Thursday, October 16, 2014

McIntosh labs and the Grateful Dead Wall of Sound, An Interview with Richard Pechner

Richard Pechner's site:
McIntosh Website
Home Toys Magazine

First published in HomeToys Magazine,
 this ended up being their most read article of 2009,
now finally on my blog, 10.16.14

April 2009
Wall Of Sound
Author: Chuck Hinton, McIntosh Tech Support and the Hi Fi Insider

We at McIntosh Labs were pretty impressed with ourselves when we realized the McIntosh 2K reference system weighed in at close to one full ton. It never even occurred to us to imagine what kind of McIntosh system might weigh 75 tons. As it turns out, our imagination was not required. Nearly 32 years earlier, Owsley ‘Bear’ Stanley, Dan Healy and Mark Raizene of the Grateful Dead sound crew and Ron Wickersham and Rick Turner of Alembic Sound dared to dream of such a system.

Shortly before the 35th anniversary of the official March 23, 1974 d├ębut of the legendary Grateful Dead Wall Of Sound P.A. system, I had the great luck and honor of spending some time with photographer Richard Pechner. From 1969 to 1974 Pechner worked on the Grateful Dead sound crew, helped build the wall and chronicled the adventure that was the Grateful Dead in photographs.

The McIntosh/Dead connection started with a PA system the then local San Francisco band had in their house at 710 Asbury St., which included several McIntosh MC240, 40 watt stereo tube amps bolted to a piece of heavy plywood, dubbed “The Lead Sled”. At that time, Richard was a student at San Francisco State and worked with a group called The Diggers that distributed free food and similar activities in Haight Ashbury. “I met Danny Rifkin, who was managing the Dead… the band wanted to play for free in the park (Golden Gate) so the deal was, we (the Diggers) would get the flatbed truck.” Richard drove the flatbed to the Dead house, picked up the gear and took part in the now infamous free concert.
As the band became more popular and started playing large venues, McIntosh MC2300, 300 watt per channel stereo amps were used. Mr. Pechner says “ When we started, they were just sitting there on floor, it was ones and twos, but as we got more, then we got into racking stuff, so we used to go down to Palo Alto to some surplus supply houses. Dan Healy used to pride himself on knowing where these places were, we would go down there with a van and there were these racks with wheels and we said, “This is what we need”.”
By the early 1970’s, the band had accumulated quite a bit of gear and, by combining 3 current and previous systems, plus a lot of acquisition and fabrication, created the wall of sound. Consisting of 11 separate mono systems, the Wall of Sound gave each instrument its own set of amplifiers and approximately 40 foot tall stack of speakers. With each system directly behind the performer playing through it, the band was able to hear what the audience heard, and, with only one source of sound per instrument, created a natural stereo image in the same way a group of un-amplified instruments, like an orchestra or string quartet is heard, with sound coming directly from the acoustic instruments. The obvious problem of feedback from speakers placed directly behind the microphones was solved by inventing a noise canceling mic system, consisting of 2 out of phase matched mics per vocalist and some sophisticated associated electronics.  

 The completed wall sound consisted of 586 JBL woofers and mids, 54 Electrovoice  tweeters driven by 48 McIntosh MC2300s and two McIntosh MC350 mono tube amplifiers for a total of  29,500 watts.

“We were told it was the most powerful touring PA system in the world at that time” said Pechner, “it occurred to us that we, well nobody, had really seen what it looked like (with the band on stage)  because, during shows, you couldn’t see any of that stuff, it was just too dark.” Richard convinced a fork-truck driver to lift him up to stage height and just keep backing up until the whole system fit in frame of the standard 50mm lens of his camera. Via 2-way radio, he instructed the light guy to bring the house lights up, much to the band’s chagrin, and took what is now the iconic image Dead Heads around the world associate with the Wall of Sound. “It was one of those opportunities that just come along and you go, “Oh, I know what to do”.”
Ironically, McIntosh was partly responsible for bringing Richard Pechner’s career as a roadie to an end, when an amp rack, thought to be empty, was slid to the back of a truck and He tried to take it off the truck. The rack turned out to be full of MC2300s, gravity and McIntosh jerked the rack and Pechner to the ground, injuring his back and effectively removing him from the equipment handling part of his job. “I stayed on for a couple of tours, mostly doing photography.” When the band took it’s hiatus in 1974; Richard and the wall of sound moved on after the Wall’s last show on Oct. 20th 1974.
Mr. Pechner continued work as a photographer, getting shots of rock bands and other related work. He now works freelance out of his home studio, doing commercial photography and shooting folks like Lance Armstrong and the San Francisco Giants. His work can be seen at his website: 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

21 things we would not have believed in the already Orwellian 1984, a grum rant.

In the dozen years that passed since a pop culture reference from Allan Parsons or someone had prompted my 10 year old self to imbibe the truths of Orwell, I noted each Calendar flip, acknowledged its advancement toward Winston Smith’s year. When 1984 arrived, it seemed dystopian enough, continuous military conflict and cold war kept the poor from questioning power, cocaine was socially acceptable for white people, the rich were getting much richer from the introduction of Regan’s  trickle up economics and, as a poor young adult, I was unemployed, had holes in my shoes and lived on government cheese.
I could not have guessed, 30 years ago, that vegetables would become carcinogenic, the water from the faucet could be lit a fire, and that the ice caps could melt. Would we have predicted a tsunami that killed a hundred thousand? A hurricane could flood New York City and destroy the Jersey shore?
Who knew worker real income would be down %30 and CEO pay up %300, that social security would be known to have numbered days and the poor of the first world would start to look like poor of the 3rd world. The late night streets peppered with shopping cart pushers, scuttling like crabs in competition for returnable, Iron green gold mines of nickels. One could not have imagined the Wall Street crime wave that, in a single year, cost 6% of the USA population their jobs, 9 million people out of work and over one million homes stolen by the mortgagers. That not a single criminal would be sent to jail, and banks broken by their own crimes were bailed out with taxpayer money, too big to fail. How we would have laughed if you told us the Supreme Court would rule corporations were people and money equaled speech. Or that the people could be duped into thinking Unions were bad for them, that teachers were to blame for small school budgets, and one family could trade all the manufacturing jobs away so they could sell the cheapest Chinese sneakers, but  Americans would still buy their lies and their sneakers.
The environment did look to be in danger in those days, but the great lakes had been cleaned, superfunds tried to heal the earth, CFC’s and DDT outlawed to heal the hole in the ozone layer and bring the American eagle back from the brink of destruction. So how could we have guessed that every conservative would vow to close Richard Nixon’s invention, the EPA. That the EPA could receive a half million letters including one from 60 Congressmen asking to not approve a pesticide but they do it anyway AND the conservatives still think the EPA impedes progress. In 1984, would you have believed ubiquitous, innumerable, uncountable entire Genus like Bats and Frogs could be in danger today?  That huge swathes of coastline would qualify for the moniker of ‘Ocean Dead Zones’?  Bees and other pollinators may well fail, potentially causing  a %30 drop in the worlds food supply and, as a coup de grace, nearly one half of all species alive in 1984 are now extinct.
The first of my Children were born  as Halley’s specter last rode the heavens. That phenom of such a period that nearly everyone will only see it once, but you, my first born, like Mr. Clemens, were supposed to mark its twain.   Now, in 2014, I fear the comets 2060 return may greet no living human eye.
The one thing that really surprises me is; no one seems surprised or alarmed by all this.

Chuck Hinton 10/08/14