Issue 97

The Editors, They are a changin’

The Editors, They are a changin’

Frank Doris

I’m thrilled and honored to be named the new editor of Copper.

Many of you may know me from my decades in the audio industry as a writer, editor, PR person and audio enthusiast, with the emphasis on enthusiast. For those who don’t know me yet: my first industry gig was in 1984 as pop music writer for The Absolute Sound, later serving in various editorial capacities and as founder Harry Pearson’s setup man, friend and foil. Talk about trial by fire! I was the Silver Surfer to HP’s Galactus.

I’ve written for The Tracking Angle (now Analog Planet), Home Theater, Cineluxe and Sound & Vision among others. I handle public relations for consumer and pro audio companies. (Let’s get this out of the way: I am careful to avoid even potential conflicts of interest.)

I’ve been passionate about music and audio since hearing my parents’ tube radio sitting on the kitchen counter of our Brooklyn apartment, playing the AM hits of the late 1950s. I was riveted by the music and the sound. How did the music come out of that little box? How was it made? Who was making it? What are those sounds? Like a baby duck, I was imprinted. Such things still fascinate me.

Paul McGowan, head honcho of PS Audio and the rest of the Copper staff share this kind of enthusiasm and I am really stoked to be joining them.

When I was a teenager a friend’s father had the first hi-fi I had ever seen – Marantz electronics, big Rectilinear III speakers and a turntable I can’t remember. The dad saw me gaping at all of it and asked, “would you like to hear it?” “Yes!” “On one condition. Sit in that chair and I will play you 15 minutes of music and you won’t say a word, just listen.”

I was stunned. I had never heard music sound so vivid, and realistic. I had no idea a stereo could sound like that. The fire was later fueled in high school by my friend the late, great Bob Reina of TAS and Stereophile, who introduced me to high-end audio (along with a lot of great music). His Dahlquist DQ-10s were a revelation. These moments changed my life – and I haven’t told you yet about the first time I heard the Infinity IRS V loudspeakers at HP’s...

A little more background: I’m not dogmatic. I believe observational listening and measurements are both valid. I enjoy vinyl, hi-res digital, streaming audio, small two-way monitors, big floorstanders, whatever gets you through the night. There’s merit in both modest and monolithic audio systems. I like playing guitar, going to concerts, science fiction, pugs, garage sales, good deals on shoes, well-crafted objects and many other things.

I like all kinds of music but there’s a special place in my heart for Blue Öyster Cult. (Another story for another time.)

Audio and music are an art, a science, a commercial endeavor, a manifestation of dreams, a means of self-expression and so much more. Copper reflects all of that, and we intend to further our explorations.

I look forward to joining in the fun and sharing in the passion of our writers and the enthusiasm of our readers. Onward!

Three Winners, A Loser - And One That Might Have Been!

Three Winners, A Loser - And One That Might Have Been!

Three Winners, A Loser - And One That Might Have Been!

Tom Gibbs

The Replacements  Dead Man’s Pop

1989 found the Replacements either on the verge of a major commercial breakthrough or possible self implosion. Their new album Don’t Tell a Soul had just been released, and was a surprise commercial hit. “I’ll Be You” became their only song to ever chart, landing at number one on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart—how could things possibly get any better—or perhaps be any worse? Paul Westerberg was completely beside himself.

They’d spent months at Bearsville Studios in New York working on Don’t Tell a Soul, but were growing tired of constantly battling original producer Tony Berg. And Paul Westerberg was completely dissatisfied with the sound. A change of venue and producers was definitely in order, and the ’Mats relocated to LA’s Cherokee Studio under the helm of rising producer Matt Wallace. Wallace’s tapes had a spare but punchy sound that imbued much of the proceedings with a “live in the studio” kind of feel. The band responded with a superb effort musically, one that sounded much more like they were about to abandon their confrontational approach to the music business and embrace the stardom that had always eluded them. However—even though Matt Wallace had the record mixed and essentially in the can, the powers at Sire Records decided that they needed to bring in a more bankable producer to create the final mix. Someone with a more radio-friendly ear that would deliver the slick, polished sheen that would sell lots of records. Chris Lord-Alge was designated for the task; known for compressing the hell out most everything he mixed for luminaries like Madonna and Bruce Springsteen, his house sound sold albums. From Sire’s point of view—mission accomplished.

Paul Westerberg was pissed. The album didn’t sound anything like Matt Wallace’s tapes, and Westerberg was quite vocal to the music press about his disdain for the album’s sound, sounding to him “like everything else on the radio.” Although the Replacements soldiered on for a couple of more years, by 1991, the dream was over. The ’Mats had quite the history of absconding with their original tapes (actually tossing the classic Twin Tone label tapes from their first three albums into the Mississippi!), and no one really had any idea what had happened to Matt Wallace’s tapes of the Don’t Tell a Soul sessions. Until, almost miraculously, they were discovered in Slim Dunlap’s basement decades later. Slim’s wife called Replacements biographer Bob Mehr and asked him to come pick them up!

And so we have Dead Man’s Pop—the working title for Don’t Tell a Soul, and presented here as a four-CD/one LP boxed set. Only two of the seventy-one tracks found in the set have ever seen the light of day. Among the treasure trove discovered was Matt Wallace’s original mix, and while a bit rough, it served as the template for what’s been delivered as the ultimate version of the album on the first CD and 180 gram LP. Matt Wallace was contacted about the project, and was totally stoked to remaster and remix the tapes to restore his original vision for the album, along with the inclusion of demos and outtakes from the sessions. A second CD contains the original Bearsville recordings; while understandably inferior to the Wallace tapes, they’re still an instructional listen, nonetheless. And none other than Tom Waits—who apparently was a big fan—dropped in and guested on a selection of tunes, where he and Westerberg just basically got really blasted and cranked out the jam. Two discs contain a 1989 concert at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee that finds the ’Mats in very good sound, indeed—sounding much more polished and professional than most anyone generally ever gives them credit for. All in all, for Replacements completists, the set is the perfect collection of oddities and curiosities, and the perfectly realized version of Don’t Tell a Soul we’ve all been waiting for.

All my listening was done through Roon with Tidal’s 24/96 MQA version, which sounded truly superb. Matt Wallace’s remix of the album is an absolute revelation, and the sequencing of the songs has been restored from Lord-Alge’s bastardization to their original order. The ’Mats had mellowed and matured by this point, with most of Paul Westerberg’s songs taking on more of a “jangly guitars” kind of sound as opposed to the raucous days of the early Twin Tone records. The sound of the new mix is remarkably even; incredible, considering that the Lord-Alge version of Don’t Tell a Soul is definitely the most maligned Replacements album ever. And the liner notes are adapted from biographer Bob Mehr’s excellent book Trouble Boys; if you haven’t read the book, order one now—it’s an essential read for all ’Mats fans. This outstanding set is very highly recommended!

Rhino Records, 4 CDs/LP (download/streaming from Amazon, Tidal, Qobuz, Google Play Music, Apple Music, Spotify, Deezer)


Elbow  Giants of All Sizes

Manchester band Elbow are pop darlings in their native England, with each of their last two albums having shot to number one on the charts; that includes their latest release, Giants of All Sizes. Which is their eighth studio album over a twenty-year period, and has me asking: how is it that I’m totally unfamiliar with their body of work, which falls somewhere in the prog/alt pop/dream pop spectrum. Witness the sprawling seven-minute opening track “Dexter & Sinister,” in which singer and bandleader Guy Garvey opines in his velvety voice that “loss is a part of a life this long…with the heaviest heart jackhammering within me…and I don’t know Jesus anymore.” The song—and the album, in general—laments the current state of an increasingly divisive and inhospitable England in the age of Brexit. It’s a glorious song, with quirky meter changes and an almost grindingly propulsive beat that suddenly gives way to an atmospheric, wordless coda sung by guest vocalist Jesca Hoop that wouldn’t sound too out of place on a Pink Floyd album. And that’s only the first song!

This is Elbow’s most overtly political album ever; in “White Noise, White Heat” Garvey sings “the white noise of the lies, the white heat of injustice has taken my eyes; I just want to get high.” We might want to think the current age of Trumpian madness is restricted to our side of the pond, but longing for a simpler, less complicated existence is an almost universal truth across diverse cultures and great distances. When Garvey sings in the chorus of “Empires” that “empires crumble all the time…pay it no mind…you just happened to witness mine,” he’s referencing his own struggles as well as the bigger picture. Yes, there’s a definite philosophical/political undercurrent here, but Giants of All Sizes is also filled with remarkably good pop songs with often proggy accompaniments that makes for a seriously enjoyable listen.

I did all my listening via Roon with Tidal’s 24/88 MQA version of this album; the sound quality was superb throughout. This was an eye-opening exposure for me to the genius of Guy Garvey and Elbow, and hearing Giants of All Sizes has only increased my desire to dig more deeply into their available catalog. Prior to recording this record, Guy Garvey grappled very hard with the passing of his father and the mourning period involved; the 2017 bombing in hometown Manchester and its aftermath; and what Garvey describes as the “absolute cultural disaster” in the wake of Brexit. Despite having all that on a very full plate, both he and Elbow have crafted an excellent album that satisfies both musically and emotionally. Very highly recommended.

Polydor Records, CD/LP (download/streaming from Amazon, Tidal, Qobuz, Google Play Music, Deezer)


Kanye West  Jesus is King

I saw a recent online article about upcoming trends that are most definitely going to happen. Among them was “Most Likely to Start His Own Religion”, which will feature Kanye West as the new Yeezus. It most definitely has happened; he appeared a week or so ago with his “Sunday Service” tour at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church here in Atlanta. From what I could tell from the local news coverage, it was a highly orchestrated publicity stop and photo op for his new album, Jesus is King. Where Kanye delivered not only his reaffirmation of his embrace of Christianity, but also an exclusive opportunity for the 600 or so onlookers to aquire some high-dollar Jesus is King merch afterwards in the church lobby. I expect Kanye will replace the “Jesus” part with “Yeezus” in his not-too-distant messianic future.

Are people really taking this seriously? I was raised in the backwoods of rural North Georgia, only a generation apart from snake-handling, fanatical religious evangelicals. As a kid, my family once attended a large-scale family reunion in South Carolina, where at some point, someone broke out the rattlesnakes—and three people were bitten. Of course, the logic of the “true believers” is that, if bitten—and you live—well, then, you’re obviously right with God. Otherwise…you get the picture. Later on, in my late teens, I also had the experience of attending a full-blown frenzy of an event starring The Mighty Clouds of Joy at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta; think, James Brown’s performance in The Blues Brothers. Kanye has perhaps a shred of the charisma of James Brown! My hands-on experience with religious fundamentalism makes it personally hard for me to place much faith in Kanye’s track record of sincerity in his approach to just about anything, especially religion. Even if he’s only singing about it.

Kanye’s struggles with bipolarism are widely documented; I saw another online article where the author—who is also bipolar—set forth a deep connection between bipolarism and religious fervor. If God rains down his (financial) blessings on the West/Kardasian compound, I expect that will probably be close enough to redemption for Ye. You pays your money, and you gets what you pay for—I can choose from fourteen over-the-air channels and get a close (maybe even gold-plated!) approximation of the Yeezus on my TV screen. I’d pass on this one.

Getting Out Our Dreams II/Def Jam Recordings, CD/LP (download/streaming from Amazon, Tidal, Qobuz, Google Play Music)



Matthew Snow  Iridescence

Iridescence is bassist and composer Matthew Snow’s self-produced debut as a leader, although he’s been a fixture on the New York jazz scene for the last seven years. He composed all the tunes here, and they’re played in a bit of a twist from the typical straight-ahead style, eschewing the seemingly mandatory inclusion of a piano or tenor sax to anchor the proceedings. Instead, going for a sextet built around Daisuke Abe on guitar, Joe Doubleday playing vibes, David Gibson on trombone, Clay Lyons on alto sax, Wayne Smith playing drums, and, of course, Matt Snow’s acoustic bass. Snow very generously gives all the players plenty of room to stretch out, and he mostly avoids the spotlight, allowing the contributions of the sidemen to shine throughout. While Iridescence mostly consists of traditional hard-bop fare, a few ballads are thrown in for good measure.

You get the impression that these guys have played together for some time, and know each other very well. The playing on Iridescence is of a very high caliber throughout, seamlessly flowing back and forth from group choruses to individual solos. The spotlight is generally focused on either trombonist David Gibson, who solos to spectacular effect on both the moody ballad “Brood” and the album’s closer, “Venus.” Clay Lyons’ alto sax takes the fore on the excellent “Jealousy”, which is also one of the few tunes where Matthew Snow steps into the spotlight with a brief solo. And Joe Doubleday’s vibes are heavily featured on almost every tune—more about that in just a moment.

I fully understand that these are tough times for musicians of any genre, and that all the traditional music distribution modes have gone by the wayside now that streaming is becoming the norm. Playing gigs, and maybe selling their CDs are the only sure ways of making any kind of sustainable income in the current age. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the musicians here still work day jobs; following their passion for music after hours. I really do feel for these guys, especially jazz musicians.

That said, this is one of the most poorly mixed and/or recorded jazz outings I’ve heard in a really long time. A couple of things probably happened here; it was probably produced on a shoestring budget, and the recording equipment and studio (if any) seem to have been makeshift. Nothing wrong with recording an album in your own home (ask Rudy Van Gelder about that!), but it’s great to have someone onboard who has a really good sense for what good recorded sound should be. Example: I mentioned about Joe Doubleday’s vibes being so prominently featured on Iridescence; they literally occupy the entire right channel for the entire recording. He can’t help but get the spotlight—there’s no one else there to share it with him. And on the first three tunes—and two others later in the set—everyone else on the record (save for Matthew Snow) is in the left channel. Far left. Matthew Snow’s bass is firmly anchored in the middle of the soundstage, but it’s almost a ghost effect; only in a couple of tunes, the aforementioned “Brood” and “Jealousy” can you even hear his fingers plucking the strings. The recording has plenty of bass, but it has an almost phantom quality—you’d virtually never know Matthew Snow was occupying a position in the soundfield.

The first three tunes are so heavily balanced to the far left side that I was just about to give up on Iridescence. When suddenly, on track four, “Brood”, David Gibson’s remarkably good trombone sound emerges squarely from the center—and the overall sound becomes glorious! This happens again on Gibson’s solo on the closing tune, as well as Clay Lyon’s fabulous alto turn on “Jealousy”. Those three songs alone give a completely different impression of this recording, and I was listening on the new Magneplanar LRS loudspeakers, which give most recordings about as much of a “you are there” sound as literally possible.

I really don’t mean to be hard on these guys; in artistic terms of the group effort and the quality of playing, Iridescence is a smashing success. With a more experienced hand at the controls, it could have been a complete triumph. I actually ripped the CD using dB Poweramp, and converted the sound to mono; it sounded not at all unlike a classic wide-mono Blue Note session from the sixties. And much less distracting; oh, for what might have been! This album doesn’t actually drop until later this month, so try looking for it in a few weeks.

Self produced, CD (download/streaming from Amazon, CD Baby, Apple Music)


Guillaume Muller  Sketches of Sound

Guillaume Muller, born and raised in Paris, began playing guitar as a teen; eventually he followed his dream to Boston, enrolling in the prestigious Berklee College of Music. After graduating in 2015, he then moved to New York, where he’s been playing and teaching for the last four years. Regularly playing with the NYU Jazz Orchestra and the NYU Wayne Shorter Ensemble. And performing at iconic NYC venues like The Blue Note, Minton’s, and Bar Lunatico, and even performing live on WBGO—The Jazz Source of New York. Oh, and by the way, he also completed his Master’s degree in Jazz Studies from NYU Steinhardt—yeah, I’d say he’s been pretty busy!

The sessions for Sketches of Sound were held at the James L. Dolan Studios in NYC earlier this year, and the tapes were recorded, mixed, and mastered by Tyler McDiarmid. The quintet consists of Nino Wenger on alto sax, Jim Funnell plays piano, Gui Duvgnau on acoustic bass, and Josh Bailey on drums, rounded out by Guillaume Muller’s outstanding contribution on guitar. These guys are all crack musicians, and they’re all given plenty of room to solo and stretch out. Of the seven tunes included here, six are self-penned by Muller, with the seventh being a very clever reworking of the classic Arthur Schwartz/Howard Dietz standard “Alone Together”. Nearly unrecognizable from any other recorded version of the tune I’ve heard, I had to hit the replay button repeatedly on my disc player to make sure I was listening to the correct track! Despite most of the tunes being originals, they all have a ring of familiarity to them that makes them very accessible.

Sketches of Sound is Muller’s debut CD as a leader, and it’s an absolutely textbook example of a self-produced recording that not only includes magnificent performances from all the players, but is offered in audiophile-quality sound as well. Listening through the Magneplanar LRS’s, I was absolutely blown away by the stunning realism of the stereo image. And the overall quality of the recording is staggeringly good; each of the players occupies a very real and palpable position in the soundstage—they’re literally right there in the room with you. All of the instruments are incredibly dynamic; the drums are especially percussive, and the cymbals just absolutely shimmer. This is perhaps the finest jazz combo recording I’ve had the pleasure to audition so far this year!

If this disc is any indication of Guillaume Muller’s talents, he has a very bright future ahead of him. Check out Sketches of Sound, if you get the chance—it comes very highly recommended!

Self produced, CD (download/streaming from Bandcamp, Tidal, Amazon, Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play Music, Pandora, You Tube, Deezer)


Bob Wood

Wilmington, Delaware. WAMS served Wilmington, but the studio was at the transmitter on Mt. Cuba outside beautiful Greenville, Delaware, maybe 20 miles from town. It was a neighborhood of mansions with horses and helicopter pads. Our five towers would flash at night as required by the FAA. The neighbors hated it, but the towers predated the neighborhood.

WAMS, an AM on 1380, had what they called a DA-3 pattern, which meant it had three directional signals, depending on what time it was. On Sunday nights, it signed off and another station on the same frequency would broadcast God’s words. This is all highly unusual, and if you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, you couldn’t even get the station. My shift was 7 or 8 until Midnight. At the time I joined, newcomer WFIL in Philadelphia, which blanketed Wilmington, had surged ahead in the ratings by a lot. Many people in the business thought WFIL was one of the top stations in the US. They WERE great. And here I was, going up against MY favorite station, which I had gotten to know, inside and out, doing record hops while in college, as you know if you have read this far.

We had a 100 watt red bulb at eye level in the studio, which would light up if we were off the air, and this included those few seconds between patterns as the engineer adjusted the coverage area per FCC. One evening he came in to work on the switching and told me there’d be many offs and ons while he fought sticky relays. A record would be playing, then we’d go off, then on, then off, then on, etc. After enough times, I thought, I turned everything off in the studio. The light went out, we were back broadcasting, but nothing was coming from the studio. The engineer likely shat.  Finally, after a pause (remember, ‘dead’ air seems like forever if you are involved with it) I turned on the microphone and said, “It’s not us, check your batteries.”

He got me back by taking me for a ride in the country where we were, in a new very hot car (his family was tied into many things, including, I believe, a dealership, and even the station.) We zoomed at very high speeds, on one and half-lane country roads. We were flying and it occurred to me that maybe this guy had a death wish.

I liked Wilmington (Greenville, especially) and Wilmington liked me. My ratings in Wilmington blew WFIL away, but not without a LOT of work. I got us involved in a promotion called “SCHOOL WITH THE BIGGEST HEART” where high schoolers were encouraged to make their school “win.” A penny a vote. I don’t think I realized, as this started, that I would have to go to every high school in the listening (and non listening) area and address the students in person to beg for pennies in assemblies.

Then I would dedicate that night’s show to whichever school I had visited that day. Any stage fright I might have had quickly dissipated.

It’s odd – on the radio you pretend/assume there are listeners because you can’t see them. On stage, there they are. I found that in any crowd, some like you for no reason, some hate you for no reason, and 85% of them don’t care at all.

So I went school to school. We collected about a million pennies ($10,000). WAMS’ general manager was cheap, so there wasn’t really any prize except a plaque from the American Red Cross.

I am sure that making all those appearances got the station and my show some attention. When the ratings came out I beat WFIL 3 to 1 at my time slot: a 30 to 10 share.

I have many snapshots of WAMS to tell you:

One evening, the newsman put on a dress he found in a closet. Ha ha, big joke. But he left it on all night.

Being out in the country, among the large estates, we could open the studio window. Occasionally, when I did, the engineer would be out riding around the parking lot in a power mower. Listeners might have heard him drive by when my microphone was on.

We had three Program Directors in a relatively short time. One of them did afternoons, and he challenged me to a bet which took place on the air. We each chose one of the largest high schools as “our” school for the annual Thanksgiving rivalry. Loser would have to go to the WINNING school, after making fun of them for weeks, and attend classes with the football team. I lost. These boys were PISSED at me. And to top it off, I had to appear at an assembly in front of the whole school. As I walked across the stage, about 1500 kids booed me. I didn’t know what to do, so I thought maybe I’d just stand there and outlast them. I stood and watched my watch as they had at me. Eventually, it died down and I explained it was a promotion and I lost, etc. (more boos). Boos can’t hurt if you have the right attitude, and who could blame them? Oh – almost forgot – I also did the morning announcements so the whole school knew I was on site…and by the end of the day they were ready to have at me.

We had a celebrity softball team, and I’d usually get to play a little, then have to run back for my 7 PM shift. One close game, the Program Director told me I could stay until 8. I couldn’t figure out his priorities. Softball got out of hand – a bunch of salesmen and others would be in the parking lot and field playing catch way before the end of the workday. But it was fun!

I thought we were pretty good until we played a professional 3 person woman’s team. I had spent so many hours as a kid hitting a wiffle ball on a rope tied to a high tree branch, that I felt I could hit anything within range…it would swing back wildly and I could hit any angle…and I could place my hit too. But that woman pitcher threw so hard I couldn’t even see the ball go by!

We got paid poorly plus a small talent fee when commercials we did aired on our show. $0.15 per. A monthly talent fee might be $15.

One night, as we got hit by a wild thunderstorm, our five towers on our hill were getting hit over and over. Flashing was constant. The noise was tremendous! We lost power. The effeminate janitor stood in a “might wet myself” pose and whimpered “I sho hope dat we don die.” The generator kicked in but ran off speed, which meant no 60 cycle electricity. Maybe 45 or 50, so the turntables ran too slow. Then there wasn’t enough current or voltage to throw the relays to start our tape machines. Then the generator ran out of gas. The newsman went out in the station newswagon* for gas to refill the generator. Then a falling tree hit the newswagon at the end of the driveway. Just another night in radio.

* the newswagon or newscruiser had #3 on one side and #4 on the other. Who’d ever see both sides at once? It appeared then, that we had four of them.

Everybody burgled the coke machine, which was one of the old horizontal ones. There was a shim which you’d insert instead of a coin, then pull it out with your ice cold bottle.

The Program Director who hired me did afternoons on the air and he was often out of the studio when a record would run out. You’d hear him running down the hall, into the studio, and he’d simultaneously flip a disc onto an empty turntable, hit start, and toss the tonearm onto it, turn on his microphone, and cover the lack of music by talking until the music did start. This happened so often I am pretty sure that’s why they fired him. Never could figure why he was always doing something else.

We had a mystery speaker in the production room (where commercials and public service was recorded). A nice big Wharfdale. It never worked. Apparently, they moved the station from downtown to the transmitter site very quickly and didn’t document any of the studio wiring! Most amazing was you could talk into the microphone in there, leave the room (tape still recording), then walk back in and speak again and it would sound completely different. Nobody could ever figure this out.

I once led an insurrection against perceived wrongs. I got my colleagues on the air staff stirred up and led them to the general manager’s office to lay out our grievances. By the time I got to the door there was no one behind me. So, I marched in and let the man have it myself. He wasn’t pleased and nothing changed except I learned a lesson.


Sales had this idea – sell a client a deal where the personality would try to stay awake as long as possible and broadcast every 15 minutes or so from the sponsor location. The first one was at a music (equipment) store, a big success. The gdj made it past 100 hours* and lots of all nighter musicians dropped by.

*He then came to one of our softball games. I can report his pupils were the size of points and am pretty sure some speed was involved.

I was assigned the second WAKEATHON. At Northtown Clothing Care Center: A Laundromat. Everything went wrong. The people who showed up (largely the music store hippie types) weren’t there to do laundry. No reasonable person would be excited by this. The client was upset. He offered deals like 5 cents off the first load…at 3AM! I didn’t do drugs – coffee, sure, but not speed. I started to have trouble saying the name of the place and was hallucinating bats flying in the rear of the place (look it up: sleep deprivation does that.) Made it to 56 hours as I recall. Just an awful time. I don’t remember a third WAKEATHON. I am pretty sure the client didn’t pay.

On the air I said pretty much what I wanted while playing the proper music. I would give out tomorrow’s pop quiz answers (that I made up) to various high school classes, etc.

My shift ended at Midnight and since the news guy would leave at 11, I would have to do a five minute newscast at 11:55. Well, one night he wrote “toe” truck instead of “tow” truck and I couldn’t stop laughing. I’d turn off the microphone and try to compose myself but couldn’t. I laughed for three of those five minutes. I saw my job fly away. I could not stop. Finally I closed with, “…this news has been brought to you by the Bank of Delaware – the Bank with a sense of humor.” Maybe nobody was listening. I never got into trouble.

And there were pranks. At 12:05 AM, the all night guy would have to read community notices for a few minutes, which were on 5×7 cards. At the time, there was this terrible murder in town that was in the news constantly. A girl, who the newspaper suggested was a “bar girl” – whatever that was – was murdered, and they found her body dismembered, half of it in a trunk. Naturally, there was a lot of suspense about what was assumed to be another trunk full. Well, I immaturely took the full length picture of the victim that was printed by the paper, cut it in two, pasted it on the community calendar sheets, and buried them maybe 5th and 9th in the stack. Horrible. And darn if the all night guy managed to get through everything with ZERO reaction. But he did get me back. Days later, reading a commercial in the midnight news for Bank of Delaware, I hit the line about “make withdrawals with no penalty,” and a packet of condoms comes flying out of nowhere and hits my copy. In the seriousness of the moment this was the funniest thing ever. Again, the Bank with the Sense of Humor. And again, got away with it.

An associate and I made up some jingles for the personalities; two guys with no music singing out of key. I remember my favorite – “He’s the man with a thousand voices… it’s too bad they all sound the same.”

Our first GM was a fat man. For whatever reason, he’d come up to you in the hall and pretend to kick you in the face, maybe to show his dexterity – he really could get that foot that high. I was always so tempted to just snag the foot as it went by and slowly push back. He’d be down like Frasier. Don’t know what management book contained that stunt of his. There was no HR for decades.

I should mention what it felt like being on the air. First of all, I liked it. My ego liked it. You sit in a smallish room and pretend anyone is listening (first) and then hearing what you say (second.)  Sadly, many are not doing either. But some are. So you assume the audience. You assume what you say counts somehow, especially back when you could be a personality and entertain somehow. I was always nervous on the first day or two, then there was no intimidation factor left. I DID want to do a good job, so I would spend a lot of off air time trying to figure out what to say or do on the air.

You also want things technical to run smoothly. Now it’s all on a computer. It runs everything, and when it’s your turn to talk, there’s a window for that. You can override the computer but it’s easier to let it go, and many do. This led the broadcasters of music stations to begin to “track” their shows – they wouldn’t sit there and hear the songs, just the beginning and end and where they’d talk. That then led to companies using the same person on several stations at once, even in the same city, even at the same time. Back when I was on the air there was a lot of finding and filing music and elements, running what they called “a tight board,” which meant songs played at the exact time the preceding ended, no gaps between anything. The computer does it now, not that there aren’t gremlins.

A station in Minneapolis (number one today) had one of its shows tracked (voice tracked) and for some reason the computer just played what he said. No music, no commercials, just everything he said for four hours in a row.

Why do music stations play the same songs over and over? Because the audience varies, like waves coming onto the beach, after one passes you need to satisfy the next wave. You know the new song by the most popular artist will have high interest, so that – and songs like it – play several to many times a day, depending on how those waves of audience are measured. You might have 10,000 listeners at an instant, but within the next minute, say, 5,674 leave and 3,998 new listeners turn it on. Once you get the audience research math, you can calculate the rate of audience turnover and adjust repeats for each new wave.

My Helios, Redux

My Helios, Redux

My Helios, Redux

Dan Schwartz

I’ve been asked a couple times about the recording / mixing console I own (with a friend). So I thought I might write a little about it.

Helios began at Olympic Studios in Barnes, London: Dick Sweetenham had been the chief electronics designer there, and according to at least one conversation I had with Glyn Johns, he and Island records owner Chris Blackwell seduced Sweetenham away from Olympic to build consoles. I’ve been told that Sweetenham, as a point of pride, would say back then, “Studios install Neve. Musicians install Helios. “ He had a bit of a point: the list of owners when it was still a going concern is impressively stacked with great musicians — the Fabs owned one, the Stones owned three, Leon Russell, Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Alvin Lee, 10cc…you get it.

The story goes thus: Richard Branson bought an old manor house outside Oxford, England in 1970, allegedly with a loan from his aunt, to set up a recording studio. In an earlier incarnation, this particular manor had been home to the painter William Turner. Through producer Tom Newman, he had met Mike Oldfield and agreed to “spec” him a week’s time in November of 1972 to record. Legend has it that when no existing record label would release Oldfield’s spectacular Tubular Bells, producer Tom Newman leaned on Branson to form the record label Virgin Records to make sure it got out. If this is true, I must say — good move! From there, things spiraled upwards.

With the profits from the record, the Manor’s chief engineer Mick Glossop went to Dick Sweetenham, and commissioned the largest Helios ever made. And, oh, it’s big. It’s approximately U-shaped, 12’6” wide, 6’3” deep, 4 feet high. 32 full microphone amplifier and equalization channels on the central part of the frame, a 28-input monitor section in the left-wing, 24-buss; a 32-input by 24 by 4 (yes, it’s quad!) by 2 recording/mixing console.

It resided at the Manor until about late ’81, and then was put in storage. A friend of Dick Sweetenham bought it in 1985, brought it over from England, and installed it in a studio in Malibu, California. I met him in 1991 (through David Manley, of all people). I bought a couple of Ampex MR-70s from him, asked what else he had, and when he said he had a Helios — I was stunned. “You have WHAT?” Helios was legendary, but I had never seen one. He had again put it in storage, and we bought it.

We had intended to have a studio for making music free from pressure. The thought was to have the place paid for by the music that one would make there — after all, it was the early ’90s, and everything I ever wanted was unwanted by anyone else — non-digital and non-programmable. But at that same time, I started working with Bill Bottrell and he seemed to have the same thought. I also moved in my with my girlfriend, got married, had a baby, and bought a house. And that’s where the studio went. My partner in the board has a small place where he does audiobooks and mixes for television.

Sometime about twenty years ago, Keith Levene was crawling around among the boxes in my darkroom (used for storage), and came across one containing a part of the Helios: “It’s the (expletive deleted) Helios computer that never worked!” It was the display for something called a Memory’s Little Helper, an early automation system. I can’t testify as to whether or not it ever worked, but I didn’t intend to use it.

Over the years I’ve had some pressure to “part it out” — that is, sell off the parts of it (and make a good profit at that). But I feel a sense of obligation to our history. Somewhere, sometime, someone will want to put it to use.

The Manor. Modest, no?

AES NYC 2019

AES NYC 2019

AES NYC 2019

John Seetoo

For over 70 years, the Audio Engineering Society has been at the forefront making the latest technical information for sound recording, reinforcement, processing, and enhancement available to audio engineers and producers around the world. AES convention events have been showcases for the latest equipment and a forum for industry luminaries to share their experience and discuss where the industry was heading in the future. AES New York 2019 has kept to this format and taken it in a new direction, with its recognition and inclusion of Hip-Hop and EDM, the realities and labyrinths concerning finance for audio entrepreneurs, the ever increasing technical merge between audio and video, and some of the latest innovations to hit the market.

Kicking things off with a keynote address from Hip Hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash, AES New York surprisingly appeared to have even more attendees than last year, in spite of sporting fewer exhibitors and symposium events. Grandmaster Flash ironically demonstrated how imagination and innovation ultimately trump gear limitations by looping and creating breaks using bare bones old school equipment: a pair of turntables, vinyl records, and a crayon.

Symposiums covered a variety of topics, ranging from the loudness wars, sampling for hip hop, new technology standards, and other changes in the audio industry. The overall theme, whether intentional or not, seemed to be a look towards the future.

While it is impossible for one person to attend all of the symposiums and demos, here are a few of the significant highlights from the 147th AES, Day 2:

Mix With the Masters 

Hailing from Paris, France, Mix With the Masters has been producing impressive educational videos on audio engineering and production, featuring such industry legends as Al Schmitt, Sylvia Massy, Tchad Blake, Eddie Kramer, Bernie Grudman, Hans Zimmer, Timbaland, and many others. Additionally, they host live workshops and a special annual one week seminar at Studio La Fabrique in France.

Multiple Grammy Award winning engineer Michael Brauer (Coldplay’s, Viva La Vida and Parachutes; John Mayer’s, Continuum and Battle Studies), gave an uplifting and enlightening presentation on some of the creative tools that the mixing engineer has at his or her disposal to contribute to the music – some with potentially radical results.

Michael Brauer

Brauer stressed the need for getting emotionally involved with the music in order to find the elements that best communicated to an audience. Far too often, the foundational elements can be obscured by “ear candy” or overemphasis on a drum sound or reverb at the expense of a groove or melody. The proliferation of plug ins and infinitesimal sound processing choices often tempt engineers into becoming distracted by support elements, which he likened to building a mix on quicksand. Whether the foundation was a guitar hook, a vocal line, or a drum groove, Brauer was emphatic about locating it and cited a number of helpful techniques to accomplish that task.

Some of these tips included:

  • Starting the mix at the loudest or most complex part of the song, rather than at the beginning. In this way, the maximum loudness levels can be established and the song’s most climactic, emotionally impactful moments could set the tone for the rest of the song;
  • Deleting or focusing on specific percussion instruments that could change the groove and dynamics of a song in different sections;
  • Manual use of the console as another tool for the engineer to inject emotional participation into the music, such as using faders for exaggerated tremolo, mute switches, and other real time improvisations.

Brauer’s overriding message was that if we were approaching the music like musicians, we would just flow with it and not think of the scales or technical details and be in the moment of the performance. Translation: Engineering should not be about watching a screen and calculations, but be fun and no different in its approach to music.

Tom Lord-Alge (Rolling Stones, U2, P!nk, Oasis) gave an informative and humorous presentation as he attempted to contain his expletives while describing the initial hurdles he faced when mixing Blink 182’s “Adam’s Song” some 20 years ago and how he approached the remix today. His Pro Tools shortcut tips for drum replacement triggers and the use of guitar processors for drum sounds demonstrated his wide open, “whatever sounds good” mixing methodology.

Tom Lord-Alge

Funding Your Dream

One of the most welcomed symposiums was headed by attorney Heather Rafter of the boutique law firm RafterMarsh, a transatlantic legal specialist in the digital and audio technology industry. Other panelists included Phil Dudderidge of Focusrite, Ethan Jacks of Mediabridge Capital, Mark Ethier of iZotope, and mastering engineer Piper Payne.

From Left to Right: Phil Dudderidge, Piper Payne, Mark Ethier, and Ethan Jacks.

Rafter, who was lead counsel for Digidesign and Avid for over a decade, presented a well crafted overview of the financing landscape for entrepreneurs in the audio equipment and digital products industries. Providing examples for the pros and cons of venture capital, crowdfunding, debt finance, Mergers and Acquisitions, and other strategies, the Funding Your Dream symposium provided some much needed information for exhibitors and engineers alike. The panel additionally covered many of the unforeseen financial risks that both investors and entrepreneurs face without a solid business plan, and also how the Chinese tariff controversy can affect hardware manufacturing dependent businesses.

Given the breakthrough software and hardware design innovations being introduced annually in the industry, the advice from the panelists on IP protection was especially timely.

John Lennon Educational Tour Bus

With live renditions of Beatles tunes being performed by Instagram sensation Blac Rabbit, the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus exhibit was at the opposite end of the financial spectrum: totally not-for-profit professional mobile audio and video facilities, all installed into two (2) buses – one in the US and one in Europe – entirely for the benefit of inner city school kids, colleges, and Boys’ and Girls’ community clubs to learn how to create music and videos.

Blac Rabbit

Launched in 2008 and supported 100% by Yoko Ono, the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus earned her a NAMM Music for Life award. Sporting top notch gear donated from Yamaha, Audio-Technica, Avid, Focusrite, Mackie, and numerous others, the Bus is a marvel of engineering design. The front portion houses the main control room, with video monitors, patch bays, and all of the processing gear to accompany the mixing console. The middle section, which is isolated by front and rear sliding doors, is a soundproofed compartment with keyboards, digital drums, and a vocal booth. The rear compartment, in addition to providing sleeping accommodations for the full time 2 person crew, provides an additional soundproof section and a uniquely designed drapery that allows for green screen video to deploy digital background effects. The mobile studio has also been hired by professional artists, such as Black Eyed Peas, Justin Timberlake, Wyclef Jean, John Legend, and Bob Weir, to name a few.

The John Lennon Educational Bus tour included a music video of an original song written, performed, recorded, mixed, shot, and edited by a group of high schoolers. A very impressive piece of work, it showed that the dream was alive and the next generation of original music held promise for the future.

Meyer Sound

Hadestown, Moulin Rouge, Les Miserables, The Lion King…these are just a few of the many Broadway and international theatrical productions that have chosen Meyer Sound for their audio systems, along with countless live concert artists, such as Metallica, Marc Anthony, Journey, and many others.

Starting in 1979, John Meyer’s UM-1 monitor first turned heads as a part of the Grateful Dead’s Wall of Sound. Over successive decades and multiple patents, Meyer Sound has become synonymous with premier theater and concert sound systems around the world.

The AES Meyer Sound demo, hosted by Daniel Rivera, showcased Meyer’s new digitally powered loudspeakers and subwoofers, which all sported decreased weight, increased frequency and phase response, more SPL, and significantly reduced prices.


Starting with Holly Cole’s single vocal and acoustic bass arrangement for “I Can See Clearly Now” and increasing on the loudness and instrumentation spectrum to Livingston Taylor’s “Isn’t She Lovely”, Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow”, AC/DC’s “House of Jazz”, and Sofi Tukker’s “Batshit”, Meyer’s new UPQ-D1, Ultra X-40 and 750 LFC, reproduced the music with larger than life fidelity, crystalline clarity and gut punch low end impact for bass and kick drums. The 11 rigging point options and added bang for the buck features for a roughly 23% lower price, as in the case of the Ultra X-40 vs. its predecessor, the UPA-1P, make Meyer’s new entries sure bet winners for future sound reinforcement installations and touring equipment.

Steve Jordan 

One of the most eagerly anticipated speakers was Steve Jordan, producer/multi instrumentalist percussionist extraordinaire. He regaled the audience with stories of some of the many famous records he’s worked on by Keith Richards, Stevie Wonder, and others, and spoke about how the sound of certain records made at specific recording studios is what first captured his imagination.


Steve Jordan

For example, Ringo’s cymbal sound from Abbey Road first caught Jordan’s attention as a child. When he finally had the opportunity to cut tracks there, his drums were recorded and miked as per the current standard, and he said he was disappointed. He finally decided to listen to the drums with all of the close mics turned off and found that long lost magic sound by leaving the room mics alone.

When asked about his experiences with Chuck Berry for the Hail, Hail Rock and Roll! documentary, Jordan, a longtime fan of Berry’s drummer Fred Below, explained that Keith Richards had originally decided on Rolling Stones’ drummer Charlie Watts. Serendipitously, Berry saw a video recording of Jordan drumming in the Fred Below “swing against straight 8ths style” at the post celebration jam after the first Rock n Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. He then declared he wanted THAT drummer, whoever he was, since Jordan was not visible on camera.

Humorously, Jordan arrived in Jamaica for rehearsals and Berry mistook him, with his then fashionable dreadlocks, for a reggae drummer, and fired him on sight. Richards subsequently convinced Berry that Jordan was an American and indeed the drummer on the video, and the rest was history.

He also recalled a conversation with Geoff Emerick, who was puzzled as to why classical musicians embraced digital sound so readily, in spite of its lack of analog warmth. Jordan, a classically trained symphonic percussionist, explained it was a craving for the silence and the lack of analog hiss during silent portions within the music. Emerick’s reply was a nonchalant, “Hmm, never thought of that.” Jordan laughed at the irony of his explaining something about sound to one of the best audio engineers in the world.

Jordan’s final words resonated with the overall unstated theme of the AES convention: support recording studios, keep playing and learning, make timeless sounding records no matter what gear you use, and the music will change lives. The music of the future should be just as timeless and meaningful as the great records of the past.

AES NYC 2019 offered many other discussions and exhibitions but this was just a small sampling of the incredible diversity of coverage and detail the organizers have considered worthwhile.

Thank you, AES!

Misogynistic Muting

Misogynistic Muting

Misogynistic Muting

Charles Rodrigues

How Do We Get It Out Of There?

How Do We Get It Out Of There?

How Do We Get It Out Of There?

J.I. Agnew

As we have examined throughout several previous issues of Copper, it takes an insane amount of precision engineering to store sonic information in record grooves and see it through multiple stages of manufacturing, for a run of several thousand identical copies of a record.

But, even with a successful final product, we are still only half-way though our journey! The record is just the storage medium. The only reason to go through all this effort to accurately record sound on disk, is to be able to get it back out of that disk again, as sound!

There were only ever a relatively small number of manufacturers of disk recording lathes, with most already out of the picture by the time stereo arrived.

Only Fairchild, Westrex, HAECO, Neumann, and Ortofon ever produced a commercially available stereophonic cutter head. The Fairchild head, as with most of their products, was out of this world in terms of innovation and build quality. It featured a system which, in an oversimplified attempt at very briefly describing it, was essentially a miniature radar tracking the cutting stylus and correcting its errors electronically, using vacuum tube electronics (with ceramic output tubes!). It was way ahead of its time and shared the same fate as most products introduced a couple of decades too early. Not many were made and there are no examples of it in active service nowadays. The head alone weighed in at 4 lbs, being smaller than a Westrex 3D in size! The Model 642 was Fairchild’s only attempt at a stereophonic cutter head. They folded shortly thereafter. The Westrex 3D and the Neumann SX68 and SX74 were the only cutter heads in widespread use.

Well… If one could call this widespread. The HAECO head was a Westrex 3D with minor changes. Ortofon made a few different models, which were not as widely used until the quad thing arrived. Then they introduced a special head with an extended frequency response for the CD-4 system, which JVC bought and rebranded.

This was the only dedicated CD-4 product and was also short-lived. There were a few attempts at cloning Neumann heads and other similar designs, but with questionable commercial availability.

These cutter heads would be fitted to lathes manufactured by Neumann or Scully, and to a much more limited extent, Lyrec and Fairchild. So, that was seven manufacturers all together, with some of them in close collaboration.

Compare this to the reproducing side of things! How many different companies can you count, which have introduced a turntable, tonearm or cartridge, from the late 1950’s to the present…?

Scully was one of the earliest in the game, already active in the acoustical recording era. They folded in the late 1970s. Neumann started in 1931 and left the disk recording field in the late 1980s. It was acquired by Sennheiser, in 1991. It was the last one standing of the seven. Lyrec was supplying the motors used in Neumann lathes up until some point in the 1980s, having stopped their own manufacture of lathes much earlier. They also ceased their disk recording operations in the 1980s, but remained active in other fields, such as tape duplication, for a while longer.

Westrex was the Western Electric Export Company with its origins tracing back to 1869. They became affiliated with the Bell Laboratories and were involved in early lathe and cutter head development. Westrex was acquired by Litton Industries in the 1960s and appears to have left the disk recording field by the 1970s, with Litton probably deciding that disk recording equipment had not found as much application in the defense sector as they had originally anticipated…!

Western Electric remained active in the manufacture of vacuum tubes and film equipment until the 1990s. They shut down in 1996, to be revived a year later by Charles Whitener, who restarted the manufacture of some of the most highly regarded vacuum tubes, such as the 300B directly heated triode.

HAECO was a less well documented entity, founded as the Holzer Audio Engineering Company in the 1960s. They developed a range of disk recording products, compatible with the Westrex range at the time. Not much was heard of them past the 1970s.

Ortofon, with its origins in 1918 in the Danish Fonofilm company, did not enter the disk recording market until 1946. By 1981, they had decided to just stick to reproducing equipment, which they still manufacture to date.

Fairchild lathes were initially marketed by the Fairchild Aerial Camera Corporation in the early 1930s, until the creation of the Fairchild Recording Equipment Corporation. These were only two out of more than 70 companies founded by Sherman Fairchild throughout his life.

Modified Fairchild lathe with modified Neumann cutter head. Photograph courtesy of Agnew Analog.

Bill Leebens covered Fairchild in detail in issues #75, #76, #77, #82, #89, all of which are interesting to read. Their disk recording products were pretty much out of the picture by the 1960s. Fairchild Semiconductor is nowadays perhaps the most well-known company of the lot, still in business.

Fairchild, Lyrec, and Neumann also made reproducing equipment. Presto, Rek-O-Kut, RCA, Connoisseur, Thorens, and several other companies, whose reproducing equipment were well established, also made disk recording lathes and cutter heads in the days before stereo. Which brings us to the sheer vastness of the reproducing equipment market!

By now, we are literally spoiled for choice: Belt-drive, idler-drive, rim-drive, gear-drive, direct-drive, oil-coupled, water-coupled, glass, acrylic, aluminum, or exoticum turntables are offered in any imaginable, unimaginable, and hard to believe configuration. Sprung, hung, floating or just plain heavy. Tonearms come in S, J, straight, or more complex, pivoted or tangential arrangements, short or long, heavy or lightweight, aluminum, magnesium, carbon-fiber or wood, oil-damped, dynamic, with jewel bearings, air bearings, knife edge bearings, or anything else one could possibly think of.

As for cartridges…? Moving-iron, moving-magnet, moving-coil, crystal, optical, spherical, elliptical, hyper-elliptical, uber-elliptical, shibata, fine line, micro ridge, super fine line, very compliant or not so, tracking at 1 g or even 5 g, with a range of VTA to even cater for records imported from far away galaxies, where the lack of gravity forced them to adopt wildly different standards. As for absolute polarity (https://agnewanalog.com/blog/absolute-polarity-for-disk-records.html), forget about it!

So, what works best?

There is no golden brand and correct or incorrect technology or approach. But, there is certainly proper or improper implementation. Direct drive can work wonders, or horrors, depending on implementation on a particular product. Same for belt-drive, or anything else. There are some amazing J-shaped tonearms out there and plenty of mediocre ones. Some moving coil cartridges can sound exceptional while others just sound plain wrong. The same cartridge can reach its peak of performance on one tonearm and sound dreadful on another one.

First and foremost, there is no way around good engineering, careful selection of quality materials, and good old traditional craftsmanship, for each individual component.

Then, these components need to be matched to work well together. The motor needs to work well with the platter, the bearing must be designed for the load and speed range, the tonearm must be compatible with the cartridge.

Finally, when we have the entire system assembled, even if we have chosen the finest components the world has to offer, at a price tag which could be mistaken for a telephone number, we cannot expect decent performance until everything has been properly adjusted and calibrated, using the required tools and measurement instruments.

A less refined but perfectly matched and calibrated system will always audibly outperform the finest components, if these are not properly matched and calibrated.

The reproducing setup must extract the information stored within the groove. In order to be able to do so, each component must be designed based on how records are cut, matched to a system that will allow it to operate under the conditions it was designed for and calibrated to its intended operating point.

There are published standards documents and, fortunately, only very few models of cutter heads, lathes, and electronics to consider. If a record was cut with a certain value of modulation angle, stylus rake angle, frequency range, peak velocity and background noise, it naturally follows that the reproducing system must conform to the same values of modulation angle (VTA) and stylus rake angle (SRA), have adequate tracking and tracing ability, sufficient linearity and headroom, as well as an adequately low noise floor, to fully be capable of reproducing the recorded information.

This implies that the designers of record reproducing equipment must be intimately familiar with how records are cut, which is unfortunately rarely the case, nowadays.

Direct communication between the few remaining people who cut records (and the even fewer people, such as myself, involved in the engineering and design of disk recording equipment) and the many more people involved in the manufacture of reproducing equipment, although essential, appears to have fallen out of vogue.

We have a lot to learn from each other.

There is little point in manufacturing reproducing equipment that cannot accurately reproduce the records being cut and likewise, there is no point in cutting records that cannot be accurately reproduced.

[Header image: Reference Reproduction System. Photograph courtesy of Magnetic Fidelity.]

The Adventures of Jeff Beck: The Finale

The Adventures of Jeff Beck: The Finale

The Adventures of Jeff Beck: The Finale

WL Woodward

On March 9 and 10, 1981, Beck went on a stage in the UK for the first time since 1974, pre Blow by Blow. Appearing with the There and Back band, Jeff was pleased with the warm and listening reception he got from the audiences at the Hammersmith Odeon. If Beck felt the British public had lost him, and there was some early truth to that, the feeling was pleasantly dispelled by the applause that greeted him. Beck was visibly surprised by the greeting and the band played two of the best shows they had performed, in an earlier Japan tour or the UK. On the second night, the band was joined by an old friend.

At the March 10 show, a familiar figure came out on stage with a Les Paul strung around his neck. Jimmy Page joined Jeff Beck on stage for the first time since 1967 and jammed on “Going Down.” If there ever was a feud it was over now. Six months previous Page had lost his gifted drummer and friend John Bonham and the band had decided to not go on as Led Zeppelin without that key member. Page joining Beck on stage ended a months’ long retreat from the public by Page and was a catharsis for Jimmy. Beck’s band appeared to be set for the next level or another tour, but once again Beck retreated to his beloved garage and he traded his guitar for a hot rod.

Five years would go by with Jeff doing an occasional appearance, including a reunion of the Yardbirds for an anniversary concert at London’s Marquee club in 1983. He did some recording on Stanley Clarke’s Time Exposure and appeared on stage for the first time with Page and Clapton at an ARMS charity event at the Royal Albert Hall attended by Prince Charles and his new wife Diana. But basically he was building cars and rebuilding engines, honestly his first love.

Neat story. In March 1984, Jeff saw Spinal Tap with his bassman Mo Foster at a screening in London’s Electric Cinema. The film made fun of the whole life style of the super star rock band and the rock establishment was not amused. Steve Perry from Aerosmith said he took it “real personal.”

The guitar player being portrayed by Christopher Guest was an obvious caricature of Jeff Beck. Mad and rooster-haired, obsessed with guitars and cars, the reference was apparent. Foster relates that Beck got the reference and laughed his ass off. “He was on the floor throughout the film, just laughing his head off at the Nigel Tufnel character. Actually, I’ve never heard someone laugh that much. He was literally peeing himself”. Wake up Perry. It’s a joke. Beck’s sense of humor was well known to friends and band mates alike, even when it was obvious he was the target. I think that has to be said with all the hype about what a nicker he could be.

In 1985, he released a completely forgettable album Flash that even Beck admitted was “a sad time” for him. It was a shameless dance album of the ’80s Eye of the Tiger/Beverly Hills Cop variety with Beck gracing the cover in an ’80s monkey suit. The album does sport the return of Rod Stewart on vocals and Carmine Appice on drums, and one song won Jeff his first Grammy. But let’s face it, by 1985 the Grammys were wearing pajamas and suspenders and becoming the marketing joke that continues to this day.

Another 4 years go by and we have a great lineup of Tony Hymas back on keys and Terry Bozzio of Zappa fame on the drums for Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop. No bass! And one of the greatest album covers in rock history (see above), especially given Jeff’s love for the garage. Beck is back in a soiled t-shirt, jeans, and grease under his nails for this one and wins another Grammy. From that album here is “Slingshot.”



In 1993, Beck released a tribute album to Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps, Crazy Legs. Vincent’s band was one of Jeff’s first loves, particularly Cliff Gallup the Blue Caps’ guitarist. Crazy Legs is a straight up rockabilly album and every song sounds as though Beck was having the time of his life. Recorded with the Big Town Playboys and Mike Sanchez on great vocals, get yer duck tail on with “Red Blue Jeans and a Ponytail.” Check the final chord.



Who Else! was Jeff Beck’s next release in 1999 and featured the first release with Beck original material since Guitar Shop ten years earlier. Beck really hammered the techno world with this recording. The album also featured the return of Hymas on keys, Steve Alexander on drums, and Randy Hope Taylor on bass. Old buddy Jan Hammer returns and wrote “Even Odds” and played keys on that cut. Jennifer Batten joins the band on guitar here after touring with Michael Jackson for ten years.

Jeff always benefited when Hymas and he collaborated. Tony was a gifted songwriter and he and Beck wrote “Brush with the Blues,” which would become a show staple for years.


The dude’s tone is ridiculous..scrumptious…a cocaine bagel.

The Who Else! band returned on You Had It Coming in 2001, minus Hymas on keys and, in fact, no keys at all. Andy Wright, who produced acts as diverse as the Eurythmics and Luciano Pavarotti, produced here and co-wrote six songs. “Dirty Mind” won Best Rock Instrumental Performance at the 2002 Grammys, which is crazy correct but I like Beck’s version of Muddy Waters “Rollin and Tumbin.” Yep, been done by every bar band in America but the humor and technique will rattle yer strut.


That’s Imogen Heap on vocals.

In 2003 Jeff left off Batten, Alexander, and Hope-Taylor. Only two instrumentalists were featured, Beck and Steve Barney on drums, and a host of vocalists along with a long list of people who engineered/mixed/produced each track. There are some great rockers here like “Grease Monkey” and “Hot Rod Honeymoon” but I love “Pay Me No Mind” for some of the most unadorned Beck soloing since Crazy Legs. With Me One on vocals (who also co-wrote this):


I have no confirmation on this, but that pic on the album cover looks suspiciously like that yellow monster that Beck made when he was a kid.

Sorry, can’t rock without bass. Dassit. But you can still astound, like “Why O Lord Oh Why” written by our old friend Tony Hymas.


Emotion and Commotion, released in April 2010, was a blend of a few Beck originals and covers like “Over the Rainbow” and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell On You.”  I love this whole album. “Hammerhead” won Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 2011, as did Jeff’s cover of Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. I was playing the latter when my wife Diana came through my man cave where I write and stopped in her tracks.

“Who is THAT?” She sat down and listened and made me play it two more times. So yer gonna listen to it too.


Vinnie Colauita on some of the kit tracks and Tal Wilkenfeld on bass (!!) started a Beck stage presence for some years after. Joss Stone’s vocal on “There’s No Other Me” is an experience.

Loud Hailer sent up in July 2016 pretty much brings us up to date. This is just a great rock album. It’s always a treat to hear Jeff kickin’ basic guitar with a minimum of effects with all tracks guitar, vocals, bass, and drums. I love this album for how un-produced it is. Just a great band doing their thing. Carmen Vandenberger joins Beck on guitar, Davide Sollazzi on the kit, and Giovanni Pallotti on bass.

“Scared For The Children” is a great song and “Shame” is a return to Beck’s doo-wap sense. But dig “O I L (Can’t Get Enough of That Sticky Stuff).” Here is a live version.


Rosie Bones on that vocal.

Hear the throwback to Blow by Blow on that rhythm guitar lick? Yeah you did.

Jeff Beck did a lot of live stuff and it’s all out there, thank the Lord. But I’ll only touch on one.

Les Paul died in August 2009 and in June 2010 Beck put together a band to honor Les on what would have been his 95th birthday. Recorded live at the Iridium in NY, where Les Paul played every week until his death, this album just wants to make you laugh and cry. So who doesn’t want that? Players included Imelda May, Gary US Bonds, David Higham, Brian Setzer, and Trombone Shorty. If you do not know who any of those folks are you are in for a treat; go get their stuff.

But before you do, go out and buy Jeff Beck’s Rock and Roll Party. Just…just go out and do it. I’ll leave you with a couple of clips. Here’s Imelada May and “Bye Bye Blues.”


And because you gotta check the old school bass player in the cut “Train Kept A Rollin.” Hilarious.


Wow. I can’t believe you lasted this long. But, there is so much to Jeff Beck, so much that people don’t understand or haven’t listened to, these columns had to cover as much as possible. He’s a master and a blaster. An innovator, a rock icon, and can still pull out the Gallup licks. Coolness personified.

I’ve mentioned this before but a LOT of this material came from the great bio of Beck, Hot Wired Guitar The Life of Jeff Beck by Martin Power. If you lasted this long you are a devotee, and I’m telling you I barely scratched the surface of this guy, his history and times he went through. Have fun. Buy the book.

Doin’ It

Lawrence Schenbeck

My friend Dale Cockrell has written a remarkable book, Everybody’s Doin’ It: Sex, Music, and Dance in New York, 1840–1917, which details the codependent development of social dance, popular music, and prostitution in New York City’s drinking establishments during the seventy years preceding the Great War. If you still harbor the lazy notion that Baby Boomers invented sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, maybe you should read this.

I feel a certain humble kinship with Professor Cockrell. He’s made a huge contribution to our knowledge of American musical history. The trends he chronicles in Doin’ It led to (among other things) the 1921 Broadway musical Shuffle Along. It so happens that, with my wife Lyn, I co-edited a scholarly edition of that show’s music, and last year—with the encouragement of the NEH and AMS—it was finally published (and last week won this award). We couldn’t have done our job without a host of mentors and predecessors too numerous to name here. In a just universe, those folks would be known and celebrated by everyone who loves American music. For instance: you know about the current Met production of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess? Wayne Shirley, our mentor and friend, created the new edition they used.

Shortly I’ll say more about Shuffle Along, which more or less launched the Harlem Renaissance. But let’s start with what Dale Cockrell discovered about music in the Big Apple. In a riveting early chapter, he describes Charles Dickens’ arrival in 1842, “looking to tour the United States and observe and write about its institutions, culture, and citizens.” After a couple weeks of the dog-and-pony show his handlers planned, Dickens broke free and made his way downtown, to experience America firsthand. Cockrell unpacks these adventures using Dickens’ own published memories plus other contemporary accounts of Five Points “dives.” (Typically they were cellar dance halls, hence the terminology.) It was a wild scene.

Here’s a passage from Everybody’s Doin’ It that can’t help pointing up parallels between today’s tastes and those of 19th-century New Yorkers:

Music beckoned from every Five Points dance hall, with the virtuosic strains from the fiddle of Jack Ballagher (“the black musical wonder”) worth the highest fee-per-dance. Among dancers, the Inyard brothers were especially venerated; a contest with rival breakdown dancers could empty all the other “terpsichorean cribs.” In addition to dancing, Five Points merrymakers enjoyed comic songs by entertainers, one with the stage name “Jerry Go Nimble.” Tom Parsons could rap out lyrics on the spot, rhyming on topical issues and the names of local people. There were also tumblers, jugglers, a “blind man, with a clarionette,” a Scotsman with his kilt and bagpipes, and a “dark-skinned Savoyard” organ-grinder, with requisite monkey.

As expected, Cockrell offers copious evidence of sexual depravity. At one establishment,

Dickens first stumbled on a pile of rags that, upon closer inspection, turned out to be men and women entwined together and asleep. Appalled at all he saw, he observed that debauchery seemed to have aged the very buildings, which sagged with rotten beams and cracked and broken windows. . . . [He] danced with prostitute Amanda Flagrant until the wee closing hour, but, as a married man, he refused entreaties to revel what remained of the night in the embraces of Julia Simms, Amanda Brown, or Clarissa Brown, three notables among a large group of willing paramours.

Midway through the book, we read of reform efforts undertaken by civic-minded citizens who fought long and hard to break up the collusion of saloon-keepers, pimps and madams, and breweries who kept one another in business. Musicians were bit-players in this enterprise, so their stories—along with descriptions of their music—get short shrift. Undercover agents who infiltrated New York’s brothels and dance halls typically described the dancing as “vulgar,” “suggestive,” or “disgraceful,” and the music as “wild,” “alleged,” (!) and “discordant.” They saw no reason to add details.

As a new century got underway, popular interest in new dances and music peaked as well. Respectable young people, men and women, found themselves drawn to dance halls. Sales of sheet music and recordings hastened the spread of “animal dances” with names like the Grizzly Bear and Turkey Trot. Vaudevillians and medicine-show artistes took up the liveliest and most risqué numbers for their acts. As with earlier music, a common feature of most venues (and many song topics) was the free mingling of blacks and whites, which probably shocked and offended nearly as many earnest onlookers as did the sex-for-sale.

New technologies also appeared at the turn of the last century, a boon to historians frustrated by the lurid but limited Victorian descriptions of earlier years. In June 1902 pioneering filmmaker Robert Kates Bonine filmed Kid Foley and Sailor Lil doing what was titled “A Tough Dance at McGurk’s”; Cockrell describes this genre and the film’s specific actions in chapter seven of Everybody’s Doin’ It. Here’s the clip:


And here, ten years later, is a humorous commentary on dance crazes by a young New Yorker just beginning to make a name for himself, Irving Berlin:


Finally, new sounds from New Orleans: The Original Dixieland Jass Band in 1917, playing “Livery Stable Blues,” born in the brothels of Storyville and destined to change the face of American music forever:


Which brings us to 1921, when Shuffle Along opened on Broadway. It had been created entirely by black artists and featured an all-black cast. Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, famous from vaudeville as the Dixie Duo, wrote the music and lyrics. (In his teen years Blake had worked as a ragtime pianist at Aggie Sheldon’s high-class Baltimore brothel; that career path was the rule for ragtimers like Scott Joplin, Tom Turpin, Jelly Roll Morton, and others.) The show’s book was stitched together from routines created by comedians Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles. It became a runaway hit, its Broadway stand followed by hugely successful runs in Boston, Chicago, and smaller cities. From the historical point of view, a bigger takeaway was its enormous influence on music and show dancing during the decade that followed, not only in black shows like Runnin’ Wild but also in dances—taught by Shuffle Along alums—that surfaced in Flo Ziegfeld’s Follies and other white shows.

Our editorial work on the original show materials occupied fifteen years of our lives (not every waking moment, of course!). What can I tell you? Mainly that the music is wonderful. Blake drew upon every available stream in American popular song: he wrote love ballads meant to be delivered seriously (that was a new experience for black entertainers), “plantation” numbers, Viennese operetta turns, Cohan parodies, and much more. One song, “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” started out, in Blake’s sketches, as a gentle waltz but ended up an energetic one-step; years later Harry S. Truman used it as a campaign ditty.

The show’s music offers a time capsule of American popular song circa 1921. Ragtime was essentially over; the Jazz Age was barely underway. Blake and his colleagues had no idea what lay ahead. One of our watchwords in preparing the edition was to avoid anticipating the performance styles of Armstrong, Morton, Ellington, and others. We cautioned performers against making anachronistic choices, like adopting big-band “swung” rhythms instead of the original scores’ carefully notated ragtime beats.

On the other hand, surviving recordings suggest that Blake coached his orchestras to deliver zipper, juicier accompaniments than Will Vodery’s written orchestrations could specify. (Music notation, then as now, has its limitations.) Other editorial issues also came up. Here, for example, is Noble Sissle’s recording of “My Vision Girl[s],” recorded in late 1920. Only an incomplete set of manuscript parts for it has survived, so we used the cornet, trombone, drums, and contrabass lines on the recording to reconstruct a full score:


Although Sissle was a relatively conservative song stylist, cast members like Gertrude Saunders took considerable liberties with their numbers, and the results could be electrifying:


Finally, here’s a poignant rendition of “Love Will Find A Way,” the show’s big love ballad, from its creators, Sissle and Blake. Note the gentle, slightly swung rhythms Blake offers in the refrain: they’re notated as “straight eighths” in Vodery’s orchestration and in the published sheet music, but once you’ve heard Eubie Blake’s sensitive interpretation, you know you’ve heard the real thing:


At least one other thing separated Shuffle Along from the delights and sorrows in Everybody’s Doin’ It. Sissle, Blake, Miller, and Lyles set out to create a clean show—family entertainment—and they did it, much to many people’s surprise. (It was 1921, after all, and whites harbored lazy notions about black culture.) I could write another thousand words about the stereotypes these folks overcame, not to mention the stereotypes they left embedded in some of their jokes and old routines. But that’ll wait. Let’s end with words from Langston Hughes, who as a Columbia University student would drift over to the balcony seats at least once a week to see Shuffle Along. Later he would simply say

It was a honey of a show.

[Header image is of the original 1921 cast of Shuffle Along. Blake and Sissle are seated second row back, fifth and sixth from the right.]

Poncho Sánchez: Eight Great Tracks

Anne E. Johnson

He’s the best Latin jazz musician you may never have heard of. But while Poncho Sánchez might not have the household-name recognition of some of his colleagues, he sure does have the chops.

Born in Laredo, TX in 1951, Sánchez wanted to be a guitarist and singer while he was growing up in California. He had a penchant for R&B, and served as lead singer for a band called The Halos. But he loved the sounds of Latin jazz drumming pioneer Tito Puente, so he tried his hand at drums and timbales while still a teen. That was also when he fell in love with the conga drums, which have been his signature instrument ever since.

Among his other favorite musicians were trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and vibraphonist Cal Tjader. He was thrilled when Tjader invited him to sit in with his band in 1975, and astounded when Tjader hired him as his full-time conguero (conga player)!

One thing Sánchez is known for by both fans and critics is his consistency. For decades he’s been churning out albums on the Concord Picante label, and they’re all top quality. If you need to get those hips and feet moving, scroll down and click “play.” And enjoy these eight great tracks by Poncho Sánchez.

  1. “Bachi”

    Salsa Picante

    MPS Records



    In this recording from just before the launch of Sánchez’s solo career, he’s playing as part of Clare Fischer’s Latin Sound. In fact, Sánchez is billed on the album with his real first name, Ildefonso. He’s covering congas, bongos, and other percussion.

    Fischer was a bandleader who played electric keyboard and organ, so there’s a heavy leaning toward keyboard sounds on this track, with the soprano line often doubled on flute by David Acuña. Sánchez’s percussive sounds are tight and light, showing off the precision and energy that have come to define his style. (The fun guitar solo is by Rick Zunigar.)


    1. “Ahora”

    Bien Sabroso!
    Concord Picante

    Charlie Otwell’s Latin touch at the keyboard style was a better match for Sánchez than what Clare Fischer had to offer. Fortunately, pianist and percussionist found each other early on, and Otwell appeared on many of Sánchez’s recordings. For one thing, Otwell seems to have been happy in an equal role, so the balance of instruments is better. He was also a skilled composer, as you can hear on this track.

    “Ahora” (“Now”) has an easy-going syncopation. You’ll hear some fine trumpet playing by Steve Huffsteter, but the main draw is the percussion section: Sánchez is now focused exclusively on congas, David Romero plays bongos, and Ramon Banda (who died earlier this year) is on timbales.


    1. “Papa Gato”

      Papa Gato
      Concord Picante

      Yes, this column is about music, but I can’t talk about this album without acknowledging the world-class cover painted by Tom Burgess. Great jazz-album art is its own breathtaking genre.

      Besides conga, Sánchez is also playing the higher-pitched bata drums on this album. The rest of the percussion team is the same as that for Bien Sabroso!, but the brass personnel is different, most notably Justo Almario on alto and tenor sax as well as flute.

      This is another Charlie Otwell tune. Sánchez was lucky to have him providing ideal material. That “Papa Gato” is one cool cat.


      1. “It Could Happen to You”

        Concord Picante

        Over the decades, Sánchez has laid down many tunes written by or for him, but that doesn’t mean he’s avoided standards. “It Could Happen to You” is a song by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke, first sung by Dorothy Lamour onscreen in 1944, in the musical And the Angels Sing. It became an instant favorite, and it’s been recorded by countless singers.

        For the instrumental arrangement on this album, the Sánchez ensemble gives it a light salsa touch. The brass chorus is smooth, with that wonderful percussion trio of Sánchez/Romero/Banda providing an almost silky texture.


        1. “Watermelon Man”

          Conga Blue
          Concord Picante

          If you live in Germany, you may have heard this one on a TV commercial. Sánchez has reported that he and Herbie Hancock, who wrote this song for his Blue Note LP Takin’ Off, enjoyed “fat royalty checks” for a while.

          But for those of us who didn’t get bombarded with it during ad breaks, this is “Watermelon Man.” It’s definitely a case where the arrangement is so convincing that you can hardly believe it was ever played in another style. And stick around for the bongo/conga duet starting at 3:05. (And don’t be alarmed by the YouTube commenter lamenting the loss of the great Poncho Sánchez, who is alive and well at this writing!)


          1. “Listen Here/Cold Duck Time”

            Latin Soul
            Concord Picante

            At long last, Sánchez won a Grammy Award in 2000, and it was for this album. He didn’t do anything he hadn’t done before, but somehow this one finally got the attention the ensemble was due.

            The medley “Listen Here/Cold Duck Time” are tunes by sax player Eddie Harris (who does not appear on the album. Of special note is the bass-playing of Tony Banda, brother of timbales player Ramon. Another appealing aspect, true of the whole album, is the energy from the live performance – resonating both onstage and from the audience.


            1. “Willie Bobo Medley”

              Psychedelic Blues
              Concord Picante

              Despite the name of this album, Psychedelic Blues is the usual mambo/salsa with a bop edge that Sánchez has always played. Of course Sánchez plays conga on this record, but he also sings.

              The songs in this medley are by Willie Bobo, a Harlem-born percussionist specializing in Afro-Cuban music. Bobo died in 1983. Sánchez is a great Bobo admirer, and has recorded a number of his tunes over the years. The vividly named tunes are “I Don’t Know,” “Fried Neck Bones and Some Home Fries,” and “Spanish Grease.”

              The ensemble is almost twice the size that Sánchez normally works with, giving the arrangement endless layers of texture. But somehow it still doesn’t sound frenetic. Everyone’s sitting in the same groove.


              1. “Blue Train”

                Trane’s Delight
                Concord Picante

                After all this time, Sánchez is still making records, if less frequently now. And he’s still with Concord Picante. That length of association is rare in the recording industry. Concord obviously knows a solid investment; Sánchez hopefully feels their appreciation in his contract.

                The newest Sánchez album is a tribute to John Coltrane, a musician he learned to admire when he was just a kid, hearing jazz on the radio. In the liner notes, he describes being 11 years old and admiring the album Coltrane in a record store for months while he saved up enough money to buy it.

                Some of the tracks are composed by Sánchez, but he also brings a Latin feel to Coltrane classics, including “Blue Train.”


                Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Jeff Dunn.

                Melissa Etheridge

                Melissa Etheridge

                Melissa Etheridge

                Anne E. Johnson

                With her raw, unabashed voice and truthful lyrics, Melissa Etheridge has inspired three decades of fans to be true to themselves and rock out while doing so. She was born in Leavenworth, KS, in 1961, and by her teens she was playing country songs at local venues. But, while country has always flavored her music, that tradition wasn’t enough to contain what she had to say.

                She headed to Boston for a music degree at Berklee College of Music but had so much success gigging around town that staying in school seemed counterproductive. Instead, she moved to LA in pursuit of a recording contract. She found plenty of venues, particularly in LA’s vibrant lesbian bar scene, and it didn’t take long before she’d signed with Island Records. And a supplemental job composing songs for movies was also important in her development as a songwriter.

                By the time she released her debut album, Melissa Etheridge (1988), her underground fandom was already bubbling over. Soon her popularity swelled so far into the mainstream that she was invited to perform at the 1989 Grammy Awards. And the critics were impressed to boot.

                “The Late September Dogs,” while not released as a single, may be the finest song on Melissa Etheridge. Yes, it’s a heartbreak song, but the richness of the metaphors in the lyrics make it far from standard fare. Etheridge writes about something we’ve all experienced, even if we can’t articulate it: When there’s a traumatic, unwanted change in our lives, the very air around us seems different.


                Etheridge’s second album, Brave and Crazy (1989), produced two successful singles, “No Souvenirs” and “You Can Sleep While I Drive.” It also shows her knack for collaboration, bringing together a fine line-up of session musicians.

                But the album’s special surprise is the harmonica player on the seven-minute album finale, “Royal Station 4/16.” It’s some Irish guy named Bono. Maybe you’ve heard of him. His lonesome solo blends well with Etheridge’s cracking, bluesy voice and the percussive train-like strumming of her 12-string guitar.


                While she might have a firm handle on the blues, Etheridge always keeps her sense of humor at the ready. Combine that with a willingness to broach taboo topics, and it’s no wonder more and more people turned to her to represent and reflect their own lives in song.

                For example, on the album Never Enough (1992), “Meet Me in the Back” is an up-tempo, light-hearted number with pleading lyrics from the point of view of someone who just wants to get laid. Specifically, a woman. In a way, this is one of Etheridge’s most feminist songs because it expresses the kind of thing women weren’t supposed to talk about.


                Given the goal of this column to shine a light on lesser-known tracks, we’ll just skip right over Yes I Am (1993), a huge commercial success that brought Etheridge’s name into every household that didn’t already know it. And even while it was groundbreaking for being the first bestselling pop album by an out lesbian, some in the LGBT community criticized it for not having enough specifically gay lyrics. You just can’t win.

                Yes I Am was followed with Your Little Secret (1995). After the soul-rousing hits of the previous album, Etheridge showed her more atmospheric side in tracks like “Shriner’s Park.” Her country roots are on proud display here, in a song that practically turns the word “wistful” into musical language.


                Another aspect of Etheridge’s songwriting and persona that has appealed to and inspired fans is her willingness to analyze herself for the public benefit. While the primary single from the album Breakdown (1999) was the heart-wrenching “Scarecrow,” dedicated to slain gay teen Matthew Shepard, she focuses on herself in “Mama I’m Strange.”

                Etheridge’s ability to turn her idiosyncrasies into a source of fierce pride may be the single most important factor in her success. And don’t overlook the tinges of humor, like the faux-Theramin electronic swoops and blips that open this song, as if it were about a space alien rather than a very human girl from Kansas.


                But sometimes, even for the most self-aware people, life just gets too hard to bear. Etheridge wrote the album Skin (2001) after splitting up with her romantic partner of 12 years, Julie Cypher. It’s an album that’s all about pain. And while some of the songs are of the more analytical type, Etheridge also turned to a fine old tradition to get her through: the good ol’ hard-drivin’ heartache song. This is “Lover Please,” which opens the album:


                A whole different kind of heartache was in store for Etheridge, but she couldn’t know she was about to be diagnosed with breast cancer when she released Lucky in 2004. At the time of its writing, she —like the rest of America — was trying to normalize after the world-shaking trauma of 9/11. “Tuesday Morning” is her answer in song.

                Specifically, Etheridge’s song is a tribute to PR executive Mark Bingham, her friend, who died on United Airlines Flight 93 that morning. Maybe the best thing about this song is its anger and defiance, both in the march-like tempo and in the lyrics focused on how Bingham, who was gay, died heroically but had to live with limited civil rights.


                Normally I stick with album tracks in this column, but Etheridge’s live tribute to Janice Joplin (with help from Joss Stone) in 2005 is so spectacular that I can’t leave it out. Etheridge had clearly just been in treatment for her cancer, but she sang with a fervor that defied the specter of death. If you know of a more astonishing example of one musician channeling another’s spirit, please let me know! (Etheridge starts at 2:29.)


                Melissa Etheridge is still at the height of her musical powers, and she seems to have no interest in resting on her laurels or sinking into a greatest-hits twilight. The two-time Grammy winner released The Medicine Show in 2019, and she’s currently touring to support it.

                The new album is chock full of outspoken, enraged political opinion, prompting some critics to complain that it’s “wearing” to listen to the whole thing. But we no longer live in the era of the album, so take it one song at a time if you need to. This, for example, is the heavy-rock “Shaking,” and it’s a good place to start:


                Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Angela George.

                Tony Visconti, Part 2

                Tony Visconti, Part 2

                Tony Visconti, Part 2

                John Seetoo

                [ Part 1 of John Seetoo’s interview with Tony Visconti appeared in Copper #96.]

                John Seetoo: In a previous interview with mastering engineer Steve Hoffman (Copper #36 and #37), he extolled the aural virtues of analog and even cited a preference for editing analog tape vs. digital in the box. Conversely, Alan Parsons has emphatically stated that after countless hours of using razors to take out a single note on a 2” multitrack tape, he is perfectly fine never to come near tape ever again for any editing. Having produced hit records in both analog and digital, where do you see yourself between those camps?

                Tony Visconti: Oh, this tricky question! The answer has changed as each decade brought innovating technical quality into the audio world. When digital recording first came out it sounded terrible. We didn’t have 6 terabyte drives back then. Computer programs were unstable and a crash could bring a session to a rapid end. It was wise not to give up your analog equipment in the early days of digital. I have mastered analog editing, even on 24-track tape (that is actually easier than editing on 2-channel tape). But Alan Parsons is right. After you redo an analog tape three times you are destroying a one-off thing, a master tape, there are no copies. What I like to do is record on analog multi-track tape, do all the right things like gently saturate the tape and as soon as a take is agreed upon as a master, it goes right into Pro Tools at a high sampling rate. I typically record at 96 kHz, 32-bit floating. That is so close to the sound of analog tape and it perfectly preserves the gently saturated sound you get from tape. I just have to state that the medium, digital or analog, will not turn your music into a hit record. Your brain has to do that and thankfully it is still an organic analog human organ.

                J.S.: I’ve read some of your past interviews where you mentioned some pet peeves of yours in the recording studio, such as tempo drift and mics that overemphasized dental problems with certain  vocalists. In the current digital recording arena, are these still issues, and have new ones cropped up since that can throw cold water on the creative momentum, or at least be a constant annoyance in the studio?

                T.V.: Digital recording just gets better and better. I have lovely external analog gear that colors the sound according to taste and the digital recording preserves it forever and you can make endless clones in case the hard drive crashes (which it will). Sibilance is still a major problem but it is easier to deal with in the digital world. Conversely, lisping, the opposite of sibilance, is a lot easier to deal with. There are applications to get rid of sibilance called de-essers. But I prefer to do it by hand, taking every es as a separate issue. Conversely, I take every lisped es and bring it up in volume by hand. I like to do this, but I also have some assistants who can do it quite well and give my eyes a break from staring at a screen.

                I don’t see a downside to recording digitally. Let’s face it, thousands and thousands of professionals have made the switch to digital, it can’t be as bad as naysayers say it is. We all love tape recording, but the truth is no new machines have been made for decades, the ones in use are constantly being refurbished. And at this time there is only one tape manufacturer in the world. Still, when my client can afford tape I’m right there with them. I love the sound.

                J.S.: Congratulations on your new solo record, It’s a Selfie. What can you tell us about it? How did it come about, and what was the process for you as the primary artist as well as the producer? What were some of the challenges for you? Did you have to take off the producer hat when cutting tracks and then put it back on for playback? Who else was involved with engineering while you were playing? The announced credits at the end for your guests was a nice touch.

                T.V.: Thank you. It’s A Selfie is a result of 10 years of songwriting (there are loads of discards) I felt compelled to do. I started out as a performer and songwriter many years ago and my publisher advised me to become a record producer instead. That didn’t go too badly, right? I have been working with some very big artists in recent years, David Bowie, Damon Albarn, and Perry Farrell. They were very demanding albums I loved making, but I had to put my album on hold. I originally intended to re-record with session musicians but I tweaked the demos to a point that they sounded finished! Even if I had the time it would have been exhausting to re-record every one of the eleven songs on the album. I just mixed them as well as I could, but, you know, lots of artists today make records by themselves, so I’m not out of step. I have started the next album and before I dress up the demos too much I intend to work with other musicians this time around.

                J.S.: On your song, “Hey Shout It Out”, you mention “my brothers D.B.” and “M.B.”. David Bowie and Marc Bolan? Can you tell us about that song?

                T.V.: The three big influences in my recording career have been Denny Cordell (brother D.C.), Marc Bolan (brother M.B.), and David Bowie (brother D.B.). We should mention those who helped you to get where you did, helped you when you needed it, helped you through lean times, etc. I also dropped a few more names in the outro: Kristeen Young, two school teachers, Dr. Israel Silberman, and James Flanagan. When I perform this live I’m going to ask audience members to ‘shout it out.’

                J.S.: In “Your Mama”, you reminisce about your family and growing up, but that you seem disconnected from those NY roots. Do you feel more at home in London rather than NY?

                T.V.: Well, I loved being raised in Brooklyn, with so many different ethnic groups, exposed to so many influences at an early age. Few other cities provide those experiences. But Brooklyn was limiting in those days. The cool people lived in Greenwich Village, The West Side, and the up and coming East Village. I had to get out. I first rented an apartment on W. 88th Street and my career changed for the better. That opened more doors that eventually led to London. I still love visiting Brooklyn but the neighborhood I grew up in is completely different. I know parts of Brooklyn are considered very cool but I’m just not a Williamsburg or Greenpoint person. Even Bay Ridge and Downtown, where I grew up, are full of young Hipsters now. They own it.

                London is my second city and where I actually developed as an adult. I know the streets almost as well as a taxi driver. I’m bilingual (I speak and spell London) and feel very much at home there. Some neighborhoods haven’t changed at all since the ’70s and some are very much improved. My studio on Dean Street still exists under new ownership and we are great friends. I use Dean Street studios a lot, as well as Visconti Studio in Kingston University. I’m also a member of the Groucho Club, the least snooty bar, restaurant, hotel club in London. It is very chill.

                J.S.: As you hail originally from Brooklyn, what is your opinion of the Brooklyn music scene? In addition to hip-hop, there’s been alternative music from TV on the Radio and the late Sharon Jones and her band, the Dap-Kings, who were one of the first to put the area on the radar. Since then, bands like Sleigh Bells, Grizzly Bear, and a slew of others have gotten international attention. Where do you see this trend heading, and why?

                T.V.: I’m very impressed by Brooklyn based bands. The bands are made up from people who weren’t necessarily born there, but the recent ‘immigration’ of musicians from other cities in the USA, and even from other countries, is a great phenomenon that is undeniably healthy. I have a favorite recording studio in Brooklyn too, Atomic Sound.

                J.S.: You incorporate some diverse sounds and approaches into It’s a Selfie and even do some rap on, “The Eighth Year” and “A Marriage”. Were these fresh experiments? Have you been stealthily introducing these elements into your previous projects, and if so, can you name some examples?

                T.V.: I just love all kinds of music, that’s all. I try to experiment and the little bit of rapping came quite naturally. I’m even doing some Tuvan throat singing in, “Are You Awake”.  I’m a fan of Hip Hop. David Bowie and I were very taken in by Lamar’s, To Pimp A Butterfly. My sound design is always in the records I make for other artists. For myself I tried to do different things that only apply to me. I do a lot of hybridism, taking elements from unlikely styles and merging them together. There is a lot of that on It’s A Selfie. David and I would often do that together.

                J.S.: Are there any musical genres in which you have yet to work where you think you would be able to bring something unique to the table from your experience?

                T.V.: I’d like to do some experimental music with Classical musicians and singers. As I can write orchestrations, I’d like to use the expertise of virtuosi to express some of my music ideas beyond the world of Rock, Pop, Art Rock, genres that can only go so far. I’ve thought of writing large orchestral pieces, a symphony for instance. But it would take a lot of time off from producing to do that. It can happen!

                J.S.: Are there any musical artists with whom you have never worked that you think would yield a great record from a collaboration?

                T.V.: I really like PJ Harvey. She has been approached. I think I can collaborate with Paul McCartney and make a kick ass record with him.

                J.S.: What is your desert island recording setup for instruments, recording format, and mics?

                T.V.: As this is the last question and the most complicated to answer, I might give this one a pass. I’d have to have everything Eventide Audio makes for a start. But a desert island has to have a source of electricity, so let’s start with solar panels….

                It’s A Selfie is available on Spotify.

                Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Menage a moi.