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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tourism For Locals: Wally Heider Recording Plaque Marks Birth of San Francisco Sound

Posted By on Thu, Sep 25, 2014 at 10:00 AM

A small plaque in the corner marks the spot where San Francisco became the center of music recording in the United States during the '60s, '70s and '80s. - JUAN DE ANDA/ SF WEEKLY
  • Juan De Anda/ SF Weekly
  • A small plaque in the corner marks the spot where San Francisco became the center of music recording in the United States during the '60s, '70s and '80s.

When we are asked to describe San Francisco, practically all of us will focus on the sights of our City. But as locals, we know full well that the sounds of San Francisco are equally as important. And by sounds, we mean more than just the clanging of cable cars and blaring fog horns. Our music scene is constantly shifting and with all this evolution, it can be difficult to pinpoint when and who was responsible in the fostering the earlier days of the musical mecca.

Fortunately there is a small plaque in the Tenderloin commemorating the spot where San Francisco Sound was born. It's time to visit the site where Wally Heider created his San Francisco recording studio that forever altered the history of American music. 

In 1969, Heider, a well respected producer and sound engineer in Los Angeles, decided to move his operations to the Bay Area so as tap into the local market and talent that was largely overlooked at the time. The offices came into operation April 27 of that year at 245 Hyde Street, between Turk and Eddy streets, in a building that had previously been used by 20th Century Fox for film offices, screening rooms and storage. On the premises, there were four planned studios — A and B on the ground floor and C and D upstairs. However, studio B was never finished and instead became a game room.

Heider had previously worked with local artists like Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead, who had been recording in Los Angeles and New York. He saw the need for musicians to be involved in forming their local sound by having their own well equipped and staffed recording studio close to home. And thus began a prolific output of records from San Francisco that are now deemed classics today. The first album to be released was Creedence Clearwater Revival's 1969 classic Green River, which debuted with critical acclaim. 

That same inaugural year also saw Neil Young's solo career debut, the debut of Zephyr, the first release by Crosby Stills, Nash & Young, and the Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers (which was also the first album they recorded in their hometown). And after this impressive first year and commercial success, Heider kept producing hit after hit after hit. In front of the former recording studio, there is a small plaque placed by the Uptown Tenderloin Historic District Association that briefly explains the importance of Wally Heider Recording: 

"The Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jefferson Airplane and many other bands created landmark albums at the Wally Heider Recording, the City's first modern recording studio. The studio was a center for creative collaboration. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young recorded their historic album 'Deja Vu,' with Jerry Garcia on "Teach Your Children." Eric Clapton jammed with the Band Santana, while they recorded their album, 'Abraxas.' Herbie Hancock recorded his best-selling jazz album, 'Headhunters' here."

What this small historical marker fails to mention, probably because of space constraints, is that a significant number of Rolling Stone's Top 500 albums were recorded in this studio including Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere by Neil Young with Crazy Horse, Déjà Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Electric Warrior by T.Rex, Tupelo Honey by Van Morrison, American Beauty by Grateful Dead, and those listed on this bronze marker. But this success didn't prevent the studios eventual close and demise.

In 1978, Heider sold the studio and its name to Filmways. In 1980, Filmways sold it to a partnership composed of Dan Alexander, Tom Sharples, and Michael Ward. The three partners renamed the business Hyde Street Studios, which still operates today and is now owned solely by Michael Ward. And all that remains of those Wally Heider Recording days is a sidewalk plaque that can easily be missed when walking through the Tenderloin. But we shouldn't feel too down about the end of the San Francisco Sound decades.

So even though we have our naysayers about the death of the San Francisco music scene and they could point to the end of the Heider recording era as an example of the beginning of the end — ultimately, we know that the music of San Francisco (past and present) is not only the soundtrack of the City by the Bay but of the nation as a whole. 

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About The Author

Juan De Anda

Juan De Anda

Juan De Anda is a cultural correspondent with a concentration in tourism, literature, and lifestyle and has been writing for SF Weekly since 2013. As an avid traveler, he enjoys discovering destinations abroad as well as the never-ending hidden gems of San Francisco. #DondeAndaJuanDeAnda?


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