Issue 46

Issue 46

Issue 46

Frank Doris

Welcome to Copper #46!

For music lovers, it is the best of times and the worst of times. I'd wager that we have greater access to a larger library of recorded music than at any time since---well, since recorded music became available. The bad part? A lot of the current output is unlistenable, both musically and sonically.

In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday as observed and celebrated in in the US, I'll focus on the "best of times" part. I'm thankful for the good stuff; thankful for the growth of Copper and of our faithful readership; thankful for the opportunities I have to work with talented and interesting people.

And I'm thankful that one of those talented people is about to return to our pages. Professor Larry Schenbeck's Too Much Tchaikovsky column will return, beginning next issue.

Dan Schwartz leads off #46 with the story of how the megahit song, "All I Wanna Do" was created by the Tuesday Night Music Club; Richard Murison has fallen in love a little bit with Jenna Mammina, as many of us have---and thanks to Cookie Marenco, Copper readers have a special deal on Jenna's latest album and other titles from Blue Coast Records; Jay Jay French reviews the first batch of albums, as the '67 Psychedelic Shootout continues; Duncan Taylor looks at the special problems of recording drums; Roy Hall tells an incredible tale of Botticelli, Nazis, and heartbreak; Anne E. Johnson has a twofer this issue, with a look at indie artists Hurray for the Riff Raff, and a survey of the recorded catalog of the beautiful music of 16th-century composer Heinrich Isaac; Woody Woodward looks at the beginnings of  The Band in The Hawks; and I obsess yet again over the rights of musicians and what sampling means,  and wonder if, when it comes to audio gear, is older always better?

John Seetoo concludes his in-depth interview with recording engineer/producer Kavi Alexander; A.J. Hernandez continues his survey of southern Italian wines; and new contributor Aaron Berger examines which is better for active listening---singles? Or LPs?

Copper #46 concludes with another classic audio cartoon from Charles Rodrigues, and a Parting Shot from Albuquerque. 

To all who celebrate Thanksgiving, we wish you a happy holiday; and to those who do not---thanksgiving as a practice isn't a bad idea.

Until next issue---enjoy!

Cheers, Leebs.

Is Older Always Better?

Bill Leebens

My daughter Emily has a habit of being brutally frank, direct, and unambiguous. I can’t imagine where she gets it.

She recently said to me, “Dad, when something sucks, saying that something else sucks doesn’t make the first thing suck any less.” That  quote came to mind when I started pondering a string of online audio forum posts which categorically and emphatically stated without restraint, “any piece of vintage gear is better than anything being made today.”

I’m sorry—WHAT?!?

As faithful readers of Vintage Whine are aware, I don’t go in for uncritical praise of vintage gear. I am fond of the sound quality and design aesthetics of many vintage pieces, but am pragmatic when it comes to their build quality (completely aside from the fact that many pieces are 50-60 years old, or more). Someday when I’m retired and have unlimited time, I’ll investigate the alleged sonic superiority of the flimsy stamped speaker terminals of Marantz tube amps (as on the 8b above), and explore the wonders of Orange Drop caps and Allen-Bradley carbon resistors. But please don’t tell me that components of that era were flat-out better-built than ANYTHING made today. That’s simply untrue.

I’d already been involved in audio for several years when I first encountered Mark Levinson—both the man and the company. I was fond of the Audio Research SP3 preamp, but did not yet own one. In many ways, the SP3 was the modern equivalent of a vintage product, with its ragged-edge perforated sheet metal top (again like the 8b above), rubber baby buggy bumper feet, circuit design, layout, post-Marantz 7 industrial design and logo…and on and on. You couldn’t look at the SP3 without feeling a hint of deja vu, flashing back to many components from the ’50’s and ’60’s.

When I encountered Mark Levinson at Opus 2 in Memphis (and RIP to old friend Ron Gilbrech, who tolerated tire-kicker Leebs for many years at Opus 2), sharp-dressed Levinson the man was sitting in a lotus position on the rug, in his stocking feet. That was certainly unlike audio folk I’d met before, in that era of polyester suits and double-wide ties.

Then there were those beautiful toys, the LNP and JC-2 preamps, made to aerospace spec or beyond, with beautifully-engraved casework, controls that felt like the steering of an Alfa-Romeo, those lovely milled knobs…even the circuit boards were PERFECT, worthy of framing and hanging on the wall of a gallery, like an industrial-era Mondrian. The Levinson gear looked as though the Bertone Carabo had driven into the showroom and pulled up next to the SP3…which looked like a ’58 Olds in comparison.

I digress. I just love the Carabo.

I’m not sure the Levinson gear of today is up to that same standard, but those products set standards of construction and raw aesthetic wonderfulness for every piece of audio gear that followed. There are dozens of hyper-built components on the market today that owe a debt to those pioneering Levinson products—and yes, I know there is a certain amount of silliness allied to that “milled from a solid ton of unobtanium, 3″ faceplate” school of design, but I can’t blame folks for trying.

The Levinson gear was designed for a lifetime of use at a very high level of performance: Rolls-Royce build, Pininfarina styling, Lotus performance. I apologize for all the car comparisons, but I don’t know how else to express it. (I’m sure I’ll be hearing from disaffected owners of those components with horror stories of expensive failures. Nothing made by the hand of man is perfect, and those components are now well over 40 years old. I don’t work as well as I did when I was 20, either.)

To circuitously return to Emily’s initial comment re: relative suckativity: during the same period as the SP-3 and JC-2, mass-market audio gear by Pioneer, Technics, et al, made up the bulk of the market. Aspirant audio snobs like me sneered at such products, just as we sneered at Chevies relative to Porsches, Alfas, Loti, and so on (those damn cars again!).

Today, many of my generation think fondly of those receivers and amps, as well as the “silver era” components that followed. In the rosy glow of nostalgic hindsight, they also have warm memories of their first car. That’s fine.

But: can we say that those mass-market pieces didn’t suck, relative to the Levinson gear? No, I don’t think so. A twenty-something might examine a hefty Pioneer SX-whatever and, familiar with the 7-pound,  7-channel AVRs at Best Buy, think that those Pioneers were the ultimate. Good for them.

In reality—per Emily’s axiom—just because those AVRs suck MORE than the Pioneers, it doesn’t mean that the Pioneers don’t still suck.

Sorry to pick on Pioneer. Many of those components offered impressive build quality and performance for the money, and they started a lot of folks on the road of obsessive audiophilia. We should be grateful for that. I think.

But to dogmatically say, as those forum posters did, that all vintage gear is better than anything made today? Yeah, no.

Normally-hard-headed Emily might go bonkers over the immense ’67 Impala from Supernatural—but I had one of those cars waaaay back in the day—and to put it kindly, it was not a good car. And while I might long for a vintage Alfa, I know that had I had my massive wreck in one, rather than my Saab…I probably wouldn’t be writing this right now.

So it goes. Poo-tee-weet?

Singles? Or LPs?

Bill Leebens

We often feel that we haven’t fully grasped a musician’s artistic statement unless we’ve listened to a full album by them, thinking that singles are just a vehicle to sell said albums. But what if the reverse is true?

What if singles are a truer artistic statement than the whole album? There are of course exceptions:  concept albums like Sgt. Pepper and the self-titled Deltron 3030  come immediately to mind, as do barn-burner gems like Neil Young’s Harvest and Radiohead’s Kid A. All the same, when we discuss “appreciation of a statement”, aren’t we really talking about active listening? And isn’t active listening more potent in small doses?

For example: Archy Marshall, who these days releases records under the name King Krule, first came to my attention when he was using the moniker Zoo Kid. I was transfixed by his baritone voice and emotive, shape-shifting ballads. Here’s the early single, “Out Getting Ribs”:


Marshall recently released his second album, The Ooz, and although some of it is intriguing, I find it lacking in emotional impact. It’s full of interesting references to soul, ska, and the blues, but it doesn’t compare to the raw power of “Out Getting Ribs”. Why is this the case? Perhaps, early in their career, an artist pours everything they’ve got into that one opening salvo of a single, but hasn’t learned to channel the same energy over the course of a whole album—even during a second go-around. In such a case, to me, it is better to dive deep into that one single, than to survey a half-baked album. We, as listeners, get more out of it, and the artist’s integrity shines brighter.

Or take The Clash and the song, “London Calling” off the album of the same name. This single gives the listener everything The Clash stands for, in one manic go.


Then compare that to the very next track on the album, “Brand New Cadillac” which barely even sounds like The Clash.


To become a DJ at a college radio station you usually have to do a few internship sessions. You visit DJs during their shows and become familiar with the equipment and the various ways one might appropriately host a show. DJs usually ask you to prepare a track you’d like to play on air, to get your feet wet.

I remember one of these visits from a late night in 2011. I sat in the booth with a disagreeable insomniac in his 40’s who worked IT at the university and served as the program director at the station. I brought an 18-minute track from Richard Youngs, a droning wash of vocals and atmosphere that I thought (and probably still think) was an otherworldly piece of art for the ears. I played it, and about halfway through he asked me to step away from the board, and cut the track off. He said something to the effect of, ‘we don’t want to put the listeners to sleep’. Over time, I’ve realized that he was absolutely right. For the purposes of radio, broad statements of artistic integrity are not ideal. They become unnecessarily formalist and dry, hitting the listener in the mind before the body.

New York-based band Sunflower Bean have released a couple of albums and are now starting to sound more and more cookie-cutter in their sound:

But I’ll always remember the freewheeling, ecstatic energy of their single, “2013”:


I am a big fan of rocker/critic Ian Svenonius. Some of his writings are extremely left-field, and I find they tickle the place inside me that embraces the hidden absurdity inherent of some musical forms. In 2006, he published a volume of essays entitled The Psychic Soviet that blends farce with seriousness in short pieces that range from discussions of Beatles vs. Stones, to the origins of the Cold War. Included in this collection is “Time as Money”, which establishes music as the primary art form,with film coming in as a close second. His premise is that if we equate time and money, as the aphorism goes, then music tops the podium because it forces us to engage with it over a period of time. Visual art can be absorbed in a minute or an hour, but music’s demands on our time budget are finite, and in the case of an album, longer.

I call for an inversion of Svenonius’ premise (and given that he releases more singles than LPs and constantly changes projects, I believe Svenonius truly feels this way as well). Living in an atmosphere inundated with noise pollution and supposed extra time rendered by technological advances, we might actually want to use less time—on singles rather than albums—when we listen to our music. Its value may increase as time decreases, rather than the other way around.

We get caught up in purchasing more and more deluxe double-LP remasters, no doubt in an attempt to get closer to the music. But we must not forget that in the Pantheon of musical purpose, feeling reigns—and feeling often doesn’t sustain itself over the course of an entire album. When it does, we often fall in love with that album, as well we should.

To my mind,  we are better served when we embrace actively listening to singles, when we embrace the raw feeling that stems from an artist cramming all they’ve got into a timeframe less than 5 minutes long. Sometimes, less truly is more.

The Story of "All I Wanna Do" (as I remember it)

Dan Schwartz

I was talking to Paul McGowan a week or so ago, and he asked again about how the song’s lyrics came about. This is as I remember it:

Originally, on Election night 1992 [November 3rd, Clinton was elected—for obsessives like me—Ed.], there was the usual Tuesday night gathering. By the time I got there, a song was well under way. David Baerwald, like an excited kid, yelled out “Dan! Country disco!”

Sure enough, everybody, the four guys with Sheryl, was engaged in playing some sort of country-ish riff with a disco kind of beat to it. Sheryl was singing something about an ex-boyfriend, which gave rise to the working title, “I’ll Still Love You”.

I grabbed a bass – my memory is that it was a ’70 Guild M-85 II – but waited until they were done before overdubbing the first bass line that popped into my head. In fact I think the only ones present when I did the bass line were Baerwald, sitting with me, and the engineer; everyone else was continuing in “party” mode upstairs in the lounge. And that was it: one night’s work.

But as work on the album progressed, Bill Bottrell had a rethink, and began redoing the song entirely on his own, based on our parts from the first version— adding bits of the other guys as needed. There was a story told among us at the time that Sheryl couldn’t come up with any lyrics acceptable to her producer. That might be, but it strikes me as unlikely. I think it’s more likely that Bill did what he was planning to all along, and that was to use a poem that he had in mind.

When he was building his studio, Toad Hall, he knew it shouldn’t be like any other place. He found two adjacent spaces, at least one of which had been a former bank, in a neglected area of Pasadena which is now known as the Playhouse District. Back then there was the Playhouse next door, next to that that a hoity-toity florist, and Vroman’s Books. Everything else was a little beat-up. Around the corner were Cliff’s Books, a pretty great used bookstore — and a carpet place. Bill bought something like six or eight carpets there, to hang on his 16-foot cinderblock walls  over fiberglass batting.

The back wall of the studio was a floor-to-almost-ceiling bookshelf, which he stocked full with odds and ends purchased at Cliff’s. He used the books for diffusion. And I have to say — it worked beautifully. Now it’s fairly common, but I suspect Bill was one of the first, if not the very first, to do it.

Anyway: amongst all these used books was a self-published, small volume of poems by a little-known poet named Wyn Cooper, who taught at Middlebury College in Vermont: a Little Red Book. And among the poems in the book was a poem called “Fun” (about, essentially, two men in conversation, who know that they’re drinking themselves to death).

The story goes that when Sheryl couldn’t come up with anything, Bill handed her the book, opened to “Fun”, and said, “Here — sing this.” But as I wrote, I think it was less random; more likely it was his plan all along. Bill came up with the chorus out of the words of the poem. This might have worked out really well for Wyn — he was given 40% of the publishing on the song — if not for Warner-Chappell taking most of that from him. Sheryl later, in interviews, said it was a mistake and that her lawyer was going to straighten that out. But as far as I know, that never happened: another tale in the grimy music business.

But, for me, that great irony was that I would hear from people about their little kids singing the song, and yet I knew that it was a song about alcoholism.

Heinrich Isaac

Anne E. Johnson

On March 26, 1517, Heinrich Isaac died. Although the Netherlander was one of the most important composers of his day, he’s hardly a household word half a millennium later. Nevertheless, a few stalwart ensembles have released albums to remind us that Isaac’s music is well worth remembering.

And it’s not just unknown academic groups marking the occasion. No less than Grammy-winning conductor Jordi Savall has put out a new Isaac CD, with the voices of La Capella Reial de Catalunya and his instrumental ensemble Hespèrion XXI. Henricus Isaac nell tempo de Lorenzo de’ Medici e Maximillian I (1450-1519) was released in early 2017 on Alia Vox.

The CD’s track listing is presented as a timeline of major events (primarily coronations and deaths) in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, with Isaac, powerful Florentine statesman Lorenzo de Medici, and Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian I, all lived. The idea seems to be not that these pieces were actually played at certain events, but rather that they might have been.

The chanson “Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen” (Innsbruck, I must leave you) is Isaac’s only famous work today, and that only because it is so often included in music history textbooks as an ideal example of the pre-baroque German song tradition. “Innsbruck” has the folk-like, strophic melody of a Lutheran chorale, but remember, there was not yet such a thing as a Lutheran: Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral in 1517, the same year that Isaac died.


Lorenzo’s death is marked on the CD with a Lamentation by Isaac. It opens with several instrumental phrases that show why Hespèrion XXI is a great early music ensemble. There’s a depth and richness to their sound that sets them apart from others. Capella Reial uses only the choir’s men on this track. The wide distance from highest to lowest vocal range, a fairly new concept in composition when Isaac wrote this music, is perfectly balanced, and the lines handled with delicate clarity.


Isaac’s motet Circumdederunt me shows up on the CD’s timeline at the point of the composer’s own passing in 1517. “The sorrows of death surrounded me,” the text begins, “the sorrow of hell encompassed me.” The women join in this mournful polyphony. Any composer should hope to be eulogized with such ringing voices.


As was true for most composers of the time, much of Isaac’s output was music to be sung at Mass. Heinrich Isaac: La Spagna (on the Bon Giovanni label) is a new release by the vocal group Odhecaton, directed by Paolo da Col. The album also features Paolo Pandolfo on viola da gamba and Liuve Tamminga on organ.

The CD is primarily movements from Isaacs Missa La Spagna, a four-voice Mass using the anonymous tune “La Spagna” as musical material. The album opens with a haunting rendition of the basic “La Spagna” melody played on unaccompanied viola da gamba:


Here is the Kyrie, the first section of the Mass. The melody of the song “La Spagna” is hidden as a “cantus firmus” (fixed melody) in an inner voice, moving more slowly than the decorative upper voices.


Odhecaton’s singing has a pleasant smoothness to it, with a flowing sense of rhythm that makes historical sense. In the Renaissance, vocal polyphony was notated without bar lines, so it’s appropriate to perform it in a way that avoids a strong repeating downbeat every three or four beats.

Interspersed between the Mass movements on this recording are motets and instrumental works. Tota pulchra es (You are utterly beautiful) is Isaac’s motet setting of a popular liturgical prayer to the Virgin Mary:


Da Col and Pandolfi are well matched in the instrumental duos on this CD, all of which are tied to the “La Spagna” theme. A ricercar was a popular form of instrumental piece in the Renaissance and Baroque that allowed a musical idea to be explored. Of course, the ricercare on this album are explorations of our now-favorite tune, “La Spagna”:


While it was very common for Renaissance composers to use secular pop tunes to connect the movements of their Masses, sometimes they chose holier material. Isaac’s Missa Virgo prudentissima is an example. “Virgo prudentissima” (most prudent virgin) was originally a Gregorian chant. Isaac then used that chant melody as compositional material in a 6-voice Mass.

The veteran Ensemble Gilles Binchois, directed by Dominique Vellard, has released a new recording of the Missa Virgo prudentissima. To answer the obvious question: No, a chant-based Mass doesn’t automatically sound more devout than one using a profane song. Here’s the Agnus Dei movement from this Isaac Mass:


Ensemble Gilles Binchois, being sticklers for authenticity, present the Isaac Mass in an authentic context. The polyphonic movements Isaac composed are the Ordinary of the Mass, so called because the texts the use are ordinary (sung at every Mass). Those Isaac movements are interspersed with monophonic Gregorian chants (Propers of the Mass, text that change each day), as they would have been in the actual worship service at the time.

The Binchois singing is not as smooth as in the Hespèrion and Odhecaton recordings; it’s a bit strained and oversung. Although the Agnus Dei discussed above is the only track on YouTube, you can hear the entire recording on Spotify here:

Isaac also wrote a motet based on the same chant, “Virgo prudentissima.” That motets has been used as a promotional piece lately by the Tallis Scholars, one of the most revered early-music choruses. They’re promoting Isaac himself: the video is captioned with a lengthy, heartfelt essay about the composer’s importance through history. (They were hoping for 100,000 views, “more than would have heard Isaac’s music in his lifetime,” but are currently under 2,000.)

This recording of the motet illustrates why the Tallis Scholars are top drawer. Under director Peter Phillips, they manage to make this unaccompanied, rarified music sound as compelling as a dramatic scene in an opera. The expressiveness of their singing somehow does not seem anachronistic or interfere with the sense of authenticity.


That video is also meant to promote a program they’ve toured in 2017, Heinrich Isaac at 500. For some reason (maybe because Isaac really does remain unknown, despite their efforts), Tallis Scholars did not record a new album to support on the tour, which includes other non-Isaac programs as well. Instead, they are trying to revive interest in a 1991 CD on the Gimell label that was remastered in 2002. It features Isaac’s Missa de Apostolis. Here’s the Gloria movement from that recording:


OK, so maybe Heinrich Isaac isn’t destined to be the new Renaissance bestseller. But he was a master of his craft, and that makes his music worth preserving for another 500 years.

Who Sampled Whom?

Bill Leebens

Back in Copper #3, I asked the question, “When is Stealing Music Not Stealing?” To make a long story short, my conclusion was that stealing is always stealing, whether it’s a thinly-veiled cover version  or a systemic and systematic hijacking of royalties or rights. As I commented in that article, mega-artists seem to do okay when it comes to actually making money from selling records or downloads, or being played on streaming services—whereas indie artists and little guys are often left out in the cold.

The music business has a long history of  dishonest promoters and producers getting rich by taking advantage of naive artists, as well as simple theft of melodies or even complete songs. Nearly all Boomers are familiar with the whole “Sweet Little Sixteen”/”Surfin’ USA” fiasco, in which the Beach Boys’ 1963 song copped the melody and riffs of Chuck Berry’s 1958 hit. Remember?


A decade after that was the whole “He’s So Fine”/”My Sweet Lord” business, which was so obvious that you wonder how no one took George Harrison aside and said, “Umm, George? Doesn’t that REMIND you of anything??”


You’d think that the notoriety of that case would’ve made artists wary of, shall we say, reworking familiar songs. At this point we enter some very murky waters indeed. Given that there are only so many notes, and so many ways one can arrange them—when do two sound-alike songs go beyond coincidence and into plagiarism? And what do we make of the whole practice of sampling, which is not just borrowing a melody, but actual reproduction of a piece of a recording?

In the digital era, the whole business of IP—Intellectual Property—has become hugely important because it’s easier than ever to copy the work of others and present it as one’s own. Even with the acknowledgment that generally ( but not always!) accompanies sampling, who owns what and who did what become difficult to pin down.

Going back to the early days of rap and hip-hop, DJs mixing in performances of others was at the heart of the experience, often by spinning a record on the spot. Think back to the silly hit, “Ice, Ice, Baby”: if the extensive sampling of the Queen/David Bowie song “Under Pressure” is removed, what’s left? A sophomoric and rather embarrassing rip-off of the macho adolescent posturing of the Beastie Boys?


As the possibility of getting rich from selling records diminishes, the desire to make megahits  has become ever more desperate and frantic. Sampling has become not just common but standard practice, and the wealthiest and most successful producers and record moguls are those who have mastered the arcane art of the beat and the sample. Think of Dr. Dre, Karl Martin Sandberg (better known as Max Martin), and Pharrell Williams, to name just a few of the most-successful.

Pharrell was at the center of a controversy a few years back, when the family of the late Marvin Gaye claimed that Gaye’s 1977 hit, “Gotta Give It Up” was disturbingly similar to Robin Thicke’s 2014 record, “Blurred Lines”, cowritten and produced by Williams. While not the note-by-note theft of “Surfin’ USA”, “Blurred Lines” was said to ape the arrangement and “vibe” of  Gaye’s record. Ultimately, a jury agreed, and Gaye’s family was awarded  $5.3 million and half the future royalties from “Blurred Lines”.


Williams said, “”The verdict handicaps any creator out there who is making something that might be inspired by something else.” And really, if emulating the feel or “vibe” of a song—as was the basic contention of the “Blurred Lines” suit— is enough to result in litigation, that is a considerable constraint upon creativity.

Other examples of similar songs that resulted in legal action are detailed in an interesting Rolling Stone piece.

I stumbled upon a website the other day, the existence of which surprised me. Why, exactly, I’m not sure; after all, the interwebs have all the answers, no? The site is Whosampled.com,   and it’s interesting reading, even if you don’t recognize many of the current artists. The site’s equivalent of the Billboard Hot 100 comes in the form of three lists: Most Sampled, Most Covered, and Most Remixed.

Would it surprise you to know that the artist sampled the most was James Brown, with nearly 7,000 samples? Likely not, but would you recognize #2 on that list, The Winstons?  I’d never heard of that group, and yet their records have been sampled nearly 2,800 times. A six-second (SIX SECONDS!!!) drum break on their record, “Amen, Brother” has been sampled so many times that it’s become known as the “Amen Break“. Most Covered is—surprise!—The Beatles, with over 4,000 covers of their songs. Most Remixed? Madonna and Moby aren’t surprising, but who is #3 on the list, Dutch DJ Armin Van Buuren?? A number of other DJs fill out the Most Remixed list, perhaps indicating that he who lives by the remix, dies by it, as well.|

It seems ironic that most recent fuss about musical plagiarism was created by a song called “Blurred Lines”, as the definition of musical creation becomes increasingly difficult to pin down, and rights of musical creators become…blurred. Given recent judicial decisions, things are not going to improve for artists.

Courts in New York and Florida ruled that recordings made before 1972 are not by protected by copyright. The judgments came down in suits filed by former Turtles Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman (also known as Flo and Eddie from their stint with the Mothers of Invention), who sought to protect the rights to Turtles songs.

I don’t pretend to understand the decisions, which are apparently based upon the landmark Sound Recordings Amendment of 1971, which first extended copyright protection to sound recordings…but only those produced after the adoption of the Amendment.

As is often the case in the world of music, it appears the only real winners in this battle will be the attorneys.

Close Your Eyes

Close Your Eyes

Close Your Eyes

Richard Murison

All too often, as audiophiles, we are torn between listening to the music that we like to listen to because of its musical qualities, and music that we appreciate for its sonic qualities.  Some of our favorite albums are, lets face it, just not that well recorded.  This is brought into even sharper focus when we listen to older recordings – I have examples going back to the 1950’s – that have been remastered recently under circumstances where sound quality is secondary to absolutely nothing.  The recordings I am talking about were all major commercial successes, which is why they were remastered in the first place.  In some cases (a good example here might be The Doors’ self-titled 1967 debut) they are even colossal musical landmarks.  But today, if anything, contemporary recordings seem to be getting worse, even as recording technology supposedly improves.

When it comes to new releases, the gulf between commercial and specialist recordings in terms of sound quality is widening by leaps and bounds.  The best specialist recordings are getting progressively better, while mainstream commercial recordings are getting progressively worse.  [The one ray of hope is in Classical music, where the sound quality of commercial recordings is getting to be staggeringly good pretty much across the board.]  The trouble with the specialist recording industry is that there is a bit of a disconnect between the artists and repertoire that they offer, and the tastes and desires of the wider buying public.  Most of this is down to simple economics.  There is no money in the music industry, which seems an odd thing to say with Kanye West and Taylor Swift flying overhead in their private jets.  But it’s true.  Just as there’s no crying in baseball, there’s no money in music.

So as audiophiles we can cue up our audiophile prizes – here’s a stunning direct-to-disc recording of Joe Bloe with his guitar whispering his honestly-crafted folk songs; there’s a Jani Doe with her heart-on-her-sleeve piano arrangements of out-of-copyright classics (listen – you can hear the tears rolling down her cheeks); what about this copy of Burt Qwonk’s incredible virtuoso performance on the [insert name of a bizarre instrument that looks like a guitar with four necks]; then there’s all these other REALLY INTERESTING albums.  No, wait, honestly … once you put your cynicism to one side, some of them are REALLY GOOD.

Sorry, I was getting kind of excited there.  No, they’re not.  None of them can be mentioned in the same breath as Kind Of Blue, Ziggy Stardust, The Doors, OK Computer, Couldn’t Stand The Weather, Random Access Memories, etc, … the stuff you really want to play when the booze has run out and your audiophile buddies have all gone home.

Wait a minute.  Random Access Memories??  I did NOT write that!

No.  What I’d want – what we ALL want – is an album of really good music, showcasing first rate material, serious-shit musicians, and a producer who won’t settle for sound that falls short of demonstration quality.  I’d want an album that I’d enjoy listening to even if it was only on my car stereo.  I’d want an album I’d find myself humming all the time.  I’d want an album I can play to friends without having their eyes roll.  In fact, they would like it so much they would ask me what it was.

And I’d tell them – it’s Jenna Mammina’s Close Your Eyes.

I downloaded Close Your Eyes from Cookie Marenco’s Blue Coast Records store, “Downloads Now!” (exclamation mark included).  If you don’t know who Cookie Marenco is, you’re either no audiophile, or you’re living under a rock.  She’s been in the music business since … a long time ago.  I imagine she must have recorded “Nobody Does It Better”, because nobody does, although she would have been about 3 at the time.  Now she has her fair share of “honestly-crafted and heart-felt folk singers”, and all kidding aside, some of them are seriously good, and her catalog, while limited, is as good as any in the no-compromises audiophile market.  But I don’t think she has any four-necked guitar virtuosos.  Actually, if there are any, Todd Garfinkel is probably recording them.

Occasionally, when the budget is there, Cookie will show you what the extra dollars can bring, whether that is the cost of talented session musicians, or the cost of the extra studio time required to assemble a multi-tracked recording.  And you should know that the caliber of session musicians Cookie can assemble includes folks who won’t even return your phone call … in fact their agents won’t even return your phone call.  Jenna Mammina is a talented singer who inhabits the middle-of-the-road pop scene most readily identified with Norah Jones.  Jones is a superstar whereas Mammina is not.  Such are the vagaries of the music business.  Listening to Close Your Eyes, you might well wonder why.

Close Your Eyes is a sort of “Best Of” album, comprising tracks taken from different recordings Cookie has made for Jenna going back about ten years.  Mostly these are recorded to 2″ analog tape, although a couple were recorded directly to DSD.  For Close Your Eyes the original tapes were remastered to DSD256 using the very latest Pyramix equipment.  The results are quite astonishing.  Most tracks comprise Jenna on vocals, backed by bass, drums, keyboards, and other assorted instruments including guitar, soprano sax, and accordion.  Most of the instruments are recorded and mixed with a light touch, the whole album having a seriously laid-back feel, but the bass – OOH, THE BASS – is just spectacular.  I don’t mean Jaco Pastorius spectacular … I mean flawless technique, musicianship that doesn’t intrude, an instrument of the highest caliber, and a recording technique that captures it all perfectly.  You might argue that it is mixed about 6dB too high, but then maybe you just don’t appreciate tasty bass…

From the very first track you are enveloped by the music.  A laid-back take on Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work”, it immediately sets the tone for the album.  The arrangement is slick, highlighted by a soprano sax solo, and suits Jenna’s breathy vocal to a tee.  Immediately, you are aware that you are in the presence of serious musicians.  Next comes “Lotus Blossom” an old track from the 40’s, brilliantly evoking a Parisian boulevard with a dash of accordion.  It all comes together so well.  “You Can Close Your Eyes” is a James Taylor song, with Jenna accompanying herself on piano.  As she invites you to close your eyes, there is little else that you want to do in that moment.

Next up, and quite possibly the best cover I have heard of it, is Elvis Costello’s “Watching The Detectives”.  I’m sure Costello himself would approve.  The vocal delivery even manages to evoke a hint of hip-hop drawl which gives it a contemporary vibe.  Chris Izaak’s “Wicked Game” is the only track on the album that at first seems out of place.  Just Jenna with a simply plucked guitar accompaniment, but somehow I find myself completely drawn into it.  I think it is all down to how artfully the vocal is delivered, and the empty sound of the guitar just captures the emotion perfectly.  “Running To Stand Still” from U2’s classic The Joshua Tree is probably the most ambitious track on the album.  But arena rock does not translate so well to the intimate cafe-lounge setting, and you find yourself waiting for a smoldering climax that ultimately isn’t delivered.

Dr. John’s “Pictures and Paintings” is offered as a straightforward jazz standard with piano trio, but segues into the best song on the album, Tom Waits’ “I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You”.  Just Jenna accompanied by piano, a great song, sung with great feeling.  It’s odd that, on an album notable for its instrumental mixes, I should pick out the simplest one, but such is life.  “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” is another James Taylor offering presented as a soulful jazz number.  Once again we have that delicious bass playing, the laid-back drum licks, and the keyboards doing their classic Hammond thing.  What’s not to love.  The album closes with “When I’m Called Home”, an Abbey Lincoln song, taken from an album Jenna did of Abbey Lincoln covers.  Abbey Lincoln?  You mean the Abbey Lincoln?

So this is one seriously good album.  The songs are of a uniformly high standard, and quite frankly, are easily as good as anything from the Norah Joneses of this world.  I have played it hard and often.  Even my wife nodded appreciatively, which doesn’t happen all that often.  In fact she asked me to turn it up, which never happens.  And despite having all those strikes against it, it still stands as an absolute reference when it comes to recording quality.  I love it.

[And now, from Cookie Marenco at Blue Coast Records:

Here is the link to the album at our new store….


For Copper readers we have created a 20% discount coupon to use at checkout.  The coupon will be good through Dec 31, 2017 for anything in our catalog (new store only https://bluecoastmusic.com/). Please use this code:


And surprise!

We have a new Jenna Mammina album being released this weekend…  Moonlight Ladies.  A great album of (mostly) James Taylor songs.  

Our “Test Your System” free download this month is also Jenna and John R. https://bluecoastmusic.com/jenna-mammina/free-downloads#.Wgr_fluPKM8

If you have any questions, comments , or need assistance to become a member please write to support@bluecoastmusic.com. ]

Thanks, Cookie!

Hurray for the Riff Raff!

Hurray for the Riff Raff!

Hurray for the Riff Raff!

Anne E. Johnson

Alynda Segarra is the heart of Hurray for the Riff Raff, which remains a band thanks to whoever she happens to be working with at the time. Raised in the Bronx, Segarra grew up loving everything from hardcore punk to Motown. But it’s American roots music that defines her sound, giving this city-tough songwriter a decidedly folky feel.

For the past ten years Segarra has used the Riff Raff name, starting with two self-produced albums: It Don’t Mean I Don’t Love You from 2008 and Young Blood Blues from 2010. The latter’s title track opens with some old-timey banjo pickin’, and you can’t imagine anything less Bronx. Especially when it starts out, “It’s day out on the levee…” But take as much time as you need to be drawn into the vivid scene. There’s plenty of time. Segarra’s not in a hurry, another fact that belies her big-city background.


The song “Young Blood Blues” was re-released on Segarra’s first studio album, Hurray for the Riff Raff (Loose Music, 2011). Also from that self-titled effort comes the Zydeco-inspired “Slow Walk,” which lays down some pragmatic philosophy: “It’s a slow walk from the bottom to the top.” In other words, once you’re down, it’s hard to get back up.


It’s worth noting that Segarra’s love lyrics talk about women. That’s her preference, and she neither hides it nor makes the fact a big deal. It’s who she is, so it’s what she writes.

From the 2012 album Look Out Mama comes “Ode to John and Yoko,” a perceptive tribute tinged with melancholic Cajun fiddle played by Yosi Perlstein. Segarra turns Lennon’s story into an American ballad that starts “John was born an orphan boy,” spinning out his experiences as if he were Johnny Appleseed or Paul Bunyan. Appropriately, though, the song wanders from its strophic form, just as Lennon strayed from the safety of skiffle and early rock ‘n’ roll once he’d met the love of his life.


After the 2013 release, My Dearest Darkest Neighbor, Segarra stepped up in the indie world by signing with Dave Matthews’ label, ATO Records. She’s done two albums with them so far. The first, Small Town Heroes, came out in 2014.

The Americana is still strong here, but with a different flavor. It’s more bluegrass than bayou. The opening song, “Blue Ridge Mountain,” was inspired by the blended voices and heaven-glorifying melodies of the Carter Family:


When Small Town Heroes came out, it was lauded (by NPR, among others) as representing a new type of political folk music. Well, Woody Guthrie would have had a good laugh at that – for him, there was no other kind of folk music — but it is true that Hurray for the Riff Raff has a distinctly 21st-century take on social issues. And they stand up for these issues not just in word but in deed, by featuring a lesbian lead singer and (for that album) a transgender fiddler, for example.

But their politics are also obvious in their songs. “Body Electric” explores the insidiousness of domestic abuse. The horrific images are presented in long, lyrical lines that bring out the pain in a way that’s almost too beautiful to bear.


“Forever Is Just a Day” closes the album, a lonesome, winsome ballad for voice and fiddle. It takes some major confidence for a New York woman to sell lines — and sell them she does — like “I throwed my lasso across the room / and it fell ʼpon you like the haloed moon.” It also takes some serious artistic guts to end an album on such a quiet note.


After a three-year break, the Riff Raff came out with The Navigator in early 2017. Their influences are widening. Segarra is at the top of her game, both as songwriter and singer.

In general, there’s a more urban sound to this album. That’s not a secret: one song is called “Living in the City.” It could be a tribute to early years of The Cure because of the way the lyrics come out in short bursts. On the drums, David Jamison uses rock patterns in ways that you don’t hear in the other albums:


The American roots music is still important, but the band is following different tendrils of the root system now. “Life to Save” employs blues rock harmony. The keyboard plays in a wobbly Hammond organ-style sample for that distinctive gospel wail:


The Navigator is the album that brings the Puerto Rican Segarra face to face with her own American roots. In this live performance video of the song “Pa’lante” (Go Forward), she explains that “If we wanna move forward, we have to know where we came from.” But, dressed in a t-shirt hand-lettered with the message “No Human Is Illegal,” she quickly takes the spotlight off herself and makes the song about everyone. “There’s lots of people trying to divide us right now, and we’re not going to let them do that, are we?” What follows is a cry for each individual to live freely and have a meaningful existence.


I can hardly wait to hear what’s next.

Cecilia’s Cafe, Albuquerque

Cecilia’s Cafe, Albuquerque

Cecilia’s Cafe, Albuquerque

Bill Leebens

Gibson and hh gregg—Yet Again!

Bill Leebens

We previously wrote about the financial problems of Gibson Brands in Copper #s 45  and 40. Last issue, we reported that Gibson had announced that it was selling its factory near historic Beale Street in Memphis; now  Gibson has sold a warehouse property in Nashville for $6.38 million, and is planning on selling additional “non-core” properties in Nashville.

The company carries well over $600M in debt against annual revenues of $1.2B, and has been downgraded twice in the past year by credit rating bureau, Moody’s.    We wish them well, but have a hard time imagining a happy ending to this saga.

America’s fascination with zombies doesn’t seem to extend to zombie companies—companies that keep going, unaware they’re dead— and yet Radio Shack periodically makes attempts at revival, Sears just won’t go away, and now, after it was reported in April that the chain’s assets would all be liquidated—hhgregg, the electronics/appliance store that annoyingly presents its name ee cummings-style, is back. Sorta.

Trade journal This Week In Consumer Electronics (TWICE) reported that gregg will be revived with a purely online presence, and bidders for IP including the brand name included fellow zombie Sears.

That’s all we have to report, at this point. We must admit to a certain bewilderment as to how anyone  would think gregg is worth reviving. Oh, well.

Southern Italian Wines: A Walk on the Wild Side, Part 2

Bill Leebens

Last time out

Part 1 launched our safari through the hinterlands of Southern Italy, specifically through the mostly unfamiliar region of Basilicata — mountainous, poor, almost unapproachably landlocked — and took us into the very popular, and by comparison, almost universally-known and much-beloved region of Campania.  What these two regions, in common, offer to the savvy consumer is a bounty of world-class red wine, made with the ancient and unknown Aglianico grape.  It is no understatement when I state that the Aglianico is perhaps the greatest “unknown” red wine grape in the wine world.

Singularly from the fertile slopes of Campania’s Mount Vesuvius, a bevy of ancient, racy, exotic and mineral-tinged white wines emerge. These are vivid, colorfully-named wines such as Coda di Volpe (“Fox-tail”) and Lacryma Christi (“Tears of Christ”) and simultaneously, somewhat musical, as well: Fiano di Avellino, Falanghina, Greco di Tufo, wine names that roll off the tongue almost as easily as they go down with a plate of the regional cuisine.

For our next foray into Southern Italy, we will make a  stop in Calabria, the toe of the Italian boot, then continue onward to Apulia, the heel of the Italian boot.  For the concluding part of our romp through Southern Italy, we will head to Sicily, where a new star is rising on the slopes of an old and very active volcano.


I first visited Calabria in 1996, was immediately depressed by the poverty of the region. Everywhere I went seemed like a ghost town. Houses, envisioned, dreamed of and started, during happier times by happier and more optimistic people, existed now as still-borne mockeries of these dreams, empty frames, collapsing shells, twisted and misshapen metal, abandoned and forgotten to the unrelenting, march of time.  It was all very disturbing to me, a cold slap of reality across my face, a reminder of just how privileged an existence I led in my own life. Whereas I expected to see this misery and hopelessness reflected in the culture of Calabria, instead I saw hope and vibrancy, awareness and passion.  I saw the very best side of the human spirit.

Defiantly Spicy

First and fore-most of the things I had heard about Calabrese culture was their passionate, almost maniacal love affair with the pepper.  Whispers had circulated among our small group that the wine-making brother duo, Antonio and Nicodemo Librandi, could, and would eat the hottest peppers imaginable, smile at you and politely ask for more. Our group had even assembled a small assortment of peppers to test this out, culminating in an especially fiery pair of habaneros that burned my tongue just to think about. Well, if we had intended to see a man (or two men) die gruesomely — a death by pepper — we were sorely disappointed.  Our hot peppers did not even elicit so much as a flash, a surreptitious wince of discomfort, let alone pain of any kind.


Heck, If the Calabrese people can eat peppers like so, then it stands to reason that their cuisine is spicy and its wines somewhat tannic and alcoholic to match them.  True and true.  Indeed, the Calabrese are renowned for a cuisine that embraces garlic — a whole lots of it! — sun-dried peppers and tomatoes, red-hot chili peppers, and eggplant in everything.  As the climate is so hot and humid, the Calabrians have specialized and mastered the art of smoking of meats and sausages — all of which is to say that the cuisine of Calabria is a perfect for its one red wine grape of note: Gaglioppo (Gall-yo’po).

Gaglioppo is a hearty, large-boned wine with a characteristic roasted, spicy, berry, cherry and chocolate character, high alcohol and typically, a medium-tannic structure.  Grown in several parts of Calabria, the most interesting examples derive from the Ciro Marino, an area of low-lying hills along the region’s coast, framed by the Ionian Sea.  Producers of note include Librandi (the region’s most-famous winery), Statti, Odoardi and Tenuta Iuzzolini.

Apulia (Puglia)

The bleak poverty of Calabria stands in stark contrast to much of Apulia, or Puglia, as it is known in Italy. A beautiful region of rolling green forests, gorgeous hill-top towns capping glorious panoramic Mediterranean beaches and perfect, miles upon miles of picturesque coastlines, centuries-old charming farmhouses, wonderful old Baroque villages (Lecce), and a thriving and vital port city in Bari.  It is a visitors’ delight, a bicycler’s paradise and to many, just a paradise in general, a place where well-heeled northern Italians come to roost for the duration of their difficult winters, and to indulge their culinary tastes within a thriving food culture.  Even the wine business has prospered and matured. Once the last bastion of mediocrity, with oceans of inexpensive, barely passable plonk emerging from within its borders, Apulia is now home to some of Italy’s best wine values, with very fine, deliciously affordable reds made from such high-quality varietals as Primitivo and Negroamaro.  For the well-known wines of Salice Salentino in the southern part of Apulia, the Negroamaro is blended with another high-quality varietal called Malvasia Nera. To the north, the production zone known as Castel del Monte has long enjoyed a reputation for high-quality reds, utilizing such grapes as Bombino Nero, Aglianico (Sound familiar?), and Nero di Troia, with some producers using Cabernet (Franc and/or Sauvignon) and/or a bit of Montepulciano.  A small amount of rather interesting white wine, Chardonnay-based is made here too by Tormaresca, but is difficult to find. It may be the finest white wine in all of Apulia!

The taste of Apulian red wine from the south might best be described as a taste of light and sun.  Three grapes dominate the Apulian landscape here:  Primitivo, Negroamaro and to a lesser extent, Malvasia Nera. The grape we know of as Primitivo is genetically the same grape as that of the grape known in California as Zinfandel.  For a long time, in fact, the Italian version was thought to be the “Mother Grape” of Zinfandel. Further research by ampelographers (grape detectives) uncovered the real “Mother” finally.  It is now official: Crljenak Kastelanski.  Being genetically the same does not mean that the wines from one area are going to taste exactly like the ones from another area however. There are winemaking styles to consider, soil variations, climate conditions — endless variables exist. Still, the family resemblances are striking. The Apulian Primitivo, like its American counterpart, offers up signature flower, cherry, berry and spice aromas, and is very sensitive to high temperatures.  Furthermore, as with most of the”New World” interpretations of “Old World” wines, the warmer California climate, coupled with the prevailing “bigger, riper, better” mantra, means that the “New World” renditions will typically be a degree or more — sometimes two — in alcohol.   Sometimes, bigger is better.  Right off the tip of my head, I can list half a dozen producers in California consistently producing profound examples of Zinfandel, in a style not even challenged by their Italian brethren.  At the same time however, it must be said that the California “interpretations” that I alluded to are, on average twice to three times the price of the average Italian Primitivo, most of which can be had for about $15.  Unless you are going to pay my tab for me, I will opt for the Italian everytime!

Negroamaro, “black bitter” is another important grape of the Apulian south.  Some argue that the name was coined to describe the wine’s deep colors and the corresponding bitter or savory characteristic.  That’s one interpretation. I prefer “dark black.” For that is exactly what this grape is about: dark color, medium-to-full tannins and luscious dark-berry fruit accented by allspice and cinnamon.

The last of the triumvirate that covers the grapes of the Apulian south is Malvasia Nera. A black-skinned relative in the Malvasia family, it is seldom bottled solo, though it was even part of Chianti’s “recipe” once upon a time. Now it is utilized mainly to add perfume to the Salice Salentino blend.

The first established area of Apulia, the production zone known as Castel del Monte, is, after 46 years of regulation, still the best.  There are three different “DOCG” zones (“Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita” — the top-quality designation a particular area or zone can be awarded).  Of the three DOCG zones, one is awarded to the Castel del Monte Bombino Nero zone which produces Rose or Rosato wines, one to the Castel del Monte Nero di Troia production zone, which specifically produces Riserva level wines, and another, simply called Castel del Monte Riserva, which allows Riserva level wines made only with Cabernet Sauvignon or Aglianico (ding!).  The area is famous for the well-preserved Castel del Monte, from which the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederic II held sway in the late 13th Century.  Notable producers of this region include Taurino (Mimmo Taurino championed the south when it was uncool to do so.), Cantine Due Palme, Chiaromonte, Leone di Castris, and Accademmia Racemi in the south.  Producers to seek out in the northern part of Apulia include Rivera, Tenute Rubino, Tormaresca, and Tenuta Viglione.

Stay tuned in two more weeks for the last part of our sojourn into the unknown hinterlands of Southern Italy.  Next up is Sicily, and that means gods and monsters and rumbling volcanoes!  See you soon!

The Band, Part 1: The Hawks

WL Woodward

First we need to talk about Ronnie Hawkins.  The Hawk was born in Arkansas in 1935 and took an early interest in music.  At the University of Arkansas he formed the first version of The Hawks and began touring around Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri.  I love how they call this ‘touring’ in the bios.  Touring at this level was driving gig to gig in a crowded panel van without windows or a couple of station wagons, eating crap food, maybe getting one hotel room for the entire band but usually some or all the band sleeps in the van.  And the gigs are rarely in nice venues.  It’s shitty clubs with crooked managers and clientele that has never peed over the town line and the girls look like Buicks.  Then you come home without a dime and within a month you’re itching to get back to it.

It’s a very strange trip.  While you’re out there you can’t wait to get home and once you’re home you can’t wait to get back on the road.  It’s hard to explain unless you’ve read Kerouac, but you call home ‘home’ but you don’t pine for the van, the crap food or the weird sleeping arrangements.  Sometimes you miss the guys but as the miles become tears that gets thin as well.  You don’t call it getting back in the van.  It’s getting back on the Road.  Musicians are typically light on their feet and need to move.  So many musicians I’ve known picked the profession because you have to travel.  If you don’t dig that then don’t bother.  It won’t last.   Unless you become a studio musician— but that’s a completely different animal.

So anyway Hawkins and The Hawks are on the road in the heyday of rockabilly, the mid 50’s.  Hawkins gets to know Conway Twitty who’s convinced that Canada is the Promised Land for rock and roll singers, which is weird because Twitty (real name Harold Jenkins) was from Arkansas himself.  But that’s the kind of advice you get from a guy who changes his name FROM Harold Jenkins TO Conway Twitty.  So the Hawk went to Hamilton, Ontario to play a club called The Grange and never left.  Hawkins had his first hit, Hey, Bo Diddley, in 1958 followed by Marylou which made him a star.  He was a fixture in the Canadian rockabilly scene.  His talent, besides an ear for great songs, was poaching musicians from rival bands.  He had some great musicians come through the Hawks, including Roy Buchanan, Fred Carter Jr., who later would play in Levon Helm and the RCO All-Stars, Burt Cummings (Guess Who) and David Clayton Thomas (Blood, Sweat, and Tears).  But at first when he moved to Canada permanently all members of the Hawks except Levon Helm quit and went back to the U.S.

Levon Helm

Mark Lavon “Levon” Helm was born in 1940 in Elaine, Arkansas to farmers and grew up in a place called Turkey Scratch.  No, I’m not kidding.  Mark Lavon was a true country boy and started playing the guitar at 9 years old.  There is something unique about growing up in the South and how important music is to families in general.  Life on the farm did not leave a lot of time for leisure, yet in Southern households music was what you did every night after dinner and the kids were all encouraged to play something.  I grew up in NE United States and you had to beg your parents to get you an instrument, and there was no encouragement.  Music was considered a waste of time in our household and my parents couldn’t figure what good it was for.  If your school had a band and you could get a free trumpet that was OK.  But if you wanted to play guitar, you were SOL.

Arkansas was a crossroads for musical styles like country western, bluegrass, blues and R&B, and Lavon soaked in it.  Lavon’s parents took him to see Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys when he was 6, and he decided he wanted to be a musician.  He and his sister Linda started performing for small gatherings and church socials.  In high school Lavon formed his first band, the Jungle Bush Beaters.  Those were the days.  Try naming a band that today and you’ll end up the lead story on CNN.  At 17 he was found by Ronnie Hawkins, and Lavon was asked to join the Hawks.  Lavon’s mom insisted he graduate from high school, so Lavon would play with the Hawks on the weekends.  In 1958 he did graduate, and permanently joined just before Hawkins moved the group to Canada.  After Hawkins started reforming the band in Canada the band members had a problem with the proper pronunciation of ‘Lavon’ and the boy’s name morphed into Levon, which apparently they had no problem with.  Musicians.

Hawkins did have a few hits in the late 50’s and that allowed him to tour Canada and the US with his rockabilly act, and meet and poach new musicians.  Robbie Robertson joined the Hawks in 1960, but since Fred Carter and then Roy Buchanan were the guitar players Robertson stayed on bass until  early 1961.

Robbie Robertson

Robbie was born Jaime Royal Robertson in 1943 to a Cayuga/Mohawk woman in Toronto.  Mom grew up on the Six Nations Reserve in southwest Ontario and Robbie spent summers there.  His kin on the reserve were musical, and encouraged Robbie to play guitar.  In the early 50’s radio was king and Robertson listened to R&B and early rock on stations from Buffalo and Nashville.

At 14 Robbie worked summer jobs on the traveling carnival circuit and also as an assistant at a freak show. This experience influenced a gypsy style to his guitar playing and his music appreciation.  Robertson would later produce and act in the movie Carny, certainly an offshoot of his freak show days. He played in bands around Toronto with his friend Pete Traynor who would later found Traynor Amps.  But at the ripe age of 16 Traynor’s band The Suedes opened for Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks.  Hawkins hired Robbie for the road crew and the Hawk discovered a budding song-writing talent in Robertson.  They co-wrote a couple of songs for the 1959 Mr. Dynamo album and Hawkins began using the young lad as a sounding board for choosing the songs on the remainder of the album.   By 1960 Robertson was playing bass and in 1961 took over on guitar.  In mid 1961 Rick Danko was added on bass.

Rick Danko

Danko was born in 1942 to people living in Greens Corner, Ontario.  By some quirk he grew up in an area where a number of expatriates from the US South lived and his musical influences were more Hank Williams, Sam Cooke and Fats Domino and other country artists.  He was also bitten early by the music bug.  He quit school in his mid teens to play music full time and at 19 joined the Hawks.

I don’t know how these guys got away with this shit.  My mom would have had me committed if I even breathed that at 14 I thought I should quit school and join a rockabilly band.  I would have been locked in a padded room and force-fed Tiny Tim records until I agreed to go to dental school.            

In the fall of 1961 Richard Manuel was added as a new Hawk on vocals and piano.  Hawkins was smitten by Manuel’s soulful voice and phrasing and after Manuel’s band opened for the Hawks and Hawkins heard Manuel sing Georgia On My Mind, he invited him in.

Richard Manuel

Richard was born in 1943 in Stratford, Ontario.  What the hell was going on in Ontario is probably worth more study, but there had to be a reason why Hawkins loved the area so much he moved there from Arkansas, and now he was filling his band with local boys who would soon become international stars.  To say Manuel was different was an understatement however.  Here was the blues influence.  Richard’s passion was listening to WLAC in Nashville whose DJ’s were spinning Jimmy Reed, Otis Rush, and Muddy Waters.  Not a lot of white kids listening to that in 1955.  Richard also started playing young, and at 15 had a band called the Rockin Revols.  This was the band that opened for the Hawks in Port Dover, Ontario, and again at the Stratford Coliseum where Hawkins heard Manuel sing that Georgia tune that changed Richard’s life forever.  He was 18

In late 1961 the last leaf hit the ground.  Garth Hudson was a classically trained multi-instrumentalist who Hawkins hired as a ‘music consultant’, mainly to appease his parents who spent the money on said classical training, and they snuck a Lowery organ through the back door and Garth became a full-time member.

Garth Hudson

Hudson was born 1937 in Windsor, Ontario.  Again with the Ontario.  His mother played piano and accordion and dad played drums, C sax, clarinet and flute.  Garth was encouraged to play and study and the parents sent him to the University of Western Ontario to study classical music.  Hudson also played organ for the services at St; Luke’s Anglican Church.

But Garth chafed under the rigidity of the classical regimen and in 1958 he joined Paul London and the Capers (is that the fish or the hi-jinks?) to play rock and roll.  In late 1961 Hawkins recruited Garth into the Hawks and Garth negotiated a new Lowery organ as part of the deal, and made everyone in the band pay $10 a week for ‘lessons’ so he could tell mom and dad he was a music consultant.  Kids never change.

So now we have it.  By December 1961 the Hawks were those guys that would be a huge part of the revolution that was peeking through the bushes of history looking to see some ankle.


Next Copper:  The Band from West Saugerties.

Art 2

Roy Hall

As he lay down in bed, my father noticed a window set high up on the wall. This was odd as the window to the outside was on the opposing wall. Wondering why it was there, he found a ladder and climbed up.

My father escaped the Berlin of his youth in 1939. As a student he studied art but the Nazis cut his education short. After some failed attempts, he managed to leave Germany, legally, on an agricultural permit. Some German Jews had started a kibbutz in of all places Scotland and he joined them with the notion of emigrating to Palestine after the war. The farm was ten miles outside Glasgow and at weekends he would walk into town to the Jewish community center. There he met and subsequently married my mother. He had no money so he courted her with gifts from the farm, usually turnips.

In 1940 he joined the British Army and eventually, being a fluent German speaker, made his way into military intelligence. Before he left for Germany he was ordered to change his name from Szydlow (a Polish/Jewish name) to a British one, the theory being that, if captured, a British name would mean a POW camp, a Jewish name would mean a concentration camp. He would often listen to and admire a bandleader called Henry Hall who had a radio show that was popular during wartime. As he only had 24 hours to change his name and Hall was as good as any, he made that the family name. I found out later that Henry Hall and his band played in Berlin in 1938 and generated controversy by not playing songs by Jewish composers.

In 1945 my father was assigned to General Montgomery’s forces in northern Germany. He was near the town of Osnabruck and was given the task of finding headquarters for Montgomery and his commanders. He came across a stately home called Kreis Melle and gave the owner 30 minutes to pack her bags and leave. He told me that was 29 minutes more than the Nazis gave his parents when they were arrested.

The woman was Prince Phillip’s aunt.

Ironically, my Jewish refugee father was given the task of making a Christmas card for the regiment. He made a woodcut of the house and printed up hundreds of cards. They were sent home to loved ones in the UK.

Once the army moved in to Kreis Melle my father was assigned a small room high up in the building, the one with the oddly situated window. After he climbed the ladder leading up to it he opened it and found that inside was a small room containing many paintings. Obviously the owners had stashed the paintings away hoping they would survive the war. He found a Raphael, a Tintoretto and a small Madonna and Child by Botticelli. It was approximately two foot square. Although he was an honest man he couldn’t resist the Botticelli. He carefully removed the canvas from its frame, rolled it up. Put it into a cylinder and mailed it to my mother who was staying with her parents in Glasgow. Some months later he was demobilized from the army and returned to Glasgow to the apartment they shared with his in-laws. He asked my mother if she had received the painting. She said yes and pointed to a drawer in the dresser. My father searched inside but couldn’t find it. He asked his mother-in-law if she had seen it but she said she hadn’t and he should ask his father-in-law when he returned from synagogue.

“Did you see a painting that was in the dresser?” my father asked.

My grandfather, glowering, said, “yes”.

“Where is it?”

“What do you mean, where is it? How could you do this?” he said.

“Do what?” asked my father.

“Bring a Christian painting into a religious Jewish household?”

My father paused. “I’m sorry but give it to me and I’ll remove it.”

“I don’t have it.” My grandfather said.

“Where is it”?

“It’s gone!”

“It’s gone?”

“I burnt it.”

When my son Ilan was seventeen, in his final semester of high school, he went to Florence, Italy to study cooking. We visited him there and being tourists we hit the museums. We toured the Uffizi gallery that is famous for its Botticelli collection. They are amazing and well worth seeing. In one room they had a very large painting of Madonna and Child. Built into the frame and surrounding the painting was a series of roughly two-foot square studies of the larger finished artwork. Two of the squares were missing. One had a sign on it, “Missing since World War Two”.

The '67 Psychedelic Shootout Continues!

Jay Jay French

Let it not be said that journalists don’t pay attention to their readers.

The responses to my contenders to the Psychedelic Shootout of 1967 has persuaded me to add 4 additional artists.

1.The Move:   I am a huge fan and ironically I was supposed to see them live at the Fillmore East in November 1967 with Pink Floyd headlining (this was the the US Floyd tour cut short due to Syd’s deteriorating mental condition).

The Move did not release an album in 1967 but their first single, “Flowers in the Rain”  was a shot fired across the bow!

2.The Yardbirds:  First though, a small bend in the rules:

The word from the UK in 1966, following the US hit “For Your Love”, had us all buzzing because of the addition of Jeff Beck replacing Eric Clapton. The album, Having A Rave Up (US  release: Over Under Sideways Down) was startling in its departure from straight Clapton era blues. However, by the time the 1967 Yardbirds contribution came around, Beck had departed and studio wizard Jimmy Page, moved over from bass to lead and the 1967 release, Little Games.

Little Games came out in April of “67 BUT….for the purposes of this shoot out I am actually going to focus on the 1966 release Over Under Sideways Down for reasons that will become obvious.

3.Love:  They were omitted because I forgot to drink my coffee that day. I mean, really, how could I have missed this one. I only have 4 different pressings beginning with the original 1967 Elektra release.

4.Procol Harum:  debut album.

“Whiter Shade of Pale” ‘nuff said

Let us begin!

In general, and now with 50 years of hindsight, musical history as well as my own experiences of spending lots of time in the UK and having been signed to my record deal in the UK by Phil Carson, Sr. VP of Atlantic Records, UK in the 80’s, it has become apparent that  the great distinction between the British and US Psych scenes was that the British artists were still forced by the “British Hit Record System” that made the artists conform to certain rules of the game.

Remember, the whole of Great Britain is smaller than the size of Texas. In those days if you didn’t get on the BBC radio pop charts,  then no one heard you. If you didn’t get on the Top Of The Pops TV show then no one really saw you.

The “hit factor pressure” was huge.  Even if you were trying to bend the rules, the Hit Men of the industry put enormous pressure on you to have a hit. The US, on the other hand, especially in the 60’s, had always had the enviable position of creating local or regional artists. What went on in the midwest or the south was not always known to NYers ,for example.

FM Freeform radio hit the US at just the right time as rules were about to be not just  broken but demolished! The population and diversity of the US greatly factored into the unique differences between the two countries even though the same mind altering drug was careening through our collective craniums. What make this even more interesting is that the British groups who are part of this shootout started out mostly as American Blues cover bands  (Pink Floyd, Yardbirds, Rolling Stones, Cream)  or, in the case of the Beatles, an American Rock ‘n’ Roll cover band.

The Move were really post-invasion. Kind of like 1st generation .2 in that their influences were strained through the prism of the pop music of their peers plus west coast rock and Motown.

The American bands were segregated by regional influences.

The Dead, the Airplane, and Moby Grape were heavily folk influenced. The Doors and Hendrix, by heavy blues;  and Love, the archetype LA proto-garage band, greatly influenced by all of the above with a large dose of Dylan and classical music.

At the end of each review I will render it’s Psychedelic value from 1 (meaning just a slight hallucination tremor-the equivalent to the kind of halos of an ocular migraine all the way to a 10 (full blown “get out the net and send the band to Bellevue”)

With all of that said, these 5 are the first group of contenders:

The Doors, The Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead,  Moby Grape & Love

Although released in January of ‘67,  it took months for the debut single “Light My Fire” to take off. When it did, the power of the imagery compounded with the eastern sounding raga guitar lead and the incredible vocals of Jim Morrison shattered the newly minted freeform FM stations and then crossed over, however lamely edited, to American Top 40 dominance.

The  haunting, dark and sexually perverse insinuation of the lyrics for the closing song “The End” brought to me at the time, an American version of the Stones. Dark, heavy and sexually charged. Finally though, we had our own Mick Jagger.

Strong, jazzed tinged playing throughout with just enough reverb to sound menacing. Jim Morrison’s poetry brought super literary analysis- he was the thinking man’s sex symbol. He seemed like a cross between Elvis and Henry Miller.

I had not yet smoked weed so my mental wandering went only as far the the actual time I spent listening to the album. I have a feeling that the Doors were looking at their stable mate Love and feeling that the pressure was on as to who got Elektra Records’ president Jac Holzman’s “love” more…

One thing for sure, This wasn’t the LA folk rock of Ronstadt, Eagles, Jackson Browne, Neil Young or the Mamas & Papas. This was a whole ‘nother thing. The Doors’ debut was really commercial danger on vinyl.

Verdict:   Stellar hard rock debut,  Psychedelic Factor (scale 1-10): 4.

The Jefferson Airplane, Surrealistic Pillow 


Well now, the memories of listening to this album at a junior high dance/make-out party brings back the greatest of memories. I had read about this band and wasn’t sure what to expect but what I got was a beautifully recorded and sung example of how commercial the San Francisco sound could get. 2 monster singles, “White Rabbit” & “Somebody to Love” reached out and coalesced around acoustic gems like The Spoonful/Mamas & Papas-sounding “My Best Friend” and the real make out ballad “Today”.

“White Rabbit” was also all about the imagery of Alice through the looking glass and all the seeming drug references. So cool, and yet quite scary to parents and to me and my friends. We felt we were listening to something forbidden.

Having Jerry Garcia listed on the the back of the album jacket as a “Spiritual Advisor” in the studio sounded just oh so damn cool.

What did that actually mean? Their guru?, their drug dealer? I hadn’t heard the Dead yet but this just made me crazy to want to know what he (Jerry)  knew.

As it turned out there is very little consensus as to what, if anything Jerry did have to do with the final product, some say he advised on arrangements, some say he did some production but recently that was debunked. In any case, to me, at the time it was a very impressive credit…

This band could really sing and write. The combined vocals of Grace Slick & Marty Balin remain as fresh and distinctive as any music being made at that time. I noticed that the stereo version (which I owned) is dripping with reverb. The mono version, not so much. Lots of reverb was the sauce that flavored a lot of Psychedelic music, apparently.

Verdict: on this album The Airplane reached heights never again attained with a focus and sure footedness that was unaffected by the political sturm und drang that was coming. Psychedelic Factor: 5.


Truth be told, I couldn’t wait. I read about the Dead in Ramparts magazine and man, was I ready for it. Still not getting high but everything about the cover of the album alone screamed Dr. Timothy Leary!!

As I start to relisten for the purpose of this contest, I’m stunned at the total lack of focus that this album suffers from. I’m sure that the band had no real idea going into the studio as to who and what they were. Part R&B band, part jam band. One thing for sure, their singing was nowhere close to the Doors, The Airplane, Love, Moby Grape, or just about any band on this list.

This, simply put,  is an example of West Coast garage rock, without the musical hooks or sexual tension. Garcia’s guitar playing was sloppy, and his tone was mealy-mouthed and reed thin. Sonically, the entire album sounds like a demo tape.

At the time, I guess it didn’t really matter much to me based on how much I played it but because the stylings were so diffuse and the lack of reverb hadn’t held much together, the entire project wasn’t very good and from a Psychedelic Factor, Viola Lee Blues was the only single psychedelic moment.

Mostly because of the cover,  I give it a Psychedelic Factor: 4.


OMG. I saw them once at the Fillmore, and they may have been one of the greatest live bands of all. In fact,  I’ll put money on the fact the Moby Grape was what the Grateful Dead wished they could play like at the time.

4 great singers, 3 great guitarists, and Bob Mosley, maybe the finest bass player at the time in San Francisco.

The only problem is that this ain’t much of a psychedelic musical experience. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a solid record. It’s almost as if The Buffalo Springfield were more aggressive.

Great songs (“8:05” is a classic), well played (with the controversial cover photo of the middle finger of Don Stevenson airbrushed out – a real vinyl collectors gem!) and one excellent rock band with a very trippy name but sadly, a Psychedelic Factor: 1.


And in the midst of all the sonic experimentation made by the blues & folk based rock bands that had become newly minted psychedelic mouthpieces,  comes this sonic and lyrical masterpiece.

Forever Changes is truly an outlier. The kind of record that one used, back in the day, to show off their stereo and, in a way, almost an American Sgt. Pepper with its carefully homogenized aural landscape. Beautifully recorded, stunning songs and melodies.  Is it any wonder that it has become one of the greatest albums of all time?

The addition of the classically-arranged strings only enhanced this album and gave you the feeling that you were really listening to something “heavy”.  The album came out in November… so I had already started smoking weed and the effect of that confluence made the impact of this album even greater.

The album cover alone raise the psychedelic factor but the transcendent heaviness and its long term impact leaves a palpable impression that this  is the greatest of all American psychedelic entries.

Psychedelic Factor: 8. 

Stay tuned for more of the ’67 Psychedelic Shootout!

Kavi Alexander, Part 2

Kavi Alexander, Part 2

Kavi Alexander, Part 2

John Seetoo

[Part 1 of John Seetoo’s interview with recording engineer/producer Kavi Alexander appeared in Copper #45.  Herewith, the conclusion.—Ed.]

J.S.: Some non-western music genres like South Asian and Turkish music are notable for having non-12 tone scales and finer semitone subdivisions. Is that part of the reason for your inclusion of artists like Ry Cooder, Martin Simpson, Taj Mahal and Jerry Douglas, along with Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, who all play slide guitar or dobro, on WaterLily releases?

K.A.: I record what I think would be inspiring… and yes, I am partial to certain instruments and their unique sounds… My approach has no fixed “game plan”, I go with the ocean’s currents… I, like my ancestors, navigate by the stars and in the ocean’s depths. I find mermaids, pearls, coral, conch shells and on its shores, ambergris… Things happen on the uncharted seas… For example, I had recorded Vishwa-ji twice, just him playing straight-ahead Hindustani music, before recording him with Ry for Meeting By The River.

The “River” recording came about through the efforts of my dear friend Rick Turner, the famous luthier, founding member of Alembic and now Renaissance Guitars, who was introduced to me by Grammy-winning bassist and record producer/engineerDan Schwartz of The Absolute Sound.

Dan was present at both my recordings of Vishwa-ji and loved his playing. Dan gave Rick a cassette and Rick was suitably impressed and played the tape for Ry, who in turn was equally impressed… Being interested in cross-cultural blends, I’d always liked Ry and his brew of Chicken Skin Music, so, it was only natural that we would try out a new chicken tandoori recipe! Hot and spicy… grilled to perfection in a clay oven… In the sleeve notes to A Meeting by the River I had quoted a line from Rumi about the mystical guide of the Sufis touching a grilled fish, which upon the magic touch, leaps off the grill and back into the holy Ganges river!

Well, that is what happened… Sometimes, it is neither pearls nor ambergris, but rather, breadfruit drifting on the ocean, thousands of miles from any paradise island… Sustenance nevertheless…

J.S.: In that same vein, would you perhaps consider pairing a Hawaiian slide player with some of your other artists in the future, given the slide guitar’s origins?

Yes, but after Gabby (Pahinui), there are…you know, none left. George Winston recently invited me to a concert. He then sent me a box of 30 Dancing Cat CDs [Dancing Cat is George Winston’s label that released an entire catalog of slack key and slide Hawaiian acoustic guitar music.—Ed.]. George had done an exemplary job! I certainly could not add to this excellent body of work.

I have 65 unreleased titles. I need to get these out. In the future, I want to concentrate on the “East-East” series of recordings. I’m the first to record Indian and Arab musicians, for example. Have you heard Saltanah with Simon Shaheen and Vishwa-ji? Simon is perhaps the finest oud player from the Arab world today. He lives here in the United States. A phenomenal musician. I had wanted very much to record Simon with Dr. L Subramaniam… I remember going to his house with Simon and going over the proposed project… Unfortunately, it never came to pass.

I have also made the very first recordings of Indian classical musicians, both Hindustani and Carnatic, collaborating with their Chinese counterparts. I have recorded Jie-Bing Chen (erhu) with Vishwa (Mohan veena), and Wu Man (pipa) with Lalguddi Krishnan (violin).

And then, the very first recordings of Persian and Indian musicians. I recorded Hossein Alizadeh, the undisputed master of both the tar and setar (both plucked lutes) in collaboration with the Carnatic virtuoso N. Ravikiran playing the gottuvadyam, an instrument similar to the Saraswati veena, but played with an ebony slide. (The above-mentioned Jie-Bing Chen, a virtuoso on the erhu was also recorded with Martin Simpson.)

Of the East/West recordings that inspired me, I love the very first such effort, recorded way back in 1965, when Tony Scott recorded with a shakuhachi and a koto player. Truly an outstanding album! Titled Music for Zen Meditation and Other Pleasures, and released by Verve, this recording really is a gem. The other East/West recording I love and consider a classic is Shakti’s second release, A Handful of Beauty. It’s out of this world. Absolutely. The musicianship from McLaughlin and Shankar are simply staggering.

For me, the ultimate record is Kind of Blue. Two days is all it took. Six men walk into the studio and Miles drew out a sketch of some ideas, and that was it. I aspire, strive to make, in my own way, my version of Kind of Blue. Every time I record, I attempt to make a Kind of Blue type of recording. Every time I turn on my stereo, I listen to Kind of Blue. I read an interview with Quincy Jones and he said that he did the same thing! He said he listened to this recording every day, and every time he listens to it, he learns something new. I mean, Quincy Jones has a profound grasp of music; yet this great musical mind says he learns something new every time! He says he gives copies of it to young people, “This is your orange juice.”

J.S.: A number of the artists that you’ve put together in these musical “mash-ups” like Wu Man, Jerry Douglas, Ry Cooder or Bela Fleck; they all are known for being able to bring their virtuosity into other genres of music. Do you have something in mind where you imagine certain combinations of artists that influenced whom you called for Water Lily projects?

K.A.: Well yes, I mostly conjure these collaborations, and I call the shots, but not all of the Water Lily projects were from the “fertile mind” of Kavi Alexander, no. For example, Meeting By the River was a situation that sort of fell into place. Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, and Martin Simpson were introduced to me by Rick Turner. I decided to pair them with Indian and Chinese musicians.

Taj Mahal was different. I met Taj long before I started Water Lily, when I was still in Sweden, working for an independent label called Amigo Music. By the way, the first commercial release I ever recorded was for Amigo; it was Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, featuring a very young Wynton Marsalis. I was meeting a lot of American jazz musicians then, and Larry Coryell was one of them, and I had proposed doing a recording him with Indian musicians. That was in ‘77 or ‘78, but it wasn’t until the late-90s that I recorded him with Dr. L. Subramaniam for From the Ashes.

Fascinoma with Ry and Jon Hassell was Ry’s idea. I suggested adding Ronu Majumdar, a formidable bansuri player. I had met Jon in the early ’90s, when Dan Schwartz came with him to a recording session of mine. In fact I did a short recording of Jon playing trumpet with Dan on electric bass… Jon is a Buddhist monk, a man of compassion and formidable musical depth and skill, with roots in the Eastman School of Music, Stockhausen, and Pandit Paran Nath…

J.S.: When recording Dr. L. Subramaniam, do you take a different approach between miking his acoustic vs his electric violin? How about when recording him with someone like Larry Coryell when you produced From the Ashes?

K.A.: No, I treat the amp Mani is playing through, like an extension of his violin, by placing it beside him. The mikes will be anywhere from 5 to 6 feet away, just as I would record him were he playing an acoustic violin. Mani had a Barcus Berry violin and liked playing through all sorts of colored little boxes! I tried very hard to get rid of these little devices, and had him play through a tube guitar amp. I finally was able to wean him of his “electric” fixation and got him to play acoustic violin on the last three recordings I did with him: Saraswati, From the Ashes, and the yet unreleased duet recording of him with Pandit V. G. Jog.

The other project that started in Sweden was with Taj Mahal. I met with Taj at his hotel after his concert and we spent all night talking about this project, of recording him with musicians from Madagascar and India. He really liked the idea. I had also met this beautiful lady, whom I had invited to Taj’s concert, and I had written her a poem about these fiddlers of Madagascar. I wrote it to express my love for her and perfumed it with sandalwood oil, as was my habit, but she never showed up for the concert! And guess who wound up with the poem? Taj Mahal! [Laughs.] Anyhow, I told him that I wanted to record him with Dr. L. Subramaniam and some fiddlers from Madagascar. When I called him in Hawaii in the 1990s, to speak about a recording project, the first thing he mentioned was that perfumed poem, which he still had! Finding musicians from Madagascar in the US was not likely, and flying them in was out of the question. So, it was just Taj with two Indian musicians, one rooted in the Hindustani tradition and the other in Carnatic, working their way through the blues, and gospel music.

While still domiciled in Sweden, around the mid-70s, the “audiophile” record labels started to pop up all over the place, offering mostly sub-standard music. I began calling all the American audiophile labels: Telarc, Delos, Mobile Fidelity, and so on, trying to convince them to record the extraordinary orchestras in Eastern Europe, for very reasonable sums of money. I had long phone conversations with Gary Georgie of MoFi, about shipping their half-inch, two-track Studer, all tricked out by John Curl, to me in Sweden, so that I could record with it Eastern Europe.

When I arrived in the US, I continued my crusade and actually showed up at Sheffield Lab and Delos… this is how the original Sheffield Lab recordings done in Moscow came about. It was my original idea. Doug wasn’t too keen on going to the USSR, but Lincoln’s girlfriend grasped the importance of this project and prevailed upon him to do it. I wrote the original letters and made all the phone calls to the Russians to set it all up. By the time I got to the US in 1981, Telarc had abandoned direct-to-disc recordings, gone completely digital, and was using Dr. Stockham’s Soundstream digital recorder, employing the three spaced omni mike technique. I convinced Jack Renner to allow me to make parallel analog recordings using coincident or near co-incident mike techniques. In 1983, I went to Atlanta and recorded the Atlanta Symphony using a pair of MILAB LC25 cardoid condenser mikes set up in the ORTF configuration, feeding a Nagra T Audio recorder running at 15 IPS.

I had heard the St.Petersburg Philharmonic lead by the legendary maestro Yevgeny Mravinsky, on a Melodia recording way back in Paris, and I was transfixed. A seed was planted… I dreamed of one day recording this great orchestra. When I approached the Russians on behalf of Sheffield Lab and asked for the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, they flat out refused! Instead they offered us the Moscow Symphony. Destiny had stepped in and saved the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic for me. Water Lily Acoustics is the very first American record company to record the St. Petersburg Philharmonic in Russia.

I had also initiated contacts in East Germany and Czechoslovakia, in the cities of Dresden, Leipzig and Prague respectively. I once had maestro Kurt Masur on the phone — all long distance calls paid for by Sheffield Lab! I also tried to initiate direct-to-disc projects with Dizzy Gillespie, Laura Nyro, Van Morrison, and even the Grateful Dead. The only projects that I initiated that came to pass were the Moscow Symphony recordings, and the Kodo Drummers.

Long before Chad, Chesky and Classic; at a point in time, when the only ones into re-issuing LPs were, MoFi and Nautilus, who, however employed solid-state mastering chains, I tried to convince Sheffield Lab to license orchestral recordings from RCA, and Mercury, and the recordings of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Manitas de Plata from Connoisseur Society, for release on high-quality vinyl, mastered by Doug Sax. All tube! All analog! I set up a meeting with Lincoln and some bigwig at RCA in NY. He told Lincoln that we were fools and that we were wasting our time!

In 1984, I got to start Water Lily Acoustics, and then again, it was a gift from God: I got to record, for my first auspicious release, the lion and the legend himself, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan! That recording was a gift from him. He saw that I was passionate and didn’t have any money, so he said, “Ok. I’ll record for you. No money. Put it out.”

From there, the Water Lily grew out of the mud below the still waters, always reaching for the sun… with help along the way from Apogee, Conrad-Johnson, AudioQuest, VPI, Vandersteen, and Cardas Audio, all of whom funded Water Lily recordings. I always try to push the envelope, both in terms of the music I recorded and the recording/mastering chain I employed. Water Lily Acoustics was the first record label to issue one-sided LPs which were pressed with the cryogenically frozen “father”. As Water Lily Acoustics grew, my friendship with Khan Sahib grew as well. He was like a father to me. For a young person lost at sea, to have that kind of mentor; a true master who takes interest in your pathetic life [laughs], it was an incredible gift! It is men like Ustad Ali Akbar Khan that I admire and look up to. You have to keep in mind that Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, and Ustad Imrat Khan, had all been court musicians, attached to the courts of some of the great maharajas of India, who in turn, at one time, were among the richest men in the world. Thus, these master musicians carried themselves with great dignity and possessed courtly manners. They would come to my recordings dressed elegantly in silk, draped in priceless pashmina shawls, adorned with gold rings set with diamonds, pearls, coral and turquoise, and perfumed with sandalwood oil, or musk, or amber. They would sit on exquisitely woven Persian rugs, in a Catholic church with beautiful stained glass windows and embark on journeys deep into the night. And this unfolding is what I would try to capture.

I am drawn to men who live out in the desert, draped in camel-hair vestments, living on honey and locusts, men who are the firebrands of God, men such as the Aghori along the Ganges. Men who are naked of all guile and guise, men who seek and speak nothing but the Truth! Thus I seek artists who reflect this type of energy, such as the lion, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan.

In my work, I draw my inspiration from the men who had gone before me and paved the way, starting with Saint Blumlein, Arthur Haddy, Roy Wallace, and Kenneth Wilkinson of Decca, Bert Whyte of Everest, Lewis Layton of RCA, Bob Fine of Mercury, Emory Cook of Cook Records, Richard Brock of World Pacific, Jack Renner of Telarc, André Charlin of Disques Charlin, Georges Kisselhoff of Sarastro, Tryggvi Tryggvasson of Gale, Jean-François Pontefract of Harmonia Mundi (France), John Shuttleworth of Meridian Records, David B.Jones, Ron Malo, Alain Danielou and Deban Bahattacharya…

To these trailblazers, I bow.

J.S.: Ok, last questions. In a dream world, what type of projects would you undertake: what kind of music, venue, equipment, and so on?

K.A.: Since you mentioned the word ‘dream’, let me answer you first with a little poem from the Zen tradition: “I dreamt that I was a butterfly… but what if I were a butterfly dreaming that I was a man?”

I would like to go back to Russia to record the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, and to Budapest to record The Hungarian National Philharmonic. I love these two orchestras and the two great cities they are in. I love the people and culture in those respective countries. In both these cities I was treated royally! Maestro Yuri Temirkanov is one of the last of the old guard, a formidable conductor, who leads an outstanding orchestra. The late maestro Zoltán Kocsis, a young Turk, in comparison to Temirkanov, was possessed of different qualities and skills. It was an honor to record these great orchestras, led by these two luminaries.

My future recordings would be done using the Mytek Brooklyn A-to-D converter (32-bit word length/384kHz sampling rate), the unique “Audeze Array” (five closely spaced figure-of-eight planar ribbon mikes, placed in an arc) developed by the brilliant Dragoslav Colich (AKA Dr. C), in tandem with my version of the Decca Tree, which employs two cardioids and a centrally placed figure-of-eight stereo mike set in the MS configuration. Here again the mikes employed will be the same planar ribbon mikes designed by Dr. C of Audeze headphones fame, the Nikolai Tesla of audio. All the above mentioned Audeze mikes will be fed through Neve 511 mike preamps and mixed via a Neve 5059 mixer.

J.S.: Same equipment in churches?

K.A.: Of course! Oh, before we finish, I would like to aim this comment, directly at Bill Leebens: “Tell your Ma, tell your Pa, I am gonna send you back to Arkansas… To fetch and fire up your Hill Plasmatronics!!!”

Kavi with his version of the Decca tree. Microphones are custom Audeze planar ribbons.

[Thanks again to both John Seetoo and Kavi Alexander for this lengthy and fascinating conversation!–Ed.]


Sound Synonyms

Sound Synonyms

Sound Synonyms

Charles Rodrigues