I've always been very eclectic in my musical taste. I grew up listening to bluegrass and country music. I didn't care too much for the pop of the '40s--the Big Band sound didn't really appeal to me for the most part. I've always liked music of all kinds and I was into theater and dance, I studied both extensively, and performed as a dancer, and I loved opera--I even studied Italian for a while to be able to better understand opera. So I've always been quite involved in music, even though I was never really a performing musician, except for a spell at school when I played a sax in the marching band.
I got turned onto acid and The Beatles in the same week; it was amazing. It all seemed to fit together. I hadn't been that exposed to the various forms of R&B that were an undercurrent to the whole rock'n'roll scene until those guys brought it to the fore. But one of my favorite forms of jazz was New Orleans; I was exposed to a lot of that in my college days. My introduction to what we now call Rock and Roll was the first album, Meet The Beatles. We had it within a few days of it coming out. One of my friends who was a folkie, Will Spires, brought it in and said, 'Man, you gotta listen to this!' And I was off and running on it. I loved it.
Even after I was involved with the Dead, I always checked out the other bands. I was never one of those insular people like a lot of the folks in the Grateful Dead scene. There's a huge world of music out there and I always like to listen to everything from opera to rock'n'roll. There were a lot of good local bands. Big Brother & the Holding Company, for instance, could be amazing one night and make you cringe the next. The Sons of Champlin were that way, too. When they were on, though, they were great. Quicksilver, the Airplane, Big Brother and the Dead were sort of the Big Four, and I liked all of them. I also liked The Charlatans, not that they were great musicians, but they were a helluva lot of fun. There were a lot of little bands that were pretty good, and a lot that weren't so good.
I could play you tapes of the early Dead that would make you cringe they're so bad. They couldn't sing for shit. Any one of them could sing on his own okay, but they sounded terrible together, and I think part of that was the fact that the technology of on-stage monitors was pitiful. It's absolutely essential that musicians clearly hear themselves in order to blend their voices together. While they were sitting around practicing their vocal harmonies without instruments it was fine, but once they were on stage with the instruments going, each one would hear something else and they'd all be off-key. It was sometimes painful. In fact, at the beginning I remember saying to them, 'Gee, guys, maybe you should stick to instrumentals, or songs where only one person sings.' Fortunately they didn't listen to me. The one thing I insisted on that they did listen to me about was, I insisted on sound checks, and I encouraged them to listen to tapes of their performances, not just so they could hear how they sounded, but also to correct me on what I was doing, because I tried to make the tapes as much like the way it sounded in the hall as possible. This way I learned to mix sound. They also learned to use dynamics, which many electric bands never do. I developed my recording skills at the same time.
We did the best we could with the tools we had. The tools were inadequate, of course, and there weren't any sound systems made for music reinforcement at concert levels. Ours was the first attempt to provide something of good quality. But we didn't understand -- I didn't understand -- that you couldn't separate your speakers by the width of the stage and have it work right. I didn't figure that out until later. As I began to discover it, I evolved things like the Wall of Sound, where everything had a single source. There were no distributed sources. There were single rows of speakers for instruments; there was a single cluster for the vocals; and a single cluster for the piano. Everything had a point source, or a line source. And it was totally coherent. You could go back hundreds of feet and it was clean and coherent--it didn't sound like a giant transistor radio. Today, thanks to the wonderful work of John Meyer there are systems in existence which greatly simplify the production of quality sound in even the largest halls. I managed to interest him in the rock music field while I was monitor mixer for the Jefferson Starship in 1978, diverting his interest from the movie industry. I don't think that the movie industry would have ever supported him, although he was a hard sell on the rock and roll!
The Wall of Sound system was a result of my desire to return all the power and control to the musicians, by putting the speakers behind them. Everything that went to the audience they (the band) were fully aware of because they were imbedded in that sound-field. For years we discussed the concept (that Phil and I had come to), about the microcosm and the macrocosm. The microcosm being the world on stage, and the macrocosm being the world for the audience, and how to approximate the two so they became one. That was always my goal. The best soundman is perfectly transparent. As far as I'm concerned, the soundman should be as superfluous as tits on a boar hog. All he should do is make sure things run and don't break down; plug the wires in and unplug them. All the control of what's going to the audience should be fully in the hands of the performing artists themselves. That's the only way you'll ever get close to true art.
I think my knowledge of the true nature of sound dates back to the period of the L.A. Acid Tests and specifically, one of the rehearsals we had in the house in Watts when I actually saw sound coming out of the speakers. It was total synesthesia, and I've never experienced that at any other time. It was just a unique experience. And it so completely blew my mind, that I realized, "Hey, no matter what, I've got to remember what this (the sound) is doing. I went around and inspected it very carefully, and I spent a lot of time absorbing what it was doing and realizing how different it was from what I thought sound did. And that became the foundation for all the sound work that I've done. The fact that I was able to convert aural information into a three-dimensional image-- it was all coming from my ears, of course, but transforming it into a visual form.
I always trusted what happened on acid. Everything that happens to you on acid is real. Everything you see is real, everything you experience is real, everything you think about is real. The thing about it is, that a lot of the stuff you see is not stuff you see when you're straight, because when you're straight you're limited. The acid removes the "filters" and lets the noise through. That "noise" is as real a part of the universe as the other part that you do allow to pass through, it just hasn't been important for you. That's a survival issue, we discard a lot of sensory information to make our daily lives simpler. When you open those floodgates and let it all pass, you let in a lot of stuff that's as real, and often more interesting than the stuff you usually let through. The patterns that you see when stoned, for instance, are an artifact of the way the nerves in your eyes are arranged and mapped into the brain. Beautiful noise!
...Psychedelics are a gift of nature that brings tribalism to people; they bring an understanding of the ecology of the planet and the interaction of all living things, because that's one of the first things you become aware of when you take psychedelics--how everything is alive and how everything depends on everything else. You go take a look at every indigenous culture that has a respect for its environment -- unlike the hierarchical approach of the feudalistic structures that the world is now run by -- and you will find that these people use psychedelics of some sort, usually in a regular, ritualized manner.
The music of the Grateful Dead is an important assistant to the revival of tribality. Because it has to do with the way things are. It's not somebody's idea about the way things might be, or the way things could be or should be. It's what it is. It's real music about real things. The whole thing is about a social movement. It's tribalism. Which is the only social structure that is truly human. The structure of the world today runs on feudalism--governments, companies; all those structures are feudalistic, arranged in a hierarchy which at the root of it follows Parkinson's law. That is, once you create a hierarchy or bureaucracy, it has only one purpose, and that is: To Continue. There's nothing else. But that has nothing to do with the tribal entity. The tribal entity exists so as to abide in harmony with its environment. It's something that benefits everyone, not just this one structure.
But I digress....
Here are some of the Albums I have made