Issue 176

The Long and Short of It

The Long and Short of It

Frank Doris

Seen on a fortune cookie: “A short pencil is usually better than a long memory any day.” Tell me about it!

In this issue: Jay Jay French reviews the new Beatles’ Revolver remixes. Ken Kessler takes a break from his reel-to-reel roots series to review Mobile Fidelity’s 40th anniversary LP edition of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Wayne Robins covers Bob Dylan’s book, The Philosophy of Modern Song. J.I. Agnew goes to France for some cutting lathes and cuisine. John Seetoo is excited about going back to the Audio Engineering Society convention in New York. B. Jan Montana encounters wisdom in his epic pilgrimage to Sturgis. Tom Methans visits the University of Rhode Island Guitar Festival. Ken Sander finds that press junkets aren’t all play. Larry Jaffee is a kid in a candy store at the Philips museum.

Russ Welton continues his series on taming small-room acoustics. Ray Chelstowski talks with Glen Philips of Toad the Wet Sprocket and solo artist. I conclude my interview with Elliot Goldman of high-end distributor Bending Wave USA. Andrew Daly interviews Nora O’Connor, singer/songwriter and all-around musical secret sauce for the Decemberists, Iron and Wine and others. Rudy Radelic concludes his series on the 60th anniversary of A&M Records. Tom Gibbs makes an unexpected return to the audio dungeon. Anne E. Johnson praises groundbreaking classical composer William Grant Still, and the master of street poetry, Lou Reed. The Copper A/V squad concludes the issue by staying focused, encountering high voltage, getting nowhere, and visiting a city scene.

Staff Writers:

J.I. Agnew, Ray Chelstowski, Andrew Daly, Harris Fogel, 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, Steve Kindig, Ed Kwok, Ted Shafran, 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

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 – FD

The A&M Records Story, Part Nine: CTI Records

The A&M Records Story, Part Nine: CTI Records

The A&M Records Story, Part Nine: CTI Records

Rudy Radelic

This is a special installment in our A&M 60th Anniversary series. While it is out of chronological order with the rest, its unique circumstances allow us to hand off the A&M 60th Anniversary series to an article featuring another label. This one will highlight Creed Taylor and his partnership with A&M Records. This is where the CTI label was founded.

After an initial stint at Bethlehem Records, Taylor founded Impulse! Records during his time at ABC, and worked for several years at Verve Records (playing a large role in introducing bossa nova to the American masses). In 1967, A&M offered Creed Taylor the opportunity to start up CTI (Creed Taylor, Inc.) as his own record label, where he would be allowed artistic freedom.

Taylor’s prior musical and marketing direction at the aforementioned record labels would fully manifest itself while at A&M. With the help of graphics designer Sam Antupit, who designed CTI’s deluxe gatefold packaging with a bold border around a bold cover, and photographs by Pete Turner, Taylor created a strong visual identity for the new label.

This installment will feature an assortment of songs from the A&M/CTI label. Taylor’s productions for CTI would meander a bit at first as he tried to find his niche. Some recordings during his A&M partnership excel and foreshadow his future work, while others went out of print quickly, with little fanfare.

While at Verve, Taylor was on the forefront of the bossa nova revolution, recording numerous albums by pairing Stan Getz with Luiz Bonfa, Charlie Byrd, Laurindo Almeida, and others. It was no surprise that, after producing one album on Verve for Antonio Carlos Jobim, he would sign Jobim to his new label, with a focus on Jobim’s instrumental compositions as well as his piano and guitar performances. Few songs are as iconic in Jobim’s catalog as the title track from his album Wave.

Regarding the album cover, the original photograph, and originally released cover, were in the correct hues of red and purple. At some point in A&M’s history, a jacket was printed with the incorrect color plates, and the resulting green/blue variation is now common in US reissues of this album.


After several albums for Verve, Wes Montgomery also followed Taylor to CTI. In fact, the first catalog number on the new label (SP-3001) was assigned to his album A Day in the Life. Montgomery’s final recording was the A&M/CTI album Road Song. While the occasionally heavy-handed orchestrations of arranger Don Sebesky occasionally weighed the albums down musically, Montgomery’s signature guitar sound still cuts through the arrangements.


One stellar, yet often overlooked album was Tamba 4’s We and the Sea. The album opens with their adventurous arrangement of “O Morro (The Hill),” where leader Luiz Eça takes the group through a theme-and-variations exploration of the melody, and drummer Ohana takes what is perhaps the only drum solo on an A&M/CTI recording (featured below). Tamba 4 would record three albums for the label, yet originally, only this album and Samba Blim were released. It took until 2019, 50 years after it was recorded, to release their third album California Soul, which was one of two albums on the label to achieve legendary status.


For every artistic triumph on CTI, there was bound to be a disappointment or two. Taylor attempted to produce a pair of soul albums that underperformed. One of them was by soul crooner Richard Barbary, whose recording of “Nature Boy” on his album Soul Machine was one of its few highlights (featured in the video below). Slightly less obscure was singer Tamiko Jones, whose lone album I’ll Be Anything for You didn’t do much, either commercially or artistically. Jones had better luck in an earlier Atlantic Records recording with Herbie Mann (the delightful A Mann and A Woman) who, ironically, was also on the A&M/CTI roster. Perhaps an even bigger disappointment was the album Have You Met Miss Jones? by arranger Artie Butler, which falls strictly into “elevator music” territory.



Herbie Mann recorded two albums for A&M/CTI. His album Glory of Love was one of the label’s earliest releases, and features arrangements primarily by Mann. “Hold On, I’m Comin’” is covered on this album and featured below. The second album, Trust in Me, is most likely Herbie Mann (he has admitted as much), but billed as Soul Flutes. Mann was under contract to Atlantic Records at the time. It’s also interesting to note that flutist Hubert Laws appears on both albums as well, as he did on dozens of recordings with Creed Taylor over the years.


As noted, Taylor was instrumental in bringing bossa nova to the world consciousness through his numerous recordings on Verve. On A&M/CTI, Taylor presented the world with another new Brazilian sound: the music of Milton Nascimento. While Nascimento had recorded his first album in 1967, it was not released outside of South America. In 1969, Courage was released on the label, and his compositions would start appearing on numerous Brazilian recordings from that point forward.

Nascimento was part of the post-bossa nova movement in Brazil, and was part of the influential Clube da Esquina collective, composing songs with his Brazilian contemporaries. His international breakthrough came about through his participation on Wayne Shorter’s 1974 album Native Dancer.

Here is “Bridges (Travessia)” from Courage.


Paul Desmond recorded a pair of albums for A&M/CTI – Summertime, and From the Hot Afternoon. The latter is a Brazilian-themed album, featuring compositions and backing performances by Milton Nascimento and Brazilian composer Édu Lobo, with Lobo’s wife Wanda Sá assisting with vocals. On Summertime, Desmond starts off the album with a samba version of Louis Armstrong’s “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue” (entitled “Samba with Some Barbecue,” featured below).

Desmond recorded a third album, Bridge Over Troubled Water (with all Simon and Garfunkel songs), which was released on A&M. It is part of that transitional era when some of the artists would follow Taylor to CTI when it became independent, where others would change labels or switch to the main A&M label.


Prior to his two-album tenure with A&M/CTI, Quincy Jones was making a name for himself as a big band arranger and a composer of film and television scores. When he returned to recording jazz, he put less emphasis on big band arrangements and leaned more into the soul jazz that was building in popularity. After recording the Walking In Space and Gula Matari albums, Jones continued recording with A&M and became a producer. “Killer Joe” was featured on his 1969 Walking In Space album.


George Benson was another artist who followed Creed Taylor over from Verve, recording three albums for A&M/CTI. Yet his final album, I Got a Woman and Some Blues from 1969, was also supposed to be the final A&M/CTI release. It sat in the vaults for 15 years and was released in 1984 as part of the Audio Master Plus vinyl reissue series. While it’s not the strongest album in the catalog, the track “Durham’s Turn” is a standout.


Taylor had recorded trombonists J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding together as far back as his earliest days at Bethlehem Records. Like Tamba 4, they (billed as K. & J.J. or J. & K.), had recorded three albums for the label, yet only two (Israel, and Betwixt & Between) were released. The third album, Stonebone, was released only briefly in Japan in 1970. It achieved even more notoriety than the lost Tamba 4 album over the years, as California Soul was only rumored to exist. A look at Discogs shows a median price of $505 for this album, with an all-time high of $1,299. Thankfully, in 2020, the album was reissued by A&M in the US and Europe, and there are still plenty of copies available.

The few who heard the album raved that it was the best J. & K. record on the label, and a fine recording overall. Most of the earlier A&M/CTI albums featured shorter songs, apparently trying to keep the track times around three to four minutes each. On Stonebone, each side has only two tracks, and “Dontcha Hear Me Callin’ to Ya?” (below) stretches out to nearly 14 minutes. It foreshadows the direction Taylor would take with many of the albums he would release post-A&M.


This article concludes the A&M 60th Anniversary series. From here, we will launch into a short, occasional series looking at the many fine recordings on the CTI label once it left the confines of A&M and became fully independent.


Header image: Wes Montgomery, promotional photo.

A Visit to The University of Rhode Island Guitar Festival

A Visit to The University of Rhode Island Guitar Festival

A Visit to The University of Rhode Island Guitar Festival

Tom Methans

I first heard about the University of Rhode Island Guitar Festival during our annual fall trip to Narragansett in 2021. My wife and I like to make one final visit to shore when sunbathers are replaced by leaf-peepers and fishermen, and crowded sunny beaches transform into misty cold seascapes. So, it was a surprise to find our seaside motel filled with guests from all over the Northeast. We figured there was a wedding in town until a man in the next room mentioned a guitar festival at the URI campus just 15 minutes away in South Kingston. The festival was almost over by the time we got there, but we vowed to come back in 2022.

At first, I imagined the festival was going to be like Guitar Center on a Saturday afternoon before Christmas, full of burgeoning rockers shredding on the latest electric guitar gear. Maybe it would be equal parts concert, clinic, and retail bonanza. Anyway, I hoped there would be some interesting guitars. I remember seeing Aerosmith many decades ago and Joe Perry played a 10-string BC Rich “Rich Bich” with double the D, G, B, and E strings and four corresponding tuning pegs on the body of the guitar. Coincidentally, Bernardo Chavez Rico had started out building classical and flamenco guitars with his father before launching the visually unique B.C. Rich line of electric guitars. Speaking of iconic instruments, I love Jimmy Page’s double neck Gibson EDS-1275 – the one that looks like two Gibson SGs smushed together, a 12-string on top and the six-string below. That’s the one Jimmy uses for “Stairway to Heaven” in the film The Song Remains the Same. We all know the acoustic guitar figures prominently in the studio version of “Stairway to Heaven” – like the first five minutes – but Jimmy plays all the parts magnificently on his double neck. While the acoustic adds sparkle and tension before the solo, I don’t miss the Harmony Sovereign H1260 used in the studio version.

That’s how I generally think of acoustic guitars, as a prelude or background to the heavier stuff like Heart’s “Crazy on You,” The Who’s “Pinball Wizard,” Jimi Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower,” and a host of other hard rock songs. Otherwise, they’re the domain of people like James Taylor, Johnny Cash, and Joni Mitchell.

But there is a place where acoustic guitar exists all on its own, with absolutely no need for singers or accompaniments. The URI Guitar Festival has nothing to do with Jimmy Page playing a 1970s double neck and everything to do with Andres Segovia playing a 1912 Manuel Ramirez (currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York). Although the 2022 festival expanded into other plucked instruments, including the oud (pronounced ood), mandolin, and harp, there were no B.C. Rich or Gibson guitars. The festival is the realm of specialized luthiers like Juan Oscar Azaret, Stephan Connor, and Chapman & Fisher, to name just a few out of scores in the US.

Before the festival, I thought all acoustic guitars were basically the same – given their common origin. Today’s guitar evolved from the Renaissance-era Spanish lute known as the vihuela, which is still used to play mariachi and early European music. In the mid-1850s, luthier Antonio de Torres Jurado (1817 – 1892) developed what would become the standard for the earliest classical guitar and the forerunner of modern steel-string acoustic guitar. However, the classical guitar adheres to its historical traditions and expresses its differences through design, learning method, and playing technique.

The most important difference is that a classical guitar is built to accommodate only nylon or polymer strings, replacing the original animal gut and silk. (Technically, nylon strings are made from pure nylon for the E, B and G strings, and a nylon core with a steel wrap for the D, A and E strings.) A classical guitar usually has a figure-eight shape with a pronounced waist, distinguishing it from some of the acoustic models we might recognize, such as the familiar Martin D-35 “dreadnought” played by everyone from Judy Collins, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash to Pete Townshend, David Gilmour, and Bruce Springsteen. Furthermore, a classical guitar has a wider neck, more space between the strings, no position markers on the fretboard, and is played seated with a footstool instead of strap for support. Plucking and strumming is done with long fingernails or calluses instead of a plectrum (pick).


Adrian Montero, a Master's degree student in classical guitar performance at URI, during a seminar. Courtesy of Tom Methans.

Adrian Montero, a Master’s degree student in classical guitar performance at URI, during a seminar. Courtesy of Tom Methans.


One of the many educational seminars at the festival. Courtesy of Tom Methans.

One of the many educational seminars at the festival. Courtesy of Tom Methans.


To avoid confusion, the classical guitar, also called the Spanish guitar, is not the same as a flamenco guitar. The latter is lighter, thinner, and has strings closer to the body for easier tapping. It has clear, quick, loud, bright notes with short sustain and a slight buzzing sound. The flamenco guitar often accompanies a troupe and must be heard through singing, clapping, castanets, and the stomps of the flamenco dancer’s nail-studded shoes. Though the classical guitar may be included in string and chamber music ensembles, it really shines as a solo instrument. As Beethoven said, “The guitar is a miniature orchestra in itself.”

The other major difference is how one learns to play classical guitar. I’m sure there are exceptions for prodigies, but it is not a DIY-punk or self-taught process based on three chords. In order to interpret the old masters like Fernando Sor, Francisco Tárrega, and Agustín Barrios, years of formal study are required in programs offered by universities like the University of Rhode Island, not to mention private instruction and international competitions on a path to a career of teaching, recording, and performing.

With lectures, presentations, and master classes included in the ticket price, the URI festival provides a small glimpse of what it takes to play this amazing instrument. I attended a technique class by René Izquierdo, who discussed guitar ergonomics and demonstrated warm-up routines and the best positions for effective playing. If you’ve ever watched a classical guitarist, you might have noticed their posture and the angle of their guitar neck lined up close to the shoulder on the fretting arm. There are reasons for that. Try this exercise at home: sit perfectly upright and use a guitar, tennis racket, or mimic the position with your fretting hand at a 45-degree angle between your knee and head. Note how your wrist and shoulders feel. Then, move the guitar into a horizontal position and feel how the tension in your fingers, wrist, and shoulder change on the fretting arm. Did it also affect the range of motion in your strumming arm? Now, hunch over the guitar and crane your neck so you can see what your hands are doing. Has your breathing capacity decreased dramatically? Finally, go back to the original posture and notice how much better you feel, and how much easier it is to play with the fretboard and strings in full view. Hence, the point of Izquierdo’s lesson for new learners.


René Izquierdo. Courtesy of Marian Goldsmith.

René Izquierdo. Courtesy of Marian Goldsmith.


Next was a presentation by Juan Oscar Azaret, a luthier, engineer, and physics professor who worked at Bell Laboratories for many years. As an engineer and physicist, he understands the science behind sound and acoustics. Azaret performed a few Chladni tests showing the vibration patterns on a guitar’s soundboard and, with an oversized motorized string, he demonstrated what the string vibrations look like at certain notes, i.e. the number of Hertz. He then showed us how bracing patterns on the back of the guitar impact sound by demonstrating three instruments inspired by historic builders: Ignacio Fleta (1897 – 1977), Jose Luis Romanillos (1932 – 2022), and Michael Kasha (1920 – 2013). The students in the room remarked on the noticeably different tones and discussed which guitar designs were better for particular compositions and performance styles. Never before have I been able to appreciate the sound and nuance of a classical guitar played live in a room, let alone from three different bracing designs.

The final part of the morning session was a workshop with Simón Shaheen playing the oud (pronounced ood), a fretless pear-shape lute with a short neck and five couplets of strings plus a bass string. It is related to similar instruments found in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, and produces mesmerizing, complex, and layered Arabic music timed to 10 beats per measure. Simon Shaheen is a touring musician and instructor at the Berklee School of Music, Princeton, Columbia, and Julliard. If you have a streaming service, check out his band Qantara.


Juan Oscar Azaret tap-testing the soundboard of a guitar. Courtesy of Marian Goldsmith.

Juan Oscar Azaret tap-testing the soundboard of a guitar. Courtesy of Marian Goldsmith.


Simón Shaheen playing the oud. Courtesy of Marian Goldsmith.

Simón Shaheen playing the oud. Courtesy of Marian Goldsmith.

The rest of the day was scheduled with a master class, recitals by young performers vying for scholarships and prizes, and an evening concert featuring a string ensemble, Simon Shaheen on oud, and guitarist Andy McKee, with performances on acoustic and baritone guitars. Organizing and planning this Herculean event is Adam Levin, a classical guitar professor at URI, artistic director for the URI Guitar Festival, and a busy performer. He started the event in 2015 and has consistently increased attendance to its current fully-packed four days of education and performances. Next October will mark the eighth year of the Festival: the dates for 2023 are October 18 – 22, and you can start buying tickets as soon as July 1 of next year. For music lovers, being immersed in classical guitar is a great excuse to spend a fall weekend in New England. Moreover, Rhode Island is a year-round destination, with plenty of places to stay and eat near the campus. If you enjoy craft beers, there are a several breweries within a short drive of URI. My current favorite is Whalers.


Andy McKee. Courtesy of Simone Cecchetti.

Andy McKee. Courtesy of Simone Cecchetti.


Duo Sonidos: Adam Levin, guitar, and William Knuth, violin. Courtesy of Marian Goldsmith.

Duo Sonidos: Adam Levin, guitar, and William Knuth, violin. Courtesy of Marian Goldsmith.


Andrea Gonzalez Caballero. Courtesy of Marian Goldsmith.

Andrea Gonzalez Caballero. Courtesy of Marian Goldsmith.


The Great Necks Guitar Trio. Courtesy of Marian Goldsmith.

The Great Necks Guitar Trio. Courtesy of Marian Goldsmith.


Header image: Chinnawat Themkumkwun, courtesy of Marian Goldsmith.

Around the World In 80 Lathes, Part 26

Around the World In 80 Lathes, Part 26

Around the World In 80 Lathes, Part 26

J.I. Agnew

Our next destination on our lathe journey remains along the Mediterranean coast. France is highly renowned for its wine, gourmet cheese (Brie, Camembert, Comté, and countless other varieties of dairy creations, known to stimulate and occasionally even overwhelm one’s olfactory senses), crunchy baguette bread and various types of croissants, and picturesque villages along a vast labyrinthine network of small country roads with ridiculously low speed limits and steep fines for exceeding the posted speed limit by 1 kilometer per hour…!

Nobody speaks English out of principle and in order to be able to enjoy all that France has to offer in the form of culinary pleasures and treasures, you had better befriend one of the locals (and learn French to do so), as the opening times of restaurants defy any logic and are different from region to region. Museums and shops remain closed on certain workdays every month that are particular to each region, so insider information is required to be able to do anything there. Imagine being in gastronomic heaven, only to find out that you cannot actually get any food because it is the third Tuesday of September, so you drive on to the next village to be informed that you still cannot get any food because by now it is Wednesday, and in this region you could have gotten food on Tuesday!

It was presumably due to the aforementioned that back in the days when there was more of everything, certain individuals, trained in the fine ways of the screwdriver, decided that on the days when they could not obtain food, there wasn’t a much better way to pass the time than to manufacture disk recording lathes. Information pertaining to the French tradition of discographic contraptions is extremely scarce and exclusively limited to the linguistic traditions predominant in the country. In other words, you stand a better chance of being allowed to purchase a croissant on a Thursday than to find any information on French disk recording equipment in English.


A cutter head mount for a French recording lathe.

A cutter head mount for a French recording lathe.


One of the first French disk recording lathes I ever saw was called “Le Discographe,” with the initials “LD” appearing on various parts of the machine. After seeing a few of these lathes, I found out that LD actually stands for L. Dauphin, which I assume was the name of the manufacturer of the machine. I have encountered these machines in a few different configurations, with platter sizes ranging from 12 inches all the way to 14 inches. The turntable is idler-driven. The overhead lathe mechanism is fixed on supports on either side of the platter. The leadscrew is driven through a 90-degree angle-drive gearbox, but unlike American disk recording lathes, the input shaft is horizontally oriented, located on the left-hand side of the overhead and runs front to back, rather than to the side or straight down. This necessitates the use of a flexible driveshaft, similar to the flexible driveshaft used with Dremel tools. On the early machines I saw, this was connected to a pulley, on a vertical shaft behind the platter, driven by a belt connected to the platter. A rather long-winded approach, but it works, and offers plenty of space for modifications for adding electronically-variable pitch control, an idea which was surely unheard of at the time these machines were made.

There was also an LD-branded, monophonic moving-iron cutter head, similar in operating principle and design to the early American moving-iron designs, such as those by RCA, Audax and Fairchild.

Whether Dauphin was the surname of the inventor, or a somewhat esoteric reference to the French royal title of nobility, literally translated as “dolphin,” still remains an open question.

The Le Discographe lathes appear to have been made from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s and apparently also included some models where the overhead mechanism was resting on a foot placed on the center of the platter and driven by the platter directly, in the same manner as most Presto and Rek-O-Kut lathes. From the mid 1950s onwards, the LD brand manufactured the Magnetographe series of magnetic tape recorders (tape machines), leaving the disk medium behind.

Another manufacturer of disk recording equipment in France was Poltz Freres. While I have encountered a few lathes and cutter heads over the years, I have never been able to find any conclusive information about the company. There are some references to “Poltz Bros” online, so it could have been a family business of some kind. Both the lathes and the cutter heads were very similar in design to those made by LD. The overhead mechanisms also featured the flexible driveshaft, which appears to have been a bit of a trend in France among disk recording equipment manufacturers.


Poltz Freres lathes installed upon Dual turntables.

Poltz Freres lathes installed upon Dual turntables.


Poltz Freres lathe overhead mechanism, with its flexible drive shaft clearly visible.

Poltz Freres lathe overhead mechanism, with its flexible drive shaft clearly visible.


There was a time in history when French engineering was notable for innovative ideas. Up until the 1970s, French cars had a characteristic finesse, elegant design, and strange features, such as the hydro-pneumatic suspension system, complete with green, ball-shaped accumulators in the engine bay, on the Citroën DS, along with its overall futuristic body styling.

French tool manufacturers were also thriving during the same period. In line with most of the rest of the world, however, past the 1970s innovation gave way to more-of-the-same, mundane products. Modern French cars look very similar to any other cars, and there are no lathe manufacturers in France anymore. The innovative thinking does, however, still remain, in the difficulties encountered by the uninitiated while attempting to obtain food.

In contrast to the relative obscurity of LD and Poltz Freres equipment, disk recording lathes were also manufactured by someone who appears to enjoy celebrity status in France: Pierre Clement was a renowned engineer, known for his work in sound recording, broadcasting, and the motion picture industry, establishing these sectors in France and designing a lot of the early equipment needed to get things up and running. Born in 1906, he was already active in the film industry by the late 1920s. Pierre Clement lathes can be found in different sizes, shapes and forms, including some massively big machines that appear to be the only non-portable professional disk recording/mastering lathes made in France.

Some Pierre Clement lathes, branded “PC,” in line with what seems to have been the branding convention in France among lathe makers, appear to have been handcrafted prototypes, whereas others were probably made in greater numbers.


The bottom of a Pierre Clement cutter head.

The bottom of a Pierre Clement cutter head.


Pierre Clement cutter head, internal details.

Pierre Clement cutter head, internal details.


Pierre Clement cutter head, internal details.

Pierre Clement cutter head, internal details.


Pierre Clement himself was also involved with Carobronze, an importer of Dual equipment, manufactured by the Steidinger Brothers in Germany. While I have never come across any disk recording lathes manufactured by Christian and Joseph Steidinger, under their Steidinger Bros. or Dual brands in Germany, Pierre Clement appears to have made extensive use of Dual turntables and motors as a base upon which his disk recording lathes were constructed.


A Pierre Clement cutter head.

Pierre Clement cutter head.


A Dual nameplate.

Dual nameplate.


Top view of a Dual turntable and lathe mechanism with a Poltz Freres cutter head.

Top view of a Dual turntable and lathe mechanism with a Poltz Freres cutter head.


A Dual motor drive.

Dual motor drive.


France also had their own lacquer disk manufacturing and in fact, the Pyral company can be credited with having invented the nitrocellulose lacquer-coated blank recording disk, which became the industry standard, replacing wax blanks and vacuum sputtering with the process that is used all around the world to this day for the manufacturing of phonograph records.


Dual turntable with Poltz Freres mechanism and Pierre Clement cutter head.

Dual turntable with Poltz Freres mechanism and Pierre Clement cutter head.


A Pierre Clement cutter head.

Pierre Clement cutter head.


At this point, my dear readers, I must go get that Camembert out of the oven, as my nose tells me it is just about baked to perfection. The fresh celery stalks and raspberry chutney await by the baguette.


Header image: A Pyral stroboscope. Note the flexible drive shaft coupling. All images courtesy of Emile Wingert, Brother Sound, France.

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part 34

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part 34

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part 34

B. Jan Montana

Just as the seniors were waddling out to fish at the trout pond, Melody’s dad rushed into the bar/dining room.

“Hey Montana, glad to see you’re still here. Are you able to tend the bar again today? A friend is having some serious problems and we need to help.”

“It’ll be my pleasure,” I responded.

“Great, I’ll call him back and tell him we’ll be right over. My wife and son are coming with me, so Melody will be cooking today.” He looked over at her and she nodded in agreement.

“I guess we’re on our own today, Melody.”

“You’ll be on your own for a while Montana, I’ve got some cabins to clean.”

“The bar doesn’t open till eleven,” Melody’s dad exhorted. “Would you have time to take the truck to Rapid City for some restaurant supplies? I’ll call in the order so it’ll be ready when you arrive.”

“No problem,” I responded; “I’ll enjoy the drive.”

“Phew, you’re a life saver, thanks so much. Melody will give you the directions. Please try to get back by 11?”

“Done,” I smiled, glad to be able to return the family’s hospitality. I had another week before I planned to be home, and an adventure in South Dakota was as good as an adventure elsewhere.

The truck was a well-used Ford 4X4 pickup with huge snow tires that howled like a diesel. I installed my motorcycling earplugs to drown out the racket. It was another sweltering day and I was grateful for the air conditioning.

The roads were relatively quiet after the Sturgis rally, except for the motorhomes plodding along at 45 miles an hour. I didn’t care, the scenery was just as attractive looking through the truck’s window as it was looking through my helmet’s visor.

Rapid City is a busy town of about 50,000 with an economy based on medical and government services, tourism, education, and a nearby military base. I had no trouble finding the restaurant supply facility following Melody’s hand-drawn map.

When I pulled up to the dock, someone hollered, “You from the trout pond?”

“Yes, I responded.” A few minutes later, a big, burly guy with long hair and tattoos came out pushing a cart full of boxes, which almost filled up the truck bed.

“Some of these things need to be refrigerated as soon as you get home,” he hollered as I pulled out. “Got it?”

When I returned, Melody was waiting outside the bar and directed me around back. She knew exactly which boxes to pull and refrigerate. “Please pile the rest over there,” she instructed, and proceeded to the freezer to open the new boxes and arrange their contents in neat rows on the shelves.

I returned to the bar to clear dishes and wipe tables. I’d barely finished when Lonnie Many Bears, the Native American Studies instructor, walked in.

“How delightful to see you again Mr. Many Bears. Where’s your grandson?”

“Please, call me Lonnie,” he responded. “Richard has started his teaching internship so he’s a busy lad these days.”

“I was very impressed with the advice you gave him last Saturday.”

“Yah, I wish I’d given it to my son before he committed suicide.”

“Oh boy, I’m so sorry to hear that.”

“It’s been over 15 years now, so I’m getting over it. He was one of the angry young men I spoke about.”

“I’m not sure what you mean.”

“You remember me telling Richard that native boys consumed with hate for whites tend to live miserable, self-destructive lives on the reservation? My son was one of them. He spent his teenage years drinking, doing drugs, and partying, egged on by a group of other angry young rebels. Richard was the product of a one-night stand with a 15-year-old girl. My son shot himself shortly after the boy was born.”

“That must have been tough for you and your wife.”

“It gets worse. Richard lived with his mother’s parents till he was 14, and that’s when I noticed that they couldn’t handle him. So, I asked his mother for custody and he moved in with my wife and me in Rapid City. I had to get him away from that gang on the reservation.”

“Good for you; that was quite a sacrifice.”

“I enrolled him in a private school where he could get extra tutoring to catch up on his education, but his attitude prevented his progress. It wasn’t long before I realized that the real problem was his poor self-image. He was ashamed of being Lakota. When I realized that, I was ashamed of myself.”

“Of yourself? Why, Lonnie?”

“I had something those boys didn’t. My grandfather spent a lot of time teaching me the wisdom of Lakota spirituality. He demonstrated by example how it could be applied to contemporary life. I just assumed that my son would learn all that in the reservation school, but he chose to follow the path of the foolish hunter.”

“The foolish hunter?” I inquired.

“Yes. The legend is that many years ago, during a time of famine, a Lakota chief sent out two young hunters to find buffalo, but they had no luck. When they were close to starving, White Buffalo Calf Woman appeared to them out of a cloud. She is the Lakota prophet with supernatural powers.

She appeared as a beautiful young maiden wearing white buckskin. One of the hunters was filled with lust for her and drew close to embrace her. When he did, the cloud from which she’d emerged enveloped the pair. When the cloud dissipated, only the woman and a pile of bones remained.


Image of White Buffalo Calf woman at the Sioux Spiritual Center in Howes, South Dakota. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Raymond Bucko, SJ.

Image of White Buffalo Calf woman at the Sioux Spiritual Center in Howes, South Dakota. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Raymond Bucko, SJ.


That’s what happened to my son. He was controlled by unbridled passions, and now, he is also a pile of bones.

White Buffalo Calf Woman told the other hunter to return to his tribe and prepare a feast for her arrival. She taught the Seven Sacred Rites by which our people should live. The first of these is a purification ceremony, whereby a young man cleanses himself of his baser instincts and ceases to be self-centered. Then he must go on a vision quest, where the White Buffalo Calf Woman will reveal his intended role in life.

When I started teaching the Seven Sacred Rites to Richard, I could see the light in his eyes. He realized the intelligence and wisdom of Lakota mythology, which caused him to see his culture in an entirely different light. He became proud instead of ashamed of his heritage.

You saw me give him my amulet last week. That was passed down from my grandfather, who wore it all his life. Richard knew how much it meant to me, which is why he had tears in his eyes when I gave it to him. I wanted him to start his professional life with a reminder to be proud of his heritage.”

Now I had tears in my eyes. “That’s a beautiful story, Lonnie. I’m touched.”

“When I saw how much Richard’s life improved as he learned Lakota mythology, the White Buffalo Calf Woman appeared to me. She told me to share the Seven Sacred Rites with others, so I volunteered to teach the native students at the local university. But my class was so popular with the white kids as well, I was soon offered a full-time position. If you follow your vision, the White Buffalo Calf Woman will open doors for you.

“That seems to be the way it works, Lonnie.”

“I felt so much happier and more fulfilled, I quit my job at the Post Office six years before retirement. I just didn’t care about a full pension anymore. When you follow your vision, you are aligned with the universe and it will sustain you. I feel more alive now than I ever have before.”

“What a wonderful thing to find one’s calling.”

“I longed to reach the other kids on the reservation as most of them would never get to college, so I asked the university to set up extension classes at the high school. Now I spend one day a week teaching on the reservation. I love to see the eyes of the kids light up when they realize how sophisticated their culture really is.”

“Sounds like you’re making an importance difference, Lonnie.”

“When Richard told me he wants to be the first full-time Native Studies instructor at his old high school after his internship, I was delighted. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to this.”

Melody walked in with Lonnie’s breakfast. “Here you go Lonnie, two eggs over easy with ham and toast. I assume Montana will eventually get your coffee?”

“Oh god, I’m supposed to serve you coffee, Lonnie, and here I’ve been asking questions all this time.”

“It was an honor to speak with you, Montana. Thank you for being such an attentive a listener. And yes, I’ll have coffee, please?”


Header image: Rapid City, South Dakota, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/M. Mingda Liu.

Previous installments appeared in Issues 143144145146147148149150151152153154155156157158, 159, 160,  161, 162, 163164165, 166, 167, 168, 169, 170, 171, 172, 173, 174 and 175.

AES Fall 2022 New York – The Live Event Returns, Part One

AES Fall 2022 New York – The Live Event Returns, Part One

AES Fall 2022 New York – The Live Event Returns, Part One

John Seetoo

Since the pandemic erupted, many live trade shows and expos had their events suspended, or were forced to create a live streaming alternative. The Audio Engineering Society (AES) was no exception, so its popular New York City shows for 2020 and 2021 were available only as live streams and video on demand. AES did an exceptional job on these video events, which have been covered in past issues of Copper.

The excited anticipation in New York’s humongous Javits Center was palpable. As the first live, in-person AES Show in NYC since 2019, the initial idea was apparently to start slowly with only about 100 exhibitors, far fewer than normal, due to lingering fears over COVID-19. Also, presciently acknowledging how closely digital audio and video have now become intertwined, AES made arrangements to hold its Fall 2022 show concurrently and adjacent to The NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) show on the same floor with only a single, venue-long aisle separating the two, making reciprocal access for interested attendees a breeze.

As a result, both AES and NAB grossly underestimated the turnout level, creating a queue which covered more than the entire interior perimeter of the lobby, ticketing and vending areas, with wait times just for badge pick up exceeding 90 minutes. Thankfully, quick-thinking administrators went into the lines to check for pre-registration QR codes, and offered exhibit entry bracelets that let those waiting on line enter the main show floor area, while badges would still be required for the workshops and specialized private-room presentation events.

The large exhibitors at AES Fall 2022 wisely showcased their latest equipment. Among the noteworthy ones:

  • Solid State Logic debuted its 16-channel ORIGIN console, a scaled-down version of its popular 32-channel model, which combines the tactile feel, sound, and response of the company’s legendary analog SSL consoles with the digital configuration flexibility and workflow ease to interface with any modern DAW (digital audio workstation) software.
  • Universal Audio’s collaboration with mic designer David Bock showcased modernized twists on the popular Neumann U87, U67 and Telefunken ELA M251 microphones that offered improved features and specs over the originals.
  • New DAW interfaces for mobile recording rigs from Avid, Focusrite, and others were introduced. These products constantly raised the bar and improved upon the specs to levels only dreamed about a mere few years ago.


The Solid State Logic booth featuring the new ORIGIN 16-channel mixing console.

The Solid State Logic booth featuring the new ORIGIN 16-channel mixing console.


Ocean Way Audio, makers of highly-regarded loudspeakers for both professional and high-end consumer audio use.

Ocean Way Audio, makers of highly-regarded loudspeakers for both professional and high-end consumer audio use.


Focusrite offered new audio recording interfaces at AES 2022.

Focusrite offered new audio recording interfaces at AES 2022.


AES has a long and impressive history, and Day Two featured a special tribute to the late Al Schmitt (see my review of his book, The Magic Behind the Music, in Issue 160), whose contributions to recorded music are rivaled by only a handful of other legendary producers and engineers. The high-echelon producer and engineer club is relatively small, and the established professionals on the roster of those who give AES presentations usually includes those whose contributions date back to the 1970s or before, and often are from the same pool of ex-Record Plant or Hit Factory-trained experts.

For AES Fall 2022, two well-known producer/engineers made their keynote speech debuts: Susan Rogers and Jack Antonoff. They also delivered presentations for Mix With the Masters, which is one of the most popular events at AES.

Susan Rogers

Susan Rogers’ impressive credentials include a PhD in psychoacoustics from McGill University and a music production professorship at Berklee School of Music. Her discography credits include recordings by David Byrne, Barenaked Ladies, Robben Ford, Sheena Easton, Public Image Ltd., Tevin Campbell, Tricky, Toad the Wet Sprocket and others. However, her reputation was unquestionably built upon her iconic albums with Prince during his biggest hit making period, which includes: Sign O’ the Times, Around the World in a Day, Parade, Crystal Ball, and, of course, Purple Rain.


Susan Rogers.

Susan Rogers.


A former student of the well-known psychologist-author Daniel Levitin, Susan Rogers’ frame of reference and philosophy about her production and engineering work is informed by a combination of academic neurological studies, detailed scholarly analysis, and a wide range of music listening. Her presentation talks were especially fascinating when she deftly broke down her music mixing procedures and explanations for each step of the process.

She spoke about how sound is a special form of touch, and that sound is the fastest sensation that the human brain processes and is felt before it is intellectually processed. The hemispheric specialization in the brain that guides creative decision making in mixing music is comparable to how the brain also processes theater and painting.

“Hooks” and “Treats”

When explaining what makes a mix grasp a listener’s attention, Rogers broke down the components of what musical “hooks” or “treats,” as she referred to them, are, with most common aspects first:

Rhythm and Groove, which are the most universal music elements among all cultures;

Melody: as a form of musical communication, emotion should be communicated via melody – regardless of a lyric’s language, and also as a standalone central element.

Bass: Rogers holds that bass is the most important musical instrument, since it ties rhythm to melody via harmony and counterpoint. (Prince was one of the exceptions to this principle, as two of his biggest hits, “When Doves Cry” and “Kiss” have no bass on them.)

Lyrics: Rogers spoke of the historically universal regard for poetry and storytelling that is common in all cultures. She also noted that the writer Joseph Campbell was and still is a strong influence on lyricists via his examples of myth, legend, and universal truth.

Sound Design and Timbre: citing her psychoacoustic studies, Rogers explained how sound is a special form of touch.  As noted, sound is the fastest of the five senses that processes in the brain, and it is felt before it is intellectually processed.


Focus on the Strongest Elements

Once she has identified which of the above “treats” should be highlighted in a mix, Rogers selects the primary elements that should be the “lead actors” in the spotlight. While the majority of the time this will be the lead vocal, there are always exceptions. For example, with Robben Ford, the lead actor is his guitar. With Bob Dylan, it is his lyrics, more than his singing voice.

Rogers then uses the following steps to build her mixes:

  1. She starts listening first in mono to discern all of the spectral elements and levels to make her choices for mixing. She will often do a parametric EQ boost of 125 Hz for male vocals and 250 Hz for female vocals, being careful not to spotlight any weaknesses.
  2. She will then do preliminary equalization and panning. In her studies, Rogers has found that hard left and right panning determines a song’s level of emotion, versus its primary focus.
  3. For depth, acoustical physics has shown that what we initially hear in the real world is a delay before reverb, So for positioning elements in the mix, Rogers first works with short (10ms), then medium and long delays before ever adding reverb. This method develops the mix’s depth of field.

One trick that Rogers said she developed during her work with Prince was to send the synthesizer outputs to a stereo reverb unit and just mix the “wet” (effected) returns to create a sonic backdrop. She used the analogy of depth of field and positioning in film and photography to affect the listener ‘s experience.

  1. Rogers then adds the reverb last. Real-world reverb is in the 30 to 80 millisecond “pre-delay” range (any longer-duration sounds will be perceived as a delay), so she is meticulous about adding pre-delay unless there is an artificial effect intended.

Rogers also offered the following tips regarding signal processing and EQ:

Regarding compressors vs limiters (both are dynamic range processors; a compressor reduces the volume of loud signals while a limiter puts a ceiling on the highest-possible levels): limiters are more useful with experienced performers. They will know how to modify their playing and singing dynamics so there is less need for compression. Prince, in particular, was a master of mic dynamics in his singing. Additionally, the better the player, the less compression is needed. However, compression can be a boon in saving a mix when the track has sloppy players that need to sound tighter.

Rogers prefers to emphasize the chest frequencies for singers and cut some highs when EQing vocals, for intelligibility and separation from guitars, which can get more of their highs boosted for greater emotional energy.

Susan Rogers gave a live example of her procedures by doing a blind, first-time listening analysis of stems (groups of audio tracks in a multitrack recording) from a band called Midnight Cigarettes.

She methodically explained how she identified each of her aforementioned points and proceeded to demonstrate the ways to assemble a mix, offering these additional tips:

On the subject of lining up the timing of performances in a track: In her experience, it is easier for the listener to follow the melody when the harmonies are a few milliseconds behind. Lining up sound files exactly on the beat, which is often done in digital audio workstations on a visual grid in the quest for “perfect” productions, actually makes things sound less musical and more computerized.

Susan Rogers’ presentation was chock full of useful information for producers, engineers and musicians, and it was fascinating to learn how she logically explained what is often regarded heard as “intuition” and “uncategorizable genius” from an artist.

Jack Antonoff

Jack Antonoff has few rivals as a force in contemporary pop music,. His work with Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey, The 1975, Lorde, Fun, Florence + the Machine and St. Vincent has garnered him a massive fan base, not to mention seven Grammy awards. Possibly the youngest-ever AES keynote speaker, Antonoff also conducted a Q&A at a Mix With the Masters session. He displayed an impressive knowledge and appreciation for music and audio production techniques that were well-established before he was even born (in 1984). He singled out engineer Michael Brauer, who mixed one of Antonoff’s earliest records, as someone whose work he greatly admired and sought to emulate.

Antonoff’s sensibilities echo those of many veteran producers, and he said it all became crystallized for him while working with Diana Ross. She came to the studio with her grandchildren in tow, and in spite of the distractions of having family around her, delivered a superb performance that could not have been matched in a more sterile recording booth environment. His conclusion: the performance is ultimately more important than the sound.


Jack Antonoff.

Jack Antonoff.


Another caution that he has found to be a plague for many producers, especially those who are DIYers:  Avoid “demo-itis.” Antonoff related the inordinate amount of time taken on Lana Del Rey’s Norman F*cking Rockwell, where repeatedly obsessing over lyrics and other details in demos created stagnation and indecision, obstacles to a completed record.

In this age of producers and musicians often recording their parts remotely on laptops, it was refreshing to learn that Antonoff prefers collaborating in the same room, rather than asynchronously. However, he was quick to point out that he is not into working crazy hours, unlike some legendary drug-fueled marathon recording sessions of the past. Antonoff indicated it was his preference to finish no later than 6 or 7 p.m. in order to get enough sleep and have fresh ears for the next session.

Being Funny in a Foreign Language, by The 1975, was produced by Antonoff and released earlier this year. The 1975’s vocalist/guitarist Matty Healy has been effusive in his praise for Antonoff in a number of interviews, citing that Antonoff is a “culture vulture…full of references.” That encyclopedic frame of reference is likely what led to Antonoff and The 1975 deciding to produce the album in a very old school way, using Lou Reed’s Street Hassle as a sonic and artistic influence. In particular, Antonoff cited the use of non-professional string players to create the imperfect effect that he was seeking, to add the right degree of dissonance and emphasize certain emotional moments in the music.


In order to trigger creative ideas when producing David Bowie and others, Brian Eno introduced his “Oblique Strategies” concept of choosing random cards from a deck that had assorted concepts and ideas written on them, which would be applied to songwriting and production. Jack Antonoff shared a few of his own creative resources, such as:

  • He will put effects on a master recording just for inspiration. Even changing a snare drum sound can spark a new approach to a song.
  • He is open to “creative shorthand” ideas from anyone in the room.
  • Brushes on a snare drum can sound bigger than using drumsticks, depending on the mics and reverb used.
  • Go for using limiting and heavy compression, like what was used on records by the Plastic Ono Band or the Cure to make something stand out.
  • Using similar studio tools for different songs and instruments can create a sonic signature for an album (but he cautioned the audience not to throw in the kitchen sink!)
  • He likes combining expensive and cheap gear for new sounds. For example, he cited using a Valhalla DSP reverb (expensive) combined with cheap plugin reverbs, as used on Dance Fever by Florence + the Machine).

On the subject of analog vs. digital, Antonoff, who grew up in the digital audio era, confessed that while he loved the sound of analog tape, he will use tape for certain effects and then manipulate the recording in Pro Tools, since he finds recording on tape too intimidating (physical tape splicing can be difficult and tedious).

As a die-hard Pro Tools DAW user, he also admitted to constantly bouncing (combining) tracks in Pro Tools to cut down the total track count. Keeping a theoretically unlimited number of tracks and alternate takes makes it harder to arrive at decisions and opens the door to the confusion of identifying the right tracks to use.

Finally, on the topic of immersive mixes and the growing popularity of Dolby Atmos surround sound, Antonoff felt that a hardware-compatibility nightmare was being created by streaming services pushing Atmos. Since Atmos is not compatible with headphones, he felt that mono and stereo will always exist. Additionally, in his opinion the artist community is not pushing Dolby Atmos nearly as much as the music labels, streaming outlets and equipment industry.

Jack Antonoff’s presentation brought a fresh perspective to AES and showed that a lot of the tried and true old-dog tricks can sit comfortably next to the latest whiz-bang techniques.

(Parts Two and Three will feature coverage of a number of AES educational workshops, an interview with mobile recording pioneer David W. Hewitt by record producer Warren Huart, and a conversation and Q&A between noted producer/engineers Tchad Blake and Bob Clearmountain.)


All photos courtesy of John Seetoo.

Revolver Returns: Remixed and Reloaded, Part One

Revolver Returns: Remixed and Reloaded, Part One

Revolver Returns: Remixed and Reloaded, Part One

Jay Jay French

Is Revolver the greatest of all Beatles albums?

Every time I am asked to write about new Beatles remixes, I’m confronted with the enormous task of listening to the entire package which, in their expanded versions, is an awful lot of material. In the case of the Revolver: Special Edition, the Super Deluxe version, there are five disks containing 63 tracks and a 100-page hardbound book in a slip case. The Super Deluxe vinyl version has four LPs and a 7-inch EP with the aforementioned book.

There are other options for the less well-heeled or insanely interested: A deluxe 2-CD Digipak with a 40-page booklet, a single-CD, a 1-LP vinyl issue, or a 1-LP vinyl record with a turntable mat with the Revolver cover artwork. You can also get it as a digital download.

Did you really expect anything less?


As for my job to review all of this, I have to deal with all the emotional issues that come with it.

Each new expanded track version and all of the associated bonus written material creates a dilemma. You see, I can’t just report this stuff. I lived this music and this forces me to confront my past in regards to where I was when first exposed and what it meant to me at time.

How could it not?

I am reviewing a holy grail of pop culture.

It’s not just the music. It’s the foundation of all that came after.


The Beatles, March 25, 1966. © Apple Corps Ltd.

The Beatles, March 25, 1966. © Apple Corps Ltd.


Rubber Soul may represent the base camp of the acceptance of the Beatles as the greatest band to have ever existed but Revolver is where the band put on parachutes and jumped out of the plane!

I know that Rubber Soul (an album that I’m sure will be the next in line for a remix) certainly was an astonishing piece of work, but Revolver…well…read on.

It has become very fashionable over the last several years for music critics and committed Beatles fans to place Revolver ahead of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as the greatest of all Beatles albums. Furthermore, this new remix of Revolver has me reflecting on my own experience of hearing Revolver and Sgt. Pepper for the first time.

I was 14 when Revolver was released in August of 1966 and still 14 when Sgt. Pepper was released in May of 1967.

I clearly remember buying Revolver, going home, and listening to it on my $40 mono Westinghouse one-box record player/speaker system.

While I really loved the songs, I can’t recall my friends calling me up to discuss its “mind blowing” contents.

Yes, there were songs with violins and cellos, tambouras, sitars, French horns and backwards drums and guitars and eerie vocals, but strangely, it all seemed kind of normal because this was the Beatles after all, But in retrospect, clearly, none of this was “normal.”

The double-sided single “Paperback Writer/Rain” had come out a couple of months before the release of Revolver and that began the Beatles’ artistic sea change. This actually was the dividing line for me for when the Beatles changed from a pop band to a rock band.


The Beatles during filming of the "Paperback Writer" and "Rain" promotional films at Chiswick House, London, 20 May 1966. © Apple Corps Ltd.

The Beatles during filming of the “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” promotional films at Chiswick House, London, 20 May 1966. © Apple Corps Ltd.


Rock was in its infancy but the Beatles were dragging us along. “Rain” sounded really weird at first while “Paperback Writer” was still a pop song. I bring this up because Giles Martin had to know full well that those sessions, recorded smack in the middle of the Revolver sessions, had to be included in this expanded Revolver package. [My interview with Giles Martin will appear in the next issue of Copper.

Remember as well that “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” were supposed to be on the Sgt. Pepper album.

The Beatles, George Martin, and Brian Epstein also knew something was going on. Just look at what happened in the 12 months from April 1966 to April 1967: two incredible era-defining albums (Revolver and Sgt. Pepper) and two groundbreaking singles (“Paperback Writer”/“Rain” and “Penny Lane”/“Strawberry Fields Forever”).

Whew…the mind boggles. But I digress.


The Beatles in Abbey Road Studios during filming of the "Paperback Writer" and "Rain" promotional films, May 19, 1966. © Apple Corps Ltd.

The Beatles in Abbey Road Studios during filming of the “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” promotional films, May 19, 1966. © Apple Corps Ltd.


The Beatles were still touring during the Rubber Soul period.

That ended in August of 1966 with their last live show at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Afterward, unencumbered by the distractions of touring, the band could turn their full attention to the follow up to Rubber Soul.

The band entered Studio Three at EMI Recording Studios (now Abbey Road Studios) on April 6, 1966 and laid down the music for their most experimental track to date: “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

What an opening statement of intent! (Although it was the first song to be recorded for Revolver, it actually closes the album.) This was about as far away from moptop pop as one could get. It was so far out that I believe the band left it for the last track rather than shock their fans with it as the opening song. And, as the album closer, “Tomorrow Never Knows” was a perfect lead-in to what we could expect from Sgt. Pepper.

It was a completely non-hook-driven drone sung by John, whose vocals were processed through a rotating Leslie speaker. Ringo’s powerful incendiary drum loop pattern, George’s backwards guitar solo and tambora, and John’s totally out there lyrics seem to be setting up the following 1967 Summer of Love.

Paul McCartney told the NME (New Musical Express) in an interview at the time: “We did it because I, for one, am sick of doing sounds that people can claim had been heard before.”

The very next day, on April 7th, they wrapped up the “Tomorrow Never Knows” sessions and began recording “Got To Get You Into My Life.”

To be a fly on the wall!

It now appears as if an artistic tsunami had been unleashed.

I now can process “Tomorrow Never Knows” and its ultimate status.

Pure genius.

Upon spending so much time on re-listening to all the new remixes and bonus material (which includes early demos and slowly-developed recordings of many of the tracks – you can hear the evolution of the material as the Beatles refined it) I can say that this is one amazing package to behold.

However, as much as Revolver is absolutely groundbreaking and showed the way forward, Sgt. Pepper set the world of rock on fire and that can never be disputed. Friends of mine gathered around their newly-bought stereos just to experience the aural soundscape of Sgt. Pepper. No matter what could be written about Revolver, the zeitgeist of the 1967 Summer of Love and the almost concurrent releases of debut albums by Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow, and the constant media coverage of LSD guru Dr. Timothy Leary and the (soon to be Beatles spiritual leader) Maharishi Mahesh Yogi brought forth historical events that shaped the entire youth culture of the world.

It is now, upon reflection nearly 56 years later, that I can deal with the question of where Revolver sits in considering which are the “best Beatles albums.”

It is impossible to contextualize the experience of listening to the new Revolver remixes without understanding the thought process that began with the Giles Martin music remixes for the Cirque Du Soleil-produced Beatles Love show in Las Vegas, and continuing through the recent remixes The Beatles (aka the “White Album”), Abbey Road and Let it Be.

Of course, it all begins with the music, but the historical add-ons (be they alternate takes, early demos, and of course endless writing and analysis) are all monumental commercial creations and the elaborate packaging of these remix sets has grown ever more so with each project, with ever more extravagance. All of this creates “must haves” for completist Beatles fans, of which there remain millions worldwide.

If the market wasn’t there, trust me, none of these projects would continue. This is not to say that these remixes are not worthwhile, because they are for many reasons, but let us acknowledge that history will show (we are now entering the seventh decade of Beatlemania) that the Beatles will become the “classical music” of the 20th century.

The actual business of remixing Revolver could not have been done at this level of specificity even five years ago.

This is a purely technical issue.

Sgt. Pepper has been credited as the first four-track recording the Beatles made, and the ability to separate the tracks for the purpose of digitizing and remixing was fairly straightforward. Moving up to the “White Album” and beyond there were eight tracks to work with.

Revolver, however, also used multiple tracks: all the instruments on one track, extra guitars on a second track, and all the vocals on a third track – and as much as the wording “remixing” is thrown around, there is actually a process of de-mixing – pulling all the sounds out of each recording one by one – that allows the remixing to happen.


Revolver, original reel-to-reel tape for "Taxman" and "And Your Bird Can Sing."


Original tape box for "She Said, She Said."

Above: original tape boxes for “Taxman,” “And Your Bird Can Sing,” and “She Said, She Said.” © Calderstone Productions Ltd.


With the remixes of Revolver, we are, for the first time, going backwards in terms of the band’s and George Martin’s recording technology (compared to the remixes of The Beatles, Abbey Road and Let it Be). This, however, did not become a problem, as the newly-available de-mixing technology allowed Giles to actually isolate not only every instrument, but almost every piece of what was then primitive backwards tape mixing and tape speed manipulation.

To hear the ultimate expression of the way the new remixes sound, I was able to listen to the album in Dolby Atmos at a listening session for journalists in a Manhattan studio. This surround-sound presentation is, under ideal circumstances, a revelation. I wondered, as I was listening, how the new remixes would fare in a normal stereo configuration. I was sent all the new mixes for listening on my home computer audio system, which is pretty sophisticated.

As I didn’t get the actual CDs or vinyl, I can’t comment on how they will sound on my reference audio system, but all things being equal, all the comparisons were done through my reference computer system, whose resolution is way above most users’.

Instruments (and vocals) that you didn’t know were there are now easy to pick out, and the surround mix is outstanding.

I got what I expected to hear and then some.


The Beatles in Abbey Road Studios during the recording of the Revolver album. © Apple Corps Ltd.

The Beatles in Abbey Road Studios during the recording of the Revolver album. © Apple Corps Ltd.


As an American who grew up with the US Capitol Records version of Revolver, the US track listing was different than the original UK release. The US version had three fewer songs: “I’m Only Sleeping,” “And Your Bird Can Sing,” and “Doctor Robert. These the were held back for a different US release, Yesterday and Today.

Over the last 20 years or so, All the US Beatles releases have been reissued with the correct (UK) track listings. Revolver was, famously, the last of the US-released “butchered” Beatles albums.

Here is the 5-disc Super Deluxe package line-up:

CD 1: the 14 tracks of the original UK release, all in newly remixed stereo:

The vocals are clearer, as are many of the instruments. They do sound great, but it takes some getting used to because of how our brains are wired to remember things as they were.

CD 2 (14 tracks):

“Tomorrow Never Knows” (two versions)
“Got To Get You Into My Life” (three versions)
“Love to You” (three versions)
“Paperback Writer” (one version)
“Rain” (two versions) – these are actually mind-blowing as they let you hear the original-speed recording, and then how the track was slowed down for the final master that we all know.
“Doctor Robert” (one take)
“And Your Bird Can Sing” (two versions)

CD 3 (17 tracks):

“And Your Bird Can Sing” (second, version Take 5)
“Taxman” (Take 11)
“I’m Only Sleeping” (three versions)
“Eleanor Rigby” (two versions)
“For No One” (one version)
“Yellow Submarine” (four versions) – the development of this song from acoustic demo to finished product is astounding.
“Here, There and Everywhere” (Take 6)
“She Said, She Said” (John’s demo)
“She Said, She Said” (Take 15)


CD 4: the mono remastered version of Revolver:

CD 5: the Revolver EP
“Paperback Writer” (new stereo mix)
“Rain” (new stereo mix)
“Paperback Writer” (original mono mix remastered)
“Rain” (original mono mix remastered)


The Beatles performing "Paperback Writer" on Top of The Pops, 16 June 1966. © Apple Corps Ltd.

The Beatles performing “Paperback Writer” on Top of The Pops, June 16, 1966. © Apple Corps Ltd.


For me, I have come to the conclusion that “And Your Bird Can Sing” is one of the greatest pure guitars-and-vocal tracks Lennon (as lead vocalist) and the band ever recorded.

The laughing between the band members on many of the alternate/outtakes will bring a smile (or tear) to your face.

Now that I have had the immense pleasure to delve into the heart of these tracks I have changed my view of the importance of Revolver. Put simply, Sgt. Pepper could never have happened without Revolver leading the way. Now that the band were free from the rigors of touring, their astonishing creativity finally could be revealed in ever-more-astonishing ways.

Many of you probably don’t have the ability to hear the Dolby Atmos mixes, but they take the album to an even higher level.

I can hear some say that all of these elaborate remix packages including Revolver are just a cash grab.

To those people I will say, “then don’t buy it.”

I for one continue to be astonished at what the Beatles, Apple Corps and Universal Music Group (in association with Giles Martin) continue to produce as it extends the interest and shelf life of some of the greatest pop music ever created.

Next issue: I interview Giles Martin about Revolver.


This article originally appeared in Goldmine magazine and is used here with permission, slightly edited from the original.

Header image: The Beatles, Revolver LP cover. © Apple Corps Ltd.

Michael Jackson’s Thriller: Mobile Fidelity’s 40th Anniversary Edition LP

Michael Jackson’s Thriller: Mobile Fidelity’s 40th Anniversary Edition LP

Michael Jackson’s Thriller: Mobile Fidelity’s 40th Anniversary Edition LP

Ken Kessler

As one who has been reviewing reissues on vinyl and CD for nearly 40 years – yes, I’ve been around the hi-fi press for that long – two or three salient points make such assessments different from all others. The first is that there is nothing left to say about milestone albums, so evaluating reissues of said titles need only deal with sound quality and any changes to the content: remixing, remastering or augmentation with extra material.

That immediately calls to mind all of the 50th anniversary box sets currently depleting the disposable income reserves of baby boomers. In the case of, say, the recent reissue of the Beatles’ Revolver, remastering, remixing, and a plethora of extras do warrant study. (See Jay Jay French’s review in this issue.) But the music itself? Beyond comment. Is there anything left to be said about “Good Day Sunshine” or “Tomorrow Never Knows” or “Taxman”? Is there a more beautiful love song than “Here, There and Everywhere”?

Yes, I realize that every work of genius in every art form inspires further analysis, and the creations of Mozart, Shakespeare, Hitchcock, Cezanne, Picasso, Scorsese and others of that elevated level of brilliance will always fascinate scholars. I get it. But analyzing their works, and that includes Beatles albums, is to me both fruitless and unnecessary, save for discussing previously-unreleased matter, whether bonus tracks on an album or an unpublished chapter of Finnegan’s Wake.

Ultimately, especially in the context of Copper, Hi-Fi News, Stereophile, The Absolute Sound, etc., the primary role of a review of any reissue is sound quality. That applies to both deluxe, remastered audiophile editions, from the usual suspects such as Impex, MoFi, Analogue Productions, and others of that ilk, and reissues from labels more concerned with collector appeal and content than sheer sonic merit. Those include reissue specialists such as Sundazed, Bear Family, Ace, Speakers Corner and myriad others, though labels such as these are fastidious about sound, too.

Inevitably, when reissues of near-sacred albums such as those by the Beatles, Miles Davis, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and other giants do generate controversy, it’s usually because some purist hack doesn’t like anything other than an original pressing. Audiophiles, I fear, are like politicians, who must disagree furiously with the opposition, no matter what. If Trump cured cancer, he would still be hated by Democrats; ditto if Biden ended all wars; Republicans would still detest him. Though hardly as grave as a battle for the Senate, this brings us to the furor surrounding the new Mobile Fidelity Ultradisc One-Step release of Michael Jackson’s inarguable magnum opus, Thriller (Mobile Fidelity UD1S 1-042).

What has rendered this controversial is not the content: Mobile Fidelity has reissued the original LP sans bonus cuts. MoFi has, however, broken tradition with its own One-Step procedure, in that this is a single LP playing at 33-1/3 RPM, rather than a double at 45 RPM. This has actually resulted in nicer packaging: a slim, sturdy slipcase rather than the unnecessarily bloated boxes of other One-Steps – which gratuitously waste precious shelf space for those with huge libraries and nowhere to grow. Another change is the quantity being offered. To meet the inevitable demand, the production run is 40,000 copies to mark Thriller’s 40th anniversary.


Courtesy of Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs.

Courtesy of Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs.

And that number is what sired the controversy, a fracas unlike anything I can recall since I first succumbed to hi-fi 54 years ago. A record retailer put two-and-two together and realized that, given the finite number of LPs which can be pressed from a stamper, MoFi would have to access the master tapes more often than any label would allow such priceless recordings to be handled.

This led to the conclusion that the LP had to be mastered from a high-res digital source because of the number of stampers that needed to be produced. Or something like that. In a series of events that recall the farce A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To the Forum, only without the humor, MoFi replied with a video of its engineers being grilled, which did little to assuage incandescent purists. As it’s all out there for those who care to wallow in taurean feces, I am not going to waste any more precious space (unlike One-Step boxes) in regurgitating what has preoccupied the audio community via social media, save for one thing. It is something which I find odious beyond belief, especially given the self-righteousness of most audiophiles. And how hi-fi per se is in enough trouble without enemies from within.

Some decades ago, the UK was subject to the censorial campaigns of one Mary Whitehouse, the most outrageously unharnessed do-gooder I can recall. While she was entitled to hate every film or TV show with any sexual scenes, nudity, blasphemy, drug use or attacks on her religion, Whitehouse’s main weakness was condemning films without even having seen them. So, too, have detractors of Mobile Fidelity gone on a rampage before the One-Step Thriller was even pressed!

OK, so MoFi was economical with the truth in that it failed to reveal the use of digital sources. That’s it. As far as sins go, it was hardly something which should result in cancelled orders, lawsuits or other overreactions on the part of a bunch of simpering audiophiles, pitchforks at the ready. Here’s why: the Thriller One-Step is so sonically sublime that it makes a mockery of any who negatively pre-judged it. As an editor of another publication for which I write said to me about both hardware and software, “KK, I don’t care what the means or methods were, if the result is exceptional.”

Even if the sonic worth of Thriller is ignored or discounted, as far as achievements go, it’s up there with precious few other albums, like The Dark Side of the Moon. According to the sources I’ve accessed, it is still the best-selling album of all time, in excess of 70 million copies worldwide. It’s the second best-selling album ever in the USA, a 34x -platinum certified release according to the RIAA as of 2021, the winner of eight Grammy Awards, ad infinitum. Like I said, any criticism of the content is pointless.

Considered culturally important by the Library of Congress, it’s easy to understand why: Thriller is an inescapable part of the zeitgeist of the 1980s, just as, say, Charlie Chaplin’s films are emblematic of the silent era, or how Richard Petty personifies NASCAR, or the way that Levis are the defining garment of the 20th century. As a result of its omnipresence, due as well to the plethora of singles culled from it, even I, someone who detested Michael Jackson long before he emerged as one of the creepiest performers in rock’s history, know every track.

And here’s where I am eager to swallow my antipathy in print or online by confessing that this one of the finest-sounding records I have ever heard. I’ve been a fan of Quincy Jones’ production skills ever since I first heard Lesley Gore on a decent sound system, so – One-Step gains aside – Thriller has sounded mighty fine regardless of format, and I’ve heard at least five versions. But then we have to weigh familiarity with critical faculty: we can hear the damned thing in our heads, especially if we were record buyers in 1982. And yet I doubt there are many Millennials (or later) who are not equally au fait with this album. Jackson is part of the landscape.

How many times have any of us heard those irresistible earworms, “Billie Jean” and “Beat It?” The maudlin “The Girl Is Mine?” Or the title track, with its pre-The Walking Dead video? What the One-Step edition brings to the table – the turntable – are the fruits of the late Tim de Paravicini’s design prowess in co-creating the process, MoFi’s resolute quest for killer sound (despite all the controversy), and an end product that is nothing short of dazzling.

Using a current-fave DS Audio optical cartridge, I cued up the first track and was immediately impressed by both bass extension and attack. It was repeated with every number, with the aforementioned stand-out cuts enjoying a freshness that can only be attributed to the unparalleled extraction of low-level detail coupled to ultra-wide dynamics. Every transient seemed somehow faster. The massive sense of space gave each sound its own turf. But there were other artifacts which eluded me as a Jackson-loather. So, I recruited a second pair of ears.

Ex-studio engineer: check. Speaker designer: check. Tape enthusiast: check. Bass addict: check. Michael Jackson fan: check. Thriller devotee: double check. Within seconds, he was raving about the lower octaves. By the end of the first track, he observed what I had missed: that Jackson’s voice was somehow less shrill, less whiny. We listened further and he praised the soundstage, especially the depth, which I noted through Quad ESL63s was extending back to an imaginary horizon. It was, in a word, “revelatory,” something rarely applied to an album so well-known, so overly-recognizable that to hear it as if it was a new release, after four decades’ exposure to it, somehow defies credibility. Yes, it’s that spectacular.

Among the many charming British expressions I have absorbed here in exile is a favorite which describes petulance as “cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.” For those who slammed MoFi’s Thriller without even hearing it, and who will only be able to avoid charges of hypocrisy by shunning it, change that expression to “cutting one’s ears off.”

They will never know what they are missing, unless they sneak a listen or a purchase so as not to be caught in the act of denial. For prejudging this LP alone, condemning without hearing, shame on them. Without foundation, they dishonor what is a Herculean effort in high-end audio, serving the audiophile’s never-ending quest for better sound.

More to the point, though, it’s “Bravo!” to MoFi. Now, where’s the SACD?


Header image courtesy of Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs.

Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket: There Is So Much Here

Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket: There Is So Much Here

Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket: There Is So Much Here

Ray Chelstowski

When Toad The Wet Sprocket released their 1994 masterpiece, Dulcinea, the band’s front man and songwriter Glen Phillips was considered to be one of those voices that would carry rock and roll into the new millennium and beyond. It didn’t quite work out that way. While the band continued to perform regularly for their avid fan base, they seemed to halt production on new material, and Phillips would dabble with solo projects that met events like his divorce head-on, with remarkably candid lyrics and thoughts that were completely open and raw. That recently changed with the release of his fifth solo album, There Is So Much Here, on Compass Records.

Here Phillips celebrates a good amount of life’s simple moments and delivers that message through songs that reside among his best-written work. The first two singles, “Big Changes” and “Stone Throat” will make fans sit up and take notice of a sound they connected with as early as Toad’s first album, 1989’s Bread & Circus. The music is firm, with hooky pop elements and steady full band support. There’s nothing showy about this music. It’s really all about the songs. They reflect what, in its entirety, is a truly triumphant return by one of rock’s most genuine and gifted composers.

Copper caught up with Phillips as he was about to head out on his fall tour, to talk about the new record, the state of music-making today, and what might be in store for Toad The Wet Sprocket into 2023 and beyond.


Ray Chelstowski: You are known for performing barefoot. How did that begin?

Glen Phillips: Well, I grew up in Santa Barbara spending a lot of time in sandals or being barefoot and most of our touring happens in the summer when it’s hot out (laughs). It’s mostly that and at one point it was just unique enough that if I went on stage with shoes there’d probably be someone in the front row asking me to take my shoes off. I don’t know how many schticks start like that.

RC: You founded Toad in high school where you really established a signature sound. Did you know then that you had discovered something that would last this long?

GP: At that time, I probably thought that we were going to put out a record after [finishing] school, like every other band. If there’s a vision to be found back there it’s the result of a lot of navel gazing. I’ve always been very curious about the intricacies of relationships. I think it’s more of that viewpoint against a broader range of interests. When we made our first record I was 16 years old and I wasn’t talking about whether I was going to get detention. That kind of music doesn’t age well. Our music kind of started with ponderous over-thinking and then stayed there.


Glen Phillips. Courtesy of Chris Orwig.

Glen Phillips. Courtesy of Chris Orwig.


RC: How do you know when a song you’re writing is better for your solo career or for Toad?

GP: It’s been an interesting up and down. There are some of my solo records I really like. But with others it’s like I’m running away from something instead of embracing something. Occasionally I find myself running toward something someone has told me to run to. The last two records felt more like my own voice and what I wanted to sound like at that moment. But I haven’t had a real sound as a solo artist and I feel like I’ve written songs for [my solo work] that are as good as anything I’ve ever written. It still doesn’t measure up to what I’ve been able to do with Toad. Toad has a definable sound and there’s such great collaboration among everyone, and we really know how to make a compelling record together. With [There Is So Much Here] I feel like I allowed myself to have fun in the studio like I haven’t in a very long time. Usually, I think about touring with [the songs] and shy away from using a band. This time I decided to have all of the fun and not worry about the logistics and it was great. When I do a solo record I learn a lot and it gives me a good amount of things to take back to the band.




RC: Where did you record the new album?

GP: My friend John Morgenthau has a studio in Vancouver, Washington. He invited me to come up. Post-divorce, my gear needed a place to live and so it’s been hiding out in his studio. John got me motivated to get all of my songs together. I actually took all of the songs from a songwriting game that I play with [singer/songwriter] Matt the Electrician. It’s a “Bob Schneider-style” game. (Bob Schneider is a musician and songwriter.] Matt’s out of Austin, Texas and there’s about 22 people in the game right now. Each week he sends out a prompt. This week I wrote four verses for [a song called] “Bitten by the Bug.” I love writing this way and it really helps me stay in shape.

RC: When you hit the road to support There Is So Much Here will it be just you and a guitar?

GP: Yes. I like to write songs that don’t require any particular production. If you can write around it it’s a lot of fun. In my world I like a song that I can always sing by a campfire and about 90 percent of what I write works like that.

RC: You’ve said that this could have been released as two EPs. Do you still favor the album format?

GP: It feels strange putting out records because the record itself was a product of technology. It’s not like people made 45-minute groups of songs before the invention of the LP. That somehow became the measure of a complete work. It was because of the technology and an entire industry was built around it. That might not be the model anymore and yet I do find myself reluctant to step into some of the modern solutions. I heard this interview where Jackson Browne was said to say something like, “in the ’70s you just got in the bus and played the show. That was the job. Now I have to update my what?” I don’t want to have to care about how to not utterly disappear. So, you need a team. It’s too much to be done by one person.

RC: What’s next with Toad the Wet Sprocket?

GP: In general, with Toad, we’ve only made only two records in the last 20 years. Now the band is in a place where we are tighter, we’re all excited about how we sound live and are getting along really well. So we’re feeling an inspiration we haven’t felt in some time.


Header image of Glen Phillips courtesy of Chris Orwig.

Talking With Elliot Goldman of Bending Wave USA, Part Two

Talking With Elliot Goldman of Bending Wave USA, Part Two

Talking With Elliot Goldman of Bending Wave USA, Part Two

Frank Doris

Elliot Goldman is a partner in Bending Wave USA, distributor of Göbel loudspeakers, Wadax digital electronics, CH Precision electronics and other ultra-high-end products. He’s been in audio retailing and distribution for decades. Part One of our interview appeared in Issue 175.

FD: Digital playback software and hardware’s gotten so much better. I mean, I have a Cambridge DacMagic 100 that retails for $249 and it sounds great. When CDs first came out the playback didn’t sound great.

EG: I think the greatest invention that’s ever happened, particularly today, [is the] ability to stream. I’ve talked to all my customers about this. I’m not putting down records or tape or anything else. Play whatever you want to play. I am not a collector. I used to have 6,000 albums and found it to be a colossal pain in the ass. (laughs) Every time I wanted to [hear] something, I had to go find the record, clean the record, and clean the stylus…I am a very stream of consciousness listener. Sometimes I just want to hear a song or two. Now, for 15 or 20 bucks a month, I have pretty much every album ever recorded at my fingertips. And, being an older guy now, I value my time that I get to listen. To get my ear going and to explore new music. That exploration of new music brings me a lot of joy.

It’s very frustrating when I go to audio shows to see that so many people just listen to the same records over and over and over again. Which makes me sad, because I think they’re really spending too much time listening to the equipment and missing the point. I don’t consider myself an audiophile. I’m a music lover. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy the equipment, but the days of me spending days comparing one piece to another piece to another piece are long gone.

FD: Getting back to the Wadax gear. Review after review has high praise for the products.

EG: Wadax changes my viewpoint of what’s possible in the digital domain. Is it for everybody? Of course not. Is it expensive? Of course it is. Okay. But it shows you what the technology is capable of. And this rush of technology is really what the high-end audio business has always been about. Advancing the technology makes everything better long-term, from the early days of Linn trying to improve its turntable, or Audio Research or Conrad-Johnson or CH Precision or Mark Levinson or Wilson or Magico. All of these companies are trying to make their products better. [And] nobody puts a gun to your head to make you wanna buy it. Nobody’s telling you what you own before is junk. Technology keeps going on.


Wadax Atlantis Reference DAC. From the Wadax website.

Wadax Atlantis Reference DAC.


[Today] you can park your ass in a chair and stream anything. I’m a big Roon lover too: it “learns” what you like and presents it to you. Qobuz does this too, and this has dramatically expanded my love of what I do and my knowledge and enjoyment of music because I’ve found so many things that I didn’t know [about before]. For example, Guy Clark. I can’t believe that I didn’t know who Guy Clark was. I would’ve never come across him in a record store.

FD: Yeah. I think streaming audio is one of the greatest things to ever happen, aside from the issue of payment to the artists.

EG: I can’t say anything [about artist compensation] because I’m not in that business. I certainly hope that artists earn what they deserve to earn.

I think that in order to really appreciate what [high-end audio is] capable of, we need to present people with the experience. It’s not just about picking a bunch of boxes and throwing them together. Because I don’t think that’s really how it works. And I think that’s why many people who [put a system together that way] are unhappy.

FD: What do you think the future of high-end audio retailing is? For decades we’ve been listening to people wringing their hands about a shrinking customer base and that we’re becoming irrelevant.

EG: The audio business is generally an undercapitalized industry. And for 50 years, very little marketing has been done. And I don’t understand that. The audio industry has not for the most part used the technology and the tools that are available to [enable a business to] grow. Companies seem to be very insulated and have great difficulty doing things cooperatively to expand the customer base. There are YouTubers that have 20, 30 million viewers [who are talking about products that are far less interesting and far less diverse than our business.

FD: Well, Steve Guttenberg (The Audiophiliac) is doing a nice job, to name one example.

EG: Well, I said for the most part.

We haven’t done [the] job at all of addressing the luxury market and putting our products in front of people that buy $100,000 dollar kitchens – and don’t cook. They buy Steinway pianos to put in their house and don’t play. They buy all kinds of things because they’re the best, but that’s not true [with] audio. Okay. The audio brands that people know are Bose and Sony and, maybe the most high-end [kind of products they might be aware of] are Bang & Olufsen or McIntosh.

But these [luxury] customers are buying stuff. And we have this whole custom-installation industry. But they [need to sell the] experience. Having been a retailer who has had multiple high-end showrooms over my career, it’s amazing to see people’s faces when they drive up in their high-end car, and they, they live in their high-end house, but had no idea that any of the brands that we’re talking about even existed. And that they could get this kind of experience in their home.

High-end audio is an experience, and learning to listen is a learned skill, just like learning to appreciate wine. I’m sure you remember your first great meal or bottle of wine and it’s something you need to be exposed to. If nobody ever took you to a [great] restaurant, you would have no idea what’s possible. There are good audio retailers around the country, but not as many as before, and not nearly as many that are trying to provide that service rather than just having large selections of brands that people can pick out and, get a discount, and take a box home.

If I had the available capital, I’d like to have four or five Göbel “experience centers” around the US. I think these “experience centers” have to happen.

And it’s really hard to break into the market today because there are some brands that are very well-established and believe me, I understand this as a speaker manufacturer. {If I want] to get my product in a lot of stores, they already have giant commitments to other brands. For me to put a speaker in there that’s going to compete with those brands, perhaps [sound] better than those brands, really doesn’t make sense for the dealer. Why would you want to invest multiple thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars to put something on your floor that probably is just gonna divide your sales? It’s really not going to increase your sales.


Göbel Divin Majestic loudspeakers. From the Göbel High-End website.

Göbel Divin Majestic loudspeakers.


FD: When I was at AXPONA, I was struck by the number of $100,000 and up speaker systems.

EG: Go to the Munich HIGH END show – there’s are multiple floors of seven-figure systems on display.

FD: So, somebody’s buying the stuff.

EG: I hope to have more dealers now that COVID [restrictions] are over. When people hear our speakers, they buy them. It’s just, again, providing that experience is a difficult thing for a small company, which is me.

FD: You’re segueing right into the questions I inevitably have to ask people, which is how COVID has affected their business.

EG: COVID certainly didn’t help mine. Right at the beginning of COVID we had plans to [go to audio shows]. We got a really good review of the Göbel Divin Marquis from Stereophile, and we had people interested. And then you had two years of stores being closed. [Since we were a relatively new company, potential customers] didn’t have time to be exposed to the product and develop interest. Knock on wood, we survived. Our clients supported us and bought things from us. But we kind of contracted into survival mode.

FD: As we know, some businesses were helped by the pandemic. Well, knock on wood, it’ll get better for everybody.

EG: CH Precision has become a bigger brand. [I feel that] WADAX is the preeminent digital product on the planet, and we’re selling them. We’re selling Göbel speakers as well. I just want to do more. My plan is to be traveling and supporting dealers and doing shows and growing the [Göbel] brand in the US because I think it deserves to be heard.

Being a distributor in the US is very different than being a distributor in France or Spain or Denmark. It’s like having [to deal with] 50 countries.


CH Precision L10 preamplifier.

CH Precision L10 preamplifier.


FD: Let’s shift gears. Tell us about Elliot’s List, the playlist that’s available on the Bending Wave USA website.

EG: I started doing that because customers are always asking me about the music I play when I do shows. I refuse to play the same dozen [“audiophile-approved”] tracks.

FD: Like “Tin Pan Alley” by Stevie Ray Vaughan.

EG: Stevie Ray’s a great artist and so are some of the others, but there’s millions of pieces of music, so, I started to put then up [on Elliot’s list. To be honest, I, I apologize for not continuing with it. I just got busy and, and, whatever. People written me really nice letters thanking me for just making them aware of some stuff that I like and most of which is good-sounding on a good system. Some are obviously better than others [in sound quality] but I think all the music is interesting. I’ve been getting into and learning more about classical and jazz. [It’s like going] back to my listening to music with Harry Pearson (former editor of The Absolute Sound – Ed.] – he was a big classical music person and knew a lot about it.

If you go back and read the early magazines, he was exploring and taking you on his journey. A lot of that has been corrupted. There seems to be a reviewer for everything and everyone. A lot of people don’t realize what they don’t know. I’m not referring just to reviewers, but the audio community as a whole. I mean, I’ve been doing this 50-something years and I’m still learning every day.

In audio, like everything else, there are different skill sets. Having the ability to manufacture a speaker doesn’t mean that you’re a world-class setup artist. [Regarding audio shows], I challenge anybody to take a million dollars’ worth of gear, put it in the truck, travel eight or 10 hours, unload the truck, unpack everything in a strange room, and in four or five hours, make it sound like a mature state-of-the-art system that you’ve had in your house for two years. This is not an easy thing to do. We do the best we can.

FD: That brings up another point, the prevalence of know-it-alls. The internet is such an enabler of people who are so quick to put somebody down. For example, the viewpoint that cables don’t make a difference. And if you think they do, you’re a fraud. You’re an idiot. You’re bought off. I mean, who needs any of that?

EG: The internet does a lot of good and it does a lot of bad. The trollers want to go and make their 15 minutes of fame on the internet, by trashing manufacturers, by trashing distributors and dealers, by saying horrible things about their gear at a show, things like that. I’m all for freedom of speech, but I think some people have lost the ability to understand [the credibility of] the voices [they’re] hearing.

Why aren’t more publications and manufacturers doing video? The best videos they could do would be educational. Show and teach people.

FD: Like you say, there’s so much more to learn. I was lucky when I got into the business. I was a neophyte and I knew nothing next to people like Arnie Nudell [Infinity] and Bill Johnson [Audio Research].

EG: Same thing for me. I remember going to a show and wanting to [become an] Audio Research [dealer] and I went up to Bill Johnson and felt like I was going to see the Wizard of Oz. (laughs) I was trembling and frightened and, and Bill was very kind to me. And yeah, I became a dealer.

FD: (laughs)

EG: I [became] good friends with Arnie and traveled to his place a bunch of times to listen to new stuff that he was doing. And that’s how the industry was. And now…I think it is a function of our society, Frank, that there are a lot of people who think the world didn’t exist before they were born. There are people who don’t want to learn from the past.

FD: I sometimes feel like I’m so old school, like I’m like the last of the old guard, but on the other hand, I’m not just gonna roll over and say, “Okay, that’s it. I’ve had it.”

EG: Those who refuse to learn history…

FD: …are doomed to repeat it.

EG: History is a great teacher and we have a tremendous amount of really qualified people out there.

EG: Let me say one more thing my father taught me. I think this is really important. He used to say, do your research on who you buy from before you decide what to buy. Because in most cases, they’re gonna know much more about what you are buying than you.

There’s an old expression in retail. Everybody wants the best product at the best price with the best service. Now choose two out of three. The customers that come and allow you to do your thing and buy a system and allow you to make [a living], those are the ones that you’re gonna break your chops for.


Header image courtesy of Harris Fogel.

Press Events and Junkets: Some Work, Some Play

Press Events and Junkets: Some Work, Some Play

Press Events and Junkets: Some Work, Some Play

Ken Sander

How does a manufacturer get their new product noticed? What kind of event would draw the most attention, and what is the most effective way to make a new product announcement? Hold a press event? Yeah, sure, but how do they make it compelling? This is the money question and the dilemma. It has been said previously that 50 percent of all advertising and marketing dollars are wasted. Here’s the rub: no one knows which 50 percent is which.

Of course, there is a difference between public relations and its cousin, advertising. Both belong to the family of marketing, even if those barriers are murky. Advertising is about reaching out to the public and creating recognition, hopefully resulting in sales. Public relations is more about shaping the news. Please accept that this is my own personal very brief explanation.

As a consumer electronics journalist I have been on the receiving end of various public relations campaigns. Press conferences of course, but also press junkets. These junkets can be very enjoyable or really taxing. A little of both, I would say.

One of the most enjoyable junkets I embarked on was one of Runco’s dealer’s meetings and awards ceremonies in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Founder Sam Runco, maker of high-end video projectors and displays, would hold this annual meeting for the company’s top dealers, and a small group of press along with some publishers. All travel and hotel expenses were covered.

My first time (1999 or 2000), noted CE PR firm Nicoll Public Relations was the agency of record and handled the press. All attendees flew in on Tuesday afternoon and were met and shuttled to the hotel. Ours was one of the many full-service hotels located on Route 1 between Los Cabos and San Jose, a strip of highway known as the Tourist Corridor. That evening there was a cocktail hour by the pool, a meet-and-greet thingy that evolved into a dinner party. Altogether there were about 100 to 150 guests. It was nice.

As I said earlier, every junket is different. This was more of a dealer meeting than a press junket. On Wednesday morning a roundtable discussion was scheduled. Sam Runco would run the discussion (I mentioned in a previous article that Sam is the one who coined the phrase “home theater.” The agenda was about their market. These people were custom installers and those installations included Runco’s projectors. These were not trunk slammers – they were high-end CEDIA (Custom Electronics Design and Installation Association) companies who built the equivalent of small movie theaters in peoples’ homes. Big projects, for well-off customers and celebrities. Sam quoted what John Travolta said when he inspected his new home theater room: “This is what I hoped for, but I didn’t think it would turn out this good!”


A Runco Reflection CL-410 video projector, introduced in 2005. It delivered 800 ANSI lumens, impressive in its day (current projectors can produce thousands of lumens).

A Runco Reflection CL-410 video projector, introduced in 2005. It delivered 800 ANSI lumens, impressive in its day (current projectors can produce thousands of lumens).


Sam stressed that they were dealing with the carriage trade. Their clients were not bargain hunters. Runco sold projectors that one could not buy at Best Buy. He noted, “Do we think that Steve Jobs told Paul Allen about the good deal he got on his Lamborghini?” “No,” Sam said, “Steve and Paul would be interested in who got more and paid more.” If Steve paid $429,000 and Paul paid $379,000, then Steve got the bragging rights and the better car. This is about who got the nicest home theater. Saving money was not the criteria.

These roundtable discussions lasted till 1 p.m. and then we were free. They were held on Wednesday and Thursday, and in some years, on Friday. In the evenings everyone would go into Cabo or San Jose for dinner. The restaurants in both towns were world-class, though Cabo, which is larger, seemed to have more of the touristy kind. I preferred San Jose because it was quaint. In both towns the food was locally grown and raised on the Baja Peninsula. The local government understood tourism, so food from other parts of Mexico was not permitted. The result was that no one got Montezuma’s Revenge, and you could drink the water (so I was told; I drank Coke and bottled water). The restaurant prices were like those in Los Angeles or Manhattan.

Saturday night featured an awards ceremony for dealers on the beach, which everyone attended. During the ceremony we were served lobster and steak dinners. The night sky in Cabo was so clear, with hardly any light pollution. You could actually see some satellites. Sunday morning after breakfast everyone boarded a bus to the airport. One year happened to be the start of daylight savings time, and most of the airport employees showed up an hour late, making a real mess of things. If it wasn’t so frustrating it would have been comical. The Sunday we flew back after the Runco events was always the Sunday before Easter. I thought that was a good way to start the summer.

At another junket, around 2010, Panasonic’s LUMIX camera division introduced their first waterproof pocket-sized digital camera. They flew a bunch of us down for the day to South Beach, Florida for a hands-on experience. At the time I was contributing to E-Gear, Dvice (NBCUniversal was their parent company) and DVD ETC. We spent the day taking pictures of each other underwater and on the beach, putting the cameras through its paces. Then we had a group dinner at a South Beach restaurant.


The author takes a dive at a LUMIX press event.

The author takes a dive at a LUMIX press event.


After dinner we had to wait for the bus to take us back to our hotel, the Ritz Carlton in Coconut Grove. The bus was running late. We were waiting on Ocean Drive standing around under some tall palm trees. Suddenly a coconut fell and just missed E-Gear editor Grant Clauser. It had fallen from a height of approximately 20 feet and landed with a loud thump, Mere inches from him. Grant was understandably upset, really freaked out. “What if that had hit me on the head?” he exclaimed. “It would have cracked my skull. Don’t they inspect those trees? This is public property!”

Next morning, we flew home.

The space shuttle Columbia broke apart on February 1, 2003, while re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven crew members. That Sunday morning, I was on the way to JFK for a flight to Japan. As our small group of journalists waited to board, we briefly heard the tragic news. After crossing the International Date Line, we landed in Tokyo around 5 o’clock Monday afternoon.

We were met by the Panasonic team, and they very solemnly expressed their condolences. At the hotel we had a splendid view of Tokyo Bay. The bay is in the Tokyo-Yokohama metropolitan area. In my room I noticed possibly the last ash tray I ever saw in a hotel room. That night we all had dinner in the hotel. There were journalists from across the world, possibly a hundred.


End of an era: ashtray at the Nankai South Tower Hotel.

End of an era: ashtray at the Nankai South Tower Hotel.


I was sitting with Greg Tarr of CE trade magazine TWICE, David Carnoy of CNET, and journalists Clint Walker and Shane Buettner. (Grant is now a technology editor at Wirecutter, Shane is the owner of Intervention Records and co-founder of MIBS Distro, and David has a number of novels to his credit in addition to his role at CNET). Being jet lagged, we had an early evening and then they had us up at 6 A.M. We had a long day of visiting factories, finishing up around 9 or 10 in the evening – and back at it first thing in the morning. The last day in Tokyo we went to a press conference. There were easily a couple of hundred Asian journalists. We were instructed not to ask any questions. At the end of the press conference, Panasonic executives asked if there were any questions. Three prearranged softball questions were asked by the local press and that was it, event over.

That night the Panasonic folks hosted a farewell dinner with the American press. At the end of the dinner bottles of sake were placed on all the tables. The Panasonic guys started doing sake shots and encouraged us to join in. They, and Clint and I, got sh*t faced. The next morning, Greg scolded me. “The Japanese wanted to party. They were probably glad the dog and pony show was over, thus, the celebration – but they did not want to see you get drunk!”

The next morning, they put us on the high-speed bullet train south to Osaka. It was fast, exceptionally smooth. One of things that impressed me as we were speeding though the small local train stations was that there were hundreds of bicycles parked and leaning all around the train stations, seemingly unlocked. To my thinking, the locals rode their bikes to the station and then took the train to the city, work etc. In the evening they came back and got their bikes and rode home. Two things impressed me: one the bikes seemed unlocked, so the impression of community trust was amazing, and two, the quaintness of all those folks riding bikes (and not cars) to the train station. It spoke to a different kind of community than my experiences in our big cities.


The author and CNET's David Carnoy at the bullet train to Osaka.

The author and CNET’s David Carnoy at the bullet train to Osaka.


Further south we passed within sight of the snowcapped Mount Fuji. Impressive. Arriving in Osaka we were told that the vibe in Osaka was different than Tokyo. “How is that?” I asked. “Oh, Osaka is wilder, more informal, edgy even.” “Really? How is that?” I asked again. “Well, the people in Tokyo are more formal, proper even. In Osaka, the folks just do not care. They ride their bikes on the sidewalk and in Tokyo that would never happen.” Quaint, I thought, but also, a big takeaway. Firsthand, I had experienced that Japan is more communal and considerate.

On our last night in Osaka, five of us went to the bar on the top floor of our hotel. Looking down, we saw a street that had a covered canopy which extended over a mile. Underneath the covering were shops and stalls, all in bright lights. It looked like an incredibly long marketplace. It was interesting.

When the check came, Clint offered to pay. Next morning, he told me the five drinks cost $363.00. Yikes! Then we were escorted to a local subway that took us to the airport. I was surprised after all that handholding, they just put us on the train and said goodbye.

David Carnoy and I were on the same flight home. We flew directly to Detroit (I was surprised as I had assumed we would be flying directly to JFK) from Osaka, went through customs there, and then took a commuter flight home to New York. David and I shared a cab into the city. The whole trip took six days including travel.

Not every press junket is fun. Some have been referred to as “a death march to Bataan.” The manufacturers always hoped to make these trips compelling. But after all, they are not vacations. It is not lost on us that our hosts have their point to get across.


Header image courtesy of Pexels.com/Zachary DeBottis.

Bob Dylan: The Philosophy of Modern Song

Bob Dylan: The Philosophy of Modern Song

Bob Dylan: The Philosophy of Modern Song

Wayne Robins

When Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016, about half who of those who cared said, “well-deserved. Overdue.” The other half said, “Bob Dylan? Isn’t he a songwriter? What has that got to do with literature? What about Philip Roth?”

Well, that’s comparing apostles and orangutans. Who else did not win Nobel Prizes in Literature, and certainly deserve it? James Joyce, Kafka, Borges, Nabokov, Tolstoy, Ibsen, Proust, Rilke…and Roth. All deserving. That none of them wrote “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” does not qualify them. As Ann Crittenden pointed out in American Heritage in 2019, winners have included “the prolific Hallidór Laxness (1955) who wrote novels, plays, short stories, newspaper articles, and travelogues – all in Icelandic.”


But The Philosophy of Modern Song (Simon and Schuster) is Nobel Laureate Dylan’s first book since the charming Chronicles: Volume One, which was autobiography and memoir and mostly true stories told in the distinctive voice of his songs. Writing that gets inside your ear taking up residency in your vestibulocochlear nerve, and never causing the kind of infections that might make you lose your balance.

This time Dylan goes outside his own songs to tell stories – not necessarily “the” stories – about 66 songs, most or many in two parts: a kind of main story, which is usually about the songwriting, and a sidebar about the performances of the song. Many of these commentaries are written in the apocalyptic mode of Dylan’s music in the 1980s. They reflect his influences, especially in country music, blues, bluegrass, rockabilly, and the unclassifiable. He goes deep into the past, and he doesn’t deal much with his rock era contemporaries: no Beatles, Rolling Stones, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen. I would have liked to have read Dylan’s thoughts about “Norwegian Wood” or “Sympathy for the Devil.”


Bob Dylan, The Philosophy of Modern Song, book cover.


But you can’t read Dylan’s thoughts, though folks keep on trying. The dedication page is “For Doc Pomus” (1925 – 1991), and ain’t it something that the Pomus (with Mort Shuman) song Dylan expounds on at length is “Viva Las Vegas,” Elvis Presley’s 1964 hit. The first section is an impressionistic and not unfavorable view of Las Vegas itself, as represented in the song. I have kept an audio/video monitor and shortwave radio dialed to the intersection of Elvis Presley Boulevard and Rue de la Bob since 1970: the start of Elvis’ Las Vegas era and that of the Gypsy. But it’s the first time I’ve read Dylan writing about Elvis.

“‘Viva Las Vegas’ is also a commercial,” Dylan writes. “When Elvis first recorded [it] in 1963 and released it in 1964, he didn’t know that five years later, in July of 1969, the subject of this bright and breezy love song would become the hub of his live performances – and that in turn, the famed man-made nocturnal oasis would vampirically indulge his worst habits and impulses.”

In Pete Townsend’s “My Generation” (Decca, 1965), Dylan goes on a roll that captures the Who’s stance from the inside of the song looking out, and captures the song’s moment like a Polaroid. “People are trying to slap you around, slap you in the face, vilify you. They’re rude and they vilify you, take cheap shots. They don’t like you because you pull out all the stops and go for broke…They give you frosty looks and they’ve had enough of you, and there’s a million others just like you, multiplying every day…You’re hoping to croak before senility sets in.”

Then Dylan jumps to the future. Though Townshend and his acknowledged mouthpiece, Roger Daltrey, are on the road again as this is written, and Pete is now 77, Dylan takes some license that underscores the sturdiness and durability of the declaration “hope I die before I get old,” expressed in this song Townshend wrote when he was 20.

“In reality, you’re an eighty-year-old man, being wheeled around in a home for the elderly, and the nurses are getting on your nerves. You say why don’t you all fade away…You’re in your second childhood, can’t get a word out without stumbling and dribbling. You haven’t any aspirations to live in a fool’s paradise, you’re not looking forward to that…you’ll give up the ghost first.

You’re talking about your generation, sermonizing, giving a discourse.

Straight talk, eyeball to eyeball.”

Elvis Costello conveys some of the rage of his generation in “Pump It Up” (Radar Records, 1978). But it’s more personal, perhaps even Dylan’s projection of what’s happening in this song. “You’re the alienated hero taken for a ride by a quick-witted little hellcat, the hot-blooded sex-starved wench that you depended on so much, who failed you…turned you into a synthetic and unscrupulous person. Now you’ve come to the place where you’re going to blow things up, puncture it, shoot it down.”

But the critique can be harsh: “Why all the trivial talk and yakkety-yak? Why all the monotonous and lifeless music that plays inside your head?…This song has a lot of defects, but it knows how to conceal them all.”

That damning with the faintest of praise is before Dylan gets to the commentary on Costello and his band on the facing page, and for the only time I can recall in the book, asserts his influence on someone else’s song. “He [Costello] obviously had been listening to Springsteen too much. But he also had a heavy dose of [Dylan’s] ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues.'” Later, Dylan writes that “in time, Elvis would prove he had a gigantic musical soul. Too big for this type of aggressive music to contain.” But Dylan had already given his conclusion to “Pump It Up,” as “a quasi-stop-time tune with powerful rhetoric, and with all this, Elvis exuded nothing but high-level belligerence.”


Dylan must have shrugged that his listeners could be so literal-minded and inert that they thought his line “Play Don Henley, play Glenn Frey, take it to the limit and let it go by,” among the extravagant set of rhymes in “Murder Most Foul,” could suggest an endorsement of the Eagles, or even recognition. He devotes a chapter to the wretched “Witchy Woman,” by Henley and Bernie Leadon, from the 1972 Asylum Records debut album Eagles.

First, he defines the “Witchy Woman” in most unflattering terms: “The progressive woman – youthful, whimsical, and grotesque. The woman from the global village of nowhere – destroyer of cultures, traditions, identities and deities.” He continues his description of this woman as an unattractive monster, yet she’s got the man in the song enchanted. “Could be the uppers and downers, goofballs, hydroxy steroids or gold heroin. Whatever it is it’s got you hooked . . .Now you’re a self-admiring, unchivalrous, worthless fellow with an evil nature…” Dylan’s conclusion: “This is a song that’s hard to go with. It’s about spirits in the air. It’s cheerless and grim – puts ashes in your mouth.”

The Grateful Dead’s “Truckin'” (music by Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, lyrics by Robert Hunter) earns not just Dylan’s blessing but benediction.

Dylan takes a long view of where the Grateful Dead belong in the spectrum of music history. “They’re a dance band. They have more in common with Artie Shaw and bebop than they do with the Byrds or the Stones.”

His fondness for the Dead is such that all of the other San Francisco bands from the Dead’s formative era (the Airplane, Quicksilver, even Big Brother and the Holding Co.) “wouldn’t even make a part of the Dead.” He breaks down the individual musical skills of the players, including “jazz classical bassist Phil Lesh, and the Elvin Jones-influenced Bill Kreutzmann. He calls Bob Weir “a very unorthodox rhythm player” with a style distinctive in its own way as Joni Mitchell’s guitar, “but from a different place.” Weir plays “strange, augmented chords and half chords at unpredictable intervals that somehow match up with Jerry Garcia – who plays like Charlie Christian and Doc Watson at the same time.”

Bob goes just as deep “Truckin'” as a signature tune: “Medium tempo, but it seems to just keep picking up speed. It’s got a fantastic first verse…and every verse that follows could actually be a first verse. Arrows of neon, flashing marquees, Dallas and a soft machine, Sweet Jane, vitamin C, Bourbon Street, bowling pins, hotel windows, and the classic line, ‘What a long strange trip it’s been.’ A thought that anybody can relate to.”

There are takes on “Blue Bayou” and “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Big River” and “Big Boss Man,” and a couple of songs each associated with Willie Nelson, Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra. As straight as “Whiffenpoof Song,” as left field as “Ball of Confusion” and “Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy” by Uncle Dave Macon, unforgettable because his name rhymes with bacon.

Some of Dylan’s assessments, if you can’t already tell, might seem spurious to some. Take “Come On-a-My House,” a 1951 hit for Rosemary Clooney, a pop confection written by Armenian-American cousins, the author William Saroyan and Ross Bagdasarian, who would become David Seville and create Alvin and the Chipmunks. Dylan goes down a lost highway on this one: “This is the song of the deviant, the pedophile, the mass murderer. The song of the guy who’s got thirty corpses under his basement and human skulls under the refrigerator…This is a hoodoo song disguised as a happy pop hit.” I think it reflects Dylan’s distaste for Mitch Miller, who ruled Columbia Records’ A&R when Dylan was signed to the label by John Hammond. But I don’t have a clue about the “warlock” he’s visualizing: I mean, it’s sung by Rosemary Clooney.

The songs, like the arrangements and song selections of Dylan concerts, may baffle the followers of fashion, the people who want to hear the hits like they remember them from the record.

“Take Me from This Garden of Evil,” written and performed by Jimmy Wages, but unreleased by Sun Records, 1956, is one. “You want to be flung into a distant realm where you’ll be redeemed, and you’ll go with anyone who’ll escort you out of this jungle of baloney and everything fishy.” Wages was a contemporary of Elvis in Tupelo, Miss. On the facing page, Dylan writes, “there’s nothing cosmetic or plastic here. This is the real deal and it’s off the map.” Dylan’s ear is acute: the guitar player sounds to him like “Luther Perkins playing a Gibson Les Paul instead of his usual Fender.” Dylan explains precisely why he thinks that despite being “raw and fearless” as anything Sam Phillips ever recorded, he saw no point in releasing it. “This record pushes the panic button. This was not a record for teenagers…this is evil as the dictator, evil ruling the world. There is no peace in the valley. This is a garden of corporate lust, sexual greed, gratuitous cruelty, and commonplace insanity…dyed in the wool assholes, and the singer wants to be delivered from it. Who wouldn’t.”


With his essay on the 1928 Victor single “Jesse James” by Harry McClintock, Dylan offers a detailed explanation of the rules of bounty hunting outlaws. “To be an outlaw meant that any citizen could legally shoot you and kill you on site and claim the prize.” The inequity between then and now rubs Dylan raw. “Rap stars, country outlaws, hedge fund scammers and mafiosos live in the lap of luxury while real gangsters like Jesse James hide in the shadows and fear death around every corner.”

I expected an essay on “El Paso” by Marty Robbins (from Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs) and was not disappointed. It takes up five pages of this gorgeous book, page after page of astounding visuals, researched and cleared by Parker Fishel and David Beal. My dad and the singer of “El Paso” shared the same name: my dad chose the singular “b” in “Robins,” when he needed to drop the “Rabinowitz” as armor against postwar antisemitism in the 1940s. But the man who wrote and sang “El Paso” did not descend from Eastern European sharecroppers, as my father did. Couldn’t have been more different, as the singer Marty Robbins’ grandfather was nicknamed “Texas Bob,” a Confederate soldier and cowboy poet, spinner of tall tales.

“This a ballad of the tortured soul, the cowboy heretic, prince of the protestants, falling in love with a smooth complexion dancing girl…” From there, Dylan takes the reader on a kabbalistic journey: “The song hardly says anything you understand, but if you throw in the signs, symbols, and shapes, it hardly says anything you don’t understand.”

For the standard “Blue Moon,” Dylan chooses the Dean Martin version. (I’m slightly disappointed he didn’t engage fully with the Marcels’ sublime doo-wop version.) Dylan sees Dean Martin two nights in a row in Las Vegas, and on the first night, he’s amazed that somebody so apparently drunk can put on such a coherent show. The second night is almost identical, and he’s amazed that someone so apparently sober can do such an uncanny portrayal of a totally sloshed performer.

The closing song chapter is “Where or When” by Rodgers and Hart, the much-covered classic of American song, as sung by Dion on the 1959 album Presenting Dion and the Belmonts. “This is a song of reincarnation…where every waking moment bears striking resemblance to something that happened in pre-Revolutionary times, pre-Renaissance times, or pre-Christian times where everything is exactly alike, and you can’t tell anything apart.” The reincarnation theme is the coda to the rest of the book, a grim assessment of a life “where the past has a way of showing up in front of you and coming into your life without being called.”


But the commentary on Dion ends the book on a hopeful note. Dylan gives abundant respect to Dion, who “changes outwardly but maintaining recognizable characteristics across every iteration. Not reincarnation in the strictest sense but an amazing series of rebirths, taking him from an earnest ‘Teenager in Love’ to a swaggering Wanderer, a soul-searching friend of Abraham, Martin and John to a hard-edged leather clad king of the urban jungle who was a template for fellow Italo-rocker [Dylan’s words] Bruce Springsteen. Most recently, he has realized one of his early dreams and become some kind of elder legend, a bluesman from another Delta.”

Rapturously writing about the 1959 hit of “Where or When” by Dion and the Belmonts, Dylan calls it “a breathtaking bit of vocal harmony…and when Dion’s voice bursts through for a solo moment on the bridge, it captures that shimmering persistence of memory in a way that the printed word can only hint at.”

And thus Bob Dylan provides the coda for this essay.


This article originally appeared in Wayne Robins’ Substack and is used here by permission. Wayne’s Words columnist Wayne Robins teaches at St. John’s University in Queens, and writes the Critical Conditions Substack, http://waynerobins49.substack.com.

Header image courtesy of Wikipedia/Alberto Cabello.

City Scene

City Scene

City Scene

Howard Kneller
Dazzling on the outside as well as within: New York’s Radio City Music Hall, 2019.

Getting Nowhere

Getting Nowhere

Getting Nowhere

James Whitworth

Nora O’Connor: Singing from My Heart

Nora O’Connor: Singing from My Heart

Nora O’Connor: Singing from My Heart

Andrew Daly

Singer, guitarist and bassist Nora O’Connor has shared the stages with the likes of The Decemberists, Iron and Wine, Neko Case, and others, fulfilling a lifelong dream of transcending boundaries through music.

But if her latest record, My Heart, is any indication, Nora O’Connor is never more herself than when she’s driving her message home through her own music. As one of indie music’s most plaintive troubadours, O’Connor’s music is akin to coming back to a warm home on a chilly evening in the dead of winter.

Overall, the record has something for everyone, but what’s most striking is the gritty honesty echoing from the veteran songstress’s voice on cuts such as “Follow Me,” “Grace,” and “Tarot Card.”

O’Connor is a throwback from a different time and a different space, that of the nomadic traveler whose vintage aesthetic and delicate guitar stylings pair gorgeously with her well-worn, road-weary voice. If you’re looking for a low-key album with a lot of heart and vibe to round your year out, or a soundtrack for long fall drives to nowhere, give My Heart a try.

As she contemplates her future, Nora O’Connor settled in with me to recount her earliest musical memories, the evolution of her songwriting process, the recording of My Heart, and what’s next for her.


Nora O'Connor, My Heart, album cover.


Andrew Daly: When did you know you wanted to make music your career?

Nora O’Connor: When I was in college, I started a band with my new buddies; we were half locals, half students. We sang Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Beatles, the Stones, the Dead, America, and more Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. (laughs) Those were the first people I sang with, and I realized [I had a] knack for harmony and blending [in] vocals. I really started to feel the electricity that happens when you lock into the harmonies of a song. It was incredibly fulfilling and fun. I began to play guitar around that time, and it didn’t take long before I was playing it in front of people. I somehow knew that was the only way to get mediocre fast!

AD: Which artists influenced you most when you were young, and how have you evolved since?

NOC: When I was a kid and into my teens, I loved Pat Benatar, Heart, Eurythmics, Rickie Lee Jones, Kate Bush, Paul Rodgers, Steve Perry, and oh god, did I love Donna Summer. I would sing right into the speaker and try to lock in with Donna’s voice; I did that all the time when I wasn’t singing into a hairbrush. (laughs) But as I’ve gotten older, I’m starting to settle into the parts of my voice that are the most comfortable, and it helps to know what I cannot do, so I don’t hurt myself anymore. Also, I think my control and confidence have evolved, and I feel that it shows in my voice and approach.

AD: Can you dive deeper into the college scene you were exposed to?

NOC: I played a lot when I was in college at Southern Illinois University. We had great little joints like PK’s, Bobby’s Beer Garden, and the Pinch Penny Pub. When I moved to Chicago, I did a lot of open mics and opening slots at places like No Exit and Uncommon Ground coffee house. Eventually, I started playing small clubs like Schubas and The Hideout, and I still do.

AD: What was the songwriting process for My Heart like?

NOC: Around mid-summer 2020, I started booking little yard shows around my town. This was back when nothing else was happening, and it felt very nourishing to be with a few people for a couple of hours and play music. I wrote a couple of songs for those gigs, and it felt pretty good to see what was inside of me. Having a break from touring with other bands, I wanted to fill my solo set with more original material. I liked what was coming out and wanted the experience of recording my own music. It was an exercise of trusting myself and getting over myself.


AD: Describe your thought process going into the record.

NOC: For a long time, I was insecure and intimidated by the musicians that I worked with and for. I was in a headspace where I thought, why bother? Well, that kind of self-sabotage was getting exhausting, so I quit drinking at the beginning of the pandemic, and that made room for me to dig a little deeper and find what I have to offer musically, spiritually, for my relationships, the whole deal. From there, I took a couple of writing classes to invite discipline into my day and open up my creative senses.

AD: What was your approach to the production for My Heart?

NOC: Working with Alex Hall at Reliable Recorders in Chicago was a no-brainer for me. We [had] made two records together with the Flat Five, who Alex plays drums for. And I’ve come into his studio for many sessions over the years, and I know that Alex knows what mics are good for my voice, and he already had a good feel for my aesthetic. Plus, I was a fan of so many of the records he’s recorded, engineered, and produced. I also did some recording at Steve Dawson’s Kernel Sound Emporium in Chicago. I loved the way his records were turning out and trusted [that] he would be a great person to work with on a few of my songs.


Nora O'Connor.

Nora O’Connor.


AD: How has working with artists like the Decemberists, Neko Case, Andrew Bird, and Iron and Wine changed your perspective?

NOC: It feels like I’ve been in a master class for the last 20-plus years, working with these music warriors on stage and offstage too. A show [lasts] two or three hours, so many tours are [really what happens in] the 19 hours between shows, and learning to co-exist with as many as 17 people. Morning coffees on the bus, reading the news on our phones and talking about the issues abound, and I devoured pre- and post-show playlists, learning so much about music I’d never heard. You would be surprised how much you could learn about Loverboy’s first drummer. (laughs)

AD: What’s next for you, Nora?

NOC: I will always do this on some level. I have lots of shows planned regionally and am trying to book a living room tour. For the record, booking your own tours blows. (laughs) I’m at a point in my life where I can’t take the car and drive around the country paying to play anymore. I have to be smart about what I can do. I love small, intimate, unconventional listening rooms like house concerts, art galleries, and yes, even libraries. So, I want to do more of that and plan to do it as often as possible.


Images courtesy of Nora O’Connor/Howlin’ Wuelf Media.

An Unexpected Return to the Dungeon

An Unexpected Return to the Dungeon

An Unexpected Return to the Dungeon

Tom Gibbs

When I last checked in (in Issue 170), most aspects of my upcoming move to South Carolina were still in complete flux. To say that the entire experience has been a roller-coaster ride is the understatement of the year! Our house went on the market as planned in late August, and amazingly, we received multiple offers over the asking price – everything was looking like roses again with our second home sale in five years. Then the wheels came off.

Our first offer fell through after only a couple of days; the interested party discovered that he was being transferred out-of-state by his employer. We then accepted the second offer, and they were also initially really jazzed, but they pulled out after a day – one of them was having doubts. Hopefully the third offer would be the charm, and it definitely appeared to be. The third couple was hyper-enthusiastic, and requested another walk-through of the home, where they gushed over every detail and waxed poetically over how they were going to transform it into the palace of their dreams. We had a confirmed closing date with no due diligence and $25,000 in earnest money – it seemed too good to be true!

We basically had the whole house packed, and I’d cleared and disassembled all the patio furniture and outdoor accoutrements in advance of the movers showing up, so we left for South Carolina to try and find a new home. A week later, and after having looked at countless homes, we still hadn’t made an offer on one. We went over to South Carolina with a list of about ten available homes we were interested in, but by the time we arrived, half of them were already sold, and the remainder were under contract before we could even see them. We couldn’t find anything that served any of our needs or wasn’t way out in the boonies, so we headed back to Georgia not knowing what our next move would be.

A couple of days later, our real estate agent in South Carolina called us; a new-construction home was available in our target area and in our price range. The only problem was that it wouldn’t be completed until late November. We signed a contract sight unseen, and I made arrangements for movers and storage units. Later that day, I got a phone call from a representative of the builder, Lennar, and there was even better news – it was the end of their fiscal year, and the home was eligible for a $50,000 price reduction. I couldn’t believe our luck, and we were ready to shift the move to South Carolina into high gear.

The next week, our real estate agent in Georgia called us; the deal for the sale of our home had fallen through again. Our best option was to put our house back on the market. My heart sank at the news, and at our realtor’s request, we had to unpack and set up everything indoors again for another open house the upcoming weekend. I dragged all the patio furniture around, reassembled it, and set everything up again outdoors. I had to cancel the movers, which cost us $250 in cancellation fees, and I was already paying $600/month for empty storage units in South Carolina. It was a disheartening and seriously unpleasant experience. My wife and I broke out the Jack Daniels and basically got totally sloggered – we were beyond depressed.

Fortunately that only lasted a day; interested couple number three figured out how to make the deal happen, and by October 5 we had closed on our home sale. The only negative was we had to be out in seven days, and we had nowhere to go! I was able to make new arrangements with the movers, and we spent several days trying to find temporary housing near Charleston until the completion of the new home. That was a complete bust, but in the nick of time, my brother called offering to put us up in his basement until the house was ready for move-in. All our stuff (including all my audio gear) got moved into storage in South Carolina, and we’ve been at my brother’s house for a couple of weeks now. Fortunately, there’s been incredibly good progress on the construction of the new house, and we’re scheduled to move in on Nov. 17.


Lake Arrowhead is a picturesque and idyllic destination…although a little far off the beaten path!


We return to my brother Harold’s basement

Lake Arrowhead (where my brother’s home is located) is built around the largest private freshwater lake in the state of Georgia (650 acres), and is an incredibly scenic and naturally beautiful location. The many vistas of the lake are indeed stunning, and there’s a diverse variety of architecture among the hundreds of homes in this exclusive gated community. It’s a highly desirable location to build a home, and its many available amenities only add to its appeal. That said, it’s way the freak in the middle of nowhere, and you have to drive 30 minutes or more just to get a decent cup of coffee. And god help you if you require emergency medical care – I’d worry about dying on the way to the hospital.

When we last stayed in Harold’s basement, we were there for nine long months, but I was cheered by the prospect that we would only need to crash there for six-or-so weeks this time. That would be totally doable, right? I obviously underestimated my brother’s capacity to indirectly make our lives more miserable than they already were! Harold is Harvard-educated, extremely well-traveled, and, well, has this need to constantly remind you how well-educated and well-traveled he is. He basically knows everything – or at least, thinks he knows everything. And his knack for constantly, insufferably regaling you with tales of his travels, experiences, and philosophies on life can get excessively tiresome at times.

Here’s an example: on a recent night, Beth was cooking dinner for all of us, and I was in the kitchen acting as the sous chef and cleaning as she cooked. Harold and his wife Pam were in the adjacent living room; there’s a partial wall that separates the two spaces, and a television is mounted on that wall that faces into the living room. While I was standing at the sink washing dishes, Harold began to offer a lengthy and detailed plot summary of the show they were watching. He does this often, whether he’s asked to or not, generally while the program is running. And the vocal volume of his delivery will generally obscure any dialogue that might be ongoing on the TV screen (I’m fairly certain he’s nearly deaf). From my vantage point at the sink, I couldn’t see the television and had no idea what they were watching. But when I looked up to see what Pam’s reaction was to Harold’s unsolicited diatribe, she wasn’t even there! I then shifted my gaze to Harold, who’s looking directly at me, and I then realized, his rampant vocalization was  intended for me. And not only did I not even know what he was watching – I also couldn’t even see that he was.

It’s been almost unbearable; the most common hand gesture between my wife Beth and myself for the last couple of weeks is the one where you make your hand into a pistol and mimic capping yourself in the head. Yes, it’s drastic, and yes, I realize that Harold and his wife have essentially quarantined themselves up here at Lake Arrowhead for the duration of the pandemic. And he can’t get enough of the human interaction we’re currently providing. Five years ago during our nine-month stay, we almost lovingly referred to the basement as “The Dungeon.” Now, it’s morphed into something much more sinister; more like the caverns of Khazad-dûm within the Mines of Moria from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. At any moment, I almost expect a Balrog of Morgoth to emerge from the darkness and engulf us both in a tempest of shadow and flame!


Wintry skies begin to close in on Lake Arrowhead, greatly increasing our urgency to get out of here!


It hasn’t been an absolute, complete, total loss during our stay; I actually have made a couple of interesting “audio ripping” discoveries concerning DVD-Audio discs and BD+ discs in my time here. My brother’s Oppo universal disc player died a while back, and I’ve been able to greatly impress him with my knowledge of ripping DVD-Audio discs, which has allowed him to enjoy the multichannel content of his collection again. And I’ve been able to adequately research and master cracking the BD+ (Blu-ray disc plus) code, which has allowed the extraction of high-resolution music files from that nearly impenetrable technology (very exciting!). More on that in an upcoming installment in a couple of weeks.

But for the most part, Beth and I are constantly searching for excuses to get in the car and be gone from here for hours at a time. “We’re going to look for window treatments for the new house,” or “we need to go Target and look for bedding and linens.” Any excuse to get out of the house! We’re leaving in a few days to check on the progress of the new home, which is blessedly far ahead of schedule. And to also help my daughter for a few days with my grandkids while my son-in-law is away on one of his acting gigs – he has a recurring role in an upcoming series that’s filming for Apple TV in Savannah. We’ll be gone for five days, then back here for another five days, then off to Charleston for good!

The new home has brought some interesting changes to my future audio plans

While my initial decision was to try and incorporate the audio setup at the new home into more of a shared, communal environment, that has now significantly changed. The new house has an expansive bonus room suite on the second level, which my wife has graciously given to me exclusively for audio purposes. It has two rooms that I’ll use to set up two distinct systems; the larger one will focus on my digitally-based audio setup, with the Magneplanars, PS Audio gear, and Gustard and Euphony Audio digital front-end. The second, smaller room will focus on an all-analog setup, with the KLH Model Five loudspeakers, my PrimaLuna EVO 300 tube integrated amplifier, and my Pro-Ject turntable with Hana cartridge and Musical Surroundings phono preamp and linear power supply. It’s gonna be pretty elegant, to say the least!


The new home near Charleston is rapidly progressing.


The new audio suite also features two generously-proportioned storage rooms, which will provide easy accessibility for all digital discs and LPs as well as plenty of room for audio equipment boxes. It’s a move in a totally different direction from what I had been imagining for the last year or so, but I’ve decided to roll with it, so it doesn’t appear that I’ll be downsizing my audio system anytime soon. When I eventually keel over, my kids will have to sort through all the discs and gear and decide whether they’re just tossing it all in a dumpster, or whatever!

Fortunately, I am now retired, and recently got my first Social Security and pension checks, so the day job will no longer be a source of constant interference with my audio pursuits. I’ll be checking back in from time to time; in a couple of weeks when we actually start moving in, it’ll be pretty hectic at the new place until we get reasonably settled, hopefully by about mid-December. Then I’ll have a monstrous backlog of overdue reviews to focus on.


Last night was one of our last here in the Dungeon, and most likely for forever. I was awakened at 3 a.m. from a very realistic dream; the remnants of Hurricane Nicole were passing through north Georgia, and it was windy and raining outside. The realism of the dream startled me, and as I lay awake in bed, I reflected on it at length. My brain was awash in a myriad of thoughts, and I then did something I’ve never, ever done before: I actually got out of bed, went to my computer, and wrote them down.

This sort of thing has been a regular occurrence with me: I’ll awake in the middle of the night, and have a really profound thought, or will find myself musing about something that I feel ought to be written down for posterity. I’ve never previously gotten out of bed to do this – and whatever thought process was working in my 3 a.m. brain that I felt so urgently needed to be recorded ended up getting buried in my subconscious. But this time was different, and somehow, I dragged myself out of bed and stumbled into the adjacent room to my laptop. I’ve often reflected that this inaction is probably what separates me from joining the ranks of the better writers of the world and will forever doom me to being a second-rate hack: I never seem to stop at the moment and write down the thoughts that desperately need to be preserved. And they’re forever lost into the ether.

I’m no longer a young man; I think most of us at this point in life have fairly frequent thoughts regarding our impending mortality. A few months ago, while I was still employed at RR Donnelley, a lively conversation was going on between my then-coworkers. The topic of the conversation was: “if you could be 17 again, would you?” My immediate response was, “yes, absolutely!” “Why would you want to be 17 again?” one guy asked. “Why would you want to go through all that again?” My response was again immediate: “Because I wouldn’t be 64 anymore!” 

In last night’s very realistic dream, I was at some kind of outdoor event; there were seemingly thousands of people present. I was in my early 20s, as I frequently seem to be in many of my dreams (I’m sure Freud would have something to say about that). At some point, I realized I was in the presence of a young woman who has made regular appearances in my dreams; she’s about my same age in the dream, and is a petite woman of relatively slim build with shoulder-length brunette hair. She has a certain “girl-next-door” wholesome beauty and convivial charm. And I am always very attracted to her, but my dreams that revolve around her are never sexual or erotic in nature. I don’t even know her name; I have never known her name, but I’ve realized that she has made a legion of appearances in my dreams. Usually, as just a peripheral figure in whatever proceedings are going on within my subconscious, but I’ve always found her to be very pleasant company. And she frequently shares insightful thoughts with me about whatever my current condition happens to be.

As the dream proceeded, I walked away from the crowd and entered a room where there was a full-length mirror on one wall. As I stared alone at my younger visage in the mirror, I realized that the door had opened, and the woman had entered the room behind me. I could see her reflection in the mirror. “I’ve been looking for you,” she said. “Yes, I know,” I responded, then turned towards her and said, “I’m really sorry to see you go.” I then reached out with my hand, placed it behind her head, and pulled her close to me for a very brief, but intensely passionate kiss. The shocking realism of the moment greatly startled me, and I quite nearly jumped out of bed!

As I lay awake, my thoughts rambled on about this woman; I can’t even really see her face in my mind at this point, but I realize she’s been a constant presence in many of my dreams over the years. And I don’t even know who she is – and worse, based on my last comment to her, I may never see her again. I found that prospect disappointingly troubling at 3 a.m., but then, my brain started shifting in other directions, and I began to think of her as more of an allegory than anything else in my subconscious. “I’m really sorry to see you go…” perhaps, that’s my brain subconsciously trying to wrap itself around the new chapter of my life that’s currently unfolding, while simultaneously saying goodbye to my old reality. Who knows, I guess time will eventually tell.

Maybe it’s that “Wheel of Life” kind of thing – we’ve all seen the famous illustration where you start out as a baby, then slowly proceed to adulthood, to only just as slowly regress back to being a baby at life’s end. Maybe I’m at that point in life where for whatever reason and despite my old-guy reality, my brain is thinking like a twenty-something again. I probably desperately need to get involved in some kind of therapy!

Until next time, happy listening.


All images courtesy of the author.

Stay Focused

Stay Focused

Stay Focused

Frank Doris
From The Audio Classics Collection, here's an absolutely jaw-dropping McIntosh MR 65B tube stereo tuner. These beauties were made from 1962 to 1964.

From The Audio Classics Collection, here’s an absolutely jaw-dropping McIntosh MR 65B tube stereo tuner. These beauties were made from 1962 to 1964.


Looks great from any angle, and dig that McIntosh logo on top!

Looks great from any angle, and dig that McIntosh logo on top!


Looks great from any angle, and dig that McIntosh logo on top!

Who are we to argue? Photos by Howard Kneller.


Love at first sound…until your 8-track tapes get eaten. Muntz ad, 1969.


Here’s something you don’t see every day! A Spica transistor radio, made by the Sanritsu Electric Company circa 1965. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Joe Haupt.


Nothing like electronics with easily-accessible adjustments. Radio Electronics, November 1949.


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).

Small-Room Acoustics, Part Two

Small-Room Acoustics, Part Two

Small-Room Acoustics, Part Two

Russ Welton

In our previous article (Issue 175) we looked at dealing with a small room’s first reflection points at the side walls, and also, the limitations of measuring a room’s response when planning to make any beneficial EQ adjustments. The off-axis reflected sounds from the loudspeakers are what may intrude into your listening experience more than you at first realize, because they contribute so much to the room’s overarching response – it’s very own and special sonic personality.

One observation that can be made is that when we make recorded measurements in the stochastic zone (or above the room’s transition frequency, known as the Schroeder frequency), the measurements are not what we are actually hearing in our room, due to limitations of the measurement microphone, and the “filtering” performed by our brain. (Briefly, below the room transition frequency or Schroeder frequency, typically between around 100 and 250 Hz, the room acts as a resonator, and above the Schroeder frequency, as a reflector and diffusor of sound.)

This not-so-little gremlin – the difference between what the measuring mic “hears” and what the ears and brain hear – is exacerbated by using room correction software, which is designed to smooth out the dips and peaks in frequency response inherent in every room. Often it cannot correct accurately enough for the exact combination of on-axis and the dominating off-axis reflected sounds of your speakers. Surely, though, room correction is supposed to help?

This problem usually arises because the measurement software will normally be programmed to assume a perfectly smooth off-axis response – but this just is not the case for oh-so-many speakers’ responses. This means the corrections made will be based on the software’s own programmed bias of anticipating a smooth overall response, and not on what you are actually hearing – the sum of all the reflected and direct sounds. The software cannot tell the difference between the direct sound and off-axis reflected sound. As a result, the latter negatively affects the direct sound when the measurement software “corrects” for the in-room response. So if you do use room correction software, the smoother your speakers’ off-axis response, the better.

As many speakers do not have a smooth off-axis response, what this tells us, as far as the integrity of the original sound from the speaker is concerned, is that its directivity can actually be more important than the on-axis frequency response itself. Or to put it another way, if you aim your speakers on-axis directly at the listening position, this will help to control all the in-room reflections that arise from the off-axis response, that would otherwise dominate more than they should. If you can improve the speaker’s directivity you focus the on-axis response at the listening position and partially control first reflections.

Changing the amount of toe-in (the angle at which the speakers are aimed at the listening position) is an easy way to reduce the effect of room reflections. In particular, toeing in some models of older speakers can be really helpful in reducing their traditionally poorer off-axis response, because you are helping to reduce the first reflections off the side walls and other surfaces. This too, is another reason why bringing the speakers further into the room can aid our cause. Experiment with this before adjusting your EQ. (I know it’s not possible to do this in every room or living situation, but if you’re able to move your speakers further into the room it’s worth a try – unless you’ve already spent the time and have placed them in the optimum location!)

When making adjustments, pay close attention to what the changes in speaker placement are actually doing to the resultant sound. Let your ears be the final judge. A typical issue may be that you wind up getting more top end in a selected frequency range – and then you find it fatiguing after a long listen. Or perhaps the opposite: you may intentionally curb some of higher frequencies, which might sound pleasing at first, and after listening for a while, realize you have scooped out too much definition. But before you take your measurements and try to compensate for an overtly boxy sounding midrange or toppy high end, consider the following thoughts.

Narrow-directivity speakers (those with a tightly-focused dispersion pattern, also sometimes referred to as controlled dispersion speakers) can ameliorate this issue to a much greater extent. This type of speaker may be so effective in this regard that you can eliminate the need for sound-absorption panels on your wall altogether. Toeing in your speakers in partially copies the effect of narrow-dispersion speakers and causes what you’re hearing from the off-axis responses to be less powerful, resulting in less “harsh” reflected sounds. Examples of narrow-directivity speakers would be most horn loudspeakers, or large-panel speakers like Quad ESLs.

Some speakers are designed not to be toed in, so check your manual for specific instructions. If this is the case, you may have invested in speakers with more of an off-axis volume drop-off, a characteristic usually true of narrower dispersion speakers, thus minimizing the prominence of first reflections. It is of course entirely personal what one listener enjoys compared to another, and you may prefer, for example, the sound of your beloved dipoles because of their own unique characteristics.


The degree of speaker toe-in is critical to achieve best imaging and spaciousness, as this McIntosh display at AXPONA 2022 demonstrates. Courtesy of Frank Doris.

The degree of speaker toe-in is critical to achieve best imaging and spaciousness, as this McIntosh display at AXPONA 2022 demonstrates. Courtesy of Frank Doris.


Dr. Floyd Toole stated this about the listening preferences of speaker designer Siegfried Linkwitz: “Siegfried Linkwitz, a significant contributor to audio, has exorcised the demons of stereo reproduction for years, and currently listens in a relatively reflective room fitted with multidirectional (dipole), or widely-dispersing monopole loudspeakers. Each is apparently able to deliver similarly good stereo sound and soundstages. He concludes that ‘monitor and consumer loudspeakers must exhibit close to constant directivity at all frequencies in order to obtain optimal results for recording and rendering.” (www.linkwitzlab.com, “Stereo Recording and Rendering 101.”) Because this is not the normal circumstance, recordings are highly variable, and he concludes, “The aural scene is ultimately limited by the recording.” For more information, click here for a link to an article Dr. Toole wrote for Audioholics.

With all this said, you don’t want a completely “dead” room with no sound reflection whatsoever (as anyone who has walked into an anechoic chamber can attest). Using reflection, diffusion and absorption to achieve a natural, balanced sound is advice we often hear, but what sounds best in our attempt to make the room sound bigger? All recording studios where the music is made vary, but are usually bigger than very small rooms.

Absorption converts the absorbed audio power/energy to heat, and so some small amount of audio signal power is lost. By contrast, diffusion maintains the overall amount of sound power energy, but instead it is broken down into smaller (and quieter) “parcels” of sound and dissipated throughout the room. Significantly, with diffusion you are not losing sound energy to heat as with absorption and so it retains some key reverberant spatial cues and may contribute to a more pleasing and “live” sound, as opposed to the jarring sound of unwanted first reflections. If you absorb or remove too much reverb, the sound becomes so dead, or at least so un-lifelike, that your poor stereo speakers have no chance of emulating the illusion of hearing live music, or where each instrument influenced the room’s reverb quality.

Keep in mind that there’s a wide variety of difference in absorber designs, and not all work purely as absorption panels. Some also reflect some of the sound waves. Part of the “deadness” that results from using some types of sound absorption is that they only reduce higher frequencies, so the spectrum of the reflections has less high-frequency energy, making the overall tonality you hear more “dull.” On the other hand, some absorptive materials have a thin “skin” to reflect high frequencies but absorb some midrange. Not all absorptive materials are alike.

What room treatments should you consider, and what are some the best locations for them when battling a particularly small room? This is by no means exhaustive, but may help you to address some of the common issues encountered. (Again, we talked about how to deal with a room’s side wall first reflection points in the previous installment.)

If you have a very small room and your speakers are either by design or necessity have to be placed close to the front wall (the wall you are looking at when listening to music, but sometimes confusingly is also referred to as the back wall) then treating the area behind the speakers and up to about three feet of the side walls near the speakers can be greatly advantageous. By adding absorption at these locations, you will help to reduce the effects of comb filtering (cancellation at various frequencies that happens because of sound arriving at different times; the measurement graph looks like a comb, hence the name) and unwanted bass reinforcement which will degrade the integrity of the bass.

Depending on your room – let’s say it is typically small, and the wall behind your head is six feet away – then some diffusion on that wall serves the purpose of making the room sound bigger than it is. If you have a really long room, you may find that using some absorption serves to help improve the room’s overall frequency response curve.

What if your listening position is very close to the wall behind your head? This is not ideal from a listening perspective, because your head is going to be subjected to the back wall’s reflections while receiving the direct source at the same time, making for an inaccurate and maybe even unpleasant bass listening experience. If this is your situation, pull your seat forward if you can, and try adding absorption on that back wall to take these first reflections down in volume. One caveat is that absorption doesn’t absorb all frequencies equally and so a compromise is inevitable. Adding some bass traps to the back corners of the room can help out further. Diffusion right up against your head is not your friend here.

Speaking of friends, this is where they may prove particularly useful for helping you drill down to eliminate your room’s inequities. If you have your willing assistant stand where your speakers are, and clap, or smack two small blocks of wood together, you can then listen for where the most noticeable reverberant slap comes from. If you don’t have anyone to assist you, blow up balloons where your speakers are and pop them with a pin on a long stick and listen accordingly for the pop. Where you hear it come from is where your absorber panels may be best-placed.


Clapping hands together is a time-honored way to listen for a room's reverb and echo characteristics. Courtesy of Pexels.com/Andres Ayrton.

Clapping hands together is a time-honored way to listen for a room’s reverb and echo characteristics. Courtesy of Pexels.com/Andres Ayrton.


In the next installment, we’ll look at some limitations of trying to emulate the recording studio at home, and also, how you may further treat your room, if in fact you may not already have sufficient “treatment” already.


Header image: Pure Audio Project loudspeakers at the New York Audio Show 2022. Courtesy of Tom Methans.

That's The Way I Wanna Rock and Roll

That's The Way I Wanna Rock and Roll

That's The Way I Wanna Rock and Roll

Peter Xeni

“I think this audio bargain can handle ‘High Voltage’ at 11…”


Caption by Peter Xeni and Frank Doris.

A Trip to Eindhoven’s Philips Museum: Like a Kid in a Candy Store

A Trip to Eindhoven’s Philips Museum: Like a Kid in a Candy Store

A Trip to Eindhoven’s Philips Museum: Like a Kid in a Candy Store

Larry Jaffee

Ever since my grandmother Edna gave me a transistor radio for my birthday in 1964 just in time for Beatlemania, I was mesmerized by gadgets that emanated sound. By the sixth grade, I graduated to a cassette tape recorder (I actually was looking for a mini reel-to-reel, but Korvettes didn’t sell any) and a few years later my first record player. By the mid-1980s, I made it to the CD, which, by the late 1990s, hit its peak, and accounted for the best job I ever had.

I was reminded of my love affair with electronic gadgets when in early September I visited the Philips Museum in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, a country where most tourists’ idea of culture would be going to Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum (went there on my first European trip in 1983), the Anne Frank House (tried to get in this time but tickets were sold out), or the Rijksmuseum, the national showcase of Dutch art and history.

But Copper readers no doubt would view the Philips Museum the same way I did, like a kid in a candy store. Seeing the vintage equipment behind glass showcases make you want to twist the knobs of some nearly century-old shortwave radios and early record players to see if they still work.

Laid out chronologically on three floors, the museum traces the 130-year-old company’s history of bringing entertainment to people’s homes, and as a consumer electronics innovator. Founded in Eindhoven in 1891, Philips’ first industrial product was the light bulb. (An English inventor had debuted the concept in the early 1800s, and Thomas Edison commercialized light bulbs in the US by the late 1880s.) Philips’ laboratory soon led to groundbreaking inventions, as the facility went on to become one of the leading research centers in the world. Medical breakthroughs starting in 1924 through 1932 centered around the company’s X-ray tube, which helped diagnose tuberculosis. As a result, TB cases were lower by 60 percent in Eindhoven than elsewhere. The company manufactured its first radios in the 1930s.


Early Philips tube radios.


Philips tube radio and record player.


Circa 1942 record player.


Early Philips record player.

Above: an assortment of early radios and record players.


Philips introduced the electric razor to Europe in 1939; in the US the brand name for the device became Norelco. With the outbreak of World War II, just prior to the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands, company founder Anton Philips and family members fled to the US. Meanwhile, the Philips radio factory in Eindhoven was badly damaged after being bombed by the Royal Air Force. Presumably, German forces were firing at the Allies’ planes from atop the Philips building. WWII is also mentioned among the museum’s exhibits by a 1997 “Certificate of Honour” from Israel acknowledging the courageous work the company did in protecting Jews from the Nazis.


The Certificate of Honour given to Philips.

The Certificate of Honour given to Philips.


While Philips previously was one of the largest electronics companies in the world, it currently is focused on its healthcare efforts. But I came to the museum more to soak up the vintage turntables and tape recorders running on tubes and transistors, as you can see from photos in the article.

Philips invented the compact cassette in 1963, for which it still takes great pride, as demonstrated by a recent documentary I recommend called Cassette, available on Showtime.


A circa 1963 Pocket Recorder cassette player.

A circa 1963 Pocket Recorder cassette player.


A 1966 portable radio/cassette player.

A 1966 portable radio/cassette player.


As a vertically integrated company, Philips saw the importance of owning the hardware and the software, in 1950 forming Philips Records, later including such imprints as Fontana, Mercury, and Vertigo. Depending on the territory, Philips-affiliated artists included the diverse talents of Big Bill Broonzy, Dave Van Ronk, Nina Simone, Dusty Springfield, the Walker Brothers, Serge Gainsbourg, Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Graham Parker and The Rumour, Dire Straits, ABC, and David Bowie. In 1962, Philips Records became a major player in the classical music world by forming a joint venture, the Grammophon-Philips Group (GPG) with powerhouse Deutsche Grammophon, which became Polygram in 1972. Polygram was acquired by the Universal Music Group in 1998.

One very special exhibit is Philips’ first laser-read video disc player, which the company had been working on since the early 1970s, and which served as a precursor to the compact disc and later DVD. Philips debuted the compact disc at a press conference in 1979 in Eindhoven. Avoiding what could have easily become a format war, Philips ended up partnering with Sony to introduce the CD, which the museum highlights with a display of Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms, released in 1985 on Warner Bros. in the US and internationally on Vertigo.


An early VCR.


The CD format launched in Japan in October 1982 and in Europe in March 1983. The Philips CD-100 was the second commercially released CD player, after Sony’s CDP-101.

In 1980 Philips acquired the venerable hi-fi brand Marantz, based in Kanagawa, Japan. In 2002, Marantz Japan merged with Denon to form D&M Holdings. Philips sold its remaining stake in D&M Holdings in 2008.

If I could come home with one showcase item from the museum, it’s a toss-up between one of the early radio/record player combos, or the wall-sized blowup single of Bowie’s “Space Oddity” resting on the couch.


Who wouldn't want this 1987 Moving Sound cassette player?

Who wouldn’t want this 1987 Moving Sound cassette player?


Or this Moving Sound CD boombox?

Or this Moving Sound CD boombox?


A larger-than-life 45 RPM single of David Bowie's larger-than-life "Space Oddity."

A larger-than-life 45 RPM single of David Bowie’s larger-than-life “Space Oddity.”


Too bad the gift shop didn’t sell any electronics. I might have been tempted by a transistor radio, portable record player, or tape recorder.


Portable transistor radio, circa 1957.

Portable transistor radio, circa 1957.


A 1970s circular record player.

A 1970s circular record player.


Philips had portable reel-to-reel enthusiasts covered.

Philips had portable reel-to-reel enthusiasts covered.


Spotted at a local bookstore.

Spotted at a local bookstore.


Copper contributor Larry Jaffee is author of the book Record Store Day: The Most Improbable Comeback of the 21st Century. Jaffee was editor of the CD/DVD production trade magazine Medialine from 1998 until 2005, and is co-founder/conference director of industry trade organization Making Vinyl. More information is available at www.larryjaffee.com.


Header image: a Philips shortwave radio. All images courtesy of Larry Jaffee.

William Grant Still: Forging a New American Music

William Grant Still: Forging a New American Music

William Grant Still: Forging a New American Music

Anne E. Johnson

William Grant Still’s career might be described as good fortune and hard work forced to fight for air in a ruthlessly oppressive environment. As a Black boy raised in the Jim Crow South, Still’s prolific career as a classical composer is a tribute to his enormous determination. And he left behind the seeds for a new kind of distinctly American classical music. Several recent recordings bear witness to this.

Born in 1895 in the small town of Woodville, Mississippi, Still was raised in Little Rock, Arkansas by a schoolteacher mother and a stepfather (his biological father died when he was a baby) who loved classical music and brought home lots of records, which fascinated his son. By the time he was a teen, Still could play violin, oboe, clarinet, and several other instruments. He was also an excellent student, so his mother made sure he went to college at Wilberforce University in Ohio. But being the drum major there was not enough. He wanted a real music education.

At Oberlin Conservatory of Music, he studied privately with Edgard Varèse, the chance of a lifetime, until Still made the brave decision that he didn’t want to be a trendy composer who eschewed major and minor keys and experimented with electronic sound. He preferred to draw from the European classical tradition and flavor it with the gospel and folk music of his own heritage. So he transferred to the Eastman School of Music under the tutelage of the much more conservative George Whitefield Chadwick.

The result was a body of work that is still considered groundbreaking, for both musical and socio-political reasons. Still became the first Black composer to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra and the first Black person to conduct a major American orchestra. He, along with Florence Price, embodied the wish stated by Antonin Dvořák during his time in the United States that American composers should find a way to use their own rich musical world to inform and reshape the European tradition.

William Grant Still: Summerland/Violin Suite/Pastorale/American Suite, a recent release on Naxos by the Royal Scottish Orchestra under Avlana Eisenberg, not only demonstrates Still’s innovative hybrid style. It also boasts an interesting family connection: the violin soloist, Zina Schiff, is the composer’s great-granddaughter. In fact, family is something of a theme on the CD. Still was often inspired by his home life, dedicating his works to family members. There was even one for his dog, Shep.

Eisenberg filled the CD with world premieres. Although some of the pieces have been heard elsewhere, the conductor is the first to present their orchestrated arrangements, most of which were prepared by Still himself. One example is Pastorela, premiered here in its version for violin and orchestra. Schiff’s playing in this 1946 work shimmers with intensity.


Also in a version for violin and orchestra is 3 Visions: No. 2, Summerland. It shares Pastorela’s Debussy-like diffusion of orchestral sound and atmospheric dissonances. You’ll also notice melodic phrases reminiscent of Black spirituals, a genre that Still held close to his heart. Here Schiff’s playing is not an asset. Her contact between bow and string is too unpredictable, mussing the finer details in some passages.


One of the revelations of this collection is Still’s Threnody in Memory of Jean Sibelius, composed in 1965, seven years after the death of the great Finnish composer. Still’s brass writing alone shows his keen ear for capturing a particular style. He also manages to create a mournful Nordic melody, something that could not have been further from his personal experience. But he does sneak in some melodic ideas using the six-note blues scale.

The Royal Scottish Orchestra under Eisenberg plays by turns with a Romantic lushness and a Stoic earnestness.


Still’s pieces for violin have been receiving a lot of attention lately, but mostly in their better-known original versions with piano accompaniment. Fritz Gearhart’s William Grant Still: Works for Violin and Piano is on the Serayna label and features pianists Paul Tardif and Victor Steinhardt.


Tardif accompanies the Suite for Violin and Piano, composed in 1943, a work whose orchestrated version is on the Royal Scottish Orchestra disc. For each of the three movements, Still found inspiration in a sculpture by an African-American artist. The first, “African Dancer,” is named after a 1934 bronze by Richmond Barthé. Still’s piece is energetic and syncopated, evoking the raw power of a traditional ceremonial dance. Gearhart plays with a smooth, sweet sound that could probably use more grit to portray the music’s subject.


Gearhart’s gentle approach works significantly better in the second movement, “Mother and Child,” inspired by the art of Sargent Johnson. While Johnson did do a drawing with that title, he also created sculptures of Black mothers; presumably Still’s piece combines those works into one.

The violin melody is heart-rending, full of the unspeakable love, joy, worry, fear, and pride a mother feels for her child.


Remarkably, there is a third recording of the Suite that came out recently, a second in its version for violin and piano. Randall Goosby’s excellent album Roots, on Decca, includes it along with pieces by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Florence Price, and other Black composers, plus Dvořák and George Gershwin, both committed to including African-American musical language in their works.

It’s interesting to compare Goosby’s interpretation of “Mother and Child” with Gearhart’s. With Zhu Wang on piano, Goosby uses a breathy, almost earthy tone, quite different from Gearhart’s clear sweetness. With his intensity and rubato, Goosby pulls more sorrow from the score; there are moments where minor turns to major, and it feels like a mother has found the lost child she’s been grieving.


Movement III of the Suite is called “Gamin,” after a bronze bust that Augusta Savage made of her nephew in 1929. In a style distinct from the first two movements, “Gamin” has the mischievous energy of the young boy depicted in the sculpture. Still borrows heavily from the tonal language of early jazz and demands both virtuosity and humor from the violinist. Goosby has the challenge well in hand, keeping a sly bite to the rhythm even in the most difficult passages, and Zhu matches his sparkle and wit.


Despite the success of his Symphony No. 1, which was premiered by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in 1931, Still’s undeniable gifts were rarely acknowledged during his lifetime. The realities of racism kept him from having the career he deserved. According to his granddaughter, journalist Celeste Headlee, Still sometimes made ends meet by writing ditties for elementary school music textbooks, a job procured for him by Leopold Stokowski. Talk about over-qualified!

It’s heartening to see Still taken seriously as a composer now, even if he didn’t live to see it. As he once said of his music, “If it will help in some way to bring about better interracial understanding in America, then I feel that the work is justified.”


Header image courtesy of Wikipedia/Carl Van Vechten collection at the Library of Congress.

Lou Reed: Street Poet

Lou Reed: Street Poet

Lou Reed: Street Poet

Anne E. Johnson

Lou Reed was a poet. Like Leonard Cohen, Reed just happened to sing his poetry. There was nothing conventionally beautiful about his voice, but it was the ideal vehicle to carry his insightful observations and stories about his own life and the world around him.

The Brooklyn native was born in 1942 to parents of Russian Jewish heritage. They didn’t want their son to be a musician, a fact that did nothing to help his naturally anxious nature. He was given to panic attacks and started experimenting with drugs while in his teens. But music called to him. The doo-wop group he sang with in high school won a contest that let them cut a single. After that, music-making became the permanent center of his life.

He played in several bands in college at Syracuse University, always writing his own songs. After college, having moved to New York City, he got what today would seem like a dream job to a budding composer: in-house songwriter for Pickwick Records. That’s where he met John Cale, one of the most important colleagues and friends in his life.

In a future column, I’ll write about Reed’s hugely influential band, The Velvet Underground. It’s enough of a task to cover his 20-album, 30-year solo career. Suffice it to say that Reed and Cale co-founded the group, and Reed stuck around until 1970. Those were heady days, hanging out at Andy Warhol’s Factory in New York. Warhol used to press Reed to write several songs per day.

No wonder, then, that Reed was ready with material when it came time to make his first solo album. Having signed with RCA, he recorded solo versions of some songs he’d written for the Velvet Underground and tapped Yes members Steve Howe (guitar) and Rick Wakeman (keyboards) to play on the sessions.

Lou Reed, released in 1972, did not get much attention, but it makes for a bare and spare introduction to Reed as a solo performer. Consider “Lisa Says,” with its conversational lyric style (a big reason why Reed was compared to Dylan by contemporary critics) and rough-and-tumble arrangement drawing from country, rock, and even gospel. And then it changes melody, meter, and style to give a nod to the British music hall tradition, particularly its tongue-in-cheek humor.


Reed’s reputation skyrocketed with his second solo album, Transformer, also from 1972. Crucially, using David Bowie and Mick Ronson as producers opened up the British market to his music. The album’s big single (the most successful of Reed’s career) was the exploration of sexuality and gender identity, “Walk on the Wild Side,” backed with the romantic yet haunting “Perfect Day.” Now he was using the trappings of glam rock and the rebellious attitude of punk.

The song “Vicious” was the B-side to “Satellite of Love.” With darkly funny imagery, Reed complains about someone he’d rather not have in his life. He claimed that the first line, “You hit me with a flower,” was given to him as a songwriting challenge by Warhol.


Reed’s life was intense and nearly off the rails, as can be heard on the daring Berlin (1973). Its songs deal with drug use, violence, suicide, and the general madness of existence. At the time, critics were baffled by this concept album, but now it’s considered a masterwork of soul-baring in song.

The album’s story revolves around a couple, both drug addicts living in Berlin. We get to know a little about the female character, perhaps based on Reed’s wife at the time, in a vignette called “Lady Day,” which describes her being magnetically pulled into a bar to sing when she hears music.


New albums kept coming, with two in 1974, both co-produced by Reed and Blood Sweat & Tears guitarist Steve Katz: Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal, featuring the moving single “Sweet Jane,” and Reed’s best-selling record, Sally Can’t Dance. The following year, he tried his hand at solo production (with engineering/mixing by Bob Ludwig) on Metal Machine Music, which contains electronic atmospherics and sound experiments rather than songs. 

Coney Island Baby, which also came out in 1975, was inspired both by Reed’s native Brooklyn and his then-current girlfriend, Rachel Humphreys. “Kicks” is a devilishly light-hearted exploration of a killer’s psyche. Or is it about the cutthroat nature of show business?


When Arista Records’ Clive Davis signed Reed, he was serious about letting the artist be himself in vinyl. Davis encouraged Reed to include an 11-minute extended version of the title song on Street Hassle (1978). Bruce Springsteen was happy to let Reed use the line “Tramps like us, we were born to pay,” even though it was nearly the same as a line from “Born to Run.” In fact, Springsteen came into the studio and spoke the line on Reed’s track, which is a three-part suite.

One of Reed’s strengths was his ability to attract interesting musicians to work with. For The Bells in 1979, he utilized the talents of Don Cherry, a jazz trumpeter, and Chuck Hammer, known for his “textural guitar” using a layering technique he called Guitarchitecture. “Stupid Man,” from that album, has a frenetically jagged melody reminiscent of Bowie.


Reed continued putting out albums almost annually in the 1980s. With New Sensations in 1985 he had partially reclaimed the fame that “Walk on the Wild Side” had brought him in the 1970s. By the end of the decade, he had written a series of songs that updated the perspective of that famous single for the age of AIDS. New York, released in 1989, is like a sung diorama of the Big Apple at that time, in all its grunge and glory. It was a commercial success, giving Reed his first No. 1 hit with “Dirty Blvd.”

In “Romeo Had Juliette” he sings, “Manhattan’s sinking like a rock/into the filthy Hudson, what a shock,” but he leaves no doubt how deeply he loves his hometown, even when it’s suffering.


After Andy Warhol died in 1987, Reed reunited with John Cale for the first time in over a decade. Their tribute to their friend and mentor, Songs for Drella, came out in 1990. The death of two more close friends inspired the songs on one of Reed’s best albums from the second half of his career, Magic and Loss (1992). Its big single was “What’s Good – The Thesis,” another chart-topper. Guitarist Mike Rathke made a major contribution to this album, both with his gentle playing and his co-authoring of several songs.

One of the most interesting tracks is “Sword of Damocles – Externally,” especially for its rich instrumentation. The lyrics, in contrast, are blatant and uncomplicated, full of anger at the inexorable progress of death by cancer (a very different use of the Damocles imagery from Rufus Wainwright’s song of the same name).


Although his output slowed from its earlier frantic pace, Reed continued to make albums into the 21st century. The final one was Lulu, a collaboration with the band Metallica. It was released in 2011, two years before Reed’s death from liver disease at the age of 71. It’s impossible to overstate the inspiration he provided to three generations of songwriters – and poets – who refuse to fit into any mold or abide by public expectation.


Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/annulla.