Monday, March 21, 2011

Bear Comes Home

A counter-cultural icon, and ground breaking audio engineer, Augustus Owsley Stanley III aka Bear shuffled off his mortal coil after a car accident about a week ago in Australia.

Bear was the alchemist who brewed up the acid used in the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Tests given by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters in the '60's. The Grateful Dead were the house band for these events. The Beatles and Hendrix also gained inspiration from his services and it reflected in their music.

Bear was also a sound engineer with the Dead for a number of years.

The New York Times obituary says about Owsley:

He also lent the era much of its sound, developing early, widely praised high-fidelity sound systems for live rock concerts, including the Dead’s towering “wall of sound.”

A highlite of my audio education at The Institute of Audio Research back in 1984 was a lecture by Dan Healy who was also an early, and long time engineer for the Dead. He talked about putting together sound systems starting in the mid-60's when sound reinforcement for music was unheard of. The only public address systems where designed for speeches and announcements. When the Beatles played Shea Stadium in 1964 the only sound reinforcement was the Voice of America loudspeakers used for announcements.

Healy talked about how a group of young audio researchers in the Bay area that included John Meyer of Meyer speakers and Dan Countryman collectively got together to figure out the most efficient ways for sound system designs to broadcast rock music in a loud, clean way. They were pioneers of audio design in the live sound field.

Healy mentioned that the Grateful Dead, rather than spending their money on yachts and other frivolities, invested their profits back into audio research and development. Bear did the same with the profits from his Brotherhood of Love ventures.

A few weeks after that lecture I experienced the latest Grateful Dead sound system, engineered by Healy at a concert in Giants Stadium by Bob Dylan and the Dead. The sound was incredible! Loud but with the smoothest mid-range, great for vocal clarity.

I don't own or know that many Grateful Dead recording's but one of my long-time favorites is a collection of live songs called Bear's Choice. It's mostly on the acoustic country blues side of things.

For anyone who may not know the pun, The Bear Comes Home, is a book by Rafi Zabor that I highly recommend to anyone interested in music and consciousness. I also feel it's not unrelated to some of the exploits of Augustus Owsley Stanley III.

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