The Beam is a unique percussion instrument made of an aluminum I-beam, which was designed to produce a long, sustained tone when struck with a soft mallet. Hart first discovered the potential of the I-beam while working on a construction site during a break from touring with the Grateful Dead in the early 1970s. He noticed that when he struck the beam with a hammer, it produced a sound unlike any other he had heard before - a rich, resonant tone that lingered in the air for several seconds.
Inspired by this discovery, Hart began experimenting with different sizes and shapes of I-beams, eventually settling on a 12-foot beam that produced the most pleasing tone. He added a resonator made of metal tubing and mounted the entire instrument on a wooden frame, creating a unique percussion instrument that he named "The Beam."
Hart's first major use of The Beam was for the soundtrack of the classic Vietnam War film "Apocalypse Now," directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The film's score, composed by Carmine Coppola and Francis Ford Coppola, featured several tracks that incorporated The Beam's haunting, otherworldly sound. The film's opening sequence, featuring a napalm strike set to the tune of The Doors' "The End," is particularly memorable for its use of The Beam's eerie, sustained tones.
After the success of "Apocalypse Now," Hart continued to experiment with The Beam and incorporate it into his work with the Grateful Dead. He used it extensively during the band's 1974 tour, where it became a staple of their live performances. In fact, one of the most famous recordings of the band's performances from this era is a version of their classic song "Eyes of the World" from the "One From The Vault" concert, which features an extended jam featuring The Beam prominently.
Over the years, Hart continued to refine and evolve The Beam, experimenting with different materials, shapes, and sizes. He even collaborated with fellow percussionist Zakir Hussain to create a larger, more elaborate version of the instrument, known as "The Big Beam," which measured an impressive 40 feet in length.
Hart's innovative approach to percussion and his use of instruments like The Beam helped to redefine the boundaries of rock and roll and expand the possibilities of what could be achieved with live music. His work with the Grateful Dead and other musicians has inspired countless musicians and fans over the years and cemented his status as one of the most important figures in the history of rock music.