It is the late sixties. San Francisco is the rock music capital of the country, and a good place to be young and reckless. There are few diseases that can’t be cured by a shot of penicillin, you know your drug dealer on a personal basis and they take pride in their product, and concert tickets are only three dollars plus you get a cool poster. Hidden away in a neighborhood haunted by hookers and heroin addicts is a set of brown, unadorned, double doors that lead into Wally Heider Recording. It is here that the likes of Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and the Grateful Dead come to make their magic, and I am the first person they see as they enter.
I am 21 years old and my job is to book their time in one of three studios, along with the assigned engineer and equipment. Competition for the most coveted times and rooms makes it hard to keep these artists always happy, but it does garner me a lot of perks in the form of free records, concert tickets, and pot, the smoke from which seeps through every air vent in the place.
It is a nine-to-five job, but nights are when the big stars arrive, and I find reasons to stay late. When the heavily-insulated studio doors seal shut and the light above them flashes red, musical history is about to be made, and I am an enthusiastic witness to it all: Gregg Rolie’s organ solo on “Black Magic Woman,” Jerry Garcia’s vocal on “Friend of the Devil,” Tower of Power’s horn section dropping by to lay down some tracks for The Pointer Sisters.
My position at Heider Recording puts me in rarefied air with those most others can only admire from a distance and when I leave the job the door to that world closes behind me, leaving only memories.
Today when one of the tunes from that time comes on the radio, the names, faces, and those hours in smoke-filled studios come rushing back, though I know that none of them would remember the girl at the front desk behind those nondescript doors who was the first to greet them.
This week we lost one of the superstars of that era, Paul Kantner, guitarist and driving force behind The Jefferson Airplane, later to morph into The Jefferson Starship. He died at the age of 74, continuing to play gigs around the City up until just a couple of years ago. Rock on, Paul.