SPARS spotlights new member, San Francisco based Hyde Street Studios

Few studios have a history as rich as the one at 245 Hyde Street. In addition, few studios can legitimately claim to have provided the germination of so many other facilities as well as promising recording careers. For over 42 years, artists have been recording great music in the storied building in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, including some very influential albums. There aren’t many places like it left in the world. The studio began it’s life some 42 years ago as Wally Heider Recording. One of the house engineers from the Wally Heider days has written a detailed description of what was going on during his tenure, as well as additional history.

Before we embark on our journey through some of the most storied music ever recorded, a recent event at Hyde Street is worth noting. Eddie Kramer was recently booked for a week to mix a series of shows performed by Jimi Hendrix that were recorded live at Winterland in 1968.  The remote recording was engineered by Wally Heider, who took over the Hyde Street building the following year (1969).  Ironically, more than two decades after his death, Wally’s recordings were mixed 43 years later in his old studio – which is still making great recordings after all these years.

Stephen Barncard
Heider Staff 1969,1972

With sections written by
Jennifer Maxwell, Nicole Sanchez, Dan Levitin

Introduction to the History

In July 1969, after spending a lifetime spinning my wheels in the nonexistent Kansas City Music Scene, I left for San Francisco. I had no plan, no idea how I was going to accomplish it, but I wanted to not only make records in my favorite city by the bay.

Hyde Street Studio A

I flew in on a red-eye from KC direct to SF, and the next morning I started walking around downtown. I walked up to the nearest phone booth and looked up ‘Recording Studios’ in the phone book. And there it was… the first listing I saw – Wally Heider Recording, on Hyde Street, only a few blocks away. I had no idea that Wally had created a studio up there – I of course knew about his studios in LA., but this was news.I called and talked to Mel Tanner, General Manager, who gave me a nice tour of the place. He said indeed that they were looking for new assistants, but I should apply and write a letter to Wally directly. I did, and was hired to be the assistant on CSNY’s Deja Vu a couple of months later. So I was there almost at the beginning, and will try to recount the first three years from my own experiences and a bit of research.

The Early Years

Hyde Street Studio A

The Summer of Love had passed two years before, and many not-so-subtle changes were happening in the music business that offered a big opportunity for Wally Heider and the San Francisco music business in 1969. What was experimental in 1966 and 1967 became mainstream popular music by 1968, with the Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Grateful Dead showing up on nationwide radio playlists on both AM and the newer experiments in freeform radio on FM.

Before Heider came to town, there were studios in the bay area such as Coast, Golden State and Pacific High but they were not nearly as well equipped or staffed as facilities elsewhere, so the Jefferson Airplane recorded their first 4 albums, Creedence Clearwater their first 2, and the Dead their first at RCA studios in Hollywood. Moby Grape and Big Brother went to CBS in New York.

Hyde Street Studio A Live Room

Heider in 1969 was an established recording legend in popular music recording, recording many big band and pop acts in the early ‘60s. He also owned and ran one of the most successful independent studio facilities and remote recording outfits in the world. Little is known about his early history, however we do know that he came from Seattle WA., went to law school to please his parents, then spent his early adult life chasing after the Woody Herman band in a station wagon with an Ampex 351 Stereo machine in the back and recording every show.

Wally was a disciple of Bill Putnam, “The Father of Modern Recording”, the man who invented the modern control room and console layout, echo chambers, the UA 175 & UA 1176 limiters, custom consoles and console building blocks such as line and mic amps. Putnam also owned Universal Recording Corp. in Evanston, IL., and United Western studios in Hollywood, CA. Wally was reported to have been an assistant and mixer there for a while and must have made many contacts there for his future business.

Most of what happened during Wally’s “salad days” remains to be speculative (and there

Hyde Street Studio A Live Room

are few in his small family and friends who seem to know) but regardless by 1969, Wally was definitely on the top of his game and there was no stopping. Two years before, he had witnessed the big changes in music up front and personal when The Who and Hendrix played Monterey Pop. If you get the DVD, you can actually see Wally at the end of “My Generation” when the drums exploded. He’s the ‘gentleman of size’ running out on stage and saving his expensive Neumann microphones from harm (it should be noted that the Hendrix segment later in the film shows no more expensive condenser microphones at all on stage!)

After seeing all this new talent at the festival in 1967, perhaps a light bulb went off in his head that something was happening in San Francisco. The later conflagration of souls that became Crosby Stills and Nash probably was the final deal-maker. CSN labored in Heider’s Studio 3 in Hollywood for months recording the epic “Crosby Stills and Nash” in 1968 but Wally knew they and their ilk were migrating North.

Around the spring of 1969, Wally Heider opened a studio at 245 Hyde Street in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco in a building that was previously home to an assortment of film offices, screening rooms and storage for 20th Century Fox. It was also across the street from the famous Blackhawk Nightclub where Wally recorded Miles Davis in a series of live recordings for CBS in the mid 60’s. To Wally, the area had the right “vibe” for recording.

Hyde Street Studio D

It would be Wally’s great triumph. The Bill Putnam influence was clearly obvious in the electronic designs of his studios. Wally had Frank DeMedio make all of his custom gear, especially the consoles, and they were built like NASA projects. Frank must have pulled major defense industry talent to wire his consoles, for the wiring harnesses were flawlessly tied; the wires as straight as the bundled cables on the Golden Gate Bridge. The audio path was simple; one preamp for everything – and he used UA console components, military grade switches and level controls, balanced everything, and transformers everywhere.

This console design – 24 channels with 8 channel monitor and cue, was repeated for Studio 3 in LA, the remote truck, and Studio C in San Francisco. Neil Young reportedly had one, and Graham Nash got a later version in 1972. And the monitor speakers were another Putnam influence – the ubiquitous Altec 604-E, powered by McIntosh 275 Tube power amps. At the time this system kicked ass.

The construction of Wally’s studios were originally done by a chap named Dave Mancini, the son of the famous film scoring Henry Mancini and later a studio owner in the San Fernando Valley. I’m not sure how much Dave actually knew about acoustics, but his guys got the studios built on time and on budget and the rooms were the best there was at the time for the loud rock and roll combo acts that were evolving.

The first San Francisco room completed and put into service by May, 1969 was Studio C.

Hyde Street Studio D Live Room

The original staff included Mel Tanner; General Manager, Ginger Mews; booking, Harry Sitam; tech, and Russ Gary, staff engineer. As well as luring bands with up-to-date technology, Heider instructed his staff to do anything needed to make their clients happy. Ginger Mews recalls a day when Heider came in and bellowed, “If they (the clients) come in here and say, ‘Lie down, Ginger,’ so they can walk on you, you lie down!” Grace Slick reportedly wanted to be surrounded by a ring of light while doing her vocals on Jefferson Airplane tracks. Heider promply installed 12 light canisters on the ceiling of Studio A in the shape of a circle, with different colors at the poles of the compass.

Studio shapes and sizes that have been successful are often used as models for new studios and live chambers, and Wally definitely built on these concepts. Restraints like building shape, hallways and local building codes intersected to create the first incarnation of Studio C. The C dimensions were basically the same as Studio 3 in Hollywood, but the long side of the room was parallel to the control room as opposed to being at the end. At the request of the Grateful Dead, Studio C’s entry doors were “covered with airbrushed paintings,” recalls current owner Michael Ward, who bought the studio in 1980. The design avoided perfectly parallel walls, with square “mid-range/diffuser/absorber/gypsum devices–we call them Wheat Chex–everywhere, like some sort of geometric disease,” describes Ward. Studios A and D at the time were still under construction in the summer of 1969 and were not operational until a few months later.

As far as we can ascertain, the first released work out of 245 Hyde and Studio C was the Jefferson Airplane’s “Volunteers”; which also was the band’s first to be recorded in their hometown. Next, Harry Nilsson recorded all his vocal tracks for the brilliant “Nilsson Sings Newman” LP for RCA. Then by August, Creedence’s “Green River” album (following “Willie And The Poor Boys” also cut at Heider’s) was being recorded by Russ Gary in the daytime with Crosby Stills Nash and Young taking the night slot from 7pm to 1-3 am with Bill Halverson mixing and Stephen Barncard assisting on both sessions. Glyn Johns recorded tracks for the Steve Miller Band.

Creedence Clearwater Revival recorded more than four albums in Studio C between 1969 and 1970, from Green River through Cosmo’s Factory and part of Pendulum. In fact, Cosmo’s Factory was named for Studio C, the hit factory that had been so kind to them. Ironically, CCR’s label, Fantasy Records, used its share of CCR profits to build a world-class studio across the bay from Heider’s in Berkeley, the competition from which may have been partially responsible for Heider’s eventual drop in business and later sale of the studio.

CSNY ended up doing most of their tracks and many keeper vocals for the record in San Francisco, although the credits for the album didn’t mention the SF studio at all (and neither did the track sheets). During the CSNY sessions, Studio D opened up in back. D was an exact replica of Studio 3 in Hollywood, and one of the first uses was to record Jerry Garcia’s steel guitar overdub for CSNY’s “Teach Your Children” (keeping the live recording setup intact in Studio C). As the other rooms became double-booked, Studio A saw the installation of it’s new Quad Eight console, supervised by the legendary Deane Jensen.

It is a little-known fact that before CBS records took over Coast Recorders to be their west coast facility, they leased studio D for 12 hours a day for a year on a priority basis, and if it wasn’t needed by CBS it could be booked for use by regular clients. Although we do know that Santana and John Hall used studio D a few times, most of the work done in that room for CBS seemed to be artists we’d never heard of and the mainstream CBS artists would use the studios they always used, with the addition of CBS union ‘minders’.

Meanwhile, 1970 turned out to be a year of diversity for the studio. Studio C hosted Norman Greenbaum with Eric Jacobson producing “Spirit In the Sky”, later Eric would product the cutesy “Mill Valley” with some grade schoolers. Jazz producer Ed Michel brought in Cliff Coulter to record “East Side San Jose”, and later Clifton Chenier – The King of Zydeco and Bill Evans, the late keyboard genius. Nick Gravenities produced Brewer and Shipley’s “Tarkio Road” which included the deliciously infamous “One Toke over the Line”. Steve Miller returned for his “Number 5” album. Paul Butterfield did a few sessions and a studio musician scene started to develop with regulars like Jack Shorer, the late John Kahn, Mark Naftalin, Zakir Hussain and Mike Bloomfield. Ali Akbar Kahn recorded variations on the Prophet for CBS TV and Tom Jans and Mimi Farina recorded 4 songs for their A&M album.

Seals and Crofts came to Studio D in 1970 with producer John Simon and recorded “Down Home” backed by Harvey Brooks and John Hall. Producer Jerry Goldstein and manager Steve Gold brought in their new act into Studio C on a weekend deal this year; Eric Burden and War cut almost two albums worth of songs in two days. The band was obviously well rehearsed and Eric too was quite loose – he was reported to be tripping heavily on LSD when singing the one take live rap in “Spill The Wine.” The Grateful Dead came to record “American Beauty” and stayed around to help David Crosby make “If I Could Only Remember My Name”. This record was the first of many spontaneous events at 245 Hyde Street – with the artists dropping in each other’s sessions – an effect that David Crosby dubbed “cross-pollination”. Later that year, Jerry Williams and Nils Lofgrin both recorded albums in Studio D, produced by Neil Young producer David Briggs.

After the Jefferson Airplane cut their final single, Paul Kantner secured the creation of Grunt records in a deal which RCA records was apparently hell-bent on keeping the talent of the Airplane at any cost; they got as much studio time as they need. Consequently more space was needed for Paul and Grace and Hot Tuna projects as well as all the groups that Paul was signing. Studio A with its large iso booth and Quad Eight console was rushed to completion and became Grunt Records headquarters for several years. Pat Iraci, union assistant engineer for RCA and scorekeeper and umpire for Paul and his Starship Empire acquired an office upstairs. Grunt acts included ONE, Jack Trailor, Peter Kaukonen & Black Kangaroo, and Grootna in addition to Starship and Hot Tuna.

When Grunt took over Studio A it was discovered that the upstairs Studio C was improperly designed – one could clearly hear Jack Casady’s bass from downstairs in the upstairs tracking room of C – no good. So in the middle of a most productive period, Studio C shut down for over a month while the room underwent structural and acoustical treatment. Sometime late this year David LaBarre joined the tech staff. Fred Catero and David Rubinson held court at the facility for a while, bringing with them the Pointer Sisters and Herbie Hancock.

In 1971 CBS moved their operations to Coast’s Folsom Street facility and
David Crosby finished his solo record early this year, and the New Riders of the Purple Sage recorded their first of three records at 245 Hyde, NRPS. The legendary unknown cosmic vocal group R.J. Fox got past studio security, auditioned for David Crosby, impressed the hell out him, got signed by David Geffen and Ahmet Ertegun, did the record, got dropped and fell into obscurity, all within 6 weeks.

Jerry Garcia burrowed into Studio D for two months to make the Classic “Garcia” with mixers Bob Mathews and Betty Cantor, which was released the next year. Legend has it that Jerry put up a sign at the entrance to the studio that read ‘Tennessee Ernie Ford.’ “No one bothered them the whole time. Mike Finnigan and Jerry Woods recorded “It’s Only A Rock And Roll Show” in Studio C.

Bob Weir followed his Grateful Dead band mate in Studio D with his landmark ACE in 1972, and the Dead also mixed the outstanding live recording “Europe 72” from this room. David Crosby and Graham Nash recorded their landmark first duo album in Studio C with the legendary Bill Halverson. The Doobie Brothers started their second LP and first hit “Toulouse Street” in studio D for WB Records. Buddy Cage replaced the overcommitted Jerry Garcia in the New Riders of the Purple Sage’s “Powerglide”. Brewer and Shipley returned to record “Shake Off the Demon.”

Mix magazine’s David Schwartz worked at Heider’s in 1973. “I remember the day I started. The place was a beehive of recording activity, with four studios and a post-production room. There were 15 albums being produced at one time: David Rubinson and Fred Catero had Studio A locked out, working on five albums, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, the Pointer Sisters’ first album, Lydia Pense and Cold Blood, the Hoodoo Rhythm Devils and an album by Malo, Santana’s brother.”

“Upstairs in C there were a couple of Airplane/Starship projects, Hot Tuna, Pure Prairie League, Commander Cody. Tower of Power had been in there for a year working on what became their biggest record with the tracks ‘You’re Still a Young Man’ and ‘Bump City’. Jim Gaines, Mallory Earl, Steve Jarvis–these guys were recording as fast as they could.”

“But within five months everything changed drastically. The manager, Mel Tanner, left the studio and within a month the bottom fell out completely. It went from being booked around the clock to being empty for a couple of weeks at a time. The oil crisis, the recession of ’73, the record companies’ executive staffs crashing all led to real changes in recording budgets. By the summer of ’73 it was a vast wasteland.”

That allowed some “pro-bono” and budget projects to flourish;
the TUBES did their earliest studio recordings and a live KPFA broadcast in Studio C and the leftover members of R.J.Fox regrouped to create OASIS and spent three months in Studio C.

The Next Step

Because Heider was a trailblazer and had always strived for the latest technology, by 1974 he thought it a first priority to update the equipment to 24 track or fall behind competing studios. Heider’s headaches began when he went to the Filmways board and asked for money to upgrade and Filmways refused. As former staff engineer Jeffery Norman explains, “It was just the great, classic case of a corporation taking over just to gain something, but not to put anything back.” Harry Sitam, in charge of maintenance in the early days, adds, “the (Filmways’) manager would not allow me to buy parts to maintain the equipment even up to basic NAB specifications.”

Filmways’ refusal to provide money to meet client needs was a direct contradiction to how Heider felt the recording business should be run. In the early days, when Heider still had working capital, he was known to give clients thousands of dollars of compensation if he thought they had received an unfair deal at his studio. As Sitam recalls, “Even if there was some kind of gray area, he’d see in favor of the customer. It’s that kind of investment and goodwill that made him so famous world over.”

Thus began the demise of Filmways owned Heider’s studios. Heider became so distraught about the decline of the studio that he maneuvered his way into being fired by the parent company. Although the corporation wanted to claim he had resigned, Heider took out a full page ad in the Hollywood Reporter, proclaiming “I WAS FIRED!!!” He threw a giant going-away party for himself, flying a handful of his San Francisco crew to Los Angeles for a huge dinner and celebration. Soon after, he went into private life in his home state of Oregon.
After Heider left, Filmways paid little attention to the San Francisco studio. They became so out of touch with its Northern California investment that at one point, when employees sent a request down to Los Angeles for higher wages, Filmways’ response was, “You mean we still have a studio in San Francisco?”

It was then that Filmways realized it needed to find someone to fill the administrative role left empty by Wally Heider’s departure. Filmways sent up Gary Blum, whose Los Angeles style seemed at odds with the more laid-back San Francisco scene. Engineer Susie Foot recalls, “He dripped L. A. And this guy heading up a bunch of San Francisco hippie engineers was just ludicrous. “

Explaining that he needed help with a serious studio decision, Blum called Foot into his office one day. “I thought he was going to ask my opinion about some piece of gear or something, but he had these two turquoise bracelets on his desk and he said, ‘Which one do you like better?’ This was his duty as manager–picking out jewelry to wear.”


The staff at Filmways/Heider’s rallied together to oust Blum and presented an extensive petition to Filmways with the signatures of virtually every employee and several clients as well, including engineer Pat Ieraci and producers David Rubinson and Skip Drinkwater, outlining their dissatisfaction with the choice of administrator. Filmways did nothing. Only when many staff members, including Harry Sitam, Michael MacKenzie and Gray Odell, threatened to quit en masse was Blum fired.

Yet Filmways continued to resist funding the declining studio. Rubinson, a mainstay at Heider’s, eventually reluctantly left and started his own studio, The Automatt. Rubinson and Catero had been asking for two simple modifications to Studio A; a 4-channel headphone cue system instead of stereo, and mute switches on the monitor section of the board. Sitam muses, “Rubinson had Studio A block-booked most of the time with major acts. The studio would have made a lot of money if it had just done these (modifications). “
In 1980, a partnership composed of Dan Alexander, Tom Sharples and Michael Ward acquired the San Francisco studios. The rooms were reopened as Hyde Street Studios, named for the street on which the building is located.

Walking into a multimillion-dollar studio, the new owners began with ambitions that exceeded reality. They first attempted to operate all four studios, which, Ward says, was “complete madness. “The new studio ran into financial problems, and Hyde Street’s equipment was not as good as it should have been.

But Ward and his partners were willing to spend money and learn from their mistakes. They began remodeling the studios, with “flexibility as one of the mantras,” Ward says, because of the need to compete in a wider musical market consisting of everything from rock to jazz to rap.

They also added to their equipment inventory. As one of the nation’s largest dealers of second-hand audio, Alexander played a major part in the selection of new equipment, much of it reflecting his taste for “troublesome English consoles,” as Ward describes it. Alexander owned the first Helios console ever built, previously located in Olympic Studio Two. It was the console that recorded the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet, Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin II and Queen’s A Night at the Opera. It was moved to Studio C, and although it was a famous console for its time, Alexander admits that its sound left something to be desired by today’s standards. It also required large amounts of money to make it operational.

Unusual Tastes

Gluttons for maintenance punishment, the studio acquired a left-handed Trident B-Range console for Studio D. The Trident was found to be a source of constant trouble and expense. Eventually these consoles were replaced with more cooperational equipment, including a 48×48 Amek 2500, a 40x16x34 API and the recently installed Neve 8048 in Studio A. Additionally, the studio’s large collection of vintage tube microphones, tube compressors and other exotic gear gave it an edge over local competition.

Under the new ownership, the studio’s patrons have included artists Joe Satriani, the Dead Kennedys, Chris Isaak, Jimi Hendrix, Train, Ry Cooder, Meshell Ndegeocello, George Clinton, Tupac Shakur, CAKE, Neil Young, Booker T, and producers Sandy Pearlman, Steve Brown, Mark Senasac, Eric Jacobson and this author.

Tom Sharples left the partnership in 1985 to head up R & D for Otari America. Ward and Alexander later divided the studios, with Alexander taking Studio C and Ward keeping the rest of the building and the Hyde Street name.

In 1986 Alexander leased Studio C to Sandy Pearlman, who ran it as Alpha & Omega Studio until 1991. Pearlman used it for his own projects, including those on his short-lived MCA-distributed label Popular Metaphysics, and also sub-leased it to other producers and artists. Ward kept control of his studios, except for a brief sublease of Studio A to a producer who ran it as Power Stroke Studios, catering to early heavy metal and thrash acts.

While Studio A still houses the vintage Neve 8048, Studio D recently upgraded to a Digidesign ICON D-Command, supplemented with a rack of API eqs and a Neve summing mixer while retaining its previous compliment of vintage and modern outboard gear.  Michael is currently considering leasing the room on a long-term basis either with or without equipment. A dozen or more other rooms in the building are being leased out to individuals and/or businesses as well, all making music. In fact, the building at 245 Hyde street is still a beehive of activity and has the same dedication to making exceptional sounding recordings as their esteemed predecessor who had so influenced the musical community over 42 years ago.

This entry was posted in Best Tracks, Home, News and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.