Germersheim here we come

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The largest outdoor rock festival in German history was about to be invaded by the US Army in the form of Paul, Terri and friends. Fortunately we were friendly fire. In Hatching the PlotI detailed how I sold the idea of recording the Germersheim Music Festival to both the organizers and the US Army. Now it was time to execute the plan. I convinced the army the show organizers would provide the equipment and resources to record the show if the army would provide the reels of tape needed; which they readily agreed to. I then went back to the organizers and told them the army would agree to record the show, provide all the recording equipment and play it back on the European network, covering millions of listeners, if only they would provide me with a van to house the equipment, access to the stage for me and my crew, and the rights to record the proceedings; they readily agreed. Over the next few weeks I picked up the van, which turned out to be a stripped down Volkswagen camper and began installing the 16 channel mixing console I had hand built out of microphone preamps. It was half the size of the van long and on each side of the console I installed two large loudspeaker monitors I had lifted out of one of the radio station studios. Behind me an Ampex 300 half track recorder borrowed from the station. I had been informed I would not be allowed to use my own microphones to record the show. Instead, I could plug into the show's PA system which provided all the mics for singing and drums but did not include anything for the electric guitars and keyboards. In other words, everything with microphones but nothing with amplified music from the bands. Ouch, that wouldn't work. After explaining the problem to one of the principals in the show I was told "Maybe you can figure out a way to connect directly to their amps. But if you do, it cannot affect their amp's operation at all." That was an interesting problem and I went to my old friend and mentor from AFN's Stuttgart station Rudy Strobel for the answer. Herr Rudy Strobel really epitomized the perfection of German engineering and I called him to get advice on my problem. "What you need is an isolation transformer. This will never touch their equipment and connect only magnetically. It is perfect. How many do you need?" 10 seemed like a good number and so it was, 10 specially designed audio isolation transformers would be waiting for me in Stuttgart. These would tap into the musician's guitar amplifiers without affecting their sound. I was set and with my crew of 4, headed by Terri, we drove to Germersheim to record the 4-day event. Little did I realize that Herr Strobel's solution would not work and, in the end, spelled disaster for the project. I was able to park the van right behind the twin stages of the festival. When the first band started playing I knew we were in trouble. The sound coming from each of the connected instruments was distorted badly. Turning the channel's level controls up and down had no effect on the distortion. I was mystified at the time and it wasn't until later I realized my two fundamental mistakes: I was trying to feed a microphone preamplifier a line level signal (too loud) and the channels' volume control came AFTER the microphone preamplifier, not before. The Strobel transformers put out too hot of a signal and the sound was not good. Over the next days we recorded every single group including Humble Pie, Rory Gallagher, Atomic Rooster, Curved Air, the Kinks, Buddy Miles and many more,but not Pink Floyd who sent a large heavily muscled roadie to stand next to the van and make sure no recordings were made. With tapes in hand, we headed back to AFN Headquarters in Frankfurt in the hopes the engineers at the network wouldn't know a good recording from a bad recording and just accept them as is. Unfortunately, they were Germans and Germans not only know the difference but they are perfectionists. "This is schiesse. The network cannot play these. You have some, maybe a few, take them and play them on your program. This is not material we can accept." Dragging my tail between my legs, I collected up the 40 or so hours of tapes, put them back in the van and went back into headquarters to say my goodbyes. In the hallway I met one of the civilian newscasters I considered to be my friend: Milt Fullerton. Milt was a very nice guy but had a pretty serious conservative streak in him and absolutely did not like people who broke the rules. I did not know this of Milt and so I just happened to let him in on a little secret. Remember several posts ago I mentioned the army's strict dress code? One aspect of this dress code was the length of your hair. During the 70's every "hip" male wanted to grow their hair long and I was certainly one of them. Only, I was not allowed to. Some of my counterparts in the service purchased long hair wigs to look cool, but I had a better plan. I purchased the opposite: a short hair wig. This allowed me to grow my real hair long and, when in the presence of the military, I would simply put my hair up in bobby pins and wear the short hair wig. Brilliant. I let Milt peek under the wig to see my little secret. Tomorrow the end of this long tale. Unbeknownst to me, a firestorm was brewing in Munich and once it caught me, I would be ejected from Europe and sent packing to Columbus Georgia. For those interested in photos, here's a few showing the inside of the van with my console, the crowd, the van parked behind the stage and a closer look at the 16 channel mixing board and patch bay I built, the Ampex 1/2 track recorder behind that. Germersheim-4 Germersheim-3 Germersheim-1 Germersheim-2
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Paul McGowan

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