I’m of mostly Irish descent, and I come from a large family. My undergrad degree is in history and my master’s is in journalism. I love a good story. I like to hear them, I like to read different versions of them, and, because I’m a talker, I love to tell them, often many times over many years to the same people, usually with a new twist or embellishment. My father would be proud. My daughters forgive my repetition; most of my friends, too. They indulge me, knowing that from my point of view, whether it’s about the exploits of John Wesley Powell or the saga of three days at an epic Bonnaroo, telling the story is half the story.
I mention all this as prelude to a run-in I had with Pepper Denny, an old friend from Nashville, walking past the UA booth at the January NAMM show. “What are you doing on Monday?” he asked in his trademark rapid-fire delivery. “You’ve gotta come up to L.A. with me and see this console. A Helios. This guy, Dan Schwartz, he bought it from The Manor awhile ago, Richard Branson’s studio, and now it’s been sitting in a warehouse for 15 years. He wants me to broker the sale for him. I’m going up to meet him Monday. You gotta come see it. This board has some serious history.”
I had a conflict and couldn’t make it. Besides, I thought, I know that it’s a Helios, but still, it’s Pepper selling a console. Maybe I could run a picture with a big caption. Mention Helios, drop the name Richard Branson and list a few hit records done on the desk. It would be a short news item, up front. And we could put it in the newsletter. Post it on the site. End of story. Hardly.
Soon after I got back home, Pepper called to say, “Dude, it’s one of the three Helios consoles that Richard Branson bought for Virgin Records back in the ‘70s. And all three are now in the U.S.” We talked for awhile and I said, “Well, that could make a nice one-pager, but I can’t make it be about Pepper trying to sell a board…” He laughed and said, “I don’t care about that. This console will sell itself. I’ll get you the other guy’s names and emails.”
Within a couple days I received a long e-intro to Joe DeMaio, owner of Shorefire Recording Studios on the Jersey Shore and the Townhouse Helios, and Danny White, until recently the owner of 16 Ton Studios in Nashville and now nearing the end of a complete restoration of the famed Manor Mobile 30-input Helios, the first desk Branson bought back in the early 1970s. He also sent a PDF of the Helios story from Tony Arnold’s excellent helios-electronics.com site, a brief backgrounder on each of the three desks and contact info for David Gordon, Paul Ward and many others associated with Helios over the years.
I started looking around, reading up on Dick Swettenham and Keith Grant and Olympic Studios back in the heyday of 1967. Type 69 and Type 78 EQs. Chris Blackwell came up, as did Andy Johns and Eddie Kramer, along with countless artists and hundreds of seminal records from my youth. Fun research. I realized the story needed to be a feature.
Then I called DeMaio and White, and after a couple of great talks, the feature became a Cover Story. Both are excellent audio guys, living the life for all the right reasons. So thanks for the tip, Pepper, and thanks for the passion all of you Helios owners out there. That’s how a story becomes a story. Please, send us yours.
Tom Kenny, Editor, Mix