In the tape collections of many Blue Oyster Cult fans around the world, you'll find a copy of the 8 September 1980 BOC gig at San Francisco's Old Waldorf which had been broadcast live by KSAN.
This was a great sounding production and it's easy to take these things for granted but behind the scenes there had been a debate going on how best to handle the sound for this broadcast.
There was the "safe" way - that is, the way it was generally done and could be relied upon to give a decent result - or there was the "George Geranios way" - untried, untested but which would, if it all worked as he hoped, would give a far superior result for both concert-attendees and the general listening public...
Here are George's notes about how it all came to pass...
I had learned that our gig (9/08/80) at the Old Waldorf was to be simulcast over San Francisco's premier rock station KSAN. Sometimes this is done using the services of a mobile recording truck. A split is made onstage of all the input channels and one side is sent to the mobile, essentially a recording studio on wheels. For whatever reasons (probably financial) it was decided not to go that route and a feed of my live mix would have to do.
I had mixed feelings about this decision. On one hand it would give me control of the mix in a somewhat familiar environment but on the other hand two track feeds from an in-venue console are notoriously unreliable. Why is this? Because, what you do in a smaller venue is essentially augment what you hear at the mix position. You generally do not create a full mix because you are in the same room as the band. The level and frequency balance of each band component determines what you add to the mix. For example, a loud bass or guitar in the room will cause you to add less of that component into your mix. The audience is already hearing this from the stage. If you simply strap a recording device across the console output the resulting tape (broadcast, CD, file, etc.) will be bass and guitar shy.
These imbalances extend to adding effects and even the overall frequency balance of the recording. Consider this: the average sound system is segmented into speakers that cover various frequency ranges. The low end is frequently augmented by subwoofers. These cover the very lowest octave of your mix and provide visceral impact to the in-house mix. Generally, you do not set up a sound system to be "flat." The whole thing is tilted toward the low end to add impact. This tilting usually happens after the console in the system equalization and crossover. Your recording doesn't "see" this EQ, and because of this "sound board" recordings tend to sound somewhat thin. (In addition it is common to add kick and bass guitar to subs using only an auxiliary send. The main console output never sees this bass augmentation!).
There are ways to mitigate these problems. You could generate an alternate mix using auxiliary sends on the console, but now you are looking at an extensive sound check and doing two mixes in real time. You are checking the second mix on headphones with the band playing in the room. This is distracting and unreliable, especially with the subs leaking into the headphones and creating a false sense of low end level.
There are times when the moon and stars are aligned that all these elements are rendered moot and a board mix sounds pretty much like a real mix. "B.O.C. in The Big Sky Country" is an example but since this broadcast was a big deal to both me and the Band I was somewhat reluctant to roll the dice. The two tracks from the console would have probably been OK, but I had another idea.
I knew that the Old Waldorf had a comedy club adjacent to the main room and that it was pretty well insulated.
It was nicely sized and sounded fairly good. I also knew that I could trust my system engineer (Steve Griffiths) to mix the main room. I proposed that my entire touring front-end (two ganged consoles and all the outboard racks) be brought in and set up in the comedy club. This rig would in turn feed two small JBL monitors and the Class A telephone lines KSAN had installed for the show. I believe that our Tasco rig included a stage box with a splitter and that it wasn't too difficult to run a multicable into the comedy club.
This proposal was met, I remember, with a great deal of skepticism and opposition. It was NOT an easy sell. Most people felt that I had gone off the deep end (and to be frank, in those days I was frequently at that end of the pool). But I had a feeling that this would work and, in fact, be easy. I would simply mix the same show I had been mixing for months on completely familiar equipment. All my outboard gear, channel assignments, levels and routing would be in place. I would take some time to stereo-ize the mix and I trusted the speakers I had chosen to give me a good balance.
I must have been quite convinced and bull-headed about this because all the opposition eventually caved in and I got my way. I remember thinking that this had better work because this project took considerably more time and effort than the simple alternative. As it turns out both the in-house show and the KSAN broadcast were a success.
I had a listen-back tuner in the club so that I could hear the "begin broadcast" cue and the effects of the inevitable telco compression on my mix.* It sounded about right to me and I will never forget listening to the KSAN announcer complement me on the mix on-air after the show. I finally breathed a sigh of relief. Then I realized I had absolutely no record of my work, I had not taped the show on my cassette machine! We had a few days off in S.F. (as we always planned to do in those days) so I called KSAN and they made a reel-to-reel dub of the show for me. This tape sits in my archive today.
So like Davey Crockett said: "Be sure you're right and then go ahead."
*(Class A, or "equalized" lines were provided by the telephone company and all telephone lines had strict level limits to reduce crosstalk. Fairly heavy-handed compressors were used in the path to prevent overload. Class A lines had a much higher bandwidth and lower noise than standard lines and were installed on a per-use basis).
Here, in a nutshell, is the Story of George. I was the usual AV geek in Junior High and High School. AV means audio-visual as in "AV Squad." We were the guys who knew how to thread a 16 mm projector or operate a follow spot at the school play. Even in those days I always gravitated toward the audio side of the equation. The reproduction of sound in all its forms fascinated me.
My dad was a professional musician and we lived on Long Island. He would occasionally take me to recording dates in New York City. Nothing could compare to the thrill of hearing master tracks going to tape in a top recording studio. This was a level of audio not available to anyone in that era. It was loud and incredibly clean. I had loved sound, but now I was really hooked.
I graduated from Hicksville High School (believe it) in 1963 and enrolled at the State University of New York @ Stony Brook. I joined the fledgling radio station (WUSB) as a DJ and tech and was involved in all aspects of college radio during school. There was another aspect of those college years, though. Stony Brook had an amazing variety of live music, up to and including major shows by well known acts of the day. There was a need to have on hand a credible sound system to do these shows, especially in the Gym. I had been doing various sound gigs around campus with our Shure Vocal Masters and our Altec amps so I convinced certain people in the administration we needed more. We ended up with some Altec Voice of the Theater speakers (the kind used in smaller movie theaters of the day) and, eventually, an original Crown DC 300 amp.
The men behind these concert booking were Sandy Pearlman, Richard Meltzer and Howie Klein. Here's a strange moment from the past. I barely knew Sandy. To me he was a shadowy figure who I understood was a major power behind the scenes at school. We were doing some show in the Gym and he buttonholed me and said, "You and I are going far together" or something like that. I did not talk to him again until years later. He called me on the phone at my apartment in Brooklyn and offered me the job as soundman for B.O.C. When I say years later, I mean several years at school followed by graduation, a stint in the U.S. Army, a return to Stony Brook as a hippie hang-out (crashing illegally in the dorms and then at a friend's house), a part-time job at the Instructional Resources Center at Stony Brook and, when none of that panned out, a year stint in New York working for a sound company.
I had forgotten Sandy, but he had not forgotten me. I had just left the sound company and needed a gig. The infamous Screamer Steve and his Dog had just been fired from B.O.C. and a mutual friend knew us both. My friend, Michael, knew me from Weisberg Sound and he knew Sandy from who knows where. He did know that Sandy was looking for a soundman and gave him my number. Imagine my surprise, Sandy Pearlman from Stony Brook on the phone.
This is one of those key moments in your life. It is THE ONE PHONE CALL. Others in this business will concur. If I hadn't taken that call or the offer, nothing in my life today would be the same. The entire course of my life changed that day. For better or worse, I was off on an insane adventure.
The first shows I did with B.O.C. were trial-by-fire. They were large outdoor shows in Florida with Deep Purple. We were way down on the bill and I had never done any sound mixing at that level before. They were big systems for the day and the whole thing was intimidating, but also the shows were quite exciting and fun. The band was new and was generating a lot of buzz. It was clear they had something special.
There are all kinds of wacky stories from that era, but the main thing is that it did not take long for B.O.C. to start headlining smaller shows. I remember doing a run of the Agora chain of clubs in Ohio (Toledo, Cleveland and Columbus). Each and every one of the installed sound systems was broken and I'm proud to say I fixed them all. I was enjoying the responsibility and the power of the live-sound-person. This was 1973 and I had found my calling. It took until 2002 for me to leave the road.
Here's a quick chronology. I worked for B.O.C. exclusively from 1973 till 1984. I did all of the live sound, album rehearsal sound and taping, and 99% of the radio broadcast post-production mixing. I was the co-producer and mixer for the Extra Terrestrial Live recording. Did a lot o' Cult in those years. In 1984 I left to "pursue other opportunities". The other opportunities turned out to be a Herbie Hancock tour followed closely by two years with Dokken. In 1986 I began an association with the band Anthrax that lasted 16 years. During that time I popped back into Cultworld from time to time to do a stint here and there. I did my last B.O.C. show in 1998.
There were some other tours I picked up in between Anthrax and B.O.C. I did tours with Slayer, Testament, S.O.D and Morbid Angel. My swan song was in 2001-2 with a band called American Head Charge. By then I'd been to Japan 19 times with various bands, spent endless months in the U.K. and Europe and been to Australia and New Zealand twice.
I now have a job at the University Of Texas at Austin which requires only the most rudimentary sound skills, but it enables me to stay home all year. I occasionally work for a local sound company and just did a gig at Sun City (a huge retirement community here in Texas). The headline act was the Turtles! They are still funny after all these years. I have now mixed both Tommy James and the Shondells and the Turtles. My life is now complete.
[ January 2007 ]