Dan Healy is still a recognizable name within the show production and touring side of the music industry, in addition to Grateful Dead fan circles. The longtime sound engineer for the Dead from 1967-1994, Healy could be considered one of the unofficial members of the famous rock band thanks to his contributions to their performance abilities and, beneficial to the overall concert industry at large, helped push the boundaries and technical possibilities of live audio.
Healy discussed both his memories as a member of the Dead’s audio crew and how he played a role in the evolution of live sound in a new interview with industry publication Pollstar.
“I was staggered at how awful the f*cking sound was,” Healy admits early on in the interview about his initial impressions of hearing the Dead live. “How totally, utterly inadequate. There was one small speaker cabinet on each side of the stage. Pigpen was trying to sing, and it was just gurgling noise.”
The conversation quickly turned to maybe the Grateful Dead’s greatest achievement during their 30-year run–introducing the world to the groundbreaking P.A. system infamously known as the “Wall of Sound.”
“The Wall of Sound was a turning point in the entire world of sound reinforcement,” Healy continued. “By end of the ’60s, myself and others like me had hot-rodded it and milked every nuance out of [existing P.A. systems] … We had to move to a whole new concept, scrap everything and start over. That was the purpose of the Wall of Sound. And while it in itself wasn’t that successful, the endeavor, the goal of it was completely successful: completely rethinking and revamping the entire approach to sound reinforcement.”
Healy continued in discussing the advancements in sound technology seen throughout the industry since beginning his career in the mid-1960s and the arrival of digitalized soundboards beginning in the 1980s. He stated that arenas and nightclubs have benefitted the most from the evolving technology over the decades, in addition to touching on the current giants of the concert industry–festivals.
“The very first delay towers were my towers,” Healy added when asked about some of the larger events the Dead played over the years like the 1973 Summer Jam at Watkins Glen. “The sound that comes out of the towers has to be delayed, because let’s say you’re standing 20 feet past the towers, you hear the sound come off the stage, as it comes by the tower then the tower speakers want to reproduce it so that it all sounds like one wave front … The very first digital delay line I ever used was at Watkins Glen.”
Healy also commented on the evolution of bootlegging and taping, which became one of, if not the most important practices/traditions by Deadheads beginning in the early 1970s and continued into the 80s.
“The whole taper scene were audiophiles,” he continued. “They began bringing their machines and taping because they wanted to go home and study it. They wanted to hear it on their favorite home sound system; they wanted to understand and know more about this phenomenon that was happening called great incredible concert sound … I try not to get into the political philosophy of all that. I’ve always believed the music should be free.”
Read the entire interview here.