Issue 145

Issue 145

Issue 145

Frank Doris

Recently we received an e-mail stating that “Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF) as we have all known it will be no more.” I felt sadder and more disappointed than I thought I ever would be, though I suspected the news was coming. The show was a wonderful celebration of high-end audio and emblematic of why audiophiles do what we do. Show organizers Marjorie Baumert and Marcie Miller said, “Thank you for 17 years of friendship and support. It has meant more than you can possibly imagine.” The feeling is mutual.

Copper is proud to introduce new contributor Larry Jaffee. He’s the author of the upcoming book, Resurrection: How Record Store Day Led to the Most Improbable Comeback of the 21st Century, slated for April 2022. Larry is also co-founder of Making Vinyl, a B2B conference on the rebirth of the vinyl manufacturing industry.

In this issue: Anne E. Johnson profiles jazz violin legend Stuff Smith and the bedrock country music of Lefty Frizzell. Wayne Robins gets enthusiastic about some new New Orleans sounds. Ray Chelstowski interviews the masterful folk singer-songwriter Dar Williams. J.I. Agnew offers Part Two of his interview with Martin Theophilus and the mind-boggling Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording. Russ Welton ponders the principle of acoustic levitation. John Seetoo gives us Part One of his series on Christian music pioneer Phil Keaggy. Ken Sander enjoys some down time between tours. Rich Isaacs can’t live without more self-help records.

Tom Gibbs reviews SACD remasters from King Crimson. B. Jan Montana moves ahead with his motorcycle journey to Sturgis, and Rudy Radelic continues his retrospective of keyboard wizard Lyle Mays. Cliff Chenfeld recommends some sweet summer songs. Ed Kwok concludes his comprehensive overview of achieving high-quality computer audio. Larry Jaffee rebuilds his vinyl collection. Russ Welton interviews the astoundingly talented guitarist and film composer Michael Baugh. Our Mindful Melophile, Don Kaplan, considers Mister Mister and the Misses. We conclude the issue with raw power, dancing daze, and dogged determination, and get to the point.

Staff Writers:

J.I. Agnew, Ray Chelstowski, Cliff Chenfeld, Jay Jay French, Tom Gibbs, Roy Hall, Rich Isaacs, Anne E. Johnson, Don Kaplan, Don Lindich, Tom Methans, B. Jan Montana, Rudy Radelic, Tim Riley, Wayne Robins, Alón Sagee, Ken Sander, Larry Schenbeck, John Seetoo, Dan Schwartz, Russ Welton, WL Woodward, Adrian Wu

Contributing Editors:
Ivan Berger, Steven Bryan Bieler, Harris Fogel, Robert Heiblim, Ken Kessler, Ed Kwok, Stuart Marvin, Bob Wood

“Cartoon Bob” D’Amico

James Whitworth, Peter Xeni

Parting Shots:
James Schrimpf, B. Jan Montana, Rich Isaacs (and others)

Audio Anthropology Photos:
Howard Kneller, Steve Rowell

Frank Doris

Paul McGowan

Advertising Sales:
No one. We are free from advertising and subscribing to Copper is free.

 – FD

Getting to the Point

Getting to the Point

Getting to the Point

Rudy Radelic
Zabriskie Point, California, in Death Valley National Park.

Suspending Disbelief: The Potential of Acoustic Levitation

Suspending Disbelief: The Potential of Acoustic Levitation

Suspending Disbelief: The Potential of Acoustic Levitation

Russ Welton

Acoustic manipulation is a technique that can be used in medical applications, such as controlling a miniature camera within a human body, or removing a kidney stone. Call it “acoustic levitation.” It works by using multiple ultrasonic transducers whose phase can be controlled, resulting in interference patterns that can trap and move small particles.

Could this technology have applications in audio? Could it be used to physically show where standing waves occur in a listening room? Do you wear lossy clothing when listening to music? Just what is acoustic levitation anyway and how does it benefit us already? To find out, Copper interviewed the insightful scientists Dr. Rick Weber and Dr. Chris J. Benmore of the Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Illinois.

Russ Welton: Could you tell us about your background in physics as it relates to acoustics?

Dr. Rick Weber: My background is in materials science, with an emphasis on non-equilibrium materials – supercooled liquids, glasses and amorphous compounds. I worked with a company called Intersonics that developed an acoustic levitator that was flown on the Space Shuttle, and started using the technology for research in the lab.

Dr. Rick Weber.

Dr. Rick Weber.


The company started selling an acoustic levitator instrument for materials research in 2006.  We collaborate closely with Chris on materials experiments at the Argonne National Laboratory Advanced Photon Source. We have a very good synergy of capabilities, interests and areas where there is a strong need for acoustic manipulation technology such as pharmaceutical research.

Dr. Chris Benmore: My background is in physics, I also have a strong interest in liquid, glassy and amorphous materials. My training is in neutron scattering (at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Argonne) and high-energy synchrotron x-ray diffraction (at the Advanced Photon Source in Argonne). We started working with Rick to help develop his acoustic levitator for x-ray experiments to be used as a “sample holder,” around the time the company MDI (Materials Development Inc.) started to sell them. X- rays and ultrasound are used to analyze the suspended materials’ properties for medical applications. The main interest since then has been in pharmaceuticals, as it mimics what happens to a droplet in a spray dryer – a device that produces dry powder from a liquid.

Dr. Chris Benmore.

Dr. Chris Benmore.


RW: When did you first discover and get involved in acoustic levitation?

DR. RW: Around 1988 at Intersonics.

CB: (In) 2006 when we started to incorporate them into our x-ray experiments.

RW: What have been some of the greatest challenges in building these acoustic levitation systems?

DR. RW: For best results we use a high-Q (narrow tuning bandwidth) transducer that is driven at a precise resonance to put out a high sound pressure level over a narrow frequency band. Since the resonant frequency changes slightly as the system warms up, it needs active tracking. Stray reflections disrupt the sound field and can cause instabilities. Reflections need to be controlled by using sound absorbers and by the geometry of the set up.

RW: How would you describe standing wave resonance, and please explain why this phenomenon is such a good thing in this application?

DR. RW: We use an interference technique that creates a standing wave along the direction of sound propagation, between two active transducers operating at the same frequency. This approach also enables us to shift the levitation node position by electronically controlling the relative phase of the two sound waves by introducing a small frequency difference between the sound sources. Digital signal processing really helps, since doing these things in analog is difficult or sometimes not possible at all.


RW: How is your research currently being utilized, and helping in the medical field?

DR. RW: A lot of emerging drug compounds have very low solubility, since they are normally very stable crystals. Levitation has enabled us to make high-solubility glassy forms in many cases. This is an active area of pharmaceutical research being supported by the National Institutes of Health, and industry, along with university research labs.

CB: Levitating pharmaceutical compounds in an x-ray beam allows us to understand where the atoms are during the compound’s transition from a droplet to a glass. If the drug compound crystallizes, it loses its effectiveness, so by being able to understand why and how it remains in a glassy state is important in designing effective pharmaceutical formulations with high solubility.

RW: Tell us about the advancement of similar x-ray technologies such the Argonne Advanced Photon Source project.

DR. RW: Argonne has one of the most powerful x-ray sources in the world. It enables us to measure atomic structure in a few seconds, instead of the few hours it would take in a normal lab system. It is about the only way to “see” how a process takes place as it is happening on an atomic scale – with in-situ measurements during processing.

CB: The Advanced Photon Source produces very high energy x-rays, ~100 keV, that are able to pass through a levitated droplet and provide information on its atomic structure. The lack of any container makes the signal very clean and also enables the levitated droplet to more easily form a glass there are no container walls for it to crystallize on.

RW: There is much in the way of room audio correction software in the market. Could acoustic levitation technology be used to identify poor room acoustics?

DR. RW: If you levitate an array of ~2 mm diameter Styrofoam balls and turn the acoustic output of the device down so that they are just floating, the balls are very sensitive to small external forces. This might be a way to map out standing waves in a more observable way than probing a room with a microphone.

Suspended polystyrene balls.


RW: The existence of standing waves in a listening room may be perceived in a negative light by some audiophiles, because of their resultant nodes, say at 50 Hz for example, where there are nulls or area of sound cancellation at certain positions in a typical music listening room. Other than moving your seating position to avoid sitting in a null, what would you advise?

DR. RW: The standing wave is caused by interference between sounds, either from two sources and/or reflected sound and a source. Moving the sound source speaker might help. It might not eliminate the standing wave but it could change its location or possibly change its frequency slightly. Electronic control of phase, might help, but this could introduce its own colorations to the sound. I have heard speakers that can adapt to a room by adjusting their characteristics to generate the “best” sound. But it gets you back to the old problem – do you want something that sounds good and musical and doesn’t wear you out after an hour of listening, or are you seeking some kind of “acoustic truth” in the sound? It can be very subjective sometimes, if the components in the system are all basically doing a good job.

RW: I have seen levitated objects at the point of a node being moved by changes in frequency. Could transducers be built to move nodes to where you want them to occur in a room? That is, so they would not be in your listening position or where a problematic null may occur.

DR. RW: Control of relative phase determines the position of the levitation node. If the transducers are driven at slightly different frequencies, then a traveling wave at the difference frequency moves the node. It seems likely that controlling standing waves in a room would require control of phase, as well as room geometry and use of sound absorbing material. Digital signal processing (DSP) opens up all sorts of possibilities, including sound cancellation, and actively controlling the phase of different frequency bands.

Acoustic levitator control panel.

Acoustic levitator control panel.


It really depends how far you are willing to move away from the studio mix. One issue with typical home listening rooms is that they are “dynamic,” in the sense that people move around, wear lossy or reflective clothes, and are subject to other variations that can affect the sound. The listener is part of the equation. I’ve had reflections off my glasses cause instabilities in a levitated sample on a few occasions. [At least one audio reviewer, Robert E. Greene, recommends removing your glasses when doing serious listening – Ed.]

RW: Could you see a possible future where this technology may be used to manage recorded music itself, to optimize its playback for given room dimensions?

DR. RW: Our transducers can output up to about 160 dB at 22 kHz, using piezo drivers and optimized horn designs. We have built phased arrays using 40 kHz transducers, but the precision of the sound field is not as good even though the wavelength is shorter. Applications in music playback could use phased arrays to create 3-D imaging. Interference patterns between the sound waves would set up regions of high and low intensity, so that sounds could be heard only at very localized points. To an extent this happens in stereo sound reproduction. A phased array could provide even more precise location of sounds. A practical issue would be bandwidth – we typically aim for high Q, so driving even 50 Hz of resonance leads to a large drop in amplitude. A broadband audio frequency phased array might have some interesting capabilities for new types of sound experiences. Phasing would be frequency dependent so it would need to adapt its properties in some way to accommodate program material. Definitely some interesting possibilities but they start to move further from the source material and into sound processing.

RW: What do you see for future applications of this acoustic levitation technology?

DR. RW: Various types of levitation are currently used for research. Acoustic levitation is good for “soft matter” – pharmaceutical materials, water-based solutions, and organic solvents and compounds like polymers and oils. It is a useful tool for investigating how processing affects materials, and for use in characterizing them. Long-term, research will continue to be an important application. We have talked to several people about using the technology for food and beverage service applications – which would be a novelty and something out of the ordinary. Maybe now that restaurants are opening again we can resume some of those conversations.

CB: In terms of research, there will always be a need to steadily levitate or move objects without them being in a container, i.e., when handling toxic or reactive samples. A really neat application I reviewed recently was a non-invasive application to remove kidney stones, using a multi-element array operating at 1.5 MHz. The array could trap small objects and move them inside pig bladders! Click on the following to read relevant papers from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science:

A sound option for the removal of kidney stones

Noninvasive acoustic manipulation of objects in a living body

RW: How do you personally most enjoy listening to music?

DR. RW: A dangerous question! I listen to a lot of music. Mostly Red Book CDs, along with vinyl, and some streaming. Live music whenever possible. I bought my first good system from The Sound Organisation when they were by London Bridge and I was a grad student. I still have the Linn LP12/Ittok turntable/arm combination with a couple of upgrades. My amplification is a Naim “chrome-bumper” 32/5-Hi-Cap 250 updated by Chris West, and some very old Linn Sara speakers on Sound Organisation stands. I had a Linn CD12 CD player but it broke and Linn won’t fix them anymore, so now (I have) an Esoteric K-03Xs – very good but perhaps not quite as musical as the CD12 on its best days. My office system is a Linn Ikemi CDP disc player, Logitech streamer, Tektron 300b single ended triode amp and Harbeth LS3/5A loudspeakers – a different sound style that is exceptional for vocals and midrange. Alyssa Allgood sounds almost as good as she does on stage at Winter’s Jazz Club!

Martin Theophilus of The Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording, Part Two

Martin Theophilus of The Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording, Part Two

Martin Theophilus of The Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording, Part Two

J.I. Agnew

Martin Theophilus is the Executive Director of the Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording (MOMSR), a private collection of recording machines, tapes and other materials, along with a companion website. The site contains a wealth of information and photographs of vintage gear. J.I. Agnew interviewed Martin at length. Part One appeared in Issue 144, and the second part of the interview is presented here.

J. I. Agnew: What are the challenges of starting and maintaining a museum dedicated to vintage sound recording technology?

Martin Theophilus: Winning over folks to the vision is critical. However, it always comes down to funding.

One of our ideas was to co-locate with other Austin, Texas non-profits. [Our efforts to put this in place] began in July 2013 with folks from the Austin Museum Partnership, the Austin Museum of Popular Culture (which had a huge collection of music posters in a small space), and the Texas Museum of Science and Technology, which is no longer open. We met with a man, Jim Rankin, who had 500 antique radios. There is a small Texas Music Museum in Austin. It primarily has old Texas sheet music, some records and a number of acoustical machines they’re afraid to display for fear they’ll get broken or stolen. Then there’s Jim Cartwright, whose two-story Austin home is absolutely full of hundreds of antique Victrolas. These are all entities that were already operating on bare bones with no significant funding. Retail space in Austin was becoming unaffordable for them to survive.

We thought that creating a space that continually attracts new visitors, as well as getting return traffic, was essential. That was our goal for the two studios and [we also wanted] a performance space with a 1950s-[style] cafe.

Martin Theophilus.

JIA: Has the museum attracted the interest you had anticipated? 

MT: The response exceeded expectations; however, follow-through was disappointing. [The] media coverage was excellent. The Austin NBC affiliate covered our efforts three times. CBS, once. Texas Music Magazine wrote an article and gave us free ads. The Audio Engineering Society profiled the Museum. Local print media released stories.

The Texas Music Office director Casey Monahan was a strong supporter and provided great resources. Strangely, the Austin Music Office staff completed a tour and never helped at all.

We were inundated with inquiries. To this day I receive multiple inquiries every day for tape recorder repair resources, recorder donation offers (which I no longer accept unless they are truly unique) and [a] whole range of historical magnetic recording questions. I love the folks who worked in the recording community and who share wonderful stories. They also often clarify manufacturer information on our website, or they send [stories and information] about their work with Ampex, Studer and all the other companies.

TEAC Corporation of Japan contacted me, asking for photos of a very early recorder that we have and they didn’t. TEAC then provided a short story about our museum and linked to it, and released it in Asia, Europe and North America. Their advertising executive said he thought TEAC could do some joint promotion with us. He said he would bump it up the chain. A couple weeks later he said the top TEAC folks said they were interested, but only after our museum was in a permanent public facility.


MCI (later Sony) JH-110, Sony APR-5003 (with time code indicator) and Otari MX-5050 recorders.


There were other things like that. The Illinois Institute of Technology (ITT) had all of Marvin Camras’ early work in magnetic recording. plus his personal belongings. I was contacted by their curator. He said he was given a mandate by ITT that all [of] Marvin Camras’ artifacts and personal belongings needed to go as they were repurposing the building. [He asked,] “ITT will keep several of his patented items, but I have to find a home for the rest. Do you want them?” “Yes!” “Okay, I’ll finish the inventory next week and provide a list and we’ll arrange to send them to you.” Four weeks went by, and he called. Turns out [that] after ITT saw the list they decided to keep it all and divide it amongst their various buildings.

Before he passed away, I had several great conversations with Rusty Paul, Les Paul’s son. He loved the Museum’s plan and said Austin would be the perfect place for his Dad’s eight-track Ampex, “The Octopus.” He [told me], get into a permanent facility and I’ll loan it to your Museum for a while.

Eric, a physician in Iowa, contacted me and said that he was retiring and moving, and his wife was encouraging him to donate his tape recorder collection. He said he was inventorying it and would send me a summary. I asked [him] how many machines he had, and [he answered that he was] actually not sure. However he’d worked on all of them and they were [in] excellent [condition]. A month went by, and he sent an inventory of almost 500 recorders. We didn’t have a building [at the time], but our board discussed it and decided a couple of us would fly up and rent U-Haul trucks to bring the collection back and place them in storage. He had a bit of everything, including a six-foot-tall recorder that was intended for a US aircraft carrier and never installed.

A few weeks later, I got a call from Eric’s wife. Turns out, now that he was retired, and as he began inventorying and messing with the recorders, he decided to keep them. They were staying in their home. She was secretly calling [without his knowledge] to [tell me] he was going on a trip, and while he was gone, she was going to have shelves installed for his collection. What should she build for him? Eric is now active on Facebook groups [dedicated to tape recorders].

Sony TC-777 tape recorder, one of Martin’s favorites. It came from a corporate boardroom and is as new. Martin carried the ad for this recorder in his wallet in college and aspired to own one, but settled for the Sony TC-600 because of its lower cost.


We were offered some of Alan Lomax’s artifacts if we were successful in creating the Museum.

JIA: What were the circumstances that caused you to take everything back to a private collection, rather than bringing everything into a museum? What happened?

MT: All our funding applications were being turned down. One of the most significant was a grant proposal to the Moody Foundation. We made the initial cut. However, in the end they said there had been floods in Texas, and they were accepting grant requests to help disabled children and create historical art displays. So, [we couldn’t compete with that kind of need]. We received suggestions that we start pitching the museum in Oklahoma City, Nashville and other locations. One recommendation was that we build the collection into two semi-trucks, then drive around the country giving presentations at schools and colleges.

At the end of five years, my passion was waning. I realized the push for funding had taken me away from the basic enjoyment of working with the recorders. I hadn’t even dusted the collection for six months. So our board met and they voted unanimously that over the five years, we’d exhausted the attempt to create the Museum. They all said we gave it our best effort! It was [also] felt that if we’d had some famous [celebrity] memorabilia, maybe things would have been different.

JIA: Has this experience affected your perspective and aims for the future of your collection and museum in any way?

MT: I no longer actively pursue a [location] for the collection. [But] I’m always an optimist, and with the current interest in reel-to-reel tape recorders. who knows. I understand the desire for studios to add the “analog” sound. However, I did not anticipate the [emergence of the] individual collectors that are now appearing. So, who knows? I felt that we always needed to connect with someone who loved the old recorders and had the resources to make it happen.

JIA: What is your own background and how has this contributed to the Museum?

MT: I graduated from Sul Ross [University] with a Bachelor of Music degree, with the intent of being a Texas band director. However, I’d worked as a police dispatcher during college, and was drawn to law enforcement. I was hired as a state police officer for Sul Ross, but the pay was low and I couldn’t progress in policing because I was high-risk, having lost a kidney to cancer at age three.

So, I took a job with the State of Texas that paid twice as much, and became a social worker, mostly in child protective services. The state sent me to Austin for a month’s training. I spent days training, and nights absorbing the music scene and doing some recording. Austin was where I knew I had to be!

While ham radio definitely had an impact on my electronic skills, I’m sorry to admit that seriously working on electrons never stuck. I can do recorder maintenance, fix mechanical problems, and [do] some minor electrical fixes. However, tracing and fixing circuits usually leaves the recorder in worse shape! I do have an excellent tech person available when I need [them].

In the end, from Alpine to Austin, tape recording has been an integral part of my life!

JIA: What sort of skill set and/or personality traits would you consider important in anybody considering starting an audio technology preservation center, be it a museum or otherwise? 

MT: The electrical and mechanical know how I mentioned above would be helpful.

My strength in trying to create the Museum is that I am truly, deeply passionate about the importance of the preservation of the magnetic reel tape recorder. When Germany built those first tape recorders with the ability to edit content, it changed everything. When tape recorders went mainstream from the 1950s to the 1980s, the ability to record music was made available to everyone willing to learn to use them. Bing Crosby’s transition from vinyl to tape is probably the best example. {He took advantage of] the indistinguishable quality [between live and taped broadcasting], and [the capabilities of tape] editing.

Webcor Squire and Roberts 770X recorders; Tape-Athon Model 7210 background music tape player. Second row: Sony TC-630, 1954 Berlant Concertone 20/20 tape machines. Third row: Ampex 602-1 recorder; Akai Terecorder; Roberts Duet recorder with matching amp/speaker to its right. Bottom row: Dokorder 8010 tape duplicator; Roberts 770A and Wollensak 1980 recorders. In the photo is a revolving rack holding around 100 catalogs and brochures. Far right: Bell and Howell Model 2297 recorder with vacuum-loading; Marantz 5420 cassette deck; Viking 85 deck.


It was the passion and commitment of all these folks who wanted to make the magnetic tape recorder better, from Brush units being improved by Willi Studer, to Crown recorders going from [being used for] missionary work to [becoming] radio and studio workhorses. It was passion that drove all those folks. Passion, skills, luck, and surviving a lot of disappointment.

Another key ingredient is a love of history. I wish I had time to follow all the leads I’ve received to better provide the details. Phil Van Pragg wrote a book, The Evolution of the Audio Recorder, and I met him and he inspired me to preserve the technology and further my collection.

A love of interacting with people [helps]. Interviewing Robert Metzner [founder of Califone and mentioned in Part One of this series] was amazing. We videotaped an interview with Rupert Neve at Blue Rock Artist Ranch and Studio in Texas; however, we never made it to the Neve factory in Wimberley before he passed.

Teac 25th anniversary commemorative box; Ampex 601-2, Pioneer RT-2044 four-track and Crown 722 SX recorders; two Teac Model 1 mixers on top of a Dokorder 1140 four-track recorder. In front of the Dokorder is a Shure box containing a Shure 3000 near a Teac Model 2 mixer. Mics and accessories, left to right, are a Shure 315, Turner 211, Ampex HD-16 tape head demagnetizer, Calrad Velocity VM-12, Shure 330, RCA 1945 Varacoustic, RCA MI-6204-C, RCA Junior Velocity 74B, Neumann U48, and a Shure 737.


We’ve interviewed Freddy Fletcher of Arlyn Studios and Pedernales Recording Studio. He is Willie Nelson’s nephew. Freddy’s interview was great, but so was hearing his mom Bobbie Nelson’s history and that of the Austin Opera House.

Ray Benson was a supporter and gave us a very entertaining interview, as did Floyd Domino (both are members of Asleep at the Wheel). For a while, Floyd and Asleep At The Wheel’s memorabilia were on display, along with our Ampex 200A, at the Bullock Texas State History Museum.

Part Three of this interview will appear in Issue 146.

All images courtesy of the Museum of Magnetic Sound Recording.

Header image (left to right): Ampex AG-440; Magnecord 1024; Altec 1592B Mixer; Sony mixer made by Shure; Teac Model 1 mixer; Tapco 4400 spring reverb; Ampex ATR-102 recorder with manual; Ampex 351 with amp, remote, an Accurate Sound Company amp and an Inovonics amp. The briefcase beside the Ampex ATR-102 manual is a Crowncorder spy briefcase.

Dar Williams: Writing Songs That Matter

Dar Williams: Writing Songs That Matter

Dar Williams: Writing Songs That Matter

Ray Chelstowski

The folk community is quite a bit like the jazz world. You earn respect over time and across a strong body of work. For Dar Williams, the path from debut to heralded show opener was remarkably short. In addition to music that had a fresh voice, she was helped by the public support she received from giants in the genre like the late Nanci Griffith. For thirty years Williams has been making music, writing books, teaching classes in her retreats, and lecturing on a whole range of topics. Now, she is bringing a new album to market, her first in six years on BMG’s new boutique Americana label, Renew. I’ll Meet You Here is her twelfth studio record, to be released on October 1, and reunites her with long-time producer Stewart Lerman, bassist Gail Ann Dorsey and string master Larry Campbell.

In late February of 2020, she cut the title tune in Woodstock with Dorsey and Campbell. When told at the time that they had to postpone a mid-March mixing date, Campbell said he wasn’t feeling well. As it turned out, he had contracted a serious case of COVID-19. By the time he recovered, they knew that a 2020 release would need to be pushed back.

Williams instead worked on her latest book, Writing a Song That Matters, titled after the songwriting retreats she began conducting in 2013. Williams had published two young-adult novels with Scholastic in the mid-2000s, along with a green-subject-matter blog for Huffpost, before she tackled her 2017 urban planning study, What I Found in a Thousand Towns: A Traveling Musician’s Guide to Rebuilding America’s Communities – One Coffee Shop, Dog Run & Open-Mike Night at a Time.

Williams then returned to finish the record, and the result is a collection of songs that sits among her best. The record, like any single great folk song, tells a story. The album unfolds like one big song and finds just the right places to land a punch and plant a kiss. It’s something that will clearly connect with her fans and come to life in live settings in ways that only an audience can help guide.

We got a chance to talk about quite a lot with Dar. Unfortunately, our exchange on the great recording studios of New York City didn’t make the final edit (maybe they will appear in a later piece). But we did talk at length about the new record, her long-time close friend Nanci Griffith, and what brings her real joy.


Ray Chelstowski: I’ll Meet You Here is your first record in six years. Why so long between releases?

Dar Williams: Well arguably I did have a record that came out in 2017, but it was a book (laughs). But seriously, this album was supposed to come out last year, but at some point, the pandemic is allowed to be bigger than your vanity.

RC: How has it been working with a new label?

DW: Oh it’s been just magic. I was with a label [Razor & Tie] for twenty years and I loved them. But they were called a “record company,” and I just couldn’t see how they were transitioning into the streaming industry. A lot of record companies had been making that transition, but by then the owners of Razor & Tie had sold their label to Concord. So I decided to put out an album on my own to see what that was like. Everyone asked if that gave me more freedom, and if I made more money doing it myself. I told them I didn’t have more freedom, and I didn’t make more money. It was just different, and it gave me empathy for all of the people who do this on their own.

I was in L.A. and my manager had me meet with my music publishers. They mentioned that they were starting a new label that would be almost exactly in the vein of what I do musically. If I was to come up with a label “dream team” this would be it, and I knew I’d be crazy to say no to that.

RC: It’s exciting to see a BMG develop a boutique label and really allow it to do what’s best for the artist and the genre.

DW: I totally agree. There are the labels where the staff does literally nothing and they say everything [that goes wrong] is your entire fault. And then there is the [my current] label that does all of this invisible stuff that I don’t even know about. There are all these little anchors and pins and strings that hold everything together, and there are all sorts of ways to do it right. A lot of it is just tied to the infrastructure of the label. Renew does their best to make me look great while they do all of the heavy lifting. So, the fact that it comes out of BMG, where this is a spinoff, is all the better.

RC: You began recording I’ll Meet You Here before the pandemic. How did you finally complete it?

DW: I did the whole album, and there was one track that wasn’t coming along the way we wanted. I thought it needed fresh ears, and went to Larry and asked him if he could do this as a duet. So, that became an easy solution. I was on tour then so we couldn’t mix Larry’s track, “Time Be My Friend.” He was going to come down to New Jersey and do it with the rest of the original team, but I couldn’t make my travel work for the date that we wanted. So we delayed the mixing date by a couple of days. Then Larry said, “I don’t really feel well,” and that became the start of his COVID nightmare. It really became “there but for the grace of God,” because had my travel worked out differently, a lot of really cool creative people at this studio would have probably gotten it.

RC: The record really tracks well and has great pacing. Did you have a vision for that when you went in to record?

DW: I have a vision and I have a great manager and now a great record label. They recommended some tracking that I hadn’t thought of that was better than my ideas (laughs). We did want to end obviously with [the song] “You’re Aging Well” because [the album is all] about the return. I wanted to start either with “Time Be My Friend” or “You Give It All Away,” and it was really great to have them offer up their opinions. But in the end this one kind of tracked itself.

RC: You decided to revisit “You’re Aging Well” from your 1994 album, The Honesty Room. This version has no guitar. What prompted that approach?

DW: We were putting the guitar together with the piano and I flubbed a couple of times. Then Stewart asked, “do we really need the guitar?” and we looked at each other and said “absolutely not.” Bryn Roberts, [who has been playing keyboards with me], is a very accomplished jazz musician [and is] used to holding down entire arrangements on his own. We had been playing together for years, so we took the guitar away and the song took only one take.

Photo courtesy of Ebru Yildiz.

Photo courtesy of Ebru Yildiz.


RC: I know you’ve worked with (Jayhawks guitarist) Gary Louris on your album Many Great Companions. On so many tracks I can hear The Jayhawks in the arrangements, especially on “Little Town” and “Berkeley.” How do these collaborations influence the final outcome of a record?

DW: I [had done] two albums with basically the same crew. One was called The Green World and the other was called The Beauty Of The Rain. I learned from The Green World that you get the very best album by letting the producer hire the right people for the job and letting them do what they do and get out of their way. On The Beauty Of The Rain I kind of of sat back and let things breathe a bit and it became great to see how people stepped out in their own ways.

It’s no surprise to me that I’d be influenced by Gary Louris. He’s in there! But I’d be the last to know and I like the democracy involved with the final product, of letting everyone with all of their influences do what they do without giving them too much narrative.

RC: You had a long history with Nanci Griffith. Any thoughts you’d like to share on her recent passing?

DW: She loved the song “February,” and at the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival someone said, “Nanci wants to meet you.” So, they brought me back to Nanci and she was flossing her teeth. She said, “oh, oh, oh thank you for coming. I just wanted to say that I loved your song.” She went out of her way to track down an artist that she knew was going to be at this festival, to be sure that this artist knew that she supported her. This was [with] me two years into my career.


RC: I think that your promo photo for this record, where you hold a pen instead of a guitar, is appropriate. You’re a musician, a writer, a teacher, and an activist. What gives you the most joy?

DW: They all give me joy. I love the introverted phenomenon of writing a song and saying, “this is what I want to say,” and I love the fact that the songs exist. I also love stepping back from a page and saying, “that’s exactly what I wanted to say.” I wish that moment for everyone. I also love facilitating that moment. This book that I wrote, What I Found In A Thousand Towns, is about how I would go to a town and talk about how the [people in the town] have found each other and were able to do really cool stuff. Then I started to do a thing where people would bring folding chairs and talk about what they do in their town. That helped everyone walk out saying, “I’m cool,” instead of “Dar’s cool.” Across my career, nothing has made me happier than a feeling of “us” as we walked out the door as opposed to feeling like I have been the center of attention. That’s when I knew I had really accomplished something. That’s still how I feel.


Header image of Dar Williams by Ebru Yildiz.

The New New Orleans Sounds

The New New Orleans Sounds

The New New Orleans Sounds

Wayne Robins

Beyond jazz, the music to which the Crescent City gave birth, New Orleans rock and R&B music has always meant something simple and straightforward to me. Piano-based, from the early 1950s forward, with a lot of boogie, a little woogie, some stride, some glide, a little rhumba rhythm: Professor Longhair and James Booker did it best solo. Fats Domino, Huey “Piano” Smith and the Clowns, and player around town Mac Rebennack (later known as Dr. John) did it best with bands with a big backbeat. It’s a small city by population, so all the musicians knew each other, played on each other’s records, sometimes went under assumed names or appeared anonymously.

There were a few studios: Fats Domino and Lloyd Price were among the many who recorded at Cosimo Matassa’s J&M; in the mid-1960s but really taking off in the 1970s, Sea-Saint Studios of Marshall Sehorn and pianist/songwriter/producer Allen Toussaint became essential to the instrumental group the Meters, which became the house band in 1969. The leader, Art Neville, put together his large family group as the Neville Brothers Band, radio and concert staples of the 1970s and 1980s; Aaron Neville, with his gorgeous fluid tenor voice, had a productive solo career. Before major labels got involved, indies such as Imperial in L.A., Ace (forever associated with New Orleans but located in Jackson, Mississippi), Minit, and Josie were the main imprints for New Orleans rock and R&B. The 1970s and 1980s saw the emergence of rock bands such as the Radiators and Lil Queenie & the Percolators.

But since I have not been down there for quite a few years, I missed out on what might have been bubbling aside from the lively hip-hop variation of bounce music, some of whose purveyors attach the culture of twerking and cross-dressing in the same way hip-hop in New York included graffiti art and its own fashion codes. The 2018 movie Buckjumping, now streaming on Amazon Prime, offers a look at a number of dance and music trends and traditions, from Mardi Gras Indian groups, to a competitive high school dance troupe, to gender-bending bounce clubs.

Tradition-bound as New Orleans is (the Preservation Hall, the home of deepest roots of jazz in the French Quarter, is just getting back on its feet after 15 months of COVID and more damage by Hurricane Ida), a new generation of musicians is emerging. It seems like every week for the last few months, another band or artist from New Orleans or kindred regional music like Cajun zydeco has been releasing new music. And there’s also archival material to be found. Here’s a rundown of what I’ve been listening to from NOLA and the Gulf Coast in recent months.

Shakespeare & the Blues: e.g., rhapsodic (Nouveau Electric)

Shakespeare & the Blues, e.g. rhapsodic album cover.

High energy jams from where you’d least expect it: a trio consisting of drums (Cam Smith), Bryan Webre (bass and electronics), and the concert harp, played by Cassie Watson Francillon. That’s not mouth harp or harmonica; that’s the big string instrument you’d see in orchestras, or played in 19th century soirees of the landed aristocracy. It’s an unusual instrument for any act on the non-classical spectrum, much less in a band called Shakespeare & the Blues. Francillon doesn’t exactly play the blues here, but with her two colleagues in the band and on her solo albums on Bandcamp, she seems intent on taking an instrument from the plantation to PlayStation, taking the genteel passivity of the harp and playing it with intensity and bite. It’s not like she’s plugging it in and breaking strings: she allows Smith and Webre to provide a heavy bottom when needed, or lighter textures, as required.

This is music completely beyond category, something that might even extend the long spectrum of New York’s long-running, avant-garde Bang on a Can festival. Could you see this trio on a float throwing beaded necklaces at the crowds at Mardi Gras? Well, you could possibly see it, but you might not hear them. For the loud stuff, you’d need to listen to Nouveau Electric Records’ owner Louis Bichot’s Lost Bayou Ramblers, the only Cajun band that comes with a mosh pit to go with its crawfish pot: They’re the Clash of Cajun music. Consider that the LBR have performed at a tribute to the Pogues; also that Webre has played with spin-off band Michon’s Melody Makers and its albums like Cosmic Cajuns from Saturn.

Shakespeare & the Blues. Photo courtesy of Connor Reever. 

Shakespeare & the Blues. Photo courtesy of Connor Reever.


Shakespeare & the Blues offer sundry stylistic mashups, especially with Webre and Smith as both a rhythm section and bottomless resource of electronic sounds and loops. There’s not much singing here, but there are oddities of sampled narration. The best is the unlikely appearance of the comedian first known as Jack Roy, and a sample from a sketch called “How Rodney Dangerfield Got His Name.” To say what takes place is to give away the punchline, but it involves William Shakespeare. Which I think is Shakespeare & the Blues’ way of saying that anything and everything can fit into their music, especially if you like trap beats and the weaving and bobbing sound of the not-always-ethereal harp.




Silver Synthetic (Third Man)

Silver Synthetic, album cover.
Silver Synthetic is a rock band from New Orleans that also cuts against the grain of the players’ roots. Chris Lyons, the main songwriter, was in the punk/psych Bottomfeeders. But in a weird quirk of songwriting fate, he started writing songs that required a more genteel touch. Appropriately, Silver Synthetic was recorded in Lyons’ living room in New Orleans’ Gentilly neighborhood. But the strumming guitars and buoyant melodies bring to mind a host of 1960s and 1970s influences: Laurel Canyon folk-rock, and Creedence Clearwater Revival riffs that forget about any claim about being born on the bayou and instead make you think of once-bucolic Northern California: not exactly the working class San Francisco suburb of El Cerrito, where CCR was from, but more like Marin County before the wealthy dentists moved in. In other words, Silver Synthetic turns rock and roll geography upside down.
Silver Synthetic. Photo courtesy of Alison Green. 

Silver Synthetic. Photo courtesy of Alison Green.


There’s even a song called “Around the Bend” that suggests a softer, melodic mélange of CCR’s “Up Around the Bend” and the Velvet Underground’s “Train Coming Round the Bend” from Loaded. The song “Chasm Killer” sounds like a title from the early days of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, but with the aggression turned down. It’s such a normal-sounding record that it sounds like it’s from another time. Suppose Joey Ramone started out as a folk singer, and then decided to form a band like Poco. Strange and lovely.


Dumpstaphunk: Where Do We Go From Here (Mascot Label Group/The Funk Garage)

Dumpstaphunk, "Where Do We Go From Here" album cover.

Before the musical GPS goes totally awry, we’ve got the deep dive into Dumpstaphunk’s latest. The opening cut, “United Nations Stomp,” sounds so much like a Buddy Miles punch of peace and love that I wasn’t surprised when I found out that it is a cover of a Buddy Miles tune from 1973, with Marcus King bringing the Hendrix/Eddie Hazel guitar fire. It’s all “everybody clap your hands, everybody stomp your feet,” and it’s mixed to play loud. The immediate reaction is to think of a Funkadelic spin-off. But Dumpstaphunk’s New Orleans’ bona fides run deep: It’s led by Ivan Neville of the city’s first family of funk, and features Ivan’s cousin, Ian Neville. The songs tend to be long, which allows a lot of stretching out for the band’s jam band fans. But the vibe is definitely 1970s funk, with that particular NOLA hot sauce, and covers of the rare New Orleans band Blackmail’s “Let’s Get at It,” and a seven minute version of Sly and the Family Stone’s “In Time” (from Fresh, 1973). Together for almost 18 years (since their 2003 debut at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival), the band’s command of the deep New Orleans pocket and impeccable taste for reviving lost funk classics make this one of the better party records from a band that makes everything old sound new again.


Header image: Dumpstaphunk, courtesy of Jeff Farsai.

Sweet Summer Songs

Sweet Summer Songs

Sweet Summer Songs

Cliff Chenfeld

Welcome to the latest edition of Be Here Now, the column/playlist for folks who would like to discover outstanding contemporary artists but could use a little help navigating all of the new music out there.

Here is a link to the Be Here Now Spotify playlist, which includes songs from all the artists mentioned in this column and many more:


After a summer of heavy immersion, the following songs get better with each play. These are tracks worthy of repeat listening:

Rüfüs Du Soul, “Alive” – This Australian trio has been making hypnotic, hooky electronic music for a few years now and their following has grown to the point that they are now headlining festivals. Unlike a number of artists in the genre, they also write great songs, and the shimmering “Alive” is irresistible.




Yola, “Starlight” – Yola burst on the scene in 2019, getting a nomination for Best New Artist at the Grammys and mining a rootsy groove with the assistance of producer Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys). A knockout singer, her new song “Starlight” taps into old school Tina Turner and Bonnie Raitt but keeps it oh so fresh.

Foo Fighters, “Making A Fire (Mark Ronson Re-Version)” – The Foo Fighters are one of the great bands of the 21st century but one doesn’t think of them as funky or loose. Super-producer Mark Ronson transforms “Making A Fire,” a perfectly fine track from their new album, into a soulful celebration complete with turn of the ’70s Stones-style backup singers and jamming guitars.

Grandson, “Dirty” – Grandson is Jordan Benjamin, a charismatic Canadian, who combines topical songwriting with earworm breaks. He writes from a pessimistic perspective, but the music is often celebratory, and he is a force in concert.




Wet Leg, “Chaise Longue” – Minimalist, irresistible, might be a novelty song, might be a sign of something much bigger. A series of provocative phrases – “Would you like us to send someone to butter your muffin?” surround a one-line chorus and irrepressible guitar riff.




Parcels, “Comingback” – Parcels makes jubilant, sleek pop music and their rousing new single is an optimistic paean to finding joy and perseverance in these challenging times.




Big Red Machine, “Phoenix” – Big Red Machine is a sort of indie supergroup led by Aaron Dessner (The National) and Justin Vernor (Bon Iver) with help from a variety of esteemed indie icons. “Phoenix” is retro-comfy with a back-to-the-country vibe, sweet harmonies and a lightly lilting piano leading the way.

Brandi Carlisle, “Right On Time” – The first single from her upcoming album is a heartbreaking, towering ballad that allows her the opportunity to flex one of the most remarkable voices in contemporary music.

The Knocks featuring Foster The People, “All About You” – Electronic music producers the Knocks (named for all the knocks they received on their door for playing their music too loud) have teamed with a number of acts to produce great pop songs over the last few years. Their new collaboration meshes Foster The People’s melodic chops with a bouncy track featuring a drop dead break and church-style background vocals.

Follow Cliff on social media:

Instagram: @cchenfeld
Twitter: @ChenfeldCliff

Header image of Wet Leg by Hollie Fernando.

Raw Power

Raw Power

Raw Power

Frank Doris

1977 Klipsch Decorator loudspeaker, companion to the one featured in Issue 140. It was a less-expensive version of a finished model. The speakers feature a Richard Modaferri-modified Infinite Slope Crossover.

The backs of the speakers have been cut away to reveal the inner workings, which include a K-77 horn tweeter, K-400 horn midrange, and the Modafferi crossover.

OK, not strictly audio-related, but too cool to resist. Which would you rather have, this or an iPad? 1949 Bell and Howell ad. From vintageadbrowser.com.

We’d like the gear and the curtains! From a 1959 Terminal Radio Corp. catalog, featuring an artfully-rendered McIntosh MR55 tuner, C8 Audio Compensator (preamplifier) and MC60 power amplifier. Courtesy of Steve Rowell/The Audio Classics Collection.


Header image: Klipsch Decorator loudspeaker original crossover. All Klipsch photos courtesy of Howard Kneller, from The Audio Classics Collection. Howard’s audio and art photography can be found on Instagram (@howardkneller@howardkneller.photog) and Facebook (@howardkneller).

The Man with No Name? Michael Baugh Interview, Part One

The Man with No Name? Michael Baugh Interview, Part One

The Man with No Name? Michael Baugh Interview, Part One

Russ Welton

What do you get when you blend pyrotechnic guitar virtuosity, exceptional composing ability and a passion for all things musical? You get the uber-talented Michael Baugh, film composer, Ernie Ball Music Man guitar endorsee and session musician extraordinaire. Copper interviews him here.

Russ Welton: How did you first get into playing guitar?

Michael Baugh: It all started when my dad gave me a videotape called Guitar Legends Live from the Expo in Sevilla 1992, which was a live show featuring Brian May, Steve Vai, Joe Walsh and Joe Satriani, to name a few. I quite liked it but there was one moment that changed my life – Joe Satriani played “Always With Me, Always With You.” It blew my mind. I had to get a guitar and learn to play this song!

RW: Who were the artists who inspired you the most and encouraged your progress?

MB: The two artists who inspired me the most and still do to this day are Andy Timmons (Danger Danger, Pawn Kings, Andy Timmons Band) and Nick Johnston. I am very honored to call them friends, and we’ve even played together! Andy has the most unbelievable finger tone and phrasing, and Nick has an incredible touch. I could talk about these two all night long.


RW: What is it about their styles that led to your playing development?

MB: Listening to Andy Timmons helped me to be tone-conscious, to think about [musical] resolution, and [to be aware of] where to leave space [in your phrasing]; this was important for my development because I have a tendency to overplay. Nick Johnston’s music encouraged me to focus on composition and improvisation. Although composition and improvisation are opposites in some ways, they also assist one another in that when you run dry of compositional ideas, improvising can help you make new and exciting discoveries that can get the creative juices flowing again.

RW: How did you get into composing for film? 

MB: The work of Hans Zimmer, [and] the Inception soundtrack in particular inspired me to want to write music for film. His music is overwhelmingly powerful and emotional and I wanted to make music like that. I entered the professional composing world by pitching to directors and producers via social media. I would take an earlier piece of [one of] their works, strip the audio, and re-score it the way I would have done it. Then I’d email it to them. This approach landed me my first job in this field, a documentary about Jimmy Savile called Out of the Shadows, coming out this October.

RW: Tell us about your experiences in transitioning into film composing and scoring work.


MB: Coming from the instrumental guitar world, the film score world seems alien [by comparison]; it’s very different. As a solo artist you write what you want, play how you want and release it when you want. In the film scoring world you have to get into the mind of the client, write what the client wants, stay on brief and in line with the on-screen picture, and it must be finished before the deadline the client sets. It’s not for everyone. You must be fast, organized, willing to adapt and change direction at any moment, and you must be able to take criticism well, which is something many artists struggle with.

RW: How does your approach to recording an album differ to that of recording for film?

MB: In some ways they are very similar but ultimately, totally different. They are similar in that each one is a large body of work that takes countless hours to get right. But the approach is very different. When preparing to record an album, I will have spent a year or more writing music, [finding] musicians, getting the artwork developed, and creating demos. In preparation for a film, I will spend a lot of time studying the brief, and any notes I’ve taken after speaking to the director. I’ll also research similar films to establish how others have approached the genre.

Afterwards, I’ll spend a day building the “sound world,” creating synthesizer patches, and building a template of all the various sampled instruments I plan to use, based on the brief the director gives me. Then I get right into the writing and recording. The next step is hiring soloists or musicians to do remote recordings, [which] need to be done fast and at a very, very high level. One must have a call sheet of high-end musicians to call on, that one can depend on to deliver quality results in almost no time.

 Michael Baugh.

Michael Baugh.


RW: What have been some of your greatest career challenges?

MB: The biggest challenge to overcome has always been and will always be myself, the little voice inside my head telling me, “You can’t do this,” [along with] a tendency to compare myself to others. These things affect pretty much every artist and composer at some point, but we do well to acknowledge these flaws and have a little conversation with ourselves and say, “I can do this; I’ve done it before!” It’s important to not compare ourselves with others, because we’re all at different points in our musical lives. Some [of us] are more developed than others, some are better at certain things than we are, and our strengths could be more apparent in other areas. I constantly have to remind myself of these things. It does keep you humble though!


RW: What do you like to see in a commissioned brief that is most helpful to your workflow and productivity?

MB: I love to see lots of descriptions that detail what the client wants, and I mostly prefer to receive the brief from the director either in person, [via] Zoom, or on the telephone. Seeing their body language and hearing their tone of voice when they excitedly describe their project, the story and what they want the music to do helps me understand what elements are most important to them. This [then] helps the workflow, in that I can more accurately build a template in my digital audio workstation that contains much of the musical elements necessary to create the sound world they described to me. [It] boosts my productivity, as I can then confidently dig into the writing.

RW: What have been your most exciting projects to work on and why so?

MB: That’s easy! I can’t say much about it as it’s still in the final stages of production, but I can say that I’m collaborating with Marvel and Disney composer Guy Michelmore (interviewed in Copper Issues 140 and 141) on a short film. I am a big fan of his work and it is wonderful to be collaborating with him and Bradley Jordan, who is an incredible composer and music editor.

Part Two of this interview will appear in a future issue.

Images courtesy of Jayre Reynoso-Alcantara, www.jayresphotography.com.

Phil Keaggy – A Lifetime of Making Joyful Noises, Part One

Phil Keaggy – A Lifetime of Making Joyful Noises, Part One

Phil Keaggy – A Lifetime of Making Joyful Noises, Part One

John Seetoo

“Use guitars to reinforce your Hallelujahs!” Psalm 33:2, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language

Guitarists who have developed distinctly separate and unique voices on both the acoustic and electric guitar are few and far between, since many approach playing these instruments in a similar fashion, whether plugged or unplugged. Among those with recognizably different approaches:

Jorma Kaukonen is renowned for his acoustic Piedmont Blues fingerpicking, as well as his fuzz-fueled acid rock electric stylings with Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna.

Richard Thompson has an instantly recognizable bagpipe drone sound on acoustic, and a singular Celtic electric sound, free of blues-oriented flatted fifths and with an “out-of phase” Strat tone that Mark Knopfler borrowed for Dire Straits, and that Eric Clapton, Steve Miller, Robert Cray and many others have appropriated.

However, when it comes to someone who wowed no less a famously dismissive critic than Mike Bloomfield on electric, while pioneering an entire acoustic guitar fingerpicking genre incorporating looping and the use of multiple partial capos, only Phil Keaggy fits the bill. In addition, Keaggy is one of the founders of Christian rock (at least the jam band version), as well as being a revered songwriter and a vocalist who has borne repeated comparisons to Paul McCartney.

Yet, for all of his accomplishments, he has a loyal following among classic rock, new age, and contemporary Christian music (CCM) listeners but is paradoxically almost unknown to many fans of praise and worship music (i.e., Hillsong, Elevation, Bethel), and is routinely overlooked by younger generations of fans who are entranced by arguably lesser guitar talents in the genre, like Lincoln Brewster or Mateus Asato. As Keaggy’s staggering output incorporates a catalog of around 60 albums, this retrospective will feature just a few highlights.

Phil Keaggy’s early success began in the late 1960s with Glass Harp, an Ohio-based power trio that drew favorable critical similarities to the James Gang, and frequently performed with such megastar acts of the 1970s like Chicago, Grand Funk Railroad, Alice Cooper, Yes and Traffic.

Perhaps the best recorded example of Glass Harp’s musical wizardry is Live! At Carnegie Hall. A showcase for Keaggy’s improvisational stylings, punctuated by the excellent rhythm section of John Sferra (drums) and Dan Pecchio (bass), Live! At Carnegie Hall highlighted one of Keaggy’s earliest faith songs, “Do Lord,” which still remains a Keaggy live concert favorite.


Glass Harp’s mixture of hard rock, pop, and jazz-influenced jam band excursions invited comparisons to Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. While acknowledgement of Keaggy’s guitar prowess from Hendrix remains an unverified legend, Keaggy’s guitar hero, Mike Bloomfield, recognized him in Chicago and personally complimented Phil with, “aren’t you the little guy from Glass Harp that played his ass off?” in typical Bloomfield wise guy fashion. Keaggy still recalls the meeting as one of his biggest self-validation moments as a musician.

As his faith grew stronger, Keaggy felt the call to devote his efforts exclusively to Christ-based music, amicably leaving Glass Harp in 1972 to pursue a solo career. Keaggy would subsequently work with 2nd Chapter of Acts and other artists from the Love Inn music community in upstate New York, where he met Phil Madeira, Lynn Nichols, and other musicians with whom he would work repeatedly over the next four decades.

Keaggy’s first solo release was What A Day (1973), followed by Love Broke Thru (1977). This was before contemporary Christian music as a genre had been established, so records from the era were categorized as “Jesus Music,” later to be called “Christian Rock” when bands like Petra and Stryper subsequently followed Keaggy’s trailblazing path.

What A Day found Keaggy emulating Paul McCartney, one of his main songwriting and singing inspirations, in playing all of the instruments, similarly to how the former Beatle did likewise on his McCartney solo album.

During the 1970s, the commercial success of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell by Steven Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak were among the first works pertaining to Jesus and Christianity to receive radio airplay. The influence of these works can be heard on What A Day, with some show tune-type of arrangements that are somewhat awkwardly couched between Keaggy’s more familiar singer-songwriter compositions. “Walking With Our Lord” is an example of the Godspell approach to a song in a show tune or musical theater style, rather than a rock arrangement more akin to Glass Harp.


“Your Love Broke Through” was written by Keith Green and Randy Stonehill, both contemporaries of Keaggy and co-pioneers in what would become CCM. Although the song is considered one of Green’s signature tunes, Keaggy was the first to record and release it – at Green’s insistence. While the two were friends who mutually respected each other’s musical gifts, it is possible that Green saw how Keaggy’s performance of the song could instill an imprimatur of musical legitimacy to the “Jesus Rock” movement, a genre that had until then been derided by critics as amateurish and sub-par in comparison to their professional secular music and musicians. Stonehill is a singer-songwriter with whom Keaggy would continue to perform and record with periodically and as recently as 2019.


As probably the highest-profile rock musician at the time to renounce secular music for Christian music (Little Richard and Al Green would both return to performing and recording secular albums), Keaggy commanded the respect of his peers, so Love Broke Thru includes the rhythm section of Lee Sklar on bass and Jim Gordon on drums, with Larry Knechtel on keys and Keaggy handling all guitars and vocals, plus orchestral arrangements from Michael Omartian. It also features “As The Ruin Falls,” originally a poem by C.S. Lewis, author of the Narnia series and one of literature’s most highly regarded Christian-oriented authors, whose writings would continue to inspire Keaggy’s later compositions.

“Time,” which has become a Keaggy classic and live favorite, was also first released on Love Broke Thru. Some fans consider this guitar solo epic to be the CCM equivalent to other extended-length guitar-centric songs of the era like Eric Clapton’s “Layla” or Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird.”


Emerging was released in 1977, and was the debut of the first Phil Keaggy Band album, which featured Madeira and Nichols, who would go on to tour with him into the 1990s. The song “Take A Look Around” shows the influence of groups like Chicago, with its brass-sounding arrangements (played on an array of guitars), while Keaggy’s lead guitar lines and solos provide counterpoint to the vocals and faux horns in a manner reminiscent of Chicago guitarist Terry Kath.


The all-instrumental The Master and The Musician (1978), which had an expanded 30th anniversary release in 2008, is a compilation of Keaggy’s musical influences and directions, along with some early hints of the classical and New Age acoustic guitar fingerpicking stylings that he would become known for by an entirely separate generation of musicians some 15 – 20 years later. Stylistically, the record is all over the map, but it somehow holds together and has become one of the most critically-acclaimed records in Keaggy’s catalog. Some examples of the styles showcased in The Master and The Musician include:

  • “Pilgrim’s Flight” – Renaissance, Elizabethan, classical
  • “Golden Halls” – prog rock
  • “Mouthpiece” – Bobby McFerrin-style multi-tracked a cappella singing
  • “Follow Me Up” – fusion jazz

As the best-selling record in Keaggy’s career, TMATM appealed to fans of acoustic guitar virtuosos like Windham Hill Records’ Michael Hedges and Alex De Grassi, as well as fusion jazz and alternative FM radio deejays, camps with no previous awareness of Keaggy’s Christian rock foundations. These ancillary music markets would become part of his broader fan base, which has continued to follow and support his music since he became an unsigned independent artist in 2008.

This version of “Pilgrim’s Flight” is excerpted from an instructional guitar playing VHS tape Keaggy made in the late 1990s, released as a DVD in 2006:


From the close-ups of his hands, it is apparent that Keaggy’s is missing the middle finger of his right hand, a disability shared with and mutually overcome by the Grateful Dead’s lead guitarist, Jerry Garcia. In Keaggy’s case, it was the result of an accident when he was four years old. He and Garcia have independently both joked about their missing fingers as the reason why they were guitarists and not pianists.

The 30th anniversary re-release of TMATM also includes insightful interview comments from Keaggy on the inspirations and production for each song.

The 1980s would see Keaggy and his family moving from New York, first to Kansas, and then to California in 1983. Signed to Sparrow Records, the CCM label owned by Universal Music Group, Keaggy would continue to hone his two distinct musical identities: electric shred guitar Christian rocker and introspective acoustic guitar instrumentalist.

Ph’lip Side (1980) had a double-sided album jacket with a close-up of a mustachioed Keaggy and an acoustic Martin dreadnought guitar against a blue background on one side and his Gibson Les Paul against a magenta background on the “flip” side. The LP featured all-acoustic works on “This Side” and electric songs on “That Side.”

“Sunday School” showcases a muscular, bluesy side of Keaggy’s electric persona, harkening back to his roots as a fan of Bloomfield, Clapton and Jeff Beck.


“Little Ones” is the standout acoustic track, noteworthy for its advocacy on behalf of the pro-life movement. The sparse guitar and vocal arrangement puts the emphasis on the lyrics, while Keaggy’s impassioned vocal and classical guitar-inspired passages are touchingly evocative.


Ph’lip Side also was one of the earliest engineering projects by a then-unknown Jack Joseph Puig, who would go on to produce Phil Keaggy and Sunday’s Child in 1988 and whose Grammy wins, surprisingly, have all been for his work in the CCM arena, his multi-platinum records with John Mayer, Eric Clapton, and numerous other artists notwithstanding. There is a punch to the sound of Keaggy’s records with Puig that grabs a listener’s attention in a way that differs from his other records, which are more inviting and less of a yank by the collar. The lessons developed in recording Keaggy’s acoustic and electric sides with such precision and sonic energy would serve Puig well in his later projects with John Mayer, who equally is adept at both acoustic and electric guitar stylings.

Interestingly, Keaggy’s song, “Just a Moment Away” was co-written by King’s X bassist and lead vocalist Dug Pinnick. As a prog-rock power trio with Christian-themed songs, King’s X is very much the spiritual and musical inheritor of the Glass Harp legacy. A number of similarities between Keaggy’s work with Glass Harp and Ty Tabor’s guitar approach in King’s X can be heard.

Keaggy’s 1981 follow-up, Town to Town, featured the concert favorite “Let Everything Else Go” and also included an arrangement of the hymn “Rise Up O Men of God,” the first of a number of traditional hymns that Keaggy would include on subsequent albums, both in acoustic and electric arrangements.


The indefatigable Keaggy would release Play Thru Me in 1982. The fusion jazz elements are more prominent here. “Happy” showcases a rare slide guitar performance from Keaggy. The song is full of odd rhythms, Stanley Clarke-style funk-jazz bass, and Al DiMeola-inspired guitar lines in addition to Keaggy’s slide parts.

Part Two of this article will cover Keaggy’s work going into the 1990s, which includes some of his most significant and memorable recordings, the pinnacle of his C.S. Lewis and Vaughan Williams-inspired works, and the start of what would be a series of Easter Egg gems: cover songs, rearranged to showcase Keaggy’s vocals and guitar work, of some of his radio favorites.

Moving to Computer Audio: A Comprehensive Overview, Part Two

Moving to Computer Audio: A Comprehensive Overview, Part Two

Moving to Computer Audio: A Comprehensive Overview, Part Two

Ed Kwok

In Part One (Issue 144) we looked at the fundamental considerations in building a computer-based high-resolution audio system, creating a music library, DACs and how to best implement them, and audiophile computers and streamers. Part Two concludes the series.

The Raspberry Pi Phenomenon

The Raspberry Pi was launched in 2012 by a team from Cambridge University led by Dr. Eben Upton. He envisaged an affordable computer the size of a pack of cards for kids to learn computing with. To make it low-priced (around $50), Upton used a smartphone processor and put in just enough hardware to run Linux. It uses so little power it runs off a smartphone charger. Plug in an existing TV, borrow a keyboard and mouse and one can get online.

Dr. Upton aimed to sell a few thousand. As of 2021, they have sold 40 million. Raspberry Pis are amazing not only for their low cost but also for their high quality – they are field-proven in extreme environments. Near-space balloons? Check. Volcano monitors? Sure! Underwater drones? Naturally!

Computer audiophiles figured out that here was an ideal platform on which to build a streamer. The genius of a Raspberry Pi is its GPIO (General Purpose Input/Output) connector, which accepts plug in boards (“hats” in Pi language). An SP/DIF hat turns it into an SP/DIF streamer; connect a 24/192 DAC hat and you have hi-res audio capability. Add a decent linear power supply or two (one for the Pi and one for the hat) and you have a budget high-end component.

Raspberry Pi 4 B. 


A wide range of hats are available at different price points. Suppliers such as Allo provide step-by-step instructions so you do not have to be a computer engineer. If you can follow a cookbook, you can make your own Pi audio component over a fun weekend, including hardware assembly and downloading and installing the software.

If all this sounds a bit DIY, it is. Or was, until Bryston announced the BDP-Pi in 2016. The latest Bryston BR-20 is also Pi-based; you can see the unmistakable connectors on the back panel.

I should warn you – once you have tasted the Raspberry you may become addicted.

Bryston BR-20 preamplifier, front view.
Bryston BR-20 preamplifier, rear view.

Bryston BR-20 preamplifier, front and rear views.


Endpoint Streamers – a Minimalist Approach

If a streamer can beat a Windows computer in sound quality by virtue of minimalism, how about further reducing its hardware footprint? Enter “endpoint streamers” such as the Sonore microRendu v1.5.

Endpoint streamers are designed to further increase sound quality by doing almost nothing, in a good sense. The heavy lifting of running the music library, user interface, Tidal and audio format conversion is done by a separate powerful music server computer somewhere on a user’s LAN (local area network).

The endpoint streamer receives music data over the LAN from a server, and merely feeds it to a DAC. If you believe in minimalism, this is for you.

Sonore microRendu v1.5.


A USB DAC needs a USB endpoint streamer. If you have a high-end DAC from 10 years ago, an SP/DIF endpoint streamer will do nicely. Also, if you happen to be looking for a new DAC, you could choose one with a built-in endpoint streamer and save yourself an extra component.

Now that you have your endpoint streamer, you need software to make it work and a music server to partner it.


Roon is a networked audio playback software whose architecture allows the use of endpoint streamers. A Roon Server computer does all the heavy lifting and feeds music data over the LAN to endpoint streamers for audio output.

One music server can serve many endpoints. If you have several DACs, you can partner each with its own endpoint streamer and connect them all. You can easily switch between DACs for each track depending on your mood. Those running a tube DAC loaded with precious NOS tubes could configure a solid-state DAC for casual listening. I run three DACs in my main system.

You can fill your house with music by installing, for example, high-end endpoints in the listening room and more economical endpoints in the kitchen, bedroom, even bathroom. They can all be playing different tracks simultaneously. You can control all of them from your iPad, phone, computer or other device and because the system is LAN-based, everything works all the time and there is no need to re-connect everything as you would have to do when using Bluetooth.

Roon will accommodate a direct connection between a music server and a DAC, but with significant loss in sound quality as previously explained. Roon supports hi-res streaming with Tidal and Qobuz and I wish they would add iTunes in future releases.

Roon is easy to configure and can grow as your needs change. I have used Roon since 2017, with excellent results.

Roon Nucleus music server.

Roon Nucleus music server.


Roon Server Software

Roon Server software is best run on a dedicated computer. There is debate on whether differences in the music server make an audible difference. Theoretically, because the music server is separated from the DAC by the endpoint, there should be no difference. Roon themselves say there is no difference. This is another one of those things that the audiophile must decide for himself.

There are four main versions of Roon Server software: Windows, MacOS, Linux and Roon Optimized Core Kit (“ROCK”).

The Windows and MacOS versions are self-explanatory.

Linux versions are available for PC compatibles, QNAP NAS (network attached storage) and Synology NAS. Running Roon Server on a NAS is economical, but a NAS is not a dedicated computer.

ROCK comprises a Linux operating system optimized by Roon, bundled together with the Roon Server software. Install this on a PC-compatible computer and one is ready to go.

In my system, the sound quality of ROCK is excellent and far better than Roon Server for Windows (using the same computer hardware). I have also tried Roon Server for Synology NAS but with disappointing results. I offer no scientific explanation for these observations.

Roon Server Hardware

ROCK is an excellent choice but it is certified for use only on Intel NUC computers.

NUCs are little 4-inch square PC compatibles designed for saving space. They can return decent benchmark scores but are not designed to offer consistent speed or sustained performance. This is because their compact laptop-class hardware must throttle down as much and as often as possible to avoid exceeding fairly low power and thermal limits. This is achieved by varying the frequency of the processor clock – lower frequency saves power when the system is idling and higher frequency provides the speed to do work. This is  fine for Excel, but if you believe a music server’s processor should run at a fixed speed, then you might not like NUCs.

Computer enthusiasts have successfully run ROCK on a wide range of non-NUC, PCs. These are known as “MOCKs” in the Roon community and there is a thread on the Roon forum dedicated to it. You could roll out that spare desktop PC, as long as it’s not more than around eight years old. There is a good chance it will work and should provide good enough sound quality to get a taste of computer audio before deciding to spend significant money. If you’re computer savvy, I recommend you disable the computer’s power-saving features so that the processor runs at a constant speed. Also, putting the computer in another room will eliminate being bothered by fan noise.

If your interest in computer engineering is not high, an excellent option is Roon’s own Nucleus server. It is based on the Intel NUC board but has been significantly improved to offer high-end sound. The price includes dealer/manufacturer support. Partner it with a decent linear power supply. Audiophiles who require an ultimate Roon server could investigate the likes of LampizatOr or Pachanko Labs. However, the benefit of a super-high-end server on Roon sound quality is not well documented at this time of writing.

Differences in sound quality from a “decoupled” server are hard to understand scientifically and therefore hard to predict. It will be necessary to audition the setup in your actual system. In my system, ROCK running on a self-built computer handily beats ROCK on an Intel NUC7i5.

Optimizing a DAC Using Roon’s DSP

The Roon Server and endpoint streamers are now filling the house with music. It is time to tune up the DACs by using format conversion (“DSP” in Roon language). This is mainly for hi-res audio listening, because 44 kHz and 48 kHz formats should be streamed to the DAC in bit-perfect mode in most cases.

Look at their data sheets and you will see that even the best ESS, AKM and Burr-Brown and other DAC chips have lower distortion at lower sampling rates. Some audio DACs, due to their implementation of their DAC chips and other internal circuitry, have good sound only at one sampling rate. For example, my Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista 21, with its rudimentary 96 kHz upsampling circuit, comes alive only when you feed it exactly 96 kHz (to intentionally bypass its internal upsampling).

In my system, on 24/352 material, the superb-measuring RME ADI-2 Pro has a more real-life sound at a downsampled 176 kHz while bit-perfect 352 kHz source material creates a bigger soundstage but with a slightly artificial sheen. This could be due to a weakness in the RME or something else in my system, or could be a system-matching issue. But listening at 176 kHz or 192 kHz is best.

The AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt can be amazing at 88 kHz or 96 kHz especially on MQA, provided you feed it quality power via a dedicated circuit ( such as the iFi iDefender+). Plugged directly into a Raspberry Pi USB port, the Cobalt’s 88 kHz or 96 kHz performance falls apart, to the extent that it sounds better at a downsampled 44 kHz or 48KkHz.

The idea is to find the best sampling rate for each DAC in your system. Roon’s settings menu is easy to use and quick enough to do A/B comparisons. It is best to use a 352 kHz or 384 kHz track so you can try it at bit-perfect, 176 kHz or 192 kHz and 88 kHz or 96 kHz. Upsampling is rarely recommended, because it makes everything work harder to provide no additional musical information, but why not try it just to make sure? If you prefer DSD DACs, Roon can convert PCM to DSD on the fly and can even convert between DSD rates.

Go ahead and spend an afternoon finding the sweet spot for each DAC. You may find your DAC never sounded so good. Once you have set up each endpoint/DAC, it will automatically receive its favorite format regardless of what track you play. Roon performs DSP in 64-bit floating point on the fly and if you keep to power-of-two sampling rate conversion (sampling rate conversion in multiples of two, I doubt whether you will worry too much about any quality reduction.

LampizatOr Super Komputer music server.

LampizatOr Super Komputer music server.


Computer Networks and Switches Can Matter

If you stream Tidal, it goes without saying that the best internet service available for your house should be installed. In my case it is 1000M fiber to the home. Use a quality router with plenty of processing power. Gaming or SOHO (small office/home office) routers start at $200, which is a lot for a home router but cheap for audio.

Computer audiophiles try to put their audio devices on a separate LAN on the home network to avoid as much as possible dear son’s YouTube or World Of Tanks running on the same piece of wire as your music and using up data resources. The best implementation is to join the audio LAN to the rest of the network as near to the main router as possible.

The audio LAN should use a network switch that is known to work well for audio, because the switch has an audible impact. The D-Link DGS-108 is widely accepted by audiophiles. Better audiophile-approved switches (often based on the DGS-108) are available but the more expensive models may be overkill for systems costing under $10,000. Gaming switches, although high performance, are not automatically better and can sound worse in my experience. In all cases, replace the included wall wart power supply with something better.

As with USB cables, network cables matter and I and others find that the use of different cables can be clearly audible. However, more expensive is not automatically better. In the systems with which I have experience, cat6 from a quality manufacturer such as 3M beats cat7. This is an area that needs investigation. If you go with 3M cat6 round cables, I doubt you will go far wrong. Avoid flat cables as they generally have inferior sound.

Do Not Rule Out Wi-Fi

Engineers (including myself) will tell you that wired LAN is preferred over Wi-Fi for critical networking applications due to faster, more consistent and more reliable data transfer. But high-end audio does not always follow scientific theory.

In my system, Wi-Fi surprisingly gives better sound quality. Both my Ethernet and Wi-Fi are the best available for home use. One explanation is that since there is no longer any physical connection between the (noisy) computing devices and the (quiet) audio devices using (wireless) Wi-Fi , perfect isolation has been achieved. The science does not really matter to me because I know what I hear. If your endpoint streamer has Wi-Fi, why not give it a try?


If you have gotten this far – congratulations! You have a fully working high-end computer audio-based system. On hi-res material, it has the best sound you have heard in your room. When listening to CD-quality (16-bit, 44.1 kHz) material you are matching the sound quality from your CD transport. You have managed to keep most of your existing equipment and you carried out as much computer engineering as you care to enjoy, or avoid.

You succeeded because you relied on a background of years of experience in high-end audio and on the only measuring instrument that really matters: your ears.

Chat groups are full of keyboard warriors who do not want to invest the effort or do not have the means to play in the high-end arena. Professional engineers understand that science and theory are merely a way to approximate the real world. If the world always worked according to science, all products would be perfect and there would be no need for prototyping or testing, or improvement.

No one doubts that Boeing engineers know aircraft science and technology like the back of their hand. Yet the fact that they still test their airplanes rigorously shows the acceptance by even the best engineers that science only gets you part of the way. Real-world experience will tell the rest.

Welcome to the world of high-end computer audio.

Header image: RME ADI-2 Pro AD/DA converter.

Whistling While You Work

Whistling While You Work

Whistling While You Work

Ken Sander

As I step off my elevator, I hear music coming from my end of the hallway. It’s really loud and I soon realize that it is coming from my apartment. As I unlock my door and open it, I get a healthy blast of rock music. I quickly enter and turn it off. It only took a moment for me to deduce that my Whistle Switch sound-activated on/off switch was the instigator.

It had been on the market before a similar device called the Clapper, which everyone knows from those silly “Clap on! Clap off!” TV commercials. (The Clapper was introduced in 1984 and is still sold today!) I had seen an advertisement on television that featured the on/off gadget.

I thought this device was the cat’s meow and bought it straight away. It was fun, impressing my guests and myself in my Manhattan apartment by squeezing the whistle, sometimes referred to as the “cricket,” which turned the lights on or off. Eventually I hooked it up to my Scott amplifier and Fisher AM/FM tuner and therein lay the problem. It seemed that in my 23-day absence, some sound had activated the Whistle Switch and my stereo system. Hence the pounding WNEW-FM 102.7 rock and roll station and the loud talking from DJs Scott Muni, and the Nightbird, Alison Steele. I wondered how long my stereo was on and how much torture I had put my poor neighbors through.

After a tour ends it takes me a little time to recover. Catching up on sleep is the most pressing issue. Then, getting healthy and cleaning out my system of whatever crap I ate or ingested while on the road. When awake I finish any tour paperwork. Usually that includes the last expense report and any travel issues like unused airline tickets and such. Then it is check writing time, and I dig into whatever bills have accumulated in my absence. Of course, I hit the bank to make any deposits or withdrawals that might be required. And lastly, I get back into the city life.

This was a great time for me, and I made good money, but because of the freelance nature of this work I was unemployed 10 to 15 weeks a year. That gave me a good amount of free time. It was a nice balance that worked for me.

At the time, in the mid-to-late 1970s, I owned a 450cc Honda four-stroke motorcycle and kept it parked in a garage a block away from my Murray Hill apartment. The garage was $35 a month and it provided the security and storage necessary because of my frequent travel. Even when in the city I do not like to leave the bike out overnight; it can be very dicey. Late after 2 am till just before sunup, motorcycle thieves would roam the city in box trucks. Working in crews of four to six people. They would cruise up and down the streets looking for opportunities to steal parked motorcycles. When they saw one and if the street was quiet enough, they would double park, hop out and lift the bike up, and put it in the back of the truck. It didn’t matter if the bike was locked up; they could break the locks later. A bike could disappear in less than a minute.

A Honda motorcycle similar to the one Ken owned.

A Honda motorcycle similar to the one Ken owned.


I usually had days off till the next tour and I did not always know when the work would start again. So, I made it a point to enjoy my free time. I could come and go as I pleased. In the warm weather I would drive out to Jones Beach on Long Island’s South Shore. On my motorcycle, it took me a brief 40 minutes and I always went on a weekday. I was so used to working on weekends and holidays that I savored the weekdays off because lines were short, and restaurants and movies were easily accessible. It is a great day trip, and the Long Island South Shore has world-class beaches that stretch from Coney Island to Montauk. There are also barrier islands like Fire Island, and the South Shore of Long Island’s beaches are some of the loveliest in the world.

Jones Beach State Park, Long Island, New York. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Bjoertvedt.

Jones Beach State Park, Long Island, New York. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Bjoertvedt.


A motorcycle is great transportation in the city, and it sure does beat the traffic. Street parking is a breeze because you can park between cars and never have to feed the parking meters. Driving around New York City is akin to riding through 35 villages. Some of them have an ethnic tone to them. There is Chinatown, Little Italy, Koreatown, Murray Hill, Gramercy, the Flatiron District, the East Village, Greenwich Village, Spanish Harlem, Harlem, and Washington Heights. Just to mention a few.

More than a few nights a week I would drive up Third Avenue to Dr. Generosity’s (aka Doctor G’s). It was a cool pub on 73rd Street and Second Avenue, and I would find parking right in front. A few times I had seen tennis star Arthur Ashe walking in that neighborhood. I supposed he lived around there. The last time I saw him I asked him how he was feeling. It was spontaneous on my part because I had heard the recent news of his diagnosis of HIV. He said he was fine, with a small smile and a nod.

Many times, I would be joined at Dr. G’s by Jim Kellem (one of the “two Jims” I would sometimes work with at Creative Management Associates, CMA). It was a fun place for beers and their food was pretty good. Around midnight Dr. G’s would start to thin out, and quite a few of those nights Jim and I would ride over to Central Park. Sometimes we were accompanied by a couple of young women. There is a smooth asphalt one-way wide road that circles the inside of the Park. The East Drive section goes from 59th Street and wanders up on the east side’s  Fifth Avenue border past the reservoir, then down a curvy hill to the 110 Street exits in Harlem. Then the road continues back downtown and is now called the West Drive, going back up the hill on the west side of the park and more or less hugging Central Park West down past the boat lake and straying just east of the Tavern on the Green down to 59th Street, one big, elongated circle. It is just over seven miles long. in the evening, police barricades were put up so no cars could enter.

Our motorcycles had no problem going around the East 72nd Street barricade. Jim and I would fly along the road as fast as we could go. The ladies quickly learned to hang on to us tightly. It reminded me of the old Steeplechase ride in Coney Island. We did this for years and never saw a soul. In fact, to this day I’ve never gotten a speeding ticket on any of my motorcycles. Even today, I still bicycle around the city and last summer I went electric, buying an all-terrain fat tire e-bike that is a joy. It’s perfect for city traffic and nowadays I even wear a helmet.

Biking, 2020s style: Ken's Ecotric E-bike.

Biking, 2020s style: Ken’s Ecotric E-bike.


After a while of not touring, my decompression turns into the longing to get back out on the road. As the fates have it, a tour always shows up.

I get a call that Tony Orlando needs a road manager. I am not thrilled; it isn’t rock, but I make a point of checking out all potential opportunities. One never knows what one will find. I make an appointment to meet with him in his dressing room at the Copacabana the next day at 4pm. I show up and the backstage security guard ushers me up to Tony’s second floor dressing room. All dressing rooms tend to look like haphazard spaces with various pieces of unmatched furniture thrown together. Probably, I assume because the occupancy changes so frequently.

The guard points me to a chair in the smaller outer room of the larger dressing room, which has big mirrors with lights surrounding each one of them. The door is open, and I can see Tony sitting in front of the mirrors with his shirt off. Yup, it’s Tony Orlando all right, and surprisingly he has a healthy amount of body hair. He is talking to someone who is out of my line of sight. In mid-conversation he glances my way while he is engaged with this other person. I must wait, and that is fine with me.

In about 20 minutes Tony stands up, puts on a shirt and says goodbye to the fella he is talking to. Tony walks him out and then comes into the room I am in and sits down about 8 feet away. After introductions he asks me questions about my work history and my experience. We get into an interview style of conversation. He asks me things like, “how would you feel about sharing a room with the sound man?” My answer is, “okay, but I will be carrying your money, and do you think it is wise for me to share a room with anyone?” I can tell he hasn’t thought about that, and by the looks of things he does not like the image it presents. I can see he is thinking about the cost of an extra room, and that is understandable. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, that seemed to put a damper on the interview. We were not clicking. We finished up the interview and he thanked me for coming. I knew I wasn’t getting the job and I was fine with that.

A few days later Bruce Sachs, one of my best friends and my partner from the productions of the Peace Parade and Superstar, the Original Touring Company shows, was hired as Tony Orlando’s road manager and he stayed with Tony for over two years. Bruce told me it was a good gig and he and Tony worked well together. Bruce liked him.


Knock three times if you remember who this is! Tony Orlando surrounded by Dawn: Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson, 1974.

Knock three times if you remember who this is! Tony Orlando surrounded by Dawn: Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson, 1974.


Jim Kellem arranged an interview for me with actor Joel Grey. We met at the CMA building and used an empty office for the interview. He asked me if I could sew, and I said I could. It didn’t seem like he believed me. Then he asked if I could iron, and I said I could, and again he seemed skeptical. I started thinking that maybe this was more like a butler position and maybe I did not want this job. Finally, Joel asked me if I was an actor and I said, “no, of course not.” He did not believe me and said that if I took the job with him, I would then quit when I got an acting job. Of course, that would not be the case, but he seemed convinced and that was that. I think he was just using that excuse not to hire me. I was relieved – it seemed like working for him would be a tedious experience.

Then another so-called opportunity came up. An executive from Columbia Records was hiring a road manager for Mick Jagger. At least that was what I was told. This guy, going by the name of Ray Renaire, was describing the job and started coming on to me. As nicely as possible I told him that I was not interested in that, and suddenly, the interview was over. Well, okay, I thought, that was weird, and a waste of my time.

These three interviews didn’t happen all in a row, but they happened. But soon, I was working again, and before I hit the road, I made sure to uninstall the Whistle Switch and put it in my small tool kit under the sink.

Every Picture Tells A Story, Or, How I Recreated My Record Collection, and Then Some

Every Picture Tells A Story, Or, How I Recreated My Record Collection, and Then Some

Every Picture Tells A Story, Or, How I Recreated My Record Collection, and Then Some

Larry Jaffee

Today’s renaissance of vinyl as a chosen physical music format represents an opportunity for baby boomers to recapture their collective youth. In the 1970s, record stores were the place to hang out and learn about music and life. I foolishly sold most of my 4,000-LP collection in 2010, and within two years realized what a colossal mistake I had made. I’ve spent the past eight years rebuilding much of what I previously owned, and then some.

About three quarters of the records came from the used bins of about a dozen stores in and around Long Island, although most were culled from Record Reserve in Northport, NY, where Jack Kerouac once spent time drinking at the still-operating local watering hole Gunther’s Tap Room. From 2015 to 2019, I’d spell Record Reserve’s proprietor Tim Clair occasionally. When I was a teenager I always wanted to work in a record store, and instead was delegated to the dairy department of the Big Apple supermarket in Commack. Never too late, indeed.

I remember that first day working at Record Reserve, when I pulled out a dozen used records from the bins, playing guest DJ. Tim, of course, paid me in records, my modus operandi. Pretty soon I replicated my healthy Elvis Costello section, for example.

Elvis Costello, This Year's Model.

Elvis Costello, This Year’s Model.


I’d met Tim in mid-2012, when I sold two boxes of CDs, Mojo magazines and other memorabilia that had been in storage, and which didn’t get sold in earlier purges that had resulted in me shedding 3,800 LPs, 3,000 CDs, and 2,000 DVDs. Sure, it was a decluttering moment of CD digitizing-to-iTunes madness, and wrongly concluding that my iPod was sufficient for satisfying my music consumption needs.

While Tim tallied what he was going to pay me, I perused Tim’s dollar bin and picked out an intriguing vintage burlesque jazz record on Cameo-Parkway. The music didn’t disappoint. I felt like Al Pacino in Godfather 3. “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

A year later, I bought my first new vinyl LP, Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black, replacing a CD that had gone missing. I vowed to follow the same strategy I had when I bought my first CD player in 1985: to only buy on Compact Disc what I didn’t have on vinyl. Well, that idea didn’t last long then, or more recently either. Enticing deluxe vinyl reissues in recent years of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, et al. couldn’t be passed up. Staples for which I hadn’t found original LPs – Nick Drake, the Velvet Underground, Kate Bush, Tom Waits, Neil Young, and Pink Floyd, to name a few – found a home on my shelves. The burgeoning collection spread out to three rooms in my house. I had to delete the Discogs app from my phone because I was using it too much.


The pandemic prompted numerous online purchases to keep my habit going.

A move back to Manhattan in June 2020 presented new possibilities for new store trips once they reopened. Recent visits have included trips to two New York City stores: Moodies Records in the Bronx and Record City in Brooklyn. (Moodies Records is Black-owned, and at one time, there were hundreds of Black-owned record stores in the US; now, according to Record Store Day, there are 32.) During my most recent retail pilgrimage, I found missing pieces for my collection, from when I was a teenager in the mid-1970s, to curios that appealed to my quest to widen my cultural horizons.

Speaking of which, my first grab during this recent sojourn was the soundtrack to the 1975 play For colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf. As a rebellious high schooler who ironically now teaches English composition to college freshmen, I always appreciated the spelling of the last word. My eyes widened when I found Tribute to Uncle Ray, an album by 11-year-old Stevie Wonder singing Ray Charles, which is every bit as good as you can imagine. Having absolutely adored Me’Shell Ndegéocello’s album Bitter on CD, I vaguely remembered the dance track “If That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night)”; I found a 12-inch that featured a half-dozen remixes.


Shifting over to the rock section, I picked up a record I had been thinking about the previous week, a double-LP Beach Boys budget collection, High Water, featuring “Good Vibrations,” “God Only Knows,” “I Get Around,” and more favorites of my 15-year-old self, such as “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena.” I never before owned the 1973 Jerry Lee Lewis LP, The Killer Rocks On, but when I saw it had covers of my two favorite Joe South songs, “Walk A Mile in My Shoes” and “Games People Play,” there was no way I could leave without it. I also found a UK pressing of a Strawbs compilation I never owned which I couldn’t pass up, since they were one of my concert favorites during my early college years.

Having recently seen Questlove’s Summer of Soul documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, when I was shopping at Moodies, I couldn’t pass up Fifth Dimension’s The Age of Aquarius. I already had their live album. We have indeed become our parents. My dad, who died in December 2019, always had a thing for Marilyn McCoo. Another pickup was a low-budget Rod Stewart release with the same mid-1960s tracks I already had from a different compilation album, but both records cashed in on his Faces/Every Picture Tells A Story-era early 1970s fame with a rooster haircut cover illustration or photograph. It’s the type of record that only a completist would covet.

The 5th Dimension, The Age of Aquarius.


Next up was a German near-mint pressing of Steppenwolf Live, originally released in 1970. The greatest hits – “Born to Be Wild,” “Magic Carpet Ride,” and “The Pusher” – were sandwiched onto Side Two, just as I had remembered it. The extended workout “Monster,” with its prominent bass line riff, opened Side Three, also just as I’d left it. This stuff apparently gets laid into your brain’s DNA.

Two weeks ago, I spent several hours at Tim’s new space in Northport, and it was just like old times, trading concert stories with fellow regular patron “Beatle Ted” Iarocci (he met John Lennon and I met Paul McCartney), as Tim played us the newly reissued outtakes from George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. The love of record stores is not one of them.


“Beatle Ted” Iarocci, Tim Clair and Larry Jaffee at Record Reserve, Northport, New York, August 2021.

It was my first trip back to Long Island since May 16, 2021, when I had attended the long-running record fair at the VFW Hall in Massapequa. After that show I had come back with a bag of records (although I can’t remember the contents). It was the first record show I’d attended since October 2019 in Burbank, California.

No wonder I just had to buy another record cabinet.

Larry Jaffee is the author of the forthcoming book, Resurrection: How Record Store Day Led to the Most Improbable Comeback of the 21st Century, to be published in April 2022. Jaffee is also co-founder of Making Vinyl (https://makingvinyl.com), a B2B conference celebrating the rebirth of the vinyl manufacturing industry.


Header image: Record City, Brooklyn, New York, from the Record City website.

Self-Help Before YouTube: More Records to Improve Your Life

Self-Help Before YouTube: More Records to Improve Your Life

Self-Help Before YouTube: More Records to Improve Your Life

Rich Isaacs

Have you ever wondered how we learned to do things (repair/install/build/develop skills, etc.) before smartphones and YouTube came along?  Well, back in ancient times, before “there’s an app for that,” there were records for that (and I mean LPs).

I worked in record stores for nearly 30 years, and after a while I owned most of the music that I wanted, so I began to collect non-music albums – the weirder, the better. The thought was (in part) that I could cull some interesting snippets to throw in for fun between songs on mix tapes. I ended up with hundreds of LPs filed under headings such as “Lectures,” “Children’s Stories,” “Historical,” “Old Radio Shows,” “Literature” (readings from classic books), and “Instructional.”

Here’s a look at some of the entries in that latter category, a few of which are actually on YouTube.

How to CB album cover.

How to CB – 500 CB Terms for Quick on the Road Reference

Hey, good buddy, aren’t we glad that fad didn’t last? The Citizen’s Band craze in the 1970s spawned movies (Smokey and the Bandit and others) and even hit singles (“Convoy,” by country singer/songwriter C.W. McCall). For the most part, the CB world was the domain of truckers and other “good ol’ boys,” as evidenced by some of the blatantly sexist lingo included in the glossary on the back. You got yer “beaver,” for female, and “seat cover” as code for an attractive female passenger. At least they used “mercy” as a substitute for those bad words you couldn’t legally say on the air. The enclosed booklet lists all 500 terms, colorful names for 64 cities and towns (e.g. Corpus Christi, Texas, is “Taco Town”), and four square feet of insanely fine print with the complete text of FCC Rules and Regulations Part 95 – Citizens Radio Service. There are lots of videos on YouTube covering the jargon, along with ones demonstrating the installation and maintenance of CB radios.

If the Bomb Falls album cover. If the Bomb Falls, back album cover.

If the Bomb Falls – A Recorded Guide to Survival

The early 1960s was a time of nuclear paranoia. The possibility of atomic weaponry being used was ever-present, what with the antagonistic relationship between the USA and the Soviet Union. People were building bomb shelters and stocking them with non-perishable food and other survival supplies. Children in schools practiced getting under their desks to “duck and cover,” (as if that might protect one from an H-bomb). This short (23-minute) album was intended to prepare you for a possible nuclear explosion in your vicinity. The narration is measured and sobering, and the list of survival supplies is exhaustive (and exhausting).


How to Get Appointments by Telephone album cover. How to Get Appointments by Telephone, back cover.

How to Get Appointments by Telephone by Mona Ling

False advertising! Mona Ling is not heard on this record. Ms. Ling did write the script, and she autographed this particular copy, but the narration sounds as if it was done by the same guy who voiced all those deadly dull educational films we watched in school. This one comes from the Success Motivation Institute of Waco, Texas. The album demonstrates all the sales techniques you’d expect: using the client’s name, promising benefits, attempting to overcome objections, etc. These are all things that turn me off when I know the salesperson is using them. The accompanying booklet has the complete transcript of the record, so you don’t really have to listen to it, if, like me, it makes your skin crawl. The booklet includes bonus material such as voice exercises, self-evaluation quizzes, and the “Ten Commandments in Telephone Selling,” with gems like Number Five: You shall not show off your technical vocabulary.

Jimmy Nelson's Instant Ventriloquism album cover. Jimmy Nelson's Instant Ventriloquism, back cover.

Jimmy Nelson’s Instant Ventriloquism

Jimmy Nelson was one of the most famous ventriloquists during what The New York Times referred to (in his 2019 obituary) as “the golden age of ventriloquism.” He and his characters, Danny O’Day and Farfel (a dog), were beloved staples of the variety show and nightclub world. The first track on side two is Review and the Ventriloquial Voice. I didn’t know there was such a word as ventriloquial, and I dare you to say it five times fast. A complete script booklet came with the record to help with learning. The tracks on this YouTube link are in a different order, and it looks like they jazzed up the album cover for subsequent issues.




Contract Bridge: The Stayman System album cover.

Contract Bridge: The Stayman System

My folks used to play bridge with friends, and I tried to learn it when I was in elementary school, but understanding it was way beyond me, then and now. I’ve always thought that some comedian could make a routine about learning a foreign language by reading the bridge column in the newspaper. I once saw a reference to “finessing a player out of their honor,” which sounds like they’re talking about seduction and not a card game. Well, if you want to try playing bridge, there are plenty of videos out there, but this album isn’t on YouTube.

The Basic Principles of Kreskin's ESP album cover.

The Basic Principles of Kreskin’s ESP

“You are about to enter an uncanny world of your mind.” Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Not when the narration is bone-dry. You’d think as an entertainer, mentalist and magician George Joseph Kresge, better known as Kreskin, would put a little more life into it. He was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show in the 1970s. To his credit, he didn’t present himself as a psychic with paranormal powers, but he was known for making predictions about the future.


Learn Morse Code the Easy Way album cover. Learn Morse Code the Easy Way, back cover.

Learn Code the Easy Way

Don’t get excited – they aren’t talking about computer code. After all, this article is about “old-school” learning. Most of us don’t have a practical use for Morse code anymore, but it shows up every once in a while. The front and back album covers for the Roger Waters LP Radio Kaos consisted entirely of coded information, with short vertical lines separating the letters and longer lines separating the words. With the help of this record (actually just the chart on the back cover), I could decipher it all. Although I couldn’t find Learn Code the Easy Way on YouTube, I was amazed at the numbers of Morse code instructional videos there. This album was released on the Archer label, which some will remember as the “house brand” of Radio Shack.

Radio Kaos back cover.

Roger Waters, Radio Kaos front and back album covers.
Roger Waters, Radio Kaos front and back album covers.

Dye-Call Presents The Mallard Sound, album cover.

Dye-Call Presents The Mallard Sound – A Lesson in Duck Calling

What manner of quackery be this? Why, it’s Harry B. Dye, the eponymous founder of Dye-Call, showing you how to attract waterfowl. As a bonus, he’s included a typewritten order form with retail prices for 1974. You might notice on the back cover showing four types of calls that the sound of three of them are described as “quacks,” but the feeding call is described as “kitty, kitty, kitty.” The greeting or comeback call has the cadence of human laughter, and the feeding call has rapid staccato quacks with a lot of vibrato. This is definitely an amateur production, done on the custom Century label, which was known for recording high school bands and other non-professional performances. Again, it isn’t on YouTube, but there’s no shortage of other duck-calling videos.

Make Your Bird a Star album cover. Make Your Bird a Star, back cover.

Make Your Bird a Star

If you value your sanity, you’ll leave the house when you put this one on – it consists entirely of passable impersonations of famous celebrities doing their catch phrases repeated ad nauseum so your pet talking bird can learn to sound like a Hollywood star of the past. The producers went to great (?) lengths to avoid lawsuits by attributing the lines to names like “W.C. Birdfields,” “Greta Garbird,” “John Wainbird,” or “Clark Gaybird.” (We may never know if that last one was an intentional reference.) Only two of the sixteen utterances are from female movie stars, and one impressionist handles all the male voices.

 Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Home Computers, album cover.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Home Computers

This one’s a head-scratcher. I mean, to whom else would you turn to learn about computers other than Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows? Don’t answer that. This was done in 1983, which, in technology terms, might as well be the Stone Age, but I have to admit that some of their predictions about future computer use were uncanny in their accuracy. You can hear the unintentionally campy album in full with the link below.




I had fun with these albums, although I may never listen to them again!

Mister Mister and the Misses

Mister Mister and the Misses

Mister Mister and the Misses

Don Kaplan

This month the Melophile suggests music by composers who either deserve better recognition or are already well-known but have written major works that were overshadowed by their own “biggest hits.” The pieces included here were created during the 20th century but didn’t follow the avant-garde styles of the time: they are accessible and memorable…and there isn’t a twelve-tone row among them.

Blitzstein/The Cradle Will Rock/Gershon Kingsley, musical director (MGM original LP or CRI reissue LP) Marc Blitzstein, a talented composer whose theater/opera works were considered controversial because of their political and social content, gained national attention when his first musical opened off-Broadway in the 1930s. [1] The Cradle Will Rock, set during the Great Depression, is the story of a capitalist’s resistance to unionization in a fictional town controlled by the tyrannical Mr. Mister. Appropriately named characters include Mr. and Mrs. Mister, Reverend Salvation, Editor Daily, Moll (a prostitute), and Larry Foreman (the union leader) – roles that have been sung by performers including Jerry Orbach, Alfred Drake, Tammy Grimes, Patti LuPone, and Vivian Vance (yes, that Vivian Vance, aka I Love Lucy’s Ethel Mertz).

The Cradle was scheduled to premiere at the Maxine Elliott Theater in New York on June 16, 1937. In his The New York Times review of a 2019 revival, Jesse Green recounted the events of that day: “whether because of budget cuts or censorship, the production was canceled by its sponsor, the Federal Theater Project, on the day of its planned premiere. With the intended theater (and sets and costumes) locked down, the director, Orson Welles, then 22, decided to rent a space [the Venice Theater] 19 blocks north. The audience paraded to the new site but, in an irony more pungent than any of Blitzstein’s, the actors’ and musicians’ unions forbade their members to perform under the terms of their existing contracts. So Welles invited the actors to buy tickets and sing their roles, in street clothes, from their seats. On the otherwise empty stage, Blitzstein accompanied them at an upright piano, forgoing his 23-player orchestration.” [2] Green was critical of the lyrics but praised the music: “what…can sometimes make it beautiful, is the score, in which pastiche passages that mock the bad guys alternate with jagged, yearning arias that ennoble the others. (If it sounds like Leonard Bernstein, [3] that’s because Bernstein was a Blitzstein protégé.)” [4]

Most musicals have at least one hit song and “Nickel Under the Foot,” sung by Moll, is this musical’s most popular number. The picture quality of my favorite YouTube performance is poor but the sound is clear and Patti LuPone’s performance makes it “must see TV.” [5] For selections from the excellent LP recording referred to above, listen to scenes six and seven, where you’ll find dialogue and lyrics that provide parts of the plot, references to Mr. Mister and the Mrs., and several numbers including the title song and a different performance of “Nickel.”

The Cradle might be considered out of date or regarded as still relevant. However you feel about the subject matter the (now) overlooked music is nevertheless enjoyable. For more Blitzstein, listen to the rain in “The Rain Quartet” video from Act III of his opera Regina. [6]

Houseman tells “the true story” of The Cradle’s opening night (video from the 1986 PBS broadcast):


LuPone sings “Nickel Under the Foot” (video from the 1986 PBS broadcast):


The Cradle scenes 6-7 (LP):


“The Rain Quartet” from Regina (video):


Bernstein/Peter Pan/Alexander Frey, cond. (KOCH CD) West Side Story. Candide. On the Town. Peter Pan. Wait…Peter Pan? With songs composed by Leonard Bernstein?

Peter Pan brings back memories of Mary Martin, attached to a cable, flying around the stage in the 1960 black and white TV classic. Songs like “I’ve Gotta Crow,” “I Won’t Grow Up,” “Never, Never Land,” and “I’m Flying” come to mind…not a Peter Pan with music by the composer of “Cool” or “Gee, Officer Krupke.”

Bernstein’s Peter Pan opened on Broadway in 1950. Although it was both a critical and financial success the show was quickly obscured by the Disney animated version (1953), the Broadway production with Mary Martin (1954), the TV broadcast, and mostly by the quality of Bernstein’s other musicals: On the Town (1944), Wonderful Town (1953), and of course West Side Story (1957).

In his liner notes for the CD Daniel Felsenfeld writes: “Sometimes a classic slips away, needing revival, unjustly forsaken….The score is delightfully tuneful…[e.g.] ‘Dream with Me’ shows the composer at his Broadway best, with smooth, fluent harmonies, and a gorgeous, arching melody…’Spring Will Come Again’ [has a] plangent middle section [Bernstein later included] in a moving boy soprano aria in his Chichester Psalms…and ‘Build My House’ is a sweet tune, an innocent hortatory number Wendy sings to the Lost Boys as she lands in Neverland…” [7]

Although Bernstein’s most famous musicals get all the attention, the forgotten Peter Pan is worth revisiting. “The Broadway rendering of Peter Pan…has, until now, vanished into the unmerciful and often cruel mists of time….[This recording] stands as a loving exercise, a carefully prepared re-rendering of a hidden gem authored by a true master.” [8]

“Dream With Me”


“Spring Will Come Again”


“Build My House”


Barber/Violin Concerto/Gil Shaham, violin, London Symphony Orchestra cond. by Andre Previn (Deutsche Grammophon CD) Sometimes referred to as “the saddest music ever written,” [9] Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings was originally the second movement of his String Quartet, Op. 11. Like Eric Satie’s famous “Gymnopédie No.3” (consult the Melophile in Issue 138) you’ve almost certainly heard it on TV, in the movies, or on a classical music radio station in one form or another: the original string quartet, the arrangement for string orchestra, or version for voices.

The Adagio, like most of Barber’s music, is superb but has eclipsed his stunning Violin Concerto. No doubt about it: This is Romantic 20th century music with exquisite first and second movements and a breathless “perpetual motion” third movement where the violinist gets to strut his stuff. Sometimes violinists perform the melodic first movement too quickly. Sometimes they play every note so lovingly that the music loses its flow. In this recording Gil Shaham and Andre Previn emphasize the music’s lyrical nature without gushing uncontrollably.

Barber was criticized for being too conservative. After all, just about everyone else was experimenting with atonal music – intellectually engaging but emotionally unfulfilling. Happily, Barber and many other composers, including the ones discussed here, continued to write in styles that kept the emotional element alive while integrating 20th century techniques. You can listen on YouTube to the first movement alone or the entire concerto performed by Barber/Previn, or watch Shaham in action with a different conductor and orchestra by making your way over to the BBC Proms. Seeing the violinist play the challenging last movement is a special treat. (Note: Click on SHOW MORE to reach the second and third movements on both the CD and BBC video.)

Violin Concerto, first movement/André Previn conducting the London Symphony Orchestra (CD):


Violin Concerto/David Robertson conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra (BBC Proms video):




Estévez/La Cantata Criolla: Florentino, el que cantó con el Diablo/Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, Eduardo Mata, cond. (DORIAN Discovery CD) For many listeners the only South American classical music composer’s name that comes to mind is Heitor Villa-Lobos, the Brazilian who wrote Bachianas Brasileiras. But there are many other talented artists, like Venezuelan composer Antonio Estévez, who have been neglected and deserve recognition outside of South America.

The Venezuelan Llanos (plains) have inspired many artistic achievements. One of those  is “Florentino y el Diablo,” a Venezuelan poem by Alberto Arvelo Torrealba based on a folk legend that recounts a singing contest between a llanero [10] and the Devil. La Cantata, set to that poem, is one of the most important works of choral-symphonic music in Latin America and it’s a knockout: exotic, percussive, rhythmic, and exciting. It incorporates one vocal “duel,” two Gregorian chants, and occasionally sounds like Stravinsky in a good mood. The third and final movement features the best part of a contest between the Devil and a llanero named Florentino. If you get hooked and want to hear more, go back and listen to the first two movements: They’re wonderfully atmospheric and dramatic, and include most of the choral music.

Bonus track: Watch the third movement of a live performance [11] with Idwer Alvarez  singing the part of Florentino – the same role he sings on the Dorian recording. While the melodies are more apparent under Mata’s baton, this video (yet another with a variety of technical glitches) is an electrifying, almost manic presentation conducted by a very young looking Gustavo Dudamel practically flying off the podium. The soloists sing their parts at a rapid pace without biting their tongues…an impressive achievement. Don’t try this at home.

Mata: Third movement (CD):


First movement:


Second movement:


Dudamel: Third movement (video):


[1] Blitzstein also gained attention in the 1950s for his English translation/adaptation of Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera.

[2] For additional information about the opening performance, listen to John Houseman’s first-hand account on the 1986 PBS airing of a 1985 Acting Company production of The Cradle.

[3] “We are almost telepathically close. Sometimes we compose startlingly similar music on the same day, without seeing each other.” Marc Blitzstein on Leonard Bernstein, in  “Remembering Blitzstein in the Bernstein Year” (marc-blitzstein.org, January 17, 2018).

[4] “Blitzstein’s influence on Bernstein’s intellectual and musical development was said to be considerable. As Bernstein became increasingly recognized and venerated in the music world, he continued to commend in Blitzstein a musical purity that Bernstein himself had sacrificed in his rise to fame…When they had met, Blitzstein was riding high, but his protégé would quickly surpass him in popular renown, critical admiration, and financial success.” Christopher Caggiano, “Bernstein on Blitzstein, Blitzstein on Bernstein” (everythingmusicals.com, 4/14/2018).

[5] Video excerpted from the 1986 PBS airing.

[6] Based on Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes.

[7] The songs and almost all of the lyrics were written by Bernstein but because of other commitments he didn’t have time to compose the show in its entirety. As a result he commissioned his life-long friend Marc Blitzstein to help out with a few of the lyrics.

[8] Daniel Felsenfeld. Some music was cut from the original production and this CD is the first recording that contains the complete restored score.

[9] Thomas Larson, The Saddest Music Ever Written: The Story of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” (New York: Pegasus Books, 2010). If you want to challenge this conclusion get out your handkerchief and try listening to Górecki’s Symphony No. 3.

[10] The strength of the Venezuelan countryside is said to be contained in the power of words and singing. The “llanero,” or plainsman, uses words to chase away death, tame animals, challenge his enemies and engage in duels, fully assured of his victory.

[11] No performance information given.

Header image: Samuel Barber.

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part Three

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part Three

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part Three

B. Jan Montana


Part One and Part Two of this series appeared in Issue 143 and Issue 144.

I felt emancipated as I pulled into the highway and away from the renegades. I’d miss Candy and Chip, especially Candy, but I was not going to be the guest of a group that travels on stolen credit cards. The likelihood of ending up as the guests of the local constabulary were too great.

The bank thermometer hit 105 degrees as I pulled into the dusty town of Sundance, Wyoming. No wonder the Sundance Kid was so eager to exploit opportunities elsewhere.  I headed for the first watering hole without saloon doors, because air conditioned businesses have glass doors. The place was packed with farmers and ranchers. The only seat available was at the bar next to a tall, flamboyant cowboy with a handlebar mustache. He wore a stained Stetson,  denim shirt and jeans, tan cowboy boots, and a matching holster carrying a revolver.

The cowboy soon struck up a conversation, asking where I’d been and where I was going. His voice carried throughout the bar. I told him about my adventures with the renegades, and he listened intently. To my surprise, his name was Roy Disney – same name as the brother of the famous entertainment mogul, but no relation, he explained. His family had owned a ranch in the area for generations and everyone seemed to know him.

When I asked about the famous Sundance Kid, his countenance darkened. Apparently, The Kid had stolen a horse and saddle from his family’s ranch. The Disneys were homesteaders at the time, and this loss caused major hardship. Roy added that if his great grandfather had been wearing a revolver, the Sundance Kid would never have lived a life of crime.

“Seems many citizens wear guns in Sundance. There must be a lot of rattlesnakes ’round here.” I commented facetiously,

“Let me tell you something,” he leaned in as if sharing a secret, “there’s a lot of rattlesnakes everywhere. I’d feel much safer if I could also wear my revolver in cities like Chicago, St. Louis, and Baltimore. These gun-free zones are the most dangerous places in America.” I nodded my head.

He was a good-hearted guy with lots of stories to share. But after a couple of hours, I became antsy to leave. Then Roy ordered another round. “This is my last one, Roy, I want to get back on the road before the sun goes down.”

When I finished the beer, he followed me out of the bar, still spinning yarns. Thankfully, the temperature had dropped with the sun. I donned my helmet and jacket. Then Roy surprised me. He removed a bolo tie from around his neck and handed it over. He explained that it was crafted by a Kiowa ranch hand. It featured elk ivories, rattlesnake rattles, and eagle claws. “This is the Kiowa St. Christopher’s medal,” he explained, “safe travels.” I was touched by this gesture. I gave him a hug, got on the bike, and pulled out. The Kiowa amulet hangs on my wall to this day.

It didn’t take long to reach my destination for the night, Devils Tower. It has a campground nearby. I set up my tent next to a Boy Scout troop. The Scouts surrounded my bike and had a million questions. Although I was whacked, I patiently explained every part of the machine and as much BMW history as I could remember. They were respectful, and good listeners. One of the Scout leaders came over and invited me to share dinner. Their school bus reminded me of the renegades’ gear hauler, except it was in good nick, carried a mobile kitchen, and served great food.

I slept like a gorged walrus.

The next morning, one of the Scouts shook my tent with coffee in hand. I looked over at the Scoutmaster and he waved me over for breakfast. As I’d woken to the smell of his sizzling bacon, I had no power to resist.

The kids were all excited about going on a hayride! After breakfast and clean-up – in which everyone participated – a local farmer chugged into view on a tractor-powered hay wagon. The kids begged me to join them, but I had other plans. The Scoutmaster came over and suggested I do the ride. “It’s worth the time,” he nodded, so I relented.

The fluted, basalt columns characterizing Devils Tower reach almost 1,000 feet above the prairie. It was featured in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind with Richard Dreyfuss.  It’s a long way around the monument, with no road, so I was happy to circumnavigate the base in the comfort of the hay wagon. The farmer recited a running documentary. Most of the kids’ questions centered on the movie and its stars. The farmer explained that the movie company rented some of his land and buildings during filming, and that Richard Dreyfuss, the star, thrilled the locals by spending time with them and sharing stories. Of course, the Scouts wanted to hear every one of them.

Devils Tower, Wyoming. Courtesy of Wikipedia/Jonathunder.

Devils Tower, Wyoming. Courtesy of Wikipedia/Jonathunder.


Once around the monument, the farmer took us on a tour of his farm. It was a beautiful place with groves of native trees set in rolling, golden fields bisected by a running creek –  crossed by a World War II surplus Bailey bridge. We stopped at the farmhouse to see the rancher’s collection of Native artifacts. I showed him my Kiowa bolo. “Keep that out of sight,” he suggested. “It’s illegal to possess eagle claws outside the reservation.”

His wife prepared a barbecue lunch for everyone, which was much appreciated and enjoyed. The package for the entire troop was only $100, so I surreptitiously paid the farmer before the Scoutmaster could object.

We got back to the campsite just as the day got too warm. As I packed up, some of the kids swore they’d get a bike just like mine when they grew up. The Scoutmaster heartily shook my hand. What comes around, goes around, I told him.

It was mid-afternoon by the time I hit the highway for the ride to Spearfish City Campground – another hot ride – where I planned to set up camp for the evening.

In the 1970s, we were allowed to camp at Sturgis City Park, which is near all the action and had a great swimming hole. There was a hippie-style celebration around the swimming hole every day, but by the early eighties, it got too wild. On one occasion, an occupied tent was run over by an out-of-control chopper. On another, the forks were blown off a Japanese bike with dynamite. The city fathers decided they’d had enough and closed the park during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally bike week. There’s always some jerk who ruins it for everyone.

The following year, an enterprising lawyer established the Buffalo Chip Campground in the middle of a farmer’s field nearby, but with no trees, no creek, and no swimming hole. He hired dancing girls from the big city to replace the hippie chicks at the swimming hole. A festival of life was turned into a for-profit circus. I camped there once and that was enough.


Buffalo Chip Campground, South Dakota.

Buffalo Chip Campground, South Dakota. Courtesy of sturgismotorcyclerally.com.


The City Park in Spearfish is just as scenic as the one in Sturgis, with an added advantage. It’s within staggering distance of the local downtown area.

Most of the best campsites were taken by the time I arrived, but I found a spot in the fork of two dusty roads. It had less shade than I preferred, but there was lots of space and it featured two picnic tables rather than one. I set up my tent and spent the rest of the day enjoying the downtown saloon culture.

It was well after midnight by the time I staggered back. I had a hard time locating my campsite. That’s because I was looking for the wrong thing. Instead of seeking a large site with a single tent, I should have been looking for a community of tents surrounded by hogs and an ugly yellow school bus.

The renegades had found me.

Header image courtesy of sturgismotorcyclerally.com.

Lyle Mays – Composer, Arranger, Producer and Keyboardist, Part Two

Lyle Mays – Composer, Arranger, Producer and Keyboardist, Part Two

Lyle Mays – Composer, Arranger, Producer and Keyboardist, Part Two

Rudy Radelic

Part One (Issue 144) covered Lyle Mays’ recordings as a leader and as part of the Pat Metheny Group. The series concludes here.

In the last installment, we looked at Lyle Mays’ own recordings, and some early tunes he recorded with Pat Metheny and the Pat Metheny Group. In this second installment, we’ll expand a bit and include some additional projects Lyle was a part of as a composer, arranger and/or performer. In addition to the features below, Lyle also appeared on the following albums as a sideman: Home by Steve Swallow, Contemplación by fellow Pat Metheny Group member Pedro Aznar, Premonition by Oregon woodwind player Paul McCandless, and Later That Evening by Eberhard Weber.

While Lyle and Pat Metheny did not directly score the film, two tunes from As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls were excerpted in the Brat Pack film Fandango. They did, however, score the film The Falcon and The Snowman, featuring the Pat Metheny Group, a few orchestrations, and a David Bowie vocal on the track “This Is Not America,” which made the Top 40 of the US Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1985.

After recording Solo: Improvisations for Expanded Piano, Lyle retreated from the music business, but took up a career as a manager for a music software company. Long before computers were used in music, Lyle learned to program on an Apple II computer back in the day, so this was a natural progression for him, and in a slower-paced lifestyle he was comfortable with. There were sporadic appearances after his retreat.

Here is a video of Lyle and percussionist Alex Acuña demonstrating a software-based upright bass.  What was intended to be a demonstration turns into an improvised jam that is textbook Lyle Mays at his best. Also be sure to check out “Duo #2,” as well as the “Behind The Scenes” video from Spectrasonics which explains the software Lyle and Alex were demonstrating in the two demo videos.


One interesting series of recordings that Lyle had a small part in were the releases on the Rabbit Ears label (a subsidiary of Windham Hill, which was dedicated to children’s recordings consisting mainly of narrated stories. One such project paired Lyle Mays with actress Meryl Streep narrating “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” and “The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher.” Another paired Lyle with actor Max von Sydow narrating “East of the Sun, West of the Moon.” A third was Moses the Lawgiver, narrated by actor Ben Kingsley. Here is an excerpt from this recording:


Pat, Lyle, Jaco Pastorius, Don Alias and Michael Brecker appeared in concert with Joni Mitchell on her Shadows and Light album. Here is the track “Coyote” from that era.


In 1994, pianist Pat Coil, a longtime friend of Lyle’s from their days together at the University of North Texas (who also appears on the Lab ’75 album featured in Part One of this series), released an album on Sheffield Lab called Schemes and Dreams. Since he was influenced by Lyle’s work, he offered Lyle a chance to take part in the album. Lyle also enlisted Steve Rodby (bassist of the Pat Metheny Group) and not only contributed some parts on keyboards, he also wrote some of the tunes and co-produced the album with Rodby. This track originally appeared on Fictionary, “Where Are You From Today?” This version is supported by a who’s who of Los Angeles studio musicians.


When Lyle was based in Boston in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he’d made the acquaintance of a marimba player, Nancy Zeltsman, via a music consortium he had attended as part of the audience. Lyle eventually contributed a song to Zeltsman’s duo project, Marimolin (marimba and violin), which appeared on their self-titled debut album in 1988. This tune composed by Lyle, “Somewhere in Maine,” closes out the recording.


One of Lyle’s bandmates in the Pat Metheny Group was Pedro Aznar, the band’s first vocalist and percussionist, who first appeared on the album First Circle. Returning the favor, Pat, Lyle, and drummer Danny Gottlieb appeared on Aznar’s 1984 album Contemplación. Here is the instrumental track “23” which features a solo by Lyle in the midsection.


Lyle’s final full-length album released in 2015 was actually recorded many years earlier, in 1993, at the Ludwigsburger Festival in Germany. The Ludwigsburg Concert was released on the SWR Music label as a two-CD set. The quartet here includes bassist Marc Johnson, Bob Sheppard (sax), and Mark Walker (drums, who would join the group Oregon in 1997 after the band’s original drummer and percussionist Colin Wolcott died in an automobile accident). Featured in this set are tracks from throughout Lyle’s career, and the album opens with a lengthy take on the title track from Fictionary.


Here’s the tune “August,” originally from Street Dreams, written for Lyle’s grandfather.


Finally, here is a full-length concert featuring Lyle Mays with fellow Pat Metheny Group member Steve Rodby on bass, Yellowjackets’ longtime drummer Will Kennedy, vibraphonist Dave Samuels, and guitarist Michael Sagmeister.


A companion Qobuz playlist highlighting most of the music in this Lyle Mays feature can be found here: https://open.qobuz.com/playlist/6696534

Dancing Daze

Dancing Daze

Dancing Daze

James Whitworth
"Tweak? I thought you wanted me to twerk the hi-fi!?

Dogged Determination

Dogged Determination

Dogged Determination

Peter Xeni

Lefty Frizzell: Country Music Bedrock

Lefty Frizzell: Country Music Bedrock

Lefty Frizzell: Country Music Bedrock

Anne E. Johnson

Everybody knows who Hank Williams is, but somehow Lefty Frizzell is not a household name. In the early days of country music, however, the two men were equally important in establishing and popularizing the genre. Roy Orbison, George Strait, and Randy Travis are among the country music luminaries who stand on the musical bedrock created by Lefty Frizzell.

He grew up in the 1930s in East Texas and parts of Arkansas and Louisiana, wherever his dad could find work in the oil fields. Born William Orville Frizzell, he was called “Sonny” as a child; much later, record executives leaked the intriguing rumor that he got the nickname “Lefty” after landing a serious punch in a schoolyard fight. Didn’t matter if it was true; “Lefty” stuck.

After falling hard for the yodeling voice and songwriting style of Jimmie Rodgers, Frizzell taught himself to sing and play guitar. He also started writing songs, and by the 1940s he was gigging and making radio appearances with original material. His big break came in 1950, and it unfolded in a way that spotlighted his twin contributions to country music: his voice and his songs. When he sang his composition “If You’ve Got the Money (I’ve Got the Time)” as an audition for record producer Jim Beck, Beck loved it and took Frizzell’s demo to Nashville. There, Columbia Records’ Don Law recognized the voice of a potential star; he signed Frizzell and released his debut, Songs of Jimmie Rodgers, in 1951.

Frizzell’s smooth delivery brings Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel No. 6 (She Left Me This Morning)” to a whole new level of cool. It’s easy to understand why that clear, offhand voice caught the imagination of the American listening public. Also, respect must be paid to the barrelhouse piano player and the fiddler on this record, session musicians whose names are lost to time.


Listen to Lefty (1952) came out next, exhibiting Frizzell’s outstanding skill at creating his own melodies and lyrics. He managed to use the standard chord progression of a bluegrass ballad as the foundation for wide-ranging, far-wandering melodies that come across as simple and straightforward despite their crafty ornamentation.

A good example is “I Want to Be with You Always.” The unhurried tempo and relaxed vocals are part of the Frizzell signature, a voice one can trust, wise and yet simultaneously unconcerned about the difficulties life throws at you. His precise vocal intonation should be noted too, given how rare that skill is; that accuracy was what allowed him to pull off complicated melodies without them becoming a distraction.


Some have called Frizzell “the original Elvis” because of his velvet delivery and suave, fashionable looks, but sadly that self-confidence did not translate into a happy life. He was drinking so heavily in the 1950s that he ended up on the outs with many people in his professional life, from the team at Columbia Records to his own manager and the Grand Ole Opry staff. Although he was a sought-after performer on stage, radio, and TV, he stopped writing songs, frustrated that Columbia refused to release the ones he thought were the best. Although he was a top seller at first, the singles he did release during that decade charted lower and lower. Furthermore, he got into a couple of serious car accidents, likely related to his drinking.

His career received a much-needed boost in 1959, when he finally landed a single in the Top 10, a wistful number called “The Long Black Veil.” Johnny Cash would later bring it back into the charts with his ghostly version in 1965. Rallied by the song’s success, Columbia at last put out another Frizzell album, the first in seven years. The One and Only Lefty Frizzell included “The Long Black Veil,” a much breezier accounting of the story than Cash left us.


This was followed quickly by a second tribute album to Jimmie Rogers in 1960, but then another few years of strife slowed Frizzell’s output. For a moment in 1963 it looked like he was back on track, celebrating the single “Saginaw, Michigan” reaching the top of the country charts. Although that touching view into the life of a working man earned Frizzell a Grammy nomination, it would be his last major success.

Columbia named an album after the song. Saginaw, Michigan (1964) also included the heartbreak ballad “I’m Not the Man I’m Supposed to Be” by rockabilly and country songwriter Wayne Walker. If you’re a George Jones fan, you will note the influence here.


Despite ebbing sales, Columbia took a new approach to Frizzell’s marketing at this point, pushing out at least a record per year. The Sad Side of Love (1965) was followed by The Great Sound of Lefty Frizzell (1966). The year 1967 saw the release of two albums: Puttin’ On and Mom and Dad’s Waltz. Unlike later rock and country albums, these were not the artist’s creations, but compilations by the record company of new and old material. Some had already shown up on other albums or been released as singles.

One example is “Mom and Dad’s Waltz,” which Frizzell first recorded in 1951 and then did a slicker version of in 1958. Columbia turned the latter into a single and named an album after it a few years later. The arrangement is rich in textures, with backup singers, mandolin, and a violin section. But the star is that silky Frizzell voice.


Columbia put out one more Frizzell album, Signed, Sealed and Delivered (1968), before ending his contract. His health and reliability were deteriorating. After a few years out of the studio, he signed with ABC Records, which gave him a chance to make a few more albums. None of them sold well.

The ragged sound of Frizzell’s voice on The Legendary Lefty Frizzell (1973) leaves no question that his musical peak is behind him. Producer Don Grant went out of his way to provide sonic support with an over-abundant arrangement that attempts to stand in for the smoothness now missing from the “original Elvis.” Still, that suave phrasing is distinctively, unmistakably Frizzell.


After decades of alcoholism, Frizzell died of a stroke in 1975, at the age of only 47. Film producer and director M. Douglas Silverstein is currently working on a documentary about this influential country star; hopefully that means more people will come to appreciate his legacy.

Stuff Smith: Black Violin

Stuff Smith: Black Violin

Stuff Smith: Black Violin

Anne E. Johnson

Leroy “Stuff” Smith, born in 1909, helped turn the violin into a jazz instrument. His dad taught him classical violin when he was growing up in Ohio, but when Louis Armstrong’s swing stole his heart, he never looked back.

He moved to New York City in the 1930s, gigging regularly at the famous Onyx Club and befriending powerhouses like Dizzy Gillespie and Nat King Cole. Among his closest collaborators throughout his career was fellow violinist Stéphane Grappelli, one year his senior. (I wrote about Grappelli in Issue 89.) It’s also worth noting that Smith was a technological innovator, experimenting with amplifying his instrument by attaching a transducer to its bridge.

As was true for many Black jazz artists, Smith found that he faced less racism in Europe. He spent the last couple of decades of his life in Germany and environs, where he was kept busy playing at festivals with both European musicians and American colleagues he invited over. He died in Munich in 1967.

Enjoy these eight great tracks by Stuff Smith.

  1. Track: “Comin’ Thru the Rye”
    Album: Stuff Smith and Dizzy Gillespie
    Label: Verve
    Year: 1957

In 1957, Smith made a duo album with Dizzy Gillespie. These maestros worked exquisitely together, with a common energy and spirit and with ears keen to catch and run with each other’s musical ideas. And some of the credit goes to Norman Granz, the founder of Verve Records, who lived and breathed jazz and always paid his artists profound sonic respect.

“Comin’ Thru the Rye” is based on a Scottish folk song (mentioned in that famous J.D. Salinger novel, of course) that Smith recorded several times. Smith and Gillespie have no trouble turning this tune into a jazz number. On piano is Carl Perkins (not the rockabilly singer) in one of his few studio recordings; he died when he was only 29.


  1. Track: “It’s Wonderful”
    Album: Have Violin, Will Swing
    Label: Verve
    Year: 1958

This track is a terrific example of Smith’s typically gritty articulation, combining pressure on the bow with a very slight swoop at the start of each phrase. You’ll also notice the weightlessness of some of his notes, as if they are parachutes and he is somehow hanging from them.

Smith is in the best company here, with Carl Perkins on piano, Red Callender on bass, and Oscar La Bradley holding the proceedings together with his solid but soulful brushwork.


  1. Track: “The Man I Love”
    Album: Cat on a Hot Fiddle
    Label: Verve
    Year: 1960

Packed with American popular standards, most of them by Gershwin, Cat on a Hot Fiddle finds Smith and his colleagues exploring swing’s core building material. “The Man I Love” was first used onstage in the 1927 Gershwin show Strike Up the Band. Its simple, economical melody, rendered heartbreaking by the shifting harmonies beneath it, quickly caught on in the jazz sphere.

Smith eschews sentimentality, taking the tune at a jaunty pace over a two-feel beat (Lewis Powers, bass; Harold Saunders, drums). And while it is not mournful, the playing is intensely emotional. It’s also technically stunning: check out the sliding double-stops starting around 3:05.


  1. Track: “Skip It”
    Album: Herb Ellis and Stuff Smith Together!
    Label: Epic
    Year: 1963

Combining Smith’s violin with Herb Ellis’s guitar makes for true jazz combustibility. Rounding out the quintet are Lou Levy on piano, Al McKibbon on bass, and Shelly Manne on drums.

“Skip It” is the first track, a tune by Smith that he originally wrote for the Stuff Smith Trio in the late 1940s. He would go on to record it with Stéphane Grappelli in a much slower, more subtle version. This one with Ellis pops and jives at an almost frenetic pace.


  1. Track: “Willow Weep for Me”
    Album: Stuff and Steff
    Label: Barclay
    Year: 1966

Reissued on CD as part of Gitanes Jazz Productions’ estimable Jazz in Paris series, this duet album with Grappelli is a treasure trove for fans of jazz violin from the years before the fusion subgenre changed the instrument.

The haunting standard “Willow Weep for Me” was composed in 1932 by Ann Ronnell, who reportedly had a lot of trouble getting it published because of the complexity of its form. Thank goodness she persevered. Over the years, the song has been recorded in both duple and triple meter. Smith chose the former, giving it a closer relationship with traditional blues.


  1. Track: “Cherokee”
    Album: Black Violin
    Label: MPS/BASF
    Year: 1972

There’s no small measure of pride in the album title Black Violin. Few enough jazz violinists make any name for themselves, and Smith stood out as one of the very few famous Black players of his generation. He died five years before BASF pulled this collection from its vault.

One of the gems to discover is “Cherokee,” Smith’s take on the 1942 Charlie Parker tune. Smith has a way of floating his bow across the strings that calls to mind Parker’s breathy sustained notes. Standing out among the crack team here are German pianist Otto Weiss and Swiss drummer Charly Antolini.


  1. Track: “No Points Today”
    Album: Violins No End
    Label: Pablo
    Year: 1984
    With Grappelli

Although not released until 1984, Violins No End contains studio work by Smith and Grappelli from 1957. It’s another Norman Granz production, with top-notch guests like Herb Ellis and Oscar Peterson.

Smith shared writing credits for “No Points Today” with Grappelli and Peterson, indicating that it was created and developed in the moment during recording sessions. Whatever the case, this number sparkles with humor and virtuosity.


  1. Track: “Girl from Ipanema”
    Album: Live at the Montmartre
    Label: Storyville
    Year: 1988

Another delayed Smith triumph is this live album recorded in 1965 but kept in the vault until 1988. His fellow musicians onstage are all Danes, with the exception of Kenny Drew on piano.

It’s fun to hear Smith apply his sexy phrasing to the bossa nova style of “Girl from Ipanema,” by Antonio Carlos Jobim. Had he not been so devoted to swing, to the exclusion of all else, Smith might have had a lot to offer Latin jazz. His approach to the rhythm is unusual, with syncopation in places unexpected in this genre.

An I²S Follow Up…And More Steven Wilson Remix/Remasters

An I²S Follow Up…And More Steven Wilson Remix/Remasters

An I²S Follow Up…And More Steven Wilson Remix/Remasters

Tom Gibbs

In my article in Copper Issue 141 I talked about my new setup using a Douk Audio USB digital interface to get an I²S output signal fed to my PS Audio GainCell DAC’s I²S input. Dalibor Kasac, my contact at Euphony Audio, the manufacturer of my streaming equipment, had mentioned to me in a few e-mails that they were working towards incorporating I²S capability into their equipment. He also told me that it would most likely be in the form of an outboard USB-to-I²S interface that they’d been working on with another European Union manufacturer located in Bulgaria. I’d mentioned to Dalibor that I had seen a USB audio interface online for just over $50 USD, but he strongly recommended that I pass on the Chinese-made gizmo.

But he also couldn’t give me any kind of timeline for the availability of Euphony’s outboard equipment, so I pulled the trigger on the Douk Audio interface, and it’s been nothing but a win-win for me. Especially since it allows me to play 32-bit/352.8 DXD files over my system, which was a capability I desperately needed for an upcoming review of an important release. However, there were some caveats with the Douk Audio interface in place in my system; mainly, for me, that I didn’t get any readout on my GainCell DAC as far as whatever the bit-and sample-rate of the digital file I happened to be playing at the time was. Of course, being as helpful as they are, the Euphony support people remoted in and confirmed for me that I was indeed achieving the correct high-resolution playback, so at the time that was enough for me.

But it wasn’t enough for some readers out there, who’d also ordered the Douk Audio interface and had encountered issues, the main one being that with certain DACs and/or streaming equipment, with DSD playback, the output channels were reversed. PCM was fine with everything, but not being able to easily get correct output of native DSD files was pushing some folks over the edge, and the manufacturer didn’t offer them much help to rectify the situation. Whereas everything was great for me, all the manufacturer could offer was that, unfortunately, their device just didn’t work perfectly in every situation. I felt bad about having given such a glowing recommendation to the Douk Audio equipment, and then having it not work perfectly for everyone. I do apologize that it wasn’t a game changer for everyone like it was for me.

 Anyway, Dalibor reached out to me two weeks ago to let me know that they’d finalized their I²S solution, and had ended up going down a completely different path with it. Rather than going with an outboard box that still required a USB connection, they’d perfected a new internal card for the Euphony Summus Endpoint unit. They advised they would be shipping the new cards and remanufactured rear plates for the Endpoints that would not only accommodate I²S, but also an SP/DIF coax output for those who’d prefer to go that route with their DAC. I only had to send my unit to the US distributor (Arthur Power of Power Holdings) in New Jersey and he’d perform the update for me. It only took two days for my unit to reach Arthur, and about a week for him to get it back to me.

The really great news is that the new setup works flawlessly, and because the interface is internal to the Summus Endpoint, no USB cables are required on my end to get an I²S output to the GainCell DAC. It’s a less complicated and much more elegant setup, and amazingly enough, the GainCell DAC now displays the bit- and sample-rate information perfectly! And I have to restrain myself from gushing over the sound quality – while the Douk Audio unit performed admirably, the upgraded Summus Endpoint offers a greater degree of clarity and transparency than my Douk Audio workaround. If you’re in the market for a reference-quality music server/streaming setup, I give the Euphony Audio equipment highest marks, and their tech service is second to none.

New High-Res Disc Reviews

This issue, I’m looking at a few high-resolution CD/DVD-Audio combo releases that I’ve picked up fairly recently. Most of these have been out for several years now – some much longer than that, but have really only come to my attention in the last few months. I had been on a tear trying to grab every Steven Wilson Yes remaster out there, and just about everything he’s remixed and remastered has been made available in both DVD-Audio and Blu-ray sets. However, it seems like very early this year, the Blu-ray sets that were available for purchase very quickly disappeared; I was able to grab the Fragile and Close To The Edge Blu-rays, but had to get everything else (The Yes Album, Tales From Topographic Oceans, Relayer) on DVD-Audio. I can see no difference in sound quality between the two formats, but in terms of overall current system compatibility, the Blu-ray discs win out, and that’s probably why there’s been such a run on them of late.

So after getting all the available Yes titles, I started concentrating on my next favorite progressive rock band, King Crimson, and on finding as many remastered sets as possible, which are the 40th Anniversary reissues. Just for clarity, the “40th Anniversary” part refers to the 40th anniversary of the band, not the individual titles. I haven’t been able to completely determine whether the Steven Wilson remix/remasters were ever made available as Blu-ray sets, but I’ve been able to locate sources for the DVD-Audio/CD sets. But that only came after a protracted amount of effort. Most of these titles were released almost a decade ago, and have begun to become more difficult to track down. I’ve been able to acquire In The Court of the Crimson King, along with several Bill Bruford-era KC titles, including Larks Tongues in Aspic, Red, and Discipline, out of the ten (10!) titles Steven Wilson remixed. Those remixes are outstanding, and even though the highest resolution available for any of them is 24-bit/96 kHz PCM, the remix/remasters are miles beyond the standard catalog CDs. And it appears that Wilson and Robert Fripp worked on everything in the Crimson catalog up through the first iteration of KC that featured both Bill Bruford and Adrian Belew. So, there’s still a lot of collecting to do while these outstanding sets are still available (and still reasonably priced).

I also grabbed a copy of the DVD-Audio set for 1995’s Thrak, the last studio release that featured both Belew and Bruford, but I somehow managed to overlook the fact that it wasn’t remixed and remastered by Steven Wilson. It was in fact remixed and remastered by Jakko Jakszyk, who became the vocalist and second guitarist in the latest iteration of King Crimson in 2011, and remains in that capacity to this day. I’m surveying some of those releases this issue, and will continue with more Steven Wilson remix/remasters next time.

My reviews are limited to the high resolution stereo content; while others have raved about Wilson’s surround remixes, I’m not currently set up for high-end multichannel sound. I’ve got the correct loudspeaker setup, the perfect room, and plenty of great amps; I’m just lacking the proper complement of DACs and a great, affordable surround-capable preamplifier (virtually impossible to find!).


King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King (40th Anniversary Steven Wilson remix/remaster)

King Crimson’s debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King, is undeniably one of prog’s greatest records, if not the greatest. It still sounds just as fresh today as it did in 1969 – over 50 years later. iI was a truly remarkable achievement then and it still stands today as a landmark recording. Nothing needs to be said about it that hasn’t already been detailed in countless tomes.

That said, I’ve always been somewhat underwhelmed by the sound quality of the recording, but let’s take this into perspective – the album is over fifty years old! Still, it has ranked alongside a number of albums from the period that, for me, also offered pretty lackluster sound, including Jethro Tull’s Aqualung and Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (both have thankfully been updated with greatly improved remix/remasters in recent years). But several attempts by Fripp/EG Records at (digitally) remastering In the Court of the Crimson King yielded only marginal improvements over the course of several CD reissues, including the 30th Anniversary edition. How does the Steven Wilson remix/remaster compare?

Wilson’s modus operandi generally seems to include a much greater level of transparency and clarity, an improved level of instrumental textures and detail, and deeper, more well-defined bass. Those qualities are found in spades here, and there’s also a notable absence of the usual abundance of tape hiss, which has been reduced to an almost insignificant level. All of the above can be clearly observed in the quieter parts of the album, such as “I Talk to the Wind,” the latter portions of “Moonchild,” and the title track. The increased detail and improved positioning of the players in the soundfield is significantly enhanced, compared to the original and any subsequent remastering attempts. The really dynamic tracks, “21st Century Schizoid Man,” “Epitaph,” and again, the title track, are delivered more forcefully and with greater impact than on previous versions.

The included CD has multiple bonus tracks and alternate versions. And, as usual, there’s an abundance of extras on the included DVD, with not only the high-resolution MLP lossless 24/96 stereo and 5.1 surround mixes, but additional audio content as well. This includes the 24-bit 2004 remaster of the original tapes by Simon Heyworth, and a remixed “alternate album” comprised of outtakes from the original studio recordings remixed by Steven Wilson and Robert Fripp. The set also offers additional alternate takes, including the original full-length version of “Moonchild” that was edited by Robert Fripp for the original album release. There’s also a video of the 1969 Hyde Park concert version of “21st Century Schizoid Man” with the original mono soundtrack that’s both seen and heard for the very first time. And the online guys all seem to rave about the 5.1 surround mix.

If you’re a King Crimson completist, there’s a whole lot here that makes this set an absolute no-brainer, but for me, the 24/96 stereo tracks alone are definitely worth the price of admission. Which is currently still very affordable (about $20 or so online). A triumph on every level, this set is very highly recommended!

Discipline Global Mobile (DGM), DVD-Audio/CD set


King Crimson – Discipline (40th Anniversary Steven Wilson remix/remaster)

King Crimson’s 1981 reboot with Discipline came seven years after their last studio album, which was 1974’s Red. Robert Fripp would only bring Bill Bruford’s drum kit along for this iteration of KC, which also featured American newcomers Tony Levin on bass and Chapman Stick, and most prominently, Adrian Belew on second guitar and vocals. Bruford’s drumming would feature his then-latest obsession, a Simmons SDX electronic drum set, although the song selection would highlight a mix of acoustic and electronic drums. Bill Bruford would reveal in a 2009 interview in Drumming that while he was definitely on board with electronic drums for almost fifteen years (1980 – 1995), it was a really hard grind getting them to do what you wanted them to do, and he ultimately abandoned them. Fripp had played with Tony Levin on Peter Gabriel’s first solo album, and he definitely wanted him in the next version of King Crimson, whenever that would happen. Levin’s work on bass and Stick added an entirely new dimension to the retooled Crimson sound.

The biggest change came with the addition of Adrian Belew, whose wild and unorthodox guitar style was a perfect foil to the usual Frippertronics. His songwriting and vocal histrionics also contributed mightily to the success of the new Crimson iteration. Fripp had been impressed with Belew’s work with both David Bowie and the Talking Heads, and when he and Belew met by chance at a Steve Reich performance, the stage was set for his future collaborations with KC. Adrian Belew was virtually not at all on my radar in 1981 when Discipline was released, and the album was such a radical departure from what I had come to expect from King Crimson that I was blown away by everything Belew brought to the band.

The Steven Wilson remix/remaster of Discipline is better than any version of this classic album I’ve ever owned, and that includes my original LP and a recent 200-gram reissue – which basically sounds great, except for the fact that it’s an awful pressing. The original Warner Brothers CD was just okay, and the DGM 30th Anniversary reissue CD was a definite improvement, but nothing to write home about. I always felt the catalog originals had more tape hiss than I was comfortable with, and I also hoped for better overall dynamics than they possessed. The remix/remaster has remedied those problems, and Adrian Belew’s vocals have never had more clarity and presence. A perfect example is the album’s centerpiece, the track “Indiscipline,” which was always very murky sounding and lacking in deep bass, and the dynamics of Bill Bruford’s drum kit was particularly emasculated. Everything that was previously missing (or obscured by the original mix) is now present, and Fripp and Belew’s guitars simply crush through the soundstage, while Bruford’s drumming pounds away furiously. Listening to the new remix of “Indiscipline” is literally like hearing it for the very first time!

The first disc offers the remix/remaster on a Red Book CD, which contains a bonus track and a couple of alternate mixes. The DVD-Audio disc contains both stereo and 5.1 multichannel 24/96 MLP lossless PCM tracks, as well as bonus tracks and videos for some of the music. The entire 30th Anniversary album mix is also made available, along with original rough mixes of album tracks. Not everything is presented in high-resolution sound, and the videos only have mono audio tracks. But for me, hearing Discipline in 24/96 stereo was an absolute revelation. This set is very highly recommended!

Discipline Global Mobile (DGM), DVD-Audio/CD set


King Crimson – Thrak (40th Anniversary Jakko Jakszyk Remix/Remaster)

Eleven years passed between the last album from the eighties version of King Crimson, 1984’s Three of a Perfect Pair, and 1995’s Thrak. Fripp decided to augment the eighties lineup with two additional players, Trey Gunn on Chapman Stick and guitar, and Pat Mastelotto on drums. During the recording process, Fripp often referred to this lineup as his “dual trio,” although from all accounts, Bill Bruford wasn’t entirely happy with the proceedings. Bruford actually pulled Fripp aside at one point, reminding him that he (Bruford) was the band’s drummer. Fripp apparently told Bruford that in order to remain part of King Crimson, he’d have to cede all drumming creative control to Fripp. Bruford agreed, but Thrak would be his last studio album with Crimson, even though he did work with the band for two more years before deciding to pursue his jazz leanings full time.

The roots of the album came from the Vrooom EP, which had been released a year earlier. The new band convened in Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios, and for most of the album, the “dual trios,” consisting of a guitarist, bassist (though referring to the Chapman Stick as a bass is definitely an oversimplification), and drummer are each essentially split into left and right channels. Adrian Belew’s vocals are front and center in the mix, and Fripp also adds Mellotron to some of the tracks. Belew provided the lyrics for all of Thrak’s tunes, with all band members sharing credits for the album’s musical content. Thrak was generally greeted enthusiastically by the press and adoringly by King Crimson’s fans.

I always felt the standard CD release was pretty great, and the 30th Anniversary remaster was even better, so why bother with the 40th Anniversary remix/remaster? Which, as a package, is significantly less all-encompassing than any of the Steven Wilson-involved Crimson projects? Well, for me, the clear answer is Jakko’s new remix of the album, which brings out a greater level of detail and instrumental textures that I don’t hear in the previous CD releases. Adrian Belew’s vocals seem less congested; they were a tad murky on the CDs. The bass content was already thunderous on the CDs, but it actually sounds deeper and more refined here. And the placement of the players – even in the stereo-only mix – is more enveloping and provides a greater degree of realism. Again, I can’t comment about the surround content, although a number of people online have complained loudly about Jakko’s surround mix. But, I have to give a complete thumbs-up to the new stereo mix.

I was initially put off by, one, no involvement of Steven Wilson; two, loud online complaints about Jakko’s mixes, and three, the limited number of extras compared to the other Crimson DVD-Audio/CD sets (the only bonus here is the 30th Anniversary standard-resolution remaster). But this set – and especially Jakko’s stereo remix – has really grown on me. Highly recommended.

Discipline Global Mobile (DGM), DVD Audio/CD set

Summus Endpoint photo courtesy of Euphony Audio.

Header image of King Crimson courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.