Of all the rock and roll tales and infamous stories from life on the road over the years for which the Grateful Dead is remembered, the band’s monstrous “Wall of Sound” P.A. system used in 1974 is arguably the best. The behemoth live P.A. system which originated out of the genius mind of the Dead’s former sound tech and LSD supplier Owsley “The Bear” Stanley, would cost the band a fortune in transportation and upkeep during its brief run in 1974.
It was on this day, March 23rd, in 1974, when the Dead officially unveiled the Wall of Sound for their hometown fans during a show at the Cow Palace just south of San Francisco, and the touring industry hasn’t been the same ever since.
In a recent interview with industry publication Pollstar earlier this year, the band’s longtime live sound engineer Dan Healy talked about the impact which the Wall of Sound had on the touring side of the industry at large.
“The Wall of Sound was a turning point in the entire world of sound reinforcement,” Healy admitted. “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.”
The band’s first-ever public use of the Wall of Sound at the Cow Palace on 3/23/74 could be considered an all-timer for fans of the “Primal Dead” era of 1965-1974. The two-set show was filled with hits from the Dead’s live catalog starting with a lively “U.S. Blues” and continued with “Brown Eyed Women”, “Mexicali Blues”, “Tennessee Jed”, “Scarlet Begonias”, “Deal”, “China Cat Sunflower” > “I Know You Rider”, and the entire “Weather Report Suite” with “Let It Grow” included.
The second half of the show was equally as loaded in terms of Deadhead fan favorites, as the band returned to the stage to keep the show rocking with performances of “Playing In The Band”, “Uncle John’s Band”, “Morning Dew”, Ship Of Fools”, “Me And My Uncle”, “Bertha”, and “Sugar Magnolia”.
Relive the band’s performance below and listen to the Wall of Sound in all its glory below.
Grateful Dead – Cow Palace – 3/23/74
[Audio: Matthew Vernon]