Dave Morgan Q&ATOP FRONT-OF-HOUSE ENGINEER STILL GOING STRONG AFTER FOUR DECADES OF MIXING 2/01/2011 4:00 AM Eastern
You’ve been mixing for Cher in Las Vegas for three years. That’s a real change from touring.
Don’t tell anyone, but it’s the best gig anyone could ever have. We go in around 4 in the afternoon and we’re out at 9:30. Living out here, I never had to get on a bus. If it weren’t for the fact that I love working for James Taylor more than anyone else in the world, I’d never give this up.
I’m going back out with James in mid-February through the end of July, and then go into rehearsal for an extended Cher tour that starts in September. So I’ve got the next two years planned out, which is pretty good for a live sound guy.
You started out as a musician.
I started playing guitar in paying gigs when I was 14, but at the time I wanted to be a hockey player.
And now, years later, here you are in the center of hockey arenas.
That part of my dream of making money in hockey arenas did come true, but it took a catastrophic injury to convince me to stay with music. And good thing I did because now, at the advanced age of 61, I’m still at it. I do it because it’s fun. I work with amazing people, and I’m making good money doing what I love.
How did you make the jump from being a musician to doing live mixing?
A buddy of mine and I had a demo studio in Hollywood. We shared the facility with a band called El Chicano, who we also recorded demos for. One day, El Chicano’s house guy was sick so they asked me to mix their show for about 8,000 people at USC.
After that, I worked as a staff engineer at studios in Hollywood. It paid like dirt, so I also worked nights at a country music club called The Palomino. A couple years later, someone from A1 Audio recommended I talk to [A1 owner] Al Siniscal about working with them. Al had me work with his whole roster of Vegas acts—Connie Stevens, Wayne Newton, and I even did monitors for Diana Ross. I’d work with a different act every weekend—sometimes just setting up speakers—but one night I was a cable pager for Frank Sinatra. Frank didn’t like wireless mics so he sang into an SM58, with me on the side of the stage letting the cable out as he’d walk out and hauling it in as he moved closer. On some other Frank dates, I was at front of house. It was an interesting baptism into live sound.
Then Al put me on the Doobie Brothers crew, and I ended up mixing them. When they broke up in 1982, we were all really disappointed. I stayed with Mike [McDonald] after that and did his first two solo tours.
Somewhere along the line, I ended up being Dirk Schubert’s partner in the original Schubert Systems. Dirk went out and did the tours. I stayed behind to run the office. I did five years as a sound company owner and hated every minute of it. Eventually, Dirk and his dad bought me out and I went back to mixing. Soon after, I was doing Whitney Houston and that led to mixing Paul Simon.
Of all these tours you’ve mixed, do you have a personal favorite?
Musically, Paul Simon’s Born at the Right Time was the best thing I’ve ever done, but Graceland is a favorite for everything it represented in terms of the politics of South Africa and how important—and emotional—it was. Being a part of that gave me a sense of pride and gratification that will never go away.
And 140 inputs from the stage.
It was astounding, but Born at the Right Time, with the 40 Brazilian percussionists mixed through two Gamble EXs, was also a labor of love, especially on the Central Park show with 750,000 people. We did 162 shows in 36 countries for that tour. My 21-year relationship with Paul has been about as good as it gets for a front-of-house guy. It was the pinnacle of my career until James Taylor lured me away.
Every day I work with James is the best day of my life. It’s like we’re brothers, and working for James at this point in my career is the ultimate achievement for me. I always coveted Buford [Jones] for having that job and I never had a chance to mix James because I was so busy. Finally in 2005, I got a call from James asking me to mix his tour. Working with James is like comfortable old shoes and his band is stunningly good. It’s the best thing in the world.
So after 41 years of live mixing, you’re still with it?
As long as my body holds up, my spirit is definitely willing. I’ve looked at other things along the way but haven’t found anything nearly as rewarding. There’s nothing like stepping back during a show for a few seconds, listening to the P.A. and watching the faces of the people in the room. When it sounds good and everybody is grooving to the show, that feeling is unparalleled. I love my job.