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article imageOp-Ed: Major stash of 60s music at risk, needs to be saved

By Paul Wallis     Mar 23, 2019 in Entertainment
Sydney - LSD advocate and global acid distributor Owsley Stanley is famous for the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, and turning on the world. “Turn on, tune in, drop out” was his working slogan. He was also a sound engineer, recording things never yet heard.
He created a very important cache of recordings by some of the 60s most influential bands, and that music needs saving.
At a time when musical innovation wasn’t just about sampling and other forms of digital LEGO, Stanley (more commonly called Owsley or Bear) was working with the Grateful Dead, among others, pioneering sound engineering. He’s left a legacy of 1300 reel-to-reel tapes called the Sonic Journals of bands including the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and the Allman Brothers at their peak which needs saving.
OK  you re a 60s person. This is the 60s at its best. Give a hand.
OK, you're a 60s person. This is the 60s at its best. Give a hand.
These tapes are at serious risk of decay, because they’re oxide magnetic tapes. Tapes may occasionally preserve well, in archive conditions, but the magnetic element means they’re almost always at risk of damage. Even a fridge magnet can damage them.
The bands recorded were friends of Stanley’s and the general impression is that he had pieces of their music nobody else had. Digitizing them and preserving them is therefore a must. They can’t survive indefinitely, and all this music might be lost unless someone unplugs some cash to save them.
Stanley turned himself in to a very good sound engineer. For those who only vaguely understand analogue sound, there are some other issues:
• Recording in those days was very much hit or miss, technically and physically. Sound had to survive going through a recording process which was basically a telephone system hooked up to a recording device. A song could require any number of takes, per track. Tapes, in particular, needed to be very good quality to reproduce sound accurately. Digital sound recording and mixing is extremely straightforward, by comparison.
• “Dubbing”, or adding sound over recordings, was equally difficult. You couldn’t just pull it apart if it didn’t work and try again like you can now. A lot of time and effort went in to learning the basics. Tape copies, for example, were often a tone higher than originals. It was a huge learning curve. Much of the “psychedelic sound” was the result of endless hours of experimentation just to create the sounds, then to add them to recordings. The mix of inspiration and perspiration was no myth.
• Recorded sound fidelity and quality was very much in the hands of the engineers and producers. They had to put it all together and make it sound the way it was supposed to sound. With 60s technologies, that wasn’t easy. It’s no coincidence that the Beatles producer, George Martin, is called “the fifth Beatle”.
• Live recording, in particular, was an art form, and a major epic of mixing, balancing, and individual sound channel mechanics. Everything you now see on a digital recording dashboard had to be manhandled in to any sort of environment, and made to work. There are plenty of bootleg albums around which can show you what happens when that didn’t work too well.
So – A large amount of unique music, made under truly demanding technological conditions, needs help.
The big stash of tapes also includes a lot of clues for the more expert sound people and musicians today. These bands were true innovators, always doing something new and different. They regularly experimented, and they were famous for inspired live performances.
(Music in those days was often based on a set of songs, which more often than not turned in to jam sessions or truly exceptional performances. A song could go on for an hour or so, with variations, before returning to the basic song.)
I’d say that 60s music was most truly expressed in these impromptu performances, with musical form taking a back seat to fun, exploration and expression. The much-loathed, market-based straitjackets of rap, sampling and “modern” (you’re kidding) music didn’t exist then.
Where to go to help
See the Owsley Stanley Foundation crowd funding campaign on Indiegogo for more information. The campaign is now closed, but they’re well short of the amount required to save the full Sonic Journals collection. The Indiegogo site also gives a clear picture of what’s involved in saving the tapes. (I’m trying to find out what they’re doing about the overall campaign to save the Sonic Journals.)
Two things for sure – That money hasn’t been wasted, and they’re not hanging around with getting the music digitized and released. They’re about to release the new Allman Brothers album, sourced from the Sonic Journals.
You can also check out the Owsley Stanley Foundation on Facebook. If you’ll excuse the expression, this Facebook page is more than a bit of a trip in itself. I won’t do any spoilers, so check out the link for some pleasantly unexpected things.
60s “rock stars”, get off your cheapskate butts
The people who could, and should, back the Sonic Journals are the 60s stars. Time you bastards did more than clutter up the museums with your egos. You know how much this guy did for 60s music. We’re not talking huge money, we’re talking necessary money, about $312,500. Get it happening, and do something for music for once. It’s done plenty for you.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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