Thank You Mr. Judnich

Sound engineer John Judnich died in Fortuna, Calif., May 5th from liver cancer. Judnich, 67, may not have been a household name like Phil Spector or Bill Graham, but his contribution to rock ‘n’ roll was undeniable.

Many live acts of the ’60s – most notably The Beatles – dreaded live performance, detesting the sound and the inability to hear anything onstage. Sound rental companies relied upon an archaic technology that hadn’t been upgraded since the 1930s, and the P.A. systems were in no way prepared for the onslaught of The Who, Jimi Hendrix, or Cream.

According to promoter Sepp Donahower, live performance changed when he and his company, Pinnacle Productions, started leasing Shrine Exhibition Hall, near the Shrine Auditorium & Expo Center in Los Angeles. In 1967, there wasn’t much of a live scene in SoCal, and San Francisco was barely getting started.

Donahower needed a P.A. that could match the noise coming from Marshall stacks, and decided to track down a “brilliant, self-taught sound engineer” who was building a touring sound system for The Beach Boys and had built the sound system for the Whisky a Go Go.

“I told John Judnich that the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands deserve to play through the world’s greatest sound system and gave him a deposit to go build it,” Donahower wrote in his recollections of the sound man.

“The system consisted of identical array speaker cabinets containing the latest of James B. Lansing professional line of components – two D-130 bass speakers, a compact midrange 375HP driver and horn, and high frequency 075 ring radiators,” he said. “These compact cabinets could then be arranged and flown to make arrays that would work in any shape room. No one had done this before!”

Judnich also designed a studio board with separate EQ for each input and beefy power amps. To put it simply, Judnich’s system made rock ‘n’ roll shows a delight.

In ’68, Pinnacle transferred the sound system and its engineer to a partner. Judnich decided to name the operation Tycobrahe Sound Company after astronomer Tyco Brahe.

“John was always looking into the heavens through his telescope and loved astronomy. Maybe that was what inspired him to come up with creative solutions to so many things,” Donahower said.

Tycobrahe went on to become one of the largest sound businesses in the world, amplifying The Rolling Stones, The Who, and Black Sabbath, among other arena acts.

Judnich also engineered live sessions for Van Morrison, The Doors, and Hendrix, and designed the interior of Jerry Goffin’s Larrabee Studios.

He was a close confidant of comedian Lenny Bruce and, in 1966, discovered Bruce’s body after the entertainer suffered a heroin overdose inside his Hollywood Hills home.