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March 6, 2020

20 Amazing Vintage Photos of the Grateful Dead’s Wall of Sound, 1974

Weighed over 70 tons, comprise dozens and then hundreds of amps, speakers, subwoofers, and tweeters, stand over three-stories tall and stretch nearly 100 feet wide. Its name could only be the “Wall of Sound”.

The Wall of Sound was an enormous public address system designed specifically for the Grateful Dead’s live performances in 1974. It was the creation of audio engineer Owsley “Bear” Stanley. The Grateful Dead gave the sneak peek of the Wall of Sound on February 9, 1973 at Stanford University’s Maples Pavilion but it was on March 23, 1974 when they debuted the completed system during their tour stop at the Cow Palace in Daly City, California.

After got out of prison in late 1972, Stanley, Dan Healy and Mark Raizene of the Grateful Dead’s sound crew, in collaboration with Ron Wickersham, Rick Turner, and John Curl of Alembic, combined six independent sound systems using eleven separate channels, in an effort to deliver high-quality sound to audiences. Vocals, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, and piano each had their own channel and set of speakers. Phil Lesh’s bass was piped through a quadraphonic encoder that sent signals from each of the four strings to a separate channel and set of speakers for each string. Another channel amplified the bass drum, and two more channels carried the snares, tom-toms, and cymbals. Because each speaker carried just one instrument or vocalist, the sound was exceptionally clear and free of intermodulation distortion.
Bassist Phil Lesh told Rolling Stone magazine, “I started talking to Bear about our sound problems. There was no technology for electric instruments. We started talking about how to get around distortion and get a pure musical tone. He did some research and said, ‘Let’s use Altec speakers and hi-fi amps and four-tube amps, one for each instrument, and put them on a piece of wood.’ Three months later we were playing through Bear’s sound system.”
This system projected high-quality playback at six hundred feet with an acceptable sound projected for a quarter mile, at which point wind interference degraded it. The Wall of Sound was the first large-scale line array used in modern sound reinforcement systems, although it was not called a line array at the time. The Wall of Sound was perhaps the second-largest non-permanent sound system ever built.

There were multiple sets of staging and scaffolding that toured with the Grateful Dead. In order to accommodate the time needed to set up and tear down the system, the band would perform with one set while another would “leapfrog” to the next show. According to band historian Dennis McNally, there were two sets of scaffolding. According to Stanley, there were three sets. Four semi-trailers and 21 crew members were required to haul and set up the 75-ton Wall.

As Stanley described it,
“The Wall of Sound is the name some people gave to a super powerful, extremely accurate PA system that I designed and supervised the building of in 1973 for the Grateful Dead. It was a massive wall of speaker arrays set behind the musicians, which they themselves controlled without a front of house mixer. It did not need any delay towers to reach a distance of half a mile from the stage without degradation.”



Photo: © Richard Pechner/rpechner.com



Photo: © Richard Pechner/rpechner.com

Photo: © Richard Pechner/rpechner.com


Photo: © Richard Pechner/rpechner.com


Photo: © Richard Pechner/rpechner.com

Photo: © Richard Pechner/rpechner.com

Photo: © Richard Pechner/rpechner.com





Photo: © Richard Pechner/rpechner.com





40 comments:

  1. Gotta wonder who bankrolled all that equipment for a band that never broke into the mainstream with a big hit. My guess is the CIA.

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    Replies
    1. Actually, many would argue that the worst thing that happened to the Grateful Dead was breaking into the mainstream with a big hit in 1987.

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    2. The Dead and the Bear- Stanley came from a wealthy family

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    3. The Dead paid for it themselves. They were a hard working band that gigged steadily for decades, and long before mainstream media noticed them were filling large venues, which is why they wanted that system.

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    4. They had a MASSIVE following for a long time before they had a mainstream hit. My cousin saw them over 150 times. If they played at a arena for 5 nights he'd go every night. His son too. I saw them in 1973 fill up the RFK baseball stadium in D.C., 40,000 or so people. They were already
      making a LOT of money back then.

      Delete
  2. The CIA! Of course it was!

    Except that it broke the band...

    But hell, don't let facts deter you.

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  3. Absolutely. The CIA. And the Trilateral Commission. The band did, and it drove them to the edge of bankruptcy, and was part of the reason for the 1975 hiatus.

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    Replies
    1. yeah that's a great line of shit and I like it but the year off had more to do with cocaine than the CIA

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    2. plus Mickey Harts father was their manager and ripped them off of a lot of money, and Mickey quit the Band

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  4. Or you're just, you know, regurgitating the bullshit you've been fed 😂

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    Replies
    1. You my friend, don't know what you're talking about and are merely speculating. I worked on their crew. They made their money from live shows.

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    2. No, the CIA Grateful Dead connection is actually very well established. You shouldn't feel bad that they didn't share their CIA connections with their roadies 😂

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  5. Replies
    1. Actually he worked for them then, not them for him. The Band paid for the system out of their ticket and lp sales.

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    2. He bankrolled the dead for a time.

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  6. Great pics! Any idea where each was from? I was at the 8/6/74 show at Roosevelt Stadium, such an amazing show!

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    Replies
    1. The 1st and 5th photo were taken by Ray Ellison of Chicago, Il. It is from the 6-16-74 Des Moines Iowa show at the State Fairgrounds. I bought those two photo's from Ray in 1982. I later found out after he died, that Ray was a regular in the underground Chicago Punk and New Wave scene in the mid and late 70's and took 1000's of photo's of bands in that era.

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    2. I was at that show remember thinking when I walked "aint no fucking way I sit under that thing" that was over Bill's head. Saw them there a few times and always wondered WTF are they playing in this toilet but it was always a good time there

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  7. Absolutely perfect sound- it fill the Oakland Baseball stadium with perfect sound on the first Day on the Green in June 74 featuring the New Riders, The Beach Boys andthe Dead !

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    Replies
    1. Dont forget Commander Cody at that show! '74, Fun times...

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  8. Always ask a dead fan if you want to learn about perfect sound. From the view of someone that is tone deaf.

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  9. This looks like a perfect recipe for massive amounts of hearing loss! How much power did that whole thing draw? You sure weren't going to plug it into any normal venue's electrical system.

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    Replies
    1. It wasn't that loud, it was designed to deliver clean, full spectrum sound to every part of a big venue, without distortion or echoes. It was not very efficient in several ways, but what was learned from that experiment completely revolutionized concert audio,and all live systems today use innovations the Dead pioneered.

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    2. They had 48 McIntosh 2300 amps driving the PA system. Some of them are visible in the photos. Jerry had one of these amps at his house.

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  10. The thing that seems fishy to me is that the band is standing in front of the sound system. If you were to turn any of those mics on or semi acoustic guitars, you'd be deafened with feedback. There is enough feedback on normal stages where the band is behind the pa with monitors facing the players. As an experiment, I'm sure everyone learned a lot but there is a reason this set up hasn't been replicated. Claiming that it was an innovation in big stage set ups seems strange to me. What did they learn? Sound system culture had already learned about arrays, projection and phasing when it came to designing a well balanced dance floor. Horn loaded cabinets came before this. These are all front loaded cabinets in what seems to be a random ass assortment of unmatched speakers. It looks pretty wicked but it doesn't look like it worked amazingly.

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    1. The mics were differential. Meaning the band sang into one and the other which was 180 degress out of phase with the other mic cancelled out any sound that came through both mics

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    2. I had the pleasure of listening to this sound system at UCSB in 1974. I remember telling people at the time how crisp and clear the sound was. We had a "base camp" at the the bleachers at the back of the stadium, and we walked around a bit, and met up with some friends that were much closer. The sound was just as clean, front or back. I think the Dead had to drop the Wall of Sound because it was just too expensive to set up and maintain.

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    3. I worked for Altec Lansing during this period and supplied eq's and real time analyzers to the band. Dan Healey was my contact and gave me access to photograph the system. I have some great photos of the system, and not of the typical "front" wall only.
      The microphones were NOT out of phase.....they were 180 degrees out of polarity. 2 completely different terms.

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    4. and is that why there was no feedback?

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    5. 180 degrees out of polarity with 0 degrees is out of phase.

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    6. The only problem with the mics was, for it to work, you had to place the mics so close to each other, that the one you weren't singing into actually picked up the vocal a bit. That's why when you listen to any Dead show from 73-74, the vocals are real thin sounding, because you were a bit of the cancellation on the vocals.

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    7. The microphones were based on the T-45 which Lou Burroughs developed at ElectroVoice during WWII. The military bought over 2 million of them, they allowed Army Tank commanders, Naval Gun Directors, etc. to communicate effectively over the din of battle. Without the, "Noise Cancelling," mics, the Wall of Sound would have never worked.

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  11. Myself and my friends back in the mid 70's bought a lot of their records and a lot of concert tickets, you couldn't just steal music in those days, not like today...yes I was one those high people bathing in the fountain.

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  12. They sure didn't travel light. Loved those guys.

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  13. 1, 3, 5, 6, 9, 17, and 18 are 06-16-74 des moines. photos 1 and 5 are by ray ellingsen of chicago

    2 is 06-08-74 oakland

    4 is 05-25-74 UCSB

    7 is 05-17-74 PNE vancouver soundcheck

    8 is probably from 02-23-74 cow palace

    10 and 12 are 05-21-74 seattle soundcheck

    11 is 07-31-74 hartford (photo by jim anderson)

    13, 14, and 19 are 05-12-74 reno

    15 is 05-19-74 portland soundcheck

    20 is 07-21-74 hollywood bowl (photo by david gans)

    I-) ihor

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  14. 16 is probably from 05-25-74 at UCSB

    I-) ihor

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  15. dates with the photographers credited:

    1, 3, 5, 6, 9, 17, and 18 are 06-16-74 des moines. photos 1 and 5 are by ray ellingsen of chicago

    2 is 06-08-74 oakland

    4 and 16 are 05-25-74 UCSB (photos by richard pechner)

    7 is 05-17-74 PNE vancouver soundcheck (photo by richard pechner)

    8 is probably from 02-23-74 cow palace

    10 and 12 are 05-21-74 seattle soundcheck (10 - photo by richard pechner)

    11 is 07-31-74 hartford (photo by jim anderson)

    13, 14, and 19 are 05-12-74 reno

    15 is 05-19-74 portland soundcheck (photo by richard pechner)

    20 is 07-21-74 hollywood bowl (photo by david gans)

    I-) ihor

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  16. There's some great comments left here. Chkm out....

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  17. hey geniuses .. while you're squabbling about who knows the trivia better: how come no one mentioned that owsley and audio engineer was actually much better known as the king of acid at the time ...

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