Live Music Musicians

“And Bring Your Own PA!”

As I continue to clean out my house, there are more artifacts from my past that make me reminisce about why I became a musician. One of the items that I am cleaning up and looking to sell is a small PA system.

Back in the mid 1980s, when everyone was forming a band, one of the stipulations was that someone in the band had to own a decent PA system. You needed it to practice the vocals, and more importantly, you need one to get a gig many times. Bar owners were willing to let any four kids with guitars and drums take a corner of the bar up for a night, thinking that they would bring in their friends who would drink and spend money. However, only established live music bars usually had a PA system to provide. Most dive bars told the band to bring their own.

Of course, to prove my worth as a reliable musician, I made sure that I had a small one handy. It served its purpose for the small 50-person dives, but for any larger bar that didn’t have a PA, you either looked to do a shared booking with some other band that did have a better PA, or you lost the gig. Back then, I had a mini-truck that I could haul a whole PA as well as my gear and a drum set around. I traded the truck days for a subcompact about the time that I left the electric band life for playing bluegrass.

Why I kept the PA system I don’t really know. Either I figured that one day I would need it for a gig, as if I was ever going to play in a band again, or was just too lazy to pull it out of my attic. The PA speakers were the biggest concern, in more ways than one. The two that I have were from the 80s, probably from Radio Shack, that I know that I bought used from someone. Covered in gray carpeting, they have 12-inch woofers. One has the original radial tweeter, and if I remember correctly, the other one had a blown tweeter that I replaced with a horn and some plywood. These are the small venue size PA speakers meant for basements or small dive bars, handling probably 100-150 watts total.

I have a few variants that I used for the mixer/amp configuration. The most useful proved to be a four-channel Kustom PA head. Small in size, 80 watts, it was easy to carry around. The downside was if I needed more than four microphones. I do remember connecting a six-channel ROSS mixer from the 70s to it for more flexibility, but it started to look like a mad scientist setup after a while. I also have a few power amps around that I would hard-wire into the system if I needed more power, but I do know that I had to either borrow or rent out larger speakers for those gigs.

The same situation was with monitors. I have a few homemade ones along with a compact Peavey pair that I would also use as main speakers for really small/solo acoustic gigs. I would get lots of snide remarks about my mismatched equipment, but I always said the same thing back: “Next time, YOU bring the PA!”

Finally, microphones and cords. I have well over a dozen dynamic mics laying around now, even after selling off some over the past few years. I have put more on Craigslist, hoping to clean house a bit. As for cords, those have always worn out or shorted out faster than you could buy new ones. I was a bit of a wiz with a soldering iron, so I could repair some of them, but not many. As for mic stands, those would occasionally disappear at gigs (i.e., get stolen) to the point where I was tired of replacing them. Over the years, I probably had 20 or so in my arsenal, and now I have two or three.

I really don’t ever see myself performing live again, especially with a band, in which I would need a PA system. I laugh because the bar scene has shrunk to about 10 percent of what it was when I was in my 20s playing in punk bands. I don’t miss much of it, especially working with other personalities. However, there are some memories within those PA speakers that will never go away.

Chew on it and comment.


By Matt Merta/Mitch Matthews

Musician and writer (both song and print) for over 30 years. Primarily interested in roots music (Americana, bluegrass, blues, folk). Current contributing writer for Fiddler Magazine, previous work with Metro Times (Detroit), Ann Arbor Paper and Real Detroit Weekly, as well as other various music and military publications. As songwriter, won the 2015 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest (Bluegrass Category, "Something About A Train," co-written with Dawn Kenney and David Morris) as well as having work performed on NPR and nominated for numerous Detroit Music Awards.

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