Memories From the RoadANYTHING CAN—AND WILL HAPPEN ON TOUR. LIVE SOUND ENGINEERS SHARE THEIR FAVORITE TALES. 10/01/2007 8:00 AM Eastern
While working as a sound designer on the Las Vegas production of LOVE, I was sitting in Abbey Road Studios listening with Sir George Martin and Giles Martin — if that was not enough already — to one of the new mixes that they had completed. While I listened, my eyes were closed, I was deeply moved and mentally transported through my memories as if on a roller-coaster ride. I heard the familiar yet amazing sounds leap from the studio speakers and enter my soul, producing child-like tears that ran down my cheek. I was in my heaven. When the music stopped, I turned in the swiveling, center-positioned chair to discover that Sir Paul McCartney had walked in, and I was asked, “So, what do you think?” This is my frozen moment.
— Jonathan Deans
I was out with Riders on the Storm (The Doors with Ian Astbury). It was April 22, 2006, Barcelona, Spain. We had just finished eight successful sold-out shows on a European leg and had one final ninth show. The day started as usual. We, the crew, came in at 11 a.m. for setup. Soundcheck commenced with all crew members, minus the band, at 4 p.m. On this leg, the band was rarely doing soundchecks, so once my FOH line check was finished, I went to the stage with the rest of the crew to complete the soundcheck, primarily checking monitors.
Drum tech Owen Goldman and I play in a Doors tribute band called Peace Frog at home in California and are well-versed with The Doors' catalog of music; therefore, we ran a handful of songs for the monitor check with myself on guitar. At 6 p.m., we completed soundcheck, at which point we all went for dinner. It was during dinner when the band's manager, Tom Vitorino, nervously took me aside and told me that guitarist Robbie Krieger was ill and had come down with a heavy bout of food poisoning. He then asked me if I really felt I could possibly take over and play the show in his place. Before I could even process the question, I anxiously replied, “Are you crazy?!” Then I nervously told him, “I believe I can.” Tom told me to sit tight, wait for his phone call and that he was going back to the hotel to check on Robbie one last time and possibly see if he could get him to play.
While waiting for the call, the crew formulated a plan. Darren LaGroe, our monitor engineer/guitar tech, would take over FOH. Marco Moir, our production manager, would become my guitar tech. I would direct monitors through a translator to the house monitor guy. Twenty minutes to showtime, the call came in from Tom. “You're it!” was the sound on the other end. Ray Manzarek asked me if I wanted a guitar to practice, and I said no but that I do need to learn Robbie's pedal board. Darren showed me around the pedal board. At that point, I went backstage and strapped on Robbie's guitar. As the band and I approached the stage, a wave of adrenaline came over me. As I heard the crowd cheering and the house music fade, I launched into “Roadhouse Blues,” two hours later ending with an encore of “Soul Kitchen.” Backstage after the show, we were all high-five'ing and in great spirits.
— Robert Carsten
I've had so many, many funny times after 32 years with Showco, but none funnier than the 14-plus years and 1,000 shows spent with ZZ Top. I never tire of them — characters, but consummate professionals, incredible musicians and wonderful people. We were rehearsing in Dallas at a large, expensive soundstage for a high-profile tour at the top of their popularity, but in normal ZZ fashion we did everything but rehearse: We would eat Mexican food, play golf and gamble on anything and everything, every day.
One day, the word circulated that the manager was coming to town, but in his typical way didn't tell anyone when he was coming, trying to catch them screwing around and poised to lecture them. All of the band and staff were on alert, but rather than actually get down to some serious rehearsing, they posted a roadie in the lobby with a walkie talkie. When their manager pulled up outside, the roadie called the signal, the band rushed to the stage and broke into the last three songs of the set. The manager walked in and saw their serious intensity in rehearsing. They finished the three songs and proudly proclaimed that they had just run the whole show two complete times. They received high praise from the manager, called the rehearsal for the day and the great entertainers walked out chuckling under their breath. The next day we played cards, flipped quarters and had Mexican brought in. We didn't rehearse that day — the manager had gone back to Houston.
— ML Procise III
I was doing rehearsals for a band and we were in a soundstage/rehearsal facility where I was in a separate room with my console and monitors. The band would run through some songs and then come into my room to listen back. After one of these sessions, we got about two minutes into [playback] and one of the bandmembers stands up and says something to the effect of, “What we have here, Dave, is a perfect example of some very bad mixing!” I was sitting there with my mouth open for a second or two — completely stunned by the statement — before I could respond that we were listening to the playback of the actual album mixes that the band's manager had just arrived with and had given to me to play for them before they came into the control room.
Needless to say, rehearsals were canceled for a few days while the band reconvened with, I guess, the producer/engineer.
— Dave Natale
It was 2001, and I was the monitor system tech for a huge stadium United We Stand festival in Washington, D.C. It was at RFK stadium, tons of acts: lots of boy bands, Aerosmith, Michael Jackson was headliner. Being the monitor tech means sometimes you have to mix for bands with no engineers, organizing their ear systems, wedges, wireless mics. In the case of ‘N SYNC, they had an engineer and he was a little nervous dude, but I got him all set up and labeled all their ear packs and mics. He got them sorted with their packs, and I put the mics out just beside the monitor console so they could grab them on their way onstage. All the mics had their names on them. It was time, and here they come: The guys walk over, grab their mics and head out onstage to perform in front of 60,000 people. About 10 seconds into the first song, the guys are all looking over at monitor world, freaking out about their mixes, and then they all come running over at the same time, waving their mics at me. They had just randomly taken the mics without looking at the names on them. They were trying to hand the mics to me — all angry faces — and I just pointed to the names and shrugged my shoulders! I didn't know who was who; I had never worked with them before! Then they figured it out and started handing each other the proper mics. It was all good after that.
— Marty Strayer
I was mixing a week of Elton John concerts at Madison Square Garden. I had made a compilation cassette of Beatle songs, which I played for walk-in music before the start of the show. About an hour or so into Elton's set, he would play the very dramatic instrumental “Funeral for a Friend,” which starts with soft wind sounds, bells and a complex synthesizer arrangement. It was difficult back then for the keyboard player to reproduce this intro live, so I would play it through the P.A. from the actual Yellow Brick Road cassette.
The lights dimmed, the dry ice and smoke swirled around the stage, the tension mounted, and I leaned over to my cassette player and hit Play. Normally, the atmospheric sounds would be heard straight away, but on this occasion I heard nothing. After a few seconds, I started to panic and pushed the playback fader up as far as it would go and — suddenly — at a deafening volume, “You say yes, I say no” came screaming out of the P.A.! It was The Beatles singing “Hello Goodbye.” Aaarrrggghhhh! I'd forgotten to change the cassettes over at the start of the show. I was horrified, but luckily Elton and the band thought it was hilarious and burst into fits of laughter. With trembling hands, I managed to quickly swap cassettes and breathed a sigh of relief as the correct intro started to play. Thankfully, I never made the same mistake again — and I'm still here mixing Elton live after 35 years!
— Clive Franks
One anonymous Grammy Award-winning singer with whom I was touring in 1987 was infamous for having a difficult time performing live. I was assisting the freshly hired replacement for myself as FOH mixer, when, after the monitors had been turned off at the singer's directive, said singer asked that the mixer and myself move “20 or 30 feet” away from the mixing desk as the sound had finally become acceptable.
After a few minutes, the decision was made to head out to the lobby bar. Shortly thereafter, we re-entered the theater to find the road manager seated at the mixer, wearing headphones “90 degrees out of phase” over his nose and the back of his head!
— Mark Hughes
I was lucky enough to be a part of the Jason Sound audio team on Bryan Adams' European stadium tour back in the mid-'90s. At the Olympic Arena in Barcelona, Bryan was grinding through an amazing two-hour set when all hell broke loose. I have to preface this by saying that the FOH mix position was set up in a rather unusual location as per Jody Perpick (FOH mixer) and production's request — directly in front of one of the speaker arrays (100 feet from the stage). Jody felt that this position pulled himself out of the swimming center sub-zone and he mixed more accurately to the majority of the room, and production loved it as they didn't kill hundreds of fantastic center sight lines.
As we sat at the mix position enjoying the show, [crew chief/FOH tech] Dean Roney and I noticed something fly from the seats above us just out of our line of sight and sail directly for the console. In what seemed like a split-second, Jody was grabbing his eyes and flailing around, and we all noticed the sound in the left side of the sound system was starting to cough and sputter like a bad outboard motor. As we all recognized the familiar smell of beer, we realized that the console had been hit by an aerial “malt beverage” bomb.
The next couple of moments happened kind of like this: Jody was still wiping at his eyes trying to free them of the stinging beer, while we all stood momentarily frozen as the left side of the P.A. fizzled and died. In the next moment, the right side of the P.A. roared to almost twice the volume and we finally broke our paralysis and reached for the master fader. Everything went quiet, and as expected the audience gave a sarcastic spattering of applause.
We quickly determined that the board was “cut off,” so we quickly rolled the opening act console into place, did a quick XLR fan-out repatch and within 10 minutes we let the band know that they could start playing again, although it might be rough for a few minutes. We kind of split the 40 inputs up into three, and Dean, Jody and I each grabbed a handful of gain knobs and spun up a basic mix with no compressors, no gates, no FX — no frills. Jody continued mixing the show while Dean and I stepped back and looked at the sorry Soundcraft Europa.
When it was all said and done, we were amazed that a Solo cup full of beer could descend from the first concourse of seats at a perfect 45-degree angle and make it all the way to the console without losing much liquid on its trip down. The other thing I discovered was the power of a simple signal path, a great mixer and a legendary singer. I had always thought Bryan's amazing live vocal sound came from some of the cool tools Jody had inserted on the vocal channel, but that night I discovered that it was just that raspy voice straight into a 58, straight into the board.
— Jim Yakabuski
In 1983, my friend Brian and I loaded up our flat black Dodge Maxi-van and headed out with our entire P.A. system and as much beer as we could fit in the space left over to do sound for a laser show inside a tent at Steve Wozniac's U.S. festival. While there, running around before doors opened, we made our way out to the sound board of the main stage where system techs let us have a look around. Wow, 90 Clair S-4s per side, and I remember thinking, “Wow, this is what I want to do someday!”
Eleven years later, I found myself at Woodstock '94 mixing the Red Hot Chili Peppers on that same P.A., or at least a version of it.
Here I am a quarter-century later sitting at a sound board in Scotland staring at 96 V-DOSC boxes hanging from the main stage and 64 subs. Looking out, I realize that this is pretty much a normal P.A. for me to mix on, and whenever an aspiring soundie asks me if I would let him or her have a look around, I think back to that bright-eyed day and that favor from so long ago and smile, and answer, “Of course, come on up.”
— Dave Rat, Rat Sound Systems
After touring for nearly 30 years, you see and experience a lot of pretty cool moments. But if I had to pick one, I think my memorable moment — one that left a lasting imprint on me — was a run of shows I did with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers pretty early in my tenure with him at the infamous Fillmore in San Francisco. We parked up there for a 22-night stand. Each of the 22 shows had its own character and feel to it, and nearly every show offered a different opening act, most of them legends or legends-to-be in the business — people like the late Carl Perkins, Bo Diddley, Roger McGuinn, Jakob Dylan and on and on. At a certain point in each of the shows, the guest artist would join Tom and The Heartbreakers onstage and perform some of the guest's classic material. They would simply launch into a called-out song, and it was like witnessing a kind of moment in history. It was rarely if ever rehearsed, and it really crystallized just how great of a band Tom and The Heartbreakers had become in their 25 or so years together. But when it was all said and done, I also realized something about myself: I identified this really pure place in me as a mixer and felt a rare connection to it musically that required very little conscious thought and effort on my part to mix those songs. I can't think of too many other instances like it over my time as a concert mixer. It felt like I knew every move that was coming just before it would happen. There was just this beautiful connection to it all. The Heartbreakers made the whole thing look so easy, and it was all of a sudden apparent what kind of DNA was at the core of them as musicians and me as their mixer. I don't think I ever viewed the band the same again after those shows and realized I was indeed working with what Jackson Browne commonly referred to as “America's greatest rock 'n' roll band.” I used to think that comment was just one of those artist-to-artist “niceties,” but after that run of shows was over I knew first-hand that it was not a passing comment and I knew exactly what he meant. I knew I was right where I belonged at that point in time.