In 1973, Rick Reed recorded Mudcrutch's eight-song demo in the living room of Benmont Tench's family home, recordings that quickly led to the signing of Mudcrutch to Shelter Records in 1974, resulting in Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers debut in 1976. Here's the story of Rick Reed in Gainesville and how the session went down.
Iím a musician; I started playing electric guitar in junior high, played flute and marched cymbals in the high school band, and was a voice major in college. I grew up in Pittsburgh, graduated high school in '63, then went to Oberlin Conservatory of Music. My class was the first one in Oberlin's new conservatory building, beautifully outfitted with some real high quality studio gear, Ampex reel-to-reel, expensive German condenser microphones, and I stumbled into the room as it was being installed, the guy in charge saw my interest and hired me as a student assistant. I didn't get a degree from Oberlin, but I learned a lot about audio recording.
I left school and ended up as a radio announcer in Pensacola, Florida, then at Ft. Walton Beach, I spoke on the air but I wasn't a DJ. This was in '66-67. One of the radio station's ad clients was a music store owned by the band director of the local high school. He asked me to help the band prepare for an upcoming state band contest, and he was looking for a musical instrument salesman to go out in the boonies to promote his band instrument business. While I was working for him, I was at a state high school band contest in Tallahassee and there was a guy with a recording van. His name was Ron Stancil, and he was from St. Petersburg and wanted someone to cover the north part of the state for him. He set me up with a portable Ampex recording system and a couple of really good mics so I started going around recording high school bands with the idea of getting them to buy a couple hundred records of their concerts and band contest performances. This was around '68.
I ended up co-managing their second music store in Panama City with the owner's son, but that didn't work out too well. A friend of mine, a graduate of the U of F, knew Marvin Kay, who was looking for a manager for his new music store location in Gainesville. He had a big music store in Jacksonville, called Marvin Kay's Musicenter, and his dad had a clothing business there. I think the music store was originally an outgrowth of a pawnshop.
When I moved to Gainesville in '71, Marvin Kay's was just a small store by the Millhopper Shopping Center, with just a few guitars on the wall and some Kustom amps, and he wanted to really expand his retail business. I came to Gainesville to start that, then we moved the store to a big building on 13th St. near the Gainesville Mall that we shared with a piano and organ store out of Jacksonville.
Even at the little store in the Millhopper area Mudcrutch would come around, and Stan Lynch, they were always looking for something. I knew a lot of the rock 'n' roll players because they'd be looking for certain Ernie Ball strings or looking for any used Les Paul guitars or an old Fender amp. Keith McAllister [Mudcrutch roadie] would occasionally come out and ask questions about audio. I hired Sandy Stringfellow to work at the 13th St. store, and in 1973 opened my own stereo shop called ďaudio etc.Ē in the Publix shopping center, and did location recording on the side. The recording technique was fairly simple 2 mic setup, trying to capture the soundfield of a live acoustic performance. The key was carefully placing the microphones.
I had an Ampex AG440B-2 half-track stereo recorder that ran tape at 7.5 or 15 inches per second, and I used Ampex 456 tape. I had a Stevenson Interface mixing console with 16 input modules. For location recording I had bought a 1973 Dodge Maxivan and built all the equipment into it except the recorder. The tape deck was in a console with wheels and I could roll it in and out of the van.
The Mudcrutch sessions were the only rock 'n' roll multiple microphone recording I had done, everything else had been just two microphones on tall stands in an auditorium, recording concert bands or choral performances. Those mics were a pair of AKG 414s, and later I had a pair of Neumann U-47 tube mics. I also did some instructional recordings for the people at Strictly Folk music store, how to play slide guitar, how to play mandolin.
Let's be honest, it was really a hobby that I made a living at, I was into music and I wanted a way to enjoy my hobby to the fullest, hearing other people make music, capturing it with really neat audio stuff and going home and playing it on really high-end audio gear, it was a real kick. At home I had the Magneplanar Tympani III speakers.
Sandy Stringfellow hung with all these guys and he also worked at my audio store, and he suggested the idea of recording a live demo tape to Tom, convinced him to give it a try. And he agreed.
I pulled into the Tench driveway, a big driveway, and I had this big single cable, known as a "snake," that I reeled into the living room, it had a terminal box at the end with inputs for 16 microphones. Keith was saying put eight mics on the drums, but that wasn't going to be possible with only 16 inputs to work with. I had five AKG 451s, a pair of AKG 414s, and I probably used some of Mudcrutch's mics.
We put microphones on the Tench grand piano and the guitar amps, Keith was helping me understand how he would mic them for a concert, then he and I sat in the truck out in the driveway and tried to get a decent mix as the band played. After the first few takes the band would come out to the truck and we'd make a few adjustments. We recorded a few hours a day for two days that way. We left everything set up in the living room after the first day, so the second day we just had to plug the "snake" back into the truck and start recording again. Then the band came up to my house and we did the editing with everyone's input, in one afternoon, and created a master tape with leader tape between each cut, there were eight songs, then I made reel-to-reel copies on 7" reels for them to take out to wherever.
I was paid $200, Tom wrote a check. I should have gotten a percentage! [laughs].
I do remember one thing about Tom, he was no-nonsense, which really stood out at the time. During the playback and editing he seemed to be real tuned-in to making it happen in an organized, efficient way. It was all business.
My next memory is Tom calling me after they'd gotten the record deal and saying he needed to come out to the house to retrieve all the out-takes from the sessions.
The last time I saw Mudcrutch was the farewell concert at the University Auditorium, I was invited by Keith to sit with him down in front. I had to leave after the second song because it was so loud my ears were just bleeding at that point.
One of the biggest kicks for me was when I stumbled on the "Playback" boxed set and one of the songs was on it ["On The Street"].