Friday, September 30, 2011

Studio Recordings By Bob and Betty

Thc eover of the 1968 Grateful Dead album Aoxomoxoa, engineered by Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor
The Grateful Dead were a unique organization in many ways. It is rare enough in rock history to have studio projects consistently recorded by in-house staff over many years, but the Dead have to be the only rock band with multiple in-house engineers. Some of the Grateful Dead studio projects, whether by the band or various members, were recorded by Dan Healy, and some of them were recorded by the team of Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor (later Betty Cantor-Jackson). While as a practical matter there was always a little crossover, in general any given project was engineered by Dan Healy or the team of Bob and Betty, save for a few outsiders. The vast number of Grateful Dead projects makes this a subject of contemplation in its own right.

Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor are best known for engineering and mixing live Grateful Dead projects, first and most famously Live/Dead, but other album projects as well. Betty Cantor, of course (later Betty Cantor-Jackson), achieved Deadhead immortality for her beautiful live recordings of Jerry Garcia, the Grateful Dead and others. To most Deadheads, a 'Betty Board" is the gold standard for live field recordings. However, the team of Matthews and Cantor had a lengthy track record of recording studio projects as well, and those mostly get second billing to their deservedly famous live recordings. The purpose of this post is to create a running tab of Bob and Betty studio projects, whether directly associated with the Grateful Dead or not.

Bob and Betty
Bob Matthews was a friend of Bob Weir's from Menlo Park. He had attended Peninsula School (K-8) with Weir, John Dawson, Steve Marcus and others, and he attended Menlo-Atherton High School with Weir, although Weir's checkered academic history meant that he attended numerous schools besides M-A. When the Grateful Dead started, Matthews worked his way into the gang as a sound engineer, initially focusing on live sound, but he seemed to have been fired in December 1967 and shipped home from the Grateful Dead's Eastern tour (per McNally).

Only in the Dead, however, does it appear that you can be fired from a band's crew and spend the next 15 years recording their albums. Somehow, after his departure Matthews eventually migrated to studio duties. He helped Owsley build the Carousel sound system in early 1968, and later Matthews seems to have been central to the whole Alembic enterprise begun by Owsley, Ron Wickersham, Rick Turner and others.

Betty Cantor was a teenager from Martinez, CA, in farthest Contra Costa County, who had met the Dead at 710 Ashbury through mutual acquaintances. She worked at the Avalon in 1967, first as a gopher, then in administration, then in the ill-fated "Denver Dog" in late 1967. When she returned to the San Francisco Avalon in early 1968, she assisted Avalon soundman Bob Cohen with various set-up duties. By early 1968, Betty was working at the Carousel, helping house manager John McIntire while also learning about sound and stage set-up from Owsley and Bob Matthews.

Since Betty was friendly with the Grateful Dead crew, she managed to get involved with the recording of various Grateful Dead projects, including the Kings Beach Bowl shows in February 1968. Due to her friendship with Bob Matthews and others, Betty was part of the team that set up Pacific Recording in San Mateo, recording Aoxomoxoa and Live/Dead.

"Bob and Betty" became a familiar name on Grateful Dead albums. From 1968 top 1970, while Dan Healy was a staff engineer at Mercury Records in San Francisco, Bob and Betty were the house engineers for the Grateful Dead. In general, Bob managed the board while Betty focused on mike placement and equipment set-up, but their actual roles were considerably more fluid. They shared duties for recording, mixing and mastering for Aoxomoxoa, Live/Dead and Workingman's Dead. Both of them were a key part of the original Alembic team.

When Dan Healy returned in late 1970, the roles of Bob and Betty became more diffuse. However, there were so many projects in the Grateful Dead world that there seemed to be plenty of work to go around. Betty Cantor seems to have taken it on herself to record the Garcia/Saunders and Jerry Garcia Band concerts throughout the 70s--and god bless her for that--but she worked on numerous other projects as well. Bob and Betty were responsible for a lot of in-house engineering for various studio projects (as was Healy), and Betty was also a member of the Grateful Dead's crew in the 70s and early 80s, mainly as Weir's guitar tech. Once she finished setting up Weir, of course, she would record the Grateful Dead, and thus elevated herself to heroic status to Deadheads everywhere.

Studio Projects
This post lists all the known studio projects engineered and/or mixed by Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor. I have not attempted to separate their roles on each project, as they can do that themselves as needed. I am just making a list of the scope of their studio work. Plenty of attention has been paid to Betty's glorious live tapes, and similar attention has been paid to Grateful Dead live album projects, so I do not need to recap that, but Bob and Betty's studio work has been taken for granted.

I am not focused on what was actually released, since that often had to do with finances or record company business, and would hardly be the province of engineers. I have also ignored the fact that almost any Grateful Dead project would have some input by Bob or Betty, setting up equipment and so forth. Just because a Healy produced project lists Bob or Betty as a production assistant does not make it worthy of a mention here. I am trying to focus on projects were either or both of them put their golden ears and self-taught expertise to work to shape the music they were hearing.

Aoxomoxoa-Grateful Dead, Pacific Recording, San Mateo, Fall 1968-Spring 1969
The Grateful Dead began to record their third album in late Fall 1968 at Pacific Recording in San Mateo. Bob and Betty had to actually build the studio from scratch. Why the band chose to record in San Mateo in an unbuilt studio is not at all clear to me, but Bob Matthews seems to have been an employee of Pacific Recording at the time. The Dead initially used an eight-track tape player, and then a twelve track, and recorded an album tentatively titled Earthquake Country.

Ampex Electronics was near the studio, and the band managed to encourage some Ampex engineers to let Pacific Recording have one of the first 16-track tape machines. The Dead instantly decided to re-record the entire album, going massively into debt to Warner Brothers in order to do so. After a lengthy process, the studio album Aoxomoxoa was recorded, with Bob and Betty listed as engineers.

In the meantime, the band snuck the 16-track out of the studio and in to the Fillmore West and the Avalon and recorded the material used on Live/Dead. Ampex engineer Ron Wickersham also threw in his lot with the Dead, and the band spawned Alembic Engineering in Novato. Alembic was located in the Dead's rehearsal space and equipment warehouse in Novato, near Hamilton Air Force Base.

In an appropriate footnote to the Aoxomoxoa, Bob and Betty remixed the album in 1971 at Alembic itself, and the re-mixed album was the only one available for much of the 1970s.

New Riders demo, Pacific High Recorders, San Francisco, November 1969
The New Riders of The Purple Sage, with Jerry Garcia on pedal steel guitar, had been playing around Bay Area clubs throughout the back half of 1969. A four song demo was recorded in November 1969, at Pacific High Recorders in San Francisco, at 60 Brady Street--no connection to Pacific Recording in San Mateo. The tracks were released on the 1986 Relix NRPS lp Before Time Began.

The peculiar thing about this demo was that Bob Matthews appears to have been the principal bassist for the New Riders at this point. This is worthy of (yet) another post, but Matthews and Phil Lesh seem to have shared bass duties for the band. Lesh was better, of course, but apparently had little interest in playng obscure Bay Area clubs on Thursday nights, thus leaving the gig to Matthews. When it came to recording, however, Matthews was needed on the board, and in any case Lesh was the better bassist, so it's no surprise that Phil recorded with them.

The cover to the 1970 Warner Bros lp Workingman's Dead. Note Robert Hunter at far left.
Workingman's Dead-Grateful Dead, Pacific High Recorders, San Francisco, January-March 1970
Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor's two great contributions to the Grateful Dead were the recordings of Live/Dead and Workingman's Dead, which to this day represent the glorious spectrum of the band's music to most listeners. In contrast to Aoxomoxoa, Workingman's was recorded and mixed in a disciplined manner at Pacific High in short sessions in early 1970. The exact dates remain a mystery to this day, but it seems to have been between late January and early March 1970.  Bob and Betty are listed as the producers of the album, "in association with the Grateful Dead."

Stoneground project, Trident Studios, London, August 1970
Bob and Betty were an essential part of Alembic, which was conceived of by Owsley as the Grateful Dead's "engineering wing." The Dead had planned to go on a Tom Donahue (KSAN) promoted international tour called "Medicine Ball Caravan," where they would play free concerts across the country, but the Dead pulled out at the last minute. The tour went on, however, and the Alembic crew was already committed to the road trip, so Bob and Betty toured America and England with various groups. Since Bob and Betty were out of town, Stephen Barncard ended up producing American Beauty.

The Medicine Ball Caravan was conceived as a sort of rolling Woodstock, with a film crew capturing the proceedings. A very obscure documentary was released, as well as a soundtrack album, and I assume Bob and Betty played a role in the recordings.  The final concert of the "Caravan" was in England on August 31, 1970, at Charlton Park near Kent. Pink Floyd and The Faces headlined the show, but only 1500 attended, since the giant Isle Of Wight Festival was happening the same weekend. Although the event was filmed and recorded, none of the English bands apparently gave their approval, so the event had no part in the movie.

Donahue's "house band" Stoneground was the only American band to play the English Festival. The one London addition to Stoneground was bassist Pete Sears, who came into the San Francisco orbit by joining Stoneground in London in 1970 for the Kent festival. Stoneground had recorded an album at Trident Studios in London during August of 1970, with Bob and Betty working the board, and Sears had joined the band through an oblique connection to Donahue.

However, the London Stoneground album was not released. The band re-recorded most of the material in San Francisco later in the year. Sears went to San Francisco with the band, but returned home to work with Rod Stewart. Of course, Sears would shortly come back to live and work in the Bay Area, but his first contact was with Bob and Betty at Trident in London.

The cover of the 1971 James And The Good Brothers lp on Columbia Records, produced by Betty Cantor and engineered by Bob and Betty at Alembic Studios in Novato
James And The Good Brothers, Alembic Studios, early 1971
Members of the Grateful Dead met James Ackroyd and Bruce and Brian Good when they toured Canada on the infamous Festival Express tour in Summer 1970, and invited them to San Francisco. The trio played a little around Bay Area clubs, and Jack Casady and members of the Dead got the group a record deal. The self-titled album was released on Columbia. Various members of the Dead and the Airplane played on the record. When James and The Good Brothers opened for the New Riders at Fillmore West in February 1971, Jack Casady and Jerry Garcia (on banjo) sat in.

The album credits say that it was engineered by Bob and Betty at "Alembic" and Eastern Sound in Toronto. Alembic Studios was the Dead's technology headquarters, full of equipment but not really a studio. I suspect that Bob and Betty used the James and The Good Brothers album as an experiment to see if Alembic was a good place to record. Since I don't know of any other recordings there, I have to assume Bob and Betty were unhappy with the results. I also wonder if Bob and Betty were actually flown to Toronto to record--my guess is probably not. Record liner notes are not obligated to be accurate, and I suspect that different engineers handled the board in Toronto. In any case, Betty Cantor is actually listed as the producer of this album, as well as sharing the engineering credits with Bob Matthews. 

The cover to the 1972 Garcia album, engineered by Bob and Betty
Garcia-Jerry Garcia, Wally Heider's Studio, San Francisco, July 1971
Garcia went into the studio to record his solo album in part because he needed the advance to buy a house for Mountain Girl. At this time, Warner Brothers and Columbia were courting the various members of the Dead in anticipation of signing them once the band's Warners contract ran out. The story about this album was that they put up a sign that said "Anita Bryant Sessions" to discourage the likes of Paul Kantner and David Crosby from disrupting the work. 

Bob and Betty had not worked on a project with extensive overdubs since Aoxomoxoa, but no doubt their experience served them in good stead here.

Bob Weir's 1972 album Ace, engineered by Bob and Betty
Burgers-Hot Tuna, Wally Heider's Studio, San Francisco, late 1971
Betty was credited with mixing the classic third Hot Tuna album, released on RCA/Grunt in early 1972. Jorma Kaukonen was the producer, but given his schedule Betty must have had a substantial role in the preparation of the album.

Ace-Bob Weir, Wally Heider's Studio, San Francisco, Winter 1972
Weir had his own solo album, engineered by Bob and Betty at Wally Heider's, probably around January 1972. Both Garcia and Ace were fairly conventional album projects for the early 1970s, and Bob and Betty's work stands up well compared to similar efforts of that time. Regardless of the peculiar means by which Bob and Betty became recording engineers, their work was just as good as conventionally trained engineers in Hollywood or New York at the time. Ace was mixed at Alembic, so it seems that Alembic was a good room for mixing, but not for recording.

Baron Von Tollbooth vs The Chrome Nun-Paul Kantner, Grace Slick and David Freiberg, Wally Heider's Studio, San Francisco, November-December 1972
The Jefferson Airplane had some deal with RCA where they had all but unlimited studio time at Wally Heider's, so they recorded constantly. The Airplane only existed in name only, if that, by the end of 1972, so the recordings were for a Paul Kantner-Grace Slick album. David Freiberg, an old friend who joined the Airplane for their final tour, had such a substantial contribution that his name was added to the album credits.

This recording was the last of the major PERRO projects. Bob and Betty engineered most of the tracks, although Columbia engineer Jim Gaines was also involved. Bob and Betty shared the mixing with long-time pro Al Schmitt. So while its unclear exactly what tracks Bob and Betty worked on, they clearly played a major role. Jerry Garcia played on 8 of the 10 tracks on the album. A number of faces who would soon become part of Jefferson Starship made their first appearances in the Starship orbit on this album, including Pete Sears and Craig Chaquico.

Manhole-Grace Slick, Wally Heider's Studio, San Francisco 1973
This Grace Slick "solo" album was really a hodge-podge of tracks recorded at Wally Heider's, at least one of which did not even include Grace. Bob Matthews was credited as one of four engineers. The album was released on RCA/Grunt in 1974.

Tales Of The Great Rum Runners-Robert Hunter, The Barn, Novato early 1974
Bob Matthews was one of a number of engineers for Hunter's debut. Columbia Records had apparently helped Mickey Hart build a studio in his barn at his ranch in Novato. However, the tapes from The Barn in the early 70s, including Hart's 1972 Rolling Thunder album, don't sound that great to me. I love the songs on Rum Runners, but the actual recording leaves a lot to be desired.

Tiger Rose-Robert Hunter, The Barn, Novato late 1974
At some point In 1974, Mickey Hart acquired the mixing board that the Dead had used at Pacific High Recorders for Workingman's Dead, and the sound of his barn studio improved significantly. Pacific High, by now called His Master's Wheels, apparently upgraded their equipment, and Hart managed to get ahold of the old board.

Jerry Garcia produced Robert Hunter's second album for Round, Tiger Rose, recorded at Mickey's ranch. Bob and Betty engineered the recording, which had a nice, crisp sound, appropriate for Hunter's voice and songs, and appropriately reminiscent of Workingman's.

Seastones-Ned Lagin, The Barn, Novato late 1974
Ned Lagin's unique project lists a number of engineers and studios, and Bob and Betty at Mickey's barn was just one of four listed studios. It's not at all clear how much recording Bob and Betty did for Lagin's project, nor how much of what they actually recorded was actually released on the Seastones album itself, but they definitely participated. 

The Fish-Barry Melton project, The Barn, Novato, early 1975
The Barry Melton solo album The Fish was only released in the UK in late 1975, on United Artists Records. While the album features one song that Melton co-wrote with Robert Hunter ("Jesse James"), two Melton co-wrote with Mickey Hart ("Speed Racer" and "Marshmellow Road") and two more he co-wrote with Peter Monk, the album credits say that it was entirely recorded in Wales with English musicians. However, Betty clearly recalls producing the album in Novato. I presume that most or all of the album was re-recorded in Wales (at Rockfield Studios), and Betty would have had no say in the matter and may not have even known that her work was superseded.

Diga Rhythm Band-Mickey Hart, The Barn, Novato, 1976
This unique percussion album was recorded in Mickey Hart's studio in 1976, with guest appearances from Garcia, David Freiberg and a few others.  Betty was one of the engineers, and it was released in late 1976 on United Artists. 

Cats Under The Stars-Jerry Garcia Band, Club Front, San Rafael August-November 1977
The Jerry Garcia Band decided to record their album at their rehearsal studio because they loved the sound, so Betty persuaded Jerry Garcia to fund some expensive recording equipment and built a studio at Front Street in San Rafael. Bob and Betty engineered the wonderful Cats Under The Stars album, which went nowhere, much to Garcia's dismay. 

Alligator Moon-Robert Hunter project, Club Front, San Rafael, late 1977/early 1978
The next project at Front Street was the Alligator Moon album with Robert Hunter and Comfort. I have a lengthy post on this subject, so I won't recap it all here. Suffice to say, Hunter was not happy with the recording and it never saw the light of day. A few tracks were released on the Relix album Promontory Rider, but the studio version of the wonderful six-song "Alligator Moon" suite has never circulated, to my knowledge.

Go To Heaven-Grateful Dead, Club Front, San Rafael July 1979-January 1980
Veteran producer Gary Lyons (Aerosmith and others) managed the album (released April 1980) and also did some of the engineering himself. Since it was at Club Front, Bob and Betty are listed as engineer (Betty, along with Lyons) and assistant engineer (Bob). It was Gary Lyons' project, but they played a role in the engineering.

Run For The Roses-Jerry Garcia, Club Front, San Rafael 1981
Betty engineered most of the tracks for Garcia's final solo album in the Fall of 1981. Bob Matthews was credited with the mixing and the overdubs. A few tracks were recorded in Los Angeles with a different engineer [thanks to Commenter LIA for pointing out my omission of this album].

Brent Mydland project, Club Front (?), 1982
Betty's final major studio project was Brent Mydland's solo album, from around 1982. I assume it was recorded at Club Front. I know that former Silver guitarist Greg Collier played on it, but I do not know what other musicians may have participated. Tapes circulate, and I have heard a little of it. It seems very well recorded, but it's in a more conventional "80s rock" style. The few times that Bob and Betty made records that were intended to be more conventional with the contemporary record industry, they sounded as good as what was around at the time, so the fact that they were almost entirely self-taught seems not to have impeded their development.

At some point in the mid-80s, Betty Cantor and Bob Matthews both faded away from the Grateful Dead scene. Since the band had largely stopped recording, I presume their opportunities to participate were fewer in any case. No doubt the financial and personal politics of the crew and the band played a part in some complex and difficult way, but that is the subject for other biographers. Bob and Betty's legacy was fabulous live tapes, some of which were turned into records and some of which we just listen to for our own enjoyment. Nonetheless it's fascinating to see the extensive number of projects they worked on in the studio. If I missed any non-live recording projects, released or not, please mention them in the Comments. 

4 comments:

  1. A brief note about Aoxomoxoa:
    "Why the band chose to record in San Mateo in an unbuilt studio..."
    Simply due to the personal connection, I believe.
    They had finished Anthem with Healy at Columbus Recorders in SF, says Blair Jackson, because "Healy had used the studio before and liked it."
    But in mid-68 Healy went off to work with Quicksilver & others. So what studio could the Dead go to where they'd find a friendly face and take all the time they wanted? I think the new studio where Bob & Betty worked was the most obvious choice.
    Betty told the Taping Compendium, "Bob and I started working in this studio making demos for different groups. With his being part of the Dead, working with their equipment, and I was getting to know them a lot more closely, they decided to come down and try using the studio to do their third album. It was a studio which didn't have much gear in it at all - it was basically just a control room - but we started working there and brought different equipment in & set it up."

    The remixed version from 1971 is actually still the only one available on CD today. You mention that Bob & Betty remixed it, but it must have been under Garcia's supervision, for in his 1971 interview he mentions doing it himself: "I really had fun remixing it...I left out a lot of what seemed unnecessary to the content [and] tried to make it sound like what I hoped it would sound like in the first place."
    At the same time, Phil Lesh and Dan Healy worked on remixing the Anthem album: "Phil just went on a trip of remixing it, and the remixed result is even weirder..." (Phil, though, later confessed that the time he spent remixing it in 1971 was wasted, as he ended up preferring the original - so now Phil's remix is unavailable!)

    It's interesting that the Dead often had a glut of sound engineers around, so sometimes in the early '70s it was up for dispute who was in charge. Betty mentioned that on Workingman's Dead, "When Bob and I started doing that, Healy was there too. It was this committee thing, and we just had to say, 'Wait a minute, we can't do it this way. You can have Bob & me do it, or you can have Healy do it, you choose...' They decided they wanted us to do it."
    And it's interesting, when seeing interviews with Healy, that he hardly mentions the others on the sound team at all!

    Betty mentioned that she worked on part of Wake of the Flood, recording at Weir's studio and also overseeing the vinyl pressings, but was only minimally involved with the Dead's following studio albums up to '78:
    "Mars Hotel: not a whole lot...Blues for Allah somewhat, not a whole lot; Reflections, no...Terrapin Station, mostly that was Keith Olsen... Healy was in charge of Shakedown; I did a bunch of work on it, mostly maintenance work, setting the studio up, some overdubs and stuff like that."
    Not sure what she did on Go To Heaven, though she mentioned Gary Lyons' alarm on seeing the Club Front studio.
    After that, she said, "I did Jerry's Run For The Roses. That was a fun record. I did all the recording in a few days, just straight-ahead. For a lot of it there were no overdubs, it went right onto the record... Weir also used the studio for his Midnites record, and I had to spend some time with that project. Throughout these projects, Brent and I worked on his album."
    Around '83, Betty quit the Dead due to not being paid for her work on the live recordings & videos from 1980. Not sure what happened to Matthews.

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  2. LIA, thanks for the great quotes. One thing I noticed when I looked into this history was the sharp distinction between "Healy Projects" and "Bob and Betty Projects." I suspect there was some significant in-house competition between them. Note also that Bob and Betty faded away in the early 80s, while Healy stuck around for another decade.

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  3. Thanks for pointing out my omission of Run For The Roses as well. I updated the post.

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  4. I also sense some competitiveness, or at least, strong differences of opinion, between the Dead's various sound techs. The Dead seem to have unwittingly created a divide-and-rule situation, wherein the various engineers that came to them had to compete for dominance!

    For example, it's interesting how Bear loudly complained on his return in 1972 about how the sound crew was running things. For his part, Healy pooh-poohed Bear's contributions in one interview: "He was sort of in and out of it... He had other things going on. He didn't really have that solid a role on a continuous basis."
    And there's the online history of Alembic which completely omits any mention of Bear....even though Ron Wickersham's interview in Grateful Dead Gear credits Bear with starting the company!
    And of course, there was Healy's famed reaction when he went to one of the Dead's NYC shows in Dec '71: "What I heard was an atrocity...I couldn't believe how bad the sound was." (Thus prompting him to rejoin the band.)

    So, all was not harmony within the Dead universe...

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