Witness To History: Meet the man who recorded San Francisco's legendary bands
In 1969, Stephen Barncard’s first visit to San Francisco ended with a spontaneous visit to the Fillmore West.
“I’d never seen the Grateful Dead live before,” Barncard recalls. “I thought their records really were terrible sounding. So I wasn’t necessarily a fan of the band until I heard them live. … But I never figured I’d be working with them.”
“The Dead concert drew Barncard out of his native Missouri and back to California less than a year later. He knew he wanted to work in San Francisco, so when he touched down for the second time, he says he “got up and started walking around the city without much of a plan, went to a phone booth looked up recording.”
And there was Wally Heider recording on Hyde Street. Heider was a big name in the San Francisco recording scene of the 60s and 70s. He cut Woody Herman, The Who, and Jimmy Hendrix.
Barncard didn’t have much recording experience, but he wrote a letter to Heider asking for a job. And he got it.
“So I went back to LA, picked up my girlfriend, packed a truck full of stuff and with about 50 bucks in my pocket,” says Barncard. “It was just enough to get a cheap apartment right on Church Street and I started working at the studio. It was kind of a blur.”
Barncard was assigned to engineer Crosby Stills Nash and Young’s Déjå Vu sessions.
“It was quite a turning point because for the first time, I really got to see an incredible group of talented dudes practically write stuff in the studio and create these live performances in the room that were almost ready to go without vocals,” says Barncard.
Barncard went on to record David Crosby’s solo album. He worked long hours on Hyde Street, recording the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty by day and tracked Crosby’s “If I Could Ever Remember My Name” by night.
“David would host playback parties, sometimes we wouldn’t do anything but playback stuff. It was the best hang in town – and the who’s-who of San Francisco music and beyond would be hanging out at David’s session and getting high and playing,” Barncard remembers.
Barncard says there were at least two or three songs on Crosby’s album that were born out of these sessions.
Barncard recorded and produced many more albums for David Crosby. And other artists like Van Morrison, Jennifer Warnes, and Don Henley. He still produces records independently from his own home studio in the Bay Area, but will always remember the first few years of his career at Wally Heider Recording.
“If I wanna come somewhere to do a record, this is where I’d do it,” he says.