Issue 80

Issue 80

Issue 80


Welcome to Copper #80, our Third Anniversary issue!

Some investigations require more effort than others. We know that, say, the 25th anniversary is silver, but Googling, "what is the 3rd anniversary?", we find that traditionally, it's...leather? Supposedly, this symbolizes flexibility and durability.

As long as I don't have to be urea-tanned, I'm good with it....

So what've we got in store for you? Commemorating the anniversary, I take a little walk down memory lane, and a number of our writers reminisce about their Copper-time.

In our columns, Prof. Larry Schenbeck tells us the nostalgic tale of how life on the farm made him---an audiophile? Dan Schwartz  is back with a new piece, explaining how he does things, bass-wiseRichard Murison goes all G&S on usJay Jay French writes about the Cult of Bruce, with a piece sure to raise some hackles (though not mine); Roy Hall goes through a tiny little bit of surgeryAnne E. Johnson does double duty, writing about Jackson Browne's less-familiar songs, and reviewing recent recordings of works by J.A. HasseChristian James Hand deviates from the norm with a memorial to Mark Hollis; Woody Woodward takes a look at the music and career of John Prine; and I look back (appropos, no?) on past Vintage Whine columns, and wonder, who are the real cynics?

The Copper Interview features the second part of John Seetoo chatting with influential musician and producer June Millington.

Copper #80 wraps up with another audio marketing lesson from Charles Rodrigues, and a hopeful, "Spring is coming---right??" Parting Shot by Paul McGowan.

Thanks as always for reading---and thanks for your support over the last three years!

Cheers, Leebs.

Who Are the Real Cynics?

Who Are the Real Cynics?

Who Are the Real Cynics?

Bill Leebens

In the three years I’ve written this column, there have been several occasions when it’s occurred to me that it may be misnamed. Truth be told, I’m more of a disappointed idealist than a true cynic—but “Disappointed Idealist” sounds like a particularly sad sack handle on Match.com, no?

Anyway. During those three years, Copper has targeted Spotify several times, starting with the cartoon on the cover of issue#3, reprinted as the header pic above. The sign posted by the busker in the pic isn’t much of an exaggeration—a number of musician friends have told me of checks so small that they were kept as infuriating reminders of the unfairness of the payment schemes of most streaming services. Our own Dan Schwartz—composer/artist on some gazillion-selling records—has mentioned receiving a payment check from a streaming service—for 1 cent.

That’s right: $0.01.

I’ve written about Spotify’s bewildering business structure: the more subscribers they have, the more money they lose—and wondered how on earth that would make last year’s IPO at all appealing. Well—initial response to the offering last April was less than overwhelming, and after nearly a year, the stock has skyrocketed from $144/share all the way up to…$140? With dips down as low as $103?

Meanwhile, founder Daniel Ek is routinely referred to as a billionaire. I guess my understanding of high finance is just not sufficient to allow me to understand this stuff.

If you look at the books of Spotify, you’ll see that their biggest single expenditures are royalty payments to the record companies—and yet, Peter Frampton’s song, “Baby I Love Your Way” was streamed 55 million times, for which he was paid…$1,700. Seems like around .03 cents per stream—but feel free to check the math.

Just bypass the mind-boggling fact that that many people wanted to hear that song, and focus on the fairness of the payment to the artist.

In January, there was a rare victory in the battle for creators’ rights: in the Music Modernization Act, the US Copyright Royalty Board confirmed an earlier decision to increase royalty payments to songwriters by 44%, as part of the so-called compulsory mechanical rates, royalties paid for public payment of their work. Well—it’s not as much as it sounds. That 44% is not the piece of the revenue paid for public use, it’s the increase in the percentage paid to the composer, from 10.5% to 15.1%. The rest of the money goes to the label.

Even in victory, it seems like artists are being screwed. Unfortunately…yes, there’s more.

Spotify—along with Amazon, Google, and Pandora—is appealing to overturn the increase put into force by the Music Modernization Act. As you can imagine, rhetoric on both sides of the issue is flying fast and furious. While Google, Pandora, and Spotify issued a joint statement in boring legalese, artists and producers are rather more passionate. Producer Larry Klein (nominated for this year’s Producer of the Year Grammy) posted on Facebook: “This has got to change. The people who create music have got to be compensated properly for the art that they create….Our entire culture has suffered, and will continue to suffer if nothing is done.”

I agree with him—so maybe I’m not a cynic. But those other guys surely are.

How to <em>Not</em> Market Speakers

How to <em>Not</em> Market Speakers

How to Not Market Speakers

Charles Rodrigues

John Prine

WL Woodward

If you google The Voice of Our Generation what pops to the top is Lena Dunham. Not only does it bug me that google has become a verb but I ain’t never heard of Lena Dunham. All you Dunham fans just sit the fuck down. As far as I’m concerned it ain’t my fault I haven’t heard of Lena Dunham. It’s her publicist’s.

By the way, yer gonna have to forgive my grammar because I’ve been listening to a lot of John Prine working on this column.

If you google the Voice of My Generation (boomers) you don’t get shit. Just ads for a TV show and a link to a research paper. Which I guess is perfect. No real answers.

Bob Dylan is typically considered to be the Voice of My G-G-Generation. I love Dylan’s stuff, love his music, and lyrics. But Dylan’s arrogance always put me off a little. Maybe more than a little. But if you smoke a joint and take a hike in Cheyenne Canyon with your ears listening to John Prine you will encounter the Voice of My Generation.

In 1974 I was washing dishes at the P&L Diner in Manchester, CT. It was a typical roadside diner that served breakfast and lunch with the waitresses making $50 a day in tips, all quarters. I worked a set of days that another guy didn’t. That guy, Don Caven was a classic stoner who confused water, soap and hash browns but he was a guitar player and he was in a band. The Pass The Hat Band was a three piece folk band, two guys and a gal playing acoustic guitars and doing music by folks like Prine, Jimmy Buffet, Commander Cody and Joni Mitchell. I had just gotten off a stint with a hard rock band and when Don found out I was a bass player the fog lifted from behind his eyes for a bit and before the fog rolled back in he gave me the address of where the band rehearsed. Of course, it was at the other two players’ house where Stu Clemens and Lois Steely were a couple. Their forte was doing songs not covered by the typical folk band from that era, like Dylan, Baez and Cat Stevens. As well as the four artists previously mentioned they turned me onto Bob Wills, Guy Clark, the New Riders, Doc Watson, the Flying Burrito Brothers and Jerry Jeff Walker. I was never in a successful originals band, usually doing covers but as the result of that I developed the eclectic taste that carries me today. For instance the band before this we covered guys like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck and Aerosmith. The band after was stuff like Steely Dan and The Blues Brothers. In all these cases the musicianship was top notch and I not only had a blast but I learned a lot. 99% of the music I covered in bands I still listen to.

But John Prine really sang to me and still does. His style was so American and his song writing so heart felt, earthy and fucking hilarious it changed my own song writing. And I did more song writing for the Pass The Hat Band than any other band I was in and that was primarily due to Mr. Prine. Still some of my best stuff. Any musician who listens to Prine and loves it, wishes to hell he could write like that.

Diane and I saw John in 1976 at the famous Shaboo Inn in Willington, CT and again in 1982 at a pizza place in Colorado Springs. After wearing out my welcome in CT we moved to Colorado Springs and I turned on friends to Prine’s music. When he came to a small venue in the Springs, fitting maybe 200 people, 8 of us with spouses went. It was a magic evening and I think John was surprised at this rabid small group that knew every song. And all that came from my time with that band and my passing the torch to friends. Music is Magic and Chocolate man.

I’m going to go backwards in his career because that’s how I started listening for this column. I had not kept up with John’s music so I was eager to listen to his latest album.

Prine released Tree of Forgiveness in April 2018. I listened to it the first time a few Sundays ago and ended up listening to it four times in a row. Always a good sign. It’s the first album since 2005’s Fair and Square that featured mostly Prine originals. He’d been doing duets of country classics like For Better, Or Worse and Standard Songs for Average People with Mac Wiseman. Compilations of old songs like The Singing Mailman Delivers and Souvenirs, and some live albums. So a new album with originals on it was not only noteworthy but had the tone of a singing swan. Better listen to this one.

The album debuted at No.5 on the billboard 200, his best rating for any album and No. 1 on the Americana Folk Albums. This is a special record with a lot of his old humor, arrows and screen door philosophy. For the Prine fan this one is a must.

He co-wrote most of the songs, like one with Phil Spector God Only Knows. Yes, that Phil Spector. John always attracted folks from all flights of music. But this one he wrote himself and the Prine fan will recognize every bit of it.

“When I Get To Heaven”


In going back I went to the next latest release For Better Or Worse from 2016 with classic country songs, duets with some great country female singers like Iris Dement, Allison Krauss, Holly Williams and Miranda Lambert. This next is a lovely cover of “Falling in Love Again” written by a couple of European wannabes named Freidrich Hollaender and Sammy Lerner who probably never got a nickel from this, a duet with one of the purest singers since Patsy Cline. Yer welcome Allison Krause. Love you by the way.


At this point I made a jump to 2005 and Fair And Square. I was intrigued that you had to go back 13 years to get to the last album with original Prine songs. Fair and Square got to No. 55 on the Billboard 200 but more importantly it won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album in 2006. You remember the Grammys. Used to showcase the best collection of album and song releases from the previous year from all walks of entertainment. Honestly. That’s what they used to be. Look it up. Used to be important.

I love this entire work. Unlike Tree of Forgiveness this one is primarily Prine compositions and so may be the last. It’s worth a serious listen for that reason alone. It stands on its own. This next is a typical Prine song with a sweet sad chord pattern but with biting lyrics. It’s very reminiscent of earlier stuff like Hello In There and Donald and Lydia from his first release.

“Some Humans Ain’t Human”


And this one really reminds of another live tune “Dear Abby” from his first ‘best of’ compilation Prime Prine.

“Other Side of Town”


Jump again back to 1991 and his Missing Years release. His first studio release since 1986 this recording resonated throughout the music community. By this time 19 years of Prine albums had gotten him the reputation as the songwriters songwriter. An eclectic group of artists lined up to volunteer for this one. Prine stated later the only thing they paid for was the ‘tape and the engineer’. The list included Albert Lee and David Lindley, Jackson Browne’s longtime lap steel guy. Mike Campbell and Howie Epstein from the Heartbreakers. Epstein volunteered to produce and donated the studio time. Tom Petty, Bonnie Raitt, Phil Everly and Bruce Springsteen did background vocals.

The title for the album was not referring to the years between the studio releases, but the un-recorded years between the childhood and adulthood of Jesus Christ.

“Jesus, The Missing Years”


Shiver me timbers.

Now back to 1978 and Bruised Orange. This is a fan favorite because it was the first since Diamonds in the Rough that captured John’s style. From that one “The Hobo Song”.


Finally, John Prine’s first album John Prine. If you have lasted through this column it’s only because you are a true Prine fan, and hey how ya doin. This album may be your favorite, and it’s certainly one of mine. Iconic Prine songs that were loved and he performed throughout his career. It’s on Rolling Stones list of greatest 500 albums ever. OK No. 452 but still. Released in 1971 it has “Illegal Smile”, “Sam Stone”, “Donald and Lydia”, “Angel from Montgomery” which was covered famously by Bonnie Raitt, and “Paradise” covered by everybody. This last I still perform, and it brings a tear to me eye every time 48 years later. Remember listening, that this song about the despair of old forgotten people was written by a guy 23 years old.

“Hello In There”


Diane and I have tickets to see John at Red Rocks July 28. I splurged for reserved tickets near the front because I want to see if he’s aged as badly as I have.

I spent three days in Colorado this last weekend shoveling snow and for some reason couldn’t keep this next song out of my head. I’m shoveling with one good arm (long story) and singing like Christ on a unicycle. Somethin bout singin and snow I guess. Neighbors have started a collection for my wife.


Thank you so much John.

The Cult of Bruce (and Why I'm Not a Member)

Jay Jay French

Certain bands maintain a following that is so rabid that, when trying to discuss any criticism, they have the need to bulldoze over anything other then total devotion.

Loving the Beatles, as much as I do, you would think that I would do the same if someone tells me that they don’t understand what all the fuss is about. They say to me “The Beatles are ok, that’s all” and wait for the explosion.

My reaction? Pass the sugar.

I really don’t care and have no desire to defend.

Maybe it’s like supporting General Motors or The NY Yankees. Yankee fans just shut down the conversation by saying “uhh…28 World championships, end of story.”

Yep…Beatles…most records sold, most number ones, most sociologically influential musical artist of the 20th century….on and on…

Seriously, you either get it..or you don’t.

But say anything negative about the Dead to a Dead fan and whoa..watch out.

The same can be said about Springsteen.

Up until the release of Bruce’s first album in January 1973 (the exact month that Twisted Sister started) I was always in lockstep with anything that Rolling Stone magazine told me was great. I was just of that age where that magazine and it’s 5 star reviews made me run out and buy that artist.

Sure, not always did I agree with their criticism. After all they were not kind to Jimi Hendrix’s first album, Cream’s live Wheels of Fire or the Led Zep debut, all of which I loved and RS hated, but when they supported an artist, I had to run out and buy that album!

I always prided myself as being “in the know”. People looked to me for what was happening. I knew it all…or so I thought.

The Springsteen debut changed it all.

The year was 1973, the month January.

Twisted Sister was just created in New Jersey

I first heard about Bruce from the band members of Twisted Sister, all of whom were from New Jersey (The original line up was an all Jersey band and you can watch the story of the first 10 years of Twisted Sister on our Netflix documentary We are Twisted Fu*king Sister), all of whom spent time on the Jersey shore, all of them knowing the NJ club circuit and how it worked and what it took to get out of it.

I heard about Bruce, how great his bar band was so I bought the first album.

Immediately, and I mean immediately, I thought his writing was a plain Dylan rip off of rhyme and style. Maybe to someone it was clever but not to me. I actually was offended by it and thought that Dylan would just either laugh or sue this guy. The other problem was his voice. I didn’t like it. At all.

This is a very personal opinion in that I don’t have to think you are a great singer (I love Lou Reed, Dylan, and Neil Young) and some people think they are the worst singers in the world.

I just need to feel that you are authentic.

It was obvious that I didn’t think Springsteen was.

I bought his next album and again tried to like it. Everyone around me was telling me how great he was.

Hmm…Why was this not reaching me?…this never happened before.

At this time 1973-75, I was totally immersed in Bowie, Reed, Mott, Velvets, Iggy that I wasn’t that concerned. Maybe this guy will just go away.

But no, 1975 brought with it Born to Run and according to every rock journalist (not to mention Time & Newsweek) the future of rock had arrived. I had to pay attention. I bought the album and played it. Over and over.

The first thing that hit me was the Phil Spector “wall of sound” production technique. Full of echo and chimes.

This hit me as a calculated attempt to show homage to a production legend. Maybe he really loved Phil but I began to get suspicious that everything about Bruce was just a hustle. Totally fake, like some of the characters in his songs. I played that album to death trying to figure out why I didn’t think that was the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Every time I listened it sounded like “paint by numbers” songwriting exercise. I didn’t believe any of the narratives.

The reason why I was feeling this way had nothing to do with the actual songs. I don’t have to believe a songs narrative, Bowie wasn’t from Mars, Mott wasn’t from Memphis, etc….no. It was that I was being “sold” an image that Bruce was this guy who got into his car (pick a car model), drove down a highway (pick one), grabbed his girl (name du jour), headed out (pick a direction).

I mean, it was all so cliched, so obvious…to me

But apparently no one else I knew thought this and were just Springsteen crazy.

All I heard was “you got to see him live, he’s the best”.

In 1978 I bought Darkness and then just gave up. I was never going to get this guy. So ingrained in me that his whole “blue collar, working class” narrative was totally fake.

I also didn’t understand his nickname “the Boss”.

That really pissed me off.

How is a working class hero referred to as “The Boss”?

A boss is the enemy of the working class. This just further alienated from the Cult of Bruce.

Then, in 1982 I went to see Dave Edmunds, an artist who I revere to this day. He was performing in a little club in NYC. I met Dave and his manager a couple of months earlier when we played a festival and were on the same bill. I had been a huge fan of his band Love Sculpture & Rockpile as well as his solo stuff.

Dave was promoting his new album and his new single “From Small Things Mama, Big Things One Day Come”.

It was raining that night and maybe there were 50 people in the room. Edmunds played some songs and then announced that he had a new single and the guy who wrote it was coming out to play it with him.

Out walks Springsteen (he wrote the song and I loved the song). Bruce talked about the song for a minute and then they played it. Bruce’s voice was better than expected and he was self effacing and, dare I say, charming.

I walked away that night again wondering why I don’t get this guy!

A couple of years later I was training for a marathon and listening to my FM Walkman that morning while running around the park. The DJ was playing a medley of Mitch Ryder songs that sounded like a live band recording.

It definitely wasn’t the Mitch Ryder version. In fact, to me, it was a pretty bad version of the Mitch Ryder hits. I knew these songs really well and I knew the Mitch Ryder versions.

I was wondering why they would play such a poorly performed and sung version of these songs on WNEW.

After this terrible version, the DJ played the actual Mitch Ryder versions. I was waiting to hear the DJ explain that some local bar band won a contest and the station was trying to help support them.

After the Mitch Ryder version finished the DJ said. “That was the original Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels following the incredible Springsteen & The E street band version from the No Nukes live album.


It was third rate bar band nonsense, in my opinion.

So mediocre, so flat, so uninspired.

Thus was proof to me that the Cult Of Bruce was built on sand.

Now, if anyone wanted to tell me how great Springsteen was I would just dismiss this as complete ignorance.

If I know nothing else, I know great bar bands. Bands whose expertise was forged in the fire of the club circuit.

I know it because I lived in that world for years.

The best of these bands was the J Geils Band.

That is/was real rock ‘n roll.

That was a great band.

The E Street band? Just pretending…Mediocre at best.

Flash forward to 2001.

I still had never seen Bruce & the E Street band live, and my wife, at the time working for the chairman of EMI music, was offered a pair of tickets to the HBO taping of Springsteen at Madison Square Garden. She knew I wasn’t a fan but urged me to go.

So we went.

The show may have lasted 3 hours. I wouldn’t know. I left after a little more than an hour. The sound was awful.

(4 guitar players on stage and not one was audible, a shame as I’m a fan of both Steve Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren) The Phil Spector Chimes were smothering everything, Bruce’s stage raps were Jersey Bar band 101 lame, and the band was totally average. I kept looking at my watch. My wife turned to me and said “Wow, I heard this guy was great but it’s so boring, I’d rather go home”.

And so we did. The next day, an old friend who has seen Bruce about 100 times called me. Before I told him what I thought he says “Last night was the worst show I’ve ever seen him do, I’m sorry.” I said that I thought it was pretty bad but that, to Bruce fans, they seemed to love it. In fact, I saw 18,000 white guys standing on seats (I’ve never seen so many pairs of Dockers in one place in my life) screaming “Born In The USA” with absolutely no idea that the song was NOT a patriotic anthem.

That fact actually hit me. Bruce ain’t blue collar and he ain’t USA, USA. He is in fact the opposite and that is a baffling contradiction.

There is a disconnect between what Bruce represents to many of his fans and to what he really is.

That fact only brought the fraud of his narrative back to me as to why I never got him.

Oh yeah, before I forget, I don’t like his voice. At all.

It actually makes me cringe when I hear it.

In 2004, I was managing an artist who the record label wanted to work with Steve Van Zandt.

In the studio, Steve asked me if I had ever seen Bruce and the E Street band. I told him that I hadn’t (I didn’t need to go there) and he invited me to see them play for a John Kerry benefit at the Byrne Arena in New Jersey that night.

I went, and this time I really, really wanted to like this.

The sound was better, the set was devoid of much talking as they only had about 45 minutes and Bruce and the band were fine. Not great but not bad. They played the hits and it was entertaining. Transcendent rock ‘n roll? Hardly. But not a waste of my time either.

So now, 2018,  Bruce is on Broadway and several friends have seen it.

I hear that he basically admits at some point that the whole Bruce Springsteen working class narrative was fake from the start.

Ok, I knew that it was and if it wasn’t sold to me like that, maybe then I would have not been so suspicious of the manipulation.

As it is, Bruce has created an amazing career that I respect if for nothing else, his work ethic.

I’ve played more shows than him and I know what it takes to make a career.

His left leaning political sensibilities are also something I fully support, and I will always wonder if his fans really understand his political leanings.

All of this is fine, but it will never get me to want to hear his music any more then I have to.

Whatever it is that ignites that “fan” passion just never came to me.

Over the years I have also noticed that people are no longer afraid to admit that they never were fans of his—that they never got it, thought the songs were just okay, and never understood the adulation.

It’s like an atheist in Alabama coming out of the closet!

It’s OK to say you don’t like Bruce!

Mark Hollis

Christian Hand

On February 25th of this year, the music world lost one of its most influential, mercurial, obstinate, and singular voices. Mark Hollis, of the band Talk Talk, has made some of the greatest records that you have never heard. The shadow, ripple-effect, significance of Spirit of Eden, Laughing Stock, and his eponymous final album cannot be down-played. Witness the immense out-pouring of condolences and remembrances on social media within moments of the official announcement of his passing.

I have taken the liberty, with my medium-suffering Editor’s permission, to change it up a bit in this edition of Copper, and pay tribute to Mark and the incredible art that he left in his wake.

Talk Talk
The band formed when Mark’s brother Ed decided to throw their lot in with the new “Punk” thing that was happening in the U.K. after the atomic bomb of “Year Zero” had changed the way that music FELT throughout the country. No longer was being in a band the sole auspice of the God’s of Prog and Rock that had dominated the charts for decades. All of a sudden…ANYONE could do it! And, boy, did they!

A Brief History of the Band

Well, that saves ME having to write it. Because I don’t want to tell THAT story. It’s a fantastic tale, don’t get me wrong. But, it’s not what drew me to Hollis’ particular voice. Sure, I LOOOOOOOVED the Poptastic Confectionery of “It’s My Life” and “Life’s What You Make It“, of COURSE I did, how could you not?! However, it was the discovery of 1991’s sardonically titled Laughing Stock that cemented my love for “the band.” I have put that in quotes because by the time that that record was released TT was reduced to only Mark. The other players, including his own brother, had departed, leaving just Hollis, engineer Phill Brown, and producer Tim Friese-Greene, to carry on the name and try to give the label something to work with. By the release of 1986’s Spirit of Eden, the band had already decided to no longer tour and simply put out music that they wanted to make with no concept of singles or chart placements having ANY dominion over their creative choices. Spirit of Eden was the last record they made that seemed to have even a remote chance of birthing something that radio would play. As one can imagine, this wasn’t EXACTLY what the label wanted to hear at all. However, Mark Hollis was a Coltrane fan, a lover of Mingus, Miles Davis, indeed his original idea for Talk Talk was that it be a Jazz Trio, imagine THAT, if you will, so the wishes of The Marketplace where never of any consideration to begin with.

Spirit of Eden

Coming in off of the double-platinum success of The Colour Of Spring, the now three-piece band was given a virtually unlimited budget and all the time, and rope, that they needed to hang themselves with. Gone were the synths and drum machines and in their place “real” musicians and “real” instruments. And, the most important member of the band, as far as Hollis was concerned…silence.

Hollis had been quoted on a number of occasions as saying that some of the most interesting parts of his favorite albums were the moments IN-BETWEEN the tracks. And he meant it. His perspective echoed that of John Lennon, who had famously called silence “The 5th member of The Beatles.” Silence is one of Hollis’ greatest voices. Few in modern music have used it to such beautiful effect.

The Team decamped to Wessex Studios and began the year long process of meticulously crafting together an album that would go on to sound like nothing recorded before, or since. While interviewing him for the gig at a local pub, Hollis asked Phill Brown what encapsulated his experiences of recording Hendrix, Marley, Zeppelin, and the Stones, at Olympic Studios. Brown had responded, “A one o’clock in the morning traffic session.” And that became the blue-print for the unrecorded album. If you entered the studio at ANY time of day you were greeted by the only light source emanating from a number of sound-triggered stage lights that surrounded the drum-set and an oil-wheel projector in the control room. That was all. It was this protean illumination that provided the atmosphere in which Spirit of Eden was recorded. Isolation. Claustrophobia. Darkness. And you can hear all of it in the tracks themselves.

There were also unspoken, Draconian, rules about deleting ANYTHING that was considered even remotely pop, pedestrian, or cliched from the material, almost as soon as it was put to tape. This even extended to the erasing of an entire 25-piece choir that had been brought in and recorded on one song, and whose sound had reduced one of the tea-ladies (yes, they had those…The English are VERY civilized) to tears. It was thought to be too rote and thus deleted the NEXT DAY! With no safety back-ups allowed. Done and dusted. Moving on. I don’t think even Eno would’ve had the brass ones to do THAT!

Track one, which took up all of Side 1 of the vinyl, was a gorgeous suite entitled “The Rainbow”– talk about an IMMEDIATE “Fuck You!” to EMI — and the rest of the album’s 3 songs did nothing to light up the cash registers. The record was released to thunderous silence, NOT what Hollis wanted in THIS case. And a mixed bag of critical responses. No tour. No videos. No promotion. Nothing.

And that was that. Nobody really cared…yet. After its completion Hollis stated categorically that he never listened to it again. As was his usual want, the genius had already moved on.

Laughing Stock

September 1990 saw Hollis’ return to Wessex, with Brown and Greene, to begin working on what would become the final Talk Talk record. This time, it was even more claustrophobic than the last. The lights were back. As was the oil projector. But, this time there was an additional element, Hollis’ brother Ed, the co-founder of the band, had passed away after years of struggle with addiction. Mark had become withdrawn, even more silent, spending much of the session time simply looking at his shoes and not responding to anyone. Brown’s wife had instructed him after the recording of Laughing Stock that if he ever chose to work with Talk Talk again he would have to move out of their house for the duration, which he summarily did, buying a flat close to the studio for the 7 months it took to commit the madness to tape. They have said in interviews that there were moments of laughter and levity, but in general, it was a singular, insular experience. Hollis rarely communicated with any musicians that they employed, but now he had stopped communicating with both Greene and Brown. Silence. Only the music. And what music it was.

Phill Brown ended up with 48 reels of 2″ tape from which to construct the album. Lee Harris’ drum-takes were basically 12 hour days where he played unaccompanied patterns on a kit mic’d with a single U-47 and only additional mic’s on the snare and kick. Hollis would then pick his favorite take and he and TFG would proceed to layer the additional instruments over the top of it, deleting and adding as they went. This is how Laughing Stock was built. And you can hear it in every track. The, almost psychotic, attention to detail is still shocking to this day.

The song “After The Flood” was to provide the perfect synopsis and analogy for what was occurring with each of them as the record came to fruition. Marriages were falling apart, people were experiencing mental break-downs, members of the team were quitting, and then re-joining. It was an emotionally draining experience that left Brown virtually incapable of communicating with ANYONE outside of the oppression of the room that the music was coalescing in. 4 minutes into “After The Flood” there was a 75 second space that had been left for Hollis to fill with a solo on a German made, breath-controlled, synthesizer, that appeared on many of his recordings. It was notoriously unsympathetic to the player’s wishes, unable to hold tone, key, or even a single note. The thing would jump, randomly, to an octave as it was played. Borderline useless. Hollis LOVED it. The original idea for the solo was for Mark to play a simple lead based around two notes. The instrument refused to cooperate and and Hollis began to reduce the piece down until all that remained was just one single note. A solo of a single note. Greene remembers the moment of committing it to tape as almost causing a panic attack for him. “We listened back to it”, he said “and I remember thinking, this is it. This is the end. This is as far as we can go. After one note there’s no notes. This will be the last record we make.”

And it was.

At the conclusion of the recording and mixing, the three of them, literally, put on their coats like any other day, said their goodbyes, left the studio, all went their separate ways, and went home. That was it. Laughing Stock was completed.

And, once again, no singles, no videos, no tour, no promotion. Silence.

It took Phill Brown years, and some extensive isolation tank therapy, to recover from the psychological effects of making that last record. To this day, he says that there are tracks he can’t listen to from the album due to the PTSD it brings forth. Think about that. Think about what it must’ve been like to work for 7 months in virtual solitude to such a degree that you need isolation tank therapy, even greater silence, btw, to recover from the process.

Unbelievable. All for an album. Their last album.

But, that wasn’t it. Not quite. Mark Hollis DID vanish for a bit. There were many sightings, I even remember hearing about a Twitter account where folks would post photos of such sightings. Hollis had all but disappeared. No music. No interviews. No nothing. He made quite a chunk of change from No Doubt turning “It’s My Life” into a world-wide smash, allowing him to disappear even further into mythology.

Until 1998. And then we all got to hear Mark Hollis. It had originally been called Mountains of The Moon, thank Christ it wasn’t. And it was a revelation. The first track “The Colour Of Spring” starts with almost a minute of, what appears to be, silence, and then, his voice. More fragile than ever. More pained and whispered sounding than any of us remembered. The whirring of a leslie cabinet, the only underlying tone before the piano and his voice appear. It’s flawless. Somehow Hollis had convinced Phill Brown to come and help him again, except this time they only employed a single pair of microphones to capture everything. I hate to say it, but it’s a Masterpiece. It is the obvious evolution, or possibly the devolution, of all that Mark Hollis had stood for, intended, and meant, since he had had to deconstruct the prison that 80’s Synth-Pop had placed him in.

It is incredible. It’s all that it should be. It’s a version of Jazz that jazz didn’t even know it could be. I urge you to listen to all three records. In chronological order. To see it. See the transformation. Because you will. If you have a system that you are proud of, that you think has the ability to transplant the listener to a location a million miles away from the room you have it set up in, then THESE are the records to test it with. I can’t encourage you enough. The visual aspect of these recordings will test even the best system, especially the qualities of the Mark Hollis album. Brown out-did himself.

Mark Hollis is gone now. I was deeply saddened at the news, along with most of the Industry. We had no hints. Nothing had been mentioned in any press about him being ill in any way, no warning. Nothing. We all just awoke to the headlines on our Facebook/Twitter feeds. And then the out-pouring. I wonder how Mark would’ve reacted seeing the many people, artists, musicians, known and unknown, who said that these records had touched their lives, changed them, inspired them. He probably would’ve just laughed at it all and thought we were a bunch of wankers for falling for it.

Perhaps not. We’ll never know.

Silence was Hollis’ favorite instrument. The place where he found his creative inspiration. I think it was the puzzle he was always trying to solve. Silence was the 4th member of Talk Talk…and now…all is silent.

Check out the records. I hope they are as great a gift for you as they were for me. Thanks for taking the time to let me honor one of my favorite musicians and some of my favorite music. It means a lot.

Rest in Peace, Mark Hollis. You did it. And those of us that got to experience this art are all so grateful for each moment and memory.

Brilliant innings, mate.

See you at the next one,


PS – You can find me on IG, Facebook, and here if you want any info about The Sessions and where to catch me live.

Copper at 3: the Writers Speak!

Copper at 3: the Writers Speak!

Copper at 3: the Writers Speak!

Bill Leebens

In the beginning, the idea that Copper would survive three issues seemed far-fetched. But three years? Inconceivable!

The biggest joy of the whole process has been working with a remarkable group of writers, many of whom share their thoughts here regarding their Copper experiences. Thanks to all of them!

First off, we’ll hear from the gent who inspired Copper, and named it—Seth Godin:

In search of better

Not more, simply better. More amps or more speakers won’t help. It’s the quest for a system in harmony, the chance to hear something just a little better. Thanks, Copper, for making that journey just a little more fun.
—Seth Godin

I have only the foggiest notion how long I’ve been writing a music column for Paul McGowan. I can remember the first and only thing he asked of me: to keep it real and relevant. I readily agreed, then realized I had no idea what that meant. So I’ve tried to reach out to a broad cross-section of audiophiles. Copper made my task incomparably richer, also easier. Sharing a stable with Bill, Dan, Richard, Anne, Roy, et al. bestowed both freedom and community. Thank you all! Congratulations to us!
—Larry Schenbeck

It’s not an unusual thing for a manufacturer to produce a magazine; but Copper isn’t the usual old marketing department huff, puff and bluff, but a serious attempt to put together some sage knowledge from a few audiophile apostles (or is it fossils…) in an informing and pleasing manner. Something old, something blue, and even something new!  It was an absolute pleasure to read articles that had depth, breadth, and from which I learned and gained knowledge. Hats off to the boys and girls at PS Audio to see the world past their own factory gates, and for being strong enough to publish.
—Haden Boardman

On the 3rd anniversary of Copper, what comes to mind is how wonderful it is to be associated with an extraordinary and unusual collection of thinkers and writers. There’s been something surprising in every issue of Copper.
—Dan Schwartz

Happy Anniversary, Copper! It’s been a pleasure to read you, and an honor to contribute. Since the first issue, the magazine has been a breath of fresh air on the audio journalism landscape. Bill, you’ve somehow managed to corral a very diverse group of knowledgeable opinions, right across the spectrum, while maintaining an informative, respectful and welcoming tone. I’m not sure how you did it, but it’s a lot of fun to watch Copper continue to thrive. This is what great audio writing should be. Thanks!
—Ken Kantor

Wow! Three years!?!

Since I became aware of Copper, I have read every issue (including going back to read the initial issues I had missed). In fact, after signing up, seems like I always have to read the latest issue within a few hours of receipt…

For me, it’s been the wide range of topics – well written, interesting, occasionally provocative (and sometimes just plain fun), but always informative.

Also, regardless of what’s happening in the industry, the next issue is always on time! How???

FWIW – I would gladly pay to receive them, but FREE is just fine – keep ’em coming!
—Jim Smith

In the time since I wrote for, and briefly helped with, Copper, I’ve joined a retail store and now sell PS Audio, among other brands. I’ve noticed that PS Audio customers have a deep connection with the company, and good understanding of its products and philosophy. Copper and Paul’s videos illustrate the importance of connecting with the immediate community and telling a story that’s much larger than the brand itself. I’m proud to have been a part of PS Audio’s story, however small my contribution.
—Gautam Raja

Copper is a welcome alternative voice amidst the din created by publications that use far too many words to say not very much at all. While I have been accused of that very sinon more than one occasion, I might addit is nonetheless a joy to have the privilege to occasionally contribute my attempts at wisdom to a publication that is freely given to the community with so much care and love.
—Jason Victor Serinus

Discussions of bass traps, $50 audiophile records, and vintage gear go over like lead balloons among most people I know. At the last family gathering, I withstood derision over the large size of my speakers. My wife and brother-in-law insisted that one wireless speaker sounds just as good and is no bigger than a can of tuna. That was some birthday party. Where could I go to find people who would appreciate my stories of audio trials and triumphs? I was thrilled to discover Copper and overjoyed when Bill Leebens agreed to share my thoughts with fellow audio enthusiasts.
—Tom Methans

I’m one of Copper’s naughtier contributors – I’ve owed Leebs an article for a couple of years – I consider myself fortunate to be included in such august company, especially a plethora of actual musicians … and not a few personal friends. My fave part of Copper (and I am not sucking up to the Editor) is the coverage of long-forgotten audio pioneers. Either Bill has a great memory or he’s lying about his age and is really 86.

For a free, online magazine (Bill’s inability to do layouts without lots of wasted white space, captions on the next page, etc, notwithstanding), this is a great read – which is more than I can say for most hi-fi print titles. Long may Copper conduct.
Ken Kessler   [Don’t worry, Ken—I don’t think anyone will mistake this for sucking up! Ed.]

There’s nothing more satisfying than discovering fantastic new music. Thanks for letting me share some of my recent discoveries. Support the band. Buy the merch. Own the record.

Repeat and Enjoy!
—Dan McCauley

It’s hard for me to remember what life was like before I started writing for Copper Magazine two years ago. Sure, I was a writer and musicologist, but I didn’t have such a welcoming place to share great recordings in many different styles and genres. I didn’t have a readership I could count on to offer their personal perspectives yet also be willing to consider new ones. I wasn’t part of a publication bursting with unique voices that covered all aspects of music and audio.

In a world where distinctive arts journalism feels increasingly unappreciated, Copper Magazine is a gem. And thank you, Bill Leebens, for maintaining that gem’s cut and gleam.
—Anne E. Johnson

When Bill asked me to say a few words about Copper Magazine, I sent him a note saying I was a ‘Newbie’ to the rag and could offer little in commentary. He then advised that I had written over 40 missives already, so I was hardly a ‘Newbie’.

For me, Copper is a delight. I get to write what I want and occasionally someone actually reads it and challenges me. Bill is a great editor (that means he leaves my copy alone), and is almost as much a curmudgeon as I am. The magazine, outwith* my copy, is improving and I only see good things on the Horizon. I wish Copper great success. Happy Birthday or Anniversary or whatever a three-year celebration is called.
—Roy Hall
From Roy: “It’s common in Scotland and means ‘without’ in a more elegant way. I knew you would ask.”

Copper: Three years on

I came to Copper in issue #29 after talking to Paul McGowan about the possibility of writing for this (at the time) new venture. I have known Paul going back almost 30 years-even before I worked at Lyric HiFi in NY.

I had just signed on as a columnist for Goldmine magazine. I pitched a Beatle story to the editor of Goldmine which led to a regular feature. It all started about a year earlier when I began writing a business column for inc.com. Both Inc.com & Goldmine have  pretty defined subject matter i.e. Entrepreneurship in the former, & Beatles-related stories for the latter.

When Paul suggested me writing for Copper I knew that writing about audio wouldn’t be difficult, as it has been a passion and obsession of mine since I was 15. I wanted more latitude, however. More than just a review of something like a piece of gear or a new artist release, I wanted to just meander within the musical valley but with less constriction. It could be gear. It could be music. It took a most unexpected turn when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

When I told Bill Leebens about it and that I wanted to write about it, he was totally on board with it. Writing about the diagnosis and my choices to deal with it is a perfect example of the kind of latitude I have been given and your responses elicited the kind of humanity that I knew reflected the intelligence of the Copper reader.

This is what makes writing for Copper so unique.

I can thank Paul and Bill Leebens for trusting my instincts and taste enough to let me roam and, in the process, extract the kind of comments that that many of my readers, who are as passionate as me, feel free to express.

This column is really, for me, the most fun because of that. I want the readers to suggest topics that may interest me to cover that I haven’t yet. Who knows where that will go…

Here’s to Paul, Bill & to Copper. Happy third year anniversary and to Issue #80!
—Jay Jay French

Copper is not simply a metal that we use to conduct audio signals through our systems. But an intrinsic conduit through which we explore our history and the way we feel about music. And its use here as the title for a discourse concerning the music we love and share is indeed fitting; particularly as its bright perspective shines through our daily lives to help us derive quintessential understanding, appreciation, and meaning from this – our hobby, and my profession!
—Jeremy Kipnis

We can all blame our parents for a number of our issues. And most of us blokes can lay a LOT at the feet of our Fathers. My Dad can take the blame for a couple of things; he was the one who encouraged my open mind when it came to music, and he was ALSO the one who taught me the value in quality replication of said music. I’ve been an “audiophile” for decades now and have gone through more gear than I ever thought possible. It’s been a real honor, with all of that in mind, to find myself being asked to write about my #1 Passion in a magazine supported by a company as well respected for its gear as PS Audio is. Through my bi-weekly postings I have been introduced to some brilliant readers who have said some really lovely things about what I am doing with The Sessions, and my writings about them, I don’t take it for granted. A lucky man, I am.

So, thanks to YOU for reading, thanks to PS Audio for being a cool enough gear company to want to support an on-line magazine that talks about MUSIC, thanks to my Dad for being the perfect bloke to raise someone who is addicted to this art-form, and, an extra big thanks to Bill for reaching out and asking me if I would be interested in writing for him. It’s been a privilege, and I’m sorry, Bill, for being, probably, the most high-maintenance writer you have on staff. [>cough<-Ed.]

See u at the next one,
—cjh (Christian James Hand)

PS – buy yourself a Sprout100. It’s AWESOME! [Yes, I generally edit all mentions of our stuff. I hate to dampen the wee lad’s enthusiasm—Ed.]

Ever since discovering Copper Magazine, I have not only found a medium for writing music production profiles and learning about all other related aspects of music and hi-fi audio, but have found a resource for supplying the gaps in my historical knowledge about audio and recorded sound. Thank you, Copper!
 John Seetoo

Vintage, Vintage Whine

Bill Leebens

There was a time in my life, not so long ago, when I spoke to longtime writers and editors who described the experience of cranking out an article in a rush of passion and excitement, convinced they’d produced something singular—only to discover they’d written a piece on the exact same subject, a year or two before. Back then, I laughed at those people.

Now—as the saying goes—now I are one. I have to review what I’ve already written about to ensure that I don’t blindly do it again. Somewhere, someone or something is laughing at the cockiness of the young Leebs who mercilessly mocked his elders…..

Reviewing the past can be a good thing. After all, that’s the basis of this column and all history, no?

But: looking back on the companies and characters that I’ve written about over the last three years of Vintage Whine makes me a little sad, as so many of the stories deserve more research and a more-complete telling of their tales. Some companies are so fundamental to, so inextricably intertwined with, the development of audio as a whole that they really require a multi-volume magnum opus to do them justice: the early days of Bell Labs and its commercial arm Western Electric are such a story waiting to be told. I wrote about Bell/WE back in issues 2 and 3, and barely scratched the surface.

Yes, there are books out there about Bell Labs, and I’ve read a few of them. Most are like Jon Gertner’s The Idea Factory, in that they don’t cover the early years of the Lab when it was undertaking research and development in sound—-the important stuff, as far as I’m concerned. Thanks to the American History Radio website, which I’ve mentioned before, you can actually ready important papers and articles from the Bell Labs Record. For me, and for any audio history geek, this is a treasure trove and a massive time-sink.

Another story waiting to be told is that of the whole Fairchild saga. The four articles I wrote (in issues 757677, and 78) barely scratched the surface of that remarkable group of companies. Their pro audio side alone is worthy of a book.

Sticking strictly to hi-fi, Acoustic Research—AR—deserves a book all its own. Just as Fairchild did later in the semiconductor world, AR was an incubator that developed talent and was directly connected to the birth of dozens of companies, and was largely responsible for the Cambridge area once being the hotbed of loudspeaker development. It’s unfortunate that so many of the principals— Edgar Villchur, Henry Kloss, and Roy Allison amongst them— have passed on. We need to get Copper contributor Ken Kantor’s AR stories down while we still can. The coverage in Whine (issues 5, 6, and 7) just covered the high points. [FYI: the first AR piece in Copper #5 is mislabeled. Keep reading!-–Ed.]

So what companies would readers like to know more about? I’m afraid that limitations on available source material would force me to stick to US-based companies. Don’t bother with McIntosh—our friend Ken Kessler’s already written the book on that company. I’m thinking Marantz, Fisher and Dynaco deserve a closer look, as well as the many permutations of companies associated with Irving M. “Bud” Fried. Maybe even Audio Research.

What do you think?

Thanks for reading for the past three years, and for all your feedback!

Water Lillies

Water Lillies

Water Lillies

Paul McGowan

How I Became an Audiophile

Lawrence Schenbeck

My earliest memories of listening to recorded music go back to when I was a child living in what seemed like an enormous house on an even more enormous farm in Western Nebraska. It would be fun to talk about all the adventures I had on that farm. But the truth is that, like most small children on most working farms, I was simply underfoot much of the time, reminded firmly to stay out of harm’s way, far from tractors, irrigation canals, varmints, and various dusty roads. There were butterflies, which I liked. And snakes, which I didn’t.

So I spent time indoors, listening to the radio and exploring the small number of old 78 rpm discs my parents owned. (This was the early 1950s.) I loved one or two of them madly: Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra, playing “Song of India.” The Roger Wagner Chorale singing “Coventry Carol.” Ah, the wonders of that Dorsey side—they started with Dave Tough’s opening drum vamp and went right on from there, alternating swing with suavity in a way that I still find irresistible. What I liked about the Wagner Chorale record was the mysterious harmony. How could something sound sad and joyful at the same time?



I heard those old discs on an ancient but “deluxe” radio that filled half of one wall in our living room. When we moved to town, it didn’t come with us. My parents had lost interest in listening to records, or collecting them. They had other concerns, not to mention sixteen-hour work days. Meanwhile I gradually became interested in all sorts of music: rock ‘n’ roll, of course, and classical music, ragtime, Broadway shows. Ragtime because I started piano lessons in third grade, Broadway because in fifth grade we were all taken to a dress rehearsal of South Pacific, put on by our high school. It’s still one of my favorites.

The trouble was I didn’t have a record player. So I pestered my folks until they allowed me to mow enough lawns to pay the $27.95 required for a little outfit I’d seen in the Woolworths window in Scottsbluff. Man, that made me a happy camper. The turntable was hard gray plastic, and it wobbled as it rotated, but I now had a way to play my 45s and the three or four LPs I had somehow acquired. One of those LPs was a Columbia Masterworks disc of various Gershwin works my Aunt Frances had sent me years earlier. (She lived in California and was a Rosicrucian, so that explained her interest in helping an eight-year-old develop actual taste.) One was a Mercury Living Presence recording (yes!) in glorious mono of Paul Paray conducting the Detroit Symphony in Beethoven’s Sixth. I’d picked that one up at the local Gambles Hardware store. Couldn’t get over the vivid sound those string players made. I realize now it wasn’t the most subtle or technically refined performance ever, but golly! Even on my record player, it sounded pretty good.

A year or so later, I became dissatisfied with that little record player. So: I found a big (i.e., six-inch) speaker somewhere, and I built a little makeshift cabinet for it, with room on top to drop in the turntable and amp assembly from my little record player, and I hooked up that “big” speaker to the amp. And just like that, I had a slightly better-sounding player. Wow. And hmm.

By the time I entered high school, I had made some money painting a barn. So I pestered my dad to let me blow the proceeds on stuff I’d found in the Allied Radio catalog. (Remember, this was years before every kid in America worked twenty hours a week at McDonald’s.) But how had I discovered the Allied Radio catalog?

Reader, I got myself into a lot of music and audio endeavors during middle school and later. I joined the school band (years before that made you a geek, at least in Nebraska). I formed a Dixieland jazz group. I subscribed to HiFi/Stereo Review. I joined the Columbia Record Club. I kept playing the piano. After I got a driver’s license, I would ramble down to the bus-station newsstand every couple of weeks to see if a new Downbeat had come in. I discovered great music writing by Nat Hentoff, Martin Bookspan, and others. And great music from Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk. I was the first kid in town to own a Bob Dylan record (Freewheelin’, 1963).

By the time I got that Dylan record, I had long since talked my dad into my first real setup. It was an AR turntable “with viscous damping,” an Eico ST40 stereo amp, and a pair of ridiculous triaxial speakers from Allied. We built speaker cabinets from plans published in HiFi/Stereo Review. Veneered ‘em with walnut. Made a matching rack for the amp and turntable. I loved it, even though I had continual problems with the turntable. I don’t think the “viscous damping” ever worked right. The inner-groove distortion could also be distressing. I guess this was a sign that my life as an audiophile had begun.

Here we fast-forward nearly thirty years, because for me nothing much happened in there, audio-wise. I went to college. I went to grad school. I got various jobs. Parts of my high-school audio rig stayed with me throughout those years (although I did get a nice pair of a/d/s L520’s somewhere in the 1980s, and a stereo receiver to replace my increasingly crotchety Eico amp). Meanwhile I discovered that college professors don’t make much money, especially in the arts and humanities. For a while I looked longingly at discussions of new equipment in what was now Stereo Review. Then I just lost interest. I was living in genteel poverty as a grad student in L.A. during the first flowerings of Stereophile and TAS.

Sometime in the 1990s that slumbering beast within, audiophilus obsessivus, awakened, probably when my son bestowed a few hand-me-downs on his old man. First he brought me some pint-sized Polks. Then he got me a modest new receiver with a nice little analog preamp section. I started listening to music again, and I was shocked, shocked to discover what had happened to speaker design over the years.

I started combing the internet looking for local audio dealers, people like the nice fellow in Columbia, Missouri, who had sold me those a/d/s L520s. I found some good people, along with a handful of folks who couldn’t set up a system any better than my Aunt Frances. A few proprietors seemed to be interviewing me to see if I was worthy of their merchandise. I purchased some psb towers from one of the nice dealers. Such incredible sound for so little money! (By this time I was reading the big mags and getting some sense of the expense involved in putting together a first-rate system.)

I discovered a nephew who was an acoustic engineer, employed by a venerable high-end speaker manufacturer in Massachusetts. I also discovered that even my closest friends believe Bose makes a darn good speaker. I discovered something called service. I discovered Audiogon and wasn’t quite sure what to make of it at first. I discovered paranoia and hostility in certain internet discussion spaces. I discovered critics and enthusiasts who went out of their way to sound like colorful characters, and others who hid any and all traces of individual personality. I learned that reviews can help, but listening to equipment and talking things over with a good dealer helps more.

Eventually I put together a system I enjoyed very much. It took a while, and I’m not done yet. I had neither time nor money to spare for years; now I have a little more of each. (You don’t need as much as some people think.) My love of music never went away. How could it? I taught Josquin and Stravinsky and Music of the BaAka People to undergraduates for forty years. If my high-school friends could hear my rig now!

(This piece was originally written in 2011. I’m happy to report that since then, at least two of my high-school classmates (band geeks like me) have heard my rig, and I couldn’t tear them away. We listened to Gabrieli—via Sonoma SAC001, Music for Organ, Brass and Timpani, of course—and The Carpenters Singles—which prompted them to get up and dance, right there!—and lots of other tasty music. Literally for hours. It’s nice to have good equipment, but even nicer to have friends with whom I can share it.)

June Millington, Part 2

June Millington, Part 2

June Millington, Part 2

John Seetoo

J.S.: This is for June Millington, the record producer. When making Fanny Hill, did you or Jean have any ideas that you weren’t able to try due to budget or time restraints? Were you subsequently unsatisfied with anything on the final record, like you heard a mistake you played but Richard Perry decided to leave it in? What about on other June Millington produced records?

J.M.: I don’t think there was anything we didn’t try with Richard due to budget constraints…in fact, I think the opposite is true. Because Richard was given free reign, it seemed, to experiment with and expand his production skills. He did an awful lot with Fanny kind of under the radar (by that I mean, a lot of middle-of-the-night stuff, when rates were cheaper) and under our budget. Although I’m sure it cost a lot, the advantage was that we were learning a lot, too. In fact, we were learning how to record – with established protocol. And that’s important, because recording is like running into a hall of mirrors. Endless choices! So you need to know how to make decisions, always an important life skill (in fact, I pass that on to the young women attending our Rock ‘n Roll Girl’s Camps here at IMA today).

Photo by June’s daughter, Marita Madeloni

Richard was always meticulous about everything. He heard everything, and I have that inherited skill, too. For example, because I only hear in one ear, I’m incredibly sensitive to pitch. (I leave panning up to excellent engineers, but I can hear the effect for sure – it’s essentially a volume move.)

What I don’t like, and disagree with, is when something of mine (I’m talking guitar parts) is included – or removed – without my inclusion (read, participation). Because there are so many choices, sometimes you just throw things out, or are warming up. The first time that happened to me, I had prepared parts for a song that was on our second album, which we were recording as the first was being released and we started to do a massive amount of gigs. But still, I prepared, and it was at least in 2-part harmony, which I love (three is my bliss), and I was using a Fuzz-Tone in my early stages with that device – so it was new, exciting, and provocative. I was excited and proud of what I’d done. Richard recorded it all without any real comment – but when I heard it later, he used my warm-up, in fact tuning, in the intro. I hated it then, and I hate it now. Internally, it’s embarrassing.

Opposite to that would be my solo in “Think About the Children”. That was at Apple with Geoff Emerick, and I had something specific in mind. Bear in mind that, with tape in those days, you’d have to execute pretty flawlessly in one take – you could punch in but that was dangerous, everyone had better know what they were doing. Wrong punch, lost forever! (I watched Skunk do the solo to “My Old School” and they did one punch; it was brilliant.) In this instance, it was a case of: my fingers went ahead and did their own thing. I asked Richard what he thought, because it was close, but in some subtle way so far off! But he didn’t know what I’d had in mind, and he pushed down the talk-back and said something like, “uh, I thought it was good!” So I said ok, because you could never retrieve that mistake. And I still think it was the right choice, because to this day I can’t quite figure out what I did! (The same thing happened on “One” on the FWTE album, except I didn’t do it with the producer, I was just with Lee Madeloni—Jean’s son—and one of the engineers. Sometimes you just gotta go with that first take…)

June Millington, Apple Studios, London 1971. Photo from June’s personal files.

Speaking of Jean, I don’t ever recall her having any struggles around her bass parts. I mean, she was always so good, so in-the-pocket, and brilliant, how could you really argue with that? I’m sure she made a few mistakes and they punched, but I never paid attention if that happened – I knew it was minor and they’d get the job done. She definitely knew what she was after, and we didn’t go without her – at all!

The key is pre-production. See, we’d rehearsed the songs for awhile before we went into the studio (the exception was “Charity Ball,” which we’d started in our dining room with acoustic guitars, then went into the studio and jammed, with Richard on tambourine, egging us on, and then completed at home – point is, even that was an intentional process). Even today, I prefer recording an entire album as a 2-or 3-day demo, initially, to check on arrangements, keys, parts, and sequence of songs…it’s invaluable.

I also use charts – rhythm charts, which I write myself, whether my song or not – to get into the internals of a song or arrangement. There’s just something about it that communicates, as if the spirits of the songs themselves are speaking directly to you, when it goes into your brain, out through your fingers, and onto manuscript paper like that. This, I learned from the brilliant arranger and producer Tom Sellers in 1976, when Jean and I did Ladies on the Stage (mostly in New York – Tom was from Philadelphia, and was doing arrangements for Gamble and Huff while still in high school. Absolutely brilliant, a true genius). I also try to tape everything as a song unfolds so as to catch nuances or mistakes as they happen. You’ll miss a lot if you aren’t careful, or mindful. Takes more time, but absolutely worth it.

So, pre-production. Let’s take Cris Williamson’s album Strange Paradise. I probably did most of the capturing on cassette, and listened to that (Cris isn’t so into the endless minutiae of playback; she’s more off-the-cuff and excels at that, and part of being a producer is recognizing an artist’s strong points), although when we rehearsed, that’s when we would discuss and make any changes. I probably did more critical listening in pre-production with Jackie Robbins, bassist/cellist on that project (and on Cris’ previous album, The Changer and the Changed).

By the time we got to a sort of retreat time in Oregon, to listen and make final decisions, we mostly hung out and talked about anything that interested us; we didn’t play much. One tune I loved, and still do, was “Native Dancer,” which was about the racehorse. Cris loved that horse’s spirit, and would go into rhapsody talking about what heart it had, how the races would so inspire her – I got swept up into it. We had already gone over the cello parts in California (including pizzicatos, which I always adore on recordings), so what happened was I got inside the song through her tellings, to the point where, when it got to the recording, it was just a matter of execution and capturing that very excitement and spirit – which Cris is excellent at. She usually gets it in one or two takes; three is a lot.

But believe me, with all the intense pre-production, I had the outcome in my head already, holding the final result with great intention and hearing it, the final result already accomplished as far as I was concerned — but that isn’t exactly easy. You have to achieve a high level of confidence and stamina to get there, and then still, it’s a lot of mental work (you could say stress) until – voila: there it is.

Strange Paradise was narrating the story of walking onto a hitherto-unknown land, which the emerging women’s musical landscape, with its powerful songs, political declarations, and new power structures, were bringing to the fore. It was beautiful and dangerous. Hence, the spooky, low synthesizer parts at the very beginning of the album.

We decided that it was going to be a trio album, which was Cris’ wish. With one exception: Cris wanted Bonnie Raitt to play on it, and with great effort I finally made contact – calling from a payphone in Yellowstone Park while she answered in LA. “But I’m too busy,” she declared, “I have no extra time. I can’t fly up to San Francisco.” Making a lightning-fast executive decision, I said, “Well, what if we fly down to you? Could you give us an afternoon?”

And that’s what we did. We took a day off from work at David Rubinson’s The Automatt, and with engineer Leslie Ann Jones, flew to LA with the master tapes carefully held next to our bosoms — they were so valuable, and vulnerable. Anything that demagnetizes any portion of recorded tape, that part is gone. If you want to erase a tape entirely, you degauss it using a super-magnet designed for that purpose. Leaving it by a magnet (every amp and speaker has one, that’s how they work) can have terrible consequences.

But we got to the studio just fine, the machines were aligned, and off we went. Bonnie, pro that she is, had her parts basically prepared, and it didn’t take that long. We had extra time, so she sang backup parts as well, we all went to dinner (including Jean, who stopped by, pregnant with daughter Marita), and Cris and Bonnie remain good friends. Now, that’s a women’s music story, mixed in with the highest-caliber professionalism, no matter what genre.

We can apply all the pre-production principles described above to Holly Near’s Fire in the Rain, as well as Mary Watkins’ album Something Moving. I did pre-production on Holly’s for around 3 months, first helping develop the music, then finding the right players (which involved auditioning women in San Francisco and LA), getting her agreement to record at The Automatt with Leslie Ann (which involved my negotiating a price, as they were very expensive – Santana was recording concurrent to us!), down to the very detail of auditioning and choosing Holly’s vocal mic, which involved an hour of free, but booked time; and finally, recording the entire album as a demo upstairs of the main studios, by David’s offices. It was epic. I even flew to New York to hear Holly play live at the Bottom Line, as I’d never heard her live before and thought that was critical. With all of the preparation, including having Mary Watkins orchestrate the string and horn parts, the outcome was excellent.

On Mary’s album, also recorded in San Francisco, it was a bit different because they’d already started the production in studio, but couldn’t get a snare sound for a week. They were panicked, for good reason. They called and I said, “No problem.” In fact, I get 2 (sometimes three) basics a day, so they decided to fly me out from Woodstock, where I was living. I hired a small women-owned studio to do the album as a demo anyway, got to know the material, and we went in, got the drum sound within a few hours (this is not rocket science, although it is a science) and our 2 basic a day, and off we went. It’s a great album, with the addition of Gwen Avery singing lead on one of the songs. That’s when I really got to know her and she got to trust me — we continued that way until her death a few years ago. In fact, I recorded a live show of hers on 18-track tape in the ’90s that I consider to be one of the best things I’ve ever done. But to get back to Mary’s Something Moving, that is a masterpiece. I wish more people would listen to it and, moreover, realize that I produced it!

June Millington with an ES-355. Photo by Linda Wolf.

From ’76 to ’81, I finally got a chance to produce and co-produce (Ladies on the Stage was a co-production with Tom Sellers); I learned so much. It was, truthfully, a thrill. But, at some point in every album, there is a place where everything blows up. It was Tom Sellers who hipped me to that on a cold and snowy night in Vermont, at a studio I’d discovered owned by a woman who’d somehow gotten the most awesome room and gear together (in fact, Foghat’s Fool For the City was recorded there, which had the hit “Slow Ride”) – I recommended it to Peter Jameson, who was also living in Woodstock at the time and was my best friend – and the next thing you know, there it came blasting out of the radio!

When we were finishing Ladies on the Stage, we did some end-stage overdubs and mixing up there (Suntreader), and Jean and I were fighting over the mix of the end section of “Heaven is in Your Mind”. We had gone to such trouble to layer backing vocals, some of it contrapuntal, in LA (only Cris and Vicki Randle would join us, it was controversial in women’s music to work with men at the time). Tom pulled us out in the hall and told us that bit about how every album breaks down at some point, like clockwork – and then the engineer, god bless him, came out and told us all to get lost, he knew exactly what to do and he was gonna do just that. When we heard the result an hour or two later, it was an amalgam – not exactly what any of us thought we so emphatically wanted – but it worked. And now, I can’t even remember what it was that we were so furiously fighting over. That’s just how it is. You’ve got to make decisions, and then move on.

I don’t like to tell anyone how they should do their record, especially if I’m not involved. But I do know this: it takes time to learn any craft, so put the time in. Learn how to make decisions so you can move forward with confidence; and never underestimate the power of pre-production (and chart-writing, whether you use the charts or not. Your brain will know).

Lastly, whatever equipment you have, learn how to make the best use of it! Don’t spend time yearning over what you don’t have. After all, it’s what you put into the mics and all that gear that makes all the difference – do that.

[John Seetoo’s interview with June Millington will conclude in Copper #81. Header pic is by Steve Griffith.]

The Mikado

Richard Murison

Our great Mikado, virtuous man,
when he to rule our land began
resolved to try a plan
whereby young men might best be steadied.
So he decreed in words succinct
that all who flirted, leered, or winked,
unless connubially linked,
should forthwith be beheaded.
And I am right, as you’ll agree
that he was right to so decree.

Sir William Schwenck Gilbert and Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan were first introduced when John Hollingshead, proprietor of London’s Gaiety theatre, commissioned them to write a burlesque comic opera “Thespis” to run over the Christmas season of 1871. Their collaboration proved to be more successful than anticipated, and the production ran on until Easter. However, the men then went their separate ways for several years.

By 1877 they were back together again, in collaboration with producer and impresario Richard d’Oyly Carte, and together the three of them were to dominate English comic opera – and in many ways Victorian society – for the next dozen years, churning out a total of 13 classic comic operas. These were so successful, and so particular in style, that while their approach was widely copied, their so-called “Savoy” operas still occupy a unique and distinct genre (to use a modern term) all to themselves. Most of these operas are still widely performed today, and in particular are the darlings – even the mainstays – of amateur operatic productions across the UK and elsewhere.

Of all the G&S operas, by far the most successful – and also the most sophisticated – is The Mikado, written in 1885. Gilbert’s libretti had poked increasingly unflinching satire in the eyes of the English establishment, skewering their manners and habits, and as a result they were hugely popular among the lower middle classes, who flocked to see them. But to Sullivan, Gilbert’s drafts for what became The Mikado were deemed too offensive, and he originally balked at the idea. Sullivan saw himself as a successful composer. He had just been knighted, and as such anticipated that his route to preferment would rely on the patronage of the upper classes and the pillars of the establishment, and he didn’t want Gilbert’s libretti to interfere with his prospects. At that time an exhibition of Japanese art and culture – quite an unusual and exotic thing in Victorian England – was all the rage in London, so Gilbert conveniently solved the problem by setting the opera in Japan, and did it so cleverly that one could easily satisfy oneself that it was Japanese society and manners which were being skewered. But, of course, audiences had no problem fully recognizing the satire for what it was.

Here’s an example. The opera’s main character, KoKo, in a typical piece of G&S chicanery, has been appointed Lord High Executioner as a ruse to avoid being himself executed for flirting. In his new capacity he sings a “patter song” – a G&S staple – where he sets out all the people he’d like to see lined up against the wall: “I’ve got a little list”.  Gilbert’s lyrics make unmistakable references to a number of prominent characters and character types in the London society of 1885, but it is a common affectation in modern productions to update the lyrics in order to make the list a little more contemporary. For example, here is Eric Idle’s rendition of “I’ve got a little list” in the English National Opera’s 1985 production of The Mikado, where KoKo is presented as a politician on the stump:


The Mikado himself is actually a minor character in the opera. He is the Emperor of Japan and is all-powerful, dispensing laws and justice according to whim. He sees himself as an enlightened and benevolent ruler, but in practice is just another run-of-the-mill despot with a cruel streak of which Idi Amin would have been proud. Yet, as he aims to set forth and catalog his lengthy list of virtues and accomplishments, he finds himself being routinely barged out of the spotlight by the formidable Katisha, his “daughter-in-law elect”:

Mikado:     From every kind of man obedience I expect! I’m the Emperor of Japan, and …
Katisha:     I’m his daughter-in-law elect. He’ll marry his son – he only has one – to his daughter-in-law elect.
Mikado:     My morals have been declared particularly correct…
Katisha:     But they’re nothing at all compared to those of his daughter-in-law elect. Bow!! Bow!! To his daughter-in-law elect.

Katisha is absolutely the best character in the entire opera. If I was putting on a production of The Mikado, it would be built around Katisha. Auditioning for the part would be very simple. I would line up all the aspiring contraltos and choose the one who could sing the words “Bow!! Bow!!” the loudest. I didn’t include a clip of the above because I couldn’t find a Katisha that meets my lofty standards!

One memorable character in The Mikado has gone so far as to donate his name in perpetuity to the English language. Pooh-Bah is a self-important functionary whose many formal titles include Lord High Everything Else. Pooh-Bah personifies the bureaucrat who occupies a high position with wide-ranging authority. We’ve all come across a “grand Pooh-Bah” at some point in our careers, but it was Sir William Schwenck Gilbert who invented the original! At one point in the Mikado, KoKo – the Lord High Executioner – is expected to have carried out at least one execution, but hasn’t. So when The Mikado unexpectedly demands to hear the gory details, he and his friends, including Pooh-Bah, have to come up with an impromptu account of a fictitious beheading. Although they all nominally stick to the story, each of them can’t help but exaggerate a little, in a self-serving way. And when it comes to Pooh-Bah ….

Now though you’d have said that head was dead,
for its owner dead was he,
it stood on its neck, with a smile well-bred
and bowed three times to me!
It was none of your impudent off-hand nods
but as humble as could be.
For it clearly knew
the deference due
to a man of pedigree!


Arguably, all the best operas feature a really good arch-villain – consider Scarpia of Tosca, Iago of Otello, or Don Pizarro of Fidelio – and Katisha is the arch-villain of The Mikado. One of Katisha’s arias serves as a perfect illustration of how the talents of Gilbert and Sullivan come together to achieve a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Katisha makes her entrance at the end of act one, storming in like a category 5 hurricane to interrupt what appears to be the act’s up-beat finale. “Your revels cease!!!”, she thunders, “Assist me! All of you!”. She intends to marry Nanki-Poo, but discovers that Nanki-Poo is instead marrying Yum-Yum, scuppering her plans. Katisha simmers.

But before events unfold and run their course, Gilbert provides Katisha a short and poignant aria to express her emotions. And here is the brilliance of Gilbert. Instead of writing a villain’s lament for her to deliver, where she might bemoan how all her plots and schemes have failed her, he instead produces a deeply dignified and heartfelt aria, one that would normally be reserved for a benighted heroine. The only concession to villainy is that he keeps it short, so that we do not develop any more sympathy for Katisha than would be altogether appropriate:

The hour of gladness
is dead and gone;
In silent sadness
I live alone.
The hope I cherished –
all lifeless lies.
And all has perished,
all has perished,
save love, which never dies!

How does Sullivan elect to score this sad song? Sullivan was a masterful technical composer, and one of the attributes of the Savoy operas is that the overall musical style is far from being a homogenous expression of “Sullivan”. He enjoys inserting passages in the style of well-known composers, or musical tropes of the day, and he delivers these with genuine skill, perfectly integrated into the fabric of the opera. They sometimes appear in specific response to the libretto, but as often as not he would just pop something in when you least expect it. In this case, Katisha’s short aria pays homage to Schumann, and could easily pass for one of the German composer’s works of classic Lieder. Just imagine it, if you can, sung in German with a simple piano accompanist, in a salon somewhere in Victorian England. Sullivan’s orchestration even manages to sound like a transcription of a Schumann piano accompaniment. Here is Monica Sinclair in a recording from 1956 with the Pro Arte Orchestra, conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent (who, incidentally, was for a time the musical director of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company).

00:00 / 01:04

The Mikado raises the genre of comic opera to pretty much its grandest level. Gilbert’s libretto is keenly observed, and Sullivan’s music matches it to perfection. In fact, the contributions of each are so exceptionally well crafted that both Gilbert and Sullivan began to imagine that it was their particular contribution – and not the other’s – that was primarily responsible for their enormous success. In reality, it was the peerless combination of the two that produced the creative pinnacle of The Mikado.

The partnership only lasted a dozen years, from 1877 to 1890. There was the one early opera from 1871, and two later ones in 1893 and 1896, neither of which achieved great success. But the core of 11 comic operas remain in widespread and continuous production in English-speaking countries worldwide, and even in translation. The two men generally got on well, but towards the end relations got a little strained as each became more convinced that the other was receiving an undue proportion of the credit for their combined work. This was exacerbated by Sullivan’s knighthood in 1883, at the height of their popularity. Gilbert himself wasn’t knighted until 1907, shortly before his death. [I should point out that, at the time, a knighthood for ‘contributions to music’ was a well-established basis for recognition, whereas ‘contributions to drama’ was not. When Gilbert finally received his knighthood, his was the first ever for ‘contributions to drama’.]

Additionally, relations became fractious between the pair and their partner, producer/impresario, Richard D’Oyly Carte. D’Oyly Carte’s name is forever associated with the opera company that bears his name, and which is the spiritual home of Gilbert & Sullivan. His purpose-built theatre, The Savoy, lent its name to Gilbert & Sullivan as a genre – they are widely known as the “Savoy” operas. D’Oyly Carte was in fact quite a slippery customer, and would not have found himself out of place in today’s world of music promotion and management. Gilbert ended up suing him, an episode known as “The Carpet Affair”, essentially for mismanaging moneys that were due him and Sullivan. This lawsuit was a major factor in the split between Gilbert and Sullivan, the latter being firmly uncomfortable with suffering the social indignity of being a party to a tawdry lawsuit. In the end Gilbert did win the lawsuit, but their partnership came to an end.

It was inevitable that, in the final assessment, the legacies of both men were intertwined with the legacy of the Savoy Operas, and neither man’s names see frequent mention outside of that context. Gilbert produced other written works – including other libretti. Sullivan wrote other music – including other operas. But neither achieved any significant recognition for their ‘solo’ careers. By all accounts they spent their last 10 years on poor personal terms, although Gilbert sought to dispel that notion. Sullivan, the younger of the two, suffered poor health throughout his life, and died in 1900, aged 58. Gilbert passed away in 1911, aged 74.

I included a couple of YouTube clips from the 1985 English National Opera production of The Mikado, famous for starring Monty Python’s Eric Idle as KoKo, and directed by the much-lauded Dr. Jonathan Miller. This production places The Mikado in a 1930’s upper-class English setting, eliminating all pretense of being Japanese, up to and including sarcastic reactions to Japanese references in the libretto. The principal soloists are first rate, including Lesley Garrett (who left a successful career as a top-tier soprano to become a TV presenter) and Dame Felicity Palmer, who upstages Idle as Katisha. The production does have its weak points. Idle’s poor singing fails to compensate for his strong stage presence, a contrived “false start” of KoKo’s entrance in Act I falls flat on its face, and the dancing/choreography is particularly laughable throughout, but on balance it was an entertaining production which I found very enjoyable. [Surprisingly, the quality of the alternative choices on YouTube rather disappoints.] So here it is in its entirety on YouTube, one video for each of the two acts.  Enjoy:


Johann Adolf Hasse

Anne E. Johnson

When your wife is a famous soprano and your best friend is Europe’s most sought-after librettist, you’re likely to have one heck of an opera-writing career. That certainly held true for German composer Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783), who was quite a big deal in his day.

He started out as an operatic tenor in Hamburg, but soon made the best possible choice for anyone who wanted to flourish in opera in the early 18th century: He got out of Germany. Italy was the place to be, so he hightailed it to Naples. By 1725 he’d composed a short work for singing superstar Farinelli, which landed him plenty more commissions. J.A. Hasse had arrived, and all of Western Europe wanted him.

Although he also wrote a fair amount of sacred vocal music, Hasse was best known for his approximately 50 operas and opera-like works. Unfortunately for his legacy, he was the prefect representative of galant pre-classical style, meaning that his popularity plummeted as soon as the new cool kids (Gluck and Mozart in particular) introduced the world to more experimental harmony, form, and literary topics. Today Hasse is considered specialized repertoire, with only a few recordings coming out each year.

One recent offering is by countertenor Filippo Minecca, with backing from the ensemble Il gioco de’Matti. The title Arcadian Cantatas (Pan Classics) refers to the miniature secular chamber operas known as cantatas in the 18th century (quite a different genre from what J.S. Bach and other Lutheran composers called cantatas).

Minecca’s male alto voice is captivating, and the ensemble provides him with graceful support.  Consider this aria from a cantata called Oh Dio! Partir conviene (Oh, God! If he should leave…). These short works didn’t have much in the way of plot. Here’s the entire synopsis of this cantata from the website HasseProject.com: “Mirzia is our heroine and her erstwhile lover is forced to be separated from her. Oh, the anguish!!” This ain’t Shakespeare. But the ornamented vocal writing is delightful, and a real challenge to the performer.


Like any composer with courtly patrons, Hasse often needed to write instrumental works, too. Ensemble Il gioco de’Matti made the reasonable guess that the recits and arias of a sung cantata might have been interspersed with the dance-inspired movements of a Baroque-style sonata. The Allegro from Hasse’s Op. 1, No. 1, fits the bill, and so they included that, featuring the energetic, virtuosic flute of Giulia Barbini.


In her new Hasse album, Arie d’opere (Tactus), Venetian soprano Elena De Simone takes on arias from meatier Hasse works, mainly opera seria, some of which no longer exist in complete manuscripts. L’Ulderica, for example, was premiered in 1729, but we know so little about it that even the librettist’s name has been lost. Yet the aria “Fissa né sguardi miei” (Fix neither my looks) survives.

I wish De Simone and the instrumentalists of Il Mosaico made me feel that this was better news. But the ensemble playing has ragged edges, and De Simone, somehow always at the bottom of her range, wobbles and waddles through the intricate melody line.


She fares slightly better in this aria from Tito Vespasiano, an opera with words by the celebrated librettist Pietro Metastasio, who often collaborated with Hasse and was his lifelong friend. De Simone’s long notes and higher pitches seem controlled at first, but she quickly begins to over-sing.


On a recent Profil Records release, the German group Cappella Sagittariana Dresden takes a different approach to preserving Hasse’s output: They have recorded an entire opera. Attilio Regolo is a three-act work from 1750 with a Metastasio libretto, telling the story of a Roman soldier held prisoner in Carthage. The leading lady, his girlfriend Attilia, was originally played by Hasse’s wife, Faustina Bordoni.

It’s appropriate that a Dresden ensemble has made (to my knowledge) the only complete recording of this opera, considering that Hasse composed it for the Dresden court. This recording actually captures a 1997 live performance conducted by Frieder Bernius, although it was not released until 2018.

Unlike the overtures of later operas, in the Baroque and Pre-Classical periods composers normally opened their operas with sinfonias. These orchestral movements differ from overtures in that they aren’t as obviously preparing the audience emotionally for the story to come. (A huge exception to this is Handel, who knew how to take dramatic advantage of a sinfonia, especially in his oratorios.)

Here’s the Act 1 Sinfonia from Attilio Regolo, rendered bravely by the Cappella Sagittariana. My heart aches for the oboists who had to surmount all those jagged 16th-note triplet passages. The contrasting section, starting at 2:21, allows the whole orchestra to relax into a more elegant style.


This time the soloist is a coloratura soprano, Carmen Fuggiss. This philosophical Act I aria, “Sempre e maggior del vero l’idea d’una sventura” (The idea of a misfortune is always greater than the truth), is particularly interesting for Hasse’s use of quick, biting syncopations known as Scottish snaps because the technique reminded musicians of bagpipe ornaments. Henry Purcell helped to popularize these in the late 17th century. Figgiss and the Cappella spin out the spritely aria with panache.


Since opera’s invention in the late 16th century, it has featured choral writing. Hasse’s full-scale operas are no exception. In this Act III chorus, Bernius does a fine job balancing the small vocal ensemble with the instrumental lines that double or decorate the vocal parts. You’ll notice that, compared to a Handel or Bach choral movement, this one has very little complex counterpoint. That’s a sign of changing tastes in the pre-classical period.


There’s one more new Hasse recording to mention, Venetian Ballads. Barcaroles from the Walsh Collection (G&G Classics). I went through a complicated series of reactions to this album. First, I was annoyed that the singing sounded so amateurish (if passionate). Next, I was grateful that somebody, anybody, had bothered to record these lovely little musical bonbons.

And finally, I thought about who would have sung them in Hasse’s day. Probably not the finest singers in Italy. They were dainty amusements, nice to do at parties. This may in fact be a historically authentic performance!

The album features a host of singers, but I’ll leave you with just two examples. Try to focus on the pieces more than on the singing, and imagine yourself perched on a velvet settee in an exquisitely appointed parlor.

The first is soprano Anna Sanachina:


And here’s tenor Andrea Biscontin, to further entertain you while you sip your espresso (an exotic treat in mid-18th-century Italy!) from a gold-rimmed porcelain cup.

Reaching Inside

Dan Schwartz

Bear with me; I’m going to talk about myself — again.

I’ve been somewhat ill lately and in between bouts of sleep, left with a bit of time to think — or rather, to observe my thoughts running rampant. I won’t get into what led to this, but I suddenly remembered something that Rick Turner once said about me online, about 15 or so years ago.

For those interested but not following along: I met Rick in 1973 when he was the head of Alembic, the most advanced maker of electric instruments (instrument/sound system makers to the Grateful Dead, among many others). I’ve referred to him in an article as Guru #1, the man who showed me what was possible with tone and reproduction of signals. (John Curl used to design for Alembic at the time). I didn’t know it at the time, but it was my introduction to high-end concepts. In the years since, he’s built a number of remarkable basses for me (and he really should be writing for Copper).

What did he say? I paraphrase:

“Dan knows better than anyone I’ve ever met how to pick up a different bass and find a different musician inside.”

And Rick has met a lot of bassists.

I’ve had a lot of years to think about that. I assume it’s true, simply because Rick knows me so well. But I had never thought about my own playing like that before — or any way, for that matter. So, all these years later, I want to explore what that might mean.

Over the course of a year, fifteen years ago, “the boys” and I were set up in a studio in the Cahuenga pass doing a bunch of records, mostly for Capitol. In that time, we did our part of Rosanne Cash’s Black Cadillac, experimental recordings for Dhani Harrison, as well as records for Sierra Swan, Annie Stela, Toby Lightman, and probably a couple others. I had brought along 25 or 26 basses, and know that I used at least 15 of them. What was I after?

Obviously, tone — but not only tone. There’s a physicality — a tactile feedback loop — that an instrument can give you. For those who don’t know, there are two basic types of string: round wound and flat wound — there are variations, but that’s the essential. A round wound is like a fat classical guitar string, and a flat wound is wound such that it’s smooth to the touch. In general, flats are less bright-sounding than rounds, especially once broken in, but they also have a much higher tension, and tension is one key to how they feel. (I should add that my preferred strings, Thomastik-Infeld Jazz series, both rounds and flats, are much closer to each other than other brands of rounds and flats.)

And then there’s the neck of an instrument — I’ve written about them before. They come in all sorts of shapes, sizes (both length and width) and usually two or three scale lengths: 30 & ½” and 34” are the most common, but 32” aren’t unusual and Rickenbackers are typically 33”. And then there’s action: how high the strings are off of the neck, which is part of how you set up the instrument.

And then: you’ve got picks and fingers. Many people prefer one rather than the other. In general, I don’t. There’s plenty of variation in thickness of picks, too.

And then… you’ve got hollow-body instruments and solid-body instruments. I imagine some players aren’t sensitive to the feedback that the resonance of the body can convey into one’s own body, but that’s not me.

All these factors add up to what I referred to earlier as a feedback loop; how the instrument feels to play. Then of course there’s the variation in pickups and electronics.

After that, how one makes the choice: I have no clue — it’s intuitive. But all these things go into it. It’s something in how one hears the music, and that feedback loop that one seeks out. I admit, I find it frustrating to go to a gig having chosen wrong, knowing that I’ve got just the thing at home. But that’s usually not a problem when recording.

So as an example: three of my instruments, all very different, and all set up totally differently. There’s a ’59 rosewood-fingerboard Fender Precision, a solid slab with reasonably high-tension flat-wounds and somewhat high action (in fact, I keep a really heavy set of strings in the case, in the event Klaus Voorman comes to town and wants to borrow it again — despite it having conventionally heavy strings, he complained that they were too light). This bass is sorta hard to play — deliberately so. I usually play this one with a fairly heavy pick.

Contrast that with a ’67 Guild Starfire II bass, a hollow-body bass with a short-scale neck and very easy-to-play Thomastik-Infeld low-tension, round-wound strings. I usually play this one with my fingers.

Third, the Phil Lesh bass, a fretless ’68 Guild M-85, deep-bodied completely hollow neck-through-the-body bass (one of kind) with Rick’s extremely low-tension giant classical guitar strings, usually played with the side of my thumb.

Now I imagine there might be players who have one approach and just try to impose their will on a bass, whatever style it is (I certainly have to give a moment of training to just about everyone who plays my Guild fretless; no one has yet to approach it with appropriate sensitivity.) But my approach is to come at the bass as a partnership — to find out what it does exceptionally well and try to bring that out. If one does that, one almost inevitably has to play completely differently, or in Rick’s phrase: find a different player inside you

Having that much choice can let me down on occasion, though. It’s rare, but it happens. On Rosanne Cash’s Black Cadillac, there’s a song called “Dreams Are Not My Home”. The bass I picked when we tracked the song was an early ’60s Hagstrom medium-scale (32”) bass, a Coronado IV. I could feel something wasn’t quite right during the tracking. When we heard playback, everybody was very happy, but I scrutinized it with headphones and I could hear that the bass was consistently laying a bit too far back on the beat – a result of the low-tension strings and how hard I was playing.

Thus began a months-long campaign on my part to be allowed to redo the bass. It took some convincing, because, again, everyone was happy, and it meant studio time, my time, engineer time: 2 or 3 thousand bucks on what was a pretty low-budget album.

On the day, I sent everybody to lunch, Bill, Rosanne, and Julian, the A&R man. I just wanted to cut the track with the engineer, Mimi. I used a ‘62 Fender Jazz Bass with high-tension strings, belonging to Julian . And it worked — I was right this time. When they came back from lunch, everybody was ecstatic. That slight difference in where I was able to place the bass note changed the entire perception of the song. Whew!

I guess that this “theory” of playing has been born out over the years in the recordings I’ve done and in how appropriate each sound, and approach, and instrument is to the task.

Or at least, those are my thoughts today, and I’m sticking with them for now.

PS – I sent this to Rick, who commented:

“I have one other thought, and that is choosing the bass for the particular sonic slot it fits into for a particular song and other instruments being used.  Kind of like choosing an upright or a grand piano, a big, boomy guitar or a small bandwidth, limited one.”

In other words, context too.

...And Now We Are Three

...And Now We Are Three

...And Now We Are Three

Bill Leebens

Back in my younger days—say, the fall of 2015—Paul McGowan came to me and spoke six fateful words:

“I want to do a magazine.”

I don’t recall my exact response, but I’m pretty sure it included an “f” and the word “insane”.

Luckily, Paul was and is used to my outbursts. He smiled, and laid out his plan: build an audio community unlike any other. He envisioned a different kind of audio magazine, one without reviews, without any product features. A place where knowledgeable musicologists and techies could and would write about what they knew. This wasn’t to be about PS Audio, at all, but about the great variety of audio technologies and music that fascinate so many of us.

As it became apparent that the responsibility for this then-unnamed magazine would be mine, I felt the combination of elation and severe nausea that most of us have experienced when approaching an exciting project, and have absolutely no idea how to do it. Sure, I’d written, ghost-written, rewritten, and edited as part of my work-life for decades—but this was a bigger deal.

Soon enough, things began to fall into place for our regular columns: given my cranky nature and my experience with vintage audio, The Audio Cynic and Vintage Whine were naturals.

Professor Larry Schenbeck was already writing for the PS monthly newsletter; he would write about Classical and serious modern music for the new mag.

“What’re you gonna write about, Larry?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s not a problem—there’s lots to write about. Anything but Tchaikovsky. There’s Too Much Tchaikovsky.” And so Larry’s column was named.

Richard Murison is one of the brightest guys in any field, expert in both technology and music, and stands out even amongst the many bright folk in audio. Richard is far more civil than most of those bright people —helpful for an insecure new Editor—  and given his ability to state a case, then tear it apart and argue the exact opposite, coupled with his experience in digital audio—the punnish Quibbles and Bits seemed fitting.

Dan Schwartz is not just an insanely-accomplished musician, not just an excellent writer, but an experienced audio writer, as well. Dan tends to, shall we say, agonize over things—–so Music, Audio, and Other Illnesses seemed appropriate.

Our friend and mentor Seth Godin suggested that the new mag needed an open-ended, metaphorical title, not one that was boringly nailed-down. “Copper” brought electronics and power to mind—so Copper it was, and is. Aside from mining-industry folk thinking we’re a trade magazine, it’s been a good name, one I’m proud of. Seth also joined us for the first eight issues; I never quite grasped what the name of his column, Hobgoblin, was intended to evoke—but there it was.

And when our first issue came out on March 7, 2016, that was the group at the beginning.

Larry, Richard, and Dan are still with us faithfully; Richard hasn’t missed a single issue, God bless him, and Larry’s not far behind. Others have joined the party: the inimitable Woody Woodward, hater of commas and master of profanity, joined early on in issue #2; our resident rock star and obsessive audiophile Jay Jay French came on in issue #29; musicologist and jill of all trades Anne E. Johnson joined us in issue #30 and hasn’t missed one since; world-traveler teller of tales and stirrer of shite Roy Hall joined us in issue #37, after two years of cajoling on my part; and our most recent regular, Christian James Hand, the world’s oldest teenager, joined us in issue #61 and brings the perspective of a musician and producer to the analysis of popular music.

Through it all, the Sterling Drive Irregulars have been an important part, with numerous contributions from Jim Smith and John Seetoo in the forefront; other faithful friends have included Scott McGowan, Darren Myers, Dan McCauley, Duncan Taylor, B. Jan Montana, Tom Methans, Andy Benjamin, Chloe Olewitz, Ken Kantor, Ethan Winer, Jason Victor Serinus, Fred Schwartz, Galen Gareis, Gautam Raja, Ken Kessler, Haden Boardman, Vade Forrester, and a whole bunch more. My thanks to each and every one of you, including the many one-time contributors I haven’t mentioned. Respect is due to the still-timely work of Charles Rodrigues.

Special thanks to Paul McGowan for getting the whole thing started, and for allowing me to work with a fascinating group of writers and artists. The recent arrival of Maggie McFalls as Assistant Editor has simplified my life immensely, and has allowed me to focus more on the big picture, and look for even more talented contributors.

We’re not done, not by a long shot. In the reasonably-near future (fingers crossed), Copper will undergo a major rework to make it more like a “real” magazine, and we hope to have all our content indexed and cross-linked to allow binge-reading of your favorite writers.

Finally, a Tip of the Leebens Lid to Cartoon Bob D’Amico, who has brought us the misadventures of Nipper and Louie on every single issue, starting with #1, and helped develop Copper into a welcoming destination for our readers.

At the beginning, three issues seemed like an unattainable goal. Here we are, three years on. It’s hard to believe.

Thanks to all our readers for your support. Be assured that the best is yet to come.

Cheers, Bill/Leebs

Jackson Browne

Anne E. Johnson

From mourning dying love affairs to raging against the political machine, Jackson Browne has found countless ways to express his discontent in song. Given his huge popularity in the ʼ70s and ʼ80s – not to mention the fact that he’s currently on tour in 2019 – it’s clear that a lot of people connect with his sadness and anger.

Raised in LA folk scene, Browne played his songs at places like the famous Troubadour before joining the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band briefly in 1966. But he longed for a solo career, and NYC was the place to be. So, off he went to Greenwich Village.

His simple, heartfelt style soon caught the ear of a young talent manager named David Geffen, who was determined to help Browne land a sweet record contract. When nothing suitable materialized, Geffen’s reaction was completely on-brand: He and his partner started their own record company.

So, Browne signed with the shiny, new Asylum Records and put out his debut, Jackson Browne, in 1972. It must have rankled Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records every single time he heard the hit single “Doctor, My Eyes” on the radio; he’d refused to sign Browne the year before.

That first album’s closing song, “My Opening Farewell,” is a fine introduction to Browne’s beautiful, habitual melancholy.


One indicator that an artist will be important long-term is his or her willingness to seek out and work with gifted, like-minded colleagues. Browne dove deep into the singer-songwriter community for his second album, For Everyman (1973). The team of musicians playing or singing on it include David Crosby, Joni Mitchell, Glenn Frey, and Elton John (using the pseudonym Rockaday Johnny).

Besides the folk and rock influences on Browne, there’s no denying a wide streak of country. Here’s Bonnie Raitt singing backing vocals on “The Times You’ve Come”:


No less important than the stars in the studio, session stalwart David Lindley also joined the recording of For Everyman – the first of many collaborations with Browne — on electric, acoustic, and slide guitar, plus electric fiddle.

Browne had arrived, and 1974’s Late for the Sky was his biggest seller yet, hitting No. 14 on the Billboard pop charts. Its best-known single is the wistful “Fountain of Sorrow.” (If you’ve never heard Joan Baez’s recording of that, do yourself a favor!)

The seven-and-a-half-minute title song was hardly a candidate for radio play, but its instrumental arrangements are especially nice. That’s Lindley on electric and lap steel guitars, and Jai Winding’s long organ tones give the song a kind of horizon view.


The sorrow in Browne’s lyrics was not always the stuff of his imagination. His first wife committed suicide not long before the release of his fourth album, The Pretender, in 1976. This scant collection of eight songs reflects what must have been painful times leading up to the tragedy.

Those cellos that open “Sleep Dark and Silent Gate” prepare you for the depth of heartache in store. But the art of orchestration relies on balance for its strength. I find the soaring violins and crashing drums toward the end to be a step too far into sentimentality.


The public gobbled up all that anguish. Browne’s next two albums, Running on Empty (1977) and Hold Out (1980) each did better than the last, with Hold Out remaining Browne’s only release to hit No. 1.

At this point, his output had slowed to an album every few years, and the more relaxed pace let him maintain his success. Lawyers in Love (1983) was another top-ten record, with fully half of its tracks released as singles.

“Knock on Any Door” was co-written with legendary session guitarist Danny Kortchmar (who, interestingly, does not play on this album) and keyboardist Craig Doerge. The drummer is Russ Kunkel, who keeps coming up in this column because he’s played with so many of the greats. You can tell we’re in the ʼ80s by the brightness and tightness of the sound production.


The following albums find Browne preoccupied with politics. Sadness has turned to anger – sometimes bafflement – at the state of the world and the inaction or irresponsible actions of its leaders. Oliver North was in the headlines in the late ʼ80s, and to express his disapproval on the 1989 album World in Motion, Browne borrowed a rebel’s words. “My Personal Revenge” is a setting by Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy of a (translated) text by Sandinistas co-founder Tomás Borge. Browne keeps the arrangement simple to let the words speak for themselves.


Time takes its toll on everyone’s perspective, and 1993’s I’m Alive also offers a new hue of sadness to Browne’s palette: nostalgia. The songwriter is joined by old friends Don Henley and David Crosby for “All Good Things.”


Probably the most remarkable thing about Looking East (1996) is that Browne employed 22 people just to assist on vocals (not all at once, but still!). Not surprisingly, this album features a rich and varied sound. The largest coalition of singers is on the sarcastic “Information Wars,” using those voices in groups that seem to represent the diversity of America’s population. The arrangement, with elements of electronica, jazz, and African music, is more interesting than the heavy-handed lyrics.


Unlike, say, James Taylor, Browne does not have an obvious and long-standing debt to the blues. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t appreciate the genre, as he proved on his 2002 album The Naked Ride Home. “For Taking the Trouble” features master blues guitarist Keb’ Mo’. It’s not a particularly bluesy tune, but that lonesome guitar sound is a valuable addition. (The repeating riff’s melodic similarities with Rufus Wainwright’s “Barcelona,” recorded four years before in 1998, always strike me.)


Browne’s most recent album is Standing in the Breach (2014). While his absorption of politics still flavors many of his songs, he also deals with other topics. Like love.

Although most people think of Woody Guthrie primarily as a folk singer, he also wrote lots of free-verse poetry. Browne and bassist Rob Wasserman have set to music an excerpt from Guthrie’s touching and intimate 1943 poem, “You Know the Night.” The song has a driving rhythm pleasingly reminiscent of Johnny Cash.


Maybe it’s Browne’s age, but he finally seems willing to let in a glimmer of happiness.