Ira Gale Story

 Childhood

From all accounts Ira Dennis Gale was a genius, able to “talk his way in and out of anything”.  He also tended to “stir the pot”, and may have enjoyed doing so occassionally.

Born on December 4th, 1942, Ira was the son on an accountant and his office manager wife (nee Garcin).  He had two younger siblings- Bonnie and Bruce Gale.   His uncle was an aerospace engineer.   The Gale family lived in the Hancock Park area of Los Angeles during his formative years, later moving to Sherman Oaks, California as a teenager.

Ira attended Hancock Park Elementary School, John Burroughs Jr. High, and Van Nuys High School prior to entering college.  His college yearbook page is at left.

Ira’s early school days were spent with the children of a number of musical luminaries, including Nat King Cole’s daughter Natalie, Oscar Levant’s (of Rhapsody in Blue) children, and Felix Slatkin’s (of Fox and Frank Sinatra’s Concertmaster fame) sons.  Of note, Felix’s son, Leonard Slatkin is now the conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra, and his other son, Frederick Zlotkin (who uses the original Russian spelling of the family name) is Principal Cellist for the New York City Ballet and the cellist for the Lyric Piano Quartet.

Much of his childhood was spent taking things apart and putting them back together again- an O’Keefe and Merritt range and Sunbeam toaster are clearly remembered by his sister.   Young Ira apparently had a fascination with glass bottles, and the family collected them so he could break them and listen to the sounds they would make.   Ira began piano lessons at age four and joined the school orchestra at Burroughs.

The family moved to Sherman Oaks, California during his Middle School years living in a hillside mid-century home with lots of glass and chrome, facing trees out into a canyon.  His father had a George Nelson desk.

(Anybody see a Lecson AC1 preamplifier when they squint?)

 

Van Nuys High School

(used as the set for Fast Times at Ridgemont High)
 

During his high school years, we was a member of the Science, Debate, and Latin Clubs, as well as the Future Engineers of America.  He worked at a summer job at UCLA (age 16-17), and ended up performing surgery on iguanas.  He had a device that analyzed sounds that he built in his bedroom when he was about 17 years old.

 

Ira as an Adult

Ira majored in Mathematics at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, CA, graduating in June 1964.  He was a member of the Pomona College orchestra.   Ira spent about half his time at nearby Scripps College studying music.

One of his Harvey Mudd classmates, Dr. Sao Win, also went on to become an icon in the hi fi business with his turntable and phono cartridge efforts.  After graduation, he moved to London.

 

Harvey Mudd College

Harvey Mudd is known as “nerd heaven” for engineers and has been the training ground for many of the world’s best.   The current school president is the only educator on Microsoft’s board of directors.   Note that the dorm room in the upper left of the picture was John Mayberry’s back in 1976!

                        

 S.S. Rotterdam leaving New York City

 Ira had to get to Europe somehow.  This elegant ship is now permanently berthed in Rotterdam and serves as a museum and a hotel.

            

Royal Academy of Music- London

Ira also attended the Royal Academy of Music in London.   He had sailed to London from New York on the Rotterdam in the summer of 1964.

Actually, he wasn’t initially accepted to the academy, but was invited to “audition” classes (of course, that’s not exactly what he told his parents).  But, in the end, he was accepted as a student.   He ended up playing the tympany drums.

 

Mayfair Fine Art (Opened 1969)

Ira started out as art dealer.  His gallery Mayfair Fine Art was located at  100 New Bond Street, London- now a Mephisto Store.   Gallery downstairs, flat upstairs.   This apparently started from a trip to Portobello Road, where he had acquired a drawing.

The gallery specialized in both Modern Artists and Renaissance pieces.   We have a Mayfair catalog, which is filled with Ira’s writings.

Per Bonnie Gale, “My father’s recollection of the opening was that, here was this beautiful wood floor Ira had installed, and everyone kept grinding out their cigarettes on it.”

Per Bruce Gale, “All of this caused me to recall when I first saw what was to become the GS401 Gale Loudspeaker.  I was visiting and staying with Ira sometime in the early 1970’s (was it 1970 or 1972, not exactly sure).  He had his art gallery, Mayfair Fine Art, with his beautiful female staff, but his entire wall of the living room in his “flat” was stacked to the ceiling with partially dismantled speakers.  (I slept on the black leather sofa on the opposite wall, wondering if the whole thing could come down on me).  I recall him saying that this whole “adventure” came about by accident.  He had been looking for a set of speakers, yet found nothing that he truly liked.  Too colored, not enough presence, poor imaging, etc.  So he embarked on the hobby-like project to build his own.  This wasn’t the first time he’d started something like this…

When he developed his Gale Electronics and Design Ltd products (that was the name of the company), he lived in Grosvenor Square in the Mayfair District. Here is a shot of his front door.

His flat was the one with the two windows. Whoever lived in the flat above Ira (met him, just don’t remember him) was a lucky guy. Ira gave him a pair of Gale Speakers as a gift.

Strangely enough, Ira also owned an art gallery on new Bond Street called Mayfair Fine Art. By sheer coincidence, I assume, there is a Mayfair Gallery located next to where he lived.  When I was there in the mid 70’s, he had partially disassembled speakers stacked from floor to ceiling. Only one of each kind, mind you, not stereo. Why? He told me it was a better test of imaging and spatial depth characteristics.

One of the two bedrooms had been converted to a drafting room.  Ira owned an Eames sofa- all his furniture was black and chrome.”

 

 

 

Pork (The Play)

 Pork played at London’s Roundhouse from August 2 – August 28th, 1971.

Per Bruce Gale, “Ira was involved in Andy Warhol’s play “Pork” during this era.  Although a commerical loss, Pork had some amazing downstream consequences for both David Bowie and The Police…   Pork ran both in London and in New York for short stints.

  • Ira and Andy Warhol, oh, not quite the highlight you’d image.  The play was called “Pork” and it was pretty crude from what I heard.  Believe it closed within a week.  Ira produced the play and was so convinced that it would be a smash that he didn’t rent the costumes, he BOUGHT them.  The play was from 1971 and I know I have a poster around somewhere.  Also, of note, Harvey Fierstein debuted in one run of this, not sure if it was the one that Ira produced, I was 16 at the time… what does a 16 year old remember?”

Andy Warhol’s PORK opened on May 5, 1971 at LaMama theater in New York for a two week run and was brought to the Roundhouse in London for a longer run in August, 1971. Pork was based on tape-recorded conversations between Brigin Berlin and Andy during which Brigid would play for Andy tapes she had made of phone conversations between herself and her mother, socialite Honey Berlin. The play featured Jayne County as “Vulva” and Cherry Vanilla as “Amanda Pork” (performed in the nude).

Warhol’s Pork starring Vanilla and transexual Wayne (now Jayne) County, is cited as a direct influence on Bowie’s change from floppy hatted folk singer to outrageous glitter queen in 71/72.  New Yorker Cherry Vanilla lived “the rock and roll life” and was instrumental in getting David Bowie his radio airplay in the USA.

Cherry Vanilla was the first female to front a rock band on the NY scene, ahead of Patti Smith and Blondie. Her high profile in NY was the impetus for Miles Copeland to invite her to England, using her as allure to attract attention to the then unknown band, The Police.

After parting ways with Bowie in the mid 70’s, she moved to London (in 1976), becoming part of the emerging punk scene and releasing two albums on RCA Records. The Cherry Vanilla Band consisted of bassist Gordon “Sting” Sumner, later replaced by Howard Finkel, drummer Stewart Copeland, later replaced by Michael Mancuso (who soon went on to achieve global success as The Police, with Andy Summers in Padovani’s place), guitarist (and then-boyfriend) Louis Lepore and keyboard player Zecca Esquibel O.  In 1980 she performed the narrative on Vangelis‘ “Not A Bit – All Of It

Miscellaneous

“By the way, Ira bought and/or tried to buy a restaurant or two.  He was a phenomenal cook, if you didn’t mind waiting a few hours for your meal.”- Bonnie Gale

Ira shared a European Patent with Michael Shain for an electronic protection system for computers as well:  http://www.freepatentsonline.com/EP0128672.html

Ira Gale passed away in Brookline, Massachusetts on May 10th, 1994.

6 Responses to Ira Gale Story

  1. When I first came across the 401 in 1979 I was told by Lucy Bartlett, who worked for Gale, that Ira was a ‘percussionist’ which probably explains why the speaker is particularly good at reproducing drums. She convinced me that the 401 was a considerable improvement on the Acoustic Research AR11s I was using at the time.

  2. Lucy Bartlett says:

    Hi Berris,
    Good to read you and be reminded of Gale – my introduction to Ira came when I was working at Haymarket Publishing on Hi Fi Sound magazine and in walked Ira to meet the editor. Soon after, he took me to lunch (rather excellent, as he did indeed love good food) and then invited me to join Gale Electronics & Design. I recall my first visit to his Mayfair flat, which was a jumble of black and chrome, bits of prototypes, piles of papers, among them Rembrandt etchings. Conversation was frequently interrupted by lengthy phone calls which might be anything from discussing investment for a new film production to an art fair in Basle. Ira was very proud of his gadgets and showed me a special machine he’d bought which was designed for medical use, stirring blood, which he’d adapted for making white sauces!
    I was thrown in at the deep end and sent off to trade shows in Europe, Japan and the US to demonstrate the Gale turntable and speakers and hugely appreciated the opportunities given to me at a time when UK hi fi manufacturing was (with some noticeable exceptions) pretty staid…
    Ira loved nothing better than to throw away the rule book and be a catalyst for change. As a boss, he could be charming and maddening in equal quantities, but life was certainly never dull!
    It must be about 40 years since Ira first started the business – high time for a celebration… I’m still in touch with many of the early team – Ray Churchouse, Ian Dampney, Nigel Hobden and David Lyth and we’ve talked of partying at the old factory in Bruton Place, now a Pizza Express – maybe 2012 is the time to do it…

  3. Mike O'Connell says:

    Ira hired me as his sales manager to launch a fairly cute pice of equipment for the retail trade. He’d merged a cash register with a PC which at the time was a WOW. This was the early 80’s and without knowing much of Ira’s background I was enthusiastic to get involved. We trawled the country with his prtotype, looking for a manufacturer but to no avail. I too had the honour of sleeping on his leather setee. We met with a bank manager and Ira secured a sizeable overdraft, we bgan to invest this capital by firstly buying Ira a very expensive pair of shoes and then going to see 42nd St. I was getting a little suspicious. After some months and a lot of promises we had to part company mainly due to the fact that I had not received a penny!
    He was obviously a genius but my lasting memory is that he was dishonourable.

  4. Laura David says:

    My mother was a friend of Ira’s when I was just a young girl. After Ira moved to London and was dealing in art he came over to the house and brought my mother a sketch which could be a valuable piece, I’m not sure. It was always believed to be. My mother passed away 30 years ago. Anyway, I have the sketch now and on a fluke was researching Ira. I am saddened to read that he has passed away as well. He sounded like an amazing person, with an amazing life that ended too soon. Sorry I didn’t really know him as I was much younger.
    LD, Pomona, Ca.

  5. BornAgain says:

    Lucy! Hi Lucy – I’m Peter Balcon – you may remember me as the long haired hippy who put magic mushrooms in the kettle at work and got various people somewhat tripped out one Christmas…
    I used to test the loudspeakers up above your heads! I’m intrigued to hear that you still know Nigel and Ian and David, and sorry to hear Ira has gone, although not entirely surprised.
    Yes, his flat was pretty impressive – must have been £14k worth of hifi, and that’s at 1970’s prices! He had a pair of gas filled Dayton Wright speakers, which were fairly stunning, and a nice AR 150W valve amp, which he lent to us upstairs for some music testing. Very nice!
    I hope you are keeping well. and that life has treated you kindly; I think I’m right in saying we all lusted after you every time you came upstairs!

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