Don Pearson passed away during a routine medical procedure on January 9, 2006. In 1978, Pearson co-founded Ultra Sound with Howard Danchik and went on to mix thousands of shows. (Ultra Sound was the Grateful Dead’s exclusive sound company for more than 15 years.) Pearson finally came off the road in 2004 to join Meyer Sound as a technical seminar instructor.
“Don had incredible real-world experience,” says Helen Meyer, co-founder and executive VP of Meyer Sound. “He’d been out in the field talking to everybody and gained a huge amount of respect. When he came to work for us, he brought a certain legitimacy to the way we were doing things. Don’s contributions were invaluable to our education program. He made all of us at the company feel like we started off 26 years ago and ended up in the right place doing things in the right way.”
During Pearson’s and Danchik’s years touring with the Dead, they worked continuously to improve the sound system; Pearson convinced the band to let John Meyer try new techniques during live performances. Meyer would then integrate those experiences into the development of many technologies and methods. “I think Don’s biggest role in the Grateful Dead days was to clear a path for us to try experiments,” John Meyer says. “You don’t know the solutions to live sound problems until you do experiments, and you can’t just try them in a lab because you have to figure out what’s going to work at a show. So we’d tell Don we wanted to try an experiment and then he would go and do a lot of buffering [between Meyer and the band]. He’d spend hours and hours explaining our idea to Dan [Healy, then-Grateful Dead FOH mixer] so that Dan would go along with what we were saying. Don took a lot of abuse for that sometimes.”
According to Meyer Sound’s educational program manager, Gavin Canaan, a close friend who worked with Pearson for years, “When I was at Ultra Sound with him, I once asked him to tune a system we were providing for a theatrical production. Don came in to tune at the end of the day, and after he finished tuning, he said that the system was ‘not up to Ultra standards.’ Despite the fact that the client was perfectly happy, Don wasn’t, and that was all that mattered.”