I don’t know about you, but I often have to really rack my brain in order to think about a time when technology wasn’t like it is today.
And it’s a good thing that history is always there to tell us important facts like there was a time when there were no stage monitors at live shows.
Hard to imagine, right?
Well, I learned about this as Lost guitarist Ted Myers tells his story in Bruce Pollock’s Working Musicians.
Myers begins the storytelling by explaining how they opened for Sonny and Cher and the PA system wasn’t working so the audience couldn’t even hear them and they had to improvise with an instrumental ten-minute jam on the Rolling Stones’ “2120 South Michigan Avenue.”
Then Myers says this:
“I guess it was this experience that got us to thinking we should bring our own sound system. In 1965, there was no such thing as onstage monitors. There were no high-tech multi-track mixing boards. There were no sound roadies accompanying every act, busting balls of the promoter if the sound wasn’t just right during the sound check. There weren’t even sound checks. You just walked on stage and played. The people doing the sound at these places didn’t know or care about your music. They didn’t know you from P.J. Proby and could care less!”
After I read this passage, I closed the book for a moment and thought about my last few concerts I’ve been to and how different it would have been to experience a concert in pre-1965…with no monitors.
I’ve been to shows were the sound was so bad and I felt equally bad for the artist. And had I been at this concert I would have gone nuts as Myers struggled in vain to communicate with the audience over the dead PA system.
Interestingly enough, Myers goes on to explain how he eventually contacted the Hanley Brothers who were then known for constructing a solid and strong live sound experience.
Getting his due and no longer billed as the Lost, he and his band were billed as the Hanley brothers and had a formidable sound system in their camp, backing up and pumping up their live show.
And you better protect your eardrums against what comes next…
“[our] friends the Hanley brothers now brought with them a pair of speaker stacks that looked like a pair of Godzilla Porta Pottis. They miked every amp, every drum. There were monitors speakers at our feet, a luxury, as I said, virtually unheard of in 1965. Even the Supremes and their backup band, the King Curtis Orchestra, would be relegated to the house sound system. We were so ready! We took the stage at eight o’clock sharp, ready to rock the socks off those collegiate snots [at the Brandies venue]….
…our first number was an original that started off with a big, ringing guitar chord—sort of a “brang!” I remember hitting that chord and seeing the first five rows go down. The sound was so big, so loud, so unexpected, that I guess, they just dove under their seats. When we started to sing, another few rows went under. By halfway through the song they were standing up and booing with their fingers in their ears. It began to dawn on us that we were killing our audience with volume—the sissies. …
….as the first song ended there was a cacophony of boos and cries “Get off!” we were insulted but doggedly pressed on. We tried to turn our amps down, but with the close mics that did little good….
Myers finished the epic tale saying that they tried looking for the Hanley brothers but never found them and eventually finished the set after only the second song as the booes where so loud; so they flipped off the crowd knowing that the crowd just wasn’t quite ready for the loud romp of rock n roll.
Myers and the Lost were eventually dropped from Capitols records only after a year and Myers had these closing words to say about live sound and fan appreciation and sacrifice for the progression of live music.
“We did however make one or two sound breakthroughs during that lone quarter-hour of my rock-and-roll fame. We were the first (that I know of) to use psychedelic lighting as part of our show, and we were among the very early users of feedback and other sound effects generated from a weird array of honkers, tooters, sirens and other gizmos. And as stated above, we were among the first to pioneer the live-sound technology routinely used today…and …I like to think of it this way: a few eardrums were sacrificed to that many could rock.”
Well, after that story, do you now think of yourselves as live music-loving guinea pigs for a larger scientific experiment who are more than fans just trying to enjoy a show?
When I go to my next concert you can bet that I’ll be thinking about who is learning from who, and about how much both fans and the artists need each other to contribute to the future of live music.