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Stage Monitoring For Captain & Tennille At The MGM Grand In Las Vegas, Circa 1979

From the files of the late, great Recording Engineer/Producer (RE/P) magazine, an October 1979 in-depth profile of the monitoring system and approach of a popular music act of the era.

The fact is, musicians are becoming more demanding in their requirements for good monitors and monitoring systems are growing in complexity and sophistication to satisfy this demand. The trend is to more and more independent mixes on stage and finer control of these mixes.

Of course, there will always be shows that are best controlled by a simple monitor send pot on the house console — thank goodness. But many systems which are now appearing can be much more complicated and difficult to operate than the house console. It is no longer a place to train future house mixers nor is it a position for the faint hearted. It is a highly specialized sound system in itself — complete with its own unique set of problems and solutions whose ultimate purpose is to provide an environment on stage that totally supports the artist acoustically, musically and emotionally.

The most complex system I’ve encountered to date is owned by Captain and Tennille. Designed and operated by Rodney Pearson, the system utilizes 15 separate output channels, 15 amplifiers, 18 speaker cabinets and even includes an intercom for onstage communication between the monitor mix operator and the musicians. The system was recently set up in Captain and Tennille’s Rumbo Recorders facility in Canoga Park while the band was in rehearsal for an upcoming Las Vegas appearance at the MGM Grand Hotel.

In discussing the system with Rodney, I quickly learned that Daryl Dragon (the Captain), and Toni Tennille’s dedication to high quality sound is evident not just in their monitor system, but also extends to their concert touring systems, their first class recording studio and their Las Vegas showroom engagements. The key word that kept coming up in our discussion was “consistency” and is one of the most important reasons why a system of this size and complexity ultimately works.

Captain & Tennille
Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille, 1976.

Pearson is certainly no stranger to the sound reinforcement business. He started his career with BBC, in London, and eventually came to the States where he went to work for Stanal Sound as a house mixer on tours for Liza Minnelli, The 5th Dimension, Paul Simon, Mac Davis, Dolly Parton and numerous others. He then traveled with Mac Davis as an independent mixer and eventually started working with The Captain and Tennille when they went to England to do a television special a few years ago. It was at this point that he started working with them on their monitor system.

Prior to Rod’s arrival, Daryl had his own onstage monitor system which was based on a Yamaha PM-1000 console (16 in by 4 out) that he was using for a keyboard mixer. He fed a few other instruments through it as well and routed them through all four outputs to separate monitor speakers. Basically he wanted to mix his own monitors and was quite capable of the task — stemming no doubt from the necessity of having to do so at the Smokehouse, in Encino, California, where he and Toni first started out. In those days there were no roadies or monitor mixers.

Two outputs from his PM-1000 also fed the house system in a novel manner: the keyboards that Daryl played with his left hand were mixed together on one bus and the right hand keyboards went down the other line, thus giving the house mixer some control over the sound.

Toni Tennille performing at the White House, 1976.

Basically, the present system all grew up around Daryl’s monitors and then expanded to include the whole band. For several reasons the decision was made to custom build their own system from scratch instead of renting a system only when they needed it. From his experience while working for Stanal Sound and with other sound rental companies, Rodney didn’t feel he’d have complete control of a rented monitor system. Based on a situation he had with Mac Davis where in one 10-day stretch he had used 10 different sound systems from five different companies. He observed that the house generally wasn’t too much trouble but the monitor mixer had all kinds of problems since there was no repeatability.

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Captain and Tennille had shows coming up in places of varying sizes and acoustics (i.e., state fairs, arenas, Las Vegas-type showrooms, theaters-in-the round and smaller theaters). They felt they would have gotten different gear for each venue depending on the specific monitor equipment available. Obviously, this would not have given them what they were really looking for which was consistency in the monitors. The decision was made to develop their own onstage set-up while continuing to rent the main house system since they knew that the house sound would change depending on the venue and that was part of the concept.

For instance, they had a segment of a tour where they did theaters-in-the-round and had Randy Weitzel from Clair Brothers mix the house sound with a Yamaha PM-1000-32 that Clair supplied. Captain and Tennille supplied virtually everything else, including McCune Sound Service’s SM-4B hanging speaker system, specifically developed for theatre-in-the-round shows. In Las Vegas, they augmented the house sound with speakers at stage level to give more of a feeling of sound coming from the performers rather than from above the stage where the house speakers are usually located. A Clair Brothers S-4 system was used for state fairs and large venues but throughout the tour they maintained a consistency of sound on stage for the performers by using their own monitoring system at every show. Furthermore, Daryl’s concern that the sound in the house be consistent with their recorded sound was so strong that he has his studio recording engineer, Roger Young, operate the controls of the house console.

Before that tour could start, however, the group needed to assemble a system that would be flexible enough to adjust to these different acoustical environments and roadworthy enough to withstand the many thousands of miles the tour would take them.

The Speakers

Rodney’s intention was to design a workable system for Daryl and then adapt it to work for everyone else. He started out by doing some research using a 24-track tape that they had recorded live at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. They played various instrument tracks through different monitors and checked to see how well the speakers reproduced these individual instruments.

Daryl was especially concerned with getting a good kick drum sound and the final tests were to determine which woofer could best reproduce it. They used a two-way monitor and kept changing the woofer until they were satisfied. By this time they had already decided on the high frequency element they wanted to go with — the Emilar EH-800 coupled to an Emilar EA-175 16-ohm driver.

The woofer continued to be in question, but a decision was made soon after they started adding other instruments on top of the kick drum sound. Adding the conga really started showing the difference between speakers and led them to choose a Yamaha woofer. A cabinet was then designed to house the woofer and horn. They had also picked up some monitors made by TASCO which were used with success at Harrah’s Club in Lake Tahoe. It used the same Emilar driver but with a different horn — the Emilar EH-500 — and a JBL 2220 woofer which was subsequently replaced with the Yamaha (Figure 1).

Figure 1

There are certain things that are unique to this band and one of them is that the basis of their monitors is a good tight kick drum to keep everyone in time. The system needed to deliver a fair amount of kick without sounding boomy and out of control. This being achieved the rest of the system was des igned around it.

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Some of the speakers are bi-amped while others have passive crossovers but the basic speaker elements are the same. Rod first used a Crown VFX-2 variable crossover to find the optimum turnover point. He then ordered a White type 4016-800 Hz crossover with an 18 dB per octave rolloff. The passive crossovers used in a few of the monitors are made by Histrionics and work well.

The speaker system was designed to sound good to start with and does not require a lot of equalization. According to Rodney, “we didn’t take a system and say ‘we can make it sound good’. It had to sound good to start with. When EQ is found to be necessary it is done with a combination of ear and real time analysis using the lnovonics Model 500 analyzer which I’m very happy with.” Orban parametrics (model 622-8) are available for use on each channel but are used only when necessary.

Generally, the units are in the circuit in the bypass mode and Rod hasn’t noticed any coloration or other problems by leaving them in. On occasion he will not connect through the unit at all — for instance, in the case of the bass player whose signal is not put through his own monitor and there is little danger of feedback. In a situation like the conga player’s, however, where his signal is fed back to him through a close by monitor, then the parametric is used to cut down on feedback. The units aren’t used much for EQ purposes as this can be handled adequately from the EQ section in the board.

However, Rod and company don’t believe in a lot of equalization. They chose their microphones as carefully as they chose their speakers — with an ear to faithfully reproducing the sound of each instrument as it occurs at the source. In a system as complex as this one is, the fewer paths that a signal takes and the fewer modifications that are made to it, the better it‘s ultimately going to sound.

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