The story of Wally Heider Recording, 245 Hyde Street, San Francisco, CA
San Francisco’s recording landscape experienced a seismic shift on April 27, 1969, the opening date of Wally Heider Recording.
The construction of Wally’s studios were originally done by a chap named Dave Mancini, the son of the famous film scoring Henry Mancini and later a studio owner in the San Fernando Valley. I’m not sure how much Dave actually knew about acoustics, but his guys got the studios built on time and on budget and the rooms were the best there was at the time for the loud rock and roll combo acts that were evolving.(3)
Heider’s already established reputation as a producer, engineer, and owner of a popular professional studio in L.A. suddenly gave many San Francisco bands a reason to record in town. Before Heider’s arrival, nearly all major local acts recorded at their respective label studios in Los Angeles or New York. The Grateful Dead recorded their ﬁrst album at Warner Bros. in L.A.
Jeﬀerson Airplane holed up in RCA’s basement studios for their ﬁrst ﬁve albums. Quicksilver Messenger Service’s debut came out of Capitol Studios in Hollywood and Creedence Clearwater Revival did their ﬁrst three there. Big Brother & the Holding Company and Moby Grape tracked at Columbia Studios in New York. As young artists, they often didn’t have much choice in the matter, although that was slowly changing as artists gained more power in the indus- try. Plus, it worked to the labels’ ﬁnancial advantage to keep their artists—their products—in-house. But even if a big-name band wanted to record in their home city, the facilities available in early 1969 couldn’t compare technically or acoustically with the facilities available at or near label headquarters. So oﬀ they went, until a piece of L.A. moved up North.
Heider leased an old building near the corner of Turk and Hyde for the new Wally Heider Recording site. That building, 245 Hyde Street to be exact, previously housed ﬁlm oﬃces, screening rooms, a soundstage, and storage for 20th Century Fox, and it sat across from the legendary Blackhawk nightclub, where Heider recorded some Miles Davis performances for CBS. The hot jazz club was long gone when Heider moved to the neighborhood. In it's place was a methadone clinic.
The Tenderloin district was raw, on its way to becoming seedy, when Heider sent Dave Mancini, owner of Devonshire Sound Studios in L.A., to design and build the new rooms. Studio C would come ﬁrst, with a total of four rooms running by 1971. Heider hired Mel Tanner away from Coast Recorders to serve as general manager, with studio manager Ginger Mews, chief tech Harry Sitam,
and staﬀ engineer Russ Gary rounding out the original staﬀ.
Measuring roughly the size of Studio 3 in L.A., Studio C oﬀered EMT plates, tape delay units, and access to live echo chambers. The recording room was covered with odd-looking, square midrange/
diﬀuser-type objects that were popular at the time. While engineers have described the studio area as everything from “great-sounding” to “crackerbox,” not many criticized its equipment. Possibly
inﬂuenced by mentor Putnam, Heider installed custom DeMedio equipment throughout his facility, most notably a 24-channel console for Studio C equipped with passive Universal Audio EQs
on their way to United Audio plug-in line amps. It had eight buses and Gotham linear faders that had a resolution of 2dB steps. It was a workhorse of a board, nearly indestructible. Outboard gear
included four UREI 1176s, two Teletronix LA-2As, Altec and Lang EQs, and two portable Pultec EQs.
The monitoring system featured Altec 604-E loudspeakers with McIntosh 275 power amps, which cranked loud enough during playback to satisfy most of the rock and rollers. They also had an
amply stocked mic closet and two of the ﬁ nest tape machines in town—an Ampex MM1000 and a 3M 56 16-track—both as new to the city as the studio itself.
|1977 Wally Heider photo by Jeffrey Husband|
Throughout the recording of basic tracks and overdubs, frequent visits from friends and fellow musicians added not only to the relaxed vibe but to the album itself. Jerry Garcia added a
pedal steel part to “The Farm.” Nicky Hopkins took a break from his Quicksilver Messenger Service duties to play piano on several tracks, and many other friends came by to listen, smoke a joint, or
just hang out. “We were always having visitors,” recalls Schmitt.
“Janis [Joplin] would come by, Big Mama Cass…David Crosby would stick his head in every so oft en. Anytime anyone was in town they’d drop by the studio.
The scene at Heider’s changed dramatically when Crosby, Stills, Nash, and, on occasion, Young came in to record. Many songs became keeper tracks after one pass, maybe with an overdub on the vocals. Listening to their gorgeous harmonies, it’s obvious they worked hard on the vocals. Despite a sky-high level of musicianship, Déjà Vu had problems. When the group entered Wally Heider
Recording in late 1969, they had, with only one album to their name (as CSN), achieved astounding success. They should have been overjoyed with their lives and good fortune, but personal
problems overshadowed their joy. David Crosby had just lost his girlfriend Christine Hinton—the love of his life—to a tragic car accident. Nash’s relationship with Joni Mitchell had just fallen
apart. Stephen Stills’ relationship with Judy Collins was on the rocks, and Neil Young had other personal problems to deal with. To make matters worse, they all stayed together at the Caravan Lodge
Motel. Miraculously, they made it out in one piece. Their new staﬀer, often the silent observer in the back of the control room, saw Crosby take out his frustrations on those closest to him: his
bandmates. Engineer Bill Halverson instructed Barncard to keep the mics oﬀ during private conversation; otherwise, record everything. They usually recorded until 3 a.m., with Stills oft en tinkering around until 8 a.m.
Young came in for one of the ﬁrst tracking sessions, “Country Girl.” He usually came in to sing scratch vocals and would then ﬁnish tracks at his own studio.
Jerry Garcia, quickly becoming a Heider’s regular, broke in the newly completed Studio D when he laid down a steel guitar part for “Teach Your Children.” The arrangement allowed Halverson, known for his speed especially when punching in and out on a tape machine, to complete an overdub without tearing down the existing Studio C setup.
Wally Heider Recording remained steadily booked through the early seventies. CSNY closed out 1969, but acts such as Big Brother & the Holding Company, Norman Greenbaum, Seals and Croft s,
War (who reportedly cut two albums worth of material in two days), Cliﬀ Coulter, Clift on Chenier, Bill Evans, Paul Butterﬁeld, and Brewer and Shipley, who recorded their Tarkio Road album
there, which features their only Top Ten, “One Toke Over the Line,” kept the studio busy.
Fred Catero came in to engineer and co-produce, with Carlos Santana, Santana’s landmark Abraxas album in 1970. Eric Clapton brought over his band, Derek and the Dominoes, to the studio
to check out Santana. At night, with the lights dim and the band blowing oﬀ steam aft er the pressure of recording, they jammed on the blues even later into the night. Young guitar whiz Neal Schon
was there, too; he’d oft en go into another room and play on his own while the band recorded, but when Clapton and crew showed up, he jumped right in with them. A couple of days later, Clapton invited Schon to join the group. A phenomenal opportunity, for sure, but he didn’t really want to move to London. Luckily, he didn’t have to. Carlos Santana invited him into his group’s fold the next day.
Two landmark albums from late 1970 and early 1971, American Beauty by The Grateful Dead and
David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name, overlapped in Studio C, an arrangement that supported “cross pollination” between sessions.
Although Crosby’s painful memories of his late girlfriend Christine still haunted him (he would later dedicate the album to her), a more peaceful Crosby walked into the studio alone to record
that album. During his ﬁrst few sessions, Crosby sat in a chair, acoustic guitar perched on his lap, playing a batch of songs written during his most intense period of grief. Barncard and assistant
Ellen Burke kept the tape rolling constantly. By this time, Barncard knew any little bit of offhand noodling could lead to something interesting.
“David made it easy for me by not working late,” says Stephen Barncard(4), who worked from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. mixing American Beauty, and from 7 p.m. until around 11:30 p.m. with Crosby, having a little dinner on the hot plate in between. “Sometimes it was just him, sometimes he’d bring a girlfriend, sometimes Nash would come by…It was so much more leisurely than Déjà Vu had been, which was a real pressure-cooker.” The guest list grew during the recording process to include Garcia, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzmann from the Dead; Grace Slick, Paul Kantner, Jorma Kaukonen, and Jack Casady from Jeﬀ erson Airplane; Gregg Rolie and Michael Shrieve from Santana; Frieberg from Quicksilver; Neil Young; and, up from L.A., former paramour Joni Mitchell. The album’s beautifully recorded standout track “Laughing” features Crosby with Garcia, Lesh and Kreutzmann, and Mitchell in a brief cameo. “It was probably the most perfect record and recording situation that I’ve done,” says Barncard.
With the 3M 16-track capturing every nuance, Barncard took a few risks on the record, like printing echo from the Heider chamber not only on Garcia’s pedal steel but also on the guitars and other
While many tracks happened quickly, which was Crosby’s preferred way of working, “Laughing required a few runthroughs. “It wasn’t one of those spontaneous tunes; it’s one they had to work on to get it right because it has a few tricky changes in it. Garcia played very little on the basic track—just tiny little riﬀs because it called for that.”
Aft er Crosby wrapped up this masterpiece, the New Riders of the Purple Sage recorded their self-titled debut, the ﬁrst of three records they made at the studio, with Barncard.
In 1972, Jerry Garcia holed up in Studio D to record Garcia with Bob Matthews
and Betty Cantor. Garcia played most of the instruments (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, pedal steel guitar, bass, piano, organ, samples, vocals), only bringing in bandmate Billy Kreutzmann for percussion enhancements and using Robert Hunter’s lyrics. They wrote, recorded, and mixed the album all in Studio D in only three weeks. Like with CSN, the record light stayed on at all times during the Garcia sessions, which allowed Matthews and Cantor to grab some one-of-a-kind jams, especially on “The Wheel,” which features some of Garcia’s ﬁ nest pedal steel work. “They were just groovin’ on stuﬀ , 20 minutes into it they were into this groove and Garcia turns around and says ‘Okay Matthews, did you record that?’ Of course. You always record. He came in, listened to it, and made some changes. During playback Hunter was there, and he was writing the words in his notebook on the wall because there wasn’t enough room for him to sit down.”
To ensure privacy, they hung a sign outside the Studio D door that read: “Closed Session: Anita Bryant.” “And you know what?” Matthews says, “People really weren’t that interested in ﬁ nding out
what an Anita Bryant session was like!” That sign probably played a big role in providing the creative space for Garcia to create an album from scratch in three weeks.
As 1973 came to a close, the buzz on Wally Heider Recording began to dim a bit.
The Grateful Dead, who had spent seemingly all of their oﬀ road time at Heider’s either recording,
mixing, or collaborating with friends, had their own project studios to work in, including the impressive Marin County home studios of Mickey Hart and Bob Weir.
Beginning in 1977, the Dead had their own warehouse studio in San Rafael, Le Club Front (it was on Front Street in the Canal District), equipped with a Neve 8058, a Studer 16-track, and scads of outboard gear.(3)
Many other artists followed. Heider sold the San Francisco business and its name to Filmways in 1978, but he remained as the manager of the studios until 1980 when Filmways sold it to a partnership composed of Dan Alexander, Tom Sharples and Michael Ward.
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