Grateful Dead’s ‘Truckin” Has Special Meaning for Concert Sound Pioneer
For concert sound pioneer Bob Heil, the Grateful Dead's "Truckin'" is more than a classic rock favorite. The song, which opened their five-show Fare Thee Well concerts on June 27, tells a personal story.
Heil, as every Deadhead knows, was the audio expert the Grateful Dead turned to after the band was actually "busted down on Bourbon Street," an incident that found them at a subsequent concert stop with neither a soundman nor a sound system.
"They came out on a short Midwest to East Coast tour, and they played that first night in New Orleans and Owsley [Stanley] – their sound guy who owned the sound gear, and did all of the mixing – he was on probation," Heil said during an interview for the Klipsch WPWK Podcast. "He wasn't supposed to be out of the state of California. Well, the DEA found out about it and they, and I think the FBI, they show up at the show and they sat in the back row. They waited until the show was over, and the band comes on to St. Louis for the next show, while Owsley was tearing things down and loading the truck. As he had it all loaded and padlocked the back of his truck, the FBI and the DEA padlocked him."
So, the Grateful Dead arrived at the venue the next day at loose ends. That's when Heil stepped in. A former teen organist at the theater where Jerry Garcia and company were slated to play, Heil had since become a local music shop owner. More importantly, he had recently salvaged the venue's former sound system for his own use. That meant Heil was in the right place at the right time to step in and provide sound for the Grateful Dead.
Heil would soon play a big role in creating the Grateful Dead’s famous “Wall of Sound” and tour with the band in 1970. Ultimately, Heil helped create the template for modern-rock touring sound systems – and he still credits Paul W. Klipsch as an instrumental figure in his quick development as a sound and radio engineer.
Heil's relationship with Klipsch continues today; he recently appeared as a Klipsch guest at the Consumer Electronics Show. Meanwhile, global streaming of the Grateful Dead’s final three Fare Thee Well concerts will be made possible by Klipsch Audio via 93.1 WXRT. The shows continue on July 3-5 in Chicago.
Heil, by the way, is also well known in rock circles for his famous talk box, used on hit songs by Peter Frampton and Joe Walsh. He handled sound for the Who and Jeff Beck, too. Heil Sound, which now focuses on manufacturing professional microphones, celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2016.
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