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.