Issue 168

Under the Same Sky

Under the Same Sky

Frank Doris

As a fortune cookie connoisseur, this one caught my eye: “We all live under the same sky, but we don’t see the same light.” Quite a profundity from the usually prosaic, sometimes humorous, and often inscrutable Golden Bowl company. And what’s up with this eBay fortune cookie auction?

In this issue: Anne E. Johnson tells of glorious music from Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, and grooves on the queen of country, Kitty Wells. Wayne Robins enjoys Grupo Rebolú's Afro-Colombian breakthrough. I cover Octave Records’ new country/Americana/rock release, Nightmares by Gasoline Lollipops. Jeff Weiner takes us inside Arizona's Musical instrument Museum. B. Jan Montana is deeply affected by music. J.I. Agnew delves into the work of cutting lathe artisan Jędrzej Kubiak. Ted Shafran tells us where to buy high-quality classical music downloads. Tom Methans visits Steinway & Sons and finds an interesting piano development.

Ken Sander sets the Wayback Machine to CES, and gets Technomania. Rudy Radelic covers A&M Records during the 1980s and 1990s. Ken Kessler gives reel-to-reel tape labels some stick. John Seetoo takes us through the evolution of in-ear monitors. Ray Chelstowski talks with Cincinnati favorites The Harlequins. Steven Bryan Bieler explains his dogs…by album titles. Andrew Daly likes women who rock. I conclude my interview with Larry Jaffee of Making Vinyl. Russ Welton ponders vinyl, and the world’s best stereo system. The issue concludes with dog’s ears, stubborn audiophiles, high fi, and a big sky.

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 Musical Instrument Museum: A National Treasure

The Musical Instrument Museum: A National Treasure

The Musical Instrument Museum: A National Treasure

Jeff Weiner

Jeff Weiner has been a volunteer museum guide/docent at Phoenix, Arizona’s Musical Instrument Museum for the last five years. Some of the content of this article has been adapted from material on the museum’s website.


Realizing that most musical museums feature historic, primarily Western classical instruments, the founder of Phoenix, Arizona’s Musical Instrument Museum (MIM), Robert J. Ulrich (then CEO of Target Corporation), began with a vision to create a museum that would be global in scope. He wanted to develop a new kind of museum that would showcase the kind of instruments played by people worldwide. From its beginnings in 2010, the goal was to deliver an educational and inspiring musical experience.

The Musical Instrument Museum has a collection of over 8,000 instruments from more than 200 countries. The galleries reflect the diversity and history of many world cultures. As the museum’s website notes: “music and instruments also show us what we have in common…music is the language of the soul.” A visit to MIM is also about experiencing the sensory nature of music and how it affects our emotions. Through interactive media, guests can see the instruments, hear their sounds, and see them being played in their original contexts.

MIM’s collection was assembled by five curators, with consultation from distinguished ethnomusicologists, organologists, and other field experts. The bulk of the collection is highlighted in a series of Geographic Galleries that divide the world into five major global regions. There are also exhibition spaces such as the Target Gallery, which hosts traveling and special exhibitions, and the Artist Gallery, which includes noteworthy musical instruments and artifacts associated with some of the world’s leading musicians.

Why is the museum located in Phoenix? It’s one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States, with a culturally diverse population. Drawn by the Grand Canyon and other natural wonders of the Southwest as well as by the city itself, many national and international visitors travel to and through Phoenix. 

The Architecture

The Musical Instrument Museum is a 200,000 square foot building across two levels. It was designed by architect Rich Varda, in conjunction with the firm of RSP Architects. MIM’s distinctive architecture pays homage to the desert landscape, the rhythms of musical composition, and the design of musical instruments. Indian sandstone is the primary element on the building’s façade. To quote Varda, “the design team is most proud of the fact that the spaces of the building are comfortable, friendly, and supportive of the desired immersive experience in the galleries. Moving through the building is intuitive and relaxing.”


Interior architecture of the Musical Instrument Museum.

Interior architecture of the Musical Instrument Museum.


These are some of the highlights of MIM’s architecture:

  • The sandstone walls evoke the topography of the Southwest, while raised key shapes in the exterior stonework evoke musical notes.
  • A “piano key” pattern plays across MIM’s walls in clusters of windows.
  • Patterns that evoke music can be found throughout the building on staircase railings, lighting, and floor tiles.
  • The “meandering river” of the central corridor, El Río, is another reference to the region’s landscape.
  • The rotunda’s inlaid world map is formed with stones from the world regions they represent.
  • The rotunda’s elegant curve is reminiscent of the shape of a grand piano.

The Galleries

MIM presently displays more than 5,300 instruments representing all the world’s countries, and many territories. The Geographic Galleries focus on major world regions: Africa/Middle East, Asia and Oceania, Latin America, Europe, and the United States/Canada. Many of the instruments displayed are rare examples, the finest of their kind, historically significant, or part of distinctive musical cultures. Video monitors with footage of musical performances show instruments played in their original contexts.

The United States/Canada Gallery has a specific focus on musical genres such as jazz, rock and roll, Appalachian, and Hawaiian music. A large area at the gallery entrance showcases Native American and First Nations instruments.


An exhibition of musical instruments from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

An exhibition of musical instruments from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


Woodstock at 50 exhibition.

Woodstock at 50 exhibition.


The Musical Instrument Museum’s Artist Gallery highlights a broad cross-section of world musicians with ever-changing exhibits that span sounds, styles, and eras. Through generous partnerships, MIM features historic instruments owned, played, and loved by noted musicians. Nearly 40 displays showcase instruments and artifacts from artists such as Elvis Presley, Tito Puente, the Carter Family and Johnny Cash, Roberta Flack, Glen Campbell, Joan Baez, Maroon 5, and others.

MIM’s Mechanical Music Gallery features a selection of mechanical musical instruments, such as barrel organs, mechanical zithers, cylinder music boxes, disc players, and automatons. The period between the late 19th and early 20th centuries is considered to be the golden age of automatic musical instruments. During this time, there was a surge in the creation of self-playing instruments. In the Mechanical Music Gallery, guests can see a range of instruments from this era that use technologies such as punched cards and discs, paper rolls, pinned cylinders, and electromagnets.

The Collier STEM Gallery explores the important connections between music and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Guests learn about the science behind musical instruments, and how humans experience sound. The gallery’s themes include sound creation, technological innovation, the human ear, and hearing safety. Multiple displays within the gallery introduce key concepts in the physics of sound creation through video, interactive technology, and instruments from all over the globe.

In the interactive Experience Gallery, guests can play instruments from around the world similar to the ones on display throughout the museum. This gallery is a place to explore self-made musical sounds, and to let loose and have a little fun. Attendees can play a Javanese gamelan, a West African djembe, a Peruvian harp, a theremin, and more.

Exhibitions in the Target Gallery complement the museum’s permanent collection with traveling shows, special engagements, and changing exhibitions. The current exhibition is Treasures: Legendary Musical Instruments, and spans 6,000 years of musical instrument history. There are one-of-a-kind and rare instruments that combine beauty, craftsmanship, and cultural significance. Past special exhibitions have included Congo Masks and Music, The Electric Guitar, and Ancient Musical Treasures from Central China.

The Theater

The Musical Instrument Museum’s theater has 300 seats and hosts a diverse range of concerts and global artists in an intimate environment. MIM hosts more than 200 shows per year across all genres in an acoustically superb theater. These are some of the more memorable concerts I have attended:

  • John Mayall
  • Charles Lloyd
  • The Milk Carton Kids
  • Patricia Barber
  • Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore


The theater at the MIM.

The theater at the MIM.



MIM provides a multi-faceted educational program. In a typical year, over 70,000 students, teachers, and chaperones visit the museum. There are five different types of school tours tailored for age groups from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, and teacher-guided school tours are also available. One of the true joys of volunteering at MIM is sharing the wonderment that many of the students experience. There are also “MIMkids” programs, one for children up to five years old and another for ages 6 to 10.

MIM also offers tours for adults, groups looking for a little more from their MIM visit. There are two flavors of adult tours: one takes visitors through the museum galleries, and the VIP Tour goes behind the scenes to give guests insights into how exhibits are created, what goes on backstage at the theater, what kind of storage is needed for MIM’s diverse collection, and other aspects of the museum’s operation.

MIM has also developed a variety of virtual education programs for school and youths, kids and family, and seniors. MIM has collaborated with the Arizona State University Music Therapy program to create the seniors program.

MIM provides additional amenities including the museum store with items from around the world, the Beats Coffee Bar, Café Allegro (features a rotating lunch menu of global cuisine), and various indoor and outdoor event spaces. They even host weddings.

The Musical Instrument Museum is rated on Tripadvisor as the number one attraction in the Phoenix area and one of the top museums in the United States. Having had the opportunity to volunteer and give tours these last five years, the museum has become a second home for me. I find myself regularly reminding myself how fortunate I am that I get to hang out at MIM. Music really is the language of the soul.

Note: this article was reviewed by museum personnel prior to submission to Copper. All images courtesy of the Musical Instrument Museum.

High Fi

High Fi

High Fi

Peter Xeni

Octave Records Releases <em>Nightmares</em> by Country/Americana/Rock Band Gasoline Lollipops

Octave Records Releases <em>Nightmares</em> by Country/Americana/Rock Band Gasoline Lollipops

Octave Records Releases Nightmares by Country/Americana/Rock Band Gasoline Lollipops

Frank Doris

Octave Records has released Nightmares by country/Americana/rock band Gasoline Lollipops, a record that weaves roots music influences, intimate confessional songwriting and the raw power of rock and roll into a deeply moving album. Front man and singer/guitarist Clay Rose was raised by an outlaw truck-driving father and a country songwriting mom in rural Nashville, Tennessee, and he’s complemented by a sympatico band – Gasoline Lollipops are two-time winners of a Best Colorado Band award and have toured throughout the US and internationally.

Nightmares features three new songs and seven GasPops favorites, rearranged to showcase the acoustic-based, intimate yet spacious listening experience offered by Octave’s Pure DSD high-resolution recording process.

Clay Rose is joined by Don Ambory (electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin), Scott Coulter (keyboards, harmonica), “Bad” Brad Morse (bass), and Kevin Matthews (drums, percussion) in Gasoline Lollipops, with guest backup singers Carly Ricks Smith, Giselle Collazo and Kate Farmer. Nightmares was recorded and mixed at Animal Lane Studios in Lyons, Colorado by Jay Elliott, with Giselle Collazo assisting, and mastered by Gus Skinas.

Nightmares was created using Octave Records’ Pure DSD process and the Sonoma multi-track DSD recording system. It’s available in a variety of SACD, CD and other disc formats. In addition, the master DSD and PCM files are available for purchase and download (including DSD64, DSDDirect Mastered 192kHz/24-bit, 96kHz/24-bit and 44.1kHz/16-bit PCM).



Gasoline Lollipops, Nightmares, album cover.

Gasoline Lollipops, Nightmares, album cover.


The title track was inspired by the events of the summer of 2020. “The song was just the most honest thing I could say at the time,” notes Rose. “I was trying to find a way to say something of comfort to my family. It doesn’t really provide any solution other than, let’s just hold onto each other.”

The songs range from the rollicking train beat of “Smoke and Steam” to the meditative, piano-based “Hard Days.” “Jesus Ain’t Dead” sounds like a timeless country classic, combining profound observations with wry humor. Nightmares is filled with vintage sounds, like the piano and mandolin soloing of Don Ambory and Scott Coulter on “Midnight Dance,” blazing Telecaster electric guitar work, classic Hammond organ sounds, and even a guitar through a Leslie rotating speaker cabinet. At times, Rose chose different microphones for separate sections of a single song, to best capture the tone and mood of what he wanted to say.

Clay Rose’s deep, expressive voice conveys the songs with time-worn emotion. As he notes, “My dad was a truck driver and an avid music lover. From the time I was four years old, I’d ride coast to coast with him. He taught me how to listen to music, with your whole self, your heart, your body, mind, and spirit.”

I interviewed Clay Rose about the making of Nightmares and many other topics.

Frank Doris: How did you come up with the name Gasoline Lollipops?

Clay Rose: Before I even played guitar, I was with a bunch of friends and just thinking of crazy band names and that one got pitched out there. I decided that someday I was gonna learn how to play guitar and start a band, and that was gonna be the name of it. I guess I kind of grew into the name of the band, or at least justified the name by saying that we are sweet yet explosive (laughs).

At first, we were leaning much more towards the punk rock aesthetic; then as I got older and kind of calmed down a little bit, the music calmed down as well and became a little more nuanced.


Clay Rose.

Clay Rose.


FD: The band sounds really open and even sparse at times.

CR: Yeah, that sparseness, that space, was definitely a deliberate thing that we wanted to do on this record with Octave, because we knew that Octave specialized more in acoustic music and we’re more traditionally an electric rock band. So, we thought we would take the opportunity, see if we could rearrange them to be more ethereal and acoustic. I’d say my guiding lights for the production of this record was Daniel Lanois, and specifically, the Emmylou Harris Wrecking Ball album he produced.

FD: There are also a lot of Telecaster (electric guitars) on this album. Did you go for that vintage rootsy kind of sound because that’s just your sound, or because you decided you wanted to do it for this record?

CR: I feel that as music keeps moving in this more electronic, digital, very clean quantized direction, my natural instinct is to pull against that. I feel like in general we’re moving farther and farther away from spirited, inspired, just organic music. I was raised on my dad’s record collection, which was all from the late Sixties and early Seventies, and those are still my favorite records and most of them were recorded in the same room together, straight to tape. I feel there’s a spirit that’s captured in that environment that’s not captured when you’re recording to a click track. Recording each track separately when you’re not watching the drummer’s hands while you’re playing rhythm guitar, it kind of sucks the life out of things.

When we record live, there’s a tendency for the tempo to fluctuate. I’m totally okay with that. I feel like the tempo of our heart fluctuates depending on our emotions. Music is a spiritual representation of our physical body and it should reflect that.

FD: Tell us about some of the songs.

CR: “Hard Days” is a song I wrote back when that tsunami hit, during the second Iraq war. That same week, I’d lost a sister. I had a feeling of desperation and needing to process this overwhelming feeling of apocalypse. I’m a recovering alcoholic and “Fast Train” was written right towards the end of my drinking career, before I got sober. It’s [about] the need for escape and the feeling of helplessness and lack of life skills. Like I did not feel qualified for the job of life (laughs).

Those [kind of] songs seem to come very urgently and quickly. The way I break down songwriting is, you, you can either build a song or you can find a song. The songs that I find come out fully formed in a matter of hours. I feel like most of the writers in Nashville, LA and New York, they build songs. And that there’s a skill to that, like building a house, and certain rules. You gotta follow the rules, have a good hook, a good bridge, all the pieces need to be in there. I enjoy doing that. It’s like doing a crossword puzzle for me, but I also don’t feel as connected to those songs.

FD: “Jesus Ain’t Dead” could get a lot of attention. How’d that one come about?

CR: That song was a study in John Prine. I just loved John Prine and I sat down one day and wanted to write a John Prine song. It’s an homage to his style and, and his wit and his tongue-in-cheek [outlook].

My dad had about 30 tapes that sat in the front seat of the truck. I’d ride with him, just listening to those same 30 records over and over again. And my mom was a country songwriter in Nashville. When I wasn’t with my dad, I was with her and hanging out in honky tonks, watching her in her band perform and watching her build songs. When I turned 13, I was full of angst and piss and vinegar. My older sister turned me on to punk rock and taught me that I could exorcise these demons in the pit of a punk show. I was a very angry teenager.

FD: I think most of us were.

CR: I was getting into a lot of fights and spending quite a few nights in jail. I learned that you could express all of that energy through a microphone or a guitar, [and] then you didn’t have to swing at anybody. You didn’t have to go to jail anymore. And you could earn money at it.

I don’t think I ever intended to blend the folk and psychedelic rock of my dad with the country and honky tonk of my mom with the punk rock of my sister. But that’s what came out when I started writing songs [and found musicians to play with].


Gasoline Lollipops.

Gasoline Lollipops.


FD: What were some of the records you listened to in the truck?

CR: Pop loved Bob Dylan a lot. Neil Young and Jimi Hendrix. A lot of Janis Joplin. Bruce Springsteen was huge for me growing up. [At this point Clay shows me his tattoos of Springsteen and a bird on a wire representing Leonard Cohen.] If I could only listen to one artist for the rest of my life it would be Leonard Cohen.

FD: What about getting back into playing live?

CR: Things have gotten back pretty much full swing here in Colorado, a lot of outdoor festivals and outdoor private events. I think what COVID taught me is how to live without a plan. How to let go of expectations. Before COVID, I’d really gotten obsessed with climbing this career ladder and lost sight of why I started playing music in the first place. We were just playing really big theater shows and booking tours and playing big festivals and the money was great, but I didn’t actually enjoy any of that.

I don’t enjoy being on a huge stage 15 feet from my nearest band mate, listening to drums through a monitor with a row of security guards in front of me and then a barricade in front of the audience and all this huge spectacle with all the light shows and the smoke machines. When it was all taken away, all I missed was being in a small venue that’s packed full, [with my] elbows rubbing with the bass player and the electric guitar player. We’re so tightly packed together that we are one body.

I don’t miss climbing the ladder to stardom. The higher we got on that ladder, the lonelier and less inspired I felt. I think the pandemic really inspired me to simplify, get back to basics, and just play for the love of the music. Cause if that’s not there, I need to get another job.

FD: So I guess I won’t look for you at Radio City Music Hall. (laughter)

CR: I’ve redefined success these days as having deep and meaningful relationships.


Header image: Gasoline Lollipops, courtesy of Octave Records.

Around the World In 80 Lathes, Part 18

Around the World In 80 Lathes, Part 18

Around the World In 80 Lathes, Part 18

J.I. Agnew

When it comes to the preservation of vintage technology, the demographics show a significant age bias. It is a rapidly aging population that is primarily interested in such things, as evidenced by the problems faced by various clubs devoted to such interests around the world. Their membership is not getting any younger and there are not many young faces for the torch to be handed down to.

Fortunately, there are exceptions. An increasing number of them, dare I say. Myself included, currently counting 36 revolutions of the Earth around the sun. I am glad to see new faces in these fields, as it means that these interests may actually stand a chance of surviving, in the long term. While faces younger than mine are still rare, there are quite a few people aged 35 to 45 who are taking up “vintage” interests, on a professional level.

Today we are going to travel to Bydgoszcz, a city west of Warsaw, in Poland, to meet Jędrzej Kubiak, an enthusiastic individual with several vintage audio interests, and some not directly audio-related.

He is known as the foremost authority on the Unitra Fonica Daniel G-1100 turntable, manufactured in Poland from 1976 until 1982. It was based on the Telefunken S500 and during the time it was in production, it was the highest-end turntable available in Poland. But don’t rush to buy one just yet, if you have not heard of them before! During the country’s communist era, while it was theoretically possible to import products from other countries, it was so expensive that it was far beyond the economical means of most normal people living there. Jędrzej describes it as “the most advanced and most defective Polish turntable ever” and considers it to be “close to real hi-fi.” Poland is by now part of the European Union and while it is relatively simple to import anything you like from other EU counties, there is still a nostalgic demand for the “Daniel” among Polish audiophiles. Jędrzej explains that the desire for them is not about their quality, but because it was a prohibitively expensive luxury item at the time, and many of the generation old enough to have wanted one in their youth can now finally fulfill their childhood dreams. He has come across several examples which were assembled, to varying degrees of success, in people’s homes, using parts that were stolen from the production line by the workers. There were lower-priced turntables available in Poland, but they were horrible and known to be record killers, contributing to the rarity of old Polish records in mint condition nowadays. Jędrzej estimates he has restored approximately 250 Daniels by now.

But he does not limit himself to the historical borders of the Iron Curtain. He is also restoring vintage American jukeboxes, such as those made by Wurlitzer and Seeburg.


A couple of classic Wurlitzer jukeboxes from 1950, at Jędrzej's awaiting restoration. These were the first jukeboxes that could play both 78 rpm and 45 rpm records. All photos in this article courtesy of Jędrzej Kubiak.

A couple of classic Wurlitzer jukeboxes from 1950, at Jędrzej’s awaiting restoration. These were the first jukeboxes that could play both 78 rpm and 45 rpm records. All photos in this article courtesy of Jędrzej Kubiak.


A 1969 Seeburg LS2 jukebox, heavily modified by Jędrzej, with the carriage and bank rotated 180 degrees for better visibility, assisted by custom front door glass.

A 1969 Seeburg LS2 jukebox, heavily modified by Jędrzej, with the carriage and bank rotated 180 degrees for better visibility, assisted by custom front door glass.


Unsurprisingly for a man with such interests, he had also restored and currently owns a 1971 Volkswagen Deluxe bus, fitted out as a camper van. He has a soft spot for classic cars and while the VW bus is quite a showpiece, he prefers a more modest daily driver. For that, he has restored and drives a 1976 Skoda S100, a car that was rather popular behind the Iron Curtain and is still often seen in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, where it was produced (back when it was one country known as Czechoslovakia). However, these 4-cylinder, 60 cubic inch (988 cc), rear-engine, rear-wheel drive Skoda cars were rather expensive in Poland at the time. Poland was manufacturing cars for the working class, under license from Fiat. A popular example was the affordable Polski Fiat 126p, an air-cooled, 4-stroke, 2-cylinder, 36 cu. in. (594 cc) engined, ummm… car. Jedrzej also owned one, for a while, prior to upgrading to the Skoda. It was 54.3 inches wide, 120.2 inches long and weighed around 1,300 lb. (600 kg). Meanwhile, the average American lawnmower of the time… OK, I will spare you the details. No, but really, what they refer to as a small block engine in the US is usually 10 times…ok, sorry. I’m just…It’s difficult. How can it…? OK, back to audio…


Jędrzej's Volkswagen Deluxe Bus, built in March 1971, powered by a 97.6 cubic inch (1.6-liter) air-cooled VW boxer gasoline engine.

Jędrzej’s Volkswagen Deluxe Bus, built in March 1971, powered by a 97.6 cubic inch (1.6-liter) air-cooled VW boxer gasoline engine.


The daily driver, a 1976 Skoda S100, manufactured in Czechoslovakia, powered by a 60 cubic inch (988 cc) 4 cylinder, water-cooled, overhead camshaft engine. This was a rear-engine, rear-wheel drive configuration, with the fuel tank in the front.

The daily driver, a 1976 Skoda S100, manufactured in Czechoslovakia, powered by a 60 cubic inch (988 cc) 4 cylinder, water-cooled, overhead camshaft engine. This was a rear-engine, rear-wheel drive configuration, with the fuel tank in the front.


Before upgrading to the Skoda, Jedrzej's daily driver was this 1977 Polski Fiat 126 P, underpowered by a 36 cubic inch (not a typo, this is 594 cc), 2-cylinder, air-cooled gasoline engine.

Before upgrading to the Skoda, Jedrzej’s daily driver was this 1977 Polski Fiat 126 P, underpowered by a 36 cubic inch (not a typo, this is 594 cc), 2-cylinder, air-cooled gasoline engine.


The not-exactly-roomy interior of the Folski Fiat 126 P. They say it's not the size, but what you do with it. And what Jędrzej did with it was to sell it and get a Skoda and a Volkswagen, both representing significant upgrades in terms of size.

The not-exactly-roomy interior of the Folski Fiat 126 P. They say it’s not the size, but what you do with it. And what Jędrzej did with it was to sell it and get the Skoda and the Volkswagen, both representing significant upgrades in terms of size.


What Jędrzej may be lacking in cubic inches, he certainly more than makes up for in skill and style. An avid guitar player, he has a passion for vintage resonator guitars. Not only does he play them with a passion, but he is also known for completely rebuilding them! The extent of his restorations is seriously impressive.

He takes damaged 1920s and 1930s Nationals, turns them into toothpicks, and then back into complete instruments that look and sound better than when they had originally left the factory.

Extensively-damaged USA made 1937 National Style 0 Variation 7 guitar (an exact twin of Mark Knopfler's "Brothers in Arms" guitar). It's an instrument with a real brothers in arms World War II story.

Extensively-damaged USA made 1937 National Style 0 Variation 7 guitar (an exact twin of Mark Knopfler’s “Brothers in Arms” guitar). It’s an instrument with a real brothers in arms World War II story.



National Tricone Style 1 after restoration.

National Tricone Style 1 after restoration.


At this point, it would hardly come as a surprise that he also collects and restores electric table fans! Certainly adds to the coolness factor! Or perhaps acting as a reminder that domestic use of air conditioning was not exactly common in 1970s Poland.


Jędrzej's collection of electric table fans, ranging from 1930s Samson fans made in USA to 1950s Charkow and GEG Russian fans, popular in the vast public sector offices of the USSR and still occasionally encountered in the picturesque public sector offices of the EU.

Jędrzej’s collection of electric table fans, ranging from 1930s Samson fans made in USA to 1950s Charkow and GEG Russian fans, popular in the vast public sector offices of the USSR and still occasionally encountered in the picturesque public sector offices of the EU.


As if this all was not enough, Jędrzej is also involved with disk recording. He restores vintage Rek-O-Kut disk recording lathes and offers upgrades for them. He has developed an external motor for improved speed stability and lower rumble, an oil dashpot system, a counterweight system for groove depth setting to replace the original spring arrangement, a suction unit for removing the vinyl thread waste material, and several more bits and pieces. One of the latter is what he describes as a “crank mod” for the Rek-O-Kut M12 overhead recording mechanism, which was bolted on to the company’s idler-driven broadcasting turntables to turn them into disk recording lathes. The original configuration of the M12 did not permit spiral grooves to be added between selections, or a lead-out groove at the end of the disk (the increasing distance between the grooves at the end of the record, acting as a visual indication that the recording has reached an end). The crank mod adds a hand crank (a feature often found on other overhead recording mechanisms of the time), allowing the operator to manually create spirals and lead-out grooves. On modern disk mastering lathes, these functions are enabled by means of pushbuttons and switches, which electronically accomplish the faster traversing of the mechanical assembly to increase the distance between the grooves.

He has also restored some very rare Dutch Sondisko lathes, which have many unusual features, including some hints that the engineer who originally developed these machines had some form of obsession with bevel gearing…


Sondisko record cutting lathe, made in the Netherlands around 1938. The cutter head was restored under the supervision of J. I. Agnew.

Sondisko record cutting lathe, made in the Netherlands around 1938. The cutter head was restored under the supervision of J. I. Agnew.


The Sondisko record cutting lathe.

The Sondisko record cutting lathe.


He has been documenting the history of Sondisko, tracing one of the machines he restored to Karel Leonardus van Agthoven, a prominent recording engineer and producer in the 1930s who recorded many of the Dutch hits of the time. According to Jędrzej, Sondisko Records was an important part of the anti-Nazi music movement in occupied Amsterdam during World War II.

Apart from his technical contributions and lathe restorations, Jędrzej is also using vintage disk recording lathes for direct-to-disk recordings of music and poetry, even demonstrating how records are cut during a direct-to-disk recording session on national television in Poland. His work focuses on the use of equipment predating the stereophonic era. Jędrzej Kubiak can be contacted by e-mail (jedrzejkubiak@gmail.com) or telephone (0048 784 246 630).


A 1950s USA made Rek-O-Kut "Challenger" record cutting lathe, fully restored with external platter drive, adjustable counterweight/dashpot mod, and non-balling thread suction unit.

A 1950s USA made Rek-O-Kut “Challenger” record cutting lathe, fully restored with external platter drive, adjustable counterweight/dashpot mod, and non-balling thread suction unit.


Another view of the Rek-O-Kut “Challenger.”


A 1967 USA made Wurlitzer "Americana" jukebox, able to play 200 selections (100 records). It features custom see-through front glass in place of the original lining, for better mechanics and for turntable visibility.

A 1967 USA made Wurlitzer “Americana” jukebox, able to play 200 selections (100 records). It features custom see-through front glass in place of the original lining, for better mechanics and for turntable visibility.


Header image: Rek-O-Kut “Challenger” record cutting lathe.




James Whitworth

Pet Sounds: My Dogs Explained by Album Titles

Pet Sounds: My Dogs Explained by Album Titles

Pet Sounds: My Dogs Explained by Album Titles

Steven Bryan Bieler

Emma is ready for her close-up.


“There is no you,” Trent Reznor sang. “There is only me.” Trent is a self-absorbed individual who intuitively understood our first dog, Emma. The world was hers; she owned us, the house, the sidewalk, and whatever was on the sidewalk across the street. She wasn’t shy about informing you of these facts, either.

Emma won every battle she ever fought in her long life, even against opponents who didn’t know they were in a fight. The list of her vanquished foes includes dogs, cats, squeaky plastic cheeseburgers, teddy bears, two middle school boys on skateboards, a rake, a hose, and a harbor seal. She was a beautiful, loving dog who believed that deep inside she was actually a bone-crushing killdozer. This is why the album title that best explains Emma is Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine.

Most of our dogs have never reacted to music, except for “Been Caught Stealing” by Jane’s Addiction, which opens with a chorus of barking. But Emma enjoyed Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Telemann, and their Baroque contemporaries. She wouldn’t tolerate anything earlier or later. Chanting made her growl, and she had a particular dislike for the Seattle scene of the ’90s. Also for Pink Floyd. She loved to sleep under my desk, but when confronted with Screaming Trees or The Dark Side of the Moon, she’d pack up and go. Or release a defensive cloud of gas. When you own a dog you laugh every day, though sometimes it’s not until the next day.


Sailor plays defense against Emma.

Sailor plays defense against Emma.


Sailor’s superpower was love. He loved everyone he ever met. At a party he would blissfully move from lap to lap. He especially loved Emma. Emma put him on probation the moment she met him and kept him there. Since Sailor had a superpower, he had to have a kryptonite, and that was his belief that everything outdoors was edible. He ate everything he found on the beach. He ate everything he found at the park. He would’ve eaten kryptonite if it had held still long enough. Whatever he ate, he’d throw it up a few hours later and be ready to roll, except for the time that he swallowed a bone and had to visit a surgeon. (A friend asked, “When they cut him open, did all the sawdust fall out?”)

It’s easy to pick the album title that explains Sailor: Guns N’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction.



Steve and Teddy guard the house.

Steve and Teddy guard the house.


Sailor died young (not from something he ate). A month later, through a combination of events only slightly less complicated than the plot of Les Misérables, we rescued Teddy from a life on the street. He rewarded us by loving us like crazy. He went berserk with joy when visitors arrived and adored any uniformed member of the US Postal Service. Teddy was also a champion sleeper who could launch himself at his bed from three feet away and land curled up and conked out. He looked like a rhino compared to Emma, but he was so happy to have a home that he did whatever the aging Dark Knight wanted.

One thing they did exceptionally well together was bark. Emma in her prime was loud, but Teddy could make empty wine glasses ring. Together they could deafen you and disable your GPS. The album title that best captures Teddy is a greatest-hits collection: Blue Cheer’s Louder Than God.



Cleo in joyful flight.

Cleo in joyful flight.


The sad thing in any story about animals is that they die so soon. Little Cleo, who came from a puppy mill and who was rescued 10 or 12 years later on Christmas Eve by a woman who volunteers for Corgi Aid, didn’t last long with us. She had trouble with her hips; one of her back legs didn’t work well, and she ran on a diagonal. This had no dampening effect on her spirit. She had more joie de’vivre than most humans I’ve met. Paul Revere said it best: “I’m hungry for those good things baby/hungry through and through.”

But Cleo was much more than the lively dog who wouldn’t let me out of her sight and who believed that all the birds at our bird feeders had been sent by Alfred Hitchcock. She came to us at a very low point for me, when I was unemployed and uninspired, and though we had to put her down after only five months, she made a huge difference in my life. And that’s why I’ve chosen an album title for Cleo that is my message to her: A Tribe Called Quest’s final record, We Got It from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service.


Lucky listens to Lana Del Rey.

Lucky listens to Lana Del Rey.


Lucky invented the current use of the word “chill.” He has no abrasive personality traits or traumatic back story. Even when he was a puppy, he sought out anxious puppies at the playground and calmed them down. He’s an excellent teaching tool for preschoolers, patient and polite, but he’s also adept at diving into a pack of big running dogs and herding them – by running in the same direction they are already running. Lucky, who has been our Employee of the Month for 80 consecutive months, is a good-looking guy who is happy with himself and everyone else. Like Will Rogers, he never met a man or woman he didn’t like, particularly if they are carrying food. Picking an album title for him is simple: The Replacements’ Pleased to Meet Me.

I enjoy what I know of the symphonies of Felix Mendelssohn because he always seems to be crouched on the window ledge of hysteria. However languid the passage I’m listening to, I am confident that Felix is never more than a bassoon away from losing it.

Tango (my dog in the header image of this article), who is only two, has her languid moments, sleeping upside down and contentedly chewing cardboard boxes. That is, until a horn honks or a dog barks or a leaf falls. Then you realize that she shares Felix’s philosophy that life is dangerous and we’re all about to be eviscerated. The young women we meet on our walks can’t wait to get their hands on her, not knowing the hundreds of hours we’ve invested in trying to civilize this animal. Plus all the hours that Lucky has spent training Tango in self-defense. Therefore the album title that best describes Tango is Sleater-Kinney’s All Hands on the Bad One.

What album would my dogs choose for me? Do they see me as Snoop Dogg, Phife Dawg, or T-Bone Burnett? That’s one of the best things about dogs: They keep their opinions to themselves. Just keep that kibble coming. Which makes me think of Supertramp’s Breakfast in America.


Header image: Tango takes your drink order. All photos courtesy of the author.

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part 26

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part 26

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part 26

B. Jan Montana


After a delightful breakfast, Evelyn had to rush off to work. As we parted, she urged me to spend some time visiting the Minneapolis Institute of Art on Third Avenue.  I’d been to most of the large art galleries in Europe during the 15 months I toured there, and also the Art Institute of Chicago (which is as good as any of them). Art has always interested me, so she didn’t have to suggest it twice.

But now I was in a bit of a dilemma. I’d promised Melody to be back in South Dakota the next day to visit the Bhagwan for his last session of the year. Perhaps if I left early enough the next morning, I could see the Art Institute today and hear the Bhagwan’s talk late the next day.

Evelyn said the facility didn’t open till 10, so I rode north a few miles along the Mississippi River. As we’d seen heading south the day before, there were lots of green spaces between the road and the river, very scenic. The river itself was flush with boats, both pleasure craft and commercial shipping. I stopped at overlooks several times to enjoy the scene. Couldn’t help but think of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn’s adventures, and Mark Twain learning to negotiate the shallow banks.

I got to the Art Institute assuming I’d visit for a couple of hours, but ended up staying all afternoon. A professor was giving lessons as he toured his class around the facility so I just tagged behind and listened in. It was a fascinating afternoon. There were paintings by such luminaries as Rembrandt, Reynolds, Murillo, El Greco, Manet, Van Gogh, Pissarro, and Gauguin. For pure enjoyment, this place rivaled the one in Chicago.


Paul Gauguin, The Market Gardens of Vaugirard. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/public domain.

Paul Gauguin, The Market Gardens of Vaugirard. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/public domain.


Chip’s garage was full of after-work renegades by the time I got back to his place. They greeted me with a beer and smiles. Candy approached and asked how I had gotten along with Evelyn. She had that concerned look in her eye, like a mother questioning her kid about his first day in school.

“You look distressed, Candy, what do you expect me to say?”

“Well, it’s not that she isn’t a sweet girl; it’s just that, well, I was worried how you’d react the to the fact that she’s quite Catholic.”

I smiled. “I think she’s quite spiritual, and finds expression of her spirituality through the Catholic Church.”

“I’m not sure how anyone can find spirituality in all those rituals.” KP piped up.

“It’s not the rituals that enrapture her, KP, it’s the music. I share that with her.” I responded.

“Church music!” he exclaimed.

“Musicians have to make a living from wherever the money is, KP. Today, the money is in popular music and movie scores. Back then, the church and the nobility had all the money, so that’s where the best musicians went, like Handel and Bach.”

“That music sounds very boring to me. I prefer Pink Floyd or the Eagles.”

“Have you ever heard classical music live, KP?” I asked.

“I heard a guy singing Frank Sinatra tunes in a bar one time. That was pretty boring too.”

“Different strokes for different folks man; I share Evelyn’s love for church music,” I responded. “I’ve heard it live in many of the great cathedrals of Europe and it is truly a mesmerizing experience. Just imagine how it must have been for the peasants of the day. They live in shacks with dirt floors, work in the dirt from sun-up to sunset, and spend Sundays in these grand cathedrals listening to some of the finest music ever written. That must have seemed like heaven on earth to them.”

“When did you fall in love with classical music?” Candy asked.

“When I was a little kid. I remember listening to it on the radio while sitting on my mother’s lap. At age six, the neighbor girl talked me into going to her Catholic Church. It had a huge organ and a great choir. I was immediately hooked on choral music and have been listening to it ever since.”



“Well, there’s a side of you we never knew,” Chip commented.

“There’s a lot of sides to me, Chip, just like everyone else. I’ve also enjoyed reading too, and spent many evenings discussing books I’d read with my mother after my father went to bed.”

“You didn’t discuss it with your father?”

“My mother and father were diametrical opposites. She came from a family of CEOs, professionals, and scholars. He came from a family of tradesmen. She was an educated thinker; he was a technician. He didn’t know Nietzsche from Buddha, and she didn’t know a nut from a bolt.

“So why did she marry him?” Tina asked.

“He was extraordinarily good looking; he had the face and physique of a Greek statue. He was always the best-looking guy at family gatherings, and she was very proud of that.”

“When I came along, I think he was hoping for a chip off the old block, but unlike the kids who came later, I preferred biographies to bandsaws.”

“That couldn’t have made you popular with him.”

“He could never bring himself to warm up to me, Chip, so he focused his attention on my three siblings. If there was any conflict between us, he always blamed me first. He never laughed at my jokes even if the rest of the family did, didn’t spend any private time with me, and never gave me credit for anything – even those things on which I’d worked hard to please him. Nothing I did was ever good enough. When I told him I wanted to go to college, he wished me luck and walked off.”

“That must have been tough,” Chip probed.

“By the age of 17, I’d had enough. The week I finished high school, I moved to another town to work in a rubber factory in order to make enough money to start college. During my first semester, I learned about the student loan program and that’s what financed the rest of my education. Before I graduated, my father died from heart disease. I never got the chance to confront him as an adult. I was the only person at the funeral not to shed a tear.”

“So why did he have it out for you and not the other kids?” Chip asked.

“When I visited my uncle in Europe, he told me my parents got married by proxy before my father returned from his overseas engagement. When I got home, I asked my mother about it. She told me they were so in love, they just couldn’t wait till he got out of the army. I accepted that because I trusted her. That was dumb!”

“Oh, oh, I have a feeling about what’s coming.” Candy said.

“I didn’t figure it out till I saw a photo of us four kids as adults standing next to each other. All three of my younger siblings resemble each other more than me, all are taller than me, they are lanky and I am not, and all have much more hair.”

“Hell, you must be a bastard!” KP blurted out as everyone burst out laughing. Fortunately, that broke the tension.

“Exactly KP, but I’m not angry at my father anymore. He fulfilled what he felt was his duty, though not happily. I’m mad at my mother for not telling me this when I was a kid. If she had, I’d have understood his behavior instead of spending my youth wondering what the hell was wrong with me.”

“That’s just tragic. I feel terrible for you,” Candy sympathized.

“It is what it is Candy, can’t change anything now.”

“Did you ever approach your mother about it?”

“She became a very religious person in the latter half of her life, so she would have been profoundly embarrassed. I loved her too much for that, so I just let it go. Just before she died, she admitted to my sister that I’d been treated unfairly as a child, but she never elaborated.”

“It probably wouldn’t be a stretch to say that everyone in this garage was treated unfairly as a child, Montana,” Chip asserted, “Maybe that’s what bonds us together.”

As I looked around, I saw the majority nod in agreement, some with tears in their eyes.

“Yah, maybe it is Chip.”


Header image courtesy of Pixabay.com/Peter H.

Previous installments appeared in Issues 143144145146147148149150151152153154155156157158, 159, 160,  161, 162, 163164165, 166 and 167.

Talking With Larry Jaffee of Making Vinyl, Part Two

Talking With Larry Jaffee of Making Vinyl, Part Two

Talking With Larry Jaffee of Making Vinyl, Part Two

Frank Doris

Copper contributor Larry Jaffee is the co-founder of Making Vinyl, an industry organization dedicated to fostering cooperation among those in the record-manufacturing industry. Larry is also the author of Record Store Day: The Most Improbable Comeback of the 21st Century. Part One of our interview (Issue 167) focused on the recent Making Vinyl convention in Nashville, Tennessee. We conclude our interview with some talk about Record Store Day, what kinds of people buy records, and more.

Frank Doris: How did you wind up writing a book about Record Store Day (RSD)?

Larry Jaffee: The ironic thing is I missed the first five years of Record Store Day (RSD), which began in 2008. Michael Kurtz [an RSD co-founder] and I had become friends in 2015. I interviewed Michael for an article I wrote in 2016 about the vinyl resurgence for (editor) Gene Pitts’s The Audiophile Voice. In November 2017, the British magazine Long Live Vinyl published my article about Record Store Day Summer Camp, RSD’s convention for record stores in New Orleans. I guess the piece impressed Michael, who helped us with the first few Making Vinyl conferences. He called me in October 2020 and noted the 15th anniversary of Record Store Day was coming up. He asked what would I think about writing a book about it. I told him, “I was born to write this book!” I had to rely on Michael and RSD co-founder Carrie Colliton, as well as some of the other co-founders, to fill in a lot of the blanks because I wasn’t there. I started participating in RSD as a consumer in 2014.


Larry Jaffee. Courtesy of the author.

Larry Jaffee. Courtesy of the author.


FD: In the book, you note that people don’t remember whether they were at the first RSD planning convention or not. Must have been a hell of a party.

LJ: It was sort of like Woodstock. A lot of people claim they were at Woodstock, but you later learn they weren’t really there [laughs]. Some who were at that pivotal breakfast meeting in September 2007 in Baltimore, where they green-lit the RSD concept, can’t remember the details now because they were hung over from partying the night before.

FD: What do you look for in an RSD release?

LJ: Unreleased or lost albums or stuff that’s under the radar. My favorite probably is a live recording of Horses (my favorite album) that Patti Smith did at Electric Lady Studios, done about 40 years after the original was released.

FD: Did anything surprise you once you started working on the book?

LJ: What I realized is that RSD is more about record store culture than the limited-edition releases. These stores play really important roles in their communities. I experienced this as a kid and as a teenager where you meet friends, find bandmates, and learn about music and life. Record Store Day helped bring that back. In the book, I wrote about a store in the South that lost electricity for weeks after a hurricane, and the store let people stay there overnight. And in Chicago, a couple – both DJs – had their first date in a store, where they were later married. In talking with owners of record stores, they all say they couldn’t picture themselves doing anything else. “Who else would have us?”

FD: What did you learn about the economics of Record Store Day?

LJ: It’s hard to make money on new records. Retailers only make a couple of dollars off a release, but that goes for all new pressings.

FD: So, selling used records is more profitable?

LJ: The wholesale prices [of new records] are just really high because manufacturing them is expensive these days. With used records, it all comes down to quality, scarcity [and desirability]. One of the things that came out in talking with Doyle Davis, co-owner of Grimey’s Records at the Making Vinyl conference we did in June in Nashville, was that he said prices on used vinyl are going up because there’s a pressing backlog, further impacted by supply chain issues.

FD: I tell people to go to garage sales. You never know what you’re going to get, but when you find something, it’ll be a bargain.

LJ: The new vinyl resurgence defies all technological, economic, and ecological logic in the digital age. On the other hand, it shows that people want something tangible. New research presented at Making Vinyl shows that 41 percent of new record buyers are 13 to 24 years old. This bodes well for the format’s future. About a quarter [of those buyers] just put the covers up on the wall, but 75 percent play them. And about one out of four Generation-Z buyers say classic rock is their favorite vinyl genre. What I find interesting about that is that we’re talking about music that’s 50 years old, right? Could you imagine you and me going back to the music that our parents grew up with?


Jack White and Larry Jaffee.

Jack White and Larry Jaffee.


FD: It’s a huge change. When I was a kid, any music that was, say, more than two years old was like King Tut, put it in a tomb, it’s ancient history.

LJ: I find myself going back to genres that I wasn’t familiar with when I was a teenager. Blues. Big Bill Broonzy. Skip James. The Gospel stuff that influenced Elvis.

FD: It’s humbling to know that you’ll never be able listen to everything that’s out there in your lifetime.

LJ: Now we have it all at our fingertips through streaming services. I just wish they paid musicians better. Musicians, by the way, are making more money from their vinyl sales than they ever will from streaming. I don’t think I’ll ever stop listening to music I’m hearing for the first time, or collecting now on vinyl what I had on CD. For example, there’s a story in the book about a record collector who passed away from COVID. But before he did, he arranged a sale of this amazing collection of sealed RSD and non-RSD albums a block and a half away from where I live. There I found a sealed first edition of the first Garbage record. I knew it was worth $500. I thought, should I open it or keep it sealed? I was like, I’m listening to it! [laughs]

FD: I’m sure every collector has gone through that. If it’s something you really want to hear, are you going to keep it sealed just because it’ll be worth more? Or are you going to play the darn thing? I wonder what our readers think.

LJ: Or just buy two copies.

FD: Well, some have more money than others.

LJ: I’ve always been in it for the music.

FD: Yeah. That’s why I became an audiophile.

LJ: I remember being at a friend’s house when I was about 14, 15, and his parents had one of those old-fashioned consoles with the record changer. He plays Exile on Main Street. As soon as “Rocks Off” started, I was like, this is amazing! I can still recall exactly how that sounded, all these years later. Things [like that] stick in your DNA, your brain cells.

FD: I think that’s why every single one of us are into all of this. It’s an experience we’ve all had. It’s magic. It’s unexplainable in a lot of ways.

LJ: I think listening to music keeps me sane. I have no doubt about that.


For more information on the whys, wherefores and history of Record Store Day, read Record Store Day: The Most Improbable Comeback of the 21st Century. It’s a warm, sometimes serious, sometimes hilarious look at the people and the events behind RSD and how it evolved from a meeting that some people can’t even recall being there for, to an international phenomenon involving hundreds of stores worldwide. The book goes into great detail about the times, places, and especially the people involved throughout the course of RSD’s evolution and how it became not only a keeper of the vinyl flame – though props must be given to the audiophiles and collectors who have always kept the embers burning – to becoming a key factor in fostering vinyl’s continuing growth. There are plenty of testimonials from artists including Metallica, Booker T., Jeff Tweedy, Neko Case, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Cameron Crowe, Elton John and many others, who offer deeply personal insights into the impact that RSD and listening to records have had on their lives.

The book is available online via this link.

Record Store Day book cover.

Header image: plaque located in front of The Sound Garden, Baltimore, Maryland. Courtesy of Bryan Burkett.

Back to My Reel-to-Reel Roots, Part 20: (Not) Labeled With Love

Back to My Reel-to-Reel Roots, Part 20: (Not) Labeled With Love

Back to My Reel-to-Reel Roots, Part 20: (Not) Labeled With Love

Ken Kessler

At the risk of courting lawsuits from retired octogenarians, I find myself unable to resist attacking the easiest of targets: record labels. To be more precise, the major labels circa 1958/9 to circa 1985. The “circa” is because I don’t know the exact dates when the record labels switched en masse from 1/2-track to 1/4-track for pre-recorded tapes, nor when they moved from 7.5 ips to 3.75 ips (for the less-prestigious titles, i.e., non-classical). If there are still alive any record company executives, or more likely, record label bean-counters, who were responsible for these reductions in quality, they are welcomed to rationalize them. Hate e-mails to the usual address, please.

[NOTE: 1/2-track and 1/4-track are generally used interchangeably with 2-track and 4-track, but in the context of pre-recorded tapes, the former tapes play in one direction, using the full width of tape for two channels, the latter being reversible and playing in stereo in both directions. In the context of professional use, however, 4-track means four channels played in one direction.]


Early Capitol single-sheet 4-track catalog.

Early Capitol single-sheet 4-track catalog.


What brought about this issue’s ire, or more accurately disgust, is the stage at which I now find myself during my curating of over 2,500 vintage tapes. Again, to pre-empt those AES/BAS types who will find my sampling far too small to be of any worth – what would make them happy? – I admit that having now dealt with 1,800 of the tapes is hardly a definitive study. But if any numbers might support my argument, the number of labels involved comprises five or six which we would call “audiophile,” e.g., Livingston, and 25 or so mainstream names such as RCA, Capitol, Mercury, etc.

More numbers: Of the 1,800 tapes so far re-spooled, cleaned up, played, fitted with leader and tail, boxes repaired, while not counting duplicates or those thrown out as beyond salvation, there are more than 1,250 different albums. They span the earliest days of commercial, pre-recorded tapes – probably 1953-4 – with the newest tapes having been released in the mid-1980s.

Despite combing websites such as Discogs, Wikipedia and others, which do their best, this lack of precision regarding release dates is due to the vast majority of tapes having no dates printed on them whatsoever. And I mean vast, like 97 to 98 percent are completely devoid of the sort of basic information found on the corresponding vinyl LP releases. Moreover, using catalog numbers for chronological sequencing doesn’t work either, as the open-reel tapes were not necessarily released in the same order as the original vinyl albums, regardless of genre or the artists’ status.

What became shockingly evident over the past five years’ research is how shabbily the record labels behaved. Doh – no surprises here for anyone who has read any musicians’ biographies, or worked in the record biz. [Might I steer you to fellow Copper contributor Jay Jay French’s recent, illuminating tome, Twisted Business: Lessons from My Life In Rock ‘n’ Roll?] The horror stories are legion, and I don’t just mean the gonif labels and managers that ripped off everyone from Nina Simone to Tommy James to the Small Faces to just about every blues singer recording before the 1970s.


Columbia’s catalog from 1961 showing 2-track tapes in black and 4-track tapes in blue.

Columbia’s catalog from 1961 showing 2-track tapes in black and 4-track tapes in blue.


Inside the Mercury catalog – note the price differentials and track listings.

Inside the Mercury catalog – note the price differentials and track listings.


While screwing customers isn’t the same as screwing the musicians, what makes this irksome enough to rank with many of the labels’ malfeasances is pricing. Open-reel tapes were premium purchases, even when later reduced to their lowest quality by the end of the format’s existence in the 1980s. It also explains why the rock audience – usually under-25s with little disposable income – bought vinyl LPs instead of reel-to-reel tapes.

To put the ticket prices into context, note that prerecorded tapes typically sold for 50 percent more than LPs, and often double. More frightening (and this also tells you LPs were not exactly cheap 60 years ago), a tape selling for $12.95 in 1959 is equivalent to $122.19 in today’s money. Yes, approaching One-Step prices. So ask yourself this: Would you be happy if Mobile Fidelity or Analogue Productions packaged their deluxe (respectively) One-Step and UHQR releases in standard, thin cardboard sleeves, devoid of any liner notes? No, you would not. Those deluxe LP series are the 2022 equivalent of open-reel tapes of 60 years ago, but the latter certainly did not receive the same luxury treatment.

Which brings us to the evidence that is the easiest to dispatch: the physical lowering of quality over the format’s three decades, from the tapes themselves to their packaging. If you were simply to examine the spools and boxes of a 1950s tape with those from the following decades, you would, as I have, easily detect a palpable cheapening of both. The boxes’ cardboard and the plastic spools within grew thinner, cloth hinges disappeared – even the printing quality on the boxes dropped, something you can discover by comparing early and later releases of tapes which never left the catalogues, e.g., the soundtrack to South Pacific.

What I cannot comment on is the quality of actual tape stock, which I will leave to those of you who can spot the difference between Scotch and Ampex at 50 paces. (Oh, do I wish Tim de Paravicini was still with us …) As the more recent tapes obviously have the benefit of their youth to account for their survival, I can only surmise that the 30-year-older tapes I have from the early audiophile labels, as well as the 1950s/1960s releases from the major labels, can attribute their surviving just as healthily thanks to the tape quality. Yes, the tape stock on any 1958 Jackie Gleason release on Capitol is as free of shedding and print-through as any from the 1980s.

Still mystified by the lack of leader tapes and tails, I find it ironic that the worst commercial tapes ever released – the abysmal 5-inch-spool British tapes discussed in earlier installments (see my article in Issue 152) – were, to their credit, fitted not just with leader and tail but with plastic retaining clips. Moreover, the leader tape also had the artist’s name and album title printed on it. But, to indicate that the US pre-recorded tapes once were models of similar quality, I have discovered a couple of Ray Conniff albums in my haul of tapes and one or two 1950s soundtracks with printed leader tape. But they are the rarest of exceptions, and I cannot contain my surprise when finding one.


Labeled leader tape.

Labeled leader tape.


As for my belief that leader and tail were discarded early on by the labels, I came to this conclusion having now acquired at least eight still-sealed tapes, from assorted labels and price levels, dating from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s. All of them lacked leader tapes, the starting tape ends stuck to the spool with a small sticker instructing its removal before play.

Even more depressing is how the labels short-changed customers paying extra for 1/2-track tapes when they were available on both 1/2-track and 1/4-track. A particularly odious trick was that some 1/2-track versions, regardless of price, had shorter playing times, losing as many as four or five songs compared to the 1/4-track tapes, which played in both directions and therefore used less tape. Would it have killed the labels to provide more tape on the 1/2-track versions so they could include all the songs?

This barely scratches the surface, and I am not yet predisposed toward, say, playing the five different versions I have of South Pacific, The Sound of Music, or others which were reissued repeatedly, in order to gauge any possible drops in sound quality. There can be no bigger shocks than what I had already experienced, when comparing 1/2-track and 1/4-track releases of the same tiles, as well as the same album’s release in both speeds (e.g., the Beatles). No, nothing now can surprise me when it comes to the record labels’ utter contempt for both sound quality and their customers.

Hmmm … I just realized that only one letter differentiates “label” and “libel”…


Header image: tape catalogs showing listings for both 2-track and 4-track versions of titles. All photos courtesy of the author.

Listening With Dog's Ears

Listening With Dog's Ears

Listening With Dog's Ears

Frank Doris

They don’t make ’em like this anymore: an early Garrard AT6 turntable (thanks Ken Kessler for identifying this model).


Another view of the AT6. Photos by Howard Kneller.


If you have a rig like this, this dog wants to tune in. Radio News, May 1921.


Potent portable: an Invicta transistor radio from around the 1960s. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Joe Haupt.


We recently discovered this image of Paul McGowan as a kid.


Howard Kneller’s audiophile adventures are documented on YouTube (The Listening Chair with Howard Kneller) and Instagram (@howardkneller). His art and photography can be found on Instagram (@howardkneller). He also posts a bit of everything on Facebook (@howardkneller).

The Evolution of In-Ear Monitors

The Evolution of In-Ear Monitors

The Evolution of In-Ear Monitors

John Seetoo

They have become ubiquitous on concert stages from clubs and churches to theaters and stadiums. They have become so popular that some people prefer them over conventional headphones, and they have even developed a following among select audiophiles. I’m talking about in-ear monitors, a type of in-ear headphones better known colloquially as IEMs.

Similar to earbuds, IEMs are configured to better fit in the ear canal for improved isolation. They range from models designed for the rigors of professional use to mass-market products: some decent-quality IEMs made by KZ in China sell for as low as $10, while pro and audiophile-approved IEMs with custom-molded earpieces (shaped to fit a person’s ears) and wireless circuitry can run into the thousands.

A Brief History

Transistor technology, with its drastically reduced size, weight and heat, revolutionized consumer electronics beginning in the 1950s after its initial creation at Bell Labs in 1947. The 1954 Regency TR-1 was the first commercial pocket-sized transistor radio, and it came equipped with the very first predecessor of the IEM – a monophonic earphone.


A Regency TR-1 transistor radio. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Cmglee.

A Regency TR-1 transistor radio. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Cmglee.


The limited fidelity of those early, primitive in-ear models relegated them to casual listening of radio broadcasts. The first stereo mini-headphones designed as higher-fidelity in-ears would emerge on the heels of the Sony Walkman, which debuted in Japan in 1979. The notion of using IEM technology as a monitoring system to replace wedges (angled floor speakers for on-stage monitoring) for the concert stage began its full commercial development during this same era.


Circa 1950s Arrow transistor radio with earpiece. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Joe Haupt.

Circa 1950s Arrow transistor radio with earpiece. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Joe Haupt.


The use of wireless IEMs by professional musicians onstage was first legitimized when Stevie Wonder began using a Chrys Lindop-modified version of them in the 1980s. Lindop was Stevie Wonder’s live sound engineer. Wonder had launched Wonderland Radio and was touring with a mobile FM radio broadcast transmitter. He used a Sony FM Walkman receiver tuned to Wonderland Radio so he could monitor himself on the broadcasts. This mobile FM radio station would travel with Wonder when he was on tour and would broadcast his concerts live, along with other music. A de facto pirate Radio station, Wonderland Radio reportedly could be picked up as far as six miles away by radio listeners in Hampstead, England when Wonder performed at Wembley Stadium. Rod Stewart and Peter Gabriel also went on to use Lindop’s subsequent IEM inventions later in the 1980s.

The IEMs that Lindop had modified were based on a 1965 design by a then 13-year-old Stephen Ambrose. Ambrose had mounted tiny speakers into a clay mold that he adapted from swimming earplug designs. His devices could deliver sound into a fully-sealed ear canal, thus becoming the first genuine operational IEM. He would go on to custom-make his new IEMs for such artists as Simon and Garfunkel, Diana Ross, and Rush for the next few decades and also go on to patent several innovations, such as an IEM with built-in hearing protection against excessive sound pressure levels.

In a 2019 interview in Pro Sound Web, Ambrose noted: “The speaker was very, very low quality. But I would listen to it, and I would try to figure out how to get my voice to go through the radio so I could listen to myself and amplify it so that nobody could hear me singing – especially my father. It came with an earbud, but it needed to be transformed. I first used gum – I actually used bubble gum! Then I became much more professional and moved to the big time and used Silly Putty. After that, I hacked open a tape recorder with a mic, took the amplifier out of it, and had it power the first in-ear monitors.”

In 1984, Steve Miller began funding R&D into a truly professional commercial-level IEM, and coined the term “Ear Monitor” in 1990 with a system devised by Marty Garcia (with Lindop) at Crystal Taylor Sound, who went on to become the founder of Future Sonics, a leader in the field to this day. Todd Rundgren was also an early adopter of Garcia’s IEM designs during the 1980s, and Utopia became the first group to go wedgeless and take Garcia’s prototype Future Sonics IEMs on the road in 1985, although these units were not yet wireless. Lindop’s pioneering use of FM wireless was incorporated into designs that he and Garcia created that included cannibalized parts from Sony Walkman transducers in order to create the Future Sonics Ear Monitor.

Competitors to Future Sonics emerged in the early 1990s, such as Sensaphonics’ ProPhonic system, Circus Maximus’ C-MAX, Etymotic Research’s canalphone, and a system from Bross Audio Design’s among the more prominent ones.

In 1995, Jerry Harvey was the touring monitor engineer for Van Halen and created the first multiple-driver IEMs for drummer Alex Van Halen, who was suffering ear pains from the huge SPLs of the band’s mammoth amp and sound system. Acknowledging the inadequacy of single-driver systems to deliver the clarity and ear protection required for Van Halen, Harvey’s multiple-driver IEMs became the template for most current models. Harvey is now the owner of JH Audio.

Seeing the burgeoning market trend, the big pro audio companies would soon follow in the mid 1990s. Sennheiser and Shure launched their respective IEM designs, and are still significant players in the sector, with Shure’s SE215 Pro IEM becoming nearly an industry standard among working musicians with its $89 suggested retail price.


Shure SE215 Pro in-ear monitors.

Shure SE215 Pro in-ear monitors.


The MTV era ushered in a greater need for video, and artists like Madonna and Janet Jackson transformed concerts into multimedia events with choreography, staged lighting effects, and a greater reliance on pre-recorded tracks. IEMs became a necessity for sound monitoring due to their ability to connect wirelessly. The increased use of computers to sync pre-recorded music, lights, video, and cues for live dancers and singers required the ability to not only allow them to hear music, but also directors’ stage and camera instructions in real time. Thus, IEMs quickly proliferated throughout not only all genres within the music industry, but also to theater, dance, TV broadcasting and all other types of live events.

Today’s IEMs have now become not only an audio device but a fashion accessory, as some models sport customized artwork, precious stones, gold engraving, and other design elements.


The vast majority of professional and mass-market IEMs usually incorporate balanced armature design drivers, which are derived from hearing aids technology, or dynamic drivers, which are miniature versions of the drivers found in over-ear conventional dynamic headphones. The general consensus is that dynamic drivers deliver stronger low-end response and are more robust under heavy use, while balanced armature designs, although more fragile, deliver better midrange and high-frequency response. Some models incorporate a hybrid of both designs.

Miniaturization allows for allocating different components to different frequency ranges for the maximization of headroom, and to provide virtually distortion-free performance. As a result, some professional IEMs, such as several offerings by companies like 64 Audio, may incorporate as many as 18 or even more drivers.

IEM Pros and Cons for Performing Musicians

From the musician’s perspective, there are a lot of positives in favor of using IEMs over wedges. Among those cited by those who favor IEMs:

  • The ability to customize one’s monitor mix. This is especially crucial for singers trying to stay on pitch, and for musicians to hear verbal instructions from a music director, a click track if there are pre-recorded elements that have to be performed in sync, or instruments that normally might get buried in a wedge monitor mix, like an acoustic guitar among synthesizers and distorted electric guitars.
  • Hearing protection. The isolation of IEMs and the ability to hear a monitor mix using lower SPLs greatly aids in preserving one’s hearing and in mitigating tinnitus and other afflictions related to exposure to loud volumes.
  • Mobility – wireless monitoring allows a performer the freedom to be able to hear a mix clearly from anywhere on stage, especially if dance choreography or running to different corners of a stage or even into the audience is part of the show.
  • Consistency – whether indoors or outdoors, an IEM mix is not affected by room or space acoustics, so one’s monitor mix can be uniform throughout a tour from venue to venue.
  • Singers that can easily hear themselves will undergo much less risk of vocal strain.
  • Feedback elimination – one drawback of wedges is the risk of feedback if a microphone inadvertently picks up too much sound coming from the wedges. This can result in numerous on-stage issues for a sound engineer, especially if there are multiple mics and identifying the culprit mic is not obvious.


Questlove using IEMs in concert. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Brennan Schnell.

Questlove using IEMs in concert. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Brennan Schnell.


However, not all musicians are sold on IEMs, and some for genuine artistic reasons. Guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani told Ultimate Guitar that he eschews IEMs for several reasons:

“No, I really hate that. A couple of reasons: number one – I manipulate the sustain of the guitar by proximity effect. I’ve got my amps behind me, 4 x 12 [inch speaker] cabinets, and I have monitors placed around the stage, it’s very old school. They’re really loud; if you walked on stage in the middle of a show, you’d be like, ‘Oh, my God, too much Joe.’ (laughs)

But I’m using that sort of field, creating an environment where I can turn left to right and I can get different kinds of sustain. It allows me to really hear the sound of my touch, because that’s what I’m playing with, I’m really manipulating finer elements of performance in order to convey the meaning of the song to the audience. That part of it, to me, is essential.

And also, getting positive feedback is impossible; you can’t hold your guitar up to your in-ears to do that. And the other thing is, I hate in-ears because you can’t get away from the sound. Like, if I need to hear more hi-hat I just walk over to the drums, you know what I mean? (laughs) If I’m trying to get away from the bass, I can just step back and head towards my amps. Sometimes there are parts of songs where you do need to hear somebody else really quickly, and you can’t be sending signals to the monitor guy, that doesn’t work.”

Other touring musicians cited some additional drawbacks of using IEMs:

  • A much greater reliance on a good monitor engineer for a musician to hear him or herself, and the inherent challenges for the monitoring mix engineer to deliver a good mix that will work for all musicians when they change their respective mix volume levels.
  • A sense of detachment from hearing the reactions of the audience.
  • Wireless radio issues of static, crosstalk and dropouts.
  • The loss of feeling air moving from speakers when IEMs are used for amp-less stages.

Artists who have opted to use a hybrid approach of wedges combined with IEMs include Metallica, Joe Bonamassa, and James Taylor.

Audiophile Opinions

The audiophile world has also taken to high-end earbuds and IEMs and designers such as Linsoul Audio and Campfire Audio  have incorporated planar magnetic and electrostatic technology into audiophile-marketed in-ears for more discriminating listeners. Additionally, the need for total isolation is unnecessary for listening environments outside of the performance stage. As a result, certain IEMs intended for the audiophile market will sometimes feature tiny holes or other elements that allow for outside sound to also be heard.


Campfire Audio Supermoon planar magnetic in-ear monitors.

Campfire Audio Supermoon planar magnetic in-ear monitors.


Unsurprisingly, audiophiles often demand the same level of performance from in-ear headphones and IEMs that they do from other hi-fi components — precise detail and articulation of high notes, punch-in-the-gut (so to speak) impactful bass, meticulous separation of instruments, and a hyper-realistic 3D soundstage imaging that places the listener right in the midst of the music – much in line with the current trend towards immersive audio mixes.

To that end, top-notch components, such as the internal wiring and connecting cables, the earpiece outer shell, and even the rubber tips that go into the ears are of premium quality and chosen for their sonic or electronic performance properties.

The aforementioned 64 Audio IEMs, sporting 9 drivers in each earpiece, are easily surpassed by models like audiophile IEM manufacturer Astell and Kern’s $3,500 Layla AION, a design collaboration with Jerry Harvey, which contains 12 balanced armatures in each earpiece with four crossovers in a carbon fiber housing.

IEMs and in-ear headphones are certainly here to stay, and new companies continue to push the envelope in developing better specs, ergonomics and sound quality for a market that can only continue to grow, as digital device use spreads to wearables, the internet of Things, and a host of other applications.

Astell and Kern Layla AION.

Astell and Kern Layla AION.


Header image: Carrie Underwood using in-ear monitors at the World Arena, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/the_diet_starts_mond ay from Colorado.

Women Who Rock: Some of My Favorites

Women Who Rock: Some of My Favorites

Women Who Rock: Some of My Favorites

Andrew Daly

There is a common misconception that men dominate the rock scene. It’s not true. Women have long co-dominated the rock scene. The real issue is that they simply aren’t properly acknowledged for their achievements. Over the last several years, women have spoken out against those who oppress, undermine, and try to relegate them.

Still, even with all that women have accomplished, we still see inequalities. For example, according to one source, women only make up 19 percent of the average music festival lineup. How about this – another source states that as of January 21, 2022, only five percent of 2019’s Top 100 recordings were produced by a woman.

So, even though the music industry has come a long way, and of course there are more great woman artists than can be counted, it isn’t where it should be yet. With this article, I wanted to take the time to highlight a few of the most talented, influential, and badass women of rock music.

This will not be about who Rolling Stone, NME, or Pitchfork feel are commercially viable. This will not be centered around whoever MTV, VH1, or Fuse has had on their greatest whatever list. It features some women who have made an impact on rock music, have a story to tell, and a lesson to teach.

Doro Pesch

Formerly the lead vocalist for the German heavy metal band Warlock, Doro Pesch has been redefining what it means to be a woman in heavy metal for well over 30 years. Originally born in Düsseldorf, Germany, Doro’s early influences were the likes of Little Richard, T. Rex, Sweet, and Slade. After beating a life-threatening form of tuberculosis as a teenager in the 1970s, Doro decided to get more serious about music. Once she joined Warlock in 1982, she went on to lead the group to commercial success with a mix of power ballads and traditional heavy metal. Her unique voice and stage presence led Warlock to easily compete with other popular acts of the day, an exception in the 1980s metal scene which was completely dominated by male-fronted bands.

Oftentimes in the 1980s, the presence of women in rock, and in particular in heavy metal bands, was not taken seriously or considered exploitation. Doro Pesch was one of the few exceptions, as her abilities as a vocalist and songwriter and her commitment to promoting Warlock’s music without posturing as a sex symbol won the respect of the European heavy metal scene in the 1980s and beyond. Since leaving Warlock, she has released 12 more studio albums.

Doro Pesch has never compromised her art or her integrity. In her free time, she supports non-profit organizations such as Terre des Femmes, which advocates human rights for women and girls in need. She is also trained as a Thai boxer and is an accomplished painter and graphic designer.


Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Before the likes of Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly were claiming rock music as their territory, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was one of those who were drawing the blueprints for rock and roll. Her soulful blend of Gospel and foot-stomping blues laid a very real foundation for artists like Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis to lay their careers upon – she cut her first records in 1938 for Decca and was an immediate hit. Retrospective reviewers have kindly and rightfully dubbed her “The Original Soul Sister” and “The Godmother of Rock and Roll.”


Sister Rosetta Tharpe, 1938 publicity photo. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/public domain.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, 1938 publicity photo. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/public domain.


Tharpe was a true guitar pioneer, among the first to use distortion in her electric guitar playing. All of her recordings predate the rise of electric blues, and so if what they say is true, then not only did Jimmy Page and other rockers steal from the likes of Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon, all of them “borrowed” from Sister Rosetta Tharpe!

Sister Rosetta Tharpe has gotten more and more respect and recognition over time, with Rosanne Cash stating recently that her father’s favorite singer was in fact Rosetta Tharpe. Johnny Cash echoed that in his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech. Other musicians like Aretha Franklin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eric Clapton, Isaac Hayes, and Meat Loaf have all cited Sister Rosetta Tharpe as an important influence on their own work. In modern times, singer/songwriter Frank Turner even wrote a song called “Sister Rosetta” about her everlasting influence on rock music.

In 2018, things finally came full circle for The Godmother of Rock n’ Roll, as Sister Rosetta Tharpe was finally enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


Courtney Love

Courtney Love may be the most unfairly-derided woman in the history of modern rock music. Yes, it’s true she had an extremely high-profile and excessively turbulent relationship with Nirvana’s front man, Kurt Cobain. Yes, it’s also true that she could be self-indulgent and self-destructive. However, Courtney Love is also a true rock and roll survivor. The public tends to have a garish obsession with the role she may or not have played in Kurt Cobain’s death. That said, we should not be so shortsighted as to allow her supposed “role” in his death to overshadow her contributions to rock music. Her first album with her band Hole, 1991’s Pretty on the Inside, was named one of the year’s 20 best albums by Spin. Live Through This, the 1994 follow up, went platinum. She’s also a successful actress and artist.


Courtney Love. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Andrea Fleming.

Courtney Love. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Andrea Fleming.


Love’s candid, vulnerable songwriting has allowed her to grant herself a role model to so many awkward, misfit young women. On that subject, she once commented, “When you’re dying, and your life is flashing before your eyes, you’re gonna be thinking about the great things you did, the horrible things that you did, the emotional impact that someone had on you, and that you had on somebody else. Those are the things that are relevant. To have some sort of emotional impact that transcends time, that’s great.” Her ability to rise to the top following the aftermath of her larger-than-life husband’s death, reaching beyond his great shadow, is a testament to her drive and ability as a musician and songwriter.

With Hole, her performances are uninhibited, and her lyrics are both confrontational and confessional. Love has been cited as a particular influence on young female guitarists, having once said, “I want every girl in the world to pick up a guitar, and start screaming. I strap on that motherf*cking guitar, and you cannot f*ck with me.” Some love her, some abhor her, but no matter how you look at her, Courtney Love has had a lasting impact on rock music, especially female-fronted alternative acts. Her perseverance gives hope to young female musicians who may be struggling to navigate a male-dominated music industry.


Chrissie Hynde

Chrissie Hynde is the über-badass singer of one of my favorite bands, the Pretenders. She has unmistakable style, with a fantastic contralto voice laced with distinctive timing, and plays intense guitar. Chrissie has a way of vocalizing which is truly hers. Eschewing formal voice training; she once contended, “Distinctive voices in rock are trained through years of many things: frustration, fear, loneliness, anger, insecurity, arrogance, narcissism, or just sheer perseverance – anything but a teacher.” Speaking of perseverance, she has plenty of that. She’s guided the Pretenders through the deaths of band members, intense discord, and long stretches of inactivity, all the while always coming out on top, better and stronger than ever.


Chrissie Hynde. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Harmony Gerber.

Chrissie Hynde. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Harmony Gerber.


Chrissie Hynde has not only influenced the musical landscape of the last five decades, she’s also helped shape female fashion with her Zen-beatnik-punk-biker style. She’s also helped shape feminist attitudes. Madonna commented, “I saw her play in Central Park in August 1980, performing with the Pretenders. She was amazing. She is the only woman I’d seen in a performance where I thought, yeah, she’s got balls, she’s awesome! It gave me courage, and inspiration, to see a woman with that kind of confidence, in a man’s world.”

When it comes to rock music, it is Chrissie Hynde’s world. She’s got the voice, the style, the charisma, and most importantly, the songs: “Brass In Pocket,” “Mystery Achievement,” “Don’t Get Me Wrong,” “I’ll Stand By You,” and many more. In a world where the landscape of what’s popular is constantly changing, Chrissie Hynde is what she always has been: a writer of fantastic songs, a role model for any woman who wants to enter the music business without a single iota of compromise, and a singer with a voice that most women and men would kill for.


Laura Jane Grace

Laura Jane Grace is both the frontwoman for the band Against Me!, and her solo band, Laura Jane Grace & The Devouring Mothers. In 2012, she came out as a trans woman. This was a massive step in raising awareness around the very real challenges of living as a trans person in both the alternative and punk scenes which, up until that point, had been lacking role models. While she may have been born Tom Gable, she knew from a young age that this was not her true identity.

In addition to being a wonderfully talented songwriter, Laura Jane Grace is an important and visible pillar of the LGBTQIA+ community, dedicated to building acceptance and equality in the punk community and the music industry.


Laura Jane Grace. Courtesy of Polyvinyl Records/Alexa Viscius.

Laura Jane Grace. Courtesy of Polyvinyl Records/Alexa Viscius.


I find her courage and will to succeed while in the spotlight of the music industry to be astounding. There may be some of you who feel my pick here to be “untraditional,” and I ask that before you pass judgment, read Laura’s memoir, Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout. After that, listen to Against Me!’s landmark 2014 album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Try and understand her struggle, and learn to embrace the human being behind those words. In the end, my hope is that you will understand the value of her perspective, and see the world through a lens besides your own. Rock on Laura. Rock on.

I want to finish by saying that for me, this isn’t just a list of favorites or some of the uncountable influential woman in rock. Maybe it’s the start of a conversation. I write articles for different purposes: to share something that I like, to get an opinion out, and for fun. The genesis of this particular article, however, came about when I happened upon an organization called Women Who Rock. As their website notes, its mission is “to champion women in rock and women’s health awareness.” Women Who Rock was launched by Melinda Colaizzi, who worked as a music business executive for 15 years with companies like Live Nation, ShowClix, and Berklee College of Music, while writing her own music and fronting rock and blues bands. This is an organization I really believe in, and feel is doing great work in making headway for women across the music business.

Colaizzi is quoted as saying, “I have personally experienced the gender disparity found in the music industry. I have been the only woman in dozens of concert lineups. In national festival lineups, generally, 20 percent or less of headline acts are women. With so many talented musicians both locally and nationally, the need for an organization like Woman Who Rock was clear, and my vision was born.” Colaizzi feels passionately about women’s health issues as well, stating that women are underrepresented in healthcare research funding.

In the world we live in today, it’s important that we all are allowed to feel safe, respected, and valued. With this article, I hope I’ve been able to give everyone a glimpse of the very special impact that women have had on rock music.


Header image: Doro Pesch, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/V-spectrum.

The Harlequins: A Cincinnati Band Has Plenty to Say

The Harlequins: A Cincinnati Band Has Plenty to Say

The Harlequins: A Cincinnati Band Has Plenty to Say

Ray Chelstowski

In 1984, On July 4th weekend, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band made their second stop on the “Born in the U.S.A.” tour. It had begun with three dates in St. Paul, Minnesota. But when the band rolled into Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium, the shows were so electrifying that they spawned a bootleg tape series called “Born in Cincinnati” that’s popular to this day. A few weeks later I was camped out in Saratoga Springs, New York with friends, having just finished a series of Grateful Dead shows. I was waiting for Springsteen to appear at Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) that weekend. I’m not sure how we got our hands on copies of “Born In Cincinnati” that week, but it began what has now become a lifetime love for one of America’s best rock towns.

Cincinnati has been quietly fueling a rock resolve that is more common than you might think. They boast what could be the largest number of used record stores in any major US city – and they all rock. Shake It Records, Everybody’s Records, Plaid Room Records, and Black Plastic are just a few of the spots I regularly patronized when I had an office in town. Their selections were broad and the finds I made there remain some of my finest in my collection. I’m spinning one right now!

The city has also birthed some remarkable musical acts, like Bootsy Collins, The National (formed in Brooklyn but the members were from Cincinnati), the Isley Brothers, and Adrian Belew (King Crimson, Talking Heads). But beneath that rarified surface is a rock scene that has always bubbled, but maybe never quite burst. There, bands like The Harlequins brought forward a garage-psych sound that provided a grit, attitude, and artistry you’d expect to find in Chelsea or the Lower East Side of Manhattan. As part of a national garage-psych revival with bands like the Black Lips, Gringo Star, La Luz, and Thee Oh Sees, The Harlequins have created a presence throughout the Cincinnati region that has left a mark and is defined by a singular sense of authenticity.

A power rock trio with Michael Oliva on guitar and vocals, Alex Stenard on bass, and Robert Stamler on drums, the band is celebrating their 15-year anniversary with the release of TIME, their seventh full-length album and first since 2016’s acclaimed One With You. The first single, “The Tower,” finds the band spreading their wings a bit, taking their sound slightly away from the garage and letting it soar within a cosmic cloud. The result is infectious.

Copper spoke with Michael Oliva about why the record took so long to make, how it evolved over time, the bands that helped influence their sound, and how the city of Cincinnati and its rock scene have made them the band they are today.


The Harlequins, TIME, album cover.

The Harlequins, TIME, album cover.


Ray Chelstowski: You started recording TIME in 2017, right after your last studio record. What took so long for this to be completed?

Michael Oliva: Yeah, it’s tough. But it’s like abandoning a child in a way; you just don’t do it. In 2016 we put out [our] last record and then started writing and recording again in 2017, working and touring full time. That slowed recording sessions down a bit because we were still plugging the last record. Then I broke my index finger on my left hand and the recovery took almost eight months. So that was the first setback. Around that time, we marked about our 10-year milestone as a band. I think that every three or four years ushers in a new era where you retrain your physicality and your connections, because when you’re around that long sometimes the bands just die off. Also, around this time our bass player opened up a pizza restaurant and he got busy with that. So those were the three main things that started slowing our normal hit-and-run process of recording.

RC: How had the initial vision for the record evolved since then?

MO: The process took a lot longer than usual for us. Writing and recording took over three years, and we had it pretty much wrapped up by 2020. But then it took a while to get it mastered. Finally, when the live music scene became impacted by COVID we decided to wait. We didn’t want to put the record out and not be able to perform it live. That’s said, in the last two years it might have been nice to add some things to make it a little more current. I had been thinking about doing that but didn’t want to change anything, because we had caught lightning in a bottle and I didn’t want to tweak things too much. It however definitely did change over time, and that’s probably because it took this long to complete.

RC: Your first single, “The Tower,” sounds a bit more psychedelic than garage. That’s a departure from your previous work. Is that sound consistent throughout the record?

MO: I wanted this album to be a little more like our first album, which was eclectic; it was like a kaleidoscope of psychedelic pop. There’s a slight live element to this record, but in the past I wanted to record only in [a] way that we could replicate it live. So, we never add any extra sounds. On this album we decided to have more fun with everything and color every song to its own individual strengths versus making just one uniform record. In 2017, the [Beatles’] White Album mono mixes came out and I listened heavily to that, and I felt like it hit so much harder than the stereo version. The meat was in the center. So while this isn’t a mono record, there is a focus on the sonic experience where there are mono-heavy elements with some stereo imaging on specific instruments. I just wanted to make an audiophile record.


RC: You say this is more of “audiophile” record. How do you define that?

MO: [Most of] these songs have a live edge, but others offered us an opportunity to explore other avenues and get away with it. I don’t think things should be “overly dressed,” and this album certainly isn’t. But the things I was going for that set it apart involved the drum set up, where I used four mics, and then I deadened the sound so it [sounded] more like 1970s drum parts. I like taking that and kind of choking the mix and just experimenting with gear.

RC: Since you did add a bit more texture to this record, if you could take one more instrument/player out with you on tour, what would it be and why?

MO: In the early days I was much more of a purist where I wouldn’t even do many solos, but I always wanted to fill as much space as I could. I think that’s easier with less people, because each person has more room to expand their frequency, their wheelhouse. But for [playing] live it would be nice to have a killer synth or Hammond player who can also sing. It’s hard to say. Maybe just some kind of sampler [synthesizer], because I think it would be more fun and could separate things from the pack a little bit.


The Harlequins. Courtesy of Michael Wilson.

The Harlequins. Courtesy of Michael Wilson.


RC: Who were the bands that most inspired your sound?

MO: I’ll be democratic about this and not speak for my other bandmates. These are my top personal picks. Obviously the Beatles; because they are psychedelic and have all of those great pop songs. I’d also add Can; particularly the Tago Mago period. I’d also include The Monks, especially the album Black Monk Time. You could even throw James Brown in because of that repetitive beat you find in funk songs like “Sex Machine.” On the flip side of that are the melodic-based performers like Harry Nilsson and Brian Wilson. Then I’d say The Breeders and Devo, both from Ohio. There are touches of that throughout our music but they’re well-hidden. The Cramps as well. They started off kind of “surfy” but evolved into almost that dark psychobilly kind of sound. Lastly, The Fall, and Gringo Star.

RC: Cincy is known for having really great used record stores. Everybody’s Records, Shake It Records, Black Plastic Records, and Plaid Room are just a few that come to mind. Is there any one that’s your go-to place for music?

MO: Well, when you play in the town for this long you get to know all of the people, some not as well as I’d like but they’re all great. I think that Shake It has been around the longest. Everybody’s is a staple. Black Plastic is great and the owner Steve Schmalz has been in Cincy bands forever. Plaid Room is also cool. I’ve only been there once so I haven’t had the chance to explore it as much as I’d like because I don’t get out that way very often. But I would say in my youth I went to Shake It the most.

RC: You are always defined as a Midwest band. How has the region and Cincinnati specifically helped shape your sound?

MO: Cincy is really on the map now. In the past eight years people from the coasts have been buying up real estate. It’s crazy to see the change. But for the longest time no one wanted anything to do with it. It had been a “pass over town” where big bands would hit Cleveland and just skip the rest of the state. It was a shame because Cincinnati, in my opinion of course, has always been the coolest city in Ohio (laughs). There are a lot of hard-core rock fans here and I think that for a long time this city was a hidden secret. That always made us feel a bit like underdogs and we enjoyed changing people’s minds of what they could expect from a city like ours.


Header image of The Harlequins courtesy of Ryan Back.

Play it Again, Steinway: the Spirio Player Piano

Play it Again, Steinway: the Spirio Player Piano

Play it Again, Steinway: the Spirio Player Piano

Tom Methans

A few months back, I was hanging out with Ed Gilmore at Gilmore’s Sound Advice auditioning the Steinway Lyngdorf Model D, a digital all-in-one system with powered speakers and a central processor to accommodate music sources and streaming audio. The high-gloss black polish, piano-like strings instead of grilles, and gold accents on the nearly 7-foot-tall floorstanding dipole speakers are evocative of a piano. The design is no accident as the Model D speaker, named after and tuned to the sound of Steinway’s largest concert grand, is a collaboration between Steinway & Sons and Lyngdorf Audio of Denmark. As an architect and A/V integrator, Gilmore places this fine system into luxurious homes where a $266,000 stereo fits in perfectly.

During our three-hour conversation about design, music, and Steinway, Ed asked if I knew about Spirio, a modified piano that plays music via an app. Wait, a player piano?! I’m old enough to remember those. An uncle of mine had an upright model that played a scroll of perforated paper that activated the keys as the roll unfurled. I couldn’t believe anyone wanted a player piano in the 1970s let alone now, but the burning question back then was, how many times could he listen to the player piano version of BJ Thomas’s “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” (1969)? For me, it was once. I’m sure my uncle had others hidden in some closet when he had time to load and rewind rolls. But even that out-of-tune piano had a certain charm and was likely playing better than my uncle ever could – if he played at all. Hence, the reasons these pianos were so popular at one time.

The golden age of pianos spanned from the late 1800s through 1930. New York State alone had well over 100 piano manufacturers by 1910. New sheet music was being produced on Tin Pan Alley daily and hundreds of companies were in the piano roll business, recording music by budding legends Fats Waller, Eubie Blake, Scott Joplin, and Jelly Roll Morton. The piano was a central instrument in saloons, theaters, hotel lobbies, and homes, and Steinway & Sons was in the middle of it all. Founded by Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg in 1853 in Manhattan, Steinway & Sons made all types of pianos, including players, and managed to persevere through World Wars, the Great Depression, and the onset of recorded music and playback equipment. After 1930, the number of piano manufacturers dwindled to about a dozen worldwide.

When Ed Gilmore mentioned a 21st-century player piano, I was taken aback. I am a little protective of the brand, since I used to walk by Steinway Hall nearly every day when it was located on West 57th Street. I took my first lessons on a Steinway owned by Howard Lindsay, co-author of Sound of Music, admired Frank Sinatra’s personal Steinway in his room at the Waldorf Astoria (see my article in Issue 160), and even hit a few notes on an ornate gilded Steinway once owned by Judy Garland. I couldn’t suppress the image of cartoon robot arms in tuxedo sleeves springing out from beneath the keyboard, setting up a tip jar and running through “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” – I watched a lot of television as a kid.

I wasn’t interested in the concept. If you want to own a piano, shouldn’t you play it or hire someone to do it? It’s almost like cheating. No serious musician or music lover would have a player piano in their home these days. That’s why we have expensive sound systems to play the exact track the way it was recorded at Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall. Granted, it’s not exactly the sound of the piano, musician, or venue, but close enough is good enough.

Nevertheless, I kept thinking about Spirio and wanted to see and hear it for myself. I made an appointment at Steinway Hall, now on 43rd Street and Avenue of the Americas, and met with my knowledgeable host, Yahan Liu. In addition to being a sales associate, Ms. Liu, a graduate of Manhattan School of Music, is also a musician and teacher. She was the ideal person to show me what the Spirio could do.


Yahan Liu playing the Spirio. Courtesy of Tom Methans.

Yahan Liu playing the Spirio. Courtesy of Tom Methans.


The showroom features traditional pianos on one side and on the other sits the Spirio r Model B, a full grand piano at 6 feet, 11 inches. Except for a power cord and discreet box of electronics under the case, the Spirio is like any other Steinway piano made in Astoria, Queens. There are no visible electronics or other mechanisms, just sensors within the piano measuring hammer velocity as well as force and speed gradations in pedaling. Solenoids engage the keys and pedals to replay music just as the artist performed it. Spirio’s control center is the complimentary iPad Pro with an interface similar to other streaming services that is searchable by artist, composition, and genre.

Not only does the Spirio r play music but it also records pieces, offering endless possibilities for musicians, students, and composers. An editing suite allows musicians to lay down tracks, analyze and adjust notes and passages, and even transcribe their pieces into sheet music or high-resolution audio files. It enables unparalleled collaboration. For example, a performer in New York can confer with their teacher in Asia, who can listen to the piece in different parts of a rehearsal hall from the audience member’s perspective. A composer and lyricist can work on a new Broadway show on opposite coasts, and a kid can take a music lesson without leaving home. Spirio can be integrated into an audio/video system for watching Steinway’s filmed performances, tutorials, and master classes.


The Spirio in action.

The Spirio in action.


Steinway also stages Spiriocasts from Steinway Hall in New York and around the world, featuring live piano performances in your house by a large and continually growing list of Steinway Artists such as Olga Kern, Kristhyan Benitez, and Jenny Lin. But what if you wanted to hear a long-departed performer? Steinway has the “Steinway Immortals” with dozens of all-time greats, including Vladimir Horowitz, Glenn Gould, and Art Tatum. Gould caught my eye. His unique interpretations of J.S. Bach have always intrigued me, and now I could hear a snippet of the Goldberg Variations painstakingly dissected over weeks as another artist recreated music in the Gould style. That is the closest I will ever get to hearing Glenn Gould play live. Ms. Liu played a short passage to illustrate the mirror playback capabilities as keys and pedals came to life. I would have played something, but all those years of study were fruitless. I still love the piano’s sonorous, complex tones, and room-filling sound, and Ms. Liu made me realize that I really wanted a Spirio – and so do many others.


A representation of the Spirio's proportional pedaling, where up to 256 gradations of pedal depth can be applied.

A representation of the Spirio’s proportional pedaling, where up to 256 gradations of pedal depth can be applied.


The Spirio has been in production since 2015 and demand exploded during COVID when its remote possibilities became apparent. Pricing starts at $114,000 for the smaller Model M, non-recording-capable Spirio in ebony. The Model B Spirio r I auditioned starts at $170,000, and for those with ample space, there’s also the Model D, which is the 8-foot 11-3/4-inch concert grand. Their prices might seem prohibitive, but the player category now accounts for almost 50 percent of Steinway piano sales, and models are currently on back order.

The idea of a piano that plays thousands of pieces with new ones added every month has changed my perception of a player piano. It might even encourage me to take lessons again, as playing music is said to keep older brains sharp. If that doesn’t work out, I can spend the rest of my days browsing the Steinway library for old and new musical gems. If I had a Spirio as a kid, I think I would have watched less television and practiced more Bach.

I was surprised to learn how many brands of modern player pianos were still in production. There are fully digital ones, digital/acoustic hybrids, and even aftermarket kits to convert conventional pianos, but kudos to Steinway for taking what is often a novelty piece relegated to a back room and elevating it to its highest potential. Add real-time broadcast concerts, an extensive catalog, and transfers of performances by historical musicians, and Spirio is a stroke of genius. Ultimately, Steinway’s quality, reputation, and partnerships with renowned artists and even Lyngdorf Audio have kept fine pianos on the musical landscape for 169 years and will likely do so well into the future. If I’ve piqued anyone’s interest, you can request a floor template to see which size Steinway fits in your room.


Crafting a Spirio piano.


All images courtesy of Steinway & Sons unless otherwise identified.

More CES History, and Technomania

More CES History, and Technomania

More CES History, and Technomania

Ken Sander

In my early years of attending CES in the 1990s, I would take the redeye home from Las Vegas. That would prevent the loss of a full day flying back to New York, and eliminate having to pay for the price of the room for another night. Ah, but a free lunch has its price. This flight was always packed and truly uncomfortable. After one CES, about an hour into the flight, the guy next to me starts having a seizure. I pushed the help button for the flight attendant. She came within a minute, and he was still having spasms. With some help, we got him into the aisle and laid him down. I held his arms down to keep him from hurting himself. As his spasms subsided, I checked his pulse. It was a little high, just under 150 BPM, so it was not in the danger area. In a half a minute his seizure stopped, and he slowly regained consciousness. The flight attendant thanked me and asked what my medical training was. I told her I had been a medic in the Army.

After seeing that he had recovered, she moved the passengers from the first row and seated him and me there. We settled in and I asked him if he had ever had a seizure before, and he said no. Then he admitted that he was partying in Las Vegas, and he had not slept for three days. He was a big guy, in his late 20s, and seemingly healthy.

Five minutes later the flight attendant came back and asked me if I would come to the cockpit to talk to their doctor on the ground in Denver. Uh oh, I thought to myself, I certainly do not want an emergency landing in Denver. We walked through first class and into the cockpit. The pilot had the radio speaker on, and he introduced me to the doctor on the ground. The doctor asked me what the guy’s pulse was and his general state of being. A few more necessary questions were asked and answered, everyone in the cockpit thanked me and I went back to my seat. Interestingly enough, this fella had no memory of the seizure, and he was skeptical about it even happening. For his benefit, I asked other passengers and they confirmed it to him, but he was still asking, “are you sure?”

The rest of the flight was uneventful, and we landed in Newark. Everyone stood and got ready to deplane. Martha Whiteley from Panasonic saw me and yelled, “Of course, it’s the Cable Doctor, hey Ken you really are the doctor!” I also saw Rebecca Day (reporter for Consumer Electronics Daily and others) and a few other folks I knew on the plane. They all started teasing me in a good-natured way. The crew stood by the plane’s exit and thanked me again. At the baggage claim, the guy stood away from everyone else like he was embarrassed. Thinking back, don’t ya all think Continental (United) should have given me some kinda ticket voucher for my effort?

Back in the city, there were always press conferences and events that were newsworthy. One such event featured Bob Guccione and his wife, Kathy Keeton, his co-publisher of General Media. At that time General Media had approximately 15 magazines including Penthouse.

My colleague Brent Butterworth and I decided to attend. He served as the video camera and sound operator. The event was on 41st Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue [Avenue of the Americas], in an interesting venue.

Easily over two hundred guests attended, including a healthy assortment of the press. There were no news announcements, but Bob and Kathy stood on the stage in a lighted area and posed for pictures. I found it interesting that they both had smiles on their faces and seemed to be looking at something but really nothing at all. They were able to hold those positions for what seemed like 15 minutes.

After that Brent ran into a friend who told him Glenn Kenny was there, and we started looking high and low for Kenny, a film critic and author who now writes for The New York Times and RogerEbert.com.  We never found him, and as we were milling around, a public relations person approached us and asked if we would want to interview Bob and Kathy. Sure, why not? They took us up to a VIP room and introduced us. Brent set up while I chit-chatted with the both of them.

I started interviewing them with my questions split up between the two of them. Easy softball questions. I had heard that Kathy had cancer, but I did not think that would be a cool thing to talk about. Imagine my surprise when she brought it up. She looked great and there was not an inkling of her being sick. We talked about it, and she was very open. Kathy said she had breast cancer, but she would be fine. She seemed certain that she would beat it. Laughter was a valuable tool, she stressed. The interview went on for 20 minutes and their PR person motioned for me to wind it up. Both were very gracious and thanked me for the interview.

About four months later Bob and Kathy were on the Geraldo Rivera’s afternoon talk show and they were telling Geraldo that Kathy was cancer-free, they had found a cure. It was a very upbeat show, and they were emphatic that Kathy had beaten it. I was skeptical but I hoped it was so; I liked her. The next spring, I heard on the news that she had passed on.

My second CES was overwhelming. The astounding visuals, the sounds, and the entertainment. Now I was on my own. In those days there were exhibits in the North Hall and the Central Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Just behind the North hall was the Westgate Hilton (now the Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino). They had three pavilions with smaller booths and tables. Many of these so-called booths were for small Chinese and Korean vendors. I would check these out on the last day of the show. I found that I could get tools for my shop; innovative fancy precision soldering irons and other tools at great prices. I should note that CES policy is that the show is exhibition-only, with no on-site sales allowed, but these small vendors did anyway. Enforcement on the last day was practically nonexistent and besides these small vendors were happy to get some cash and not have to take their stuff home. If you walked through the Convention Center going north, you got to the Westgate exhibits. They were further back in the hotel proper, with rooms that were used as manufacturers’ showrooms.


One of the hallways at the Las Vegas Convention Center during CES. The exhibit halls can get even more crowded.

One of the hallways at the Las Vegas Convention Center during CES. The exhibit halls can get even more crowded.


Still being a newbie, I still did not understand the show’s layout well enough or had enough appointment requests to book my appointments in clusters close to each other. The walk from the middle of the center hall to the elevator banks in the Westgate was close to a mile. I made some newcomer geographic mistakes. Once I took a taxi to the Mandalay Bay and did not know where the JVC press breakfast was. I got out of the cab at the front of the hotel. The walk to the convention area was through the casino and past the pool. Overall, it was a mile walk.

Everything in Vegas was further away than it looked. One night Brent and I were walking between hotels off the strip. The hotel we were going to did not look far away but after 10 minutes we were no closer. The desert was like that.

An athletic running shoe company sent out pedometers to the attending press and I wore it at CES. I walked about 35 miles during the show. That turned out to be my average CES walking mileage. I was in my second year, and I was now getting press invitations to cocktail parties. I was making progress. I met and interviewed Steve Garvey, former second baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was very patient with me, and he gave me a good five minutes. I was still an unknown member of the consumer electronics (CE) press and not known to most manufacturers. So, I enjoyed these press parties. Mostly the food and drink were darn good and as a member of the press l hardly had to spend money on food while at the show.


Ken Sander and Steve Garvey.

Ken Sander and Steve Garvey.


At one evening event I saw these chocolate-covered strawberries. They looked delicious and were slightly bigger than a golf ball. I had not much experience with these delights, but I knew they existed and had to try ’em. Delicious, I ate three of those strawberries, I think. Then I noticed a member of the Canadian press. I said hello while taking bites out of a chocolate-covered strawberry. She took a step back and gave me a look. Odd, because most folks at the show are friendly. I turned away and decided to go to the men’s room. When I stopped at the sink to wash my hands I looked into the mirror and lo and behold, I had a big brown chocolate mark the size of an M&M on the tip of my nose. Not a good look.

In 1996 I opened the Cable Doctor shop at 226 East 14th Street in Manhattan. I signed a five-year lease. The initial rent was $1,300 a month for the first two and a half years and $1,750 for the next two and a half. At first, we did audio equipment and VCR repairs. That was in addition to service calls, which were always fruitful, (When I closed the shop in 2014 the rent was over $9,000 a month. Another benefit was that I could use the shop as a studio after hours for The Cable Doctor Show. By that time, I was shooting about 50 percent of the show on location, either at press events or at CES.

Out of the blue one afternoon, shortly after I established the shop on 14th Street, I got a call from Peter Bloch, the editor of Penthouse magazine. He tells me Bob Guccione watches The Cable Doctor Show and wants to hire me as a columnist to cover consumer technology. Peter quoted him as saying, “I like that guy, let’s hire him.” Peter asked if I could come up to Penthouse’s offices the next day to meet with him.

The next day I took the subway uptown just a couple of stops to midtown. I walk into Penthouse’s office building on 52nd Street and Lexington Avenue. In the waiting room, I saw covers for all the magazines that General Media published.

In just 10 minutes I was escorted to Peter’s office. He invites me in and asks me to be seated. Also in the room was Gerard Van der Leun, an associate editor. He tells me that Bob wants me to write a column called “Technomania” (Bob named the column). Peter introduces me to Gerard, and tells me I will be submitting all my articles to Gerard, and all dealings will be with him.

It is all good when I open my big mouth and say, “I hope I am a good-enough writer!” “Oh,” Peter says, looking a little taken aback. “Why don’t you write a sample article, and we can see what you can do?” Yikes, what a dumb thing to say. I am such an idiot! I go home and draft a story about this new company called Taser International. They make a legal projectile stun gun. It is legal because it uses CO2 as a propellant, and at the time all other stun guns used gunpowder, which is one of the reasons they are illegal. That evening I e-mail the Taser story to my older sister for her blessing, because she is a successful writer. After a few suggestions and edits from my sister Ellen, I e-mail it to Gerard. He likes it, and away we go!


Header image: Las Vegas at night. All images courtesy of Ken Sander.

Vinyl and the World’s Best Stereo System

Vinyl and the World’s Best Stereo System

Vinyl and the World’s Best Stereo System

Russ Welton

Many of us prefer to listen to vinyl over other formats because it produces that je ne sais quoi, a mysteriously gripping and engaging effect which, for many listeners, seems to be unique to vinyl. (This assumes that we’re listening to older, or well-engineered modern records, as opposed to those cut from lower-resolution digital source files.) Vinyl gives you an audio hug; its warmth is somehow more directly accessible, emotionally inviting, organic and yes, transportive, than the impact I have felt from many CDs and some SACDs.

How can this be? Ignoring bit depth and noise floor topics, I believe there are significant factors which elevate vinyl recordings to a level of enriched quality that represents a medium, which when well executed, allow vinyl playback to work to a potential which perhaps best suits our listening abilities as human beings.

Although I ‘d like to state up front that this is more of an opinion piece and not a scientific point of reference in any way, perhaps some of you dear readers will relate to some of these factors based on your own personal listening experiences.

So, just what are some of the contributing factors which make vinyl sound so good?

Records have healthy restraints, in terms of mastering and their actual physical production, within which they can be heard at their best. At the same time, I feel these “limitations” lend themselves to matching our natural human hearing frequency range. One of the properties of record-cutting lathes is that they don’t “like” extremes in the top and bottom ends of the frequency spectrum. Regarding the low end, sometimes an engineer will cut the record with a more dynamically-controlled range, so that the bass doesn’t vary by huge degrees and may be less overpowering in the mix.

If the actual bass groove itself is too wide and deep and then suddenly changes to narrow and thin, listeners will be subject to a less “tight” or solidly-constrained bass. (In extreme cases, records have been cut that cause some tonearm/stylus combinations to actually leap out of the groove.) So, the engineer may sum the bass to mono and keep a more consistently wide groove, which contributes to the feeling of tightness in bass response. However, the length of the side of a recording must also be considered, as a wider groove will eat up more real estate.


Macro photograph of a record groove showing variations. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Shane Gavin.

Macro photograph of a record groove showing variations. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Shane Gavin.


If the grooves are packed too tightly together, it is possible that the stylus may pick up on the “ghosted” reproduction of signals on the adjacent groove. (Technically, a record only has one groove per side but you get the idea.) This “foreshadowing,” like print-through on reel-to-reel tape, is obviously undesirable and is usually a result of the requirement to cram a certain number of tracks onto a physically limited space.

But we’re here to talk about why vinyl sounds good, not the pitfalls of poorly-made records. When the engineer knows what he or she is doing, they will account for the right balance of bass dynamism according to the playing time of the side, and the amount of room available on the vinyl, and retain the integrity of the feel of the bass throughout.

What about the limits of reproducing the top end? When the vinyl cutter is subject to too high a frequency, the cutting bit becomes more subject to oscillation, and friction increases, resulting in more heat during the cutting process. This can result in not cutting sibilant and “hissy” sounds very well. For example, that jarring “tst tst tst” of an overly-sibilant high hat can be hard to get onto vinyl accurately (or for some phono cartridges to reproduce. Again, a good engineer will monitor and cut for a pleasing and non-fatiguing top end that the cutting lathe and playing stylus can actually reproduce. It’s another great example of where restrictions can provide parameters that make for a better outcome. Perhaps it’s like a virtuoso lead guitarist who plays in a band and makes more accessible music for a wider audience than their solo albums that showcase their virtuosity. Contextual restraint, I suppose you may call it. When Yngwie Malmsteen plays blues, rather than his usual blazing neo-classical shredding work, it’s like nothing else. (Well, maybe Richie Blackmore on too much sugar.) Here’s an example:


The point is, the restraint of playing the blues, combined with his insane technique, makes for a stunning result. And the same is true for a well-made record. The restrictions are what actually makes for a more liberating listening experience, because the attention has been put into the details where it matters the most.

On a vinyl record, we get a reproduction of the meat of the song without extremes of top and bottom end. We hear more detail through the broader midrange band of the audio spectrum which vinyl serves so well.

Another main contributing factor I believe is responsible for vinyl’s magic is that it is a physically mechanical energy-transfer medium. From the cutting of the groove to the playback of the groove via the stylus, physical vibrational transfer is key.

An elegant record playing system: the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO turntable, arm and cartridge.

An elegant record playing system: the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO turntable, arm and cartridge.


The Ultimate Stereo Audio System

Significantly, the hearing mechanism within the human ear transfers sound vibrations in a physically mechanical way through vibrational movements passed on through the tympanic membrane (eardrum – is it a coincidence that it’s named after a musical instrument?), and the tiny bones of the hammer, stirrup and anvil. But then, how about this for a cool stereo system…

After the vibrations pass through the tiny bones – the auditory ossicles (I’m oversimplifying here and also leaving out the role the inner ear’s vestibular system plays in balance) – the vibrations reach the Organ of Corti, which is the organ responsible for distinguishing sound pressure variation sensitivity, and which rests within the snail-like cochlea. The Organ of Corti has three rows of outer hair cells and one row of inner hair cells, all of which physically vibrate in a uniquely amazing way. At the ends of the hair cells are minuscule projecting groups of protrusions called…stereocilia. The hair cells as well as the stereocilia are of various lengths, and the stereocilia are electromechanical transducers – they convert mechanical energy into electrical energy, which is then interpreted by the brain as sound.


Diagram of the Organ of Corti. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Oarih Vector: Fred the Oyster.

Diagram of the Organ of Corti. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Oarih Vector: Fred the Oyster.


The hair cells (with the stereocilia at the tips) are connected to the basilar membrane. When this membrane moves in response to sound, the hair cells that are attached to it brush against the surface of the tectorial membrane, they bend, and in an electrochemical reaction, fire off the electrical impulses that the brain interprets as sound. And because we have two ears, we’re able to hear everything in stereo.


Stereocilia of the frog inner ear. We couldn't get an image of human stereocilia, but we're told our editor's resemble these closely. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Bechara Kachar/public domain.

Stereocilia of the frog inner ear. We couldn’t get an image of human stereocilia, but we’re told our editor’s resemble these closely. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Bechara Kachar/public domain.


It is the process of the very physical movement of the basilar and tectorial membranes moving up and down, combined with the hairs and the stereocilia moving, which makes me think of the mechanical movement of the phono cartridge’s stylus as it tracks the surface of the vinyl. The very fact that a similar mechanical biological apparatus is used to convey sound waves to the brain is something I find incredible.


Header image courtesy of Pexels.com/Agung Pandit Wiguna.

Grupo Rebolú's Afro-Colombian Breakthrough

Grupo Rebolú's Afro-Colombian Breakthrough

Grupo Rebolú's Afro-Colombian Breakthrough

Wayne Robins
Mi Herencia (My Heritage) Broadens Latin Roots Music

You may have an earlier example, but for me, ever since Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo teamed up with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie on “Manteca” in 1947 to bring an Afro-Cuban element to bebop, Latin music has become part of North America’s musical texture. The cha-cha and mambo crazes of the 1950s gave way to the music that immigrants from the Caribbean and South America brought to New York, their rhythms and styles absorbed into the city’s culture: salsa from Puerto Rico, merengue from the Dominican Republic, cumbia from Colombia.

These are dances as well as musical styles, useful terms for easy categorization. But they don’t begin to tell the complete story. The Queens, NY, centered Colombian band Grupo Rebolú’s new album, Mi Herencia (My Heritage) breaks the mold in so many ways that one way to start to describe why it’s different is that there is only one cumbia. (It was written by co-leader Ronald Polo’s daughter when she was seven; now 11, she sings it on the album). Ronald, the main singer, composer, arranger, and creative driver of the band, plays tambora, a hand-held bass drum, and the gaita, a traditional flute.

The rest of the songs are puyas and chalupas, and fandangos and bullerengues, and others identified tartly as “Rebolú groove.” These are rhythms most of the band learned growing up in the Caribbean coastal city of Barranquilla, where Polo and Morris Cañate are from, descended from master musicians and singers. (Polo’s partner, singer and musician Joanna Castañeda, was raised in the Colombian capital Bogota; Erika “Kika” Parra is New York-born, but also from an illustrious Barranquilla musical family.) The songs are almost entirely bracing up-tempo dance tunes built for celebration of the annual Carnival, anticipated year-round with the same devotion to costumes and endless partying as Mardi Gras is to New Orleans, as Rio de Janeiro’s carnival is to that Brazilian city’s identity.

“I’m from Bogota, we have 30 kinds of music, we’re normal,” Castañeda said jokingly about the overwhelming mélange of music she heard when she first visited Polo’s family in Barranquilla. Ronald said, “everybody was dancing, everybody knew the songs, knows the music, it’s all part of the larger culture,” with deep African roots.


“Somebody had to teach me those moves!” Castaneda said. And she was raised from childhood attending a school specializing in the music, dance, and folk traditions of Colombia’s Eastern plains.

One example is the song “Con Este Fandango” (“With This Fandango”). There was a fandango being played in the square in Barranquilla, and Castaneda said she wanted to sing one. Ronald, whose versatility is his essence, had never written one. A different horn section is used, distinct from the rest of the album: clarinet, trumpet, trombone, and bombardino, a smaller, higher-pitched tuba.

Here the other percussionists, Parra and Cañate, explain the slight predicament of doing a fandango. It’s possible, I suppose, for less perfectionist musicians to go through the motions and play a fandango, but the members of Grupo Rebolú need to understand the feel of the music from the inside out. “It’s very challenging to learn and record. The rhythm is 6/8, to learn the feel of it, the language of it,” Parra said, and I’ve seen Parra play rhythms in time signatures that might be a stretch for Sun Ra’s Solar Arkestra. Perhaps because on Mi Herencia, Parra was playing conventional kit drums, in addition to her more usual traditional Colombian drum, the tambor alegre. Castañeda agreed: “it’s very tough to get that rhythm, it took some effort to understand.”

We were chatting about all this at a lunch in the Colombian neighborhood of Jackson Heights in Queens, NY, at the traditional restaurant Pequeña Colombia. It illustrated how even regional roots music travels these days: it comes to New York, where these musicians, all raised or trained in their local traditions, find more to add by absorbing the city’s energy, intensity, and openness to new ideas.

“I’m a member of a family that sings, and at the music school, we learned only the traditional music,” Polo said. “We learned the flute, which we call the gaita, and all the percussion instruments, like the tambora. When we came to New York, we tried to put in everything we learned in New York.” Castañeda adds: “The roots came from their city, and they mixed it up with what they were hearing here.”


Grupo Rebolú. Copyright by, and courtesy of Michael G. Stewart.

Grupo Rebolú. Copyright by, and courtesy of Michael G. Stewart.


Sometimes the musicians are hiding in plain sight. It was only on the afternoon of our lunch interview that I found that the group’s two musical leaders and singers, the couple of Polo and Castañeda, had lived for 10 years less than a mile from my family, in the same neighborhood of northeast Queens. I recognized the Barranquilla-raised percussionist Cañate, the mentor of American-born Parra, from their frequent appearances at ethnic music mashups at Queens educational and cultural landmark, Flushing Town Hall. Also joining us was Ronald’s son Ronny, who lives in Connecticut, but joins the group for area concerts on maracas and “coros,” the call-and-response vocal sections that sustain excitement on the dance floor.

That excitement is on the album, too. There’s only one cumbia, and only one ballad, “¡Mamá He!” (“Oh Mom!”) because the producer, Felipe Fournier, who also plays vibraphones, thought it would be helpful to take the intensity down just a notch.

“Every time we’re in front of an audience, it’s hard not to play hard, you want to see everyone moving. The fast tempo will wake you up, you see the audience dancing, and we love that,” Castañeda said. “That energy makes us more hyper, as we interact with the energy.”

The album captures intensity of the live sound in the studio after years of self-produced recordings. The horns are arranged like punches to the gut in a closely fought middleweight boxing match. “Very short [phrases],” Ronald agreed. “The short bursts, the call-and-response [“coros”], the instrumentation is simple, a bunch of drums, voices, and horns. Drums and horns.” Yes, but pow!


Mi Herencia (My Heritage) appears on the Smithsonian Folkways label, itself an elite accomplishment. It was the folkloric roots and dynamic live shows that appealed to the label.

Still, Smithsonian Folkways, as avid music listeners know, is the discerning musical arm of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, dedicated to ethnic roots and traditional music. It requires a written grant application along with submissions. Its presence on the label reflects Rebolú’s versatility: they can play Colombian night clubs in Queens, community arts centers, and festivals like the Folk Alliance International Conference in Kansas City, where they were featured artists in February 2022.

“It took a long time,” said Castañeda, who also manages the band. “You’re knocking on a thousand doors, and maybe one opens. I truly believe in the music and I see the response whenever we do a concert, that people love the music. I’d spend hours on the computer, seeing, where I can take this band to? Then someone from the Smithsonian saw us at a festival, and requested some demos. Then I got a call from the Library of Congress, asking us to do a show there. I said, by the way, I sent music to the Smithsonian to be considered for any project; now that we’re here, is there a way to follow up?”

As a matter of fact, there was. “Dan Sheehy, our interim director and curator of the Tradiciones Series for recordings of Latino music is well connected, and had seen the group before at folk festivals and other events,” said Smithsonian Folkways marketing manager Jonathan Williger. “Their live shows are powerful, and he was moved to get them involved in the label. Mi Herencia is a perfect fit because it brings well-worn traditions into contemporary times, infusing them with energy and life.”

By the way, have I mentioned what “rebolú” means? Castañeda said it’s “a gathering of people having a good time.” But if you’ve heard Mi Herencia, or seen Grupo Rebolú perform, you already know that.


Wayne’s Words columnist Wayne Robins teaches at St. John’s University in Queens, and writes the Critical Conditions Substack, http://waynerobins49.substack.com.


Header image: copyright by, and courtesy of Michael G. Stewart.

The A&amp;M Records Story, Part Six: The 1980s into the 1990s

The A&amp;M Records Story, Part Six: The 1980s into the 1990s

The A&M Records Story, Part Six: The 1980s into the 1990s

Rudy Radelic

The transition from the 1980s to the 1990s would be a bittersweet moment. In 1989, Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss sold A&M Records, the largest independent record label ever, to PolyGram. While Alpert and Moss had some contractual agreements in place, it did not take long for the relationship to sour, and the former owners sued PolyGram for breach of contract.

Despite all that, there were still some notable releases of interest spanning the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, while the label still had an identity of its own. Sadly, as PolyGram was subsequently purchased by Seagram Co. and folded into Universal Music in 1998, the label essentially became nothing more than a branding logo and perhaps an office in a corporate building as part of the Interscope label group.

That was a long way from A&M’s long-time location on the old Charlie Chaplin movie lot at 1416 N. La Brea in Los Angeles. In January 1999, the Chaplin lot would close, and A&M Records ceased to exist in the minds of many; that was “Black Thursday,” when employees received word that studio operations were being shut down, and a black band was placed around the building’s A&M logo, which spun for decades on the property. (The Jim Henson Company now owns and operates the studios.)

There were still noteworthy and popular recordings past 1989, and even “the boss” put out his last A&M record in 1992, after the sale: Midnight Sun. Here is the final track from that Herb Alpert album: “Smile,” co-written by the former inhabitant of the A&M lot, Charlie Chaplin. A fitting coda to 30 years at the label Alpert and Jerry Moss created.


In the mid-1980s, Steely Dan had long since disbanded, and fans were unaware of any attempt for the group to reconvene in the future. Until that eventually happened, there were a few projects that Donald Fagen and Walter Becker worked on over the years. One project that they both had a hand in, along with legendary producer Gary Katz, was the Rosie Vela album Zazu. Being the closest thing to a Steely Dan “reunion” made more than a few fans hopeful, and the album became something of a cult classic in the meantime. (Steely Dan eventually released Alive in America on Giant Records in 1995, followed by two more studio albums in 2000 and 2003.)


Also loosely related to Steely Dan, the Liverpool group China Crisis recorded a couple of albums for A&M in the mid-1980s, with Walter Becker returning to the group to produce all but three tracks on their second A&M album Diary of a Hollow Horse. (Becker had previously produced their Virgin album Flaunt the Imperfection.) Longtime Steely Dan associate Roger “The Immortal” Nichols worked his engineering magic on the Becker-produced tracks.


The Phoenix-area band Gin Blossoms had a minor label release in 1989, but joined A&M in the early 1990s, first releasing the EP Up and Crumbling in 1991 prior to their successful albums New Miserable Experience and Congratulations…I’m Sorry. “Allison Road” is from the EP.


After an aborted debut album produced by Hugh Padgham, Sheryl Crow made an immediate impression at A&M. While her 1994 single, “Leaving Las Vegas,” took a while to gain traction, the surprising success of the single “All I Wanna Do” eventually propelled her album Tuesday Night Music Club to sell seven million copies and win three Grammy Awards. “Strong Enough” was another successful single from the album.


Coming out of the Seattle music scene from the mid ’80s and beyond, Soundgarden first released a handful of songs on the fledgling Sub Pop label (which would bring the world Nirvana), and then an album on the independent SST Records label before signing with A&M. Their first couple of albums started the momentum that resulted in their smash 1994 album, Superunknown, which featured the blistering hit single “Black Hole Sun.”


Hailing out of Fargo, North Dakota, blues-rock performer Jonny Lang made waves with his debut A&M release, Lie to Me, in 1997, and released a handful of successful follow-ups for the label into the 2000s.


A&M touched every point on the musical compass, and few bands rocked as hard as the New England-based metal/hard rock band Extreme, featuring vocalist Gary Cherone and guitarist Nuno Bettencourt. They were popular in the Boston area, and when A&M signed them in 1987, it gave the band national exposure through their self-titled debut album. While their music had elements of harder rock, it was an acoustic ballad, “More Than Words” from their second album Pornograffiti that took A&M once again to the Number 1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100.


A final curiosity to wrap up this list is an A&M compilation album from 1994: If I Were a Carpenter, a tribute to one of A&M’s most successful acts. The album features an array of alternative rock bands and artists covering the Carpenters’ hits, with varying degrees of success. Perhaps the most popular, and unusual, of the tracks was the cover of the Bonnie Bramlett/Leon Russell classic “Superstar” by Sonic Youth.


Our next installments in the A&M 60th anniversary series will explore other musical genres that A&M has released, including Latin American music and jazz.


Header image: Gin Blossoms, 1996 A&M Records promo photo by Danny Clinch.

Where To Buy (High-Quality) Classical Downloads

Where To Buy (High-Quality) Classical Downloads

Where To Buy (High-Quality) Classical Downloads

Ted Shafran

With the recent resurgence of interest in vinyl, we are seeing the slow return of dedicated record stores. But let’s be honest: it’s still very much a niche market and the days of megastores like Tower Records or HMV are not likely to return.

That’s particularly true for collectors of classical music. Yes, a few smaller labels are, in fact, issuing some of their new releases on vinyl. And even Deutsche Grammophon has gotten into the game with the issuance of a few recent releases on vinyl. But – barring a massive paradigm shift – I think it’s safe to assume that we won’t be seeing major labels issuing much more in the way of classical vinyl LPs any time in the foreseeable future. What they do release will be in limited quantities, and costly.

We’re also seeing a renewed interest in CDs but – again – it seems unlikely that we are going to see a massive return to physical media. Most of what I’ve read recently is focused on optimizing the playback of listeners’ existing CD collections.

Let’s face it: the future of classical music recordings is virtual media, whether that means a streaming service like Tidal, Spotify or Qobuz, or purchasing digital downloads. From the perspective of most record labels, it makes total economic sense. They no longer have to invest capital in plants to produce vinyl and CDs and they don’t have to tie up additional capital on inventory sitting in warehouses. Finally, there’s no need for elaborate packaging, which drives up the cost of production. Forgive me for being a cynic, but I haven’t seen evidence of prices being reduced because there’s no longer any physical media for a given title. So, for many record labels, the transition to purely electronic media has been a way of increasing their margins.

But let’s turn back to the listening experience. For me, personally, while I do have a Tidal subscription which I use when traveling and in my car, I prefer to own the recordings, particularly when we’re talking about high-resolution digital, like 96/24 PCM, or DSD. Although Tidal does offer some recordings in MQA, using that format requires a DAC which supports it. And, while Tidal – and other streaming services – do offer a wide variety of classical music, there are definite holes in their inventory. If you’re looking for a very specific performance, with a specific orchestra and conductor, you may or may not find it. That’s particularly true for more obscure music, like, say, early Renaissance or very modern music.

And, as I indicated above, if you’re serious about digital music you will want to acquire it in the highest possible resolution and – today, at least – that’s only possible if you purchase the digital download. Moreover, in my experience, if you live outside of a major metropolitan area and your internet service is less than 100 percent reliable, you may find that your streaming service is laggy or unreliable.

So…where to look for that wealth of high-resolution classical (and jazz) music? There are many sites that sell high-resolution downloads if you’re into techno pop, R&B or other popular genres. But there are far fewer who cater to listeners of classical music. Well, gentle reader, you’re in luck because I’ve spent a lot of the past few years mining that lode. Herewith, a survey of some of my favorite sites, starting with…

Presto Music

Based in the UK, Presto Music offers a wide range of classical and jazz music in a variety of formats, including CDs, SACDs, MP3, FLAC and high-resolution FLAC (up to 24-bit/192 kHz in some cases). Presto represents most of the major labels including DG, Decca, BIS, Harmonia Mundi and many others. If you’re looking for mainstream classical or jazz music (and for that matter, even some more obscure recordings), Presto is a great place to start. They also offer pricing in your local currency, so whether you’re in the US, Canada, the UK, Europe or Australia, you can be comfortable that you’re getting accurate pricing.


The brainchild of David and Norman Chesky (also the founders of Chesky Records), HDtracks offers a broad range of digital downloads at a variety of resolutions, ranging from 16-bit/44.1 kHz, up to 24/192. Their catalog ranges from rock to jazz to classical and hits most of the major high notes. If you’re looking for something very particular or obscure, you may or may not find it here, but mainstream recordings are well represented. Keep your eye out for frequent sales and promotions. Also, be aware that if you’re outside the US, some recordings will not be available because of copyright restrictions.


Similar to HDtracks (above), ProStudioMasters offers an encyclopedic mix of genres and recordings, including country, electronic, alternative, classical, jazz, pop, R&B, and more. They also offer some recordings in DSD and MQA formats.  For those of us in Canada, they offer local pricing that is sometimes less than other sites.


For something a little different, check out NativeDSD. Based in The Netherlands, they offer a catalog of music – largely from smaller labels – all of it available in super-high-resolution formats, up to DSD512. For example, many of Manfred Honeck’s wonderful recordings with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra are available in both 2-channel stereo, and 5-channel surround, in resolutions up to DSD512. But there are also great jazz and folk albums, largely from European performers. Some of the labels represented include Reference Recordings, Pentatone, Harmonia Mundi, LSO Live and many, many others.

High Definition Tape Transfers

And speaking of something a little different, High Definition Tape Transfers has been offering high quality remasterings of vintage classical and jazz recordings for a number of years. Based in Richmond Hill, Ontario (a suburb of Toronto, where I live), they specialize in re-releasing older recordings that have been beautifully remastered from 2 and 4-track reel-to-reel tapes. Their recordings feature some of the greatest classical performers of the 20th century, including Otto Klemperer, Leonard Bernstein, David Oistrakh, Arthur Grumiaux and many more, all in superb sound. They also offer jazz performers like Count Basie, Chet Baker, Thelonious Monk, and Sarah Vaughan. Finally, they have a small catalog of recent performances, recorded using state-of-the-art audiophile recording techniques. From time to time, they even offer promotional discounts. Definitely worth checking out.

Pristine Classical

Some of you may recall me writing in depth about Pristine Classical and its owner, Andrew Rose (in Issue 162 and Issue 163). Pristine specializes in restoring some of the greatest performances of the first half of the 20th century from artists like Arturo Toscanini, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Bruno Walter, Maria Callas, Alfred Cortot, Ginette Neveu and a host of other luminaries. In many instances, Pristine has successfully transformed murky, unpleasant recordings into eminently listenable sound. If you want to hear some of the greatest classical (and some jazz) performances of the past century, look no further.

Octave Records

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention PS Audio’s own Octave Records. While their current classical catalog is small, I know there is a commitment to expanding that catalog. And just as important, they are equally committed to finding the finest artists and recording them with the highest possible fidelity. For jazz lovers, there’s even more to choose from.

A Final Note…

One of the things that I’ve discovered in my traversal of these sites is that there is a wide variance in pricing. If you’re looking to purchase digital music, especially if your purchase is a substantial one, I always advise you to check pricing across multiple sites. Here’s an example:


Beethoven, Nine Symphonies, Leonard Bernstein/Wiener Philharmoniker, album cover.

Beethoven: Nine Symphonies, Leonard Bernstein/Wiener Philharmoniker, album cover.


As of this writing the price for a 192/24 download is:

HDtracks:                    $97.98
ProStudioMasters:      $107.99
Presto Classical:         $65.00*

All prices are in USD (*Presto was converted from CAD). As you can see, there’s a significant price difference, depending on where you buy your download. Always be an educated shopper, and enjoy your music! Hopefully, this short guide will give you the tools you need to build out your collection.


Header image courtesy of Pexels.com/cottonbro.

Big Sky

Big Sky

Big Sky

Jay Jay French

The Manhattan skyline, July 4, 2022, taken from Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It’s always an impressive sight, and the sky complementing it was particularly spectacular on this evening.

Kitty Wells: Queen of Country Music

Kitty Wells: Queen of Country Music

Kitty Wells: Queen of Country Music

Anne E. Johnson

Before there was Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn, there was Kitty Wells. The singer was the first woman to become a major star in country music, and only the third country artist to win a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Underlying it all was a clear, appealing voice with a knack for tugging at the heartstrings.

Among Wells’ many rare features was the fact that she was born in Nashville, which was almost unheard-of among country stars, even in the genre’s early days. Born in 1919 as Ellen Deason, she and her sisters used to sing for the local radio station. She got married to Johnnie Wright when she was 18 and started touring with his duo, eventually called Johnnie & Jack (with Jack Anglin). It was Wright who suggested her stage name, inspired by the mournful 19th-century song “Sweet Kitty Wells.”

After years of singing backup for her husband, whose promoter warned him that putting a woman out front would kill sales, Wells signed a solo deal with RCA Victor in 1949. Less than a year later, unsure how to promote a woman in country music, they dropped her. (For context, Patsy Cline’s career didn’t really get rolling until 1960.)

Everything changed in 1952, when Wells, about ready to pack in her music career, reluctantly agreed to Decca Record’s request to record a single called “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.” The song took a woman’s perspective, wondering why women get blamed for all love’s heartaches when men are so often the ones who cheat. It was meant as an answer to Hank Thompson’s hit “The Wild Side of Life,” which portrayed women as immoral destroyers of happy homes.

At first Wells’ song was banned, including by the Grand Ole Opry, but public demand made them see dollar signs, and the industry relented. Soon Wells’ single was the first No. 1 country hit by a woman.

In those days, the single was king and albums were a marketing afterthought, so Wells focused on making hit songs like “Release Me” and “Making Believe” but didn’t release her first full solo album until 1956. She would go on to make nearly 40 of them.

On her debut, Winner of Your Heart, she recorded 12 songs that had not yet been put out as singles. She was not a songwriter herself, but she (and her management at Decca) were skilled at finding material that suited her. As the tribute to her on the Country Music Hall of Fame website points out, she had an innocent manner but specialized in singing stories told through the eyes of “fallen” women who’ve been roughed up by life. The public lapped it up; this album’s big hit was “She’s No Angel.” Another song in that vein is “Dancing with a Stranger”:


In the early 1960s, she had many Top-10 hits, including “Heartbreak USA” (with backing vocals by the Jordanaires) and the hilariously titled “Will Your Lawyer Talk to God?”

Listening to Wells’ records from that era is a self-contained course in the development of country music. Take “Bonaparte’s Retreat,” for example, from the1960 album Kitty’s Choice. The song is by Julius Kuczynski, better known as Pee Wee King, the hugely successful songwriter who gave the world “The Tennessee Waltz.” Like that blockbuster, the title here refers to a pre-existing folk song heard by the song’s narrator while the action takes place. The chorus, in a minor key, quotes a faux “snake charmer” tune popular in comic acts and cartoons.


Even the spokes-singer for female “sinners” could not resist the urge to turn her talents to gospel. That rich repertoire was an integral part of the fabric of early country music. Wells released Singing on Sunday in 1962. Wells’ own faith notwithstanding, it’s important to note a larger marketing impetus behind this record, which the company did not try to hide. As the back jacket of the Decca Hi-Fi Stereophonic LP puts it:

“[Wells’ performance] reflects the joy and fulfillment of truly believing, and the wholesome satisfaction derived from being able to become the most popular and beloved personality in her field without depriving her family (who have always come first with Kitty) of any of the love and attention she feels they deserve.”

In other words, it’s okay to buy and enjoy her records because here’s proof that she’s not actually one of the lost souls she usually sings about.

All that aside, Wells’ performance of this repertoire is heartfelt and has an appealing purity. Here is “Gathering Flowers for the Master’s Bouquet.” The steel guitarist, fiddler, mandolinist, and the man singing harmony are not identified.


With her clear but never overpowering voice, Wells was an ideal candidate for duet albums. She made several, pairing up with her husband Johnny Wright for a couple of them. She also had a lot of success recording singles and eventually an album with fellow Decca superstar Red Foley, who is considered a major influence on the development of early rock and roll.

The Wells/Foley collaboration Together Again came out in 1967, featuring hit songs like “Hello Number One” and “Happiness Means You.” On the bluegrass-infused “As Long as I Live,” you can hear how well their voices blend in mountain harmony. The sound of them trading verses evokes a middle-aged couple sitting on a porch in some Tennessee holler, passing the evening in song.


After Decca was purchased by MCA in 1973, Wells stuck with smaller labels, including one started by herself and her husband. Although her fame had passed its peak, she did have some bursts of success. In 1974, her country-blues album called Forever Young did well, with backing by the Allman Brothers Band’s Chuck Leavell and the Marshall Tucker Band’s Toy Caldwell. Her 1979 single “Thank You for the Roses” hit the charts when she was 60 years old. In 1989 she was nominated for a Grammy for the single “Honky Tonk Medley,” a quartet with k.d. lang, Brenda Lee, and Loretta Lynn. She got her Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991.

Wells continued to perform, often with her husband, until their retirement in 2000. She died in 2012 at the age of 92, having paved the way for multiple generations of women country singers and having lived to witness the fruits of her labor.


Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Capricorn Records/public domain.

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s <em>Stabat Mater:</em> Glorious Music

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s <em>Stabat Mater:</em> Glorious Music

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater: Glorious Music

Anne E. Johnson

Music history textbooks usually bring up Giovanni Battista Pergolesi in the context of his contributions to comic opera, which influenced Mozart. But his religious works, particularly his setting of the Stabat Mater liturgical text, are among the best of the pre-classical period. Several recent recordings serve as a reminder of how glorious this music is.

Born with the family name Draghi, he was called “Pergolesi” as a nickname indicating that his ancestors came from Pergola, a municipality in central Italy. The most amazing aspect of his biography are his dates: 1710 – 1736. This innovative and prolific composer died of tuberculosis at 26! He wrote his celebrated Stabat Mater in the final weeks of his life, as he lay dying in the monastery where he received hospice care. Somehow, knowing that makes this grand work all the more powerful.

The “Stabat Mater” itself is a 13th-century hymn that has been turned into large-scale works countless times (Rossini wrote perhaps the most famous version; it took him 10 years). Used in the Catholic liturgy to show compassion for the suffering of the Virgin Mary, the text begins, “The sorrowful mother was standing by the Cross weeping while her son was hanging.” These words have inspired composers to find new ways of evoking pain and sorrow in music. Pergolesi, who faced his own mortality as he wrote, succeeded transcendently.

Unlike the Rossini arrangement, Pergolesi’s version does not employ a chorus, but only two solo voices – soprano and mezzo-soprano – and orchestra. Limiting the voices to two women gives his setting a heartbreaking intimacy. A recent recording on Harmonia Mundi by Ensemble Resonanz serves as a good introduction to the piece. After a short orchestral introduction, soprano Giulia Semenzato and mezzo-soprano Lucile Richardot come in with aching suspensions starting at 1:03. The series of long dissonances releasing downward are word-painting, representing Mary’s heavy heart.


The playing of Hamburg-based Ensemble Resonanz is richly detailed under the baton of Riccardo Minasi. While both voices work well with the orchestra, they are not particularly well matched with each other. Semenzato has a distracting habit of relying on “blues vibrato” (starting a note straight and then vibrating at the end), while Richardot barely vibrates her much darker voice at all, as is appropriate to this period.

Not every moment of the Stabat Mater text is sad. Pergolesi uses a faster tempo and greater energy for a duet based on the text, “Grant that my heart may burn in loving Christ my Lord.” This movement’s vivacious mood suits Semenzato’s voice better than the work’s somber opening.


Another new Stabat Mater recording, also from Germany, has more serious and numerous weaknesses. On the JPK Musik label, this version features soprano Monika Brockmann and mezzo-soprano Sandra van Gemert. The Cologne New Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by Volker Hartung.

Arguably, the biggest problem here is the orchestra. The CNPO has neither the focused tone nor the precise phrasing of Ensemble Resonanz. Hartung’s leadership is heavy-handed, preventing the singers from breathing any lightness into their parts. Although it is appropriate for Brockmann to seem weighed down in the aria “Vidit suum dulcem natum” (“She saw her sweet son dying forsaken”), it’s more like she’s being crushed by the orchestra than by grief.


Poor intonation is also a consistent issue on this recording. When Brockmann duets with van Gemert on the final movement, “Quando corpus morietur” (“When my body decays”), the beginnings of phrases pull quite sharp. Do notice Pergolesi’s crystalline string writing, though; it’s no wonder Mozart was a fan.


Ironically, the most recently released Stabat Mater recording is also the oldest. It is also the best, by a wide margin. Around the time of early-music vocal conductor René Clemencic’s death in March 2022, Decca put out a retrospective, The Art of René Clemencic. The Austrian harpsichordist, recorder player, and music director had a long and influential career as leader of the Clemencic Consort, which often featured countertenor Gérard Lesne. This collection includes two of Pergolesi’s settings of the Salve Regina, as well as his Stabat Mater, plus some works by other composers.

Lesne sings the mezzo-soprano part in this important 1985 recording with soprano Mieke van der Sluis. It’s a markedly different experience to hear this music played on period instruments. The strings have a bounce and sheen missing from the other versions discussed here. It also makes a difference that the recording was made in a large church, as it would have been heard in Pergolesi’s time (although the composer, of course, never got to hear it at all). As a comparison, here is that opening duet with the dramatic suspensions; the dissonances are enhanced by the authentic 18th-century tuning and the slow-reverb acoustics.


Unlike the other pairs of singers mentioned here, van der Sluis and Lesne blend like extensions of the same voice, and the instruments are part of that organic whole.

Besides his Stabat Mater, Pergolesi wrote about 40 other works in his short life. Among those are three settings of the liturgical text Salve Regina, based on another hymn to the Virgin Mary. The last of those, composed in the year of his death, is scored in A minor for alto, strings, and continuo. On this re-issue of the same 1985 recording that included the Stabat Mater, Lesne is the soloist with the Clemencic Consort. When he sings the opening aria, “Ad te clamamus” (We call to you), there’s a breathtaking delicacy in his tone, not to mention perfect intonation that makes the most of the interplay between voice and instruments.


To prove I’m not just a curmudgeon shaking my fist at the youngsters and shouting, “Back in my day, people knew how to play Pergolesi!” let me end this column with a new and quite spectacular recording of some rarely heard sacred music by this great composer.

The Prodigies of Divine Grace in the Conversion and Death of St. William, Duke of Aquitaine was an opera-like sacred drama that Pergolesi wrote at the ripe old age of 21 as a senior project at music school in Naples. It has somber religious content as well as a comedic character, a juxtaposition fashionable in Naples at the time.

This performance by Ensemble Alraune on NovAntiqua Records is the first time the complete work has been recorded on period instruments. It was a premiere worth waiting for. The playing, conducted by Mario Sollazzo, simply sparkles. Sollazzo captures the range of expressive nuance that makes Pergolesi’s instrumental writing so fine. If you’re familiar with his comic opera La serva padrona, you’ll recognize the style from the first moment of the overture.


The vocal writing, too, is more in the style of opera than what one might expect in a sacred work. The half-dozen soloists are all outstanding, including the two featured in this elegant duet: soprano Monica Piccinini and mezzo-soprano Federica Carnevale share clarity and passion in their rendering of these difficult parts.

Besides gratitude that this recording was made, listening to it also evokes sorrow that Pergolesi had so short a time to share his gifts with posterity. But at least his music continues to flourish.


Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/public domain.