The Story of the Grateful Dead’s Gear Is the Story of Rock ‘n’ Roll

“We’ve got Wall of Sound speakers that we know were Jerry’s, we’ve got Wall of Sound speakers we know were [Bob] Weir’s,” Austin says. “If you look at the shots of the band, over the drums, we have [two of] those cabinets [used for vocals]. The speakers have been removed. It’s like a thin metal frame, they’re almost like sculpture.” Also in the auction are a dozen McIntosh MC2300 power amps that sent juice into the Wall, including Jerry Garcia’s personal favorite, with a Budweiser sticker on the front. A determined bidder might be able to reassemble an identifiable portion of the system, and give or take a few minor tuneups or component parts it would be virtually ready to hit the road, even the Fender amplifier shell scarred by Jerry Garcia’s cigarettes (minus amplifier).

“Most of the Wall was given to small rock and roll bands, dozens and dozens of speaker cabinets,” says Dan Healy. “Another part of it got turned into chicken coops in Ram Rod’s barn. He stacked up the bass cabinets, took the speakers out, and chickens lived in them.”

The cabinets, too, were built to last. The Dead spinoff company Hard Truckers, which makes speaker cabinets and other road gear — with optional tie-dye grill covers by tie-dye pioneer Courtenay Pollock — is still extant. “You could drop them from this floor and they’d probably survive,” says Austin, eying the midtown street a few stories below.

The Dead’s reputation as gear-heads spread. “We were full blown into developing our own stuff and it was clearly better,” says Healy. “And that’s when the manufacturers began to take notice, and began to ask our advice. In the ‘70s and ‘80s and into the ‘90s, we were the cutting edge of audio and sound equipment technology. We were either given or bought really early versions of [lots of gear]. We were sort of the proving grounds.” Nowhere is this more apparent than the assemblage of keyboards and synthesizers available in the auction. Like the sound gear, they tell a story of their own.

“We were always buying state-of-the-art keyboards,” says Parish, reeling off keyboard models and keyboard players. “It’s looking at 30 years of rock and roll, and how the keyboards got more sophisticated.” As with many bands from the ‘60s, it’s a story that begins with a Farfisa combo organ, possibly from the band’s earliest days as the Warlocks.

“Pigpen’s B3 [organ] is still being used by Dead and Company,” notes Parish, the band led by Dead members Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart, currently touring stadiums and arenas with John Mayer. But, short a B3 and one of Keith Godchaux’s grand pianos, the synths represent virtually every keyboard sound emitted by the Dead, including a pair of Wurlitzer organs played by Pigpen, a pair of Fender Rhodes used by Godchaux in the ‘70s, a Prophet-10 and Yamaha DX7 used by Brent Mydland in the ‘80s, and a Korg T-1 and Kurzweil MIDI interface employed by Vince Welnick in the ‘90s. There’s also the notorious Yamaha CP-70 line of keyboards that Godchuax ditched his grand piano for in the mid-seventies because they were much easier to move, which represented a subtle new era in the band’s sound.

“Keith really flourished on acoustic piano,” says Parish, “but we were always looking for something that was easier to take around. It’s just a lot of extra work with a big piano like that, you have to tune it every time you move it, and it gets complicated. So, the attempts to make electric pianos that sounded like acoustic pianos, we have every one of those. The CP-70, for example, some of the first ones came to us.” Within a few months, they’d upgraded to the CP-70B.

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