Issue 161

On With the Show

On With the Show

Frank Doris

AXPONA, Audio Expo North America, is happening as you are reading this and we’ll be reporting on it in upcoming issues.

A drug that reverses hearing loss? I haven’t dug deeply into it yet, but for now, this article in SciTechDaily about biotech company Frequency Therapeutics certainly caught my attention. The regenerative treatment is said to stimulate the growth of hair cells in the inner ear – the cells that enable us to hear.

In this issue: Rich Isaacs went to a lot of concerts in 1977. Tom Gibbs reviews some outstanding high-res music downloads. Larry Jaffee attends the Fest for Beatles Fans. Ken Kessler gets re-educated about reel-to-reel tape. Tom Methans considers the current and future state of vacuum-tube availability. Ray Chelstowski discovers Bonnie Pointer’s lost-and-found Like a Picasso album. J.I. Agnew takes a close look at record-cutting lathe cutter heads. B. Jan Montana looks for the right tools for the journey. Jay Jay French finds happiness in a surprisingly modest audio system. Don Kaplan, The Mindful Melophile, enjoys more singing, talking and dancing.

John Seetoo reviews Geoff Emerick and Howard Massey’s book on recording the Beatles. Anne E. Johnson covers the careers of progressive rock giants Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and the President of Jazz, saxophonist Lester Young. Russ Welton talks speaker setup with Audio Advice’s Scott Newnam. Rudy Radelic continues his survey of A&M Records. Andrew Daly interviews singer/songwriter Chris Haddox, who proves that perseverance pays off. Our A/V department flies with the Pilot, has a wardrobe malfunction, takes a reality check, and grazes in the grass.

Staff Writers:

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

Contributing Editors:
Ivan Berger, Steven Bryan Bieler, Andrew Daly, Jack Flory, Harris Fogel, Steve Kindig, Ed Kwok, David Snyder, 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

The A&M Records Story, Part Two

The A&M Records Story, Part Two

The A&M Records Story, Part Two

Rudy Radelic

In our last article (Issue 160), I presented some of A&M Records’ earliest recordings beginning in 1962, featuring the breezy California pop and instrumental music styles they ultimately became associated with. (A&M stands for Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, the label’s co-founders.)

As the musical landscape evolved with rock, folk, blues, and the British Invasion towards the end of the 1960s, Jerry Moss realized that to stay relevant to record buyers, he had to find talent that was more aligned with what was people were listening to. From the United Kingdom, Moss made licensing deals to release albums by such artists as Procol Harum, Spooky Tooth, Free, Tramline, and others, on the A&M label. On the US side of the pond, rock and folk artists like Phil Ochs, Shawn Phillips, Lee Michaels, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, and the Merry-Go-Round (featuring Emitt Rhodes) would fit the bill. At the same time, the sounds of early label successes like the Baja Marimba Band, the Sandpipers, Claudine Longet, Chris Montez, and Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass were falling out of favor with the record buying public; well, almost, as we’ll see below.

Part Two of our A&M Records 60th anniversary tribute takes us from the late 1960s through the mid-1970s, as A&M’s artist roster was shaped by then-current musical trends.

While organist and singer Lee Michaels would debut on A&M in 1968 with his Carnival of Life album, it wouldn’t be until his fifth album, 5th, in 1971 when he would finally break into the Billboard Top 10 with the hit “Do You Know What I Mean,” which would be his career peak. After two more albums for A&M and a couple more for Columbia, he would go into semi-retirement from the music industry by the end of the 1970s.


The short-lived Los Angeles band the Merry-Go-Round had one claim to fame – multi-instrumentalist Emitt Rhodes collaborated with the band, who recorded the 1967 hits “You’re a Very Lovely Woman” and “Live,” the latter of which is featured below.


Humble Pie was born out of Steve Marriott’s frustrations in trying to get his young friend Peter Frampton into the Small Faces. Marriott quit that group to focus on Humble Pie, and after two albums released in the UK, the group signed with A&M. Their fifth album and their third for A&M, Smokin’, became their highest-charting album. While “Hot ‘n’ Nasty” would be their highest-charting A&M single, the B-side would become a staple of album rock radio: “30 Days in the Hole.”


Shawn Phillips began his musical career collaborating with such artists as Donovan (and even singing backing vocals on “Lovely Rita” by the Beatles), but was signed to A&M in 1970 and released his first album for the label, Contribution, from the remains of a three-LP collaboration with the members of Traffic. While primarily a folk-rock musician and singer (with a four-octave range), he often traded off between different musical styles on his records. The success of this first album would result in Phillips recording a total of ten albums for A&M. In the mid 1990s, he semi-retired from the music business to become an emergency medical technician, and today balances his time between his EMT work and writing, recording and touring. Here is “Man Hole Covered Wagon,” his auspicious debut for A&M.


Looking to take a new musical direction, protest singer Phil Ochs would leave Elektra and join A&M for a handful of records that placed him in different musical settings with ensembles and orchestral backings. The albums were not a complete success, but the closest brush Ochs had with the Hot 100 was the song “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends,” which was featured on his 1967 A&M debut, Pleasures of the Harbor. The song would reach Number 119 on Billboard’s “Hot Prospect” listing, until some radio stations pulled it from their rotations because of its controversial lyrics.


Perhaps the rarest A&M album, the self-titled 1970 album by Spirits & Worm had a very short shelf life, being pulled from stores over fears that the album cover would be associated with the occult. (It features two goats resting on a grave.) It has since been reissued in recent years, and is a classic psychedelia album in the style of Jefferson Airplane. Here is “She” from this rare recording.


Taking a clue from the blues-oriented rock popular in the late ’60s, Jerry Moss licensed recordings from the Island label in the UK. One of A&M’s releases was Tramline’s Somewhere Down the Line. The band Free was another of A&M’s Island licensing deals. From the group’s third album Fire and Water, here is one of their best-known songs, “All Right Now,” from 1970.


Years before changing his name to Yusuf Islam, Cat Stevens recorded a series of acclaimed albums for Island as yet another artist licensed through A&M in the US, with the Tea for the Tillerman (1970) and Teaser and the Firecat (1971) albums selling millions of copies each. Here is “Peace Train.”


Joe Cocker was another success for A&M, having hit records with his Beatles cover, “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “You Are So Beautiful,” and the title track from his 1974 album I Can Stand a Little Rain, featured here.


With folk, rock and blues becoming more popular in the music industry, A&M still had one trick up its sleeve. An A&M single, at first a true anomaly that was firmly seated in MOR (middle of the road), stormed up the charts. It told of angels sprinkling “moondust in your hair of gold and starlight in your eyes of blue.”

Enter Richard and Karen Carpenter, a talented brother/sister duo born in New Haven, Connecticut. Based on their demo, Herb Alpert heard something promising in the group’s sound and especially in Karen Carpenter’s voice. While their first album, Offering (later retitled Ticket To Ride), sold poorly at first, Alpert gave the group another chance (as he often patiently did with other groups he felt had potential), and asked composer Burt Bacharach if he had a song he could have the Carpenters record. Richard Carpenter worked up an arrangement and declared that if the record wasn’t a smash hit, it would be the biggest stiff that A&M ever had.

As history played out, “(They Long To Be) Close To You” was that smash hit A&M was looking for, giving A&M (and composers Burt Bacharach and Hal David) their second Billboard Number 1 hit. It not only launched the Carpenters’ career, the duo’s run of hits took A&M to the upper reaches of the chart many times in the ’70s, and today they remain one of the label’s best-selling groups.

While fans may argue what is “best” in the catalog, many agree that the Carpenters’ definitive album is A Song for You, featuring solid songwriting and production that defined their sound for years to come. From that album, here is “Hurting Each Other.”


Regrettably, it is hard to find original Carpenters recordings. The original LPs are the best bet (provided you can find clean copies), as are any of the CDs in the Remastered Classics series from the 1990s. Most of the compilations have remixes and re-recorded parts so, if those songs don’t sound quite the way you remember them, you are probably listening to a remix.

In the next installment of our A&M 60th anniversary tribute, the label finds more success in popular music with bands who would sell millions of records and bring A&M’s artists into arenas around the world. Who knows? You may even find a stalker in our next article.

The Year Was 1977

The Year Was 1977

The Year Was 1977

Rich Isaacs

In 1976, I began using an engagement calendar as a sort of shorthand diary to keep track of the things I’d done and people I’d met and been with – no intimate emotional entries, just the facts. It’s amazing to look back and revisit all of the events that I had attended – especially concerts, and boy, do I wish I’d started years before!

My first rock concert was on May 25, 1968 (Cream at the San Jose Civic Auditorium, with Orphan Egg as the opening act). Exactly one year later, I attended the finale of the Northern California Folk-Rock Festival, a three-day extravaganza at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds featuring a lot more rock than folk. Jimi Hendrix was the headliner that day, with Poco, Lee Michaels (a personal favorite at the time), Sandy Bull, Noel Redding’s Fat Mattress, and local band People as supporting acts. After that, I saw many shows at medium-to-large venues like the Fillmore West, Winterland, the Cow Palace, the Oakland Coliseum, and the San Francisco Civic Auditorium. I also caught a lot of performances at smaller San Francisco clubs like the Boarding House, the Old Waldorf, the Great American Music Hall, and even the Playboy Club (I was there when UFO blew the house fuse three times before things finally started going smoothly.)

Concerts I was lucky enough to attend in the early 1970s included Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Yes, Genesis, Kansas, Frank Zappa, Deep Purple, ELO, King Crimson, Joe Walsh, Focus, Procol Harum, Black Sabbath, Journey, Montrose, UFO (the latter three on the same bill at Winterland!) and many others.

1977 was probably the year in which I saw the most shows (more than 50). I was working in San Francisco at Aquarius Records (an independent store that became “punk rock central”), and the concert opportunities were numerous. Most of them took place in the smaller venues.


The author's calendar for September, 1977.

The author’s calendar for September, 1977.


Here’s a chronological list of the shows I attended:


1/19 San Francisco Symphony
1/22 Kansas (at Winterland)


2/5 Split Enz (at the Boarding House) – I got to interview them afterward
2/7 Premier (a local band at the Mabuhay Gardens)
2/19 Tom Petty w/Greg Kihn (Keystone Berkeley)
2/22 The Ramones w/The Nuns (Mabuhay Gardens)
2/24 SF Symphony (doing Beethoven’s Ninth)



3/9 Premier (Mabuhay)
3/12 John Cale w/Greg Kihn (Boarding House) and Hush w/Ambrosia (in Santa Clara)
3/17 Philip Glass (Veteran’s Auditorium)
3/23 Cheap Trick (Old Waldorf) – their first time in the Bay Area
3/25 and 26 Genesis (Winterland) – Seconds Out tour – interview the next day
3/31 The Dictators (Mabuhay) – there was a band party on April 4


4/7 Peter Gabriel (Winterland) – phone interview on April 12)
4/8 Kid Courage (vocalist Eric Martin later joined Mr. Big) w/Top Cat (Mabuhay)
4/21 Firesign Theatre w/Balcone’s Fault (Great American Music Hall)
4/24 Rick & Ruby w/Leila & the Snakes (Mabuhay) – local groups
4/25 Tangerine Dream (Berkeley Community Theater)
4/27 Charles Biscuit Band (Mabuhay) – my roommate was the bass player


Tangerine Dream, Stratospear, album cover.

Tangerine Dream, Stratosfear, album cover.



5/10 Pink Floyd (Oakland Coliseum) – Animals tour
5/14 Kid Courage (Mabuhay)
5/15 Steve Gibbons Band (Old Waldorf)



6/18 Mickey Thomas (Old Waldorf) – singer for Elvin Bishop and Jefferson Starship
6/28 Berlin Brats (Mabuhay)
6/30 Charles Biscuit Band (The Omnibus)


7/3 Greg Kihn w/Earthquake (Keystone Berkeley)
7/16 Premier w/Killerwatt and Rick & Ruby (Mabuhay) – all local bands
7/25 Roky Erickson Band (Mabuhay)
7/28 The Avengers w/The Screamers (Mabuhay) – local bands


Roky Erickson, French EP from 1977.

Roky Erickson, French EP from 1977.



8/2 Devo w/The Dix (Mabuhay) – I had permission to record off the soundboard
8/6 Emerson, Lake & Palmer (Oakland Coliseum)
8/12 Kid Courage (Mabuhay)
8/17 PFM (Boarding House) – Italian progressive rock band



9/2 AC/DC w/Kid Courage (Old Waldorf) – small club w/amps lining both sides of the stage
9/4 Scarlet Rivera (Boarding House) – she played violin on Dylan’s Desire album
9/9 Dwight Twilley (Old Waldorf)
9/11 Devo (Mabuhay) – recording again
9/21 Yes (Oakland Coliseum)
9/24 Greg Kihn (Keystone Berkeley)
9/26 Stomu Yamash’ta’s Go (Great American Music Hall)


(no shows – I was on vacation and working a lot)


11/1 Dead Boys (Old Waldorf)
11/4 Nektar w/Lake and City Boy (Berkeley Community Theatre) – I interviewed City Boy
11/8 Horslips (Old Waldorf)
11/11 Greg Kihn (Sproul Plaza – UC Berkeley)
11/16 Elvis Costello (Old Waldorf) – first tour
11/21 Jan Hammer (Great American Music Hall)
11/28 Brand X (Old Waldorf)



12/3 Jean-Luc Ponty (Paramount Theater – Oakland)
12/8 The Motors (Old Waldorf)
12/10 Jack Bruce Band (Old Waldorf)


I can remember well many of these shows, but others – let’s just say I did inhale. It was 1977, after all.

Header image: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, 1977.

The Global Supply of Vacuum Tubes: What Happens Now?

The Global Supply of Vacuum Tubes: What Happens Now?

The Global Supply of Vacuum Tubes: What Happens Now?

Tom Methans

Several weeks back, Jay Jay French discussed in his article, “Nero Fiddles while Rome…” (Issue 158), that the atrocities still taking place in Ukraine make our pastime of audio seem frivolous in the shadow of greater existential threats. He is correct, and I’m sure many of us feel the same, especially those with connections to Europe. Ukraine is a horrifying mirror we are forced to stare into every day – reminding us that world peace comes before stereo systems, pursuing justice is more important than pursuing new music, and the safety of humans is more pressing than the consistent flow of consumer goods. When the invasion happened, I went into full boycott mode and was ready to add to my exhaustive list of products, countries, and companies I do not support for various humanitarian reasons.

I don’t drink much vodka unless it’s in a Moscow Mule – ironic, but I like it for the snappy ginger beer and not the usually nondescript vodka mixed in. The volume of Russian vodka imported to the US is minimal compared to the famous European brands such as Ketel One, Grey Goose, and Absolut. Smirnoff and Nikolai sound like they’re Russian but, they are not. Both are distilled in the US by multinational companies. In the early days of the incursion, people poured out Stolichnaya into the gutters as a show of support for the Ukrainian people. They did not know that Stolichnaya, now rebranded as Stoli, is not produced in Russia but in Latvia, a former Soviet republic on the Baltic that declared independence in 1991. (Founder and owner Yuri Shefler left Russia in 2002 and relocated the company headquarters to Luxembourg. After many trademark battles, there remains a Russian version of Stolichnaya distilled in Kaliningrad.)

The Russian Tea Room in New York City, a famous gathering place for artists, was founded in 1927 by ex-pats from the Imperial Russian Ballet. The restaurant added a big banner to their website stating that the restaurant was founded by Soviet defectors after the Revolution and before Stalin. Aside from a few menu options, the most Russian aspect of the Tea Room these days is its décor. Boycotting the Russian Tea Room will only hurt the waiters, cooks, and suppliers. Speaking of ballet, I’ve heard of some people who considered shelving their recordings of Russian composers. If you’re still angry at Romanov Tsars, boycotting Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893) is understandable.

But what could I do to make a difference? The only Russian-made products I own are tubes (valves, for our friends in the United Kingdom). After playing solid-state equipment my entire life, I finally got a tube amp last year, and I learned that the installed Mullard EL34 power tubes were made in Russia. My specially selected, thoroughly tested, and carefully matched tubes will last a long time, but I would still need spares in case of failure. Luckily, my amp only requires two power tubes, while the McIntosh MC3500 MkII requires 16 valves to run a pair of monoblocks. Before the war, I purchased a set of Genalex Gold Lion KT88 power tubes from Upscale Audio in La Verne, California, about 50 miles east of Beverly Hills.

New Genalex Gold Lion KT88 power tubes. From the Upscale Audio website.

New Genalex Gold Lion KT88 power tubes. From the Upscale Audio website.


I recently returned to the Upscale Audio website to see what my non-Russian valve options could be and was greeted by a message from Upscale’s Kevin Deal, advising us to chill out: don’t panic-buy, hoard, or spend any money on extra tubes for the next six months. Adhering to the solid counsel from my go-to tube guy, I only browsed.

Aside from the occasional NOS (New Old Stock) or vintage Western European models, Upscale sells Genalex, Mullard, Electro-Harmonix, and Tung-Sol, all of which are the foundation of so many good vacuum-tube audio components and systems. Sovtek- or Svetlana-branded tubes are obviously Russian, but guess what? So are all the other brands I just mentioned. Although they carry the names of some of the original brands, these are re-issues and not original/NOS tubes. In fact, they’re all made by a single factory in Saratov, located on the banks of the Volga River, 350 miles east of Ukraine and 450 miles southeast of Moscow. The Expo-Pul factory produces nearly every familiar brand that makes it into audio systems and guitar amplifiers – think McIntosh and Fender, just for starters.

How did Russia manage to create a tube monopoly without us even noticing? Well, they didn’t. Besides JJ Electronic in Slovakia, European and American companies had essentially given up commercial tube production decades ago, leaving most of the playing field to China and Russia once tubes fell out of favor and solid-state equipment dominated TVs, audio, and other electronics.

One man, Mike Matthews, and his company New Sensor Corporation (better known as Electro-Harmonix, or EHX) might be responsible for keeping tubes viable over the last few decades, or at least, for fueling the tube habits of audiophiles and musicians. A legend since the 1960s as an early promoter of Jimi Hendrix and Chuck Berry, he is most famous for his guitar effects pedals, notably the Big Muff fuzz pedal. In 1998, Matthews took a daring step and bought the Expo-Pul tube factory in Saratov. You might wonder why he chose Saratov as a location and not Queens, NY, where EHX is headquartered. That’s because it’s easier to go to the tools and the workforce than the other way around.

Tube making is an archaic process compared to 3-D printing, nanotechnology, and computers shrunken into phones. It requires some massive old-world machinery, and skilled factory workers with old-world knowledge to fashion glass, set pins, wind wires for grids, attach the cathodes, anodes, and bases, and then ensure the tubes retain a vacuum. Some of this can be automated, but there’s still plenty of hands-on work required. Furthermore, it takes several different machines to make a single tube model. As tube production waned after the 1960s, tube manufacturing became economically unfeasible for most companies.


While finding machinery and staff for a tube factory is extremely difficult, there is a push to revive localized production. The Great British Valve Project has been gathering vintage machinery to bring the Brimar brand back to Britain. Recently, a junkyard in former Yugoslavia provided a bunch of machines to help make that goal more achievable, but, for now, volunteers are learning to make valves that mostly female workers once cranked out in World War II-era jobs. The Brimars are still made under contract elsewhere, and there’s no telling how much an English valve will cost, but if the modern-day Western Electric company (not to be confused with the original Western Electric, in business from 1869 – 1996, or their products) is any indication, they will not be cheap.

A pair of Western Electric 300B power tubes (their only model at the moment), built in the US in Rossville, Georgia, costs $1,499. KR Audio in the Czech Republic produces nearly a dozen types of handmade power tubes, but still, a pair of their KT88 would cost nearly $400. A pair by Psvane from China is a little less at $250, while a set of Genalex Gold Lions have increased to $200. There are other good-quality Chinese brands; however, their production has been impacted by the closure of the OEM Shuguang factory in 2019. On a positive note, Cobi Boykin, Marketing Communications Director at Western Electric told me, “Western Electric is setting up for production of guitar amp tubes like the 12AX7.” Furthermore, the company is taking a survey of the tubes we want next.

It would be wonderful if Tung-Sol Lamp Works could fire-up the Newark, New Jersey factory built in 1907, as well as Mullard and Genalex reestablishing English production in Manchester and London, and so on, but even if that happened, as noted, their tubes would probably be expensive and the rest of us still need affordable tubes built by a Chinese firm, JJ Electronic, or EHX.


A stash of vintage vacuum tubes. New Old Stock (NOS) tubes can be of extremely high quality. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/LW Yang.

A stash of vintage vacuum tubes. New Old Stock (NOS) tubes can be of extremely high quality. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/LW Yang.


For now, Mike Matthews is weathering the situation. Electro-Harmonix and the Expo-Pul factory supply very large numbers of tubes to retailers like Kevin Deal, and to guitar companies, audio manufacturers, and consumers. However, new bans and embargoes could be imposed. Even new boycotts could pop up as more American companies are pressured to sever ties with Russia. According to The New York Times, more than 500 companies have left or suspended activity there, while others have scaled back their activities and investments. Electro-Harmonix might have an advantage over other American companies because it builds a product for export, instead of importing goods to sell within Russia. Nevertheless, there’s always the threat of Russia nationalizing foreign businesses and seizing assets.

There is a moral value to boycotting products, but doing so with tubes will have no effect on Russia. The horrific situation in Europe is extremely complex, ongoing, and unpredictable, impacting everything from daily necessities like energy and food down to availability of audio tubes. Copper will continue to monitor developments and Frank Doris will be getting updates from tube manufacturers while attending this year’s AXPONA. If there is a bright spot in all this, as of April 12, EHX issued a statement saying, “We expect to receive a large shipment of tubes from Russia sometime around April 20.” The statement also went on to note that because of a recently-imposed 35 percent tariff, prices will be higher, both for backorders and new orders.

Unfortunately, as of April 19th, Upscale Audio has frozen tube sales due to hoarding. However, they will support customers who purchased tube equipment from them. When tubes are made available again, expect purchase limits per customer and shortages of some types and brands. We advise checking daily for updates. You can also check Tube Depot, Doug’s Tubes, Viva Tubes, or the TheTubeStore. For vintage and NOS valves, try Brent Jessee Recording and Supply.*

*This list does not imply endorsement or guarantee.

(Special thanks to Kevin Jolly, Marketing Associate at EHX, and Cobi Boykin of Western Electric.)

Header image: a set of matched quad JJ Electronic 6L6GC power tubes. From the Amplified Parts website.

Lester Young: President of Jazz

Lester Young: President of Jazz

Lester Young: President of Jazz

Anne E. Johnson

In 1909, a jazz master was born, one whose legacy should get more attention than it does. Maybe it’s because Lester Young played with Count Basie for so long that he didn’t become quite the individual star he might have. Maybe it’s because his life was short and his recording output unusually small. But never mind, here’s your chance to train your ears on the wonderful sounds of this giant of the tenor sax.

Young’s father was a bandleader and his brother, Lee Young, played the drums. His family left their native Mississippi and moved to New Orleans when Lester was about five, and he learned several instruments to play in the family band. Besides violin and trumpet, he also messed around on alto saxophone. But soon he discovered the power of the tenor sax. At 18, he moved to Kansas City to play that instrument in a popular touring band called the Blue Devils, under the direction of bassist Walter Page.

Because Page also played with the Count Basie Orchestra, he was able to introduce Young to that maestro. The resulting collaboration was the stuff of jazz legends. Despite taking intermittent time off to test out other bands, Young kept returning to Basie, and eventually landed there long-term. He had a very different style from the frenetic tenor sax sound popular at the time. Instead, Young’s sound was grounded and calm, serving as a sonic core for Basie’s high-energy arrangements. He also played clarinet with quicksilver virtuosity. His clarinet recordings tend to be small-group sessions, including with Basie’s Kansas City Seven.

Young was a key member of the Harlem jazz scene in the 1930s, becoming one of Billie Holiday’s closest friends. It was Holiday who nicknamed him The President, or Pres. He and pianist Teddy Wilson played on some of her most famous records. After returning to civilian life after a short stint in the Army, alcoholism became an increasing problem for Young; in 1959 he died from that disease at the age of 49.

In his short career, “Pres” re-imagined what the tenor saxophone could be. Enjoy these eight great tracks by Lester Young.

  1. Track: “Roseland Shuffle”
    Album: Count Basie: The Complete Decca Recordings
    Label: Decca
    Year: 1937

It’s only right to start where Young began, as part of the Count Basie orchestra. Especially in early recordings, Basie often separated a small group from the larger band, sort of like a jazz concerto grosso. Here the featured players are Basie on piano, Buck Clayton on trumpet, Lester Young and Herschel Evans on tenor sax, Walter Page on bass, and Jo Jones on drums.

The song “Roseland Shuffle” has the breathless “jump” rhythm that Basie popularized to the point that it practically defined swing.


  1. Track: “Back to the Land”
    Album: The Lester Young Buddy Rich Trio
    Label: Norgran/Verve
    Year: 1946/1957

Young didn’t make a lot of records in the 1940s, partly because of legal problems facing small labels at that time, and partly because of World War II. But he did manage to spend some time in the studio with the great drummer Buddy Rich as part of a trio completed by pianist Nat “King” Cole (who somehow got left out of the title). The recording was unreleased for a decade in the Norgran Records vault but eventually saw the light of day in 1957 when Verve bought that catalog.

The track list is entirely jazz standards except for the first tune, “Back to the Land,” an original composition by Young. It’s a great example of his smooth, sultry sound.


  1. Track: “Love Me or Leave Me”
    Album: Pres and Teddy
    Label: Verve
    Year: 1956

Verve’s founder, Norman Granz, produced this recording of Young sitting in as part of the Teddy Wilson Quartet. Jo Jones joins on drums and Gene Ramey on bass. Young’s physical and mental health were in pretty bad shape by this point, making him very difficult to work with. But his playing is at its height.

“Love Me or Leave Me” is a song from a 1928 Broadway musical called Whoopee!, turned into a best-selling record by the show’s star, Ruth Etting. The tuneful number became a jazz standard for its inventive melody, which Young glides around with grace and expressiveness.


  1. Track: “Mean to Me”
    Album: Pres Is Blue
    Label: Charlie Parker Music
    Year: 1950/1963

Despite his close association with swing king Count Basie, Young was a prince of bebop in his small-group projects. Pres Is Blue was recorded live at the Savoy Ballroom in New York, but not released until 1963, four years after Young’s death. What it (severely) lacks in sound production it makes up for in authentic nightclub vibe. You can practically hear the waitstaff taking drink orders. And, of course, Pres has a lot to say with his horn. He’s joined by Kenny Drew on piano, Jesse Drakes on trumpet (who has a particularly good solo on this track), longtime collaborator Jo Jones, and bassist Aaron Bell.

“Mean to Me,” made famous by Billie Holiday, is the first track; you can hear the whole album here:


  1. Track: “Confessin’”
    Album: The President
    Label: Norgran
    Year: 1954

Pianist John Lewis, drummer Bill Clark, and bassist Joe Shulman round out the quartet on this outstanding album. It’s hard to pick the best track – “Stardust” and “September in the Rain” were serious contenders – but this version of “I’m Confessin’ That I Love You” (called simply “Confessin’” here) puts Young’s centered and imaginative improvisation on full display.

There’s an on-and-off breathiness in his sound on this track that helps give the illusion that the melody line still has its romantic lyrics. It also brings to mind the vocal sound of his dear friend Billie Holiday.


  1. Track: “Willow Weep for Me”
    Album: Lester’s Here
    Label: Norgran
    Year: 1956

Billed as Lester Young and His Orchestra, the lineup on Lester’s Here is mostly stalwart colleagues like Jo Jones, Jesse Drakes, and John Lewis. But this particular track swaps in Gildo Mahones on piano and Connie Kay on drums.

“Willow Weep for Me” is one of those achingly melancholy melodies so perfect for gentle bebop interpretation. Notice how, even in the first line, Young stretches and alters the rhythm, making it his own. For the last chorus, he turns it into a waltz.


  1. Track: “St. Tropez”
    Album: Going for Myself
    Label: Verve
    Year: 1957

Young made several records with pianist Oscar Peterson. This one also includes trumpeter and fellow Basie veteran Harry “Sweets” Edison. Louie Bellson is on drums, with Ray Brown on bass, and Herb Ellis on guitar.

The three musicians wrote “St. Tropez” together for this album. This one features Young on clarinet, a rare treat. Just like his sax work, Young’s clarinet playing has an internal calm and focus, making his moments of broken tones even more exciting, like pebbles tossed into a mirror-still pond.


  1. Track: “Romping”
    Album: Laughin’ to Keep from Cryin’
    Label: Verve
    Year: 1958

The combination of Young with Edison was so good that Verve encouraged them to do more. In the spirit of doubling down on success, this album – the last that Young made in the studio – includes a second trumpeter, Roy Eldridge. It’s a fascinating choice, since Edison’s and Eldridge’s styles were very different, with the latter known for his harmonic experimentation. His is the second trumpet solo, starting around 3:00. The guitarist is Herb Ellis and the pianist Hank Jones.

“Romping” is a 12-minute hard-bop jam composed by Young. His thoughtful solo (starting at 8:30) defies the weakening effects of the advanced alcoholism that would soon kill him. He remained a musical giant until the end.

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part 19

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part 19

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part 19

B. Jan Montana


Chip’s 2-1/2-car garage was a corrugated steel building facing the alley, and was insulated with orange, expanded foam spray. The place was lit up like a gymnasium with two rows of fluorescent lights along the full length of the building. The walls were lined with wooden shelves loaded with hand tools, power tools, trays with bolts, screws and nails, as well as paints, oils, solvents, spray cans, Harley parts, and garden implements. There was a large photo of Red taped onto the door of the beer fridge. Lawn, kitchen, and camping chairs were set out around the perimeter and two Harleys were up on the two lifts, one in each bay.

A bunch of the renegades were gathered around the lifts discussing how things ought to be done. There was a lot of animated arguing.

“You know how many guys it takes to fix a Harley?” Chip smirked, “Twelve. Two to work and 10 to decide what they’re doing wrong.”

I’d barely sat down next to Gimp and Tina when Candy brought me a beer. “It’s so nice to see you,” she bubbled; “I didn’t know whether you were coming or not.”

“To tell you the truth, neither did I, Candy, it was sort of a spontaneous decision. I’ve spent most of my life living by schedules and plans, but that didn’t work out too well so I’m trying to live more in the here and now by following my nose.”

“You’ll be surprised where that takes you,” Gimp commented. “I thought my accident was the worst thing that ever happened to me, but it led me to rethink my priorities. Even though I have some limitations, I’m happier than before.”

Tina nodded in agreement.

I told them about my experiences with the Bhagwan. “I’ve learned so much since starting this trip.” I added, “Mostly because I’ve been exposed to influences I’ve never had before.”

“When you need a guru, he’s there,” Tina asserted, “if you’re ready to listen.”

Gimp nodded.

“I want you to meet someone,” Candy said as she grabbed me by the hand and walked me across the room. She introduced me to Red’s mom, who was sitting next to the fridge. She stood up and shook my hand. She had the gaunt, gray look of a person who’s consumed too much nicotine and alcohol during her life.

“Pleasure to meet you Montana; it was very kind of you to get Red’s bike running up in the mountains of Wyoming. Red’s never been on the receiving end of much kindness and you must have made his last days very special.” Tears came to her eyes.

I gave her a hug and whispered, “I’m sorry he’s gone. You must miss him very much.”

“I do. He’s had such a rough life, you know. His dad was a commercial fisherman in Maine. The first thing he did when he came off an excursion was to get drunk, then he’d come home and abuse his family. When Red got older, he tried to defend me and his younger siblings. In response, his dad would beat him mercilessly. I felt terrible but there was nothing I could do.

When my father died, he left me enough money to pack up the family and move to my sister’s place here in Minneapolis. If we hadn’t had her, I don’t think we’d have survived.”

“I’m glad she was there for you,” I responded.

“Thank you,” she replied as she sat down to nurse her bourbon.

As we walked back to our chairs, I asked Candy, “Is she all right?”

“She’s got cirrhosis and will soon be joining her son.” I got chills down my spine.

“All right everybody,” Chip hollered; “I need your attention please? We’re here in honor of our departed friend Red.”

All the talking and the wrenching stopped.

“He was certainly a man who marched to the beat of his own drummer, and he made a unique addition to our group. I know many of you felt very close to him, and he will be sorely missed. So, I’d like to propose a toast to Red.”

Everyone clanged their glasses and bottles together.

“If anyone has a story about Red they’d like to share, now is the time.”

Candy rose immediately and offered a teary eulogy. Several of the others did likewise. Red’s mother stood up, started to say something, then sat down, overcome with emotion. After hearing a few more stories, she stood up and thanked everyone for coming out to honor him. A couple of the girls went to Red’s mother’s side to spend time chatting with her.

The wrenches started clanging and the babble started up again. The fridge door got a lot of use. Every once in a while, Chip went into the house and came back with another cold 12-pack. The beers never stopped flowing during the several hours that followed.

Spider walked up to where I was seated, accompanied by a tall redhead with hair the same color as his. “This is my sister, Evelyn. She’s been wanting to meet you, Montana.”

“Spider’s told me a lot about you,” she said. “It was nice of you to stay so cool when he crashed your bike. He really appreciated that. Most of the guys here would have gone ballistic in that situation.”

“There wasn’t much I could do, but Spider was true to his word and fixed everything. I respect him for that.”

“I love your bike,” she said. “Spider said it ran really smoothly. Would you take me for a ride this week?”

“Absolutely; I need a navigator to show me the area.”

“You’re on. How about Wednesday afternoon?”


As she walked off with Spider, I asked Gimp about her.

Tina answered, “She’s a dental hygienist who always takes Wednesdays off. I think she’s got her priorities right. Life has to be more than just the pursuit of money; it has to have balance. Her ex-husband is an accountant and he never understood that. She doesn’t have any kids but she dotes on her two miniature poodles.”

“Does she have a motorcycle?”

“Nope, but she often shows up at our events on the back of Spider’s bike.”

“Great, she knows how to ride.”

“She loves it.”


Courtesy of Pexels/Omid Najafi.

Courtesy of Pexels/Omid Najafi.


“I’ve been in Minneapolis for an hour and already I’m delighted I came!” I exclaimed. Everyone laughed.

“Ow, damn, damn!” someone shouted. I looked over to see one of the mechanics pull his hand away from a lift. It was black with dirty oil and red from blood, which was dripping onto the floor. Chip grabbed him and led him over to the laundry sink, where he ran warm water over the wound.

“Go get the first aid kit, Candy!” he hollered. She returned a minute later with a white metal box.

“You’re going to have to clean your hand with soap, KP, so we can see the damage.” He lathered up but it didn’t remove much of the oil.

“Use this!” Chip directed as he handed him a disposable mechanics towel pre-moistened with a grease-cutting cleaner. KP winced but when he was done, we could see the damage. KP had lost the nail off his middle finger, which was now blue. He was not comfortable.

“You want us to take you to the hospital, KP?” Candy asked.

“For this?” he responded, “Nah, I’ll be all right.”

Chip fetched a flask of rubbing alcohol and poured some in a cup. “Stick your finger in here and leave it there for a minute!” KP complied and winced again. All the guys standing around were wincing as well.

After drying it off, Candy covered the finger in Neosporin – it was still bleeding – and wrapped it several times around with bandages. When she was done, she offered to drive him home.

“Hell no,” KP responded; “I’ve got to keep an eye on these guys while they finish replacing my primary chain.”

Everyone laughed in relief. KP had behaved in a manner befitting a weekend warrior. I sat down next to him and he handed me a beer from a cooler at his side.

A car pulled up to the garage door and a kid got out with three large pizzas. Everyone dived in. There was a lot of talk about Sturgis, the swimming hole, and Red.

After all the pizza was gone, someone started cleaning the black grease, grit, and blood off each of the parts that KP had disassembled. Others carefully removed the old primary chain and the crankshaft gear to install the new replacement; all under the scrutinizing gaze of KP – who said very little. He didn’t have to; there was enough criticism from the sidelines to keep the mechanics from taking shortcuts. After everything was reassembled, they received pats on the back. Another guy grabbed some rags and wiped any residual dirt and fingerprints off the engine cases to polish things up.

Then they enjoyed a victory beer.

The camaraderie was palpable and it was a pleasure to be part of it. I was beginning to understand the Harley cult.

Previous installments appeared in Issues 143144145146147148149150151152153154155156157158, 159 and 160.

Editor’s Note: we are aware that “gimp” can have a derogatory meaning and mean no insult to anyone disabled. In the story, the person with that nickname doesn’t consider it as such, and we present the story in that context.

Header image courtesy of Pexels.com/Kindel Media.

Fest for Beatles Fans Gets Back

Fest for Beatles Fans Gets Back

Fest for Beatles Fans Gets Back

Larry Jaffee

I recently attended my first Fest for Beatles Fans in 20 years. I needed to recharge my Beatles batteries, which I did on April 4 and 5 at the New York metro area Fest that took place at New Jersey’s Hyatt Regency Jersey City. It was the first in-person convention the Fest had held since 2019, and many kindred spirits also sought to rejoice in some semblance of pre-pandemic normalcy by celebrating the Fab Four, 60 years after their first album With the Beatles was released in the UK.



The big draw at this year’s convention was the Zoom coupling of The Beatles: Get Back documentary director Peter Jackson (calling in from New Zealand) and Michael Lindsay-Hogg (calling in from update New York), the director of the 1970 Let It Be movie.

The Disney+ eight-hour The Beatles: Get Back documentary released last fall (see my Copper article in Issue 152) about the sessions that led to Let It Be, the last Beatles album to be released, whetted the appetite for such a meeting of the minds. It was as if the audience was eavesdropping on the two directors trading notes on various technical matters, such as Jackson searching for missing audio that needed to be synched in order to properly edit the documentary. The Beatles’ label, Apple, attempted to solve the problem by acquiring every bootleg recording available; fortunately, the original Nagra audio reels were found, enabling Jackson to complete the project over the course of three years.

Living in the Material World

An interesting exchange between Jackson and Lindsay-Hogg revolved around whether Yellow Submarine could have been construed as the third Beatles movie (after A Hard Day’s Night and Help). However, United Artists objected, because the animated film wasn’t a narrative feature (it didn’t even use the Beatles’ own voices). My theory, which I’ve previously stated, was that Beatles business manager Allen Klein could have quickly released the January 1969 impromptu rooftop concert that resulted in the Let It Be album within a few months, instead of waiting another 15 months, and that the delay might have been because of a contractual obligation. Jackson and Lindsay-Hogg indicated that Klein was bent on releasing the Let It Be movie soundtrack on his ABKCO label and their last as a group, even if the Beatles were no more.

After buying her book, Miss O’Dell, I had a nice private chat with featured speaker Chris O’Dell, who was present at the rooftop concert and who worked as an Apple assistant in 1968 through 1969. Chris later toured with the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It didn’t occur to me that I should ask O’Dell if she knew why George didn’t get to have one of his songs played on the roof, or whether it ever came up while she lived with George and Pattie Harrison at Friar Park in May 1970.

I also ran into Fest for Beatles Fans announcer and WFUV-FM DJ Darren DeVivo, who interviewed Peter Jackson in November 2021 for the “Things We Said Today” podcast with his co-hosts Allan Kozinn and Ken Michaels. About 90 minutes into the nearly four-hour interview, Jackson says that footage showed that the Beatles had only planned to play five songs at the rooftop concert.


During a Saturday night trivia contest, eight out of 10 contestants said George was their favorite Beatle (mine too). In fact, I bought a $25 t-shirt of George playing guitar and wore it the next day.

While Jackson and Lindsay-Hogg were virtual, everyone else at the Fest was in person, and having a great time, despite the steep admission price: a two-day pass cost $175. George was so right when he called his second album Living in the Material World.

All We Need Is Love

One of the Fest for Beatles Fans emcees, New York disc jockey Ken Dashow of Q104.3 (Tony Soprano’s favorite radio station), invited me to the studio the following Wednesday to record a show for his podcast, “Ken Dashow’s Beatles Revolution” and to talk about the Beatles and my new book Record Store Day: The Most Improbable Comeback of the 21st Century. Ken really made my day by mentioning the book and myself on his syndicated radio show “Breakfast With the Beatles,” broadcast live from the Fest that Sunday morning.


Q104 DJ Ken Dashow and Larry Jaffee.

Q104 DJ Ken Dashow and Larry Jaffee.


The 2022 edition of Fest for Beatles Fans, dubbed “Get Back to the Fest,” was similar to how I remembered the last one I attended 20 years ago: attendance by Beatles historians and authors with recently-published books; performances by professional musicians who were connected to the Fab Four (one-time Wings guitarist Laurence Juber did a fantastic acoustic set), or to related artists like Billy J. Kramer, the native Liverpudlian to whom Lennon and McCartney gifted four of their compositions; renowned tribute bands; and amateur musicians who brought their instruments for impromptu jams. There was a Marketplace bazaar for memorabilia collectors, and a number of trivia contests took place, to name just a few of the festivities. Attendees from all walks of life around the country who otherwise would have never met congregated over their mutual love of their favorite band’s music. Below is a Fest recap video by four Beatles experts.


30 Beatles Moments In My Life

As I took the New York City subway and PATH train to Jersey City to and from the Fest for Beatles Fans, I compiled a list of my 30 favorite Beatles memories, here, there and everywhere, yesterday and today.

1) Watching Beatlemania unfold on TV as a 5–year-old, as my dad called the Fab Four a “Communist plot.” We lived a mile from Shea Stadium. I never got tired of hearing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on WABC-AM on my transistor radio given to me by my grandmother for my birthday.

2) Meeting Paul McCartney backstage at the 1994 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony (rudely breaking up his conversation with Yoko Ono, behavior that still shames me). Yoko had just given Paul the cassette containing “Free As a Bird,” “Free Love” and two other demos. Paul gladly accepted my EastEnders fanzine because he and Linda were fans of the popular British TV show. I interviewed Yoko five years later by fax for an article about the John Lennon Anthology CD boxed set.

3) Buying Introducing The Beatles as a 99-cent cutout in 1972 when I finally bought a record player. I spent my 1970 birthday money on a cassette recorder, which I used to record favorite songs off WABC-AM, and play The London Chuck Berry Sessions on prerecorded cassette.

4) Buying the Beatles “Red” and “Blue” double-LP greatest hits sets on April 2, 1973, the day of their release, followed by the White Album the next week. I put up the four headshots from the White Album in each corner of my bedroom.

5) Seeing George Harrison on December 20, 1974 perform at Madison Square Garden (the Dark Horse tour); I saw Wings there on May 24,1976.

6) Meeting Ringo Starr with my two-year-old daughter in July 2000 at a CD store near Radio City Music Hall (we had just seen the All-Star Band in Westbury, New York). I said, “Ringo, here’s your littlest fan on the queue today.” He looked down and quipped, “No, we’ve had littler.”

7) Buying a used German LP import pressing of Revolver for $3 in 1976 at a record store in Hempstead, NY near Hofstra University (where I just started) and realizing the American LPs on Capitol were giving fewer tracks on Beatles albums than the UK versions, which made me angry.

8) Asked in the summer of 1979 by an underground newspaper to interview John Lennon. I asked, incredulously, “You have this set up?” To which the editor replied, “No, that’s your job.” I went to the Dakota and wrote him a “Dear John” letter and invited him to come to the bank where I worked, for a free gift. Gave it to the doorman. I never heard from John.


A re-creation of a 1969 John Lennon and Yoko Ono Bed-In for Peace.

A re-creation of a 1969 John Lennon and Yoko Ono Bed-In for Peace.


9) Circa 2016: My dad telling me that, in retrospect, John Lennon was “a good guy” and that he regretted voting for Nixon in ’68 after reading an article about the disgraced president’s attempt to deport the Beatle.

10) Hearing on December 8, 1980 that John was killed by a deranged fan. I heard the news on WNEW-FM after Vin Scelsa played Springsteen’s “Jungleland”; I cried and cried.

11) My daughter told me as a 16-year-old babysitter that she put a toddler to sleep by singing “Dear Prudence” like I used to do with her.

12) My cousin Robin asked me in 1969 whether I had heard “Hey Jude” yet; I was 11, she was 10. Of course I had, and loved it.

13) Getting a tour of Abbey Road Studios in 1999 and seeing that high ceiling in person, picking up on the greatness that had occurred there. I had the same sensation when Bob Marley’s mom invited me to her Miami home in the late 1990s after I wrote about Marley in Vibe magazine

14) Crossing Abbey Road as a tourist in 1989; the recently found photo was taken by my future ex-wife.

15) Meeting Beatles photographer Robert Whitaker (of the Yesterday and Today album “Butcher Cover” fame) in the early 2000s at his New York City exhibit, and learning he’d much prefer to discuss EastEnders than the Beatles.

16) Recounting the Butcher Cover fiasco in a 2000 Medialine article featuring several of the principals involved, including Capitol president Ken Livingston, as well as the original production manager who supervised the pasting over of the controversial severed baby dolls sleeve with the innocuous steamer trunk cover.

17) Seeing George Harrison perform “Absolutely Sweet Marie,” one of my favorite Dylan songs, at “Bobfest” in Madison Square Garden on October 16, 1992.


18) Misinterpreting a promotion on WABC-AM in May 1970 when I was 12, thinking that there was a chance the Beatles would get back together if you wrote the winning essay on why they shouldn’t break up. The after-school sitter watching me and my younger brother told me there was no chance of a reunion, that it was over.

19) Biggest unexpected Beatles-related revelation: learning in February 2020 that John Lennon would regularly eat hot dogs at Gray’s Papaya at Broadway and 72nd Street. John’s White Album headshot still hangs there. The manager told me that Yoko Ono wouldn’t eat there. I used this anecdote in the Journalism 101 class I taught the next day at the New York Institute of Technology as an example of observation that leads to curiosity and news.


Photo of John Lennon at Gray's Papaya, Manhattan.

Photo of John Lennon at Gray’s Papaya, Manhattan.


20) Not exactly the Broadway show Beatlemania, but my English actor friend from EastEnders, John Altman, played George Harrison in the 1979 Birth of the Beatles TV movie. When I visited his home (near Pete Townshend’s in West London), I saw that, like me, he kept Beatles trivia books in the bathroom.

21) Right before I was Bar Mitzvahed in April 1971, I realized that I objected to Judaism’s “chosen people” rhetoric. I thought to myself, “John Lennon is not Jewish, so he doesn’t count? Well, he’s my god.”

22) The fall of 1964: My parents took me and my younger brother to see A Hard Day’s Night at the Fresh Meadows, Queens movie theater. It was rare for us to do this; The Sound of Music and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang were the only other similar family excursions. I especially don’t understand it since my father hated what the Beatles represented (see number 1 on this list). Sitting in front of me, coincidentally, was a classmate on whom I had a crush; she didn’t appreciate me kicking her chair for the entire movie.

23) What pisses me off about the Get Back documentary: George Harrison quits on the seventh day of difficult sessions at Twickenham Studios. A hidden-microphone lunch reveals John and Paul acknowledging that George is understandably tired of taking a back seat to them. Why didn’t they make sure one of George’s songs would be played on the roof?

24) Favorite Beatles song: “A Day in the Life” because it captures how John and Paul complemented each other’s talents.

25) Favorite Beatles solo record: George’s All Things Must Pass.

26) Favorite Beatles solo song: John’s “Give Peace A Chance.”

27) Favorite Ringo solo performance: “I’m the Greatest.” John was so correct to not release it himself – I have his original on a bootleg – because it would have been egotistical, but Ringo had the perfect amount of ironic chutzpah and humility to pull it off.


28) Favorite Paul solo album: Ram, followed by Flaming Pie.

29) Favorite Beatles album: Revolver.

30) Best use of a Beatles song in a TV show: “Tomorrow Never Knows” in Mad Men. Don Draper (whose musical taste is more like Frank Sinatra) is asked by an advertising client to get Beatles-like music. Don’s much younger, second wife Megan suggests that he listen to the last track on Side Two of Revolver to understand the 1966 zeitgeist. He drops the needle on the turntable, lies back in his recliner and spaces out with his scotch. I wonder what would have happened if Megan had also given him a joint. Mad Men showrunner Matthew Weiner paid $250,000 for the usage rights; it was worth every penny.

From Small Things, Big Things One Day Come

From Small Things, Big Things One Day Come

From Small Things, Big Things One Day Come

Jay Jay French

No, this is not a review of the great Springsteen-penned and Dave Edmunds-performed tune, although perhaps I will do an article on Dave Edmunds in the future as I just about love everything he ever recorded, starting with Love Sculpture and on through all his solo work including his collaboration with Nick Lowe and the absolutely brilliant Rockpile.

This is about thinking that something small – a Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth portable speaker (replaced by the SoundLink Mini II Special Edition) – could perform, with some very important help, way beyond its pay grade.


Bose SoundLink Mini portable Bluetooth speaker system.

Bose SoundLink Mini portable Bluetooth speaker system.


I just returned from a month-long vacation in Mexico. The trip was planned and executed by my wife and one of her close friends for the purpose of getting out of the cold, dark, gray Northeast weather pattern of the New York winter. This is something that we had talked about for years.

“Wouldn’t it be great,” we would always tell ourselves, “if we could ‘get out of Dodge’ for the entire month of March?”

This was our mantra.

What was stopping us?


Fear of what?

Fear of missing out…on something.

Fear of being away in case of some kind of family emergency.

Fear of losing out on some job opportunities.

Fear of being disconnected.

But isn’t that the point of going away…to disconnect, and stop reading and listening to the news (among other things)?

Isn’t the point to really just go to someplace warm, by a beach and do…nothing?

Could we ever do it?

And then the question becomes…where would we go?

Florida and the Keys? LA? Costa Rica? Belize?

How about Mexico?

So much has been written about Mexico recently vis-à-vis the drug cartels and the violence. In fact, the area we were looking at (From Cancun down to Tulum) had been in the press recently as the scene of several shootings in and around well-known tourist spots.

Would we be safe?

When one rationally asks oneself a question like that when one lives in New York City, it is truly ironic. The news in NYC over this year, in terms of safety, has been pretty bad.

As a lifelong Manhattan resident, having lived through all the street gangs in the ’60s and the nearly unbelievable violence of the ’70s, I have kept all this in perspective. That doesn’t change the fact that being in the wrong place at the wrong time can happen to anyone, anywhere.

One must always be careful.

When the final decision was made – after all the pluses and minuses of other locations were taken into account – to go to Mexico, the next stop was finding just the right Airbnb in the right area.

My wife Sharon and her friend Andrea found a great three-story condo (at least it looked that way on paper) in the village of Akumal, located between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, about 100 feet from the beach, on a secure, guarded street.

Cut to the chase, it was the perfect location in a great area.

We booked it and then the Rolodex of anxiety roiled through me. Away for a month? In Mexico? Possible shootings? Possible food poisoning and undrinkable water? Car rental issues?

Yes, my friends, all of this mishegoss (Yiddish for craziness, silliness, nonsense) flooded my brain.

And then, after all this, I realized that I would be leaving my reference audio system for an entire month!

My system, especially my vinyl playback, has been getting me through the last two COVID-drenched years, in semi-isolation, especially in New York City where so much was shut down. My system sounded so good that anyone who came over was blown away that music could sound so good in a home.

What was I going to have to listen to in Mexico?

Well, I couldn’t let this issue get in the way, and so I brought my laptop, which has all my songs and TIDAL and Qobuz apps, my five-year-old Bose SoundLink mini-speaker, and a just-acquired AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt USB DAC/preamp/headphone amp. I also brought a Wireworld Nano-Silver Eclipse cable to connect the mini-jack output of the DragonFly into the speaker. (The Cobalt plugs into a computer via its USB jack.)


AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt.

AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt.


The condo had an open floor plan on the first floor with a combined kitchen, dining room and living room.

For whatever reason, the sound from the Bose speaker could ably fill the room. What was shocking, however, was how great the music sounded coming out of the speaker attached to the DragonFly. The music was full, dynamic, and had more complexity than I could have imagined.

Even if playing non-high-res Spotify or Apple Music from a computer, the improvement using the DragonFly Cobalt is amazing, but with Qobuz and TIDAL, where hi-res options are the reason one uses them, the effect is breathtaking.

My wife is used to great audio, but her girlfriend Andrea and several guests we had staying with us have no audio history and asked what this thing was (the DragonFly) that was connected to the computer.

I sarcastically said, “well, what that thing does would have been the size of a computer five years ago and would have cost thousands of dollars.”

I then removed the DragonFly and connected the speaker via Bluetooth.

The entire soundstage collapsed and all the fidelity just disappeared.

Everyone was stunned.

The thing is, the AQ Cobalt is made primarily for use with headphones to ensure maximum fidelity, but when used with an external cable into a powered speaker (or other device), it works as a great portable DAC.

The technology in the AQ DragonFly Cobalt includes an ESS Sabre ES9038Q2M DAC chip and can play files up to 24 bit/96kHz. It also has built-in MQA decoding.

Quite simply, it makes all the music played through it sound better, much better.

All the guests, who never would have considered upgrading what they listen to at home, ordered one.

From small things, mama…

Listening to the music emanating from the Bose speaker, wherever it was placed in the room, just sounded wonderful.

I bought the Bose, I bought the AQ DragonFly Cobalt, and I bought the Wireworld cable, so this is not a paid promotion in any way. It is important to note that the connecting cables should be of a quality that can let the improvement in the sound quality from the Cobalt pass through.

List prices:

  • Bose SoundLink Mini portable Bluetooth speaker – retail price about $200.00. The current Sound Link Mini II Special Edition sells for $189.00.
  • AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt – $329.95. AQ also offers the DragonFly Red at $229.95 and the DragonFly Black for $119.95.
  • Wireworld Nano-Silver Eclipse mini-jack cable – $225.00.

The prices of the DragonFlys vary because of the quality of the D/A chips used. All do a great job, however, and you will never go back again to just using the built-in D/A converter in your computer to make music.

As for my home reference system, as now configured, it comes in at around $130,000. But to get good-quality music from a portable music system that costs around $760 was a no-brainer. It’s a no-brainer even if your home system retails for 3,000.

My portable setup simply makes on-the-go music portable, musical and…fun. We used it all day, everyday

And Mexico?

The place was great; the weather was 85 and sunny every day, the beach was wonderful, the people were friendly. We had a huge supermarket nearby and bought fresh food and veggies, and never got sick (or sunburned) once. It was a 10 out of 10, and I can’t believe I lasted an entire month away from my home, work, and audio system. And I did it happily, in part, with the help of some very small devices.

From small things, big things one day come.

Header image: Akumal, Mexico, courtesy of Pexels.com/Samuel Sweet.

Still Singing! A Bit of Talking! A Little More Dancing!

Still Singing! A Bit of Talking! A Little More Dancing!

Still Singing! A Bit of Talking! A Little More Dancing!

Don Kaplan

This month’s article, Part Two of “All Singing! Some Talking! A Little Dancing!” (Part One appeared in Issue 156), includes additional choral music selections in a variety of forms – and they’re all videos of live performances.

Watching videos, especially those that are well done, can help listeners better understand what they’re listening to by pointing out phrases, musical lines, harmonies, and rhythmic elements – nuances that might otherwise be missed – and help demonstrate how all the musical parts interact. Videos also display performers’ expressions, for example, whether they are struggling with the music or genuinely enjoying themselves singing pieces they’re comfortable with.

Igor Stravinsky/Oedipus Rex/Bibiana Beglau, speaker/Men of the Rundfunkchor Berlin/Berliner Philharmoniker/Kirill Petrenko, cond. Here’s a first-rate recent performance of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex (1927), beautifully sung and spoken. The video grabbed me immediately and I couldn’t stop listening. Stravinsky’s opera-oratorio is austere, rhythmic and dramatic, and conducted by Petrenko in tempos that sound just right. It’s one of those rarities where the performance and photography really bring the composition to life. The speaker narrates the story in German (subtitles are thoughtfully provided) but if you like variety, there are two other videos on YouTube, one spoken in French, the other in Japanese.

If you prefer listening without watching, there are several recordings to choose from including one standout: A 1951 LP in very acceptable sound with Stravinsky conducting, Jean Cocteau (who wrote the libretto) narrating in French, and Peter Pears singing the role of Oedipus:



Igor Stravinsky/Les Noces/The Oklahoma University Chorale and Oklahoma Festival Ballet Le Noces (The Wedding), composed and produced in 1923 for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, is one of the few significant early 20th century ballets that includes a chorus. The ballet is based on Russian folklore and depicts a peasant wedding in three scenes with a final nuptial celebration. Stravinsky’s score calls for a large chorus, vocal soloists, a large percussion battery, and four on-stage concert grand pianos. The musical language is lean and percussive, with rhythmic shifts and unusual vocal and instrumental timbres – very different from the rich-sounding symphony orchestras Stravinsky used for his first three Diaghilev collaborations.

Edwin Denby, a well-known American dance critic, attended a 1936 revival of Les Noces choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska (dancer Vaslav Nijinsky’s sister). He wrote, “Noces is noble, it is fierce, it is simple, it is fresh, it is thrilling…[it] is, I’m sure, one of the finest things one can see anywhere.” [1] Denby’s opinion is widely shared in the dance world and elsewhere: the score has been the basis for numerous versions by choreographers including Merce Cunningham, Maurice Bejart, and Lar Lubovitch. Nijinska herself remarked that “The music – ‘Les Noces’ – the inner rhythm – its nature – its moods – deep and heavy with rare moments of joy – created the choreographic form.” [2]


Arvo Pärt/Te Deum/The Salt Lake Choral Artists and University of Utah Singers/Dr. Brady Allred. cond. In 2014 The Daily Telegraph, a national British paper, described Pärt as possibly “the world’s greatest living composer” and “by a long way, Estonia’s most celebrated export.” Pärt was the most-performed living composer from 2011 to 2018, but lost first place to John Williams in 2019 and had to settle for being the world’s second-most performed composer.

Pärt is often identified with minimalism or mystic/Holy minimalism [3] – music that uses simple melodic and harmonic materials. Although he initially became famous for his instrumental works, his choral works are now very popular as well.

Pärt’s early pieces were composed in a variety of Neoclassical styles. After concluding that Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique was a creative dead end, Pärt entered the first of several periods during which he studied choral music from the 14th to the 16th centuries. Pärt’s biographer Paul Hillier [4] observed that “he had reached a position of complete despair in which the composition of music appeared to be the most futile of gestures, and he lacked the musical faith and willpower to write even a single note.” [5]

Pärt’s compositions changed after this time and were radically different. Pärt described his new style as “tintinnabula – relating to the ringing of bells.” The music is characterized by plain harmonies, single unadorned notes and triads, and rhythms that do not change tempo. [6] Te Deum (1984), one of Pärt’s most famous pieces, was composed in this style. On an ECM records leaflet Pärt wrote that the Te Deum text has “immutable truths” reminding him of the “immeasurable serenity imparted by a mountain panorama.” His composition sought to communicate a mood “that could be infinite in time – out of the flow of infinity. I had to draw this music gently out of silence and emptiness.”


Vladimir Godár/Magnificat/Alina Ilchuk, soprano/Slavic Chorale and Orchestra/Pavel Kravchuk, cond. Vladimir Godár might not be very familiar to American audiences but he is one of Slovakia’s leading composers. His varied compositions include an oratorio, a ballet, orchestral works, chamber works, educational pieces, and over 50 film scores.

Godár’s music was little-known outside of Eastern Europe until ECM Records released his choral cycle Mater in 2006, causing music producer Rob Cowan to say, “It’s as if Janáček, Górecki, and Monteverdi have settled on a universal language. A wonderful listen.” [7] The release was critically acclaimed and prominently displayed on the front of music store counters for a short time, then faded back into the CD bins.

Godár has been described as a musical archaeologist who often draws his inspiration from folk traditions, the Baroque period, and early music. His style is moody and minimalist with chant-like melodies and drones, yet retains a contemporary sound. “When one chooses the path of art, one is never alone, no matter how much one may wish to be…We always create art ‘with a little help from our friends.’ They lend a helping hand not just when creating works of art, but assist in their continued existence as well…[Magnificat’s] three sections are a celebration of the three greatest inventions of music – melody, harmony and polyphony…”


John Tavener/“The Lamb”/The Erebus Ensemble/Tom Williams, dir. During the Baroque period, a composer named Heinrich Ignaz Biber wrote a few orchestral pieces that periodically went “off course.” Every now and then it sounded like the players had forgotten how to play or lost their way in the score, then continued to perform the piece as usual.

John Tavener is best known for his sacred choral music. His The Lamb (no relationship to Mary’s secular one but just as comforting) reminds me of Biber’s compositions because two completely lyrical movements are contrasted with two moderately dissonant ones. The score doesn’t have a time signature: Some bars have a 4/4 feeling but others are much freer, and the rhythm is guided by the words instead of a regular pulse. The text setting is mostly syllabic although two notes are occasionally slurred together to reinforce important words.

The Lamb was composed in 1982 and is one of Tavener’s best-known works. Tavener says on his website: “I wrote [it]…while being driven by my mother from South Devon to London. It came to me fully grown so to speak, so all I had to do was to write it down.” All you have to do is sit back and enjoy it. This an impressive performance and great companion to the Dove piece, below.


Jonathan Dove/“Gloria”/Stanford Chamber Chorale/Stephen M. Sano, dir.

Dove is a successful opera composer whose “fresh, diatonic idiom is coupled with a matchless sense of word-setting… he writes most gratefully for the voice.” [8] Dove has composed many choral works, both for concert and liturgical use, which are in the repertoires of professional and amateur choirs around the world. According to his biography his early professional experience gave him a deep understanding of singers, and vocal music has been a central priority throughout his career. Best of all, new listeners find his works approachable while experienced audiences enjoy the music as well.

The “Gloria” from his Missa Brevis is a good introduction to Dove’s music…tonal, melodic, and easily accessible with only mildly dissonant disruptions.


Leoš Janáček/Glagolitic Mass/Czech Philharmonic/Sir Charles Mackerras, cond. Janáček had extensive experience working with choirs and writing choral music. During an interview for Gramophone [9] conductor Tomáš Netopil noted that Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass is a work infused with the essence of the composer’s native Moravia. “There is a level of complexity and color in Moravian folklore…which deeply influenced this composer…Janáček came from northern Moravia, where the dialect is very staccato and short – and so often you sense those qualities in this music…”

The Mass has a youthful passion despite dating from the last few years of the composer’s life. In the words of Czech writer Milan Kundera, it’s “more an orgy than a mass” which matches Janáček’s spiritual outlook. Despite growing up in a monastery and acting as a choirmaster and organist for 20 years, he was not a practicing Catholic and his attitude towards the Church was ambiguous. “He believed in God, but in his own special way…Janáček is not romantic; his music is strong and dry. And within this dryness you will find lyrical passages that make more of an impact if they contrast with what surrounds them.” [10]

In a letter from April 1928 regarding the Mass’ Prague premiere, Janáček said, “We did not take the path trodden by slippers. We surely did not sow rotten seeds. We stood out in the programme like a sore thumb, but it was necessary. We were a fresh spring breeze.” And when the work premiered at the British Norwich Festival in 1930, The Daily Mail reported, “Norfolk people, known for their placidity, were not to be expected to capture the spirit of boisterous Bohemian rustics…If the music suggested any religious occasion it was the dedication of a new railway station.”

Janáček’s Mass is considered an important 20th-century work. The non-boisterous “Agnus Dei” section is a choral favorite and has been recorded several times; this performance is conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras, who was an authority on Janáček’s works. Start listening at 33:40 for the beautiful “Agnus Dei,” then go back to the beginning and hear the entire piece straight through to get a more rounded feeling for the composer’s music.


[1] Alan M. Kriegsman, “The Wonder of Nijinska’s ‘Noces’,” The Washington Post, May 23, 1982.

[2] Ibid.

[3] During the late 20th-century several composers, many of whom had previously worked in serial or experimental styles, started working with similar goals: a religious orientation, simple compositional materials, a strong foundation in tonality or modality, and the use of uncomplicated, repetitive melodies. Many of these composers were inspired by Renaissance or medieval music, or the liturgical music of the Orthodox Churches. Examples include Arvo Pärt, John Tavener, Henryk Górecki, Alan Hovhaness, Sofia Gubaidulina, Giya Kancheli, Pēteris Vasks, and Vladimír Godár.

[4] Hillier founded the popular vocal groups Theatre of Voices and Hilliard Ensemble.

[5] Hillier, Arvo Pärt, 1997.

[6] Tintinnabuli music can also be described as a style in which the musical material is extremely concentrated, reduced only to the most important elements where the simple rhythm and often gradually progressing melodies and triadic tintinnabuli voices are integrated into the complicated art of polyphony. [Arvo Part Centre]

[7] From a commentary on BBC Radio 3 [Faber Music, 2009].

[8] Quote from Gramophone in Faber Music, 2022.

[9] “Inside Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass” by Hannah Nepil, Gramophone, March 15, 2016.

[10] Netopil, ibid.

Back to My Reel-to-Reel Roots, Part 13: Re-Education

Back to My Reel-to-Reel Roots, Part 13: Re-Education

Back to My Reel-to-Reel Roots, Part 13: Re-Education

Ken Kessler

After the last two issues’ litanies of sins, by both the tape manufacturers and the end users (but not the vendors), I tried to place myself back in the 1950s and 1960s to assess whether or not I was being too harsh. If anything, I was too soft on these hi-fi offenders. As Copper is and must remain apolitical, I am loath to discuss it in the following terms, which will upset Millennials, snowflakes, Gen-Xers, and others, but I must do so for context. It’s all about the blend of education, intelligence and comportment, then vs now.

It’s clear to me that the audiophiles of 60 – 70 years ago were far better-educated and savvier than we are today. This is why the mishandling of tapes (which I confess is just about as minor a malfeasance as one could possibly imagine during a time when the planet is dealing with war and pestilence) is so surprising. But each time I start to resemble my old man, exhibiting the grumpiness of age, I stop myself and admit that there’s absolutely no reason why any generation needs to know how to use the tools, appliances or other appurtenances of decades past.

It’s like that YouTube clip in which some children are handed cassettes and a boombox, to try and figure out how it works. They’re mystified. I imagine there are young drivers who couldn’t handle a manual gearbox, and I wouldn’t know how to use a spinning wheel, so why should anyone under 40 be versed in the use of open-reel tape, let alone vinyl?

Again, this isn’t the place to discuss the degradation of basic education in the US and the UK (and for evidence, just look once more to YouTube for some videos that ask a series of questions recently asked of university students to see how depressingly dense some have become). Neither is this the platform for bemoaning poorer manners, attitudes of entitlement, susceptibility to triggers and so on, but simply flipping through some yellowing hi-fi magazines from 1953 through 1954 made me realize how easy we have it today. Everything in the modern world seems to conspire to enable sloth.

Our softer lives as audiophiles doesn’t mean only the plummeting in real terms of the cost of hardware, which is now so low as to have devalued hi-fi equipment. You had to have some serious disposable income to indulge in decent audio equipment back in the early days, even at entry-level. Leaving aside the lunatic fringe that is high-end audio circa-2022 with its $12,000 cartridges and $500,000 speakers and $100,000 amps, the entry-level is so inexpensive today that the once-basic UK system of the late-1970s and through the whole of the 1980s, which sold for around £500/$700 in old money, costs the same today. Yes, £500 will still buy a basic set-up.

Unbelievable? A fantasy? No: you can still purchase a CD player or turntable, a budget integrated amp and a pair of two-way speakers for that sum. If inflation had hit hi-fi, today’s $700 system should cost around $2,200. So, if a hi-fi system costs less than an iPhone, there’s no wonder it holds no more desirability than a toaster. But I digress.

Early audiophiles without deep pockets – and I’m getting to the role of open-reel tape during the birth of serious hi-fi – were a hardy bunch. If you couldn’t afford McIntosh or Fisher or Harman/Kardon gear, you saved a bundle by building it yourself. Do-it-yourself was one way of dealing with the relative exclusivity of what was then the high-end, and it’s why Dynaco, Heathkit and others were so successful. What it also suggests is that those who assembled component systems in the 1950s were a tougher breed than customers for all-in-one consoles.

What I detected, three generations on, were various behavioral schisms. The DIY guys and well-to-do audiophiles (who could buy McIntosh, et al) probably respected their tapes and LPs a bit more than those who bought what was effectively a piece of furniture, one that happened to house a record changer. In a sense, that’s true today: hard-core audiophiles are the polar opposite of B&O customers, or newcomers to LPs who (as I described before) run back to the record stores where they paid $25 for the new Ed Sheeran album to complain about how it skips, after they subjected it to a nasty $99 turntable bought online, while handling records like they were Frisbees.

One change between the music providers of open-reel tapes and LPs in the 1950s and 1960s and the labels today is in communication with the end-user. British label EMI in particular was noteworthy for its LP inner sleeves that included densely-packed information about handling and cleaning records. As for open-reel tapes, I’ve photographed for you one of the slips of paper that were found in tapes with unequal playing times from Side A to Side B. In plain English, an even more succinct note says (and I quote verbatim), “NOTICE: On some pre-recorded tapes there is more music on one side and consequently, an unrecorded length of tape on the other side. This is not a defect, but is unavoidable on 4-track tape.” Clear, simple, and informative – as it should be.


A courteous note explaining the differences in playing times from A-Side to B-Side.

A courteous note explaining the differences in playing times from A-Side to B-Side.


Anyone rushing back to the music store to complain about relative playing times could only be a cretin. And, yes, there were tight-fisted cretins who filled those longueurs with extra music because they couldn’t bear the silence. But what I have yet to see on any of the tape boxes are warnings about keeping the tapes away from magnets, e.g., not leaving them on top of loudspeakers, or about proper spooling and so on, which leads me to another supposition: that buyers of tapes, for the most part, simply knew how to use them. That must be the only explanation, especially vis-à-vis veteran vs newly-converted LP users. We simply knew how to handle records. Some newer listeners don’t, and weren’t shown how.

Then again, it wasn’t all savvy audiophiles back then, either. While writing this, I have experienced three tapes in a row suffering the sins of the fathers. (See my article in Issue 160.) The original owner, and I use the singular as all came from the same source, clearly cared not about the health of his tapes. The minor problem with one tape was that the A side and B side were reversed, but another tape required three splices, and the third was so worn that it exhibited a wavy edge and produced so much wow as to be unlistenable. The tragedy is that the last one cited is a super-rare tape, but encountering disappointments like this comes with the territory. As for context, regarding this brazen carelessness and disregard for value, the price stickers on these circa-1965 titles say $7.95 apiece. That’s $72.56 in today’s money, down the drain. Hmmm…no respect.

Negativism aside, such niceties as the warning notes about playing times are part of the charm of pre-recorded reel-to-reel tapes, and seeing them so many years after their mass-market demise. (Please don’t take that as a dig at the current purveyors of 15 ips 1/2-track tapes, but as desirable as they are, $500 tapes hardly constitute what you would call anything beyond “niche” – and a minuscule one at that.) Individual labels such as Command and Audio Fidelity would regale you with scrupulous details about the recording sessions and the hardware used, especially microphones and tape decks, information now rarely found unless your LPs are from Impex, Mobile Fidelity, Analogue Productions and the like, or SACDs from Octave, MoFi and the Japanese specialists.

A thoughtful example of a courtesy from a mainstream label clearly acknowledging that its customers might be fastidious appeared on the back of a Bobby Vinton tape. Vinton – now 87! – is a crooner who had numerous hits in the 1960s, but his albums were hardly what I would have thought were audiophile fare like Miles Davis or Dave Brubeck or Leonard Bernstein titles. (Hey – I’m not the snob; I’m the philistine. I’m just saying.) Anyway, on the back of the Vinton release was an invitation to “Fill In Your Meter Count.” A small box was printed next to each track for that purpose. A nice touch, clearly not applicable to CDs or LPs, but charming nonetheless.


Fill in your meter count for easy song access.

Fill in your meter count for easy song access.


Such discoveries have entertained me from the first delivery of a batch of tapes five years ago, upon my return to the open-reel fold. Again, my library may be too small to serve as a valid sample, but I have – not counting duplicates – managed to assemble by accident a nice collection of tapes which will serve me well if I ever hit the road again, undertaking demos at hi-fi shows.

Just before COVID-19 gave us a glimpse of the apocalypse in late 2019, I gave demonstrations of early pre-recorded open-reel tapes to packed rooms at the Hi-Fi News-organized show at Royal Ascot in the UK. These were hardcore audio enthusiasts, the majority of whom hadn’t really experienced reel-to-reel tape. A couple of late-1950s 2-track 7-1/2 ips tapes caused jaws to drop. This made it all worthwhile, vindication for my obsession with and proselytizing about the format.

Thanks to my omnivorous attitude toward used tapes, with a total lack of discretion or selectivity when shopping, I now have a number of titles that were issued in both 3-3/4 ips and 7-1/2 ips 1/4-track. These will prove invaluable for comparing the two speeds for curious audiences. Attendees will certainly hear the difference, but I’m dying to know if they find the doubling of the speed subtle or mind-boggling.

Less obvious will be comparing reissues of the same tapes on two different labels. As I dig deeper into this – and I would give anything to have an hour or two with the late Mel Schilling or Tim de Paravicini to discuss it – I will try to regale you with information about forgotten labels. For the time being, check out the photos of two copies of 101 Strings’ version of Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite. One is on Audio Spectrum, the other Bel Canto, both 7-1/2 ips 1/4-track, and (blessedly) both mint. The cover art is identical, the spools different, the backs sporting liner notes unique to each.


The same recording on two different labels, Audio Spectrum and Bel Canto, back covers.

The same recording on two different labels, Audio Spectrum and Bel Canto, back covers.


The same recording on two different tapes, Bel Canto and Audio Spectrum.

The same recording on two different tapes, Bel Canto and Audio Spectrum.


This is the sort of pairing I will gladly take to the next hi-fi show, the team in the open-reel room charged with setting up two identical decks, as they did in 2019. It’s the kind of experience which I savor the most in the hi-fi community, something lacking since high-end audio became so serious. In simple terms, it’s about having fun.


Header image: Ferde Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite reel-to-reel tapes on Audio Spectrum and Bel Canto, front covers.

Geoff Emerick’s Here, There and Everywhere: Recording the Music of the Beatles

Geoff Emerick’s Here, There and Everywhere: Recording the Music of the Beatles

Geoff Emerick’s Here, There and Everywhere: Recording the Music of the Beatles

John Seetoo

Artistic geniuses at a young age are not entirely uncommon, as prodigies from Mozart to Derek Trucks bear witness. When the Beatles broke out with their first record in 1962, John Lennon and Ringo Starr were 22, Paul McCartney was 20, and George Harrison was 19. As burgeoning pop stars, youth was part of the job description.

Such was not the case with sound engineers, especially in England during the 1960s. Looked upon as a technical and scientific profession, EMI Recording Studios (later to be renamed Abbey Road), employed engineers who had served in World War II and wore white lab coats over their jackets and ties. They were expected to follow tradition and technical guidelines that were often issued long before modern equipment was invented. It was into this environment that a 15-year-old Geoff Emerick found himself when he was working as an apprentice assistant and got to hear the Beatles first record, “Love Me Do,” with producer George Martin. Little did anyone in that room realize that in just four short years, Emerick would be sitting behind the console at EMI’s Studio Two and fabricating recording techniques to go toe-to-toe with the increasingly innovative musical and sonic concepts of the Fab Four. It would result in a series of landmark albums: Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour, The Beatles, and Abbey Road.

Geoff Emerick and Howard Massey’s book, Here There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles chronicles his combination of creative sound engineering brilliance, a defiantly brave streak with a willingness to break EMI’s archaic rules if it meant achieving the aural colors demanded by the Beatles at their zenith, and a good helping of youthful naivete. Emerick recounts his promotion to become the Beatles’ engineer for Revolver, notes how events cascaded from 1966 to the Beatles’ breakup in 1970, and discusses his work on some of their various solo projects afterwards. His book debunks many myths about the Fab Four, and explains in detail how necessity became the mother of invention for recording many beloved Beatles songs in the days before there were unlimited track counts, Auto-Tune, and other digital enhancements.


Geoff Emerick. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Eddie Janssens.


With the benefit of hindsight, Emerick also explains the rationale behind many seemingly random and serendipitous events throughout his career. For example, he recalled that George Martin’s role as the Beatles’ producer was primarily within the scope of musical performance and in finding and using other musicians (including himself) to provide what the Beatles could not play on their own, such as the use of orchestral instruments and classical stylings (including the “harpsichord” on “In My Life,” actually a sped-up piano). Martin would also judge whether the takes of a song had any “clams” that rendered them unusable. Apparently Martin, known primarily for comedy records before producing the Beatles, relied on EMI engineer Norman Smith (himself a pop musician) in the early days to translate the Beatles’ musical ideas onto tape in a manner that could replicate the Chuck Berry, Everly Brothers, Motown and Elvis Presley records that they adored.

(Note: Emerick’s criticisms about Martin and the musicianship of George Harrison created some controversy among Beatles fans and historians. Ken Scott, who worked as Emerick’s assistant at EMI and went on to work with David Bowie and others, would rebut some of Emerick’s observations in his own book.)

With the rest of EMI Studios’ engineering staff still mired in classical and early jazz music, and as unfamiliar with rock and roll as Martin himself at the time, Smith’s departure in 1966 to become a freelance producer left Martin with little choice other than to promote the 19-year-old Emerick to the engineering chair for the Beatles, primarily due to his prior relationship with the group, which had been seasoned by working on some sessions assisting Smith.

Having already experimented with sitar (“Norwegian Wood”), fuzz bass (“Think For Yourself”) and feedback (“I Feel Fine”), the Beatles wanted to take their sonic ideas to new, esoteric levels, and Emerick rose to the challenge with innovations that revolutionized music engineering at the time and have now become industry-standard techniques.

Emerick’s baptism of fire commenced with Revolver, and his first song was John Lennon’s “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Unlike any other previous Beatles song, “Tomorrow Never Knows” is a single-chord song with drones, otherworldly sounds and influences ranging from LSD to The Tibetan Book of the Dead, all of which reflected the counterculture of the 1960s and other elements. With sonic requests from the Beatles that included Lennon wanting his voice to sound like “the Dalai Lama singing from a mountaintop,” and that “none of the instruments should sound like themselves,” Emerick took close-miking and audio compression to new, unexplored levels. These recording techniques broke every rule in the EMI manual and would have gotten Emerick fired had it not all been done for the Beatles.


Ringo Starr was ecstatic over the huge sound Emerick achieved on his drums. The new approaches towards the recording of the sitar and tambura, and the flying in of tape loops were also groundbreaking EMI firsts. Emerick capped off his first-day on-the-job triumph with the notion of patching John Lennon’s vocal into a Leslie rotating speaker to capture a “whirling” sound. It was out-of-the-box thinking that pleased Lennon to no end, and which cemented Emerick’s future with the Beatles and Martin.

Geoff Emerick and Paul McCartney developed a simpatico working relationship during the making of Revolver that continued throughout their respective careers. Emerick attributed much of it to a shared work ethic, as McCartney was the most concerned with achieving musical professionalism in the studio, and could become impatient with his fellow Beatles. Lennon’s drug use and short attention span, and Harrison’s slow and deliberate approach towards lead guitar parts would sometimes grate on McCartney, who appreciated the willingness of Starr and Emerick to do as many takes as needed.

The inability of the Beatles to recreate many of these new sounds in concert, combined with the pressures of Beatlemania and the primitive PA systems of the day (which lacked monitor speakers for the musicians and could not be heard over the screams of adoring fans), prompted the Beatles to abandon live concert performance and focus solely on recording, another turn of events that was destined in the cards for Emerick.

Contrary to the hype about an album as complex as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band being recorded only on a 4-track tape machine, while that is true, Emerick discloses that a second 4-track machine was slaved via a sync tone, which allowed for 6 tracks to actually be used. However, the massive undertakings of orchestral arrangements, premixing and bouncing tracks in advance of doing the final mix, and overdubbing of McCartney’s bass instead of recording it live with the band (as had been done previously) created numerous sonic obstacles never before encountered. Even the syncing of machines was done manually until the sync tones kicked in and locked, so a good deal of guesswork and painstaking re-tries were required.

All that said, the sonic results still stand today as an incredible musical and technical achievement, and Sgt. Pepper’s earned Emerick his first Grammy Award win. He had to fight with Abbey Road’s management to be able to take the trophy home afterward.



Emerick notes that to truly appreciate Sgt. Pepper as it was originally intended to be enjoyed, the mono mix is the one that he and the Beatles preferred, in spite of the digital stereo mixes that have followed in later decades. The extra clarity in the newer mixes brought up sounds that were intentionally supposed to be obscured and subconsciously heard instead of noticed overtly.

Emerick witnessed the fracturing of the Beatles, beginning during the recording of Magical Mystery Tour and continuing through The Beatles (aka the White Album). He saw Yoko Ono’s influence pushing Lennon in a more avant-garde direction, as well as Lennon’s heroin addiction causing further estrangement from the rest of the band. The death of manager Brian Epstein in 1967, Harrison’s growing infatuation with Indian music and frustration over his songs getting less attention than those of Lennon and McCartney, and the Beatles’ increased confidence in the studio (ironically due to Emerick’s role in realizing their sonic ambitions) all contributed to reduce George Martin’s influence as the Beatles’ producer. These factors and others all snowballed towards the Beatles’ final break-up.

Emerick describes how Lennon’s constant verbal abuse over his guitar sound for “Revolution,” even after he had delivered yet another iconic sound through unusual means, drove Emerick to quit before the album was finished.

The Let It Be sessions, produced by Phil Spector, are described as disastrous, since Spector’s egomaniacal ways were not tolerated by the British orchestral musicians. To Emerick’s horror, Spector had erased some of McCartney’s vocals on “The Long and Winding Road” in order to fill more tracks with the poorly-regarded string sections. Unwilling to work with the mercurial Spector, leery of his fetish for guns and intimidated by his large bodyguards, Emerick quit his job at Abbey Road, leaving assistant engineer Glyn Johns to finish the recording of the Let It Be album (and to record the rooftop concert that formed the basis for The Beatles: Get Back documentary and yielded three tracks for Let It Be).

Although Lennon and Harrison got along well enough with Spector to work again with him on some of their subsequent solo projects, the Beatles requested Geoff Emerick and George Martin to come back for the recording of Abbey Road, which earned Emerick his second Grammy Award. Abbey Road Studios had finally installed an 8-track recorder and other newer equipment, much of it of solid-state rather than the older vacuum-tube equipment. Emerick thought that the new gear lacked the punch of the more familiar tube-powered Fairchild compressors and EMI console, but the softer sound luckily complemented the new songs, especially Harrison’s standout ballads “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun.”


Geoff Emerick’s personal insights into the culture of Abbey Road Studios and its internecine politics during the 1960s offer a fascinating look as to just how iconoclastic the Beatles were in upsetting the order of the day in the UK – and how ludicrous some of it seems in retrospect some 50-plus years later. Apparently, Abbey Road felt that the fact that the Beatles were signed to the EMI record label would ensure their loyalty, so Abbey Road Studios took the Beatles’ continuing relationship with them for granted.

Some examples of this include:

  • The refusal of management to acquire an 8-track recorder when independent studios like Olympic Studios (where the Beatles recorded “All You Need Is Love” and “Baby You’re a Rich Man”) and Trident Studios (where “Hey Jude” was recorded) had already been using them successfully for other artists. Abbey Road Studios’ first 8-track deck arrived just in time to record the Beatles’ swan song record, ironically titled Abbey Road.
  • Despite the boatloads of money the Beatles generated for EMI, Abbey Road management had little to no regard for the sonic innovations created by Emerick. Taking a condescending attitude towards engineers in general by thinking them as interchangeable, Emerick would be randomly taken off Beatles sessions by studio management and replaced by engineers who may have done big band jazz or classical music but had no idea how to mic electric guitars or execute the ADT (automatic double tracking) and other techniques emblematic of the Beatles’ records. One manager in particular would refuse to keep the studios open during the Beatles’ late-night sessions, when they were often at their most productive creatively. The Beatles’s frustration from this lack of respect prompted their ill-fated experiment in hiring Yannis Alexis Mardas, known as “Magic Alex,” as head of Apple Electronics. He had implemented a number of strange ideas to build a new studio that had to be scrapped, and Emerick was then brought in to design Apple’s recording studio.
  • As rock music was still held in disdain by Abbey Road’s older management and staff, they had no qualms about swapping the Beatles out of their usual Studio Two, which had an ideal sound for rock music, into the cavernous Studio One, which was designed for orchestras. This led to Emerick having to improvise baffles and sound absorption materials from whatever was available to make the room usable for Beatles sessions. That said, some of the reverberation “mismatches” on several Beatles songs are now revered as part of the songs’ unique sounds.

When the Beatles formed Apple, untold thousands of dollars were pilfered by Magic Alex, who had convinced the Beatles that he was an electronics wizard. After businessman Allen Klein was brought in to clean up Apple’s finances, he realized that Apple’s recording studio was one of the only parts of the company which Klein realized could be viable, but Magic Alex had to be dismissed and real engineers were needed. Emerick got the nod, since he had already been engineering for Ringo Starr’s solo record, Sentimental Journey. He had also done work for Apple artists including Jackie Lomax, Mary Hopkin (who’d had a hit single with “Those Were the Days,”) and Badfinger, who Emerick wound up producing as well.

Ironically, Emerick’s professionalism resulted in Apple Studios becoming a lucrative independent enterprise on its own, as its recording facilities and disc-cutting operations became so in-demand that even the Beatles found it difficult to book studio time for their own solo projects there in later years. George Harrison did manage to get parts of Dark Horse and Living in the Material World recorded at Apple before it finally closed in 1975, and Emerick rejoined George Martin at the latter’s AIR Studios in London.

Geoff Emerick’s relationship with McCartney remained the strongest post-Beatles, and he engineered McCartney’s Band On the Run (which garnered Emerick his third Grammy Award), London Town, Tug of War, and Flaming Pie. During his tenure at EMI, Emerick was responsible for engineering other hits, such as the Zombies’ “Time of the Season.” Before his passing in 2018, Geoff Emerick produced or engineered a host of other artists including Elvis Costello (All This Useless Beauty, Imperial Bedroom), Robin Trower (Bridge of Sighs), Jeff Beck, Supertramp, Nellie McKay, America, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Fanny, Ultravox, Echo and the Bunnymen, Cheap Trick, Kate Bush, and many others.


Postscript – Editor’s Note from Frank Doris: I had the privilege of meeting Geoff Emerick at the 2017 Audio Engineering Society convention. He was in the Audio-Technica booth saying hello to a few people. He noticed that I had noticed his badge and done a double-take, and smiled back at me. He seemed friendly and approachable, so I went up to him and just said, “thanks for the music.” He smiled more, then looked at me as if he was expecting me to ask the inevitable.

I said, “you must be sick of people asking you about the Beatles, so I won’t do that. He replied, “oh no, ask me anything you want!” At which point, those around him started asking him questions about what it was like to work with the Beatles. He answered them graciously. Among other things, he told us (I’m paraphrasing a little), “a lot of what you’ve read about the Beatles is completely wrong.” Also, “some of their greatest moments were the result of mistakes, where they decided to go with the ‘mistake’ and got something completely amazing out of it.”

Like a Picasso: Bonnie Pointer’s Lost Album, Rediscovered

Like a Picasso: Bonnie Pointer’s Lost Album, Rediscovered

Like a Picasso: Bonnie Pointer’s Lost Album, Rediscovered

Ray Chelstowski

The Pointer Sisters were a musical force of nature. Across 20 years beginning in the 1970s they released fifteen albums, delivered 13 top twenty hits, and won three Grammys. Songs like “Jump (For My Love),” “Fire,” and “I’m So Excited” defined a generation and continue to brighten moods at memorable moments both large and small. The Pointer Sisters’ story is marked with both soaring highs and tragic lows. But through it all, they delivered electrifying live performances and enjoyed success across genres, scoring hits in pop, disco, R&B and even country. Now, Like a Picasso, an overlooked 2011 release by Bonnie Pointer, has been re-released and it’s arguably her finest outing ever. Sadly, Bonnie Pointer passed away in 2020.

In 1975, Bonnie left her sisters to go solo and quickly found success with the hit record “Heaven Must Have Sent You,” which reached Number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. Her career soon became somewhat unstructured, with seemingly random album releases and scattered live appearances with her sisters. Bonnie appeared on Soul Train in 1985, but it would be decades before she would release more music.

After being approached by songwriter/producers Lloyd Poe and Robin Taylor (Taylor Poe) Bonnie agreed to record a demo for a new composition, “Answered Prayer,” and brought in her sister Anita to sing background vocals. The 2008 session laid a foundation that resulted in an entire album’s worth of recordings. Like a Picasso took years to make and required a surprisingly expansive roster of musicians (five drummers, six guitarists, five bassists, and three keyboardists) to complete. It doesn’t matter. In the end the record holds together, guided by the strong songwriting and production skills that Taylor Poe brought to the project.

The real hallmark, here, though, are the remarkable vocals that Bonnie gave to this collection of songs. This record drops the disco and leans more toward late 1990s-era Bonnie Raitt. Like a Picasso rocks in a way that is sophisticated and sexy. Like a Picasso suffered upon its release in 2011 because of lack of funding and promotion. Now, through Omnivore Recordings, the album is being properly presented to the public on CD and digital formats, including all 13 original songs along with three previously unissued tracks. The music has been remastered, the album artwork updated, and the packaging expanded with liner notes that tell this record’s special tale.


Bonnie Pointer, Like A Picasso, album cover.


Bonnie Pointer’s musical journey is wonderfully captured in this collection of songs that embody the viewpoint of an adult who has seen it all. We had the opportunity to talk with Lloyd Poe of Taylor Poe about how the project came to be, some special studio moments, and about the legacy Bonnie Pointer leaves behind.

Ray Chelstowski: How did you start working with your partner Robin Taylor?

Lloyd Poe: There is a story there. We were friends early on, coming out of high school. Then one day we met [again] at a restaurant and that was it. We’ve now been writing partners for decades. We don’t live in the same area so we’ve done a lot of work by phone, just grinding out lyrics until four in the morning. It’s just been an amazing relationship. He has a rock sensibility and I come at it from more of a pop, Motown point of view. So, we have a sound. That’s why we call ourselves “Taylor Poe.”

RC: How did this collaboration with Bonnie Pointer begin?

LP: Robin and I wrote this song, “Answered Prayer,” which is on the record. [Our working method is to] demo some of our stuff vocally, and then we find “real singers” to cut final tracks. We were in the studio and Dave Williams, [an engineer we work with] who [had previously] recorded it, asked, “What about Bonnie Pointer?” I happen to be a huge Pointer Sisters fan and asked him if [he thought] she would really do this [on a] work-for-hire [basis] and he said, “yeah!” She apparently had done some stuff in [Dave’s] studio before. So, we called her and she came to work just on that song [initially]. That’s where it all started.


RC: How did Bonnie’s sister Anita get involved with the project?

LP: So, Bonnie comes in and does the song. As she started to listen to the track she got on the phone and called her sister Anita. She told her she was in the studio singing this beautiful song, and asked her to come down and sing it with her. They hadn’t sung in the studio together for 20 years. Can you believe this? Anita Pointer came down just for that session and they did the backs (backing vocals) together on that song. Dave, Robin, and I got to witness all of that. And, they were ace backup singers; in fact, that’s how she told me they got many of their early gigs. That was a real “wow!”

RC: Was Bonnie in voice when she arrived or did it take some work for her to get to where you needed her to be?

LP: She just [came in and] did a great job. That’s one of the reasons why we went forward with the entire record. We [knew we] could rely on her, and she did a lot of work on [the album]. This is not a Motown record. It’s a different animal. She had to rise to the occasion and she did.

RC: How do you go about building a track list for an artist like this, knowing you had a more modern approach in mind for the music, especially the song “Hide,” which is a rock track start to finish?

LP: It started with that first song (“Answered Prayer,”) which is more gospel, and it kind of evolved from there. I guess we brought in the songs that we thought she would shine on. The title track came in early and we decided on a very modern take for that song. That set the tone. We decided that we wanted to do a “modern artist’s” record. So, then we started to bring in material behind that. I’m glad that you picked up on “Hide.” I think that it’s one of the great rock and roll tracks. She just lays it out there like Tina (Turner) or Janis (Joplin).


Bonnie Pointer.

Bonnie Pointer.


RC: There are so many different musicians on this record. For example, you have five drummers, including the legendary Gary Mallaber (Van Morrison, Steve Miller, Bruce Springsteen). How did you hold the record together with so many different playing styles in the mix?

LP: Well, when Gary Mallaber became available we jumped on it. He did it all in one day, like all great players do. He gave [the] songs an amazing foundation and that was it. Robin and I are doing a lot of the playing. It really revolves around us. Dave Williams, our studio guy, is a great guitarist and we use him all of the time, so [it] was just natural for him to play [on Like a Picasso]. I think the fact that it was all done in the same studio gave it some consistency, but [still]it was recorded over a period of time. There was an evolution to it.

RC: Which song on the record was Bonnie Pointer most proud of?

LP: I think that I can answer that. “Genius of my Heart.” She just loved singing it. I’m fond of it too because that’s just basically me and her. I’m doing all of the tracks and she comes in and does her thing with it. I just remember her articulating that she loved to sing that song. I’d also say that she knew that “Like a Picasso” was always going to be the lead track. So, I’d say those two.

RC: What’s next for Taylor Poe?

LP: You know, we write all of the time and record constantly. We are hosting a [record] release party with Omnivore, where we work [with] this girl Gia Ciambotti, who’s fantastic.  She does a lot of demos for (Grammy-winning songwriter) Diane Warren. She’s also worked with Lucinda Williams, Bruce Springsteen and Joe Walsh. We have done quite a few tracks with her. It’s just like how this Bonnie Pointer project came along. It’s just about us looking for opportunities to put our music out there.

Photos courtesy of Tashi Palmer and Te Flack.

Grazing in the Grass

Grazing in the Grass

Grazing in the Grass

Paul McGowan
This was an amazing moment. We had just arrived at this New Zealand farm/hotel/sheep ranch with only six guest rooms and their own restaurant. Terri and I unpacked and walked out the front door of our little room. It had been cloudy, threatening rain. No sooner did we get on the trail but the clouds parted and the sun shone through as if from heaven.

Take Me to the Pilot

Take Me to the Pilot

Take Me to the Pilot

Frank Doris
Look at this beauty! Toshiba AM radio, 1955. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Masaki Ikeda (talk).

Look at this beauty! Toshiba AM radio, 1955. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Masaki Ikeda (talk).


A late 1950s or early 1960s Pilot Radio Corp. SA-232 stereo amplifier. These were high-quality amps in their time and could be paired with the Pilot SP-210 preamplifier by means of a dedicated umbilical cord.


Pilot SA-232, rear view. The green dummy plug covers the umbilical cord connection for the SP-210 preamp. Courtesy of StereoBuyers/High-End Auctions, photo by Howard Kneller.

OK, not strictly vintage but a 1970s icon reborn. The JBL L100 Classic, a modern re-issue of the JBL L100, one of the most famous loudspeakers of all time.


Potent portable: 1960 Motorola transistor radio ad. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Howard Kneller’s audio and art photography can be found on Instagram (@howardkneller@howardkneller.photog) and Facebook (@howardkneller).

Chris Haddox: A Decades-in-the-Making Debut

Chris Haddox: A Decades-in-the-Making Debut

Chris Haddox: A Decades-in-the-Making Debut

Andrew Daly

Chris Haddox’s journey through music is like no other.

Having dropped out of college at the age of 21, Chris Haddox moved to Nashville to stake his claim amongst an ever-bustling country music scene. Over the next forty years, despite a lack of attention and subsequently having to move into a proverbial “day job,” Haddox never stopped writing and playing music.

Ever-creative, and still dreaming, Haddox finally hooked up with producer Ron Sowell, who, after hearing Haddox play in an intimate venue, knew that the singer/songwriter deserved his long-awaited shot at releasing his music to the public.

Finally, after decades of toiling and yearning, Chris Haddox has his self-titled album in hand, now available for download and streaming. At the age of 64, you might say that Haddox is just getting started.

For fans of John Prine, Chris Knight, and Brad Brooks, you’ll be right at home here. Haddox’s unique, yet familiar blend of traditional-folk-meets-modern-outlaw-country is the kind of music meant to be played late-night, lukewarm beer in hand, without a care in the world. It’s whimsical, yet poignant. If that doesn’t convince you, then your maiden voyage through his self-titled Chris Haddox will.


Chris Haddox, album cover.


I recently caught up with Chris Haddox to talk about his long journey in music.

Andrew Daly: Chris, I appreciate you taking the time to talk. How have you been holding up over the last year or so?

Chris Haddox: The past year has been mostly good for me and my family. My job as a university professor, while demanding, allows me a great deal of flexibility in how [and] when I get my work done. My wife has a flexible job, as well, so we are very fortunate in that regard. We’ve managed to stay healthy, as have our college-age kids. The music scene has been pretty slim – just not getting out to too many gigs, so that has been a downside.

After completing the album, I just felt a little lost on what to do next on the music front. I mean, here I am with a new album that took nearly two years to complete, and nowhere to go with it in terms of live performances! (Note: Chris does have some upcoming gigs in West Virginia.)


AD: I always ask people: what first got you hooked on music?

CH: I have been into music for as long as I can remember. I had this little record player when I was young and the records told [well-known] stories on one side, and had a classical music selection on the other. I loved listening to those pieces. Took up piano at age six, saxophone at 10, guitar at around 10, so [I’ve been] pretty much been playing most of my life. I wrote the first lyrics I can remember when I was in the second grade…stole a few lines from a poem a classmate was writing and added to it!

AD: Who were some of your early influences?

CH: My parents. We always had music playing in the house. My parents were both very theatrical, always acting, singing and clowning around. My sister had a great record collection, so I got turned onto [people like] John Prine, Neil Young, Kenny Rankin, and Carole King from listening to her. Developed my guitar chops trying to accompany my dad in singing show tunes at parties. In college, I connected up with some ace bluegrass pickers and things just kinda went from there. My uncle, who I rarely saw, was a great singer and player in the old country blues style.

AD: Tell us about your new album, Chris Haddox.

CH: This album came about after Ron Sowell heard me play at a local songwriter’s night in Charleston, West Virginia. After that session, he invited me to play at the Woody Hawley Concert Series the following October. When he asked why I didn’t bring any albums to sell, I told him I had never recorded an album, just a few one-off songs here and there. Long story short, he listened to about twenty-five of my songs over the next few weeks and pretty much said, “you need an album and I want to produce it for you.” Ron selected all the songs and defined most of the arrangements. As I [had] never played with percussion before, I was a nervous wreck, but Ron – ever the calm and nurturing producer – said, “just trust me…this is going to be good.” I’m really pleased with how it all turned out.

While some of the songs on this album are new, many have been hanging out in my guitar case for years. One cut on there I started writing when I was 16. I don’t pretend to have any great wisdom to pass on to anyone, I just like telling stories and making observations. I have a quite varied background in terms of work and lived experiences, and I think that comes out in the nature and subject matter of the songs I write. This album addresses relationships, changing landscapes, humorous moments in the life of a parent, dreams and desires, frustrations, and just everyday life…things we all encounter as we go about our ways. Perhaps my take on those things is just a bit different than someone else’s.

AD: How was the album produced?

 Man, if I set out to record a full album of my own stuff, I’d have twelve or so songs that would all end up sounding the same from a production point of view. I can’t go on enough about how Ron Sowell brought the songs to life in ways I had never imagined. We had a few “are you sure about that?” moments, and there was plenty of back and forth, but at the end of the day, what you hear in terms of variety is all Ron…he really got to know the songs and what potential each of them had.

AD: Two questions: What formats do you listen to music on – streaming, digital, analog? Also, what are a few of your favorite albums and why?

CH: This is probably horrible to say, but I just don’t really listen to a lot of music. I still have my old vinyl albums, but am not set up to play them at the moment. I have tons of cassettes, but no working cassette player, so if it is new music, it is CDs or some digital. I probably listen to more music on YouTube than anywhere else. I am a creature of habit and tend to revisit my old favorites over and over again…finding comfort [in] that what I thought were great songs all those years ago are still great songs!

One of my favorite albums of all time is Steve Forbert’s Alive on Arrival. Holy cow, what a collection of honest, powerful songs. I love old classic country songs. Don Gibson was one amazing songwriter – he could say more in a few words than [just] about anyone else I can name at the moment. Neil Young…crazy powerful songs. Of course, [John] Prine – whose list is he not on? I love Rodney Crowell’s writing, as well. Mike Nesmith and John Stewart, those guys were incredible! I am a traditional musician, as well, and appreciate the old ballads from Europe that found new life here in America. Really. I’m all over the map.


AD: What other passions do you have and how do they inform your music?

CH: Well, I play traditional music; fiddle, banjo, square dances and old ballads, and the like. I also research the people behind many of the old field recordings from the 1940s in West Virginia. That work takes me back to my home in southern West Virginia, where I roam the hills looking for long-lost cemeteries and places, connecting with folks who might be related to the folks I’m researching…anything to build a story around people from the past. I also spend a lot of time in the woods, camping, hiking, canoeing, and just being outside. All of those things inform my perspective on life, which ultimately informs my writing.

AD: What is your opinion on the state of the music business these days, and how artists fit into it?

CH: Well, I’m hopeful. I mean, I’m not counting on music as a living at this point in my life, so anything I can make happen is great. I’m 62 years old and just released my first album, so why not be hopeful? I quit college at age 21 to try my hand at songwriting in Nashville. Lived there for three different periods over the next several years. Met lots of nice and talented folks, but never had any success in the business. I never gave up on music, however; just kept writing and playing here and there….never really been a full-time thing for me. I love connecting with people through music. Small intimate venues, that is what does it for me. So, as long as those are around, great! As for making money at it – man, the cards seem stacked against musicians, and being the Luddite I am with technology, who knows if I’ll ever see a dime from anything I do! I’d love for some big star to grab one of my songs and make a huge hit with it – a win-win for us all. Will that happen? Maybe! Maybe not.

AD: What’s next on your docket? What are you looking forward to most in the post-COVID world?

CH: In a nutshell, just getting together with people. COVID is here to stay, we just have to figure out how we are going to deal with it. I am really tired of how political the topic of public health has become. Come on, man…let’s just all look out for each other and get on with it. I am really hoping to be getting out there in more small, intimate venues…house concerts, coffeehouses, and writers’ nights. I’m already thinking about albums two, three, four and five. I have plenty of songs and write more all the time, so I’m just excited to see where this “new” endeavor takes me.

For more information visit chrishaddockmusic.com.

Outstanding Digital Downloads, Recently Added to My Collection from Qobuz

Outstanding Digital Downloads, Recently Added to My Collection from Qobuz

Outstanding Digital Downloads, Recently Added to My Collection from Qobuz

Tom Gibbs

This issue, I’m taking a listen to some digital downloads I’ve recently acquired. These include some interesting catalog albums that I’ve either never had on compact disc or any digital format, or that maybe I once had, but have long since disappeared from my music collection. Or, where I’ve basically given up trying to find a mint-condition physical copy. Back in the day, I had a much more liberal approach to granting access to my music collection to friends, family, and co-workers, and consequently over the years, quite a few titles have left the collection and never returned. Or, they’ve been returned in less-than-playable condition – for example, a lot of the discs my kids borrowed had the appearance of having been used as drink coasters, with the playback side generally scratched beyond usability. At least for ripping, anyway!

The digital downloads I’m writing about are all CD-quality files (the Porcupine Tree title is 24-bit), but the sound quality is uniformly superb and dynamic for each one. My tastes sometimes run to the eclectic, but hopefully you’ll find something of interest here.



Lost In The Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill (Hal Willner, executive producer)

When Hal Willner died two years ago, he left behind a storied legacy, having produced albums from the likes of Lou Reed, Marianne Faithfull, Bill Frisell, Gavin Friday, Lucinda Williams, Laurie Anderson, and even Alan Ginsberg. He also spent almost four decades as the sketch-music director for Saturday Night Live. Perhaps the greatest notice and acclaim he received was for a series of increasingly bizarre concept and tribute albums he produced that were scattered over a period of a couple of decades. These started in 1981 with Amarcord Nino Rota, a tribute album to Italian composer Nino Rota. It featured a diverse set of interpretations of Rota’s film music for Federico Fellini, performed by artists including Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Bill Frisell, Carla Bley, Steve Lacy, and for a real twist, Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie. That twist became more pronounced on his next album, 1984’s That’s The Way I Feel Now: A Tribute to Thelonious Monk, where the performances got much more bizarre. This album featured a cast that included not only jazz luminaries like Barry Harris and Steve Lacy, but got progressively weirder with artists like John Zorn, Donald Fagen (of Steely Dan), Peter Frampton, Dr. John, and Joe Jackson. And the weirdness continued on, eventually resulting in a string of ten diverse concept albums whose performances ran the gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous.

This album, 1985’s Lost In The Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill, took the weirdness to a whole new level, and it could very well be the best of the bunch. It features performances of Kurt Weill’s classic songs from Broadway and Tin Pan Alley from the most diverse group of artists Willner had yet assembled. These included Lou Reed, Marianne Faithfull, Stan Ridgway (of Wall of Voodoo), Sting, Van Dyke Parks, Richard Butler (Psychedelic Furs), John Zorn, Tom Waits, Todd Rundgren…the list just keeps going. Though it didn’t seem possible, the performances are even more out there than those on the previous two albums!


When Lost In The Stars dropped in 1985, I was working at the southeastern regional headquarters for Eastman Kodak in their art department, which was staffed with an ever-changing assemblage of dopers and dropouts. The only constant was the radio that continually blared loudly in the background and was always set to WRAS Album 88, the station of downtown Atlanta’s Georgia State University. The all-student staff cranked out an endlessly erratic fusion of music choices that ranged from avant-garde jazz to 20th century classical, Broadway show tunes, blues, and tons of alternative rock, frequently mixed up throughout the day. Any album from Hal Willner was a natural fit into their daily programming, and they played tracks from Lost In The Stars consistently for well over a year. The music was getting ground daily into my psyche. I simply had to have the CD!

This is an album of many, many highlights, but it bears repeating – it’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea. Sting’s “The Ballad of Mack the Knife” is surprisingly effective with its accordion and horn accompaniment – it’s been said that his performance on this album secured him the lead in the Frankenstein movie The Bride. Stan Ridgway, having recently departed from Wall of Voodoo, gives a stirring performance of “The Cannon Song,” accompanied by the Fowler Brothers, and setting the template for his upcoming solo album The Big Heat. Marianne Faithfull’s idiomatic rendition of “The Soldier’s Wife” is about as authentically Weillian as possible. Her vocal intonation is not at all unlike that of Kurt Weill’s wife, Lotte Lenya, who gained a large measure of fame performing her husband’s works onstage. (Willner helped shepherd Marianne Faithfull’s continuing comeback by producing a string of excellent albums for her during the Eighties and into the Nineties.)


John Zorn’s “The Little Lieutenant of the Loving God” is as undeniably wacko as humanly possible. The constant, maximum-decibel interjections from the female Japanese vocalist in tandem with pounding drums and crunching guitars is incredibly jarring – he obviously gave Willner everything he wanted, and more! Lou Reed’s “September Song” starts out as an antediluvian anthem, but the moment his guitar starts cranking – and yes, that’s Reed crunching out the monster chords – the song really takes off. Reed proved that despite being 43 at the time, this song was anything but a perfunctory effort, and that he still had plenty of miles left on him. Jazz icon Carla Bley’s sublime orchestration of the title track, with Phil Woods intensely lyrical alto sax, provides a rare moment of melodicism to the proceedings. Tom Waits’ “What Keeps Mankind Alive?” stems from his Rain Dogs period, where he had essentially abandoned the jazzy lyricism of his previous work, and he’s perfectly unbalanced for this assignment. German singer Dagmar Krause offers a heart-wrenching, idiomatic rendition of “Surabaya Johnny” that blows away Bette Midler’s almost feeble attempt from a decade earlier. Todd Rundgren delivers a totally unrestrained, pounding, driving “Call From the Grave.” And Van Dyke Parks adds several instrumental interludes from Weill’s Johnny Johnson that thematically connect many songs on the album.


My original CD had disappeared over the years, and decades later, when I finally arrived at the point where I decided I needed to hear this music again, it was long out of print. It was seemingly unavailable from the usual sources like Discogs, except for the occasional available disc at prices that were essentially extortion. I regularly saw mint-condition CDs listed around the $50 mark, a bit too rich for my blood. I started checking out the streaming services, but no dice there either – it was almost as if the album had never existed. After many months of searching, a couple of weeks ago I took another look, and lo and behold, it had suddenly appeared on streaming services! No doubt due to the passing of Hal Willner, it was available for purchase on Qobuz, and for only $15! I pulled the trigger in a heartbeat, and it gets even better — the download included four extra tracks that weren’t included on the original CD.

The music on this collection is exceptionally well recorded, and all the performances are visceral and dynamic, giving them a “you are there” kind of playback experience. I don’t know how I lasted this long without this amazing collection. Next up for me is Willner’s Stay Awake!, where he applies his wacky artist pairings and arrangements to classic songs from Disney movies. Lost In The Stars sets the gold standard for this type of concept album, and comes very highly recommended!

A&M Records, Download from Qobuz [16/44.1] – Available for streaming on Qobuz, Tidal, Amazon, Pandora, Deezer, Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube, iHeartRadio


Rickie Lee Jones – Girl At Her Volcano

Rickie Lee Jones’ Girl At Her Volcano EP landed in 1983, just after the tour in support of her second album, Pirates, had ended, and prior to the release of her next full LP, 1984’s The Magazine. The 10-inch vinyl EP contained seven songs that were a mix of unused tracks from previous sessions, combined with live recordings from various locations, and new studio recordings that included some covers of classic Sixties’ songs. This represented Rickie Lee’s first attempt at recording cover songs, and she absolutely nails it – I can’t think of another artist I’d rather hear a cover version from. When the EP came out, I had (quite stupidly, in retrospect) pretty much abandoned vinyl playback and totally embraced the CD medium, but Girl At Her Volcano didn’t come out domestically on compact disc until 1990!

A few weeks ago, I attended a special event at a local high-end audio retailer, The Audio Company, in Marietta, Georgia, which is about a half-hour south of where I live in the northern suburbs of Atlanta. The event was for Von Schweikert Audio loudspeakers; in particular, their new Ultra 7 model ($180,000/pair), which I’d had the pleasure of hearing at the 2022 Florida Audio Expo in Tampa last February. The afternoon’s DJ for the event was Greg Weaver of The Audio Analyst, who had been scheduled to DJ a presentation of the Ultra 7s at FAE 2022 but was snowed in up north and unable to attend. If you haven’t met Greg (he’s seemingly all over the place, with a resume that includes The Audio Analyst, Enjoy The Music, Tone Audio, Positive Feedback, and The Absolute Sound), he has a highly entertaining and irreverent presentation style, and he always drags an impressive collection of vinyl originals with him to wow the crowds everywhere he goes.


The first album he cued up on the turntable was an original pressing of Rickie Lee’s Girl At Her Volcano; Greg raved about the quality of the EP, which he considers one of the best-sounding pressings ever. Greg explained the provenance of the EP, and how it was pressed on Quiex II vinyl, a high-purity, translucent formulation which was colored with dye rather than carbon black, and how that combination allowed for greatly improved sound quality compared to conventionally pressed LPs. He held the EP up to a window to show that the pressing was indeed translucent, and the sound quality was dynamic and exceptionally nuanced, to say the least! The two tracks he played were “Under The Boardwalk” and “Letters from the 9th Ward/Walk Away Renee,” and the sound was impressively dynamic. Greg swears by the vinyl EP, which is readily available for typically around $8 in fairly minty condition online, and he also insists that the CD release was overly compressed and basically terrible. By the way, if you ever get a chance to hear the Von Schweikert Ultra 7s, take it – despite being crazy expensive, they’re remarkable loudspeakers that will give you an entirely new frame of reference for how reproduced music should sound.


That really got me thinking about Girl At Her Volcano; I’ve been in the process of filling obvious, gaping holes in my digital collection, and I’ve been on the lookout for a CD of this for some time. But with Greg’s insistence that I should avoid the CD, I started looking for digital downloads, and saw one on Qobuz for only $10. It’s not from Warner/Elektra/Atlantic (WEA), it’s from Rickie Lee’s own label, Other Side of Desire, LLC. Apparently, her first four releases (all originally WEA titles), including this one, have been remastered and re-released for streaming, downloading, and for release on new LPs. I pulled the trigger for Girl At Her Volcano, and at this point, I can’t complain; I feel the sound quality is beyond superb, with no signs of the compression Greg had warned me about. I love the music and the sound quality – I will definitely pull the trigger and spring for Rickie Lee Jones, Pirates, and The Magazine, which are also available for download from Qobuz at $10 each. I might make a comparison between my CD version and the new downloads. It’s always a crapshoot with digital downloads; you always expect them to be great, but they often are somewhat disappointing. That’s definitely not the case here: this EP is a no-brainer if it’s not already in your collection.

Other Side of Desire, LLC – Download from Qobuz [16/44.1] – Available for streaming on Qobuz, Tidal, Amazon, Google Play Music, Pandora, Deezer, Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube


Porcupine Tree – Voyage 34

Also while attending the 2022 Florida Audio Expo, I was in the Classic Audio Loudspeakers room, which has been in the Cypress Pavilion ballroom there for two years running; it’s the second largest room at the entire show. I first heard John Wolff’s Classic Audio Loudspeakers in Chicago at AXPONA in 2013. To say my mind was blown was a complete understatement – I’d never heard reproduced music replayed with such realism and impressive scale. John’s system at FAE 2022 allowed his T-1.5 Reference ($80,000/pair) and Hartsfield ($73,000/pair) field coil-powered loudspeakers to really sing out in a way that few other rooms at the show could approach.

On the first day I walked into his room, he was spinning LPs by request, with T-1.5s powered by a pair of MacIntosh MC3500 amplifiers. John’s demeanor and his appearance would probably lead you to believe that he’d typically be playing a Blue Note jazz title from the Fifties, or perhaps some RCA “Living Stereo” classical warhorse by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) A young couple asked if he could play something by Massive Attack, and I was astonished that he was able to dig into his personal collection and pull out a remix maxi-single of “Paradise Circus.” Then John announced, “if you liked that, you’ll probably like this.” He proceeded to play a track from a rare LP, Porcupine Tree’s “Voyage 34,” which features Richard Barbieri’s keyboards and synths, Colin Edwin’s subterranean deep bass, Gavin Harrison’s propulsive drumming, Steven Wilson’s searing guitar work, and a trippy mix of effects and tape loops including vocals and synth samples from tracks by Dead Can Dance and Van der Graaf Generator.

The dozen or so listeners in the room were spread across several pretty clear demographics, and few (if any) of them would have appeared to be Porcupine Tree fans, but no one left their seats until all 12 minutes of the track were over. These were perhaps the most gripping 12 minutes of my audio life, and the T-1.5 loudspeakers simply disappeared into the background. it was as though Porcupine Tree was actually performing live in the Pavilion Room for us. The realism and presence of the music was almost overwhelming. I knew I had to find a copy of this music, and amazingly enough, it’s available as a 24/44.1 download on Qobuz for only $9!


The album consists of four long tracks that all build on the same theme; the first two were actually originally recorded to be a complete side of Porcupine Tree’s 1993 Up The Downstair album. They were eventually scrapped from that project and released as a maxi-single; the remaining two tracks are remixes. The song concept documents a Sixties acid trip gone wrong; tape loops built into the music present a spoken narrative of parts of the event, and Porcupine Tree provides the soundtrack. The level of the musicianship is astonishingly good here; Steven Wilson is an exceptionally good guitar player, if not particularly flashy or Hendrixian in his approach. To get the full effect, it’s pretty essential to listen to all 30 minutes of “Phase I” and “Phase II” back-to-back, as they were intended to be played on the original album release. “Phase I,” which is the track I heard at FAE 2022, starts slowly with some really spacey synths and samples in the background. The narrator gives a brief overview of the proceedings, then the tune slowly transitions into a really nice bass and drums vamp that sets the stage for Steven Wilson’s guitar, which crunches in at about the 8-minute mark. The overall effect of the music is pretty mind blowing! “Phase II” begins with an ominous synth figure in the background, and at one point, a voice chimes in that the use of psychedelics is the beginning of the “evolution of a new indigenous religion.” At about the 5-minute mark, the music really powers through again, and again at about the 12-minute mark, Wilson’s best extended solo blasts forth for about three-and-a-half minutes. The tune fades out with a nicely constructed wash of synths, samples, and keyboards.

The two 19-minute (each!) remixes that comprise “Phase III” and “Phase IV” are more synth- and sample-based, and not as driving and propulsive as the first two tracks, but still make for a compelling and perhaps more cerebral listen. The music possesses an engaging dynamic that flows really well from track to track, and the hour long runtime actually passes surprisingly quickly. And at only $9, is a pretty remarkable value, and well worth adding to your collection. Even though my home system doesn’t come anywhere close to the massive one that so impressed me at FAE 2022, this music’s unrestrained dynamics will shake my entire house when I let it rip. Porcupine Tree was described a while back by Rolling Stone as the world’s best band nobody has heard of. You need to hear this record. Very highly recommended!

Kscope – Download from Qobuz [24/44.1] – Available for streaming on Qobuz, Tidal, Amazon, Google Play Music, Pandora, Deezer, Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube

Header photo of Hal Willner and Lou Reed by Joe Schildhorn, courtesy of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

More Speaker Setup Tips From Audio Advice's Scott Newnam

More Speaker Setup Tips From Audio Advice's Scott Newnam

More Speaker Setup Tips From Audio Advice's Scott Newnam

Russ Welton

In Issue 160 we covered the useful Home Theater Designer loudspeaker setup software developed by Audio Advice, an audio/video retailer and systems integrator with showrooms in Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina. This free online interactive utility makes it easy to determine the optimum speaker placement for a stereo or surround system.

The user enters the room size and information like the number of speakers, the size of the video display, the number of seats in the room and other factors, and Home Theater Designer then provides 3-D visualizations and recommended speaker setup distances and measurements. The “virtual room” display changes as you enter information, and you can even grab objects in the room with your mouse and they’ll move, and the measurements will be updated in real time.

Our interview with Audio Advice CEO Scott Newnam continues here.

Russ Welton: Most Copper readers won’t realize that Audio Advice is the fastest-growing audio consumer electronics company in the US. Where have you experienced your greatest growth?

Scott Newnam: We are generally seeing relatively consistent growth across all product categories in the audio and home theater spaces.


Scott Newnam of Audio Advice.

Scott Newnam of Audio Advice.


RW: Do you recall your first hi-fi system?

SN: I had a JVC full rack and tower speaker system when I was in college, which I bought from Circuit City.

RW: What is your personal favorite format for music listening and why?

SN: I use Roon to stream high-resolution music in my office where I have my two-channel system. However, I am now really starting to enjoy music mastered in Dolby Atmos in my home theater. If you love music and have not heard good Atmos tracks yet, it is definitely worth trying.

RW: How important is a good stereo setup when building upon it into a home theater?

SN: I use my home theater room for both stereo listening and movies. Obviously when you do this, you really want your stereo speakers and setup to be as good as possible. Then you fill out the rest of the system from there.


Demo of Audio Advice's Home Theater Designer software.

Demo of Audio Advice’s Home Theater Designer software.


RW: When do you feel is it better to run stereo speakers full-range plus a subwoofer – let’s say in a 2.1 or 2.2+ configuration – compared to having the speakers crossed over and letting the sub handle most of the low frequencies? Is it only if you’re using super-low-extension main speakers?

SN: There are multiple theories on this. Ultimately you want to accurately reproduce the sound intended by the engineers. In my living room system, I have two bookshelf speakers that I play full range, taking advantage of their natural bass rolloff, and then I have matching subs hidden below them that augment low bass and even subsonic frequencies. It works great in that system. However, in my theater room I have full tower speakers, but I use the surround-sound processor to [determine] the crossover [point] to the subs, for the ideal blending of the subs and the mains. In this situation, crossing over leads to a much better-blended stereo experience. In most systems, if your preamp can [perform bass management of] the crossover [point] between the subs and the main towers, I feel you are generally better off doing it that way versus running full-range to your left and right plus a subwoofer.

RW: What are some of your best suggestions for adequate/appropriate cable length runs when using multiple subwoofers? Also, what are your feelings about Wi-Fi-controlled subs?

SN: If you have good cable, most lengths are not an issue. However, if you really want super-high performance, Wi-Fi-controlled subs can create a challenge. Getting all of your subwoofers time- and phase-aligned makes a massive difference in the audio experience. Wi-Fi not only adds delay, but the delay also can vary over time. If you put four subs in a room and the two in the back are Wi-Fi-enabled, you will have to add substantial delay to everything else to account for the Wi-Fi delay [to the rear subwoofers]. But you cannot account for the real-time variances of the Wi-Fi delay. So wire your subs if you can.

RW: Are the delay implications of DSP-equipped subwoofers more difficult to manage in small rooms than non-DSP subs?

SN: For most DSP-equipped subs, the perceptible delay is relatively constant. If you are using a 2-channel system that has no ability to delay the main speakers, then DSP-equipped subs can be an issue for time alignment. If, however, you have delay or distance-adjustment capability in your processor, then you can adjust for the delay in the subs by making the distance setting longer.

RW: How would you advise adjusting DSP delay in milliseconds according to room size? Is one foot per millisecond usually correct for each discrete channel?

SN: For the average person, adding one foot of extra distance in your processor settings for each millisecond of delay is a good solution. However, if you really want to nail it or you don’t know the exact delay of your DSP, then you can search for “Audio Advice subwoofer calibration” on YouTube, where I show you how to do it.

RW: What do you foresee as the next biggest development in object-oriented sound modeling for the future? (Object-oriented sound mixing enables sound sources to be placed in a virtual listening space.)

SN: Right now, specifications like Dolby Atmos provide relatively wide ranges of speaker placement. Obviously, when movies are mastered, the engineers know exactly where they want the car to zoom through the room. So, I expect we will continue to see more speakers used in systems and a tightening of specification ranges so that what the listeners experience is closer and closer to the original vision.

RW: Do you have any advice for accommodating wildly differing source material if your stereo is also part of your home theater? E.g., different movies, or live music Blu-ray or DVD discs, or music files.

SN: Increasingly, really good preamp/processors allow you to set up different speaker profiles in their calibration settings. So, for instance, I have a profile for movie watching that has room-calibrated all of my speakers across a handful of seats for when my family is watching a movie. However, I have a second profile that uses just my front left and right speakers crossed over to my subs and is calibrated across just our main two listening seats. This second profile provides a much superior stereo listening experience than listening using the first profile in stereo, both because the microphone calibration measurement positions were tighter around the primary listening seats, and because the equalization and phase alignment was done using just those speakers.


Home Theater Designer software showing speaker dispersion, side view.

Home Theater Designer software showing speaker dispersion, side view.


RW: Tell us about how your Home Theater Designer software has been built with the different surround sound and immersive audio specs factored in.

SN: We looked at all of the major standards, such as Dolby, Auro 3-D, and DTS:X, and attempted to design the tool to achieve the best outcome across them. We also went one step further, which was to help users find the optimal positioning within those standards. So, for instance, if you are using Home Theater Designer and you remove your side speakers, you will see the rear speakers push out wider within the specification ranges to create a more immersive experience. Add the side speakers back and you’ll see the rears move tighter and away from the surrounds, to achieve optimal 3D immersion.

RW: What question do audiophiles very rarely consider that they should?

SN: As audiophiles we often get too caught up in the specifications and measurements. Ultimately, what we want is fabulous sound. As we get older, we might need an increasingly less-flat response curve from our system to achieve the perceived sound that was intended and that we enjoy. So, don’t be afraid to test adjustments that might theoretically produce slightly too much bass or high frequencies if the end result sounds better to you.

Around the World In 80 Lathes, Part 11

Around the World In 80 Lathes, Part 11

Around the World In 80 Lathes, Part 11

J.I. Agnew

Cutter heads for record-cutting lathes have come in various shapes and forms throughout the years, from the mechanically-damped moving-iron designs of the early monophonic era, to devices using oil and grease damping, to those employing magnetic feedback and motional feedback. (For an explanation of why cutter heads need to employ some kind of damping, see the previous installment in Issue 160.) Eventually, monophonic moving-iron cutter heads gave way to moving-coil configurations and eventually, stereophonic cutter heads.

Designing and constructing a good cutter head has always been a challenge. How many loudspeakers do you know that can accurately or even just “convincingly” cover the entire audible frequency range, using just a single full-range driver?

Well, a cutter head aims to accommodate the entire audible frequency range with a single transducer system, while keeping side effects such as distortion under control. To achieve that, the moving mass must be kept insanely low, but the transducer must also be powerful enough to accelerate that moving mass rapidly. It also needs to not self-destruct while doing so, for up to 30 minutes at a time (the longest record side that may be encountered, plus a bit of a safety margin). It is a bit like an endurance race. All parts must perform to their material limits, move fast, stop fast, stay on the desired path, and not overheat or break before the race is over.

In contrast to the automotive world, however, due to the nature of the disk recording and mastering work environment, it is neither practical nor desirable to take apart, rebuild and readjust the “vehicle” after every race, and you don’t get much of a chance for a pit stop either! The cutter head has to be able to not only survive, but also maintain its competitive performance over thousands of “races” over the course of years, with only an occasional stylus change as and when deemed necessary!


Header image and above images: An Audax R-56 moving-iron cutter head, rebuilt and modified by the author. This cutter head employs mechanical damping which tends to not age well, along with a multi-layer coil with very few turns of wire per layer, but a large number of layers.

Header image and above images: An Audax R-56 moving-iron cutter head, rebuilt and modified by the author. This cutter head employs mechanical damping which tends to not age well, along with a multi-layer coil with very few turns of wire per layer, but a large number of layers.


In the early monophonic era of electrical recording, the “hot rods” of the time had a “single-cylinder engine” (a single transducer), with a rather heavy “piston” (a moving iron design with significant moving mass) and weren’t exactly tuned for high RPMs (with their crude coils, very basic magnetic circuits, mechanical damping  that was sensitive to environmental conditions, and so on). The very basic cutter head models of the 1930s (RCA, Audax, early Fairchild, early Presto and others) had a frequency range of 50 Hz to 8 kHz, although some went as high as 10 kHz.


Above images: an RCA MI-4889 moving-iron monophonic cutter head. In some ways similar to the Audax seen earlier, this cutter head employs a stiff spring rod to keep the armature centered in the magnetic gap, with the pivot being held on a proprietary resilient material. An early and rather crude design, this one tends to not be as much affected by age. Here it’s in the process of being rebuilt by the author.

Above images: an RCA MI-4889 moving-iron monophonic cutter head. In some ways similar to the Audax seen earlier, this cutter head employs a stiff spring rod to keep the armature centered in the magnetic gap, with the pivot being held on a proprietary resilient material. An early and rather crude design, this one tends to not be as much affected by age. Here it’s in the process of being rebuilt by the author.


Nevertheless, impressive-sounding records have been cut with them, in the hands of crafty engineers who knew how to showcase the strengths of these earlier cutter heads while hiding their weaknesses!

The next generation of cutter heads were a bit more advanced, with improved magnetic circuits, improved coil geometry, improved damping configurations, and more accurate manufacturing techniques. These were capable of a frequency range of 30 Hz to 16 kHz with lower distortion and higher recording levels. Examples include the later Presto and Fairchild models, the Neumann MS-52H, and some of the simpler Grampian types.


Above images: the Neumann MS 52H represented the highest level of refinement in moving-iron cutter head design. It was well-made, and intended and advertised as suitable for 24/7 operation with no maintenance! It featured grease damping of the armature and a proprietary stylus mount, incompatible with anything else! This particular specimen was heavily modified by the author, giving it a conventional stylus mount and a feedback system. The precision-machined coil former can be seen on top of the head, prior to winding the new coil.

Above images: the Neumann MS 52H represented the highest level of refinement in moving-iron cutter head design. It was well-made, and intended and advertised as suitable for 24/7 operation with no maintenance! It featured grease damping of the armature and a proprietary stylus mount, incompatible with anything else! This particular specimen was heavily modified by the author, giving it a conventional stylus mount and a feedback system. The precision-machined coil former can be seen on top of the head, prior to winding the new coil.


An important milestone in cutter head development was the Grampian/BBC moving-iron system with magnetic feedback. These cutter heads had a feedback coil wound right over the drive coil, on the same magnetic system, operating somewhat similar to a transformer. The feedback coil would pick up the magnetic irregularities caused by the motion of the iron armature (back-EMF), including resonances, response deficiencies and distortion products. These irregularities would be fed back to the cutting amplifier and “corrected” as part of a closed-loop servo control system.


Above images: the significantly more advanced Presto 1D cutter head, featuring a double-coil design with a so-called "balanced armature," held by adjustable springs on a knife-edge bearing. The photo of the internal mechanism shows the author's modifications, including custom-machined coil formers.

Above images: the significantly more advanced Presto 1D cutter head, featuring a double-coil design with a so-called “balanced armature,” held by adjustable springs on a knife-edge bearing. The photo of the internal mechanism shows the author’s modifications, including custom-machined coil formers.


The high-frequency range left a lot to be desired, although the low frequencies were good, and the sensitivity was appalling (as a result of armature stiffness), but this system was a departure from established concepts of cutter head design, and was widely accepted by the market. It paved the way for further departures to be introduced. Among them was one of the most interesting cutting amplifiers ever made, designed specifically to be used with the Grampian head: The Gotham PFB-150.


The Gotham PFB-150 vacuum tube cutting amplifier used triodes throughout, including the output stage, with power-driven 811A directly heated transmitting triodes.

The Gotham PFB-150 vacuum tube cutting amplifier used triodes throughout, including the output stage, with power-driven 811A directly heated transmitting triodes.


This was a vacuum-tube beast, capable of delivering 150 watts to its load and weighing approximately 110 lbs. (a good watts-to-pounds ratio, as far as tube amps go). Very unusually for its time, it was a design using exclusively triode tubes, making it the only all-triode cutting amplifier in existence!


A directly-heated transmitting triode on the author's tube testing bench: A Funke W20 tube tester, using a custom punch card for setting up the parameters, and a Hewlett-Packard 3580A spectrum analyzer displaying the noise spectrum of the tube with no audio signal applied. Yes, before getting carried away in the plastic fantastic era of computer printers, Hewlett-Packard had a long history of manufacturing fine laboratory instruments.

A directly-heated transmitting triode on the author’s tube testing bench: A Funke W20 tube tester, using a custom punch card for setting up the parameters, and a Hewlett-Packard 3580A spectrum analyzer displaying the noise spectrum of the tube with no audio signal applied. Yes, before getting carried away in the plastic fantastic era of computer printers, Hewlett-Packard had a long history of manufacturing fine laboratory instruments.


The output stage consisted of a pair of 811A directly-heated transmitting triodes, power-driven by a differential cathode follower made up by two 6BL7 double triodes, with the two halves of each tube paralleled!

Power drivers are few and far between in audio amplification. The term means that the driver stage is in itself a small power output stage. In the case of the PFB-150, the 6BL7 tubes provide the driving current into the grids of the 811A triodes, which are operated in the positive bias region (whereas most common audio amplifiers operate their output tubes with the grids well within the negative bias region, never to approach positive voltages with respect to the cathode). Traveling back a few episodes, to Issue 103, we shall remember that the heated cathode emits electrons (thermionic emission, after which my son, Thermion, was named), within the evacuated glass envelope of the tube. These electrons are negatively charged, and will be attracted by any electrode having a positive potential. The higher the positive potential (voltage), the higher the force of attraction. Most electrons will therefore be attracted to the anode (plate), which is operated at HT (high tension) voltage. If the grid(s) are allowed to assume a positive voltage with respect to the cathode, some of the electrons will be attracted to  the grid(s) instead of the anode, either directly, or indirectly, after having bounced off the anode, or the glass envelope, or repelled by nearby electrons.

When electrons are attracted to the grid, due to the grid being at a positive potential, then the grid draws current, just like the anode does (although the grid current is lower, as much fewer electrons are attracted to the grid, compared to the plate). This is the interesting part. For the grid to be able to draw current, there must be a driver stage before it, capable of delivering current, just like the output stage does, when driving a load such as a loudspeaker or a cutter head. The driver stage would therefore need to be designed more like a power output stage, rather than a simple voltage amplifier, which is capable of delivering a large voltage swing, but practically no current. Most conventional audio amplifiers have an output stage operating in Class A1 or Class AB1, with the grids operated at negative potential with respect to the cathode, by means of negative bias (which is achieved either by means of cathode bias resistors, or through the use of a dedicated negative grid bias power supply, connected to the grids of the output tubes). Class A1 and AB1 output stages can be driven by voltage amplifiers as drivers. However, if we bias the grids of the output tubes to be positive, then we can no longer use a voltage amplifier to drive them. We need a driver stage that can deliver current during its voltage swing. In other words, it must deliver power, in watts.

In this configuration, the output stage is said to be working in Class A2 or AB2 configuration, the number 2 being used to denote that grid current is flowing. The number 1 in Class A1 and AB1 means that no grid current is permitted. The Gotham PFB-150 amplifier is designed so that grid current is always flowing in the output stage, even with no audio signal present. In the PFB-150, the parallel push-pull cathode follower stage formed by two 6BL7 tubes is DC-coupled to the grids of the 811A output triodes. The potential of the 811A grids (the bias of the output stage) is therefore set by the quiescent current of the 6BL7 tubes! The plate voltage of the 811A and 6BL7 tubes is around 550 volts DC, provided by a pair of 3B28 Xenon-filled rectifier tubes!

The entire amplifier, from input to output, is a true differential amplifier configuration (balanced), with no phase splitter or single-ended stages. This was quite a radical departure from all established notions of amplifier design for audio at the time, using configurations and tube types that were only encountered in radio broadcasting transmitters. In my opinion, this was one of the most fascinating cutting amplifiers ever made, and I have helped restore a few of them. Designed and marketed as a true laboratory amplifier, unfortunately, the Gotham PFB-150 was never very successful and there are very few of them surviving today.

Power-driven output stages attracted surprisingly little interest in the audio sector and with the exception of the PFB-150, they were largely ignored up until the mid 1990’s, when Eric Barbour (proprietor of Metasonix, https://www.metasonix.com/, a manufacturer of obscure vacuum tube synthesizers, and at the time employed as an applications engineer at Svetlana Electron Devices) published some of his vacuum tube amplifier designs, employing power-driven output stages, both in single-ended and push-pull configurations, in Vacuum Tube Valley (an influential but relatively short-lived publication, dedicated to the “history and quality of vacuum tube technology”). Since then, an extremely small group of inquisitive souls have revived the idea, experimenting with power driving a variety of tubes very rarely encountered in more “normal” audio circles. Very few commercial products have used this configuration in audio, although it wasn’t as “weird” in RF circuit design. One of the exceptions was the Magnetovolt Beyonder, a 200 Watt musical instrument amplifier designed by the author, featuring a unique circuit, transformer-coupled throughout, with a power-driven output stage and two 5U4G tube rectifiers in the power supply, with front panel EQ controls labeled “growl”, “quack” and “pling”.

By the time the PFB-150 was put on the market, triodes had pretty much fallen out vogue with amplifier designers, and all other cutting amplifiers of the tube era used pentodes or beam power tubes. The Westrex RA-1574 used the 7027, the early HAECO tube cutting amps used the 6550, the Neumann VG-1 used the EL156, and the Ortofon GO-541 used the EL34. There were also several simpler cutting amplifiers made by RCA, Presto, Rek-O-Kut and other manufacturers of disk recording lathes, primarily aimed towards the radio broadcasting industry rather than for vinyl record mastering and manufacturing, but these mostly followed the design trends and tubes of their time.


The Neumann VG1 vacuum tube cutting amplifier rack is in the middle of this brochure, with a Neumann disk mastering lathe on the left.

The Neumann VG1 vacuum tube cutting amplifier rack is in the middle of this brochure, with a Neumann disk mastering lathe on the left.


The other oddball cutting amplifier that clearly stands out among such devices was the Fairchild 641. It used 4CX250B ceramic tetrodes, driven by parallel push-pull 12BH7 cathode followers. The plate voltage on the 4CX250B was 1200 volts DC, and the amplifier utilized a 10 MHz RF positional feedback system, designed to work with the Fairchild 642 stereophonic cutter head introduced in the late 1950s and which contained something like a miniature radar within the cutter head, to detect the position of the moving system. The rest of the cutting amplifiers of the stereophonic era were more conventional in design and as the industry moved on to transistors, higher power was obtainable with much lower voltages and less-exotic devices.

In fact, the design differences between audio amplifiers and industrial welding equipment became increasingly smaller.

Some claim that welding equipment got better.

Others insist it just got lighter and easier to carry around when repairing farm equipment.


While most cutting engineers do not use their cutting amplifiers for welding, one little mistake can have a very similar effect upon the internal organs of the cutter head, as a result of pretty much the same operating principle: electrical current heats up the conductive metal, until it melts! Smells similar, with a bit of burned coil enamel for spicing. In the transistor era, audio amplifier circuits and welder circuits were no longer that much different from each other!

While most cutting engineers do not use their cutting amplifiers for welding, one little mistake can have a very similar effect upon the internal organs of the cutter head, as a result of pretty much the same operating principle: electrical current heats up the conductive metal, until it melts! Smells similar, with a bit of burned coil enamel for spicing. In the transistor era, audio amplifier circuits and welder circuits were no longer that much different from each other!


The Agnew Analog Reference Instrument Type 891 Cutting Amplifier falls under this category (if we would just forget about portability for a minute…). The circuit topology is not exactly groundbreaking (solid-state, DC-coupled totem pole configuration), but it was optimized as much as possible, with a minimalistic signal path, in an attempt to take it further away from welder territory and closer to good old-fashioned audio design. It can deliver enough current to weld with, if you’re in desperate need and don’t have a conventional welder, but with plenty of finesse to sound good when dealing with actual music. (Wire feeder and argon bottle available separately.)


The Agnew Analog Reference Instruments Series 890 cutting amplifier rack, freshly assembled in the lab. From top to bottom, vacuum suction switchgear and vacuum gauge, stylus heat supply unit, input stage and incoming level metering for the audio signal, RIAA pre-emphasis stage, feedback amplifier and mixer, output current sensing and metering, cutter head protection unit, power amplification stage, and power supply unit. The lathe-control electronics are in a separate rack.

The Agnew Analog Reference Instruments Series 890 cutting amplifier rack, freshly assembled in the lab. From top to bottom, vacuum suction switchgear and vacuum gauge, stylus heat supply unit, input stage and incoming level metering for the audio signal, RIAA pre-emphasis stage, feedback amplifier and mixer, output current sensing and metering, cutter head protection unit, power amplification stage, and power supply unit. The lathe-control electronics are in a separate rack.


In the next episode, we shall examine the stereophonic era of cutter heads and the latest developments in the field.

Photos courtesy of Agnew Analog Reference Instruments.

Previous installments in this series appeared in Issues 160159, 158, 157, 156, 155, 154153, 152, and 151.

Reality Check

Reality Check

Reality Check

Peter Xeni
"If I sat in the orchestra, I could tell how accurate my hi-fi is...especially if they play some Diana Krall."

Wardrobe Malfunction

Wardrobe Malfunction

Wardrobe Malfunction

James Whitworth