Issue 174



Frank Doris

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I’ve spent way too much time at Club 19 lately, and plan to be back to writing next issue. Thank you, Copper staff members for your support and for making my job as editor so much easier while sweating out the last two issues.


In this issue: J.I. Agnew takes another look at Lyrec record cutting lathes. Harris Fogel has the first of a two-part report and photo essay on the New York Audio Show 2022. John Seetoo concludes his interview with mastering engineer Piper Payne. Ray Chelstowski interviews Steven Page, solo artist and formerly of Barenaked Ladies. Roy Hall tells us about some of his neighbors. Ken Kessler gets his reel-to-reel hackles up. Russ Welton offers his take on a different kind of retail therapy. Adrian Wu reviews the AudioNautes reissue of Jazz at the Pawnshop – on reel-to-reel.

Rudy Radelic enjoys some jazz from Horizon Records, A&M Records’ subsidiary label. B. Jan Montana takes a deep breath in his pilgrimage to Sturgis. Reader Tom Lane asks: what if Elvis had lived? Andrew Daly talks with Richard X. Heyman about his new 67,000 Miles an Album. Jeff Weiner thinks the 1950s was the best decade for popular music. Ted Shafran concludes his series on desert island classical music. Anne E. Johnson hears the future of classical piano in Sarah Cahill, and tries to pin down the elusive Del-Vikings. We conclude the issue with a hush, an unholy racket, wordless expression, and finger-pointing.

Staff Writers:

J.I. Agnew, Ray Chelstowski, Andrew Daly, 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, 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




James Schrimpf
Street art, Silver City, New Mexico.

There’s a Kind of Hush

There’s a Kind of Hush

There’s a Kind of Hush

Frank Doris

From Audio Classics in Vestal, New York, here’s a gorgeous, 16-pound Sherwood Electronic Labs S3000 III FM tube tuner from the early 1960s. Sherwood was founded in Chicago in 1953, initially to manufacture an amp designed by legendary audio engineer Ed Miller. Sherwood was one of the first true high-end US manufacturers. When the stereo era began in earnest near the end of the 1950s, the company was already established in the FM tuner market segment. The Sherwood products were slimmer than competitors such as Fisher and Scott. They had beautiful enamel fronts and knobs where the others had square, stark faceplates. Their product lines grew to include not only amps and tuners, but receivers and even speakers.


Sherwood Model 3000 tuners were made in five versions – the original, then the S-3000 II, followed by the S-3000 III, S-3000 IV and S-3000 V. By the time of this S-3000 III, stereo was well-established. Thus, this model accepted an optional multiplex (MPX) decoder (not present on this example) which would make it a true stereo tuner. This model was also manufactured with silver trim. Both versions are stunning, and dig that Hush control!


Photos courtesy of Howard Kneller.


Philips Novofonic sound, 1959 style.


Made from around 1970 to 2004, Bose 601 Series loudspeakers were an…interesting concept in speaker design.


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).

Piper Payne – A Mastering Engineer For Next Generation Music, Part Three

Piper Payne – A Mastering Engineer For Next Generation Music, Part Three

Piper Payne – A Mastering Engineer For Next Generation Music, Part Three

John Seetoo

After establishing her reputation as a mastering engineer in Oakland, California for artists like Third Eye Blind, The Go-Go’s, and LeAnn Rimes, Piper Payne merged her company with Infrasonic Mastering in Nashville, and has since expanded her audio industry involvement to become founder of Physical Music Products, a vinyl record pressing plant. In Part One of this interview (Issue 172) she discussed her mastering work protocols, her love of analog tape and equipment, and how she started Physical Music Products. Part Two continued with Piper telling us about her first exposure to mastering and studio work, how she approaches mastering different music genres and mastering for different formats, and her opinions on the DIY movement. This final installment continues on those topics and her experiences in handling the “loudness wars,” her home hi-fi system preferences, her involvement with education, and news about new artists and projects.

John Seetoo: What new artists do you like? They don’t necessarily have to be signed to a label.

Piper Payne: When you say “new,” like someone who’s brand new, or someone who’s [been] a younger pop artist in the last five years?

JS: Artists of any genre you’ve heard over the last five years who weren’t around before then.

PP: Okay, great example, this guy, Andy Shauf. S-H-A-U-F. He wrote, played, recorded, mixed, and I think he’s mastered all of his records so far. And that’s just because he couldn’t find someone who could collaborate with him in the right way. But I think that his records are some of the best sounding records and the most compelling songs I’ve ever heard.

Lizzo: you know, her records don’t sound all that great, but the amount of energy that she puts into them – I mean, it’s amazing, absolutely amazing. Anything that [producer/songwriter] Max Martin’s involved in…I’m going to automatically log one of my favorite artists in the whole world, who is one that I work with all the time: Madame Gandhi. She’s making music with real instruments. And it sounds electronic and it sounds like pop and it carries this amazing message, but she’s an actual real skilled drummer who plays all real drums on her stuff. Some of it is programs, but the root of it is all real instruments.

JS: Discerning listeners have been complaining about the “loudness wars” in music for decades. (“Loudness wars” refers to the trend over the past few decades to increase audio levels on recordings, often using extreme dynamic range compression.) Do you see that continuing? Or have you seen a leveling off?

PP: I feel like it’s pretty much leveled off, and I think a lot has leveled off [as a result] of everybody going, “All right. Pretty loud is good enough.” It’s not what the powers that be would like it to be. Not every record that I do is -14 LUFS [Loudness Units Full Scale; -14 is considered best for streaming audio – Ed]. Not every record I do is even -10 LUFS or -9 LUFS. I mean, a lot of them are a lot louder than that [the lower the number, the louder the recording]. But there are some moments when the artist [says],” Yeah, that’s loud enough, that’s good enough.” That gives me hope that the loudness wars are pretty much over.

However, with spatial audio mixes] – if you go over -18 LUFS, you’re done. You can’t make it louder than that. Period. So, in some ways, with spatial I think the loudness wars are over. But with digital [recordings], I think we’ve all kind of given [each other] an “agree to disagree.” I think everybody’s over it.

JS: So…you’re not getting continual requests to compress the hell out of the sound?

PP: I have one client right now; we’re loud. I submitted a live master to begin with. He’s like, “Turn it up, turn it up, turn it up, turn it up!” And I’m like, “This is not going to sound good. It’s not going to sound good.” He [responds], “I know, I just want to be loud.”

But the problem is that they don’t understand that if it’s super loud and hits a streaming platform, they’re going to turn it down; therefore, it’s going to feel quieter and farther away. And they’re just not getting it. So, I just…the customer’s always right, I’m just gonna give [them] what [they] asked for.

And then they’ll release the single, and they’ll come back to me and say, “You’re right.” and I’ll say, “Yes, I know, I was right.” And then they’ll have me create [another] master that’s not quite as loud. Put that on the streaming service and they love it and everything sounds good. And then the next song comes in, and they go,, “Turn it up, turn it up, turn it up!” They don’t learn their lesson. We just repeat that same process over and over again. Maybe going on a couple years working with them.

JS: Slow, slow learners. Okay. Some engineers work in specific music genres, and they have established reputations for themselves as “go-to” specialists. For example, former AES president Jim Anderson is well known for big-band jazz. Steve Hoffman is best-known for restoration and remastering of classic rock and R&B records. You’re fairly eclectic in your work. Are there any artists or music genres you think would be a challenge for you to master for, and if so, why?

PP: I just got a throat singer record that came in today.

JS: A Tuvan throat singer?

PP: Yeah. I’m not really sure what to do with it, to be honest. At this point, I’m trying to figure it out. This one is going to be really challenging because I’ve never cut a throat singer record before. But I would say you could throw anything else my way and I probably would be okay with it.

I feel pretty confident for the most part. I am, like you said, eclectic; I’ve been very equal opportunity in the masters that I’ve done over the years. I’ve tried to really learn everything I can in the moment, so that I can apply it in the future. There are things about mastering for the classical genre that I apply to trip and hip-hop every day. There are things about pop vocals from pop music that I apply to classical masters.

So, there’s something to learn about every genre and at this point, if you’re a mastering engineer, [if] you’ve been doing this for more than a year and you’ve been accepting money for it, you should be able to master pretty much anything that’s thrown at you because [mastering] is really not genre-dependent. It’s more [about optimizing] bass, treble, loudness, spatial information, and delivery specs, more than [about any specific] genre. But to be really good at it, you do have to know the genre.

JS: Leslie Ann Jones, Sylvia Massy, June Millington and Ulrike Schwarz are a few female engineer/producers I’ve interviewed in the past, and all are well-respected for their work. One thing they have in common is that all of them are also involved to some degree with education, something in which you share. In the case of June Millington, for example (interviewed in Copper Issues 79, 80 and 81), she actually created The Institute for the Musical Arts to break stereotypes about women’s inability to play and produce music from the technical side. What led you to get involved in education, and what was your motivation? What are your long-term goals?

PP: I’m just thinking to myself; I’ve had a long career as an educator [considering] how young I am. I remember starting up a drum lessons business when I was about 14 years old. Going back to my entrepreneurship. By the time I was about 16, I had the corner on all the young drummers in my town. I was teaching about 24 lessons a week, which is quite a lot. And I took that all the way through college.

So, I’ve been teaching for a long time, not just in audio, but when I was in San Francisco, after having been there for a few years, I got asked to become a college professor at a really wonderful audio program in the East Bay. Those times when I’m teaching and educating – those are some of my very favorite parts of being an audio engineer. It’s because you can have these really profound experiences with students who are learning and coming from all different backgrounds who just want to know about music and about how things get recorded. But at the same time, there are only so many things you can teach them about the basics. Once they learn those, they have to apply those basics to be able to make their own techniques.

And that’s kind of my favorite part about having been an audio educator: it’s that I now have students who are becoming audio engineers in their own right, and are applying the techniques that I taught them, but then will come back to me and say, “But yeah, I also know how to do this and this and this…” and I’m like, “Holy sh*t, who taught you that?” They learn it themselves. It’s really a part of my career that I kind of miss at this point. I wish I were teaching a little bit more right now. But the most I can do is in seminars here and there and guest lecturing at conferences and things like that.

The folks that you mentioned that you’ve interviewed before, those are some of my mentors, and some of the women who taught me what I know. So it’s kind of neat to hear you say their names.


Piper Payne. From the piperpayne.com website.

Piper Payne. From the piperpayne.com website.


JS: When Piper Payne listens to music for her personal enjoyment, what kind of system does she use and how does it differ from what she uses in the studio and why?

PP: That’s a great question. I have a whole system in the house here. My wife and I built a room in the back of the house’s backyard; we call it the back house. It’s a room for all of her LPs. She took my system up there, darn it. My Joseph Audio RM25XL [speakers] and my VTL tube [integrated] amp and my turntable are still down in the main house. She’s got a Thorens [turntable] up there. And then we have a set of Tannoy Little Gold Monitors and an old Marantz tube amp with my T+A G 10 turntable. That’s what I usually listen to records on when I’m in the back house. So we have a couple of systems.

And then I have a studio downstairs that I cut masters on or do revisions on when I’m not at the studio downtown. And we have some – Catherine is an ATC [speakers] lover and I’m a PMC [monitors] lover. So, of course, we have the ATC at the house, (laughs) the ATC 45 (SCM45APro) which is an active three-way speaker. I have my PMCs – my big PMCs are still in the crates from the move. We’ll set them up in a studio here in Nashville sometime. My usual go-to listening are the Little Golds at the moment.

JS: The equipment that you work with for mastering is supposed to be relatively flat compared to listening for pleasure, though, right? I would imagine you don’t want speakers for mastering that have excess coloration.

PP: You don’t want too much of it. But I would venture to say that the Little Golds are a little hyped. They’re a little honky, I guess would be the best way to put it, [with] a little bit of a 1kHz bump. But the systems that we have are relatively flat. The home systems we like are not too hyped. They’re pretty true to what we would hear in the studio.

JS: Is that your personal preference? Or is it just probably a little bit of both?

PP: Probably a little bit of both. If I were to make any adjustments to either system, I would put a sub in, which would be hyped too, by adding a little low end. Just because I like it. (laughs)

JS: Are you working on anything now that might be interesting to tell Copper readers?.

PP: Yeah, the new Madam Gandhi record is in production right now. We just released the first single off the record, “Crystals and Congress,” and it’s been mastered for all formats. I think we’ll probably put out some vinyl at some point too for this one. And I’m blown away and super-happy at how the [Dolby] Atmos master came out.

We are always working on really cool things at Physical Music Products that we probably can’t talk about for a while. If this article comes out late enough, there’s a couple of cool projects that we’ve got on the presses right now that I’ll be able to share with you.

JS: Well, thank you so much. This has been fascinating. It was a joy to speak with you.


Header image courtesy of Piper Payne.

Richard X. Heyman: Still Going at 67,000 Miles an Album

Richard X. Heyman: Still Going at 67,000 Miles an Album

Richard X. Heyman: Still Going at 67,000 Miles an Album

Andrew Daly

Richard X. Heyman has long had a habit of paying homage to his various influences while simultaneously carving out new and exciting paths ahead.

In his earliest days in the 1960s, Heyman was the drummer for underexposed garage rock outfit, the Doughboys, before embarking in 1988 on a long and winding career as a solo artist entirely unafraid to tackle all genres. (The Doughboys reformed in 2000 and Heyman is still a member.)

Ever-busy, and increasingly creative in what may or may not be the twilight of his career, Heyman has followed up 2021’s indie slice of heaven, Copious Notes, with another outstanding studio affair, the just-released 67,000 Miles An Album. (See Ray Chelstowski’s review of Copious Notes and interview in Issue 137.)


Richard X. Heyman, 67,000 Miles an Album, album cover.

Richard X. Heyman, 67,000 Miles an Album, album cover.

While Heyman has no immediate plans to climb back up on stage, fans of the veteran indie rocker’s work will be well satiated with a delightful grouping of tracks with a subject matter aimed at just about anything you can think of. To be sure, 67,000 Miles An Album is an accurate auditory visualization, if you will, of Heyman’s inner machinations.

In the wake of this latest record, Richard Heyman dug in with me to discuss his early origins in music, the influences that most shaped his style, his songwriting process, his new music, and what’s next for him as he keeps moving ahead.

Andrew Daly: You’ve been at this for a while. What first sparked your interest in music?

Richard X. Heyman: My father was a huge fan of big band jazz like Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie and Duke Ellington, as well as of the singers of that era like Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, while my mother was heavily into Broadway musicals. My three older sisters had their records of the burgeoning rock and roll scene lying around the house. And then there were the LPs and singles left by various boyfriends, partygoers, etc., so this eclectic mixture of vinyl was at my disposal.

I remember seeing and listening to James Brown’s Live At The Apollo, an early album of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, One Dozen Berries by Chuck Berry, plenty of early Beach Boys, Dion and The Belmonts, and many more. On top of that, you had the ubiquitous AM radio – for me, it was WABC (though sometimes I’d check out WMCA and WINS with Murray the K). And, of course, the big 23-inch Zenith [TV], where I’d watch the various variety shows that featured all the genres mentioned above, and topped off by a respectable collection of the classics (Beethoven, Mozart, Gershwin, and that mob). So, it was just a matter of absorbing all these sources, which I readily soaked up.

AD: Who were some of your earliest influences?

RXH: Starting as a drummer in my youth, I admired Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Joe Morello, Elvin Jones, Louie Bellson, and an assortment of other great jazz drummers. Then I got into early instrumental rock music via the Ventures, and I was happily bashing away in a combination of those styles when out of nowhere, there was this bloke named Ringo. And that certainly took me in a new direction. Other rock drummers who influenced me were Charlie Watts, Dino Danelli, Mitch Mitchell, B.J. Wilson, Keith Moon, Bobby Elliott, and the behind-the-scenes session cats whose names I didn’t know at the time, but now I can give them their due: Hal Blaine, Earl Palmer, Clem Cattini, Bobby Graham, Panama Francis, Gary Chester, and Bernard Purdie.

As far as my general musical influences, at least in the realm of rock and roll, it was all the top-40 hits of the day which shaped the musical path I was to follow. More specifically, I would point out the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Beach Boys, Wilson Pickett, the Rolling Stones, the Supremes, the Byrds, the Temptations, the Who, Sam Cooke, the Kinks, Marvin Gaye, Del Shannon, Jimi Hendrix, Procol Harum, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Joni Mitchell, Martha and the Vandellas, The Mamas & the Papas, Gary U.S. Bonds, The Marvelettes, the Band, and too many more to mention.

I also want to give a shout-out to the pioneers of rock and roll – Chuck Berry, the Everly Brothers, Eddie Cochran, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Elvis Presley, Larry Williams, Buddy Holly, and Ricky Nelson (singing into our living room once a week on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet).


AD: How would you say that style has evolved as you’ve moved through your career?

RXH: The style that most interested me was an amalgam of the Beatles’ melodicism and the lyrical invention of Bob Dylan. That combination started to influence the great songwriters of that era, like Ray Davies, John Sebastian, Pete Townshend, John Phillips, and Gene Clark, to name a few. So, I was inspired by the possibilities of delving into personal experiences mixed with a bit of storytelling over the top of chord progressions that I found intriguing.

AD: What were some of your earliest gigs where you first cut your teeth?

RXH: I started playing drums in a local band when I was 12. So, we’d mainly play house parties, and that led to school dances and opening up for a variety of recording acts. We performed on Zacherle’s Disc-o-Teen television show regularly. That band was called the Doughboys. We won a battle-of-the-bands contest on the show, which led to a record deal with Bell Records for which we released two singles and played dozens of WMCA Good Guys shows, alongside acts like Neil Diamond, The Shirelles, the Syndicate of Sound, the Music Explosion, and so on.

We subsequently were the house band at the Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village in the summer of ’68. The guitar player from the Doughboys (Willy Kirchofer) and I joined the Quinaimes Band, and we toured as the opening act for Sly and the Family Stone, which kicked off at a sold-out house at Madison Square Garden. By the time I was through with that, I needed complete dental work from all that teeth cutting.

AD: Let’s dig into your newest project, 67,000 Miles An Album. Tell us about its inception.

RXH: After I completed my last album, Copious Notes, I decided to jump right back into the fire and start the next project. I’ve always found it amazing that [the Earth is] hurtling through space at 67,000 miles an hour. I thought about all the divisiveness on this little sphere as we go spinning around the sun and how futile those divisions are in the scheme of things. So, that seemed like a good starting point. I had written a bunch of songs for the Doughboys in a garage rock style, and I wanted to try my hand at a few of them.

Usually, what happens in the process of recording a new album is that I start writing new stuff, so this record consists of the more blues-tinged [older] material and recent ones, which tend to be on the melodic pop side. I also dug back into the distant past and laid down two songs that were among the first batch I ever wrote when I was a mere tyke of 17 – the opening cut, “You Can Tell Me,” and one called “Plans.”


Richard X. Heyman. Courtesy of Nancy Leigh.

Richard X. Heyman. Courtesy of Nancy Leigh.


There’s a sub-theme of a musical travelog, with lyrics about various locations on the planet –  “Washington Rock,” which is a historical vista near my hometown of Plainfield, New Jersey; “2nd Street” (the one in New York City), which deals with the seedier side of city life; “High Line Scenes,” which depicts a day strolling on that scenic elevated pathway; “Misspent Youth,” an homage to sojourns into the Village to witness some incredible live concerts. And finally, “67,000 Miles An Hour,” where I take on the whole f*cking solar system!

AD: How would you say this album compares to your previous record, Copious Notes?

RXH: With the inclusion of six grittier tracks, the album has a bit more of an edge. Though, as I mentioned before, there’s plenty of harmonic material to balance it out.

AD: From a songwriting perspective, how have your collective experiences shaped your music?

RXH: I can only hope, as I get older, that I have acquired some insights into what the hell is going on, and if I’m lucky, a little wisdom has seeped into my thick skull. Fortunately, I’ve been happily married for many years, but all that happiness doesn’t lend itself to songwriting. That’s not to say I haven’t written my share of love and lust songs for my wife! But for songs involving lost love or heartache, I delve back to my wild oats days when romantic relations went awry. Of course, it’s hard to avoid the insanity that’s swirling all around in the current climate, and I’m sure some of that is sneaking into my writing, though hopefully subtly.

AD: How about the production and mixing side of things? Take me through that process and how the final sounds were honed in.

RXH: Each song starts with a drum performance. We book a studio here in the city (EastSide Sound), where I lay down a couple of dozen songs on a four-piece Rogers kit. Then we bring it all back home and load it into Logic [music software]. Usually, a piano or rhythm guitar comes next, after which I start recording my vocals. I like to get all the singing parts done early in the production. We have an old Russian tube microphone that retains warmth through the digital process. An array of guitars and/or keyboards [will] fill out the track.

Coming up in the age of analog recording, some old habits die hard. All the guitars are recorded through a Fender Vibro Champ amp. The bass, mostly played by [my wife] Nancy these days, follows, and finally, whatever percussion we want, such as bongos, tambourine, shaker, or more exotic instruments like timbales, vibraphone, or congas. A few of the tracks feature brass and strings, which are all played by real human beings, in this case, Probyn Gregory on trombone, trumpet, French horn, and flugelhorn, Julia Kent on cello, and Chris Jenkins on viola.


Richard X. Heyman and Nancy Leigh. Courtesy of Jan Meiselman Lawit.

Richard X. Heyman and Nancy Leigh. Courtesy of Jan Meiselman Lawit.


Nancy and I put together a rough mix of each song and send it and the multi-tracks down to our gifted and trusted mixing engineer, Tony Lewis, who [then] works his magic. When all parties are satisfied, we move on to the next song.

AD: Are you a storyteller, or do you write from personal experience?

RXH: A little bit of both. For example, “Misspent Youth” recounts recollections through rose-colored glasses of going into the Village from New Jersey to see the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Procol Harum, the Who, and one of my personal favorites, the Youngbloods. But then, I never was a traveling salesman (though I did once have a job driving an ice cream truck). So, that song, “Traveling Salesman,” is a little storytelling mixed in with personal memories of people coming to my childhood home, attempting to sell everything from encyclopedias to vacuum cleaners! And let’s not forget the Avon lady and the Fuller Brush man.

AD: Will the material get any time on the live circuit?

RXH: I haven’t any plans for live dates, though you never know. But for now, I’m anxious for people to hear this album, and I always appreciate getting some feedback from listeners as well as the music media.

AD: Last one. What’s next for you?

RXH: I’m in a one-day-at-a-time mode, thankful for being in decent health, having a loving wife and good friends, and still having the wherewithal to put out new music when the muse is in my vicinity.


Header image courtesy of Nancy Leigh.

What if Elvis Had Lived?

What if Elvis Had Lived?

What if Elvis Had Lived?

Tom Lane

Let’s go back to August 1977. Elvis Presley’s records were not being played much on Top 40 radio. He released one single in the summer of 1977, “Way Down,” that landed just outside the Top 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. That song got to Number 18 only after he died. However, both “Way Down” and his late 1976 single, “Moody Blue,” had reached Number 1 on Billboard’s country chart. “Way Down” went to Number 1 on the pop charts the week Elvis passed away. This is where Elvis’ chart career likely would have headed. More country hits, maybe some adult contemporary, but fewer pop hits. The albums would have kept coming: live ones, Greatest Hits packages, patched-together studio efforts. Along with his tours, this was the cycle he had been on since the early ’70s.


One thing we know is that CBS was filming his concerts to release as some kind of special. But looking at the final footage that ended up in the October 1977 CBS TV broadcast, it’s hard to believe any of that would have been released had he lived.

So, what if Elvis Presley had lived, in some alternate-history scenario…

Although he’d had other health issues in the 1970s that required hospitalization, his brush with mortality on August 16, 1977 was the closest he had ever come to death. Elvis’ friends were sure this latest medical scare would be the one to make him realize that change must happen now. But it would be a slow grind; change doesn’t happen overnight.

Elvis does begin to lose weight, thanks to better eating habits and a daily workout schedule. He also starts taking fewer of the drugs he needed to keep him touring and for all the various ailments that plagued him in the ’70s. But the grueling concert schedule he had throughout the 1970s continues, and Elvis would often fall back on bad habits. So, while to the public Elvis looks better, behind the scenes it’s a different story. The same old yes men, the same old lackluster concerts. But things finally change in the summer of ’78.

Nearly one year after August 16, 1977, Elvis passes out onstage during a concert in Indianapolis. While many had feared another health crisis could happen, the fact it occurred on stage shocks the world. This time there is no turning back. Elvis enters a hospital to address his many health problems.

After a four-week stay, other changes are made. The endless cycle of concerts and throwaway albums comes to an end. Elvis still hits the road, but it is no longer the jumpsuit spectacle of years past. The grueling schedule is gone. But RCA still wants product, and Elvis quickly records a gospel album. Recording gospel material again brings out a refreshed performance from the King. Simply titled Precious Lord, it wins a Grammy for Best Inspirational Performance. The album gets good reviews with most noting that Elvis sounds more committed to this type of material than his recent pop/country albums.

The main reason the changes in Elvis’ life are working is that he’s finally listening to people willing to tell him the truth about how low his career has fallen. The Memphis Mafia is still around, but they are relieved that more outside voices are getting Elvis’ attention.

In 1978 the Colonel is finally dumped as Elvis’ manager, something his crew and family have been begging him to do. But it takes people outside the Elvis bubble to finally get him to turn on the Colonel. Even after his Indianapolis health scare, the Colonel wants Elvis to continue to toe the line. But Elvis finally has enough. He’s bored with concerts, making records and just being Elvis. But the Colonel doesn’t go quietly. Elvis is still under contract with him. The Colonel threatens to sue. After a tense meeting with Elvis’ father, Vernon, the Colonel realizes that his working relationship with Elvis and his family is beyond repair. He accepts a buyout of more than a million dollars.


Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley in 1969. Promotional photo courtesy of Wikipedia/pubic domain.

Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley in 1969. Promotional photo courtesy of Wikipedia/public domain.


Who would manage Elvis Presley now? Names are rumored for months. While Elvis gets healthy in rehab the industry mentions many names, but the one that gets repeated the most is Jon Landau. Already famous for making Bruce Springsteen a star, Landau makes it known that he would love to take on the King’s career, saying he’s always been a fan.

In 1981 Elvis meets with Landau, who introduces him to Springsteen. Bruce and Elvis hit it off right away. Bruce tells Elvis he has some songs for him to record. Elvis signs on with Landau. In the meantime,

in the summer of ’78 RCA manages to find some unreleased songs Elvis had recorded in the Jungle Room, and adds five new songs to complete a “new” album. Like all of his recent releases, it does better on the country than the pop charts.

The first thing Landau tells Elvis is that he would like to get him in the studio with a new producer and a bunch of new songs by Springsteen, Petty, Willie, and others. But he doesn’t want to do a throwaway pop album. He wants Elvis to get back to what he did when he started: rock and roll, country, and gospel, along with the R&B sound of his 1969 From Elvis In Memphis sessions. Elvis likes what he hears, but is also eager to get back in front of an audience. Landau tells Elvis he will finally let him do the one thing the Colonel wouldn’t: do some dates around the world.


Recording for Elvis’ new album is set to begin in early 1983. Landau mentions bringing in Chips Moman, who produced From Elvis In Memphis. That album from was part of the reason for Elvis’ comeback. Moman brings in most of the musicians from that album, along with legendary guitarist James Burton, a long-time member of Elvis’ live band. And just as he was in 1969, Elvis is relieved to be given a great set of songs. The recording goes smoothly. Even though Landau uses new songs by many of that era’s biggest songwriters, there are no guest artists on the album.

With a hotly-anticipated new album scheduled for release during the fall of 1983, some warm-up concert dates are scheduled for the summer in Nashville and Memphis. One thing will be missing: jumpsuits. Elvis is now 48, and even he concedes the suits have become too much.

These concerts will most resemble the live shows Elvis did in 1969. Landau makes one more promise to Elvis. The hunt for a great movie role is on. Elvis had told Landau he still wants to act, but no more of the assembly line fluff that the Colonel had forced on him.

Landau begins seeking advice from industry pros about possible parts for the Elvis. He’s surprised there’s some resistance. Some don’t think Elvis will commit to something that is too gritty. Others say they don’t do musicals. Landau reminds those who are really interested that they won’t be getting the Elvis of those forgettable sixties movies. Elvis himself wants something dramatic. A chance to finally prove that he is indeed a good actor. Among the big-name directors of the day, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg are just two names mentioned. Landau tells Elvis that his great movie role is just around the corner.

With a new album, tour, and possible movie role, 1984 is going to be Elvis Presley’s greatest comeback. He’s 49 now, and suddenly the thought of hitting 50 no longer bothers him. The boredom his career descended to in the ’70s is gone. Elvis is no longer the overweight punchline that he became from 1977 through 1980. Elvis’ management begins talking about a TV special on the order of his now-legendary ’68 Comeback Special and ’73’s Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite. A familiar name is brought back, Steve Binder. Binder had directed Elvis’ ’68 Special, but the Colonel had refused to let him handle any other projects. With the Colonel out of the way, Elvis is thrilled to have him back.


When he reaches 50 on January 8, 1985, the accolades begin rolling in. There are TV specials that look back on his past 30 years as the King. He garners more lifetime achievement awards, including a Grammy, and receives tributes from Springsteen, Petty and many of his contemporaries including Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Little Richard. In the spring Elvis makes a surprise appearance at  the “We Are The World” sessions to record a verse. He also sings in the chorus and talks to all the artists who are stunned that he showed up. On the heels of those sessions, Elvis performs a tight 30-minute set at Live Aid to great acclaim. In December, Elvis is honored as one of that year’s Kennedy Center honorees. Elvis attends the ceremony and once again is given a lavish tribute.

Everybody now wants a piece of Elvis. Including politicians. But as he did in 1984, by turning down an invitation to speak at both the GOP and Democratic presidential conventions, Elvis stays apolitical throughout the rest of the ’80s.

In 1986 the newly-created Rock and Roll Hall of Fame names Elvis as one of its first inductees. Bruce Springsteen inducts Elvis, who then gives a short but touching speech about how honored he is to be included with his rock and roll peers. After the ceremony the greatest jam session in rock history takes place as Elvis takes the stage with fellow honorees Chuck Berry, Little Richard, the Everly Brothers, James Brown, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin for blazing renditions of “Jailhouse Rock,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Tutti Frutti,” “Johnny B. Goode,” “Ain’t That A Shame,” “Bye Bye Love,” “What’d I Say,” “I Got You (I Feel Good)” and “Respect.” Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Etta James, Ruth Brown, Tina Turner and Joan Jett also join in on a jam that lasts over an hour.

Elvis would close out the 1980s with another excellent album, Where I’m Coming From, while also making plans to write his autobiography, tentatively titled I Keep Singing The Songs.

Elvis’ 1980s comeback proved to be more rewarding than anyone could have imagined. It was unthinkable to those around him in the summer of 1977 that the Elvis they once knew would ever make it through the decade.

But he did and then some…


Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/public domain.

Retail Therapy

Retail Therapy

Retail Therapy

Russ Welton

I never trained as a psychologist. Instead, in my retail career I maintained an open mind, had probably more patience then than I do now, (but not that much less), and always listened to people. I figured that that in running a music instrument retail shop, I had subscribed to being in a given place of work for a certain number of hours each day and would be there to provide the best advice and insight I could offer about what instruments – specifically guitars, basses and also amplification – I could offer. As a result of this mixture of ingredients, with the passing of time I never became less surprised at how openly retail customers would relate all manner of personal issues to me – along with their general interest in perhaps buying a guitar, strings, accessories, or whatever.

There would be the struggling musicians, and the pro musicians, and those that would linger and ponder over minutiae, and those that would almost hit and run with their efficiency in obtaining what they needed as they would speed of to their next gig or responsibility. Then there were the people struggling with substance abuse, social issues, relationship issues, heck, even weather issues. Well, it is the UK after all, and the perennial subject of weather and climate change appears to be in as much of a state of flux as flux itself when heated up or cooled down.

Nonetheless, one experience I had in running a guitar shop will always stick with me, perhaps because of what we offered in the way of retail therapy. I guess this phrase means different things to different people, but in the main it seems to convey the idea that window-shopping, planning to buy something, or actually purchasing something in some way ameliorates what is known in the trade and on internet forums as Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS). It adds to the buzz of being alive when splashing out on some new shiny thing to play with, especially if it can produce transportive music and help you leave all your troubles behind, even if just briefly.

On one occasion, a rather downcast and dreary-looking lad came into the shop, and with a rather sullen expression asked me, “Do you sell any 335s?” (For the uninitiated, an ES-335 is a well-respected Gibson semi-hollow-body electric guitar.) I replied that we had a selection of different models in stock and different brands of semi-hollow guitars, including new and second-hand, all around the back of the shop. Subsequently the young lad disappeared behind the partition wall which divided the front and rear of the first floor and went off to inspect the guitars. As he receded, he pulled out his phone and started texting.

A few moments later, a similarly disheveled, young, and non-eye-contact-making individual sauntered into the shop, but he had a little bit more swagger about him. He milled around the front of the shop briefly and then went off to join Downcast Dude around the back. Both the lads looked pretty flat and depressed, and like they could do with something to cheer them up. But the second lad came back around to the front of the shop, this time with big smiles and plenty of banter, asking all about the different gear we sold, what our store hours were, what gigs I had been to recently, what some of the store’s equipment functions were, how to get a good stereo chorus sound, and on and on. You get the picture.

I then realized that the nature of the conversation was relatively undirected – other than to serve as a distraction. As I looked in the mirror which was set up between the front and rear of the shop on the side wall, I could see the first lad acting a bit suspiciously around one of the 335 copies we had on a floor stand. The more expensive Ibanez and Gibson models were on hooks higher up the wall, but the more affordable Epiphones were much more easily accessible. So, I went around the back to see if I could help, wondering to myself, “Just what was going on exactly?”

As I turned the corner and looked over at the now rather sheepish-looking young guy, I noticed him pocketing a string he had just been busily removing from the guitar on the floor. The G string was now missing from the guitar, and was being buried in the lad’s coat. My first thought was, It kinda figures he’d be lifting a G string, as they tend to break the most.” My next thought was, “now that I’m around the back of the store, what is the lad at the front of the shop doing?”


Believe me, this was not some idle paranoia or being overly protective of the shop’s wares, but borne from experience of needing to have eyes in the back of your head, even if you do have other staff and security cameras. Opportunists are opportunists after all.

Before I said anything, I remember laughing to myself as I recalled an older customer years prior, asking me, “Do you take strings in part-exchange?” I kid you not. The simple reality was that some people didn’t want to spend 80 pence on a single string, let alone £5 for a new set of strings.

I spoke to the young lad and then a whole apologetic conversation unfolded as he saw the error of his actions. It was like a casual recognition of, “Oh! I’ve been caught and I’d better just keep talking…” He was nervous, and at the same time overly friendly. I was a little annoyed. He could tell. I made little of it and was just glad that his accomplice hadn’t swiped anything more valuable and done a runner down the street.

This goes back to what I was saying earlier, though, about complete strangers opening up to me. Yes, he was making his excuses and relating his life situation and all the rest of it. I put his overly friendly disposition down to his trying to downplay the situation. He was like the metaphorical singing lark, perpetually chattering away when being hunted by a hawk, trying to dissuade the hawk’s efforts. “You can’t catch me! It’s not worth your effort! I’m going to outfly you anyway! You’re wasting your energy!” As it was, the lad seemed genuinely remorseful and appreciative that I had brushed it off as a schoolboy error rather than taking more serious action. He left the shop and I didn’t think much more about it.

As it turned out, he didn’t really have many true friends to talk to about his life, and so over the next few months he would pop into the shop, chat for a bit, play a few guitars, and occasionally buy the odd plectrum here or there, even some strings. He had told me he was going to join the Army, train to become a soldier, and see some of the wider world. He wanted to get fit, become disciplined and generally kick butt. Over the months he had been popping in, I could see he had become quite different, a more humbled character. Then he came in one day with his short haircut, ready for his military training, and told me he would be away for a while and would come in and see me again in the future.



A few years went by. Then one day, he came back into the shop and informed me that he had been discharged from the Army on medical grounds. During a training exercise he had bent his leg up behind his back, causing ongoing mobility issues. He didn’t require a walking stick, but couldn’t perform to the standards required by the Army, so he would be pensioned off. He could only have been about 20 or 21 years old.

But then, what surprised me most of all was that he asked me for a job reference! I couldn’t believe it. I was genuinely struck with a sense of incredulity. I said to him, “Well, I can write you a reference, but it’ll be an honest one. Can’t you get a reference from another actual employer you have been on the payroll with?” He looked down and shuffled his feet and nodded in agreement. I felt for him that he didn’t have anyone better suited to ask, and went through some alternative suggestions which might work for him. He appreciated my pragmatism. He continued to visit for a few more years on and off until we sold the shop, and had landed some part-time work in the interim.

Yes, it’s true to say that retail therapy comes in many guises and forms, and also, that you may not realize just how impactful an impression the smallest mercy you show can make on someone.


Header image courtesy of Pexels.com/Brian Catota.

Classical Music for a Desert Island, Part Three

Classical Music for a Desert Island, Part Three

Classical Music for a Desert Island, Part Three

Ted Shafran

Part One and Part Two of this series on desert island classical music albums appeared in Issue 172 and Issue 173. To recap: this list reflects my taste. Yours may be entirely different. In fact, it’s very likely. So, if you hate my choices, I totally understand. But we can still be friends.

My tastes run largely to orchestral music and opera, primarily from the late classical period through to the middle of the 20th century.

Wherever possible, I’ve tried to provide catalog numbers for the recommended recordings. However, since many recordings are available on vinyl, CD, SACD and as downloads, and each format has a different catalog number, it was not always possible. A quick online search should easily find the format you prefer.

This is the final installment in the series. Truthfully, if I was stranded on a desert island, I would want to have the entirety of my music collection with me. But this is supposed to be a series about the essential music that I couldn’t live without:



RACHMANINOV: Piano Concertos. Vladimir Ashkenazy, Bernard Haitink, Concertgebouw Orchestra; Decca

Vladimir Ashkenazy, now retired, is one of the great pianists of the second half of the twentieth century. A diminutive, unpretentious man, in concerts he would run (not walk) to the keyboard wearing a simple blazer and a turtleneck. When he sat down, poetry would flow from his hands. He had a particular affinity for the music of Rachmaninov and I was lucky enough to see him perform that music in concert on several occasions.

This recording represents Ashkenazy’s second full traversal of the Rachmaninov concerti (the first was recorded with Andre Previn and the London Symphony) and this is clearly the finer of the two. As always, Ashkenazy’s playing is sensitive and poetic and, where appropriate, fiery. Not surprisingly, Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw provide a loving accompaniment to this most expressive music.



RACHMANINOV: Symphony No. 2. David Zinman, Baltimore Symphony; Telarc

If you attend enough concerts, every so often you will leave the concert hall having had a transcendent experience. I mentioned seeing Carlos Kleiber in Chicago, in 1978. That was one such experience. I had a similar experience back in 2014 when David Zinman guest conducted the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in this work.

I have a particular fondness for this unabashedly romantic symphony, proof – in my opinion – that Rachmaninov was more than just a great pianist. The orchestration is sophisticated, far more so than anything by that other famous composer-pianist, Chopin. And David Zinman has flown under the radar for much of his career. While he is a highly respected musician and teacher, he has never received the kind of recognition received by some of his peers.

That’s a shame because his recordings consistently reveal a talented, insightful conductor who brings music alive. This performance is a case in point. Like the performance that I attended, I can’t point to anything specific that he does. But all of the fine details are so perfectly etched that somehow everything comes together in a totally natural way, allowing the music to speak for itself, and it speaks volumes!



SCHÖNBERG: Verklärte Nacht. Pierre Boulez, New York Philharmonic; Sony Classical

Music was my college minor and as part of my studies those many years ago, we spent a great deal of time on the so-called Second Vienna School. I confess that, even after devoting considerable study time, I never developed a taste for 12-tone music. But Verklärte Nacht is an early composition by Schönberg, written before he created that system. And while it is richly chromatic, it is nevertheless a tonal composition.

Personally, I find it very moving, especially if you read the Richard Dehmel poem on which it is based. As in most modern music, Pierre Boulez excels in clarifying the textures, even when he is deploying a full orchestra on a piece originally composed for a sextet. The end of the work is particularly ravishing as the glistening strings seem to fade away into nothing.



SCHUBERT: Die Schöne Müllerin. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Gerald Moore; EMI Classics (1961)

When one thinks of Schubert Lieder, there have been many great interpreters, but the name that immediately comes to mind – at least for us older folks – is the great German baritone, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. There are those who have criticized his singing as overwrought. But in Schubert, and particularly in the early part of his career when his voice was in its prime, he had no equal. He recorded the three great Schubert song cycles at least twice and performed them in concert many more times. But this early recording, with the great Gerald Moore at the piano, stands out as one of the greatest accomplishments in lieder singing. Die Schöne Müllerin scales the heights and plumbs the depths of emotion and Fischer-Dieskau makes that climb and descent with great aplomb and sensitivity, to say nothing of his golden voice at the height of his career.



SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 9 in C Major (“The Great”), Josef Krips; High Definition Tape Transfers HDTT5003

Schubert’s final symphony seems a world apart from its predecessors, looking forward to the music of Schumann and Brahms, rather than an over-the-shoulders glance at Haydn and Mozart. Robert Schumann wrote about its “heavenly length” and at nearly an hour long, played with all repeats, it is certainly one of the longer symphonies in the standard repertoire.

This recording from May 1958 was the first recording of the work that I ever purchased, many years ago. Today I number at least a dozen recordings of this symphony in my collection, but this remains my favorite. The playing of the London Symphony is exquisite and Krips draws out every fine detail from this complex score. It was captured in excellent early stereo sound by the legendary Decca engineer Kenneth Wilkinson, and High Definition Tape Transfer’s restoration makes it sound like it was recorded yesterday.



SCHUMANN: Fantasie in C Op. 17. Vladimir Horowitz; Sony Classical

In my younger days I studied piano for a number of years. I was never more than a mediocre student (not enough practicing, methinks), but I was always drawn to the music of Schumann and, in particular, this work. Unfortunately, I never developed enough skill to play the entire piece, but that in no way diminished my admiration for it.

My first introduction to this music was a long-lost LP set by Vladimir Horowitz, from his return to the concert stage in May, 1965, a recording which I recently purchased as a high-resolution download. I’ve heard numerous recordings of this piece, many of them very fine, including wonderful versions by Vladimir Ashkenazy, Maurizio Pollini, and Sviatoslav Richter.

However, as you may have gathered by now, I’m an old fart, and I’ve been around long enough to have heard Horowitz perform live. If you’re looking for a note-perfect performance, this is not it. It’s live and you can hear the occasional clinker. Vladimir Horowitz was never about perfection, as I can attest from seeing him perform. But his performances were always electrifying and I left the concert hall on a high every time I saw him. This performance is a perfect example of why. His articulation is crystal clear and the music exudes Schumann’s unique poetry.



STRAUSS: Der Rosenkavalier. Carlos Kleiber, Bavarian State Opera, Brigitte Fassbaender, Claire Watson, Karl Ridderbusch, Lucia Popp, Benno Kusche, Gerhard Unger et al; Orfeo C581083D

Drawn from a series of live performances in Munich, this recording boasts a wonderful cast in excellent sound. The real star here, of course, is the late, great Carlos Kleiber, who made this opera one of his specialties. In fact, there are several different recordings of this work and this conductor floating around, including one from Vienna in 1994 and another on video with a slightly different cast. All of them are wonderful. Kleiber seems to possess a unique understanding of this music, imbuing it with charm, drama and humor. There are, of course, other very capable recordings of this music. But listening to Kleiber’s performances reminds me of something I once read about Bernard Haitink. When asked why he never conducted Verdi’s Otello during his tenure at the Royal Opera House, he replied something along the lines of, “Carlos Kleiber ruined it for me.” I feel much the same way about this recording; others pale in comparison.



STRAVINSKY: Petrushka. Pierre Boulez, New York Philharmonic; Sony Classical

Pierre Boulez’ Stravinsky was widely praised for its clarity and its rhythmic certainty, in music that is notoriously difficult to conduct and play well. I love all three of Stravinsky’s early ballets (including also The Firebird and The Rite of Spring), but Petrushka is the one I heard first and it remains my favorite. Boulez recorded this work twice; this is the earlier recording with the New York Philharmonic made during his tenure as their music director. He conducts the original 1911 version for a large orchestra and draws responsive, virtuosic playing from his orchestra. Petrushka is a highly colorful ballet, and Boulez works tirelessly to draw those colors from the New York Philharmonic.



TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphonies 4, 5 and 6. Yevgeny Mravinsky, Leningrad Philharmonic; DG

Recorded by DG during a 1960 tour to London and Vienna by Mravinsky and his Leningrad forces, these are white-hot performances, in far better sound than Russian Melodiya was ever able to achieve. Mravinsky was a renowned interpreter of Russian music and, in particular Tchaikovsky, and he conducts these symphonies as if his life depended upon it. If you prefer cooler, more detached performances of this most romantic composer, these performances will probably not appeal to you. But you will never hear more exciting performances of this music. As an added bonus, you can still hear that unique brass and woodwind sound that Russian orchestras were famous for, before the worldwide homogenization made all orchestras sound more or less alike.



VERDI: Messa da Requiem. Arturo Toscanini, NBC Symphony; Pristine Classical PACO048 (Stereo)

This is yet another work that, as a chorister, I’ve been lucky enough to sing on a number of occasions, under conductors like Sir Andrew Davis and Gianandrea Noseda. As with Handel’s Messiah and Orff’s Carmina Burana, I have listened to a great many recordings of this wonderful, remarkable choral work.

But no modern recording – to my ears anyway – will ever match any of Toscanini’s performances of this masterpiece. Great conductors like Carlo Maria Giulini, Riccardo Muti, Georg Solti and many others have made multiple recordings of the Requiem and many of these are very fine. But they still do not approach the fire, intensity and passion of Toscanini. If you don’t believe me, listen to this restoration, in “accidental stereo,” made from two separate microphones that were in place during the original performances. Andrew Rose of Pristine poured many hours of work into creating a stable stereo image and cleaning up the original recordings. No other performance has so much forward momentum or – in the appropriate places – tenderness. Listen, for example, to the fire of the Dies Irae. Or to the string playing in the Sanctus; you will never hear such delicacy anywhere else. As an aside, Pristine has even managed to remove Toscanini screaming at the orchestra during the Tuba Mirum. I kind of miss that.



WAGNER: Der Ring des Nibelungen. Sir Georg Solti, Vienna Philharmonic; Decca

This is Decca’s groundbreaking recording of Wagner’s Ring, dating from the early days of stereo in 1958 with Das Rheingold, to Die Walkure recorded in 1966. Produced by the legendary John Culshaw and conducted by Georg Solti with youthful ardor, the cycle features the greatest Wagner singers of the post-war period including Kirsten Flagstad, Birgit Nilsson, Wolfgang Windgassen, Hans Hotter, Regine Crespin, James King, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Gerhard Stolze, Christa Ludwig, Gottlob Frick and many others.

When these recordings were first released, there was very little competition. Definitely none in stereo. Since that time, however, many recordings of the full cycle have appeared including those by Karajan, Haitink, Böhm, Thielemann, Barenboim and a host of others. I have well over a dozen different recordings in my collection.

In the decades since they first appeared, there has been a something of a revisionist trend to criticize these recordings as superficial or flashy. But this is the cycle I keep coming back to. The playing of the Vienna Philharmonic is glorious, the cast is clearly the finest on record, and if Solti is occasionally a bit brash, I find that this suits the ethos of these performances. By all means, listen to other recordings. But if you’re like me, you’ll find that these performances are ultimately the most satisfying.

A final note: in 1997, engineer James Lock made a 48/24 digital transfer from the original master tapes using the CEDAR de-hissing technology. All current issues of this cycle are based on that transfer. Decca maintains that the original masters are now too degraded to be used for any further transfers.



WAGNER: Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg. Sir Georg Solti, Vienna Philharmonic, Norman Bailey, René Kollo, Kurt Moll, Bernd Weikl, Hannelore Bode, Julia Hamari; Decca

I fell in love with opera at an early age. Every Saturday afternoon, without fail, my mother had her kitchen radio tuned to the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, rain or shine. While my young ears were most familiar with the sounds of Renata Tebaldi, Leontyne Price, Franco Corelli and other luminaries of Italian opera, as I grew older, I found myself drawn more and more to the music of Richard Wagner (to my mother’s dismay).

Truth to tell, despite its gargantuan length (my copy of the score is at least two inches thick), Meistersinger is my favorite opera. Wagner’s only mature comedy, it is also his most human work. I have many recordings of it in my collection and, frankly, none of them is perfect (unless you count Toscanini’s 1937 Salzburg performance on Andante which is brilliant but in barely tolerable sound). Inevitably, one of the leads is less than ideally cast. For that matter, sometimes a minor character can sour the experience. I’ve heard too many recordings with a weak, woolly Kothner or Pogner. And sometimes, the conducting is just undistinguished, failing to do justice to Wagner’s glorious music. Perhaps, at some point, I’ll write a traversal of the various recordings that I’ve heard.

I love Silvio Varviso’s beautifully-led performance from Bayreuth (Philips), but Jean Cox (as Walther) ruins it for me. Similarly, I swoon at Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s intensely human Hans Sachs under Eugen Jochum (DG) but the rest of the cast leaves a lot to be desired. So after a great deal of listening, I’ve reached the conclusion that this, the earlier of Solti’s two recordings, has the fewest weaknesses of all the performances that I’ve heard. Yes, Kollo may be a bit overripe and Hannelore Bode sounds a bit matronly for Eva. But neither voice is unpleasant and the rest of the cast is very strong, especially Norman Bailey’s avuncular Hans Sachs. Solti leads with his usual attention to detail and a minimum of bombast and, as usual, the playing of the Vienna Philharmonic is wonderful.

Pianist Sarah Cahill: The Future Is Female

Pianist Sarah Cahill: The Future Is Female

Pianist Sarah Cahill: The Future Is Female

Anne E. Johnson

Pianist Sarah Cahill has never been interested in the established musical canon. Her whole career, she has sought out composers to collaborate with, most notably Terry Riley and Lou Harrison. But her latest large-scale project is a collaboration of a different kind, mainly because most of the composers involved are no longer with us. For The Future Is Female, Cahill is digging deep into the archives to unearth keyboard music by women, going all the way back to the 17th century.

The three-volume set on the First Hand Records label is divided into vague themes. The first disc is called In Nature, the second The Dance, and the third (not yet released) At Play, for a total of over 70 pieces, many of which are not obviously connected to their categories. While the liner notes remind the listener that this is in no way exhaustive of what women composers have written over the centuries, it certainly is a comprehensive enough overview to move toward the “reframing of the piano literature” that Cahill aspires to.

Right out of the gate, she offers something unknown: Volume 1 opens with Anna Bon’s Keyboard Sonata in B minor, Op. 2, No. 5. Bon was unusual among 18th century female composers for getting a chance to publish her music. This was not just some dabbling housewife. She studied music at the all-girls orphanage in Venice for which Vivaldi wrote many of his greatest works, and she was a member of the choir at Nikolaus von Esterházy’s estate, where Haydn was music director. The second-movement Adagio, spare and affecting, demonstrates her skill, partly thanks to Cahill’s mindful rendering.


Throughout history, many of the women who had the opportunity to compose were themselves performers. Most often keyboardists, since a woman seated at a harpsichord or piano seems to have been somehow less off-putting to society. Some, like Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (see my article in Issue 88; represented in this collection by her 4 Lieder, Op. 8) were genuine prodigies. A lesser-known and somewhat later piano master was the Hungarian pianist Agi Jambor (1909 – 1997). She studied with the renowned Edwin Fischer in Berlin and heroically joined the Resistance during World War II.

Cahill plays Jambor’s 1949 Piano Sonata: To the Victims of Auschwitz with keen empathy from the first explosive moments of its opening Allegro appassionato, reminiscent of Jambor’s contemporary, Schoenberg’s student Ernst Krenek.


Teresa Carreño (1853 – 1917) was a Venezuelan composer and pianist whose role as a child prodigy started with her New York City premiere at age eight. She would go on to a long, successful concertizing career, often performing her own works. Two U.S. presidents, Lincoln and Wilson, invited her to play for them.


Sarah Cahill. Courtesy of Christine Alicino.

Sarah Cahill. Courtesy of Christine Alicino.


By the time she was 15, she was already an experienced composer, as evidenced in the piece Cahill chose to represent her. Un rêve en mer (A Dream at Sea), from 1868, was subtitled “Etude-Meditation.” This Schumann-like work and Cahill’s performance capture the roiling of both the ocean and the imagination freed by sleep.


Other interesting items from Volume 1 are a movement from Au sein de la nature (In the Midst of Nature) by Leokadiya Kashperova (1872 – 1940), best known as Stravinsky’s piano teacher, and the second movement of 8 Descriptive Pieces by the American Fanny Charles Dillon (1881 – 1947).

Cahill steps outside of her role as producer and pianist for Fireside by living composer Eve Beglarian. The instrumentalist is expected to accompany herself as she recites an essay by Ruth Crawford Seeger in a sort of Sprechstimme style. The piano part is a slow, dissonant chord progression that then doubles in speed before melting into legato.


The just-released Volume 2, The Dance, is anchored by three relatively well-known women. Élisabeth Claude Jacquet de La Guerre (1665 – 1729) whom I wrote about previously in Copper (Issue 78), is represented by a dance suite from her Pièces de Clavecin. Cahill brings an oddly modern sensibility to the opening Prelude, heavily pedaled; it works if you don’t think of it as Baroque but rather a timeless musical wandering. That’s what Preludes were meant to be anyway.


Germaine Tailleferre’s (1892 – 1983) Partita, composed in 1957, has three movements. The first is an ethereal take on the trope of perpetual motion, much explored in the late Romantic period. The second, Notturno, floats eerily until it reaches the border of the technically demanding final movement, Allegramente. Another interesting discovery for me was Madeleine Dring’s (1881-1947) programmatic Colour Suite. The movements “Blue Air” (a gentle blues) and “Brown Study” (a swinging tribute to Bach) are highlights here. Cahill also includes the first-ever recording of She Dances Naked Under Palm Trees, by 46-year-old American Theresa Wong.

The Variations Op. 20 gives a glimpse of Clara Wieck Schumann’s (1819 – 1896) gifts. (See my article in Issue 92.) The best-known living composer on offer is Meredith Monk (b. 1942), whose St. Petersburg Waltz, featured here, was first recorded on Monk’s Volcano Songs album in 1997.

And then there are the less famous women whom Cahill is helping to illuminate for all to see. Zenobia Powell Perry (1908 – 2004) was a Chicago-based African American civil rights activist with classical music training. She wrote an opera called Tawawa House as well as orchestral and choral works. Cahill chose her Rhapsody from 1960, a quiet, intriguing short work clearly inspired by her studies of species counterpoint.

Grammy-nominated composer Gabriela Ortiz gives Volume 2 a taste of Latin music with her two-movement Preludio y estudio No. 3 for Piano. The 2011 work draws its language from 20th-century classical, jazz, and syncopated dance rhythms. Cahill tackles and convincingly conquers the relentlessly tricky rhythms in the second movement, reminiscent of the comingling of these genres by Heitor Villa-Lobos.


Next up in this admirable series is Volume 3, scheduled for March 2023. The details of its contents have not yet been released, but it’s reasonable to expect some great treats and hidden gems. You can learn more about all the composers featured in The Future Is Female project on an info-packed page within Cahill’s website: https://sarahcahill.com/the-future-is-female/


Header image of Sarah Cahill courtesy of Kristen Wrzesniewski.

Around the World In 80 Lathes, Part 24

Around the World In 80 Lathes, Part 24

Around the World In 80 Lathes, Part 24

J.I. Agnew

J.I. began his overview of Danish-made Lyrec record cutting lathes in Issue 173.

All Lyrec disk recording lathes, from the SV-2 to the SV-10, had similar features. They were all direct-driven by Lyrec’s own synchronous AC motors and featured massively heavy brass vacuum platters. They had a characteristic console shape, with an overhead carriage (located above the platter, instead of below, as was the case with Neumann and Scully lathes). The carriage was guided by a linear shaft system, with a leadscrew taking care of advancing the cutter head in the usual manner.

The cutter head suspension system was built into the carriage and featured a miniature vise clamp for holding the cutter head, which would come with a rectangular bar at the back that was designed to fit into the vise jaws. Although in the stereophonic era this would typically be an Ortofon cutter head, other cutter heads could also be fitted to a Lyrec lathe by using a suitable, custom-machined rectangular bar. However, the overhead design did not allow as much clearance and flexibility as with the Neumann and Scully lathes, since the space above the platter was limited by the presence of the overhead mechanism. As a result, massive heads such as those made by Westrex would not be able to be mounted with the correct geometry on the Lyrec suspension unit, even if a custom adapter was made.


The Lyrec SV-12 suspension unit, with the vise clamp cutter head mounting system. Courtesy of Electric Mastering.

The Lyrec SV-12 suspension unit, with the vise clamp cutter head mounting system. Courtesy of Electric Mastering.


Lyrec lathe with the covers removed, making visible the drive shaft and motor below the platter. Courtesy of Electric Mastering.

Lyrec lathe with the covers removed, making visible the drive shaft and motor below the platter. Courtesy of Electric Mastering.


While the linear-shaft guide rod overhead system design was most probably first introduced by Fairchild (see Bill Leebens’ article in Issue 89 for an example of an early 1930s Fairchild Aerial Camera Corporation disk recording lathe, predating a nearly identical unit made in much greater numbers by the Fairchild Recording Equipment Corporation) and also used by RCA (Model 73 and 73B) and Presto (Model 8D, 8DG and 14B) in a very similar configuration, a very similar concept had previously found application in ruling machines, and more importantly, in ruling engines used to manufacture diffraction gratings used in spectroscopy. In fact, in the industrial world the ruling engine is the machine with the highest degree of similarity in scope and scale to the disk recording lathe. Compared to the Fairchild (Model 199, 539, 523 and 740), Presto, and RCA incarnations of the guide- rod overhead mechanism, the Lyrec design was absolutely massive, and grew massive over time in later iterations. It was supported by two large cast pillars on either side of the platter and looked elegant and symmetrical.

The slanted front of the cabinet that the lathe sits on, contain all the electronic controls for the cutting parameters, along with large, distinctive meters – two meters in the earlier models and three in the later ones. The audio electronics, in the form of the cutting amplifier rack, were of course separate, as with all large lathes intended for professional use.

Lyrec lathe from a vintage brochure. Courtesy of Electric Mastering.

Lyrec lathe from a vintage brochure. Courtesy of Electric Mastering.


It was commonly accompanied by the Ortofon range of cutting electronics, which began as vacuum tube units and developed into solid-state designs. In the monophonic era, Lyrec also made their own electronics, but eventually left that up to Ortofon, still keeping it all-Danish, to be enjoyed with Anthon Berg chocolate, or perhaps croissants with Lurpak butter spread on them while they are still warm out of the oven.

The first one of the three meters displayed the amount of current delivered to the stylus heating coil. On the later models, the meter in the middle would indicate groove depth in µm (microns, where 1 µm equals 0.00003937 inches). The suspension unit in these lathes contained a “depth coil,” which would allow the depth of cut to be adjusted electronically, usually automated by the onboard recording pitch and groove depth control automation system. This arrangement would only work with floating cutterheads and could not be used with an advance ball system (see Issue 162 and Issue 163 for further details on floating and advance ball cutter heads. The last meter would display the recording pitch in grooves per inch (GPI, which was exactly the same unit of measurement as the lines per inch (LPI) found on Neumann and Scully lathes. In fact, both are directly related to threads per inch or TPI, which is the standard English unit of measurement of screw thread pitch, which is the cylindrical equivalent to a vinyl record. An old phonograph cylinder could be considered a screw with a very fine thread. On the later Lyrec models, equipped with pitch/depth automation electronics, the pitch could also be automated.

The control electronics for the automation systems would require a “preview” signal, arriving 0.5 revolutions of the platter before the actual program signal would arrive at the cutter head.


The Lyrec SV10 lathe at Electric Mastering in London, UK. Courtesy of Electric Mastering.

The Lyrec SV10 lathe at Electric Mastering in London, UK. Courtesy of Electric Mastering.


The massively heavy brass vacuum platter on a Lyrec disk mastering lathe. Courtesy of Electric Mastering.

The massively heavy brass vacuum platter on a Lyrec disk mastering lathe. Courtesy of Electric Mastering.


This would typically be supplied by one of the Lyrec TR-range preview head tape machines (two different models were made for this application), since at the time, Studer, Telefunken, and Ampex only made preview head tape machines that were compatible with Neumann and Scully lathes, which did not use the 0.5-revolution delay time. It was much later on that Studer, Telefunken and MCI made versions of their machines that were compatible with the 0.5-revolution delay time, but that was because Neumann had decided to use this on the then newly-introduced VMS-80 disk mastering lathe, departing from the 0.5-revolution delay time of their earlier lathes. This 0.6-revolution delay time remained in use and was carried over to the VMS-82 DMM (direct metal mastering) lathe, but by that point the digital delay line had replaced most preview head tape machines in the field, and in any case Lyrec had entirely left the disk recording and mastering sector.

The choice of brass as the material for the vacuum platter on Lyrec disk recording lathes was very appropriate, if rather unusual. Most other lathes had cast aluminum platters, with some early units having cast iron platters. The platter was supported on an oil bearing and the driveshaft to the floorstanding Lyrec direct-drive motor had elaborate, sculpture-like elastomer decoupling disks, to prevent the transmission of vibration from the motor to the platter.

All in all, while not very well-known or widely used (only around 30 to 50 machines were ever made, all models counted in), Lyrec lathes were extremely sturdy machines, capable of exceptionally high performance. Some had found their way to the USSR, used in the Melodiya studios, perhaps to avoid having to buy American or German lathes. Melodiya eventually replaced these with Neumann lathes, which is probably what eventually led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.


Detailed photo of the leadscrew drive system inside a Lyrec lathe. Courtesy of Electric Mastering.

Detailed photo of the leadscrew drive system inside a Lyrec lathe. Courtesy of Electric Mastering.


Inside the Lyrec lathe: Leadscrew drive system, pitch control electronics and platter drive system. Courtesy of Electric Mastering.

Inside the Lyrec lathe: Leadscrew drive system, pitch control electronics and platter drive system. Courtesy of Electric Mastering.


Pete Hutchinson of Electric Mastering and Electric Recording Company in London, England has painstakingly restored a rare example of these fine machines, which the companies use for their all-analog transfers of original master tapes to disk, for their extremely high-quality reissues. As others have noted in Copper and elsewhere, their attention to detail is phenomenal, even down to actually utilizing traditional letterpress printing for the artwork!

If you want to hear what a Lyrec lathe is capable of, one of the Electric Recording Company releases or an early Melodiya record (up to the late 1960s) will demonstrate what these excellent machines were capable of.


Header image: two Lyrec lathes, originally used in Moscow, along with an Ortofon cutting electronics rack and a Lyrec tape machine. Photo courtesy of Edward Nowill.

The Elusive Del-Vikings

The Elusive Del-Vikings

The Elusive Del-Vikings

Anne E. Johnson

You’d think the Del-Vikings would be pretty simple to research. The popular doo-wop group, formed in 1955, had a few hits over ten years. What could possibly be complicated? As it turns out, everything.

Let’s start with the name. Were they the Del-Vikings, the Dell Vikings, the Del Vikings, or the Dell-Vikings? Yes! At one time or another, every one of those versions was used to promote them. And as for their discography, well, that’s a mess of a whole other level. I’ve relied on several sources here, including liner notes, books, and blog posts by Marv Goldberg, Thomas Holzhacker, and Carl E. Janusek to untangle the situation. But really, it’s all about the music itself, and nobody can question that.

Also beyond scrutiny is how the Del-Vikings started. Tenor Corinthian “Kripp” Johnson, tenor Samuel Patterson, baritone Don Jackson, and bass Clarence Quick were all in the US Air Force when they started singing together, calling themselves the 4 Deuces. They won an Air Force talent contest, which eventually landed them on The Ed Sullivan Show. After they added a fifth member, David Lerchey (bari-tenor), they changed their name to the Del-Vikings.

Lerchey’s presence was important beyond his musical contribution. He was, at first, the only white member of the otherwise Black group. Integrated pop groups were nearly unheard of at the time. Meanwhile, Norman Wright replaced Patterson and Joe Lopes joined as guitarist (adding another racial aspect to the mix).

In 1956 they recorded a few songs in the basement of DJ Barry Kaye. The singles went nowhere, but Kaye did introduce the group to the founder of Fee Bee records, who signed them for their first professional recordings. More personnel changes (possibly because of Air Force postings) happened around this time, including bari-tenor Gus Backus, who sang lead for their first hit, “Come Go with Me.”

Or did he? According to many listeners, yes, it was Backus. According to others, no, it was Norman Wright. Even Wright’s son recently told a reporter that his dad sang that song. Of course, Backus’ son has made the same claim about his own dad. Like I said, it’s complicated.

By 1957 there were Del-Vikings singles available on Fee Bee Records and Dot Records. Somehow both companies were able to offer “What Made Maggie Run,” written by country singer Joey Biscoe and featuring his lead vocals. (That same recording was put out twice more by Dot and again by Fee Bee in 1966; none of those releases make it clear that the track is not new.)


That same year they signed with a third company, Mercury. One of their first songs under that contract was “Jitterbug Mary.” Gus Backus sang lead (an uncontested fact, apparently). The frenetic energy, slapping bass, rhythm guitar, and simple drum backbeat made this adored dance music for the time. They had also added a saxophone to riff between verses. The twangy guitar lick at the end is a precursor to the Memphis soul sound of groups like Booker T & the M.G.’s.


The confusion about Del vs. Dell and the presence or absence of a hyphen pales in comparison with what happened to the group’s name at this point. Much of the blame for this confusion goes to Joe Averbach, founder of Fee Bee Records, who was determined to hide the fact that he was flooding the market with Del-Vikings.


As just one example, Averbach released some DV tracks on a new label, Petite, but he called them the Versatiles. Chuck Jackson sang lead on those songs. But a close look at the catalog shows that some of the same tunes were released on Bim Bam Records as “Dell Vikings featuring Chuck Jackson.” One such number is the rockabilly “Cold Feet.”




In the early 1960s, Lopes went to pursue other guitar opportunities, and several of the band’s singers had been deployed by the Air Force. Some of the originals joined up occasionally to perform as the Del-Vikings, but not in a consistent way. Averbach went ahead and re-invented the group. It was Johnson and Kripp, plus Willie Glenn, Ritzy Lee, and Doug White. They signed with both Columbia and Criterion. One of their singles was “Pistol-Packin’ Mama,” with Glenn and Lee on lead. On this track, the doo-wop style is pushed out by the novelty folk sound.


What I’ve described is a mere taste of the confusion. Dedicated music historians like Marv Goldberg have untangled this spaghetti-knot of names. It should also be noted that researchers’ job got even trickier thanks to the massive fire at Universal Studios in 2008. At first it was reported that the fire destroyed almost 50,000 pieces of film. That’s tragic enough. But the powers that be hid the fact that upwards of 150,000 sound files from Universal Music Group were also destroyed (a reporter for The New York Times uncovered that). The Del-Vikings was one of the groups that lost original material.


As previous tracks have shown, the Del-Vikings made some effort to move stylistically with the times. Maybe the most extreme example is the 1969 song “Keep on Walkin’,” which takes advantage of the growing popularity of funk. The label, Jo Jo Records, calls the group the Del-Vikings, but the only veteran DV is Kripp Johnson. Still, it’s interesting to hear this genre associated with a name synonymous with doo-wop. There’s also a Black-identity/civil rights element to the lyrics that fits with the funk but is surprising under the Del-Vikings name.


A more traditional Del-Vikings regrouped in 1970 for a successful few years on stage and in the studio. They managed to come close to the original line-up, with Quick, Wright, Johnson, Lerchey, and William Blakely, one of Quick’s cousins who had joined in 1957. The new version of the group signed with Scepter Records, allowing them to record new arrangements of some of their hits.

They re-recorded “Come Go With Me,” which did pretty well on the Easy Listening charts in 1973. This time it was definitely sung by Wright.

And they had more new material in them. Back again with Fee Bee Records (whose label design had not changed in 20 years), they recorded “Hollywood and Vine” in 1977. Johnson, Wright, and Quick were joined by Chuck Corby, who sang lead.


If you watch PBS, you’ve probably run into their doo-wop retrospectives during pledge drives. The Del-Vikings have been involved in those since 2000. That first year, Wright and his two sons joined David Lerchey as the line-up. Lerchey and Wright have since died.

In fact, almost all the original Del-Vikings have passed on. The exceptions are Chuck Jackson and guitarist Joe Lopez. The most recent 1950s member to leave us was Gus Backus, who in 2019 took with him to his grave the secret of whether he sang lead on the original “Come Go With Me.” But it doesn’t really matter. It’s a jumping tune no matter who’s singing. Thanks, Del-Vikings, for giving us a reason to boogie.


Header image: the Del-Vikings, 1957. Courtesy of Wikipedia/public domain.




Roy Hall


It was the razor wire that really got my attention. The concrete paving of the back garden and installation of a 10-foot perimeter fence was bewildering, but the addition of razor wire seemed excessive.

My wife and I lived in Israel in the early seventies. We rented one half of a two-family home in Ra’anana, a small town (at that time) northeast of Tel Aviv.

The house was very simple but it had everything a young couple needed. Only 700 square feet, it had two bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room and a shower with a separate toilet. (Most Israeli homes have the toilet separate from the bathroom.)

The bonus was the garden. Small as the house was, it sported a front, side and back garden and, just to sweeten the pot, it backed onto an agricultural field, bordered by poplar trees and in the distance, orange groves. In spring the perfume of the orange blossom so permeated the air that it almost made you high.

We created a garden and I planted two poplar trees in front of our door. At that time, I had no idea how tall they could grow. Last time I visited, the current owner had removed one. But the remaining one, almost 50 years old, was still proudly standing at least 60 feet in the air.

The early seventies were also a time of Soviet immigration to Israel. Most anyone who could prove a Jewish relative was given an exit visa and routed, mainly through Vienna, to Israel. Many immigrants came to the US instead, but a fair proportion came to Israel, and quite a few settled near us.

Our new neighbors were from Bukhara, a city in Uzbekistan. The history of Bukharin Jews under the Soviets and before that, the Tsars, was always difficult and in a recent reevaluation of the facts, it justified the razor wire and fence.

But not knowing this at the time, it seemed paranoid and really ugly.

The family consisted of a father, mother and two teenage daughters. Most communication was done through the girls as they spoke Hebrew as well as Russian and a local Bukharin dialect. Both daughters were sweet and friendly, likewise their mother. But the father was small, wizened, scary-looking and constantly suspicious. As much as I tried to befriend him, he had no interest in me or mine.

I would bump into him from time to time but he never even acknowledged my existence.

Sometimes, he would invite friends over and they would spend the night singing what sounded to us like dirges. Long and sonorous, they would last until the wee small hours and often, as the dividing wall between our houses was thin, the noise would drive us crazy.

The mother, (I never knew her name) would often prepare food in the back garden, and one day I watched in awe as she carefully removed the skin of a chicken, tied off the holes for the legs and wings, and stuffed it so well with a mixture of meat and vegetables that it looked just like a whole chicken again.

A few weeks before Passover, a lamb appeared in the yard. It was frisky and fluffy. Every morning one of the girls would feed the lamb and over the weeks it grew bigger and fatter.

The day before Passover, the father tied the hind legs of the lamb, hoisted it on a gallows-like structure, and after saying a prayer, slaughtered the beast with a long-curved knife. I am not squeamish and have seen animals killed this way before but somehow, the quick demise of this sweet little lamb touched a chord in my heart. Nevertheless, the aromas from their kitchen the following night were so wonderful that I wished they would have invited us to their Seder.

A few houses down from us, by pure coincidence, lived a couple I had known in Scotland from my days in Habonim, a Jewish Zionist youth movement.

Ella and Frank were from London and we became fast friends. The majority of the people we met in Israel at that time were immigrants, thus friendships blossomed quickly as families and old friends were far away. (To this day, I am still in touch with many of the people I befriended there.)

Ella and Frank had a dog called Snoozer, a misnomer as he was medium-sized, black and hyper-active. He was a street dog. This was common in those days and dogs were free to roam hither and thither.

One day I heard barking and I saw Snoozer yapping at the heels of one of our neighbor’s daughters. She looked scared and scampered up the steps into her house. A moment later, our neighbor, wearing long johns, emerged. On his head was a Red Army military cap and in his right hand was the same long-curved blade he had used on the hapless lamb. With a frenzied look in his eyes, he lunged at Snoozer, who scampered off as fast as he could to avoid being cut to pieces. As hard as he tried, he never caught the dog but I am sure the incident didn’t help endear him to his new country.


The man standing in the vestibule of my front door was young, tall and mannerly. In accented Hebrew, he asked if he could cut my lawn and for emphasis, pointed to a bicycle with a wooden platform at the front. Sitting on top of it was a lawnmower.

Samir, as I later discovered, lived in a nearby Arab town called Qalqilya. In those days there was no separation barrier between the West Bank and Israel. Travel to and from the West Bank was common for both Israelis and Palestinians. Qalqilya was about 10 miles from where we lived and I often visited the outdoor market to buy chickens and vegetables.


Qalqilya. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/أمين.

Qalqilya. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/أمين.


He looked like he needed the work so I said yes, and he started coming each week to tend the garden and cut the grass. He was newly married and within a year was the father of a boy. I congratulated him and bought a gift for the baby. He asked if my wife was pregnant and when I told him no, he told me that Allah would provide. The next year, Allah blessed him with another son. I noticed that he had acquired a young man to help him. The following year he had yet another son, and instead of a bicycle, a van plus another helper. Samir was doing well. After work we would hang out on the patio at the back of my house. We drank sodas. Samir was devout and never touched alcohol. We would talk about the political situation (which was never good); he commiserated with me that I had not yet fathered a child. I never had the courage to tell him that we had decided to wait a while before trying.

He kept inviting me to his home. He told me that I was welcome any Saturday and all I had to do was go to the marketplace and ask anyone for Samir’s house.

One day we did go.

We had asked our Israeli friends Margalit and Ze’ev to join us. They had both been in the army during the various wars that Israel had with their neighbors, and Margalit was uncomfortable with the idea of visiting Qalqilya and socializing with an Arab family. But I persisted and she agreed to join us.

True to form we asked a vendor at the market where Samir lived, and a small boy, followed by an entourage of children, escorted us to Samir’s home.

Samir was delighted to see us. He lived in a one-room house and I noticed that, neat as it was, there were mattresses on the floor.

He spoke to his wife who gathered up the children who were scattered about the yard. He then ushered us onto his patio. His garden was full of fruit trees. I recognized guava, Surinam cherry, fig, lemon, orange and avocado trees. His patio was covered by a grape arbor with clusters of black grapes hanging above our heads. He served an array of soft drinks: Coca Cola and Fanta, a jug of pomegranate juice, and also Laban Ayran, which is a yogurt-based drink.

After some small talk he invited us into his house, which had been transformed into a living room. The children were spotless and wearing their best clothes. Samir’s wife was wearing a long loose-fitting dark green robe called a thobe which was beautifully decorated with a red crossed -stitching called tatreez. I later found out that the different stitching and robe colors varied from area to area in the West Bank.

On the table I recognized baklava, kanafeh (a sweet cheese pastry), and balah el sham, a deep-fried dough with powdered sugar on it similar to an Italian zeppole. We were served Turkish coffee with hel (cardamom) floating in it. Everything was delicious but as the visit progressed, our friend Margalit became more and more anxious. She kept hinting that we leave but decorum forced me to stay a little longer.

When finally, we departed, Samir, ever-gracious, thanked me for coming and told me that our visit had honored his home.

On the way home, Margalit was a wreck. The proximity of the “enemy” was too much for her and as we drove home, she sobbed and told us that quite a few of her friends had died in the wars so her enmity for Arabs was very real.

Soon after, the Yom Kippur War broke out. Although it lasted less than three weeks, attitudes, including mine, changed and normal travel to the West Bank ceased.

After the War, I realized I would never visit him again.


Header image: Bukhara, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Adam Jones.

The New York Audio Show 2022, Part Two

The New York Audio Show 2022, Part Two

The New York Audio Show 2022, Part Two

Harris Fogel

Even though Manhattan is the center of the photography universe, amazingly, it’s never had its own major photography festival. Sure, there are events like PhotoPlus Expo, held each fall at the Javits Center, which offers a combination of a trade show, lectures, seminars, and workshops. However, a dedicated conference in Manhattan just for photography didn’t exist, until the creation of Photoville a few years ago in the DUMBO area of Brooklyn. By the same token, for a very long time, New York hasn’t had any audio shows to compare with AXPONA, or the late great Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, or the ever-more-important Capitol Audio Fest.

What New York City does have is a small, friendly, engaging alternative. The New York Audio Show 2022, put on by the Chester Group, was held right off of Times Square in the Martinique New York on Broadway, an easy hotel to travel to. There were only a few floors of rooms, not all of them filled with audio gear, but the exhibits that were there were great fun.

Our colleague Tom Methans has already written his impressions about the show in Copper in Issue 172, and I wanted to add my thoughts and photos here. The show lasted only two days, and I kept wishing for a third, as once I had an opportunity to visit each room and hobnob with fellow audio wizards and good-deed-doers, I really wanted a chance to just listen and chill, and I’ve found that a third show day is perfect for that, as was the case with T.H.E. Show in Long Beach, California. The other benefit of a third day would have been the opportunity for Steve Guttenberg to show off another cool shirt; as it was, we only were treated to two.

One advantage of having a show in New York is getting an abundance of audio press. Herb Reichert, Frank Doris, Tom, Steve, Howard Kneller, Michael Trei, Danko Suvar, Kal Rubinson, and other audio journalists and myself were there enjoying themselves in a low-stress setting. Oops, I meant they were hard at work. Since one of the goals for many exhibitors was to gain coverage and reviews of their gear, this was a painless way to do so. For an excellent video tour of the show, check out Part One and Part Two of the show coverage from “The Listening Chair with Howard Kneller” on YouTube.


Now here's a foursome for you: Steve Guttenberg (The Audiophiliac), Herb Reichert (Stereophile), Frank Doris (Copper) and Howard Kneller (Copper, The Listening Chair with Howard Kneller, Sound & Vision, and others).

Here’s a foursome for you: Steve Guttenberg (The Audiophiliac), Herb Reichert (Stereophile), Frank Doris (Copper) and Howard Kneller (Copper, “The Listening Chair with Howard Kneller,” Sound & Vision, and others).


The show had a family vibe to it, with people like David Chesky (HDtracks, The Audiophile Society), and his daughter Paloma Dineli Chesky and son Lucca were in attendance, while musicians like Pedro Díaz (English horn player for the Metropolitan Opera) were hanging out and enjoying themselves. The Chesky family has been busy, with David Chesky’s new release The Great European Songbook, and Paloma’s just-released new album Paloma on Chesky’s new high-resolution venture, The Audiophile Society. Paloma is a wonderful new title, all the more astonishing for a performer of her age (15). We were able to listen to it on GT Audio Works’ large system, with help from Andrew Gillis of music server and audio hardware company Small Green Computer. Greg Takesh (GT Audio Works) was there with his daughter Lydia, Harry Weisfeld (VPI) was there with his son, martial arts master Mat and his kids. VPI had a turntable in the Gershman Acoustics room (makers of a highly-regarded line of loudspeakers), with Ofra and Eli Gershman providing a welcoming atmosphere in addition to first-rate sonics via their Grand Avant Garde loudspeakers.


Proud father and daughter, Paloma Dineli Chesky with David Chesky.

Proud father and daughter, Paloma Dineli Chesky with David Chesky.


Eli and Ofra Gershman showed off their Grand Avant Garde speakers.

Eli and Ofra Gershman showed off their Grand Avant Garde speakers.


While there might not have been lots of rooms, they were all interesting. The large Chelsea Room A featured the GT Audio Works Reference 3 speaker system ($59,900), Manley Laboratories Neo Classic 250 mono amplifiers ($16,599/pair), a LampizatOr Horizon DAC ($50,000), a Pass Labs X32 line stage ($18,375) Small Green Computer Sonore Signature Rendu SE Optical Tier II and sonicTransporter i9 Optical music servers ($4,800 and $2,999), Magnan Cables, Richard Gray’s Power Company powerline conditioners, and a Butcher Block Acoustics equipment rack. This was one of the largest rooms at the show, and a bit of a welcome respite from the smallish rooms on other floors. It was also one of the only rooms willing to crank some rock and roll. The sound was open, large, and impressive, and the bass response was truly sublime. The music source was a Sonore music player from Small Green Computer. It is an impressive bit of engineering, designed with ease of use and the needs of audiophile users in mind.


Part of the system in the GT Audio Works et. al. room.

Part of the system in the GT Audio Works et. al. room.


 Brian Dunne, one of the principals of the show, with Greg Takesh of GT Audio Works.

Brian Dunne, one of the principals of the show, with Greg Takesh of GT Audio Works.


Small Green Computer's Andrew Gillis served up tasty music in the GT Audio Works room.

Small Green Computer’s Andrew Gillis served up tasty music in the GT Audio Works room.


Chelsea Room B hosted a small marketplace for independent vendors, including Chesky Records, audio distributor Fidelis and Lab12 electronics, Neat Acoustics loudspeakers, ArgentPur cables, and Beyma America, distributors of Beyma loudspeaker drivers and components. The Greeley Square room featured the Gershman Acoustics Grande Avant Garde loudspeakers ($17,500/pair), which sounded as good as they looked. The speakers were complemented by a VPI Avenger turntable, Eon Art integrated amplifier, and Cardas cables.


Walter Swanbon of Fidelis with A Neat Acoustics speaker and Lab 12 Suara power amplifier.

Walter Swanbon of Fidelis with A Neat Acoustics speaker and Lab 12 Suara power amplifier.


Ernie Meunier of ArgentPur cables, holding up a spool of pure silver wire used in their construction.

Ernie Meunier of ArgentPur cables, holding up a spool of pure silver wire used in their construction.


It was a sunny day with beautiful weather and the author was hungry, so Howard Takesh of GT Audio Works offered to buy me lunch at a food court near the venue. Want a good portrait made...that’s one way to do it!

It was a sunny day with beautiful weather and the author was hungry, so Howard Takesh of GT Audio Works offered to buy me lunch at a food court near the venue. Want a good portrait made…that’s one way to do it!


The M101 room displayed the most unique power cable I’ve ever seen. Their $9,999 Hypernova featured a central copper strand, and outer wires with strands held apart with 3D-printed plastic separators every few inches, all clad with a sheer cloth covering. The system included M101’s Hypernova power and speaker cables, Paradigm Persona 3F speakers ($11,998/pair), a Mola Mola Kula integrated amp, Townshend Audio Seismic isolation podiums and pods, and Millercarbon Cable Cradles, with an Ecoflow Delta 1300 battery to power the system. The system sounded open and musical. M101 speaker, interconnect and power cables are the creation of Dr. Lubomir Dostal, a physicist with a doctorate from Freie Universität Berlin. The M101 name references the gorgeous M101 Pinwheel Galaxy in the constellation Ursa Major, and their new cables are just as intriguing.


The M101 room.

The M101 room.


Dr. Lubomir Dostal, inventor of M101 cable technology, holding an unsheathed portion of their Hypernova power cable to display its unique design.

Dr. Lubomir Dostal, inventor of M101 cable technology, holding an unsheathed portion of their Hypernova power cable to display its unique design.


Mahrukh (May) Anwar, Mitchell Kuch, and Dr. Lubomir Dostal of M101.

Mahrukh (May) Anwar, Mitchell Kuch, and Dr. Lubomir Dostal of M101.


Part Three will appear in Issue 175.


Header image: Harry Weisfeld of VPI Industries.

All images courtesy of Harris Fogel.

Back to My Reel-to-Reel Roots, Part 25: Half-Full – Not Half Empty

Back to My Reel-to-Reel Roots, Part 25: Half-Full – Not Half Empty

Back to My Reel-to-Reel Roots, Part 25: Half-Full – Not Half Empty

Ken Kessler

Ken Kessler looks again at the availability of reel-to-reel hardware – and drools with envy 

All it took were the words of a semi-troll/moron replying to an Instagram posting. Up came a breathtaking shot of a fabulous collection of 25 or more open-reel tape decks, all mint, all desirable. It’s the sort of post which makes Instagram worth checking out if you’re an audiophile (and have no love for Pinterest), joyous reinforcement of one’s obsession, so to speak. Akais, Revoxes and TEACs galore: suddenly I didn’t feel quite so perverse for owning 10 machines.

Sure enough, amidst all the replies with hearts and smiles and thumbs-up emojis came a miserable kvetch. Alas, I cannot find the posting again, so I can’t provide a verbatim quote, but the whiner complained that the reason he couldn’t find a decent deck was because of hoarders like the one on Instagram, gobbling up all the good machines.

Yes, I felt a slight twinge of guilt for having an abnormally large collection, while two of my closest friends each own four or more reel-to-reel decks, and none of us are musicians with home studios so we have no excuses. Worse, just last month I picked up a decrepit Revox D36 – see the header shot – for UK £150 (US $160) purchased because it’s historically important as Revox’s first stereo model. And if it’s D.O.A. and beyond reincarnation, it will make a perfect static display in a planned audio museum.

But then it dawned on me: the Instagram reply contained the words of an idiot. Make no mistake: I am a decrepit old fart, the sort of old codger Gen X comedians love to hold up as an example of techno-illiterate types who cannot deal with online banking, automated car parks, or self-scanning check-outs in supermarkets. In other words, a geriatric cliché who thinks streaming is what I have to do every night at 3AM.

In reality, while I can barely program a microwave to brown food after heating, I’ve been a computer user for nearly 40 years, been online for nearly 30, survived the pre-USB/Bluetooth/Wi-Fi years by setting up scanners and printers the hard way, and used a modem and dial-up internet access before these social media snowflakes were even spermatozoa. Most of my septuagenarian contemporaries, too, are able to use WhatsApp, e-mail and even their Amex and Subway and Amazon apps. Who knew!

So how did this putz miss the – literally – hundreds of open-reel decks available at any given time on eBay, Audiogon or a host of other selling sites? Last year, I managed to snag a decent, clean, working Teac X-3 from eBay for under UK £300 (US $320), a means of shopping which I normally prefer to limit to less-risky, less-expensive purchases than used hardware. There is no doubt that the Instagram crybaby was online-savvy enough to post a moan on said medium, so how is it he hasn’t heard of Google, or how it would respond to the search entry of “Open-reel tape decks for sale” with 7,510,000 results?


A classic Revox A77 – yours online for under $1,000.

A classic Revox A77 – yours online for under $1,000.


Some of you must be wondering why I am so crotchety about this, arguably over-reacting to a mini-aggression from someone I will never meet. (I hope.) Call it old age, my current state of ire due to a crumbling (UK) government, a shrinking pension fund, or a dozen other things which have nothing to do with some anonymous cretin complaining about reel-to-reel tape deck availability. But his bitching is synecdoche for everything from cancel culture to woke-ism to anything else that grownups should protest, combat, challenge and eliminate.

Had he (it could only be a “he”) bothered to use that unknown, obscure program called Google, he would have found the following available for him to acquire, just on eBay alone (and these are from the US eBay.com, not my local eBay.co.uk, presuming he was from the States), all open for bids:

Pioneer RT-707, as is, $388 plus $85.00 shipping

Otari MX5050, $280.00 plus $68.82 shipping

Akai 1800, $150.00 plus $79.10 shipping

Revox A-77, $200.00 plus $49.09 shipping

Crown Series 800 Model 8800, $1,750.00, local pickup

Technics RS-1500U w/cover, $1,484.00, free shipping

It went on like this for 20 pages: half of the ads were for tape decks, the other half for parts including reels, heads, etc. I found, without working up a sweat, at least 30 machines I would have bid on if I lived in the USA, had loads of space, and wasn’t a pensioner. What was this schmuck’s problem?


Technics' hot RS-1500, which is all over eBay.

Technics’ hot RS-1500, which is all over eBay.


Sure enough, even more support arrived via an unsolicited email, and I have no idea how I got on the list. But, oh! am I grateful. During a recent visit from Kevin Root, manufacturer of the wonderful RX Reels carbon fiber tape reels, he told me of the myriad companies in the USA restoring, improving and/or pimping tape decks, especially Technics, Teac and TASCAM models, and how, if you could handle the premium pricing, it was a guaranteed way to acquire an as-new deck. Lo and behold, I received an e-mail from a company called Reel To Reel Haven.

Unwisely, I logged onto the site, and could feel my credit card straining at its leash. Their missive promised, among other services, the following:

Full-service repair work

Full restoration services

Sales of tape decks and all related products (reels, hubs, tape, etc.)

Note the last item: “Sales of tape decks.” Their selection, although biased toward pro and semi-pro users, still contained three hugely desirable, audiophile-friendly Pioneer 909s, along with four Otari MX5050s, a Studer A-810, and an Ampex ATR-700. The prices were far less terrifying than those of the luxo-machines that start at five figures, the nine decks on offer ranging from $2,500 to $9,210, which is so far below the price of brand-new decks from Ballfinger or Metaxas as to qualify as bargains, especially as they are, I presume, fully serviced.


An Otari MX5050: go to eBay and you can have one too.

An Otari MX5050: go to eBay and you can have one too.


Then it hit me in the gut. Although Reel To Reel Haven posts its showroom/studio locations as two in Brooklyn and one in Chicago, the mailing address undermined my 50 years as an ex-pat living in the UK. It was listed as Cumberland, Maine…an 18-minute drive from where I grew up. Looks like I gave up more than decent rye bread, cheap lobster and DiPietro’s Italian sandwiches.

KK note: music playing at the time of writing is Roy Drusky’s The Pick of the Country (Mercury STC60973 7.5 ips tape) via the aforementioned Teac X-3.


All images courtesy of the author.

Steven Page (Formerly of Barenaked Ladies): Soaring Higher with Excelsior

Steven Page (Formerly of Barenaked Ladies): Soaring Higher with Excelsior

Steven Page (Formerly of Barenaked Ladies): Soaring Higher with Excelsior

Ray Chelstowski

Barenaked Ladies (BNL) is a Canadian rock band that helped define the 1990s. As a rock outfit they found a way to marry musicianship and humor in a manner that brightened their studio work, and facilitated live performances that were electrifying. A BNL concert always brought with it theatrics and huge amounts of humor. This set the act apart from the angst-driven sounds that were so prevalent during that period. Maybe the band’s most vital voice came from Steven Page, an artist blessed with one of the best sets of rock pipes around. He has power, muscle and at the same time can deliver incredible control and style during some of the most intimate of musical moments.

When Page left Barenaked Ladies, a big part of what made the band work left with him, and he embarked on a solo career. There he has been exceptionally ambitious, exploring some of rock’s most outer reaches and band constructs. Last month, Page released a new record, Excelsior. It’s his first solo album since 2018 and it is as ardent as anything he has done to date.

The album’s 11 tracks were composed and produced entirely by Page after having been workshopped for audiences on his popular virtual concert series Live From Home, which Page has been conducting via Zoom since April 2020 over the course of 92 episodes. Page played most of the instruments on Excelsior, and was joined at times by Craig Northey (guitar, vocals) and Kevin Fox (cello, vocals), who are also members of the Steven Page Trio, his touring ensemble. Also heard on Excelsior are Doug Elliott of the Odds (bass), as well as Joe Pisapia (pedal steel), who had been a member of Guster. Steven’s brother Matthew Page also guests playing drums, and his contributions are impressive.

Steven Page, Excelsior, album cover.

Steven Page, Excelsior, album cover.


The record is broken into three Acts and in the vinyl format presents the final side as a blank, with no music or record groove Intended as a start-to-finish spin, Excelsior is both lavish and economical in its approach. Everything found on these three sides fits and holds together as a single expression that a fourth side of songs might only diminish.

As always, Page is in fit form vocally, and the group he has assembled to compliment his contributions will make you further wonder why he so sparingly releases new material.

Recently, the Steven Page Trio opened select North American dates for the Who. It’s a dream gig for Page, who grew up a fan of that Brit sound. We caught up with him mid-tour to talk about the new record, what it’s like opening for such a legendary act in some of the world’s biggest rooms, and what’s next after he and his trio jump off the tour and take to the road as headliners themselves. Page is one of rock’s great men of music, an advocate for breaking conventions and finding sounds that are just out of most people’s reach.

Ray Chelstowski: Your first solo record, 2010’s Page One is a singles-driven record. Excelsior is more of an opus. How did you decide on the approach for the new release?


Steven Page: Obviously anyone would love to have a hit record. But when you get honest with yourself and acknowledge that it’s not going to be that thing, you make the record that you want to listen to. Honestly, when you know that there’s less pressure, you look to trust that the people who love your music are going to go along for the ride. You don’t write songs that could potentially be played on the radio. That doesn’t exist anymore because radio is different. So it prompted me to ask myself: what kind of album would I want to hear? What music moves me when I listen to it and what can I learn as a musician? Then you add to that a lot of things you’ve experienced and have done. For example, I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years with this ensemble called The Art of Time. That’s when the imposter syndrome starts to wear off and you understand that you can do what you didn’t think was possible.

RC: I’ve read that you “workshopped” this music on your virtual concert series. How do you test-drive songs that in the end become such larger productions, with broader arrangements, and so on?

SP: Well honestly, there are songs that I haven’t figured out how to do live just yet. That’s also the magic of not being “on the clock.” Most of us are making records in our home studios now, not being on the big studio clock. You can take your time. On a live stream you really can’t [though]. Sometimes what I would do is pre-film one part and then duet with myself. But in general, those songs are quite stripped down. Some were simply born out of necessity. “Zoom” is one example was a song that I wrote for an alphabetical show I had done [where I would write songs with titles for the letters of the alphabet]. One thing about [doing] streaming shows is that it’s the same audience every week. You can’t do the same set list every night, or every week.


RC: Do you have a disciplined approach to the writing process or does your work usually arrive in spurts?

SP: That idea of the disciplined habit and format is so foreign to me. The one benefit of the pandemic is that my live show was every Saturday and it made me focus on the shape of the week. As a musician I’ve never had to do that other than when my kids were in school. Separately, one of the things I would do is an opening theme song with a film for every show. [Those were moments where I knew that I needed a song and couldn’t wait until inspiration struck.

What I’ve realized over the years is that with the stuff I’ve labored over, there’s some sense that it didn’t quite live up to what I had hoped. The stuff that comes from the ether often needs no work, and some of my favorite songs are ones that spilled out over the course of an hour.

RC: The new record opens with a funeral song called “Feel.” It allows the entire record to build, and I’m not sure where else it would have fit in the tracking, but was storytelling the intent behind this approach?

SP: That’s exactly it. I couldn’t figure out where else to put it, and because several of those songs reference each other, either musically or thematically, I needed to put that one first because the song “Safe,” the seventh song of that set, ends with an echo of the chorus of “Field.” So I needed those two songs to complete the circle. Normally I would start the record with a song like “The Golden Age of Doubling Down.” It sounds like what I think people think a Steven Page song sounds like and it’s got a feel that is exciting. But that’s commercially-minded, and I wanted this to unfold like a story and hope that people stuck with it long enough to experience the whole thing.

RC: Songs like “Look to the Stars” and “She’s Trying to Save Me” have a very British Invasion feel. Was that the sound you were shooting for throughout?

SP: It’s really where my heart lives. If you look at the British music scape, everything from the classic stuff through the stuff I grew up loving in the 1980s, like Prefab Sprout or Deacon Blue, that’s all in there. For me it’s about what music is evocative and takes me on a trip.

RC: You are opening for the Who without drums or bass. How do you fill these big rooms with sound?

SP: Opening for another band has been one of my favorite things to do because nothing beats winning over an audience that’s not prepared to like you. We used to do that in BNL, but here as a grown adult playing in front of the Who, you wonder if the audience is as open-minded as Pete (Townshend). And, when you don’t have bass or drums in the mix it just gives you so much more headroom for the house guy to turn you up and give you this kid of presence. The best thing is when after a few songs, the audience starts to come on board.


The Steven Page Trio. Courtesy of Robert Georgeff.

The Steven Page Trio. Courtesy of Robert Georgeff.


RC: You were able to achieve great success coming from Canada, but that still seems very elusive for many Canadian artists. Is it as difficult as it appears?

SP: It’s interesting because so many top 20 artists are Canadian right now, whether you look at Drake or The Weeknd. These people are dominating the charts, but they have had to make it work in the United States. Drake obviously keeps his empire in Canada. But they have made their connection to the audience through [making it in Los Angeles], which is the old model, what Joni and Neil did. They moved away in order to make it happen. The Canadian music industry along with the Canadian government decided in the early 1970s that they needed to fix this. They wanted to nurture a creative, artistic community in order to keep everyone from leaving to make a living, and that’s happened. But it feels like it did in the 1980s where, when you get signed to a label in Canada you get ignored by everyone else. In the end, it’s hard for everyone to get noticed because there are so many ways to get your music out there now.

RC: You have collaborated with many artists but your work with the founder of Duran Duran, Stephen Duffy, is among my favorites. Is there any chance that you might work together again in the future?

SP: Funny you should ask. I just finished a tour of the UK in September. But I went there early to spend some time with Stephen and his family in Cornwall. We have stayed in touch with each other but haven’t written together in 20 years. While I was there we wrote about a half an album’s worth of stuff. I have all of the tracks to finish up and the intent is to make The Vanity Project, Part 2.

RC: After you finish up your dates with the Who, what’s next?

SP: We do a tour of the Midwest in November and then January looks like a West Coast tour, followed by a pretty mammoth Canadian tour. We are just starting to sort out spring and summer. My hope is that we get another gig like this one. The fact that we were able to make it work on the big stage as a trio was just so affirming to us, like we’re doing something right, and I really don’t have any need or desire to slow down.


Steven Page. Courtesy of JD Scarcliff.

Steven Page. Courtesy of JD Scarcliff.

Wordless Expression

Wordless Expression

Wordless Expression

Peter Xeni


Tape vs. Vinyl: An Old <em>Pawnshop</em> Favorite

Tape vs. Vinyl: An Old <em>Pawnshop</em> Favorite

Tape vs. Vinyl: An Old Pawnshop Favorite

Adrian Wu

I just received my reel-to-reel tape copy of Jazz at the Pawnshop from AudioNautes Recordings last week. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this recording, who I suspect will be very few, I will outline its origin. This is a live recording made over two days in December 1976 at the Jazzpuben Stampen (meaning pawnshop in Swedish) in Stockholm of a six-piece jazz band consisting of alto saxophone, clarinet, piano, vibraphone, drums and bass. The recording was made by the independent Swedish record label Proprius, on two Nagra IV-S portable tape recorders with 2-track, 1/4-inch tape running at 15 ips. Nagramaster equalization was used, with Dolby A noise reduction. Neumann U47, M49 and KM56 microphones were employed, and mixed to stereo in real time on a Studer mixer. This is almost the exact same set up that my team has been using to make live recordings for the past 20 years, except we do not use noise reduction.

The Nagramaster equalization places the high frequency transition at 11.8 kHz, which is more than one octave above the more common IEC/CCIR equalization. This means that during playback, the high frequencies are not boosted until well beyond the tape hiss frequencies, but at the expense of reduced headroom. Recordings made with this EQ therefore have less noticeable tape hiss.

Jazz at the Pawnshop was originally released as a double-LP in 1977. For the US market, the LPs were cut at half-speed and pressed at JVC in Japan, and distributed by AudioSource. This is the LP version that I bought on its initial release. The recording was immediately lauded by hi-fi magazines and audiophiles and has become a standard for equipment demos in showrooms and audio shows. Jazz at the Pawnshop has been reissued in almost every format imaginable, and 58 versions are listed on Discogs. The latest version available is on 1/4-inch, 2-track, 15 ips tape, and is the subject of this review.


Jazz at the Pawnshop contents.

Jazz at the Pawnshop contents.


AudioNautes is an Italian company that reissues recordings on LP and digital formats. They have already reissued several Proprius recordings, and this year they got into the tape format for the first time with another well-known Proprius release, Cantate Domino. Proprius sent AudioNautes the original session masters. The use of these original tapes is becoming increasingly rare, as we have learned from the latest Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab controversy. There is usually only one session master in existence, unless several tape recorders were used in parallel during the recording session (we always run two Nagras in parallel). Editing was often done directly on this tape, and therefore a genuine edited session master (called an edited work part) should have many splices. Record labels would make production masters off the edited work part to be used for cutting LPs, making cassettes and CDs, and as backup copies. The original master is then locked away and rarely touched again.

After a number of years, the splices on the session master would have become fragile and often needed repairing. These session tapes therefore need to be handled with great care. Some of these recordings were made on tapes that turned out to suffer from sticky-shed syndrome, where the magnetic oxide particles that hold the recorded signal fall off from the tape backing. Tapes in this condition need to be baked at a precise temperature to drive off the moisture before they can be played, and there are only a limited number of times one can do this. Prying these masters out of the hands of the record labels is therefore a big deal.

According to Fabio Camorani, the owner of AudioNautes, a straight 1:1 safety master was first copied from the session tapes, as stipulated by his contract with Proprius. The safety master was analyzed to identify any problems on the session tapes that required attention. A production master was then made from the session tapes, using the minimum amount of manipulation necessary to correct the problems. Customers’ tapes are produced by copying from the production master one by one, using two directly-connected Otari MTR-15 professional tape machines.


One of the reels of the Jazz at the Pawnshop set.

One of the reels of the Jazz at the Pawnshop set.


The packaging of this reissue is in my opinion the best of all the commercial tapes I own, as befitting the reissue’s Italian origin and price (€1,340 directly from AudioNautes). Jazz at the Pawnshop comes in two large boxes with a beautifully-printed reproduction of the album cover in front. Each box contains two reels, each reel placed in its own plastic casing from STIL. Each reel contains the full 33 minutes (2,500 feet or 762 meters) of tape, even though a couple of the reels contain only 20 minutes of music. That means a bit more winding and rewinding, but it makes the product look more uniform and professional.

There is a technical sheet giving details of the recording as well as the duplication, and a certificate of authenticity. A booklet outlines the background of the recording and the technical details of the production of the tapes. Photographs of the venue and the band members are also included. The high-output SM900 studio tape from RTM is used with custom metal reels that are laser-etched with the title and the individual serial number. My set has a serial number of 009, and the contract with Proprius does not limit the number of copies that can be made, even though Fabio might call it a day after he has produced a certain number of copies.

I don’t remember ever sitting down to listen through the whole album in the past for the purpose of evaluating the quality of the sound and music, even though I must have heard Jazz at the Pawnshop reproduced in more systems than any other, given its ubiquity in showrooms and demonstrations at one time. Doing so now is quite revelatory. I started with the AudioNautes tapes, played on my Nagra T Audio tape machine with the playback head wired directly to my DIY balanced tube tape head preamp. I should note that I recently modified the equalization circuit of the preamp. Previously, I used a latching relay to switch between the different available EQs. As I use CCIR/IEC 99 percent of the time, I have decided to hardwire the components directly to avoid passing the signal through the magnetized switch. I only need to re-solder a wire in each channel if I want to change the EQ. I also replaced the trim pots in the EQ circuit with precision metal foil resistors, since the frequency response has remained very stable over time.

Just a few minutes into the first reel, what struck me was the scale of the sound. The soundstage is wide and deep, with the wind instruments placed upfront. The result is very impressive, as if you are sitting just off the front edge of the stage. There is no audible tape hiss at my usual listening volume, as expected from an early-generation master tape copy. The sound is extremely alive, with highly realistic dynamics. Even though the recording is upfront in perspective, there is no harshness, which can be especially problematic with saxophones and trumpets. The drum and piano solos are rendered with jaw-dropping realism. The transient and dynamic impact and the reverberation sound completely natural, one of the areas where analog has an advantage over digital.


The master tapes for Jazz at the Pawnshop, from the set's booklet.

The master tapes for Jazz at the Pawnshop, from the set’s booklet.


Information from the set's booklet.

Information from the set’s booklet.


The piano, in particular, has a weight and solidity that is rare in recordings, a reach-out-and-touch realism. The sound of the vibraphone is crystalline with a roundness of tone that reflects the material the ends of the mallets are made from. The imaging is superb, with each note occupying its space in the air in all its three-dimensional splendor. The music is fun, played with enthusiasm and verve, even though it breaks no new ground. This is not the kind of demonstration record that one has a hard time sitting through. Now that the overdose from 30-odd years ago has dissipated, I will be more than happy to come back to it from time to time for pure musical enjoyment.

After going through all four tapes, I moved on to the original LPs. They are still in pristine condition since I bought them new and have only played them a few times. I gave them a wash in my Degritter ultrasonic cleaner, and then played them on my Classic Turntable Company-modified Garrard 301 turntable. I use a 12-inch tonearm built by a German gentleman called Alfred Bokrand, based on the original Ortofon AS-212 but with new bearings, brass counterweights ,and a banana-shaped aluminum arm tube. This arm has the lowest distortion of any pivoted arm I have encountered, and has better low-frequency extension and power than my SME 3012. The cartridge is an Ikeda 9TT, and the phono preamp is of the same design as my tape-head preamp, with the same complement of NOS tubes.

I must say the LPs sound very impressive also. The scale is a little smaller than the tape. The LPs seem to have a bit more high-frequency energy, which could be down to the mastering, or perhaps the session master has lost some high frequencies with age. The most obvious difference is in the weight and solidity of the piano. While still very impactful, it lacks the reach-out-and-touch quality I hear on the tape. The drums, too, are just that little bit less dynamic than on tape, something one would not notice without a back-to-back comparison.

Analog tape has this naturalness and flow that is hard to find on LPs, usually only present on direct-to-disc recordings. The sound of this tape has more density, more saturated tone color, and more life-like dynamics compared to the original LPs. The whole process of LP mastering and manufacturing, no matter how well done, will compromise the sound quality to some degree. A direct copy from the original master tape is going to get you as close as possible to the recording session, unless you have the resources to buy the record label (as the Hong Kong-based owner of Naxos, Klaus Heymann, has done) and get your hands on the original masters. But even if you do, would you be willing to play these ancient and precious tapes repeatedly? Record labels are increasingly reluctant to grant access to their master tape collection, which means the window of opportunity to own copies of genuine master tapes might soon close altogether. Anyone who enjoys Jazz at the Pawnshop should therefore seriously consider investing in this set of beautifully-produced tapes.

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part 32

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part 32

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part 32

B. Jan Montana

The Bhagwan played his sitar for about 20 minutes. Most everyone left for home during that time. When he looked up, he seemed surprised to see that there were still eight or 10 people sitting in the audience. He asked if there were any more questions.

“Thank you Bhagwan,” a female student responded. “I have trouble sleeping because I often wake up with worries on my mind. Then I can’t get back to sleep, which causes me to get up exhausted. I’m not an unhappy person by nature, but this makes me cranky. Is there a way to stop this cycle?”

“I understand. You’d like to get back to sleep as soon as possible because you have a busy day planned, but you can’t because your subconscious keeps filling your head with unwanted thoughts.

You can’t override these worries with positive thinking. Fear easily overrides the other emotions and you’ll soon be back to the negative self-talk.

Panic is a reaction from a primal fear center buried deep within a primitive area of the brain stem called the amygdala. Unfortunately, the amygdala can’t distinguish real from imagined threats, so even if the scenario was only a nightmare, your amygdala will implement the fight or flight response. Then you wake up in a sweat and breathing hard.

You can defeat this response with the movement of your diaphragm. The amygdala perceives slow, relaxed breaths as a signal to stand down.

This is why yogis often emphasize the importance of breath control or pranayama. You can neutralize the panic response by doing what gurus from the East have taught for thousands of years: control your breathing. Westerners seldom take this practice seriously because they don’t understand how a simple, physical exercise can change a person’s emotional state. However, studies using brain scans have produced empirical evidence for the effectiveness of pranayama. As a result, it is gaining respect in the Western world.*

The technique is actually quite simple; you can try this as I speak:

– Close your eyes and fill your lungs with air. Rather than taking one large breath, take two shorter breaths with a half-second delay in between. Make sure you fill your lungs completely.

– Now exhale slowly through your nose. Use your vocal cords to slow down the rate of your exhalation. This will cause your vocal cords to hum, ooooooohhmmmmmm. You’ll find that the sound and vibration of the humming helps to relax the mind – like a purring cat.

– For as long as you are humming, slowly move your eyes behind your eyelids from the extreme right to the extreme left. Then hold your eyes in the extreme left position until you’ve filled your lungs again.

– As you exhale, slowly move your eyes from the left to the right while exhaling, and hold them there until your lungs are filled again. Repeat over and over again.

Some people use imagery to facilitate this process. The one that seems to be most popular is to imagine your eyes following a ship as it slowly pulls into the harbor while humming in tune with its air horn. At the next exhale, your eyes follow another ship as it pulls out of the harbor in the opposite direction while humming in tune with its air horn.



When you first try this, you’ll find that your breaths are faster than you’d like, but if you persist, your bloodstream will saturate with oxygen and you’ll be able to slow your breath considerably. You’ll also be able to take longer pauses in between breaths.

By slowing down your breath, you’ll find yourself slowing your heart rate, which will reduce your anxiety. When your anxiety is under control, you’ll sleep well.

Another reason this practice works is because when your mind is occupied with breath control and eye movements, it is not focusing on your fears or problems. Breath control works much like a Koan, it shuts down that endless stream of consciousness which keeps you on edge.

This technique makes it physically impossible for your mind to remain in a state of high alert. You can do this any time you feel anxious: before an exam, waiting for the doctor or dentist, at a long stop light, in a grocery store line, etc. It has a remarkable calming effect and practiced regularly, will drop your resting heart rate and blood pressure.*

Pranayama can take your mind into a theta state – when the subconscious is most subject to suggestion and reprogramming. You are in a theta state under hypnosis, just before you doze off at night, just as you wake in the morning, when you’re zoning out on music, or anytime you are so completely engaged in what you are doing that you lose track of time. Those are the times when you should feed yourself positive affirmations, i.e.: I am popular, loved, respected, I am a good friend, spouse, employee, golfer, etc.

By practicing pranayama, you are taking control of your thoughts. Once mastered, your subconscious mind will no longer be able to control your behavior as the programming of your “hard drive” controls the behavior of your “computer.” You must learn to take control of your “hard drive” and reprogram it according to your wishes, or you’ll spend a lifetime being controlled by your conditioning and fears.”

Another student put up his hand. The Bhagwan nodded. “Sometimes when I go to bed at night, my muscles are so tense my body feels like it’s vibrating. Do you know of an exercise to alleviate that?”

“You’ve got a bad case of hypertension, son.” The crowd chuckled. “You’ll need to sort that out before you develop health problems.

If your muscles are relaxed, it’s impossible for you to be hypertensive. So, use your imagination to pretend that your whole body is made out of iron. Just lie there and think of each of your limbs, your head, your torso – made of solid iron. Once you’ve convinced yourself of that, imagine a giant electromagnet underneath your bed. Then throw the switch, which pulls your body so strongly into the mattress that you can’t move a muscle. This will signal your musculature to relax.

For those who are uncomfortable with electricity, think of your body as being made out of lead so heavy you can’t lift your limbs.

With practice, this will become a potent relaxation tool.”

Another student asked, “Bhagwan, I’ve heard that chakras can help us deal with life. How can we make them work for us?”

“Chakra simply means energy field. There are seven of them in the yogic tradition. Western science has recently confirmed that the human body is surrounded by an energy field. It’s strongest around the head and that is the origin of the halo image in religious paintings. But in fact, the entire body is surrounded by energy fields – which expresses in different colors. It’s too late to go into chakras now, but the important thing to know is that a bright white aura reflects optimum physical and mental health. How does this help you?

You can use the power of your imagination to influence your energy field. If you convince your subconscious during the theta state that your entire body is surrounded by a bright white aura, like the rays of the sun, your subconscious will react in a manner consistent with that image. It works much like a spell check on your screen. Incorrect words contrary to the programming of the subconscious will be automatically rejected. Disease and failure will be automatically rejected; witness the power of the placebo. What most distinguishes high achievers is their ability to direct their subconscious mind to generate only the desired result.

I know all this is a lot to take in, and some subconscious minds here may have already rejected it, but this system works, and it’s becoming more accepted as modern science validates these ancient yogic practices.”*

A student stuck up her hand again to ask another question, but the Bhagwan waved his hand.

“It’s late, and I’m sure we are all tired,” the Bhagwan responded, “so I suggest we end our session here.”

With that, the Bhagwan picked up his sitar and walked into his Airstream, followed by his two assistants.

I looked to Melody. “Wow, that’s a lot of information. I’m glad I got it on my recorder.”

“I’d like a copy of that.” She smiled and asked, “Why don’t you follow me back to the trout pond? I’m sure we’ve got a cabin available.”


*For more on this subject, see the YouTube podcasts of Dr. Andrew Huberman, Stanford School of Medicine associate professor of neurobiology. – Ed.


Header image courtesy of Pexels.com/Natalie.

Previous installments appeared in Issues 143144145146147148149150151152153154155156157158, 159, 160,  161, 162, 163164165, 166, 167, 168, 169, 170, 171, 172 and 173.

The History of A&amp;M Records, Part Eight: Horizon Records

The History of A&amp;M Records, Part Eight: Horizon Records

The History of A&M Records, Part Eight: Horizon Records

Rudy Radelic

In 1975, A&M Records established a subsidiary jazz label called Horizon Records. John Snyder (who had previously worked with producer Creed Taylor) was the label’s creative director, and left in 1977. Tommy LiPuma took his place, and attempted to take the label into a “contemporary music” direction. After releasing 41 albums, A&M would shutter Horizon in 1979 because of declining sales. The Horizon label would go dormant for a spell, then would be reborn in 1984 as a spiritual music label in partnership with Word Distribution; this version of the label would shut down in 1987.

This article will highlight the jazz era of Horizon Records and feature a sampling of some of the artists who recorded for the label. Given the short life of Horizon, it is surprising to see such an array of jazz and other music on the label, as well as an impressive artist roster.

Quite a feather in their cap, Horizon was home to the 25th anniversary reunion of the classic Dave Brubeck Quartet featuring Paul Desmond, Joe Morello and Eugene Wright. While the album contained familiar Quartet tracks like “Take Five” and “Three To Get Ready,” Eugene Wright was a featured composer on this record with his “African Times Suite.” The album, save for one track, was recorded live in March, 1976 at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Interlochen, Michigan. Desmond also recorded an album for Horizon, as well as a duet album with Brubeck (Duets).


The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band had a home on Horizon for a handful of records. From the album New Life, here’s the track “Love and Harmony,” composed by Cecil Bridgewater.


Sounding like a cross between The Crusaders and Earth, Wind & Fire, the group Karma released two albums on Horizon, the better of the two being Celebration. In the group are some well-known studio musicians and singers including Ernie Watts, Oscar Brashear, Deniece Williams, Leon “Ndugu” Chancler, Chuck Rainey, and Syreeta Wright. This is “Kwanzaa.”


Dancing in Your Head was Ornette Coleman’s sole album on Horizon. This is “Theme From a Symphony (Variation 1)” which ran the entire length of Side One on the record. One of Coleman’s label mates on Horizon was Charlie Haden, who was an original member of the Ornette Coleman Quartet.


Guitarist Jim Hall recorded two albums for Horizon, and the album Commitment features a handful of well-known sidemen including Art Farmer, Ron Carter, Tommy Flanagan, and others. This is the track “Indian Summer.”


Even Chet Baker had an album on Horizon – You Can’t Go Home Again. Notable is the impressive list of sidemen on this record, including such musicians as Michael Brecker, John Scofield, Tony Williams, Hubert Laws, Don Sebesky, Kenny Barron, Ron Carter, Ralph McDonald, and Paul Desmond (for which this was his final recording session). This is the title track to the album, featuring Desmond with Baker.


A few of the Horizon Records titles remain out of print with no digital release, and this rarity is among them: The Revolutionary Ensemble’s The People’s Republic. The music on this album is avant-garde, experimental music, led by Leroy Jenkins who was a part of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). The video below begins with “New York” from the album.


The Japanese trio Yellow Magic Orchestra (bassist Haruomi Hosono, drummer Yukihiro Takahashi and keyboardist Ryuichi Sakamoto) had a hit with “Computer Game (Theme from ‘The Circus’)” on Horizon. (See John Seetoo’s interview with Ryuichi Sakamoto in Copper Issues 108 and 109.) It is one of the earliest recordings of synth-pop, and featured the Roland MC-8 Microcomposer, programmed by Hideki Matsutake. The album was notable in that there was an original release in Japan and Europe, whereas the American version on Horizon was remixed by Al Schmitt and dropped the final track, “Acrobat.”


Horizon did have occasional chart success. One of those occasions was Brenda Russell’s self-titled solo debut album, which reached No. 65 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, while the single “So Good, So Right” reached No. 30 on the Hot 100. Russell penned most of the songs on this record, and Rufus drummer Andre Fischer produced.


The final album on the jazz era of the Horizon label was Ben Sidran’s The Cat and The Hat, which Sidran dedicated to the memory of Blue Mitchell, Frank Rosolino and Eddie Jefferson. Again, the cast is a who’s who in jazz (among them Lee Ritenour, Steve Gadd, Mike Mainieri, Michael Brecker, Tom Scott, and Pete Christlieb), and Joe Henderson takes a solo on “Seven Steps to Heaven,” which closes out the album.


Others who would record albums for Horizon Records include David Liebman, Sonny Fortune, Ira Sullivan, Jimmy Owens, Don Cherry, Gerrie Niewood, Billy Hart, Seawind, David Grisman, and Dr. John.

A&M was home to another jazz label offshoot, which would evolve into its own separate label apart from A&M. We’ll investigate those in our next installment in this 60th Anniversary series.


Header image: Chet Baker, Horizon Records promotional photo.

The Golden Decade for Popular Music…The 1950s?

The Golden Decade for Popular Music…The 1950s?

The Golden Decade for Popular Music…The 1950s?

Jeff Weiner

I belong to a music-listening group consisting of five people who get together once a month. Everyone gets a turn to be the host who provides the playlist, wine, and food. When it’s my turn, I like to develop themes for my playlists. I had been listening to the ‘50s channel on SiriusXM quite a bit and decided on “Stars of the 1950s” as a theme. My scheme was to only include artists who had more than a couple of hits during the decade. After doing quite a bit of research, I was surprised at the wide variety of music represented. There is no other decade that comes close.

Rock and Roll. While elements of rock and roll appeared earlier, the first major stars emerged in the mid-1950s. Let’s start with Elvis Presley. His list of 1950s hits is extensive. “Hound Dog,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Love Me Tender,” and “All Shook Up” are but a few. Chuck Berry was a legendary figure who has been called “the father of rock and roll.” “Maybelline,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” and “Johnny B. Goode” were all major hits.


Little Richard was a gospel singer who became a major star with songs like “Tutti Frutti,” “Lucille,” “Good Golly Miss Molly” and others. Jerry Lee Lewis was a rockabilly pioneer. “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “and Breathless” were all hits. Buddy Holly died tragically in 1959 but had many hits including “Peggy Sue,” “That’ll Be The Day,” and “Not Fade Away.”


Chuck Berry promotional photo. Courtesy of Pickwick Records/Wikimedia Commons/public domain.

Chuck Berry promotional photo. Courtesy of Pickwick Records/Wikimedia Commons/public domain.


Traditional Vocalists. There were quite a few “old school” vocalists who were still cranking out hits in the 1950s. Frank Sinatra’s career spanned many decades. In the ‘50s, “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” “You Make Me Feel So Young” and “Witchcraft” were among his major pop music hits. Frank’s friend, Dean Martin, was also doing very well with songs such as the iconic “That’s Amore” and “Memories Are Made Of This.”


Doris Day began as a big band singer and became a major actress while pursuing her singing career. She had a huge hit with “Que Sera, Sera” and also charted with songs like “Secret Love.” Nat King Cole evolved from his jazz trio to become a featured vocalist. Two of his 1950s classics were “Mona Lisa” and “Unforgettable.” Perry Como hosted television’s top 10-rated The Perry Como Show from 1956 to 1959. He had hits with “Hot Diggity (Dog Ziggity Boom)” and “Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes.” Eddie Fisher had an operatic voice and scored with “Oh! My Papa” and “Any Time.” His career took a jolt when he divorced Debbie Reynolds to marry Elizabeth Taylor.


Frank SInatra, promotional photo. Courtesy of Capitol Records/Wikimedia Commons/public domain.

Frank SInatra, promotional photo. Courtesy of Capitol Records/Wikimedia Commons/public domain.


Country Music. Country artists were also topping the popular music charts in the 1950s. Johnny Cash emerged during that decade by signing with Sam Phillips at Sun Records where he produced hits such as “I Walk The Line” and “Folsom Prison Blues.” Hank Williams was one of the first three people inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Among his many hits were “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “Hey Good Lookin’.” Marty Robbins had a lot of success in the decade with hits such as “El Paso’ and “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation.” Many people don’t think of the Everly Brothers as country music artists, but their first major recording contract was with Acuff-Rose in Nashville, the same people who handled Hank Williams. Their first hit was “Bye, Bye Love” and others included “Wake Up Little Susie” and “All I Have to Do Is Dream.”


Nouveau Vocalists. While many traditional vocalists were still producing hits during the 1950s, a new breed of singer was also emerging. These were mostly white performers often covering songs originally sung by Black artists. Pat Boone was second only to Elvis in terms of top 40 hits during the decade. “Love Letters In The Sand” and “April Love” reached Number 1 on the charts. Paul Anka came on the scene with “Diana” and became an important songwriter. He had other hits such as “Put Your Head On My Shoulder” and “Lonely Boy.” Ricky Nelson began his career as the 12-year-old son on The Ozzie and Harriet Show and later emerged as a major vocalist and film actor. Hit songs included “Poor Little Fool” and “Lonesome Town.”


Bobby Darin’s career was launched with “Splish Splash” and he had other major hits with “Dream Lover” and “Mack The Knife.” Johnny Mathis has two songs, “Chances Are” and “Misty,” in the Grammy Hall of Fame. Other Mathis chart toppers included “Wonderful! Wonderful!” and “It’s Not For Me To Say.”



Pre-Motown. Motown Records came into being in 1960, but there were major stars in the 1950s who were forerunners to the Motown sound. The Platters were a hit machine with three Number 1 singles during the decade: “Twilight Time,” “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” and “My Prayer.” Sam Cooke has been called “the man who invented soul.” He came on the scene in 1957 with “You Send Me.” Other hits during the 1950s included “Everybody Likes To Cha Cha Cha” and “Only Sixteen.”


Rock and roll, traditional vocalists, country music, nouveau vocalists, pre-Motown: what an interesting olio of music we were listening to in the 1950s! Who could ask for more? But wait, there is more! How about a little New Orleans music? Fats Domino was a major force during the decade with many Number 1 songs. “Blueberry Hill” and “Ain’t That A Shame” are in the Grammy Hall of Fame. Jazz greats Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Billie Holiday were also making the popular music charts. I doubt that there will ever be a more eclectic decade for popular music than the 1950s.


The Platters, promotional photo. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Martha Robi.

The Platters, promotional photo. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Martha Robi.


Header image: Hank Williams promotional photo, courtesy of WSM Radio/Wikimedia Commons/public domain.

Unholy Racket

Unholy Racket

Unholy Racket

James Whitworth