Issue 94

In the Air Tonight

In the Air Tonight


Welcome to Copper #94!

As this issue goes live, I'll have just returned from a quick trip to NY and back----so sorry, no analysis of the Phil Collins song. I'll leave that to our busy friend, Christian James Hand.

In this issue, Professor Larry Schenbeck looks at copycats---long before the "My Sweet Lord" debacle; Dan Schwartz examines an amazing gift from a famous friendRichard Murison explores his family tree; Roy Hall remembers his (very active!!) dating life; Anne E. Johnson’s Off the Charts brings us lesser-known cuts from Siouxsie and the Banshees; J.I. Agnew goes into meticulous detail on the meticulous process of record quality control; Woody Woodward begins a new series on guitar god Jeff Beck; Anne’s Something Old/Something New brings us several recent recordings of Haydn Symphonies; the batting average of Tom Gibbs' record reviews drops from .800 last issue to .666 in this issue; and I  look at inevitability in The Audio Cynic, and examine direct-drive turntables in Vintage Whine.

I'm pleased to welcome a new contributor: Bob Wood will be telling stories of his long career in radio, and as a voice-over artist. I think you'll enjoy Bob's True-Life Radio Tales.

Rocky Mountain Audio Fest is the subject of a feature, written by moi.

And finally----

Copper #94 wraps up with Charles Rodrigues on divine intervention, and another stunning Parting Shot from our friend, James Schrimpf.

Until next time,


Milky Way, Patagonia Mountains

Milky Way, Patagonia Mountains

Milky Way, Patagonia Mountains

James Schrimpf

Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad

Tom Gibbs

I’ve just started working with an independent jazz distributor from NYC, Jim Eigo with Jazz Promo Services. I’m highlighting several of his recent and upcoming releases in this issue; there are a ton of independent jazz artists out there that get next to zero mainstream coverage. And deserve so much better than that. I hope you enjoy!

Dave Miller Trio – Just Imagine

 The Dave Miller Trio are regulars on the jazz club scene in the San Francisco/Northern Californa beat. A New Yorker by birth, Dave started plinking the ivories on the family piano at age three, and trained as a clasical musician into his teens. When he suddenly shifted gears and followed his love of jazz, slumming ever since nightly in small clubs, with his day job as a lawyer paying the bills. While his discography consists of a few albums as a leader, most of his recorded work has been as part of the backup band to talented Bay Area jazz singer Rebecca DuMaine—who also happens to be Dave’s daughter! 

Dave’s new album, Just Imagine, is a tribute to one of his idols, the jazz legend George Shearing; this year marks the centennial of his birth. Just Imagine is not so much a compilation of songs made famous by Shearing, but more a selection of rarities and other obscure songs that Shearing often performed in his shows. The trio nails their performances on that account; despite my having a fairly extensive jazz collection, there are at least a half-dozen songs here that I’m completely unfamiliar with! From the opening notes of Billy Taylor’s “One for the Woofer”, it’s obvious that Dave Miller’s intricate playing is not at all derivative of any one particular style: he’s got some great chops! Another great tune—but also previously unknown to me—is Ray Bryant’s “The Bebop Irishman”, where there’s some really swinging interplay between Miller and drummer Bill Belasco, who really pounds those skins! George and Ira Gerswin’s “A Foggy Day” starts out like many a recording, where Dave Miller offers a contemplative opening on piano; you’re expecting the rest of the trio to join in. But they never do, it’s an entirely solo reading, and Dave Miller really shows his craftiness and creativity here—did I mention that this guy completely swings, and can really play the piano? And I love any period Bill Evans; especially one of his last recordings, You Must Believe in Spring. Where he starts out deliberately, then shifts into a really upbeat version of the Michel Legrand-penned title tune. Here, Dave Miller follows Evans’ lead, but then continues the tune in a very movingly pensive and contemplative reading that’s reminiscent of Bill Evans, but rendered entirely in Dave’s own style. It’s definitely one of the highlights in an album of many.

I have to be perfectly honest, when I saw the picture of the three members of the trio, I immediately assumed that this was going to be an album of classic cocktail jazz. Boy, was I wrong! I have no idea of Dave Miller’s age or the age of either bass player Chuck Bennet or drummer Bill Belasco, but they appear from their photos to have a few miles on them—you’d never know that from the often rapid-fire playing througout this excellent album. They definitely seem to know each other’s playing very well; the interaction between them is just about seamless on every tune. And Dave Miller’s piano is definitely the star here; he plays with a style that’s all his own, and it’s totally obvious that his love of jazz has taken him to the next level. And hey, I noticed that several of Dave’s daughter’s albums are available for streaming on Tidal (also on Summit Records)—I took the liberty of checking out Dave’s playing in a backup setting. Really enjoyable, and Rebecca DuMaine is no slouch either—she’s an amazing singer, and fortunate to have such a talented pianist at her disposal. Just Imagine is very highly recommended. If you’re a fan of classic jazz trio settings in a high-energy, Shearingesque style, it’s not to be missed.

Summit Records, CD (download/streaming from Amazon, Tidal, Qobuz, Spotify)

Gretje Angell – … in any key

LA-based Gretje Angell is a jazz vocalist whose dad and grandfather were both jazz drummers. She actually spent a considerable amount of time in her youth as the defacto roadie for her dad, Tommy “The Hat” Voorhees, who was a prominent fixture on the Akron, Ohio jazz scene. My wife is from Akron, and I’ve always been fascinated by just how many talented singers and musicians seem to pour forth from such a seemingly unlikely place. A transplant to the west coast, she’s been active on the LA jazz scene for some time now, singing with big-band units like Jack’s Cats, the Ladd McIntosh Swing Orchestra, and Glen Garrett’s Big Band. In her spare time, she also sings with the Los Angeles Metropolitan Opera Company. Pretty impressive resume!

It’s taken her a little while to get to this point, having a bit of a battle overcoming stage fright. But …in any key is her debut album, and at only a tad over 36 minutes, it’s actually more of an EP. Gretje says that when she gigs, she imagines her late father sitting in the back of the club and it helps calm her nerves. The album was produced by guitarist Dori Amarilio; he plays on every track, and his mastery of the Brazilian oeurve gives many of the songs here a Latin feel that spans the genres of Bossa Nova, Afro-Cuban, and Bop. The album gets its title from Gretje’s description of Dori’s uncanny ability to play any jazz standard, in any key, and at the drop of a hat. Her singing definitely shows her embrace of Latin rhythms, and she sings with a voice that pretty much defies close comparisons to anyone else out there. We listen to a ton of jazz singers here at home—with a seemingly disproportionate emphasis on female vocalists (my wife Beth would insist it’s my personal infatuation with female singers). As …in any key played, Beth kept insisting, “okay, she sounds just like”….and I’d follow with, “yeah, she’s reminiscent of”….but neither of us could quite get a handle on an accurate comparison to her sultry stylings. Gretje Angell scats on a lot of song intros and throughout a lot of bridges; the scatting is a tad similar to Melanie Gardot’s, but their voices are really nothing alike. Gretje’s scatting is very fluid and adds a certain playfulness and an increased level of interest to her song selection. I once got yelled at by the agent of another LA-based jazz singer when I described his client’s often over-the-top scatting as annoying.

There’s really not a weak moment musically on …in any key; and I truly find this album to be very emotionally involving. Gretje Angell takes songs like the Peggy Lee chestnut “Fever” and presents the tune with a swinging Latin delivery that gives a completely different dimension to a song that’s rarely presented outside the box and in a manner like this. There are a few straight-ahead readings here; among them is a tune popularized by Chet Baker, the classic “Deep In a Dream”; the strings in the background are totally apropos and Dori Amarilio’s spare and subtle guitar is the perfect accompaniment to Gretje’s smoky-sweet interpretation. There’s also the Duke Ellington gem “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me”, which Gretje delivers in her own style without attempting to overshadow the inimitable Ella Fitzgerald’s classic version. And Gretje rips through a rapid-fire half-sung, half-scatted offering of Jobim’s “One Note Samba” that’s absolute ear candy. This is an impressively enjoyable debut album of great tunes that Gretje Angell manages to make entirely her own.

I do have a couple of minor quibbles with the recording—and that has no reflection on the performances at all, which are stellar. First of all, there are a couple of bad edits/mastering errors in places, where it seems the opening of a track is ever-so-slightly truncated. It’s slight, but perceptible. And there’s a pretty glaring mastering error between tracks 1 and 2, where the ending of track 1 (“Our Love is Here to Stay”) unintentionally jolts jarringly into the beginning of track 2 (“Im Old Fashioned”), also slightly truncating the opening of the song. It happens on both the CD and my rip of the CD; if you select track 2 for playback from the beginning, everything is okay. But if you allow the music to play through, the mastering error is obvious every single time. 

The more egregious error for me is that the vocal track is mixed at a higher level than that of the remaining players; it’s such that it gives her voice an unnaturally oversized presence. Now don’t get me wrong here—I’m totally all about the vocal track being absolutely front and center of the music—but it’s just a little over the top here. Gretje Angell has an amazingly sultry voice that can easily carry the music without any level boosting; the engineer just needed to dial the vocal track level back a touch during the mixing session. Fortunately, my PS Audio DAC has several digital filters to choose from, and one of them actually helped to present a slightly more realistic and believable representation of the players and singer in a real space. 

I don’t wan’t my criticisms of the recording to in any way diminish Gretje Angell’s lyrical and emotional performance on …in any key. Her singing here is so polished, it’s almost impossible to believe that this is her debut album. As an audiophile who also happens to be a music critic, unfortunately, I may occasionally tend to allow my evaluation of the recording quality to perhaps overshadow my impression of the musical performance. The performances here are superb, and this is truly a very good album; it could easily have been a great one with a little more care at the control panel. 

Grevlinto Records, CD (download/streaming from Amazon, Apple Music, iTunes, Tidal, Spotify)

Lyn Stanley – Favorite Takes: London With a Twist, Live at Bernie’s 

Lyn Stanley is probably best known among audiophiles as a near-constant fixture at most of the popular audiophile shows like Chicago’s Axpona, the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF), and the California Audio Show. At the shows, she’s often seen working the sales floor while plying her wares, or performing occasionally. She records with the very best musicians and producers, with the likes of Al Schmitt, Bernie Grundman, and Gus Skinas frequently showing up on her album credits. Her LPs, limited edition LPs, SACDs and the like litter the banners of audiophile retailers like the Elusive Disc and Acoustic Sounds—which is actually quite amazing. Less than a decade ago, she was a retired marketing executive who had no professional singing experience—or any singing experience, for that matter! There’s a very well-written article from a couple of years ago on Part Time Audiophile that details her very unusual and unlikely path to audiophile fandom; you can read that excellent article here. Hey, she’s making it work for herself, and selling quite a bit of product—I’ve seen estimates of upward of $400k in sales.

Lyn Stanley is obviously a devotee of revered singer Julie London’s repertory, and Lyn’s last couple of albums have paid tribute to that legacy. Those albums included London Calling: A Toast to Julie London, and the follow up, London With a Twist, Live at Bernie’s, which was recorded direct-to-disc without overdubs or other embellishments. The Bernie referred to in the title is, of course, legendary producer Bernie Grundman. Julie London was fond of recording her stylized versions of current popular songs rendered as jazz standards, and Lyn Stanley basically follows suit here. With some of her songs in homage to Julie London’s recordings of standards, while other selections show Lyn’s adaptations of more current fare. 

The disc we’re reviewing here is the very recently released third iteration in that series, Favorite Takes: London With a Twist, Live at Bernie’s, where Lyn’s chosen favorite takes from that session are presented in two completely different formats on an SACD disc. Tracks 1-12 are comprised of a 1X DSD (DSD 64) needle-drop transfer of the analog test pressing from the direct-to-disc session. The needle-drop was created using a Clearaudio Master Solution turntable, a Lyra Kleos cartridge, and the brand new PS Audio Stellar Phono Preamp. The needle-drop tracks purport to offer playback that’s pretty close to what you could logically expect to hear during analog playback of the direct-to-disc LP. 

Tracks 13 and on are the same 12 tracks taken from the 1X DSD feed of the live event directly from the Sonoma recording console to reel-to-reel. This SACD basically represent a live concert recording, with the recording made under the most optimal conditions possible. Even though there’s a hybrid CD layer available on the disc, for my listening and evaluation, I used only the SACD layer of the disc provided to me by Lyn Stanley. The standard CD layer sounds good as ripped to my digital music server via the Sonore Signature Rendu SE that’s currently in my system, but doesn’t touch the realism presented by the SACD tracks.

I have to admit that right out of the gate, I’m probably a bit prejudicial and conflicted with regard to Lyn Stanley in concept; I kind of object on a certain philosophical level to artists that are considered an “audiophile” entity, as such. There’s a ton of “audiophile” music out there that I pretty much consider complete, soulless crap. That said, while the vast majority of artists I listen to are the ones I simply enjoy listening to on a musical basis, there are a handful of so described “audiophile” albums that still push all of my buttons. Like Jennifer Warnes’ album Famous Blue Raincoat. Regardless of how that record gets damned by the naysayers, I still freaking love it! Even the lowly CD of that performance offers a level of artistic, emotionally involving enjoyment and superb, audiophile-quality sonics that’s irresistible. 

I got a new SACD player a couple of months ago; it’s a Yamaha BD-A1060 universal player, and it’s maybe the best digital disc player I’ve ever owned. I’ve been listening to digital discs recently almost with the same frequency as digital files on my music server. My old Oppo disc player died about four months ago, not long after that painful death, I stumbled onto a sealed SACD copy of Lyn Stanley’s Moonlight Sessions, Volume I. At a thrift store, for one dollar. Holy crap, a freaking Lyn Stanley SACD for a buck—maybe now I can find out what all the hooplah is about! Of course, not having a functional SACD player, the best I could do was rip the CD layer to my music server, and well—I just wasn’t getting the hooplah. I didn’t hate the performance, but I wasn’t blown away, either. Lyn Stanley seemed, for me…more than just a tad emotionally detached from the songs. I decided to refrain from completely passing judgement until the disc could be heard in full resolution on a high res player.

On to the task at hand: London With a Twist via the new Yamaha universal player. Lyn Stanley has a deep, dark, almost husky soprano voice; her voice as an instrument is really quite impressive. And her instrumental accompaniment is, to say the least, superb. But as perfect as these recordings are, her portrayal of these chestnuts just doesn’t quite sound, well—believable to me. There’s a lack of emotional investment in the songs. A few of the songs here, like “Route 66”, “Let There Be You”, and “Love Letters” make for campy, enjoyable listening. As for the rest, well, they didn’t imbue in me any desire to do much of anything, especially to partake in repeat listenings. In very sharp contrast, even when an almost universally lambasted artist like Diana Krall sings “Peel me a graaaaape, slow-ow-ow-ly”, I wanna get in my car right now and drive down to the farmers market! With me, it’s all about an emotional connection to the music, along with to-die-for sound. I’m not getting the emotional connection here. 

The direct-to-disc LP that preceded this SACD, London With a Twist, Live at Bernies, retails for almost $125, and is typically sold to owners of mega-buck turntables looking for the absolute demonstration disc for their system. This SACD provides a lower priced (about $40) alternative; and A/B testing between the needle drop and pure DSD tracks is quite revealing and informative. While the pure DSD tracks rank among the finest stereo SACD sound I’ve ever experienced, the needle drop tracks have an added realism that is shockingly good, even if it obviously doesn’t possess the same overall resolution and clarity of sound as the pure DSD tracks. Certain purchasers, obviously, will find the needle-drop’s allure very appealing.

By the way, I did take a listen to the SACD layer of the Moonlight Sessions, Volume I; truly excellent sound, but mostly uninvolving for me. Your mileage may vary with Favorite Takes: London With a Twist, Live at Bernie’s; if you’re looking for a lights-out demonstration disc, this may be just the ticket….

But the music still leaves me cold.

A.T. Music LLC, Hybrid SACD (download/streaming from Tidal, Spotify)

Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2019

Frank Doris

Things change. That’s inevitable, and occasionally, it is for the better.

This year the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest moved from its familiar setting in the Denver Marriott Tech Center to the massive Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center. The lengthy name is appropriate for the gigantic facility: in addition to 1,000 or so hotel rooms, there’s nearly half a million square feet of exhibit space. If that number is hard to grasp—well, I averaged 3.5 miles of walking every day during the show. Wear comfortable shoes.

Audio folks worry and debate about everything, and the move of a longstanding show to a new venue, pretty well pegged the angst-meter. The concerns included the distance between the bigger exhibit rooms located in the Convention Center and the regular hotel rooms used as exhibit rooms. There were also concerns about cost, distance between the hotel and Denver proper, and on and on. And on.

I confess that I shared those concerns—but as it turned out, none of that mattered. The show was terrific.

I first visited the Gaylord back when the weather and skies were both wintry, and immediately thought of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. I wouldn’t be surprised if the header pic brought that to mind for you, as well. The interior has spaces large enough to house an upright Saturn V rocket—at least, it seems that way. Facilities and decor are a cross between Disney World and a Hollywood-ized hunting lodge. It helps if you like earth tones and plaids.

I say that not as a slam, but to help you visualize it. Enough about the new venue, what about the show? There were some first-show glitches–most prominent of which was a Press/Trade day on Thursday, which was a source of confusion. Oh, well. Better next year.

Big, no?

Escalators in the huge convention center, location of big rooms, headphones, the marketplace, and seminars.

Registration was busy—but the big hall prevented the bottlenecks that were commonplace at the old venue.

One of the oddities of RMAF, historically, is the fact that the show is often busiest on Friday. At most shows, Friday is a warm-up to the main event of Saturday—but Coloradans do cherish their weekends, and the show sometimes competed with Broncos games or The Great American Beer Fest. Neither of those draws was a factor this year, but at least from eyeballing the crowds every day, it did appear that Friday was again the heaviest day.

The PS Audio room was slammed the entire weekend, helped by a live Ask Paul seminar and Michael Fremer spinning discs in the room every day. Michael played great test-pressings, compared good and bad editions of records, and provided entertaining commentary the whole while. I mention that not as promotion, but as an explanation for why I didn’t see that many other rooms this year. As an exhibitor, it was terrific; as a show-reporter, not so much. My apologies.

Mikey at work.

The crowd at Michael’s first session included Sheryl Lee Wilson.

Of the big rooms in the convention center, there were four that I thought sounded terrific. The first—sorry—was PS’ own, featuring the very dynamic AN3 speakers; the second was put together by LA dealer High End By Oz, with a system that included Vitus Audio electronics, reel-to-reel by United Home Audio, and speakers from a company new to me, Lithuania’s Audio Solutions. The affable Greg Beron of UHA handled an after-hours playback session with copies of master tapes, and initially, I didn’t find the Audio Solutions Virtuoso M’s sound at all impressive. Well, it wasn’t—with unimpressive material. I came to realize that the character of the sound changed with every cut, with very little editorializing from the speakers: on compressed material, they conveyed that; on dynamic, bass-heavy material, they conveyed that. I found them very appealing, though others might prefer speakers that impose their own fingerprint upon the music. The speakers are also less-outrageous looking than most speakers their size (48 high, 165#) and price ($32k)—which may not work for those who like angular monoliths in Lamborghini Orange.

I enjoyed the session so much I didn’t take pictures. Oops.

Room #3? I am admittedly a sucker for both the sound and the story of Altec. In general, Altec speakers are the polar opposite of Audio Solutions, as there is a great deal of character imposed upon whatever they reproduce— and with the wrong electronics, the sound can be brutal. For many years, some vintage Altec drivers have continued to be made by Great Plains Audio in Oklahoma City, and now those drivers are used by the US/Mexican company Troy Audio, which purchased Great Plains. The Troy Audio Hellena Mk II speakers consist of two stacked enclosures (bottom with a 515 woofer, top with a 604 mid-bass/mid/low tweeter and a Fostex supertweeter) total 5′ high and 330#. The $120k version adds a massive Dueland-based external crossover; the model with internal xover was a paltry $80k. The rest of the system consisted of Thrax Audio electronics from Bulgaria, and one of Frank Schröder‘s beguiling tiny turntables with a Soundsmith cartridge. Sound was dynamic and smooth, and I liked it a lot.

Big speakers, big crossover, tiny turntable.

A closer look at that outboard crossover. Sheesh.

The dimensions of the turntable may have seemed toylike, but the sound was not.

Incidentally, Frank says he built the turntable to prove that a “properly-designed” turntable doesn’t have to be the size of the Trevi fountains to sound good. As is usual with Schröder, the sound was flawless.

The fourth room I liked in the convention center featured the big, pricey Göbel High End Divin Noblesse speakers, that I’ve previously heard at both Munich and Axpona (and I don’t name these things, I just report what’s there). Oliver Göbel is one of the more-approachable speaker geniuses I’ve encountered, and these speakers were powerful enough to shake the big room. US importer Bending Wave paired the $220k speakers with $150k of CH Precision electronics, a $66k Kronos turntable, and Lord knows how much worth of Göbel and Nordost cabling.

I can’t even absorb the idea of a home audio system costing half a million bucks; as with today’s megasuperhypercars, such things exist on a level far detached from my everyday existence, or ability to purchase them.

Oh, well: it’s fun to see and hear such things, and I’m not likely to score a Bugatti test-drive any time soon. Thank goodness for the democratization created by audio shows!

A bit of a hike is required to go from the convention center to the main hotel itself, where 69 “regular” rooms were spread over 9 floors. Compared to similar rooms at the Marriott, the rooms were smaller, but had fewer acoustic glitches. Most exhibitors I spoke with were happy with the sound they were getting.

Each floor had at least one multi-room suite, which allowed for a live demo and space for static exhibits. The most-impressive such room was that of Kimber Kable, featuring a system based around EMM Lab electronics and Focal speakers. As has always been the case with Kimber rooms, the sound was clear, musical, and powerful.

Ray Kimber, of course.

Don’t try lifting those amps—or the speakers. You’ll hurt yourself.

Boulder Amplifiers also had a large suite, featuring an unusual system centered around their electronics, speakers from Vienna Acoustics, and a 6-pack of REL subwoofers. Unexpectedly, the sound seemed light in the bass region.

Sony had a smaller suite, in which they had impressive static displays of a number of personal audio products, and a very impressive, surprising live demo of a desktop audio system which included a DAC, multiple amplifiers, DSP, and electronic crossovers—all built into a pair of relatively small speakers. Beautifully milled out of aluminum, the speakers were hefty—as was the price of $10k for the system. Sound quality was quite stunning, with strong, deep bass and holographic imaging. Now, if they could come up with 90% of the performance at 10% of the price….

Attractive products, beautifully made.

Okay, the magical desktop system wasn’t attractive—but it was beautifully made.

Going to the regular single rooms, I had to hit and run to see and hear things.

Jon Derda of MoFi distribution just keeps moving in front of their excellent MoFi/BAT/Falcon Acoustics system.

Mark Conti, formerly of Veloce Audio, was back with MC Audiotech. The speakers had an array of planar drivers and a pair of woofers in the lower enclosure. Interesting, and showing potential.

Larger models of Stenheim speakers have impressed in the past—but this spooky room was unattended when I stuck my head in.

Gordon Rankin at Wavelength always has interesting things—here’s one of his amps next to a DuKane/Vaughn ionic tweeter.

The full Wavelength/Vaughn system. Good sound, but not the lifechanging experience Herb Reichert had with the Vaughns a few years back. Admittedly—I heard one cut, while on the run.

LuKang was a new brand to me, and produced nicely refined sound. The speakers resembled Spendor/Harbeth/Audio Note.

The Wilson room sounded as though the room was overloaded, with two speakers plus two subs.

Alta Audio’s Mike Levy was producing good sound with Krell electronics through the new Alec speakers.

Steven Norber of Denver’s Prana Fidelity has made a wide range of speakers with all kinds of drivers. The common characteristics are great sound, powerful bass, and innate listenability. These were no exception.

While I didn’t see as much of the show as I would’ve liked, everything I saw and heard indicated that the show was a success, with better sound than most years. The atmosphere was energetic and upbeat, and my only complaint—other than sore feet—was that the brown-on-brown-on-plaid decor in most rooms made me feel as though I’d fallen into a 1972 Sears catalog. But that’s a picayune, irrelevant complaint.

I will be back next year, and anticipate another great show.

[Header pic provided by the Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center, a Marriott property.]

The Adventures of Jeff Beck: First Movement

WL Woodward

Geoffrey Arnold Beck was a war baby, a term exclusively used for kids born during WWII, I think because of the sheer trauma of the times. He grew up in lower middle class surroundings, his Da an accountant and Ma teaching piano. Jeff was recognized as talented, especially in drawing, but efforts to get him to play the violin and piano in either a classical (Mom) or jazz sense (Dad) were met with frustration on all parts. Piano was given up when little Geoffery ripped a black key off the home box. Jeff wanted to play guitar.

He became crazy about the rockabilly happening in the mid ’50s, especially Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps featuring a guitarist that would wake anybody up, Cliff Gallup. But he could not beg his way into a guitar from his parents so by 14 Jeff had made a handmade guitar out of a wooden box and a plywood neck making strings using thin wires from his model airplane collection. With no idea what he was doing, he changed the different string thicknesses by guessing and doubling them up, playing through an old radio. Mom must’ve loved dat.

All the while he was still dreaming of an actual instrument. And I mean sleep dreaming and day dreaming. This passion almost consumed him; he’d gotten addicted to hot street automobiles from the time he was young and he spent weekends with an uncle who would run young Jeff out in his ragtop MG and open it up on the country roads. That passion stayed with him to today. But the guitars. He spent so much time with his nose pressed against the window of the local guitar shop he flattened it. The nose, the nose ya semantic police. OK. I don’t know what happened to that proboscis but it’s a rock classic rivaled only by Zappa.

At 16 he worked up the nerve to go to an audition for The Bandits who had a contract to back up a tour of Elvis and Vincent impersonators. But first he had to beg his pop for a real guitar. How he finally did this is known only to Jeff, but he talked, begged, and howled until his dad coughed up the princely sum (in 1960) of £25 seven shillings six pence. For that Jeff got a sorta Strat copy Guyatone LG-50, a rather unimaginative guitar that’s gained cult status like a lot of ’50s guitars, in this case for their pickups. Jeff loved it. Hey. Don’t you remember your first real guitar? I still have mine. A cheap Yamaha classical with the impossibly wide neck and nylon strings, complete with a real bad stain on the front from something. Same deal, I had to beg my dad to loan me $100 in 1973 to buy it.

The amazing part of this story was Beck had gotten good enough on that homemade monster that with a proper but different guitar he still got the job.

The Bandits contract was only for a summer and when it ran out Jeff had to go back to school studying art. Amazing how many English musicians came out of art schools. I think they went to avoid working a job or going to traditional school, and so met a bunch of like-minded musician wannabes.

Then came the Deltones. They were a seasoned pro group of local musicians in their 20s doing cover songs, and Jeff would hang out at rehearsals. When the lead guitarist left Jeff pushed for an audition. There was real trepidation that this 16 year old boner with the weird nose couldn’t cut it but cut it he did. Unbelievably he balked when offered the job, only taking it if they’d take on childhood friend John Owen on rhythm guitar. Owen and Beck had been through hard times together, and Jeff attributed John to talking him through the low periods when Jeff would want to give up guitar and do something else.

Thank you John.

After the Guyatone he used a hated Hofner Futurama which thankfully fell under a bus and he went to beg again. Jeff had found his dream axe, a real Stratocaster sunburst for £150, and got Mom to co-sign a credit agreement.

Thanks Mom.

In 1961 he’s 17 and packs the art school in, going all in on music. But the Deltones split up in mid 1961. What followed was a weird span of years where finding Jeff could have been a comic book. Between odd gigs he worked on a golf course, did house painting and found work in a garage which suited his ‘rod sense’ doing odd jobs as panel-beater and paint sprayer.

Soon a virus called the blues was infecting Great Britain. And Jeff would come down with the fever. In 1962 a couple of blues crazed musicians Cyril Davies and Alexis Korner started a band named Blues Incorporated dedicated to bringing the blues to British devotees. The band ran a turnstile of line-ups through which passed and trained a number of eventual stars like Long John Baldry and Graham Bond. Featuring an ‘open mike’ approach to their gigs they welcomed anyone to brave the stage and show their wares. At one point a slide guitarist named Brian Jones met two other stage crashers Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and formed their own band. Blues clubs and subsequently bands sprang up everywhere and opportunities to play this stuff started to grow. Out of this stew Beck met Ian Stewart.

Jeff had not spent much time with the blues, being more of a rockabilly guy. But Stewart lent him a bunch of blues albums. In the middle of Beck studying these guys to take advantage of the need for blues guitarists, an accident happened. His head exploded.

Listening to guys like Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Muddy Waters who had a 26-year-old phenom on guitar named Buddy Guy, Beck found the path from his beloved rockabilly back to Chicago and the Mississippi Delta.

He helped form The Nightshift with Brian Wiles and Dave Elvidge. Running the blues up the pole they found regular gigs and in 1965 cut two singles “Stormy Monday” and “Corrina Corrina”. Beck was on both singles but actually left the band in 1964 after marrying.

During this period JB was getting phone calls but he struggled making a commitment. Tom McGuinness, later of Manfred Mann, started a band called The Roosters but couldn’t pay what Beck wanted so they got a kid named Eric Clapton. A guy named John Mayall was starting a band called the Bluesbreakers and pestered Beck on the phone until Mayall gave up. I love this guy but he could be a bit of a wanker.

In 1964 Beck eventually joined a band that The Nightshift had opened for a few times called The Tridents. It was with this band Beck truly took off. His playing was approaching legendary status. The Tridents had a lead player Mike Jopp. But when Beck said he wanted to join the band it was Jopp who had to step aside. Which he did with reluctance and complete understanding. He said at the time, “There was this guy with a Telecaster and the notes were just flying everywhere. Nobody at this point was doing anything like it. He’d play off the neck near the pickup, detuning the strings and making these unbelievable noises.”

Check out “Nursery Rhyme” from 1964.


Um, what?

The stories from The Tridents are rock lore, Beck stealing fingers and hearts with playing that was wild and experimental. He developed his mad trills, dissonance, over-bending, hammer-ons and pull-offs that would stay with his playing for his career and influence a generation of guitar players who would have killed just to have that tone he got from a flippin Tele.

And with that tone came the use of a Binson Echorec. Look that early shit up. This effect box had 12 echo settings, plate reverb, and valve compression. Beck made full use experimenting with the Binson using his already abusive fretboard styling to add what one critic would call ‘sonic mangling’ and everyone else just thought was surreal and exciting. This was 1964. The Beatles had just reached cult status with “She Loves You Yeah Yeah Yeah” and Hendrix wasn’t due for 3 years.

Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey remember being stupefied with Beck and The Tridents when they caught them at the Eel Pie Club. That club is another column in itself. A rickety old barn that was accessed over a failing wooden bridge and had a floor rotted enough that it rocked but never rolled with a swaying old stage, the owner was dedicated to providing blues at first but any new music that came along. The effect on musicians and bands like The Who that were inspired by visits to the Eel Pie Club and came away with new ideas is incalculable.

In May 1963 the Rolling Stones were in the process of tearing up the blues scene and one of a hundred new blues bands was formed called The Yardbirds, named after a line from Kerouac describing railroad drifters. The guys were blues nuts worshiping the likes of Muddy Waters and Blind Lemon Jefferson. They had a problem in that their lead guitarist Anthony Topham struggled with the instrument and being 15 years old had trouble getting out of the house. He left the Yardbirds in September of that year. One of the band members had met a player while at Kingston Art College (of course) who had been with the Roosters but was still working for his grandfather in construction. They brought on Eric Clapton.

Clapton had been working so hard on his fretwork as well as his stage persona that the focus shifted from lead vocalist Keith Relf to the lead guitar that captivated audiences. The band had a small hit with “Good Morning Little School Girl” but followed with their first major single “For Your Love”, a gothic rocker. This irked Clapton however. Ever the blues purist he left the band in March 1965 the day the single was released and joined John Mayall and the Bluebreakers. Before leaving he recommended his buddy Jimmy Page to take his place but Page had a lucrative session career going and so refused but recommended his boyhood friend Jeff Beck. In fact, there is a 1965 video of the band performing “For Your Love” live (rare at the time) with Beck on a 12 string acoustic. Wait. Here it is.


Jeez. Folks screamed at everything in those days.

Next: Jeff Goes Yard

[Header image: Beck in the Yardbirds, featured in Blow-Up.]

How Records are Made, Part 3: Quality Control

How Records are Made, Part 3: Quality Control

How Records are Made, Part 3: Quality Control

J.I. Agnew

The telephone rings. “We have a few pallets for you, can we deliver tomorrow morning?”

The next morning, an 18-ton truck with a hydraulic tail lift arrives. It is July and hot enough to fry an egg with no additional heat source. Several pallets are unloaded into the yard, each full of several stacked boxes, all wrapped up together. Each box contains several smaller boxes and each one of these contains 20 vinyl records. People race back and forth bringing the boxes into a climate controlled warehouse before they get too hot. The last pallet is short, only a single row of boxes. One box in the corner looks like someone dropped a washing machine on it, which they probably did. The damage is noted. Some destroyed record sleeves are visible through the torn cardboard. Some quick photographs are shot for reference, documents are signed, the truck leaves.

This is a lot of several thousand, hopefully identical records, which have just arrived from the pressing plant, shrink wrapped and almost ready to sell. The test pressings were already approved a few weeks ago. Everything sounded great. So what could possibly go wrong now?

I could write an entire book detailing all the things that could still go wrong. In fact, I am in the process of doing just that, but this is another story. First and all too common, shipping damage. That little washing machine (or was it elevator motors?) incident…Phew, it only hit the edge here! Only two of the smaller boxes with visible damage. That’s just 40 records to write off, if we are lucky.

Then we start unpacking. Is this actually the correct artwork? Usually it is, but every now and again…Is it properly printed? This is a can of worms for the graphics design department to deal with. Just like the audio people and the test pressings they approved, the designers received a print proof, weeks in advance of the actual printing. Printing, cutting, folding and gluing record sleeves is full of technical challenges. It does happen occasionally that records are rejected solely because of sleeve defects. These may even originate prior to printing, such as missing or incorrect information on the original recording.

Time to dig deeper. We have several thousand shrink-wrapped records. For obvious reasons, it would be extremely impractical to open, inspect and listen to each and every one of them. Could we just open one and assume all the others would be the same?

As we saw in the two previous columns in Copper #92 and #93, if the mastering and plating have been successful and the test pressings were satisfactory, then we are fortunate to have a set of good mothers and at least one set of good stampers. However, for a run of several thousand records, several sets of stampers will be needed. These need to be grown on the mothers, centered, sanded, formed and mounted on the press molds accurately. With each new set of stampers, major issues could appear. But, even within the span of a single set of stampers, they may get worn or damaged through repeated heating/cooling cycles and high compressive stresses. Defects could still exist in only a small number of records out of 1000 or more, pressed with a single set of stampers. How do we weed them out?

My approach is that the first and foremost course of action is preventative. The better pressing plants are capable of manufacturing a very consistent product and have internal quality control procedures, which in the vast majority of cases, effectively weed out defective records and recycle them long before anything is shipped out. The potentially higher cost of a serious pressing plant is certainly money well-spent, as it prevents much higher and unforeseen expenses down the line and ensures you will receive a product you can actually sell.

But, still, there is no way around proper quality-control procedures, carried out by suitably qualified engineers, at the receiving end. Several records will have to be opened and inspected. These cannot be sold. So how many records do we need to “sacrifice”?

The way to go is a statistical selection of samples, initially only a small number, which will indicate if further samples need to be taken. To begin with, we would take a few samples per pallet, randomly selected, from different boxes on each pallet. It is vital to note down which records came from which box, for our statistical analysis.

These records are our initial samples. They are opened and carefully inspected. Are these actually the correct records? Are the inscriptions on the lead-out area matching the ones on the lacquer masters? This indicates that the correct lacquer disks, mothers and stampers have been used. Are the labels correct and on the correct side? Are they in good shape? Are the edges properly trimmed? Are the center holes well-formed and correctly dimensioned? Are all samples identical in these respects?

Any marks, craters, scratches, blisters, finger prints, dust, hair, insects, plastic or paper residues, or bubble gum visible on the record surfaces?

The next step is to inspect the records on a special turntable with a measurement microscope fitted, for proper centering, flatness and groove structure integrity.

After that comes the critical listening session. The records are placed on a reference turntable, tonearm and cartridge system, calibrated for level and frequency response. The reproducing system must be able to resolve detail and must not introduce any noises of its own. Ideally, the listening session will take place in an acoustically treated room with a very low noise floor of its own, using high quality amplification and accurate full-range monitor loudspeakers. This description is close to the ideal mastering environment and indeed, this part of the quality control assessment often takes place in the mastering facility which cut the masters for that record. This environment does not really resemble the average home listening conditions. It is meant to be far more resolving and revealing to the extent of not necessarily being pleasant to listen to.

The reference turntable system.

It is meant to bring out every little noise and defect, exposing a much “uglier” side of the recording, which would normally remain well concealed on the average home system. If a recording can be made to really sound good on such a revealing system, it will also sound good on any less revealing system as well. Perhaps different, but still free from technical defects. A mastering engineer needs to be able to hear everything a home listener is going to hear, plus a lot more that the home listener may not get to hear. For accurate loudspeakers to really perform, they need an acoustically accurate room to work in. For a low noise signal path to make sense, it needs a low noise room to not mask it with extraneous noises. The mastering environment is a laboratory, not an entertainment space.

It is, in effect, an audio microscope.

In this audio microscope, the records are compared to the test pressings and archived reference cuts, to establish whether any audible differences exist. The same is then repeated through headphones, which provide an entirely different listening perspective. While most world-class mastering engineers only trust their loudspeakers for making decisions regarding dynamics, frequency balance and overall sound character, headphones certainly have their place in quality control assessment. No changes are made to the sound at this stage, we are simply checking if there could be anything there that shouldn’t be there.

Clicks and pops, for instance, shouldn’t be there and are not there on high quality pressings. They are a defect, not an inherent feature of the medium. If such noises are heard, then something needs to be fixed.

While on the calibrated reproducer, the records are also measured objectively by means of laboratory instruments, such as level meters and spectrum analyzers.

If all sample records prove near-identical to each other and to the test pressings, all is good and the records can be sold. If all sample records are near-identical to each other but vastly different from the test pressings and defective, then most likely all records have the same defect and that 18-ton truck comes back to collect them, to be returned as rejects, along with a proper engineering report detailing and justifying the reasons for rejecting.

Sometimes, however, life is not that simple.

While most sample records will be near-identical to each other and to the test pressings, one or two may have a strange defect. In that case, more samples are taken from the same pallet. The aim is to locate the extent of the defect occurrence. It may prove to only affect 3-4 records, usually the ones right next to the original defective sample. These are weeded out and destroyed.

Special attention is required when signs of shipping damage exist. In the case of that washing machine incident (true story), although only about 40 records had obvious damage, another 20 next to them were badly warped, which could only be noticed after opening them one by one and removing the records from the seemingly intact sleeves. This was probably because the washing machine (or submarine parts) which fell on the records when the truck swerved to avoid a suicidal driver, actually stayed there, leaning against the records for another three days of bumpy roads, diesel hum and country music, bending the neighboring records out of shape…!

Both record and sleeve are scrutinized for defects—all the more painstaking when they are as elaborate as this release!

Do all record labels take the quality control of their products as seriously? Considering the stories of major label, high profile artist releases, which made it all the way to the retail stores with one side by an entirely different artist and album, or with songs appearing twice in a row, it is clear that some will not even bother checking the test pressings, let alone do any further quality control on the final product. These are usually the ones who keep the mediocre pressing plants in business.

In the last few years, I have been observing a consistent trend towards significantly higher sales figures for high quality recordings, properly mastered, plated and pressed, with decent quality control procedures throughout, compared to many mediocre products which sit unsold, taking up shelf space.

This is encouraging, as it suggests that it is the record buying public ultimately having the final say on product quality. By choosing to purchase the high quality product instead of the mediocre one and developing a preference towards record labels and artists consistently offering higher quality products, not only are you keeping them in business, but you are making a statement regarding quality standards for commercial releases. This has been a good incentive for record labels and artists to starting to pay more attention to recording and manufacturing quality, seeking out the qualified professionals and producing better records, with all it takes to do so.

To conclude our “How Records are Made” series— it is not easy to make a really good record. It takes skill, experience and patience. But, it can be done and the result can provide a most rewarding listening experience. Seek out some outstanding examples and discover for yourself just how good this 130-year old format can sound!

[Photographs courtesy of Magnetic Fidelity.]

Siouxsie and the Banshees

Anne E. Johnson

There once was a time before “goth” was a meaningful word to describe black-clad young people who viewed the world with deep irony and high curmudgeon. Singer Siouxsie Sioux (born Susan Ballion) and bass guitarist Steven Severin bear more than a little responsibility for all those girls in short velvet skirts and painted army boots and boys in charcoal gray lipstick.

When they started playing together in London in the 1970s, Sioux and Severin took their musical and fashion cues from the punk scene, but Sioux as songwriter – not to mention those musicians they drew into their fold — had a poetic imagination that reached beyond the ragged canvas of punk.

Siouxsie and Severin, with Marco Pirroni on guitar and Sid Vicious on drums, made their utterly unprepared debut at a punk festival in 1976 when a band suddenly pulled out of the lineup. They filled their 20-minute set with an improvisation on “The Lord’s Prayer.” It wasn’t exactly punk; it wasn’t anything anyone could quite identify.

That defiance of the known continued to define Siouxsie and the Banshees when they formed more officially, with Kenny Morris on drums and John McKay on guitar (they quickly fired a guitarist named Peter Fenton because he played “too well”).

Polydor Records had the good sense to offer this unusual act artistic control of their own records, so the band signed with them and recorded The Scream in 1978. They immediately came out with “Hong Kong Garden,” a hit single about, of all things, Chinese take-out food as a metaphor for the more general collapse of society and the environment.

But the distinctive faux-Asian xylophone riff of that song was just one item on the album’s sound buffet. “Jigsaw Feeling” provides interesting rhythmic rumbles of old-time surfer rock.


The only single from the second record, Join Hands (1979), was “Playground Twist,” but there’s a lot of interesting stuff on this record. For one thing, it ends with a 14-minute version of that “Lord’s Prayer” improv that had gotten the band rolling to begin with.

But maybe the most intriguing song is “Poppy Day,” a tiny track that shook the critical world for its empathy toward veterans (Poppy Day is a nickname for Remembrance Day, Nov. 11, the U.K.’s version of Memorial Day).


Sadly, all was not well among the Banshees. During the Join Hands tour, Morris and McKay had an argument so severe that they both walked away from their contracts, leaving Sioux and Severin up a creek with a booked tour to fulfill.

Their manager recommended Budgie, who’d been drummer with a band called the Slits. And fellow post-punk innovator Robert Smith, of the Cure, stepped in as guitarist. Smith had no intention of leaving his own band, so he high-tailed it back to the Cure after the tour. That left the Banshees short one guitarist. They went with former Magazine member John McGeoch.

With all this new input, it’s not surprising that their next album, Kaleidoscope (1980), brought with it some new sounds. Budgie added a drum machine, and some tracks include sitar and synths. The experiment was a big success commercially. Kaleidoscope sold well enough to justify their first U.S. tour.

This new, unapologetic attitude toward electronica is evident in “Red Light.” Severin wrote the lyrics that make an analogy between photography and life.


After another big success with Juju (1981), the next year’s A Kiss in the Dreamhouse found the band figuring out how to take advantage of the recording studio in new ways, with the encouragement of engineer Mike Hedges. The most obvious new sound is the distortion of Sioux’s voice.

The psychedelic weirdness of “She’s a Carnival” has more going on than studio experimentation. It reflects the real-life substance use and abuse happening within the band, not to mention stresses exacerbated by Sioux’s overlapping in-house love affairs, first with their manager and then with Budgie.


After the band fired McGeoch due to his alcoholism, Robert Smith returned to help out, staying for nearly two years. Hyæna (1984) was the only album he made with them. Meanwhile, Sioux and Budgie had started a side project, called the Creatures. But they still managed to pour a lot of originality into Hyæna, including a guest spot by string players from the London Symphony Orchestra on “Dazzle.”

The wildness of the Cure seems present in the ’60s go-go feel of “Running Town.”


Smith eventually decided he couldn’t handle two bands at once, so for Tinderbox (1986) and Through the Looking Glass (1987), he was replaced on guitar by John Valentine Carruthers. But then Carruthers left as well.

Once again in need of new players and in search of a new sound, Sioux and Severin brought in Martin McCarrick, who could play cello as well as keyboards. Guitarist Jon Klein also joined them for Peepshow (1988), which included the popular single “Peek-a-boo.”

Also on that album is the highly textured “Turn to Stone,” which evokes a crossing of the River Styx.


For Superstition (1991) they brought in tabla drummer Talvin Singh, who played on their biggest American single, “Kiss Them for Me.” But there wasn’t much future left for Siouxsie and the Banshees. Their final album was The Rapture 1995. They went out in style, having the album produced by John Cale (of the Velvet Underground). But when the release went flat, Polydor dropped them, and the band split up.

“Sick Child” features lyrics by Budgie. Martin McCarrick and Jon Klein once again complete the quintet. It’s Klein’s slinking guitar line that sets a vaguely exotic mood with help from chimes that ching in a figure-eight around your brain if you use headphones. Sioux’s voice is low and understated, bending by microtones in the final lines.


They had a good run, and the Banshees live on in the work of younger musicians. TV on the Radio, The Weeknd, and Arcade Fire have all declared themselves fans. And I hear that thick black eyeliner is coming back in style.

The Bass That Phil Lesh Gave Me

The Bass That Phil Lesh Gave Me

The Bass That Phil Lesh Gave Me

Dan Schwartz

In one’s early life as a musician, one tends to look for signs along the way that you’ve chosen the right path. For me, there were a couple early indicators of that choice. The first was my encounter with Jack Casady, when I hadn’t even been playing for a year. The second one came three and half years into it, when I met Phil Lesh. What follows is the tale of meeting Phil, adapted from something I wrote up for a web site in 2007:

Rick Turner was a musician from the Boston area, who started on the road to luthiery there, and continued both when he moved to NYC. Shortly after his arrival in SF, he met the Youngbloods secretary (who went by the name of Rosie McGee). She was the girlfriend of Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead, and introduced the two of them — Rick had done an inlay on a bass for Jesse Colin Young, so she thought they’d have something to talk about. Lesh commissioned an inlay on his fretless bass, and introduced him to Bear and Ron Wickersham — and so Alembic was born. (Bear = Owsley; he had a vision for a team of people who would push the art of instrument and sound system building forward, and Rick was the missing piece).

In 1968, there were 3 custom instruments made by Guild for the Grateful Dead. This is an arch-top, built for Phil — it’s sort of a Guild M-85, at least in shape. The top (spruce) and back (maple) are carved. The neck is a 3-piece running straight through the body, not touching the top or back until the butt of the instrument, where the bridge is sunk into it. I used to think this was Bear’s idea (hence it appearing in the Guild Guitars book as a fact) but Mark Dronge tells me it was his idea, discussed in a limo ride from NYC to NJ w/Phil, Jerry Garcia, and Bob Weir.

Phil eventually discovered that he couldn’t use the bass, for some reason — maybe he didn’t relate to fretless -– I don’t really know. It sat at Alembic on Brady St. til ’73 being used as a test bed for different electronic ideas. According to Ron Wickersham in Blair Jackson’s book Grateful Dead Gear, this was the first active bass. (A circuit called an emitter follower was installed in the instrument to lower the pickups from high[ish] impedance to low impedance.)

Anyhoo – it’s July 1973; I’m 16. I had just gotten my first Guild Starfire, a sunburst ’67 SF-I for $175. I was ecstatic but also somehow disappointed — I didn’t sound like Jack. I’d seen a Guild M-85 and was thinking, “Maybe I need something else! I’ll sound like Jack with a different bass!” (Yes, I was THAT naïve.) I went to visit my oldest brother in Palo Alto from New Jersey and saw a Guitar Player magazine with an article listed on the cover, “The Dead’s Gear”, and had in the last year gotten into them. I read the article – an interview with Rick Turner, all about Alembic. The next day I hopped the train into the city, looked up Alembic in a phone book and invited myself over. Nice people. I asked a bunch of questions, but no RT — he was on his way back from a crafts fair in Bolinas, showing the first Alembic “standard” guitar and bass. I was told to wait for him — he knew all. Speaker cabinets w/tie-dyed grille cloths were sitting all over the place, instruments of all sorts were hanging up. The very first instrument visible was a blond M-85 with insane inlay and no strings. I was in love/lust, my jaw hanging. I asked about it to anyone there. A nice guy named Sparky Razine tells me it belonged to his boss and he believed it was for sale. I asked, “Who’s your boss?” He said, “Phil Lesh.” And I was thinking “Oh, @#%$. Well, that’s that.”

RT arrived and couldn’t be nicer and treated me not at all like some kind of geeky long-haired teenager from New Jersey. He was excited that there was bass player in the shop (3&1/2 years already – I’m reeeaaaalllll good!). He had a bass he wanted people to play and give him feedback on. Plus, while I was waiting for him, everybody there was excited because the first JBL K151 in SF arrived and they mounted it in a cab they have waiting and wanted to hear it. I was handed the bass, plugged into an Alembic F2-B, a McIntosh 2100 and the K-151 in sealed box and told, “Go man! Let’s hear it!”

I was so blown away by the tone, the evenness, roundness and fullness that I didn’t have a moment to feel on the spot. My 2nd thought was “So much for my Starfire…” I’m sure I gave Rick no useful feedback.

Eventually I got around to asking Rick about the M-85 and he told me that Phil wanted to sell it when Rick put some kind of wiring back in it. How much? “Oh, probably $1000.” Imagine $1000 then to a 16 year old. I left, my head in the clouds.

Come September, I was back in NJ and the Dead played Philly. I followed the seats of the hockey rink back around the stage to look at the gear closer up. I saw Sparky and called hello. He recognized me and asked, “Did you ever get your bass?” I told him I was working on it and asked to come up there. He brought me onto the stage (the first time I had ever looked out at a waiting crowd of 20,000 people), and we searched around in different cases looking for Phil’s Starfire, but no luck (we did find Garcia’s and Weir’s guitars though.) He said to come back between sets. I tried but stupidly went across the floor and never got there (although once I break free from the floor I go running up the arms of the chairs, slipped and cracked my sternum). After the show I went back there again and he invited me back yet again and took me backstage to meet Phil, who was leaning on a limo with two very buzzed teenage girls, all giggling. But did I let that stop me? Hah! (Would you?)

So I walked up, introduced myself and start throwing all kinds of questions about active electronics at him: What does he think of this idea or that idea? This probably only lasted a couple minutes – he had some serious @#%$ going on and I knew better than to wear out my welcome. As I was walking away I threw a question back at him: “Hey! Whaddaya gonna do with that Bluesbird Bass hanging up at Alembic?” He calls back: “I can’t use it anymore. They can have it. You can have it if you want it!” I called “For free?” He says “Yeah! I’ll give it you!”

I just laughed and left the arena. My friends were waiting for me outside and it suddenly hit me and I told them, “I think Phil Lesh just gave me a bass…” The next day I send a letter to the Dead Heads PO box and one to RT telling him what happened, admitted I’m embarrassed to bring it up but maybe he meant it and I’d be dumb not to look into it. 4 months later I get a letter from Rick telling me that he talked to Phil and yes, it’s mine, but Phil wants me to come get it, rather than it being shipped to me.

This all resulted in some serious ostracizing for a bit. First I come back from SF, the first of us ever to go this mecca, yammering about Alembic to every musician I know. “Olympic? What?” Then I tell a few close friends that winter about the letter from RT, and all of South Jersey having recently converted to Deadheads (they hadn’t played our area from 68-72), it spread like wildfire and most people thought I was lying.

But eventually I got a call from Rick. It’s ready. My brother was coming east on business and Rick thought that was OK – him handing it to my brother was the same to him as me flying out and him handing it to me. It’s Memorial Day weekend and I was on a canoeing trip up the Delaware — but when I got back Sunday night, there it was: beautiful, and mine. My brother told me that Jack Casady was in the shop when he went to pick it up and said, “I hope you’ll be playing that around here — that’s a seriously karma laden bass.”

But, over the years, I discovered why Phil gave it up. It was gorgeous yes, but not really happy as it was. But it was my fretless and I used it like that for many years — and loved it (in hindsight I think it was hampered by the lack of decent short scale strings that we suffered through in the 70s and 80s. All my short scale basses went into retirement until the 90s). [ I had no idea what “short scale” meant. Dan explained: “Electrical basses come typically in three scale lengths, which is the measurement of the space between the bridge and the “nut”, the point where the fretboard begins. 30.5 inches is short scale (most Guilds and Gibsons). 32” is medium. 34” is long scale, which most Fenders are. Although the long Rickenbackers, like my antique 4000, are 33”.”–Ed.]

Those are mother of pearl lines, not frets. Confusing, eh? —Bewildered Editor Leebs.

In ’88 when Rick was running the Gibson showroom in N. Hollywood, I handed it to him and said “Rick – make this thing be what we know it can be, please.” And in ’90 he calls me and leaves a message “Well, 21 years I’ve been working on this thing but it finally works!”

The first thing he did was remove the pickups (they are both now in my original sunburst SF) so it could come alive acoustically. Then he dumped the bridge/tailpiece (it’s brass blocks are on the SF too). He devised a new tailpiece/bridge with his own piezo pickups as the saddles and came up with a new string, a giant classical guitar string, non-magnetic, with a nylon core and bronze winding. Judge the sound for yourself: it’s half of the Tuesday Night Music Club album (most audible on “We Do What We Can”), and I also use it on Rosanna Cash’s “I Was Watching You”.

The pictures were taken in ’78, when it was intact, and from Larry Robinson’s book, The Art of Inlay, after the modification. (Since then I’ve removed the plastic laminate that covered the pickup holes. It sounds much better this way — two big sound holes.)

If it’s for the Dead, ya gotta have a skull, right? This also shows the mother of pearl lines.

Where the pickups used to be. You can see the neck running through the body.




Lawrence Schenbeck

Today we’re talking about musical imitation and modeling. Also ripoffs, quotations, homages, sampling. Apologies to those who’ve read my previous rants on these topics; I realize I’m going back to a favorite well. Maybe something in here will offer new clarity.

A while ago I ran across a provocative book, Beg, Steal, and Borrow: Artists Against Originality, by art critic Robert Shore, who begins with frontispieces like this, Jose Davila’s blatant ripoff of a famous Roy Lichtenstein. Then, words from someone at the Daily Telegraph aghast at the 2014 shortlist for the Turner Prize:

Looking at their work you get a sense that the old idea of making things that didn’t exist before from scratch has been pretty much abandoned.

[Looking at that sentence, I sense an ineffectual editor at the Telegraph. Just sayin’. —Ed.]

Clearly Shore thinks the whole notion of “from scratch” deserves further scrutiny. He begins by recalling for us William Shakespeare’s status as “the most original of artists” (see the OED and vast numbers of critics and commentators). Then he mentions the many imitators and quoters Shakespeare spawned, and then—crucially—he brings up The Bard’s own well-documented practice of stealing or adapting most of his plots and much of his language from earlier sources.

Maybe there is nothing truly original under the sun.

We know the Romans were so fond of Greek sculpture they used surviving Greek statuary as preeminent models for their work. We know that Renaissance artists trained by copying both Greek and Roman artifacts, which their teachers possessed in huge quantities; the very term “Renaissance” refers in part to a rebirth of the artistic values of those civilizations, which became known as “classical.” You might well ask whether any of this applies to classical music in the Western tradition. Of course it does.

Start with modeling: the earliest preserved European music is Gregorian chant, which began as a body of Middle-Eastern monophonic song used in Christian worship and handed down via the oral tradition. Around 850 CE, clerical musicians began to notate these songs, i.e., they devised dots and squiggles to represent the tunes. But notational custom itself developed in fits and starts, with many regional variants and intervening “improvements.” The chant books still in use today were compiled by 19th-century Benedictine monks at Solesmes, France, and approved for liturgical use in 1903. So various kinds of copying and modeling were obviously central to the development, dissemination, and preservation of chant.

If we skip ahead to J. S. Bach, we can behold him learning how to imitate Vivaldi by copying out large portions of Vivaldi’s music and adapting it for his own use. Likewise the eight-year-old Mozart, who took his first steps as a composer by re-scoring J. C. Bach’s piano sonatas as concertos. (“His procedure was extraordinarily primitive,” writes Alfred Einstein.) He performed the resulting works as his own for years afterward, repeating the trick with music by Raupach, Honnauer, Eckard, and C.P.E. Bach.

A generation later, the young Beethoven was packed off to Vienna by his patron Count Waldstein, who told him, “you shall receive Mozart’s spirit from Haydn’s hands”—in other words, Haydn would teach him how to imitate Mozart. And this is where our little narrative gets interesting, because the coming of Beethoven allowed a new Romantic myth—the cult of Genius—to tighten its grip on European culture. Essential to this myth (today we’d call it a Cultural Value!) was the notion of the singular innovator who points the way forward by producing utterly original works of art. These artworks were idealized not as products of craftsmanship (proper training in established methods), nor of effort (hard work), but rather of inspiration, which somehow flowed intuitively into the artist and from him straight into the artistic product.

The truth is that Beethoven worked slowly and painstakingly. Each piece he produced was distinctive. If it came off as spontaneous, a product of divine inspiration, that’s only because he poured unceasing effort into shaping it (so much for the myth!). There was no classic procedure he didn’t exhaust or transform as part of his creative process. Every composer who followed him was forced to deal not only with his innovations, but also (and more importantly) with the new tradition of constant innovation that he inaugurated. The weight of this fell most heavily upon relatively conservative artists like Johannes Brahms, who believed wholeheartedly in the great traditions. As he wrote, “You have no idea how it is . . . to feel the tread of a giant like him behind us!”

Clearly Brahms couldn’t get away with simply rearranging the music of Beethoven, as Bach had done with Vivaldi. For starters, the distinctive materials of each Beethoven work made them much more difficult to incorporate into new compositions. Also, audiences remained quite familiar with Beethoven’s music; they were way more likely to spot a patch on the “Moonlight” Sonata or whatever.

Nevertheless, Brahms persisted. Here’s how he used Beethoven as a model in the classic tradition. Consider the scherzo of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony:

Now the scherzo from Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F Minor:

How could the first ever serve as a model for the second? Easily, yet not so much: Brahms analyzed Beethoven’s scherzo using parameters like tempo, tonality, melodic style, and more. Then he applied similar qualities to his own scherzo. Tempo: allegro. Tonality: minor, switching abruptly to major and back. Melodic style: an ascending figure, played smoothly. Dynamics: violent contrasts between extremes of soft and loud. Rhythms: repeated three-shorts-and-a-long patterns (right, the very patterns Beethoven sounded in every movement of the Fifth).

Brahms did not limit himself to Beethoven’s usages. In other works he prowled far and wide in the historical past, using techniques that Palestrina, Fux, Bach, and other predecessors had cherished. Somehow it all emerged as pure Brahms anyway.

When we move to the next century, we see increasingly flexible attitudes toward the past. For Stravinsky and other neo-classicists, the conventional forms of the late Baroque proved a more welcoming geography. And if Baroque music beckoned, so did folk practices and non-Western musics. Recordings—one of the first faint symptoms of globalization—made all those musics more available. Here is Stravinsky, who had obtained some sheet music and maybe heard a café band or two, trying out “ragtime” for size.


Stravinsky wasn’t trying to master the masterly techniques of Scott Joplin or Joseph Lamb. Instead his ambition was to latch onto a distinctive sound and then mess around with its qualities: irregular and syncopated rhythms, jangly melodies, loose counterpoint, odd stops and starts.

Other modernists messed with Beethoven, but in different ways. When Charles Ives incorporated some LvB into his work, he did so with a passing quotation or allusion; it’s part of the patchwork of American life he painted for us, as with this movement from the “Concord” Sonata:


Here Ives offered a sketch of the Alcott family home, warmed by music from the parlor piano, music that called forth the high-minded Transcendentalist reflections of those years. Much later, John Adams would fashion the crazy quilts in his Absolute Jest from scherzos in Beethoven’s Quartets op. 131 and 135, tossing in other material to suit. A longish first movement is built up with rhythms characteristic of the Seventh and Ninth Symphonies:


At not quite five minutes in, Adams quotes a weirdly chromatic transitional theme from the scherzo of op. 131. It shouldn’t fit, but somehow it does. This is the noble art of collage, practiced by great painters from Kurt Schwitters to Romare Bearden. The point is not whether you spot all the Easter Eggs. It’s Adams emulating Beethoven’s “inspired sense of movement and happiness,” his combination of “wit and ecstatic energy.” Absolute Jest goes beyond modeling: it’s homage.

Okay, there’s maybe a little flat-out modeling. Consider (1) the scherzo from op. 135 and (2) the climactic fifth movement of AJ:

A musical homage is often more and less than you anticipate. The point is not necessarily to characterize a hero or friend through a plethora of direct quotations. Also, more than one person or entity can be the object of the same homage. Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, for instance, memorializes a great French Baroque composer by adopting the form of the dance suite, including individual dance movements (Prelude, Rigaudon, Menuet, et al.). Through an exquisite combination of grace and barely disguised melancholy, it also honors friends who died in the Great War; each movement is dedicated to one of them.


An even more complex, interlocking series of homages lies at the heart of Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia (1968). One movement’s text consists entirely of phonemes from the name of Martin Luther King, Jr., assassinated that year. Another seems to have been shaped as a tribute to the New York Philharmonic and its soon-to-depart music director Leonard Bernstein. Throughout his tenure Bernstein had championed the music of Gustav Mahler, himself once a conductor of the NYPO. By choosing the scherzo of Mahler’s Second as an audible model for Sinfonia’s central movement,  Berio offered a portrait of his own desperate times and an affectionate post-modern farewell to an entire era and its illusions. Mahler’s scherzo, brimming with folksy alienation and despair (see here), provided a perfect frame for Berio’s epic tale of cultural implosion.


If you go to the YouTube site for this video, you’ll find a user comment by “Robert Schumann” (haha) that purports to list all the quotations in this movement. You may also want to have Samuel Beckett’s “The Unnamable” at hand, which provides much of the English text recited by the singers.

So: modeling, quotation, collage, homage, ripoff. In some form these have all kept the creative spirit of Western music alive. Yet, as Mahler may have said, “Tradition ist Schlamperei.” We don’t remember the unthinking, rote invocators of tradition, do we? We remember the innovators and iconoclasts, the ones who gave tradition a fresh twist.


Richard Murison

A while back, I started messing about researching into my ancestry. I can’t say I was particularly drawn to the subject, but my daughter Lorna subscribed to ancestry.co.uk and wanted me to fill her in on as much of the Murison family background as I could muster. She had already started on my wife’s family, as my wife’s mother, now in her nineties, is a total treasure trove of old family information. In relatively quick order she had managed to assemble a pretty comprehensive picture of the Quarmby family background. However, the Murison family remained a blank sheet.

I was able to fill her in with the basics of my own parents and their immediate families. My mother was Austrian, born in the Sudtirol region which is now part of Italy, so conducting research on that branch of the family is challenging, to say the least. My father is Scottish, and indeed I grew up in Glasgow, but in reality I know very little indeed about my own family background. Nonetheless, Lorna assured me, the Ancestry web site has a whole bunch of tools that we could use to uncover an incredible depth of detail about the family tree, once we got the basic information all entered in.

To a certain extent that did work. I was interested in particular to learn more about the Murison line. All I knew was that my paternal grandfather was named John Murison, but nothing beyond that. Armed with just this tidbit of information, once it is all entered into the Ancestry web site, there are two things you can do. First of all, Ancestry throws up a bunch of “hints” based on the information already entered. Second, you can perform structured searches for records that might contain pertinent information. It is remarkable just how much information can be thrown up using those tools in very short order. I was able to find John Murison’s father, James Murison, and establish that John was born in Dundee in 1898. I also found a reference that James Murison’s mother was named Barbara, but at the end of the day, other than learning a little bit more about James himself, that’s about as far as I got. So I am not all that much wiser as to the origins of the Murison line of the family.

On my paternal grandmother’s side, however, things got a lot more interesting. It turned out that my grandmother was not married to John Murison. Instead, he was actually married to someone else, and by all accounts he kept two separate active families, each of whom were openly known to the other. Despite this, the “actual” wife (we do know her name – I have a copy of their wedding certificate!) and her family remain a complete mystery, and I have been unable to uncover any information whatsoever about them. My grandmother, however, has been a different story entirely. Isabella Robertson McNair’s family can be traced back several generations. At the time of writing, I have traced them back as far as the early 1700’s, and they all lived out their lives in the northern part of the county of Lanarkshire, just to the immediate southeast of Glasgow.

Apart from the thrill of learning about my roots, the exercise has been surprisingly fascinating. One of the issues that you deal with is that the further back you go, the less mobile people and families were. And those families were huge. It is not unusual to find families with ten or more children. Those children have their own families, and for the most part they end up living in the same area. Obviously, you find that certain individual surnames become quite common. But you also learn that forenames tend to be repeated, generation after generation, within families. As a result, when researching a particular individual, you find repeated instances of the same name cropping up time and time again…you even find names of the same married couples cropping up time and time again. So it becomes imperative, when adding a new person to your family tree, that you need to double check to see that you are in fact adding the correct person. For example, I have two Isabella Robertson McNairs in my family tree, and they are both contemporaries – first cousins, in fact.

This problem of adding the correct person is particularly egregious when you consider one of the great features of Ancestry. It allows you to consult and view the family trees of other Ancestry users whose family trees intersect with your own (which, naturally, becomes an increasingly likely occurrence the farther up your tree you go). If one of your ancestors coincides with someone in another Ancestry user’s tree, you can just import that person, together with their existing family relationships, directly into your own tree. But this is something you want to do very carefully, because that other user may not have been as careful when building their own tree, and the information in there might just be plain wrong. A fair old amount of bogus information on Ancestry has been carelessly propagated this way, and it’s always the stuff for which limited corroborating information is available.

Because of this, I began to take particular note of the places mentioned in all of the references that I come across. For example, census returns list the names of all the people living in a particular residence at a particular time. So while all those names are interesting, the address is also important, and I have taken to keeping a careful record of them. Likewise, if you come across a marriage record, it will often list the addresses of the newly married couple. Same thing with birth and death records. If an address is inconsistent with the family’s history, that would be a red flag that I’d like to look more closely at.

When you go back to the 1800’s and beyond, Scottish addresses (and many other addresses as well, I would guess) tend not to correspond with any modern-day addresses. As often as not, they describe places that no longer exist. Furthermore, addresses are typically organized by parish, and the way the Ancestry site works only the parish gets imported automatically with the rest of the record. If you want the full address, you have to import that manually.

I therefore got into the habit of tracking down every address I came across, locating it if possible on an old map of the area (in the UK, the Ordinance Survey maps are a remarkably finely detailed resource for this purpose), and noting its present day situation on Google maps. This, for example, has enabled me to observe some delightful oddities, such the fact that one Grace Fyfe Renwick, aged 18, worked as a domestic servant at a particular location in Motherwell where her great-great-grandson today just happens to operate a kitchen renovation business.

It has been a fascinating exercise. I have found entire villages which today have totally disappeared leaving only green fields, and others which survive only as an isolated building with no evidence of the original village name. I have found old row houses, built to accommodate the families of laborers working at a local pit, quarry, or farm, which would have housed four large families, and which today would comprise a modest single family home. One such row house is shown in the pictures at the top of this column. This was Reaburn Row, in West Calder, a row house comprising six dwellings built in 1866 to accommodate workers at James Raeburn’s short-lived shale oil works. Thomas McNair and his growing family were probably among the first occupants – my great-grandfather John McNair was born there – but I don’t know which of the six they lived in. It was demolished in the 1930’s and is today the location of a farmhouse.

It was quite enlightening to find out just how much of that particular part of Scotland was devoted to coal mining. The whole region was criss-crossed with a network of railway lines, with a separate branch to every individual pit. And the pits were absolutely everywhere, yet today there is virtually no sign of any of them. Although a coal miner’s life was a pretty dreadful one, it was actually one of the better paid professions a man could choose, and it was very typical for coal mining to be a profession followed from father to son. Actually, before the practice was banned in the 1790’s, a coal miner was considered the property of the mine owner, and his sons were legally obliged to work the pits. In fact, a coal miner could not even quit his job, and could be prosecuted for the theft of his own labor if he attempted to do so! Despite being banned, the practice is reported to have been at least partly in use in the early 1800’s.

Most mine owners built rows of houses which they would rent out to their workers, and it became rare for a coal miner to live elsewhere. These buildings were often simply named for the person or mine who owned them: New Logan’s Row, Scott’s Row, Passover Row are all examples of row houses where my ancestors lived. They were very rudimentary structures, and very few still exist today. Some were kept in a reasonably good state of repair, but others less so…Here is an extract from a report published by The Glasgow Herald in 1875:

The most wretched hovels that I saw on Monday were at Calder, belonging to Messrs. Dixon…The rent of the houses, which are dear at any money, is 3 shillings monthly. They are lighted by a small window in front and another at the back not much larger than the crown of a man’s hat…An old man and his wife sat by the fire and entertained me with stories of their troubles with the wind and the rain, the one threatening to bring the old house down about their ears and the other pouring in through the loose pan-tiles and down the open hatch way at the door.

An Ancestry search will also throw up on occasion glimpses into the hardships suffered by these poor folk. If a miner could not work, for example through work-related illness or injury, he was not paid. If he could not pay his rent he would be evicted from his house, miserable hovel or not. However, the miner’s family had recourse to claim for a subsistence allowance under the Poor Laws, although this was clearly a course of last resort. Consider Agnes Burt, wife of Thomas McNair, a coal miner. Thomas is in the hospital as a result of injuries received in the coal mine, and Agnes is at home looking after three infants. We have a record of her application for assistance under the Poor Law. She is referred to in the application as “The Pauper”, and states that she is presently relying on the support of her “brothers and sisters”.  We don’t know what the outcome was, beyond a note to the effect that her case was transferred to another parish, for reasons not given. We have found no record of poor Agnes after this point.

It is not surprising that so many Scots chose to emigrate during this time period. I have records of distant relatives who emigrated to Canada, America, Australia and South Africa, although I haven’t really followed up on any of them, except for two, a pair of brothers in their 20’s. Both were coal miners, and they emigrated to America for (presumably) a better life. However, both became coal miners in Pennsylvania. One died in his 40’s of “cirrhosis of the liver”, and the other, aged 70, of complications following a broken leg suffered during a “fall” in the coal mine.

There is so much more to uncover in this ancestry search, and I have been surprised by how interesting the whole process has been, beyond the simple pleasure of discovering one’s heritage. There is so much to be learned, not just about who these people were, but how they lived their lives. And it has the capacity to constantly surprise you with little details that just make you smile.

For example, my mother-in-law’s family name is Quarmby. This was the name of a tiny village that used to be located near the Yorkshire town of Huddersfield, and has now become consumed by it (although most of the old buildings that formed the Victorian village of Quarmby are still standing – right in the middle of a modern housing estate – and have been very nicely renovated). So it was quite a surprise to find that a branch of my father-in-law’s ancestral family actually came from the village of Quarmby back in the early 1800’s…even though I haven’t (yet) managed to identify a single member of the Quarmby family that ever lived there!

And finally, although I pat myself on my back, and proudly assert that I have traced over eight generations of my family going back to the late 1700’s, now I read on the internet that former President of the United States John Tyler, who was born in 1790, has not one – but two – grandsons who are still alive today! That just blows my mind…

Drive, He Said Part 3

Bill Leebens

Part 1 of this series in Copper #92 covered idler-drive turntables; part 2 in issue #93 examined belt-drive tables. In this installment, we’ll look at direct drive turntables…and yes, they did exist before the Technics SP-10 was introduced in 1970!

I should clarify that there is a little confusion as to what, exactly, is meant by “direct drive”. As a mechanical engineer by training, the term to me means a drive system in which there is a direct coupling between the motive force (motor, powered flywheel, and so on) and the final output, without an elastomeric element like a belt or idler. This can take one of several forms including a direct shaft drive from the motor output, gear drive (including, worm, spur, bevel, and so on) and some combination of rigid drives. In the hi-fi world, for the last half-century the term refers to a turntable in which the motor and platter form an integrated assembly which turns at the exact speed required for playback.

Just to muddy the waters even further, this article will refer to both types of direct drive turntables. I’ll attempt to clarify the fine points of both types of drive mechanisms as we proceed.

Back in the early days of audio—well, I doubt if you’ll be shocked to see the name of Western Electric appear here. As we’ve discussed more times than I can cite here, WE was basically the originator of most major developments in the audio world, and comes into play here because they were involved in the origin of talking pictures—and the “talking” part was provided by discs, believe it or not.

The Vitaphone process of sound movies is famously associated with the Warner Brothers studio, staring in 1926 with a John Barrymore feature, Don Juan, which only had background music and sound effects, no dialog. The true talkies era began the next year with the next Vitaphone release, The Jazz Singer, in which Al Jolson sang, and dialog was featured in several scenes, but not throughout the film.

The Vitaphone process was entirely a creation of Bell Labs and its manufacturing arm, Western Electric. Sound was recorded on 16″ discs which ran at 33 1/3 rpm, the same as later LPs. Running at that speed (rather than the then-standard 78 rpm) the discs could match the running time of a 1000-foot reel of film—about 11 minutes. The groove spacing was such that it preserved average effective velocity, and thus maintained reasonable sound quality. The upper limit of the frequency response was about 4300 Hertz—clearly not full-range, but sufficient for articulate reproduction of speech, and most instrumental fundamentals.

The turntables were directly coupled to projectors, and the projectionist had to cue the record up at a mark on the label area—and then the record played from the inner area, to the outside, the reverse of standard record playback. As the whole rig was up in a projection booth, noise from the turntable was not a critical factor, but synchronizing sound with film was. The drive motor was coupled to the projector, and then drove the turntable through a shaft and gearing; construction was robust, to allow continuous use, as was true of the projectors.

These turntables were purely industrial mechanisms, expensive to build and maintain. I would imagine that most ended up in scrap yards after sound-on-film rendered them obsolete, by the ’30s. Given their reverse-spin and low speed, they couldn’t be adapted to playing records of the day without considerable effort—and I would imagine the noise of the mechanism would render the whole subject moot.

Turntables designed for radio station usage were also industrial devices, built to endure continuous use for years with minimal downtime. Vital characteristics were quick start-up, speed consistency, and reasonably low noise—although noise requirements were related to noise that would be transmitted through the pickup, not through the air. Compared to all but the most over-the-top megabuck turntables produced today, broadcast/transcription turntables made domestic record players look like toys. With their large, high-torque motors and squared-off consoles, the profile more closely resembled a washing machine than our standard conception of a turntable.

The header pic is a detail of one of the most popular broadcast turntables of the ’40s and ’50s, the RCA 70-D. You can see the whole drive mechanism below: a massive motor was anchored to a heavy base, coupled to and driving the turntable by means of bevel gearing, a wet clutch utilizing oiled felt supports, a driveshaft with flexible couplings, and another clutch that would prevent over-running. Above the driveshaft in the diagram, you can see the outline of a flywheel which helped insure speed consistency.


It was quite a piece of work, and a surprising number are still around today. Aside from simple playback of music records, these turntables were also used to play back transcription discs that carried program content. The format was similar to the Vitaphone discs, 16″ 33 1/3 rpm; some were even inside-start like the Vitaphone discs. Generally, two of these discs would carry a 30-minute radio program; this practice allowed radio stations flexibility in scheduling their programming, or allowed them to exist outside nationwide network links.

Some practices die hard: at radio stations I worked at in the ’70s, some syndicated weekly programs were still distributed on LPs. I recall listening to the Wolfman Jack show in what was supposed to be our recording studio.

We’re getting far afield from an examination of turntable drive mechanisms, although how tables were used definitely influenced their design. Most major radio station/transcription turntables of the ’40s and ’50s had mechanisms similar to that of the RCA, so we’ll move on from that subject. By the LP era, most broadcast turntables were idler drive with torquey motors (think of the Garrard 301/401, various EMTs, Gates, Sparta, Gray, and others)— less elaborate and less-costly than the monster turntables of the earlier era. Another factor was that the turntables designed for mono reproduction often had a rumble spectra that made them unacceptably noisy for playback of 45/45 stereo discs.

And so it goes.

For the last half-century, if you mention “direct drive turntable”, the Technics SP-10 is what first comes to mind. Developed at Matsushita (parent company for Panasonic and its upmarket/professional sub-brand Technics) and released in 1969 or 1970, depending on which source you believe, the SP-10 was a true transcription deck like the 301/401, designed to be dropped into a broadcast console, and sold without a tonearm. Many were used in broadcast studios worldwide, even at the BBC, often paired with SME 3009 arms.

From Technics' own historical website. They say release was in 1970---who am I to argue? Take THAT, Wikipedia!
Direct drive tables might seem straightforward, mechanically, but the good ones go to great lengths to ensure smooth, consistent speed without motor cogging.

The fundamental principle of modern direct drive tables is that the platter assembly actually becomes part of the motor assembly, rather than linking to it by an external coupling. Initially in the ’70s and early ’80s, direct drive turntables were heavy-duty, precision built devices, many of which were designed for continuous broadcast use. These days, the top Technics, Denon, JVC, and EMT direct drives from that era are often repackaged into custom, heavy bases to improve their stability and lower the noise floor.

As turntables fought a losing battle in the late ’80s and early ’90s, direct drives became cheapened and commonplace, often built with motor assemblies that quickly wore out or were noisy and unpleasant to listen to. Use of lightweight platters reduced the smoothing flywheel effect provided by a heavy platter—and the reputation of direct drive tables suffered. Audiophiles turned to belt-drive tables, in the post-Linn era.

Ironically, the underground revival of idler wheel turntables revived interest in better direct drive tables. The “jump factor” provided by idler wheel tables was also provided by the better direct drives, and as elderly Thorens, Garrard, and EMT tables became prohibitively expensive, attention turned to salvaged SP-10s and other broadcast models.

Within a few years, demand was such that few of us can now afford an early, high-quality direct drive table, either. Sheesh.

Development continues in direct drives. A few years ago, the $100k Continuum Caliburn turntable favored by Michael Fremer became the poster child for new, hyper-performance direct drive turntables. Since then, a number of models have appeared from Brinkmann and many others. Recently, American manufacturer VPI celebrated their 40th anniversary with the HW-40 turntable, designed by founder Harry Weisfeld. It features a sophisticated motor assembly and control circuitry reminiscent of the Caliburn, at the relative-bargain price of $15,000.

The hefty coil and rotor assemblies of the VPI HW-40's direct drive motor. Add a 25-pound platter, and you've got a beast.

You can read an interesting white paper on the HW-40’s design, here.

Modern direct drive tables vary in their quality of execution, and the details of the coil and rotor assemblies, and the speed-control circuitry. For the most part, such discussions fall more into the realm of electrical engineering than mechanical design—and for me, that makes them boring. Feel free to poke around in the world, at models from Bergmann, the PBN Groovemsaters (which utilize vintage Denon direct drive chassis), Thrax Audio, Continuum, and others.

In the next installment, we’ll look at oddballs, unclassifiables, and loose ends. Think of it as a pickup pot pourri.

That One, Right There

That One, Right There

That One, Right There

Bill Leebens


Bill Leebens


I recently had an interesting conversation with a Very Famous Audio Engineer. I asked about his background, how he grew up, and the factors that made him choose his career.

He laughed and shook his head, and said, “I know there are people who can’t live without music. For them, music is everything. I’m not one of those people. I’m a sound guy, not a music guy.”

I wasn’t sure I bought his comment at the time, and having spoken since then with people who know the VFAE well, I’m convinced it was somewhat disingenuous.

However, it did make me think about my own background, and how and why I’ve ended up in the audio biz, with dozens of talented musicians as friends. I’m grateful that an offhand comment prompted me to reflect upon my own evolution.

My conclusion? I had no say in the matter. My obsession with music was inevitable.

It’s funny how nostalgia tends to present our lives in soft-focus, as though a theatrical scrim had been placed in front of the harsh glare of reality. My early years were not exactly rosy, but certain moments seem straight out of It’s A Wonderful Life.

My family had a Kimball spinet piano, in the ugly light finish that was inexplicably popular in the ’50s and early ’60s: darker than a blonde finish, lighter than fruitwood (whatever THAT was). My mother had sung with a few local big bands in the late ’30s and early ’40s, and would sing show tunes in a robust alto, pounding the keys with a fury that spoke of pent-up rage. My sisters and I would sometimes stand around the piano and sing multipart harmonies to the whole damned Rodgers & Hammerstein songbook, as Mom thumped the keys.

Even today, I am embarrassingly familiar with the songs of South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music. I have a mortal fear of being caught singing “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair” in public.

That’s normal—right?

Oddly enough, I have no recollection of my brother ever joining in those sessions—and aside from Mom, he was the only one of us who was ever paid to perform as a musician. He was likely too cool for that: in high school, Chuck was lead singer of a band called The Dimensions—and they weren’t terrible. They practiced in the basement of our fortress-like house and played local teen clubs and events in southern Minnesota. Chuck was able to mingle with the semi-famous; I remember being dragged out of bed one Sunday morning to go have breakfast with The Castaways, largely remembered for their regional hit, “Liar, Liar”.


[Gotta love that gogo dancer. “Liar, Liar” was on Soma records— which we took to mean SOuthern MinnesotA, but was actually “Amos” backwards, after owner Amos Heilicher. The label started in the ’50s with polka records and a few regional hits for Bobby Vee, These days, most associate it with “Liar, Liar”, or The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird”, recorded on Garrett Records, but distributed by Soma. But I digress.]

Chuck was responsible for introducing me to the finer things in life, as seen by a 16-year-old in 1964: Rock ‘n’ roll, hot rods, and semi-naked females (courtesy of Playboy). He had—and mostly still has—a near-photographic memory for statistical trivia, able to recite career stats of dozens of baseball players and label info from who knows how many records: ” ‘How High the Moon’, Les Paul & Mary Ford, Capitol Records, silver printing on purple label, F1451, 45 rpm; CL1451, 78 rpm.”

Not surprisingly, later in life, Chuck managed stores for the Discount Records chain.

Along about that same time, my Grandma—Mom’s mom, who had rarely ever shown tolerance for me, much less actual interest—gave me a pocket-sized transistor radio, AM, of course. This meant that I could listen on my own to local station KAUS, which played mostly rock at night. At bedtime, Chuck’s hefty wooden RCA “portable” radio would be tuned to WLS. Far off in Chicago, WLS was a 50,000 watt clear channel station, and the flatlands of the midwest allowed their signal to reach far and wide. During the winter, snowstorms would make the signal drift, and whistle.


I’d play the piano by ear, occasionally taking piano lessons, but never sticking with them like my diligent sister Pat. She survived the harsh corrections of nuns who would whack her knuckles with a ruler if her hands didn’t bridge properly.

After moving to Carbondale, Illinois, I took another crack at piano lessons, riding my bike Saturday mornings to the teacher’s house. A few doors down was the dome home of Bucky Fuller, whom I always hoped to see outside—but never did. Pat, diligent as always, had the same teacher, and stuck with it. I can still hear her practicing the opening of the Revolutionary Etude, over and over, for a recital. Such a hard worker (a child psychiatrist, she still is).

Time went on. In junior high I sang in chorus with a future multiple Grammy winner, played washboard in a jugband with a future award-winning composer. We saw Blood, Sweat & Tears and other acts at the SIU Arena. Outdoor concerts featured Chuck Berry and Illinois natives Rotary Connection and REO Speedwagon.

In high school, my best friend’s dad was head of the university’s music department, so we went to all manner of free concerts, and colloquiums that featured musicians like John Hartford. I followed my brother into frequent record-buying, favoring Frank Zappa, Harry Nilsson, and The Move.

As a high school sophomore I worked at the high school radio station, manning a couple Gates turntables and an ancient Western Electric board. I started selling stereo equipment for a number of mail-order wholesalers, and got a job at a radio station at the university, as a news-reader. I simply told them I was “a sophomore”.

Hey, I was big for my age. For any age, really.

My brother moved back home and I had access to his thousands of records, and his stereo. I never put my fingers on the grooves of a record, and always put them back in their inner sleeves and jackets. I was in the high school production of My Fair Lady, with that same future Grammy winner. I saw Paul Simon, Paul Butterfield’s Better Days, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and Bo Diddley. I started driving to visit stereo dealers in St. Louis. I sat on the front stoop of a girl I loved and sang for her—“Reason to Believe” was her favorite.

And so it went. And here I am.

Like I said: I had no say in the matter. I never had a chance.

[Asteroid image courtesy of NASA.]


Roy Hall


“I’m breaking up with you. I have never been so humiliated in my life.”

For a brief while I dated a woman with the wonderful name of Leslie Goldinger. Leslie was notable for having an amazing figure with boobs so large she often looked as if she was about to tip over. Every so often, in our short relationship she would allow me to touch them. For a hormone filled sixteen year old, this was a gift from the gods.

A good friend of mine was named Charles. He came from a wealthy middle-class family and rebelled at an early age. (He ended up a professor of labor relations at Glasgow University and a staunch member of the Communist party). Charles was into counter-culture and introduced me to Bob Dylan in the early sixties, years before he became popular in the UK. He also started wearing blue jeans and encouraged me to buy a pair. In the early sixties in Glasgow, the only people wearing blue jeans were plumbers, handymen, and factory workers. I was intrigued and bought my first pair. That day, Leslie and I were invited to a party locally. We arranged to meet there. I turned up in my new jeans and this caused a commotion. The other guests, narrow minded copies of their snobbish parents, started sniggering and making comments about me coming to fix the pipes etc. They didn’t bother me but Leslie was aghast and refused to talk to me. This was upsetting as I felt I was making headway in the boob area. The next day came the phone call severing us forever.

“I’m breaking up with you. I have never been so humiliated in my life. How could you wear those, those… horrible things? Goodbye.”

A few years later I came across a copy of Mayfair magazine. Mayfair was a tawdry, English version of Playboy magazine. Resplendent on the inside was a series of photos of Leslie, naked, displaying these amazing boobs for the entire world to see.


Davida was a friend of my mother’s. My mother had known Davida when she was a child and had maintained a friendship with her. She was about 10 years younger than my mum and about 15 years older than me. She would visit from time to time and one day, when I was about nineteen, we started to flirt with each other. As luck would have it, Davida needed a ride home and I eagerly volunteered. This started a brief affair, which was enhanced by the danger of being caught by her husband or my mother. We’d occasionally meet for a tryst, either in a hotel or her house when her husband was at work. She didn’t have a phone so communication was spotty and I would turn up praying her husband wouldn’t be at home. One day, my prayers went unanswered and after ringing the doorbell, her husband opened the door. I had anticipated this eventuality and had concocted a story about being in the neighborhood and that my mother had asked me to say hello on her behalf. He listened to my lie and obviously didn’t believe a word. I’m pretty sure he was about to punch me when Davida appeared at the door, thanked me for the visit and said she would soon contact my mother. Her husband was turning red as he slammed the door in my face. As I retreated, I could hear him yelling at her.

She never again came to call. My mother, who had this freakish sixth-sense, suspected I had something to do with her absence and frequently grilled me about her. I never told her the truth.

Ying Lin.

My mother had a Jewish cousin in London who married a Chinese man; in the nineteen forties inter-racial marrying was a strict no-no and no one on either side was happy. Nevertheless she had a good marriage and raised two fine children, a boy and a girl named Ying Lin.

Aunt Sophie was fat and her husband was skinny. My mother once asked about this and Sophie told her that being fat in London Chinese society was considered lucky and often friends of her husband would touch her for good luck.

One day a letter arrived. Ying Lin would like to come up to Scotland for a few days to visit and would we put her up? A few weeks later she appeared.

Ying Lin was beautiful. Long straight black hair, large almond shaped eyes, a winning smile, and a bubbly personality. She was about eighteen and I was twenty. We hit it off immediately and soon became lovers. She stayed in Scotland for a week and every day was full of fun and sex. She returned to London and we occasionally wrote to each other. At that time I worked for my brother-in-law and we ran a small furniture shop in Motherwell outside of Glasgow. A few months later, there was a furniture convention in London that we were both attending so I wrote Ying Lin and she agreed to meet me in the lobby of the Cumberland hotel near Marble Arch where we were staying. I shared a room with my brother-in-law but he had decided to go out to dinner that night with two friends.

That evening the lobby was full of people in the furniture business. Like hi-fi conventions, many people knew each other and hung out socially. I came down waiting for Ying Lin and after nodding hello to some friends a hush fell on the crowd as a young Asian woman entered. She was dressed in a mini skirt and a white faux-fur coat. Her hair was piled high on her head held together with black chopsticks. She was devastating and looked like she had just emerged from a fashion magazine. She stopped in front of the crowd, looked around, and then spotting me, yelled, “Hi, Roy!” She rushed over and gave me a big hug and a kiss. I looked around and all eyes were centered on her and then, with rising jealousy, me.

We sat down for a moment. We had arranged to go to eat in her father’s Chinese restaurant but as my brother-in-law was out, I suggested we go upstairs to the room before dinner. Ying Lin, bubbly as ever readily agreed.

A short while later while making love, the door opened and my brother-in-law along with his two friends entered. Unfazed, I turned round, looked at them and said,

“You’ve met Ying Lin, haven’t you?”

Haydn Symphonies

Haydn Symphonies

Haydn Symphonies

Anne E. Johnson

Talk about classical canon: conductors and record companies never seem to tire of the Haydn Symphonies. Not that I object—there’s plenty of material to delve into. Haydn wrote 104 of them, after all. Some of the symphonies include some incredibly innovative moments; the Minuet movement of No. 8 features a long solo for double bass – pretty rare in 1761!. Oh, and let’s not forget that Haydn practically invented the format of symphonic movements that became standard in the late Classical and early Romantic periods.

Given all that, it’s no surprise that I found a few new recordings to talk about. Yet one of them is a bit of a surprise. The label Hänssler Classic had committed to releasing a series called The Complete Haydn Symphonies, with period specialist Thomas Fey conducting the Heidelberg Symphony. They’d put out 22 volumes when Fey suffered a severe brain injury in an accident. That looked like the end of his Haydn project.

Enter Benjamin Spillner. This conductor completed the half-finished Vol. 23 a couple of years ago, and now has gifted us with Vol. 24, resplendent with Symphonies Nos. 63, 38, 37, and 9. And he’s filling Fey’s big boot-prints honorably. While Fey approached this music convinced of Haydn’s radicalism and therefore presenting controversial tempos and unexpected ornamentation, Spillner is just as bold in his own way.

Here’s the opening Allegro of Symphony No. 63 in C major to give you a taste of Spillner’s vivid interpretation, not to mention the orchestra’s sensitivity and accuracy to his detailed demands. Anyone who thinks of Haydn as a boring Mozart needs to go get schooled in Heidelberg.


Some may find his Andante in Symphony No. 37 to be a bit slow, but I think it’s taking the marking (literally “going,” often translated as “walking”) to mean a strolling tempo as well as attitude. This is an unconcerned playing that just lays out Haydn’s harmonic twist and turns without over-intensifying them. The notes speak for themselves.


Also on Hänssler, as part of their Profil collection, is a brand new recording of Haydn’s “Wallerstein” Symphonies. Haydn was commissioned to write Nos. 90-92 for Prince Kraft Ernst, leader of the German principality of Oettigen-Wallerstein. The prince happened to be an accomplished musician with his own orchestra to lead, and he wanted exclusive rights to some of Papa Haydn’s symphonies.

This album features the Bavarian Chamber Orchestra Bad Brückenau, conducted by Johannes Moesus. Much less experimental than Spillner’s work, Moesus’ recording is more traditional and stately. Princely, if you will. The regal conductor who commissioned these pieces would have been very lucky to hear them played with the kind of delicate beauty Moesus draws from the orchestra in the Adagio from Symphony No. 91:


But it’s not all about the slow passages. When called to, this fine group of players applies its virtuosity with an ease befitting the Classical period. Witness the Finale, marked Allegro assai, of the 90th symphony:


Germany is not the only country contributing to the Haydn archives this year. The Exton arm of Octavia Records has released three more volumes in its Haydn Symphony series with Norichika Iimori conducting the Japan Century Symphony Orchestra.

Volume 6 features Symphonies No. 39, No. 61, and No. 73 “La Chasse”; Volume 7 includes No. 37, No. 78, No. 16, and No. 100 “Military”; and on Volume 8 you’ll find No. 60 “Il distratto” and No. 54. Some of these are available on Spotify.

In the third-movement Minuet from Symphony No. 100, you can immediately hear how Iimori’s work differs from the recordings on Haenssler: Japan Century Symphony Orchestra sounds to be at full force, rather than reduced to a chamber-sized ensemble. Therefore, Iimori focuses more on the larger ideas than on the exquisite details. It’s a mid-20th-century approach to Haydn’s music, one that seems a bit quaint these days of period performance-practice scholarship.

Still, the Japan Century Symphony has a rich, powerful timbre (I’m now curious to hear them play Mahler or Bruckner), and Iimori’s musical decisions are intelligent if not cutting-edge. The opening Allegro assai from Symphony No. 39 demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of Haydn’s use of harmony as drama:

Speaking of interpretations from an earlier era: In his new recording on Chandos, Ivan Ilić considers Symphonies Nos. 92, 75, and 44 from a different perspective – looking down on a keyboard.

He is playing transcriptions of the Haydn symphonies by Carl David Stegmann (1751-1826). The obsession with transcribing orchestral music for keyboard took hold when the modern piano – 88 keys, a metal frame, sustain and damping pedals – came into European households. The instrument’s huge and hugely controllable sound made pianists feel like they had a whole orchestra under their fingers. The most famous example is Liszt’s spectacular versions of the Beethoven symphonies for two hands (if those two hands happen to belong to a pianistic genius like Liszt).

While Stegmann’s task might not have been quite as daunting, his transcriptions are a fascinating experiment in picking apart complex music and deciding what’s most essential about it.

Ilić (pronounced EE-litch) is a Serbian-American pianist with a track record of tackling the arcane and the difficult. He’s got both at once to contend with here, both technically and in terms of interpretation. I mean, are these pieces still Haydn. Haydn wrote all the notes (those that survived Stegmann’s culling). But the use of a modern concert grand automatically takes the works out of the 18thcentury and into the 19th.

I’d say Ilić makes the right choice by not trying to make these pieces in any way “authentic” to what Haydn intended. Instead, he leans the balance toward the later composer. In Ilić’s hands, these symphonies have truly become Romantic pieces, with 19th-century power and resonance.

Odd as they are, one of the joys of these transcriptions is the way they lay bare Haydn’s mastery of the earlier techniques of counterpoint considered old-fashioned in his own day. In this Presto (with a slow introduction marked Grave) from Symphony No. 75, Ilić seems aware of his responsibility: He keeps the contrapuntal lines clear, untangling their interplay like he’s analyzing a game of chess.

In The Beginning

In The Beginning

In The Beginning

Bob Wood

Believe it or not, several people have encouraged me to write about my time in radio. Who cares about radio? Not even me, anymore. But I sure did then. As you’ll read, there are many stories of what you hear and don’t get to hear…Disc Jockeys, or “Air Talent” were the voices you heard, live, between songs. Some were funny, informative, crazy, but usually pretty enthusiastic, or dramatic.


I got into radio (in my mind) my first day as a freshman at Villanova University, when, while standing in line, a guy with a microphone came up to me to ask questions about what I expected, etc. I was intrigued by the microphone. Who WAS this guy? I was still finding buildings my classes were in, but I had my radar out for this CAMPUS RADIO STATION.

My first days at WWVU were a complete blur….

Eventually I found it, and joined the volunteer staff as an engineer (I was in the engineering school and all you had to do was read meters every so often.) The station was on carrier current, which meant you had to be plugged into the campus electrical system. We were on an old Conelrad (google it) frequency on AM…at a very low power.

Seriously, no power, no listeners. It wasn’t uncommon to find the transmitter shut off, hours after it was supposed to be turned on—as in, 2PM. At 4, someone would notice the thing was off. Cold. But you got to practice as if.

Art Constantine, aka Sharpie Artie, was a fellow freshman engineering student, and I discovered we didn’t live too far away from each other. Upon a visit I saw these outdoor speakers and ‘equipment’ in his basement.

“What’s that?”

“Oh, I did bar mitzvah parties and dances.”

“Still working?”


“Well, how would you feel if we go into business and use your gear and I will book the jobs. It’ll be a 50/50 split between us.”


Little did either of us know that I COULD sell, and we began a happy time running record hops at country clubs, church auditoriums, virtually any empty building I could find and locate the owner – even in the repair shop of a motorcycle dealer (closed by the Fire Marshall, a good move!). Then Art forged a relationship with the hot new radio station in town, WFIL, and couldn’t handle all the jobs he was getting, so he then introduced ME to them and we both had a lot of work.

At a record hop.

We’d provide the sound system, records, announce for the first hour, the deejay from WFIL would appear in magnificence, do a couple quick dedications, a contest or two, introduce the free-for-publicity local band when there was one, and leave. I’d do the last hour, then bring the money back to the deejay’s apartment. I didn’t get a split with him though, just a fee, which was too bad because he had a LOT of ones every night. Still, it paid well.

At the highest point of our success, Art explained he didn’t need me any longer. I bucked up, bought gear and eventually, a truck, and was back in it. Art was such a funny guy I was happy to be around him, usually in the reconciliation of the night’s dances. Since the dj didn’t have to be in one place for more than maybe an hour, he’d or we’d set up dances where he could hopscotch. I remember one day where WFIL’s Long John Wade, for whom I primarily worked, had 5!!! (FIVE!) dances on one day, from PA to NJ, and he traveled by plane!

I got to hang with Long John in the honest-to-god pro studio—in fact, all he did was talk and point. The point would cue an engineer in another room with windows facing the talent, to do the next thing, roll a song or a commercial. The station was unionized, thus the two-man operation. It was also a TV station, and unions abounded then.

WFIL was great! To me, Long John was a star. He was tall, thin, dressed real mod, knew, and had spent 30 days with the Beatles on one of their tours, had a great voice, a knockout wife, and a .45 automatic on his hip. One day I expected an early death as LJ passed a car by driving very fast in the curb lane before having to avoid the parked cars coming up fast. His Shelby Cobra GT 350 and lead foot kept us alive.

Now I had the school station to play in, and the REAL station in which to hang out. As radio engineer I was quickly bored, sitting watching someone else be ‘on the radio,’ so I volunteered and was given an “on-air” shift where nobody listened for SURE. The dead zone of the dead zone: Friday night on a college campus, on a station few could hear, even if they tried.

Bob Wall, Pete Gladis, Art Constantine try to remove my tongue to spare the world my dj work, at WWVU.

Here are some memories of WWVU: My first memory is being on the air and banging on a trash can with a hammer. I don’t remember why. The station initially was a montage of ‘formats’ from easy listening to rock to jazz and so on. I guess they felt students were being well rounded by learning anything at all about the dying radio of that time. Top 40 was king, later came album stations, country was always around, as was news. Even top 40s did the news, some in real pulpy reads, as in “Buick bashes baby boy’s brains backwards…”

I remember we had a very large reel to reel tape deck that in rewind or fast forward would go SCARY fast. We had pro equipment, but not much of it. I kept thinking that if one of those reels came off, it could be dangerous to be sitting nearby. (See station three for more on this!)

I watched one of the sports guys actually fake a broadcast of a basketball game by reading off the teletype (ancient now) and reconstructing plays as if he was there.

WWVU was actually pretty good for what it was. Of all the people who passed through the station in my four years, I think only three of us went into radio for careers. Oh, and Jim Croce went ONTO the radio. He was a senior when I was a lowlife freshman.

We called it WOO VOO.