The audio industry lost one of its greatest with the passing of Stereophile Deputy Editor Art Dudley on April 14, 2020 from metastatic cancer. I’m having a tough time writing this because I got to know him well over the decades and because he was one of the finest people I’ve ever met.
Art was an exceptional writer. His reviews were thoughtful, insightful, laced with humor and attitude and could have been written by no one else. (He once said that too many audio reviews read like they were generated by a software program; just insert the model number, specs and price and presto, instant audio review. You could never accuse Art of that.)
He was opinionated. He thought New York State wines were lousy, and liked low-watt tube amps, vintage Altec loudspeakers, and rebuilding old Garrard idler-wheel turntables, among many other things. He did not suffer fools all that gladly, but was also self-deprecating, often hilariously so. In the March 2020 Stereophile he wrote: “...domestic audio has attracted an almost incalculable number of iconoclasts, heretics, mavericks, nonconformists, lone wolves, enfants terrible, and hidebound kooks. Because the above are among my favorite people, I don’t have much of a problem with that state of affairs.”
He prized audio components that were beautifully crafted and could convey the life, drive and humanity of the music, and was unimpressed by those that couldn’t. In the middle of one review a few years ago, where he was exasperated with the component’s performance, he simply concluded a paragraph with, “Jesus wept.”
Art was an accomplished guitar player, as I found out when I got to play with him at a party at fellow Stereophile writer and friend Bob Reina’s summer house in Mattituck, NY. (The late Reina has never gotten the tribute he deserves and that will be remedied in a future issue.) Like anything Art did, he would talk about guitars, bluegrass and other loves with enthusiasm and the often obsessive detail so characteristic of people who are really into it. He wrote wonderful pieces for Fretboard Journal.
Art Dudley started in audio in 1985 as managing editor of The Absolute Sound, where I first had contact with him as I was trying to worm my way onto the staff. I sent him “audition” pieces and once, a photograph of two vintage 1965 and 1967 Fender Stratocasters I had owned. That got a response from him! We got to know each other and I was struck by his honesty, straightforwardness and intelligence. After Art quit TAS to start the excellent audio magazine Listener, when I asked him why he left, he said with typical candor, “because I got tired of the bullsh*t.” (That was around the time I started at TAS. But Art wasn’t about to sugar-coat anything for me.)
Art eventually sold Listener to Belvoir Publications, who sadly closed the magazine’s doors in 2002. He also wrote for Hi-Fi Heretic and Sounds Like... (ah, memories...) and in 2003, began writing for Stereophile, becoming one of its most beloved contributors and eventually, its Deputy Editor.
I ran into him dozens of times at shows and industry events. He was always well dressed, always wearing a sports jacket even if said jacket was a year or ten out of style. (But that’s kind of a thing in the industry anyway. Victor Goldstein and some others excepted!) Since Art was something of a celebrity in said industry he would always be accosted by people at shows, many times by audiophiles asking for advice. Art would always spend time with them and be kind and gracious, even if he was clearly late for an appointment or if the person he was talking to was obnoxious. I know he loathed being asked things like, “what’s the best speaker for under $1,000?” But he always answered with a smile, even though I knew that for him it was the equivalent of plantar fasciitis.
A few other examples of the kind of guy he was: when I once told him I had friends in upstate New York and visited them regularly, he told me he lived on the way and that I’d be welcome to stop by his house any time and even jam with his band if they were playing a gig. Every time I’d run into him at a show I’d say I'd come visit him, never did, and it got to the point where, on one of the last times that I saw him I sheepishly greeted him with, “I know, I know, I’m going to stop saying I’m going to come visit because I never do it.” He smiled and said something like, “no problem; I know we’re all busy but any time you want to visit our door is open.”
About 20 years ago I was looking for a vintage-correct pickguard for my 1969 Telecaster (the original having been lost to the ravages of rock and roll). I responded to an ad in Vintage Guitar magazine. The guy who answered the phone was feeling me out. When we got to the point where we were discussing payment terms he said, “you sound like a decent and trustworthy guy; just send me a check. Where do you live?” When I told him on Long Island, he said, “wait a minute...your voice sounds familiar...Frank?” Then it hit me. “Art? Oh man, how have you been? It’s been years!” We then spent the next few minutes apologizing, embarrassed and laughing that that neither one of us realized who the other was at first. We both knew that a 1969 Telecaster pickguard should have a mother-of-pearl-looking backing – but didn’t recognize each other’s voices.
We loved to talk about music, especially since we shared many contrarian opinions about what was good and bad. (I wish I had tapes of our conversations where we would skewer some of the typical audiophile show demo tracks.) Art knew I was a serious Blue Öyster Cult fan and when I ran into him a couple of New York shows ago, he brought up the fact that the band’s Secret Treaties album was his favorite. We then proceeded to have a song-by-song rave session about the album right in the middle of the hallway, to the bemusement of those around us and ignoring everything else we were supposed to be doing. Art’s favorite song on the album was “ME 262.” (Yep, the same guy who loved Mahler and Monroe dug the Öyster Boys' hard rock.) A couple of years later he told me he finally got to see BÖC live, that they had played it and that he was thrilled. From now on I’ll never be able to play the song without thinking of you, Art.
I think Art would appreciate this last anecdote.
On April 14 I got my copy of Stereophile in the mail. As usual, I immediately opened to Art’s column. (No offense, Michael, Kal, Jason and the rest of you!) I read it, laughed yet again about something he wrote, and then to finish my lunch break looked at Facebook. The first thing I saw was Art’s obituary. Right after I finished reading his words and smiling at them, I saw the news about his passing.
I’d like to think that he was up there somewhere smiling at the bittersweet irony.
We will miss you Art. More than I can express here.
Header image of Art Dudley courtesy of Stereophile.