S otheby’s is proud to present From the Vault: Property from the Grateful Dead and Friends, an auction featuring items consigned from the collections of Grateful Dead Productions and their inner circle. The auction includes stage equipment from all eras of Dead tours including surviving components from the legendary Wall of Sound, and items from crew members “Big” Steve Parish, Lawrence “Ram Rod” Shurtliff, and t-shirts from the band's longest serving sound engineer Dan Healy. From the Ken Kesey era “Acid Test” days through to the final years – a long, strange trip from counterculture icons to the definitive American band – this auction is a unique opportunity for Deadheads to celebrate the band’s enduring ethos right from the soundboard.
Browse the private collection of longtime Grateful Dead sound engineer Dan Healy, and own a vintage tee from historical tours.
Available for Immediate Purchase
T he Wall of Sound, employed by the Dead from March-October 1974, was the largest concert sound system built at the time. After his release from prison in 1972, Owsley “Bear” Stanley, notable clandestine psychedelic chemist and the Dead’s audio engineer, sought to create a distortion-free sound system to improve fidelity in the band’s live performances. Each instrument was given its own channel and a set of speakers (mostly hand built and designed by the Dead crew) mounted on top of each other, totaling 604 speakers overall.
The system was powered fifty-five McIntosh MC-2300 amplifiers, each capable of producing 600 watts of sound. The use of McIntosh power amplifiers was innovative, as these units had traditionally been used only for audiophile home stereo systems. As each set of speakers carried only one instrument or vocal channel and the McIntosh amps produced little distortion, the sound was extraordinarily clear—far surpassing any other live performance technology at the time—and could extend up to a quarter of a mile.
So impressive was the Wall of Sound that it became for many casual fans one of the main attractions to the concert and was seen as a “can’t miss” concert experience.
The scale of the system, however, became unsustainable for the Dead to continue touring with: it took an entire day to set up the Wall of Sound, and road crews would work through the night to dismantle it, while a separate crew went ahead to the next venue with a second set of scaffolding in order to begin building it. Because of the cost, the Dead retired the system in October, 1974. They then paused their touring schedule until 1976, when they returned with a more sustainable sound system that could still achieve the clarity they desired. Nonetheless, the band’s shows during the Wall of Sound period are some of the most highly regarded and acclaimed performances of their extensive career.
The sale features the last remnants of he Wall still in the Grateful Dead’s collection, including the amplifiers that powered the guitars of Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, as well as some equipment from Owsley’s early sound experiments with the band – earlier tube powered McIntosh amplifiers and Klipsch speakers, for instance.
The entire range of stage equipment in the auction, from the early to the last years of band, provides an important record of the Grateful Dead not just as musical innovators, but sonic explorers as well.
Sotheby’s would like to thank David Lemieux for his assistance with the sale.
Photographs © Steve Schneider. To purchase a print, or view more of Steve Schneider’s work, visit www.steveschneiderphoto.com