekked to LA to work with three more major labels.  I went on to run A&R departments at Columbia, Elektra, Atlantic and BMG and now About Records, my own “major” distributed record label. And, while there at Columbia Records in San Francisco, I became a founding Governor of the Board of the San Francisco Recording Academy (NARAS) and, luckily, kept busy working with many great San Francisco artists there, Carlos Santana, Boz Scaggs, The Tubes, Huey and more.  Also, while there I completed the circle in a way: Janis Joplin was one of my Columbia artists. Before the venerable Record Plant Studio in Sausalito sadly closed for good, I got a call when someone found the original studio log book behind a wall there. I had booked Janis in the “Plant” for her very first Columbia recording.

And Heider’s grew up to have its own success with great artists whose works still resonates today: Carlos Santana, Crosby Still and Nash, The Grateful Dead, The Jefferson Airplane, Creedence Clearwater, Steve Miller, and later, when the business was renamed Hyde Street Studios, Green Day, Tupak Shakur, Chris Issacs, Bonnie Raitt, T-Bone Burnett and many more musicians all who found their greatest inspiration in that building.

But creatively, even in the midst of all the recording work I have done since, for me that recording at Heider’s stays as one of the true high points in my musical memory. And, while I have had a long string of satisfying successes in times since, my discovery and signing of the Cars at Elektra, collaborating with Carlos and producing his multimedia life story for Phillips, my work acquiring Green Jelly and Tool at BMG, finding and recording the Tubes with Steve as well going on the road to record The Rolling Stones and Keith Richards with the cosmic Rob Fraboni, A&Ring the greats from Eagles to Alexandro Escovido, discovering and producing Huey Lewis and Clover at my Pyramid Records, finding Joni Mitchell vocal mentor Laura Allan and stumbling on Vanessa Carlton and Jon Collins, producing and managing Booker T, watching our About Records Marin County artist Tim Hockenberry’s winning performances on Howard Stern’s America’s Got Talent in front of 17 million people – and more, all wonderful and astonishing things, that day was special, a high point and a closing door for me, a conclusion of sort.  That’s because in that studio, after I put my guitar away with my ears still ringing, and, except for a fun side-project with the bluegrass band Strange Creek, I have never again performed music as the artist, I’ve been on “the other side of that glass” since that roaring session with Wally Heider in Studio “C”.  Well, maybe the spark didn’t completely die, I have occasionally kept my hands in writing tunes, Slow Dancer with Boz Scaggs is one song I’m still proud of.

And, it wouldn’t surprise me if lost in the back of some dusty shelf somewhere, a silver-grey ten-inch reel of half-track Scotch number 111 magnetic tape – recorded that day – might still be sitting in its original thin gray box. This would be the first “live” recording made before San Francisco “Heider’s” had even opened its doors to all the legendary artists that later filled its halls. If that tape does exist, I doubt if any of the original players will ever hear it again, and, certainly not as loud as it was played then, or, even as loud as that afternoon still rings in my memory, my first time in Wally’s great studio, just as it was being born.

George Daly
About Records
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38 Miller Ave., #111,
Mill Valley, CA 94941

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