- It was 1969. It seemed the sounds of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, the psychedelic rock Holy Land to which the Dead were revered almost as gods, had beamed to the Moon and beyond. Compared to virtually all electrified musical output to that point, music was louder and more urgent than ever before. Perhaps the drugs had something to do with it, but there was a vitality to music, something unprecedented that resonated for those who believed their generation’s moment had come.
There was just one problem. Even the day’s leading edge of amplification technology carried bands only to a point, before the mixes muddled. Put frankly, Garcia or Jimi Hendrix live, at their loudest, sounded chaotic—in a not-so-good way. Today, defenders of How Things Sounded in 1969 must face critics who argue that everything back then sounded unsound on account of these gear constraints. That’s not necessarily to question the pure, unbridled daring of baby boomer bands like the Dead, at least not in their prime. The point is that amp tech just wasn’t keeping up with their sonic ambitions.