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Stan Ricker: Live and Unplugged
True Confessions of a Musical & Mastering Maven


Dave:    Yeah, I've heard very phenomenal 78 reproduction recently.  I was at Clark Johnsen's Listening Studio in late November and he played some 78's that really opened my ears.  But this speaker you were talking about is the one for which your mother sewed a special surround.


Stan:    Yeah, yeah.  See, I had been reading all those little books that G.A. Briggs of Wharefdale Wireless Works had written in England.  He talked about loudspeakers with cloth surrounds and things like this and I had been out working a couple of summers mowing grass at fifty cents per yard.  I mean, not per yard as in, thirty-six inches, but per yard as in, three quarters of an acre per plot of one family housing!  And you do that for fifty cents.  Anyway, I saved up my money.  I had like a hundred and some odd bucks, and I bought this Jensen H510.  It was Jensen's answer to the Altec 604 co-ax.  And I was astounded to find that, here was a fifteen inch loudspeaker, the cone resonance was seventy-two cycles, which was exactly the same frequency as the D string on my bass.  I mean, one string above that is G, which is ninety-six.  And then below the D is A, which is fifty-five, and E which is forty-one, and this loudspeaker couldn't even reproduce those notes below its resonance.  So, I thought, well, what's to do but lower the resonance.  So I separated the cardboard gasket from the frame.  But first I took a twelve inch record and I laid it on this fifteen inch loudspeaker and I found that after you got past the corrugations of the surround, that actual cone of a fifteen inch loudspeaker is twelve inches.  Then I took a razor blade, I centered the record and just cut all the way around it, then separated the gasket, used some of my mom's finger nail polish to soften the glue and get the rest of that surround out of there.  Because in those days I don't even know if MEK had been invented.  You couldn't go out and buy the damn stuff, that's for sure.


Dave:    And MEK is...


Stan:    Methyl Ethyl Ketone.  I don't know when it came into being but I'd never heard of it as a kid so all I had access to was my mother's finger-nail polish remover.  Which is quite stout stuff, almost pure acetone.  So, anyway, I was reading Mr. Briggs' dissertations on loudspeakers and excursions and cloth surrounds and all this, so the first cloth surround I made was just cut out of a bed sheet, fifteen inches outer diameter, eleven inches inside diameter, which gave me half of an inch overlap onto the cone.  I just glued it on there and as long as you just had small excursions the performance was okay.  But as soon as you got an excursion where the surround ran out of cloth, ran out of compliance, it just stopped, stone hard, and it turned into the best third harmonic generator I've ever heard.  (Laughs)  All the low organ stuff began to sound like there was a huge sixteen foot pedal reed attached to everything when I turned it up loud.  And then I realized what was happening and I showed my mom how this is happening.  How we can make it more resilient and not stop so hard and she said, "If we cut the cloth on a bias we can avoid that problem."  So she said, "You can't cut a continuous ring.  We have to cut separate pie shaped pieces of cloth."  So we used some scotch plaid and cut a bunch of pieces, kinda pie shaped, and then glued 'em around the outside edge of the frame and overlapped them onto the cone, and glued them to the cone first and then sewed all the overlapping edges together.  And that thing still exists, as you saw.


Dave:    Yeah, I'm quite impressed that you still have that.  It shows real parental support, which is really, really important to developing a life long love of a field.


Stan:    Yeah, Mom supported me in a lot of things like that.  I'm eternally grateful to her and she's still very much with us.  She lives in Zellwood, Florida which is a little bit north of Orlando.  She loves to play golf.  She was born in 1913 so that means she's about eighty-four.  Her birthday is in July.  Pretty smart old lady.  But that concept of cuttin' the cloth on the bias-  she loved to make clothes and she made almost all her own clothes and she made most of my sister's clothes as well.  It was a way for her to be creative as well as to save money during the war years and so forth.  She just continued with it for many years thereafter.


Dave:    You had some really meaningful listening experiences during this time, too.  For instance, hearing Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony and Heifetz and Piatagorsky.


Stan:    Yeah, Gregor Piatagorsky came to Highland Park High School and played for us in those Community Concerts things.  And I was especially taken with one number he played.  He says he's gonna do this a la  Andre Segovia, and he picked the cello up and set it across his lap like a big guitar, and proceeded to play the most delightful old finger picking pizzicato Bach on it, you know.


Dave:    That's phenomenal.  That must have been a real joy to see.


Stan:    Oh and to hear, yeah, yeah.  And we had the Washington, D.C., Navy Band come to Highland Park High School.  And we'd had the Cleveland Symphony come to the high school and these concerts.  I found out at Highland Park High School that if you wanted to get some really good low end you went up in the balcony and sat all the way in the back.  That's when I found out what a bass drum was all about.  Those big suspended drums.  You've seen those bass hoops and the drums are suspended by calf skin thongs because with a bass drum, when you hit the bass drum head, the two heads move in phase, side to side, the air mass inside goes side to side, with the heads. It is only contained by the elasticity, tension and mass of the heads.  Now, in order for this to be a system in equilibrium, when the heads and the air go one way, the shell has to go the other way.  And that's why you always have this bass drum suspended from the hoop.  As soon as you put the bass drum on a stand or set it on the floor, when you prohibit the shell from moving counter to the air mass and the head, you kill the whole sound of the instrument.  It just totally wipes it out.  And you'd be surprised how many percussionists don't understand this.  A lot of recording people don't understand it.  Jack Renner and Bob Woods understood it real well when we were doing some early Telarc stuff.  I remember when we were first doing the Cincinnati Symphony's 1812 Overture.


Dave:    Ah, the famous cannon shots.


Stan:    The famous, well not only cannon shots, but it's got some hellacious bass drum whacks in it, too.  We were having trouble with the bass drummer in the orchestra.  He happened to be the percussion section crew chief and we'd get the drum tuned the way we wanted it.  It had to be in the back center of the hall so you hit on the back head and the sound emanates from the forward head and goes out and hits all three microphones in phase, which means lateral modulation on the disk, which is what you want, not vertical.  And we'd get it set up about right and we'd go back to the recording booth and we'd look at it on the oscilloscope and it would be all skewed.  We'd go back out there and the guy woulda turned the damn thing, you know.  And finally Jack and I went out there and Jack said, "Listen, dammit, we're payin' for this.  You do it our way."  And the percussionist said, "Well, we never had to do this for Vanguard Records."  And Jack and I both said, about the same voice, "Well, that's probably why you never sold very many f****** records through them, did ya?"  (Laughs)  Ya know, I mean you cannot fool Mother Nature.  You have to do these things according to the laws of physics!


Dave:    So, what were your impressions of Reiner and Chicago?  How old were you when you first heard that?


Stan:    Well, hell, I was at least a freshman in high school, so I had to have been fourteen.  Oh, I just thought that was, oh I mean, everyone was, "Oh, God, we're gonna go hear Fritz Reiner.  Oh man, is he good."  I mean he was everything he was cracked up to be, plus tax.  I remember one of the things he played, "Finlandia." All this stuff and oh, the cymbals and the bass drum were so together and, you know, everybody else was doin' their thing really well, but I'm watching the bass fiddle section, I think at that time the orchestra had either ten or twelve basses.  And almost all of 'em had low C extensions on 'em.  I used to go around to all these different bass sections and look in these bass sections and see how many of 'em had low C extensions.  And almost all of 'em did.  And if you look at the individual basses in an orchestra today, in fact, it's hard to get a job with a standard four string bass, in a symphony any more.  You have to have either a low C extension or you have to have a fifth string, like that bass I have at home.  Cause otherwise there's just a lotta stuff written down there you can't get with the standard 4-string bass.  You can't get your thirty-two cycle low C.  You lose C, C sharp, D, and D sharp, which is most commonly called E flat, which is the most glorious key ever invented.  The strings sound so good in E flat, and the woodwinds and the brass love it, too.


Dave:    You also paid a lot of visits to Allied Radio when you were in Illinois.


Stan:    Yeah, yeah.  Every Saturday for a number of years, from Highland Park I used to have to ride the Chicago & Northwestern train down to Chicago to go visit the dentist, Dr. McKay.  And he was attempting to put some corrective dentures on my crooked teeth, and as everybody can see nowadays, or has been able to see forever, he was a kindly man, but he wasn't very effective.  So I'd ride the 8:10 train down to Chicago and my appointment with Doc McKay wasn't until about ten o'clock.  I mean this was a Saturday, mind you.  Who in their right mind wanted to go to work on Saturday, anyway?  He was gracious enough to come in.  However it was that my dad was able to talk him into doing this, I don't know.  I had hours to kill every Saturday so as I would walk to my destination I went by 833 West Jackson Boulevard and that's where Allied Radio was.  And they were in the back of a shoe store at that time.  That's where I first heard an Electrovoice  Aristocrat corner horn enclosure, licensed from Paul Klipsch.  The first time I heard thirty-two cycles, low C, right out there in the open [other than in my own room].  I was real excited by all that.  Also, that's the first place I actually physically saw an Altec 604.  So see, that had to have been around 1952 or '53, because I was doing so poorly in Highland Park High school, it was '52, and after my junior year my folks took me out of Highland Park High School and they sent me to a boarding school in the state of Maine called Hebron Academy.  Of course, over in Israel they call it "Hebron" (short e) and we hear about on the news all the time.  But in Maine they call it Hebron (long e).  And one of the reasons they were happy to send me there was because Hebron had absolutely no music culture at all.  Nothing whatsoever to do with music, and I knew I really had to get my grades up.  So I repeated my junior year.  I went to Hebron junior and senior year [1953-54] but I promptly started a Hebron Pep Band.  (Laughs)


Dave:    I don't think that's what they had in mind.


Stan:    That wasn't what they had in mind, but it worked out well because it was directed by Mr. Philip Stackpole, who was my Algebra and Geometry instructor.  Mr. Stackpole was a marvellous pianist; the academy had a Steinway D and Phil knew well how to use it. He was a music nut, and he was just looking for an excuse to do this band thing, so when someone got enthusiastic about it, he went with it.  And then there was a record club.  And I wound up being president of the record club.


Dave:    That sounds very dangerous.


Stan:    Yes.  Especially when Mom and Dad weren't too happy when they found out I was doing all this musical shit, at a supposedly nonmusical secondary school.  But anyway, I got my grades up to the point where I was accepted at four universities and then was faced with the dilemma that I didn't really know what I wanted to study.  It was one of those typical college days when all of the colleges send representatives to the high school campus, "Hope you'll consider goin' to our college," and so forth and so on.  College Career Days, or somethin' like that.  So anyway, I just filled out a bunch of damn paperwork and sent it in and I got accepted to Purdue, the University of Colorado, Dartmouth, and Eastman School of Music.  (Laughs)  And I didn't know what the hell I wanted to do.  And so the biggest thing was none of this was on anything what you call a scholarship.  It was on one of those, "Yeah, I'll go to school," and we'll accept your money.  So, I knew already that Mom and Dad had really been bitin' the bullet just to send me to Hebron.  They were also sending my sister to the University of Colorado at the same time.  And I thought, "Oh God, if I go to one of these schools and screw up, boy is Dad gonna be pissed."  I remember that was my exact viewpoint, exact words on it.  So I elected not to go to college, but to enlist in the Navy.  Those were the years where you had no choice after you got outta high school, you either went to college, or you were gonna be service bound, one way or the other.  You know, go register for the draft and things like this.


Dave:    Right.  The draft is etched in my memory.


Stan:    Yes, yes.  It's been around quite a while.  Frankly, I think it would do the country a helluva lot a good if they instituted that again.  We wouldn't have so many people with absolutely no idea what they're gonna do, or no goals.  Even if the goal is just to cover your own ass for a few years...  In spite of that, there's still folks like me who haven't figured out what we're gonna do when we grow up.


Dave:    Yeah, well, most of those people are doing what they really love.



Stan the Barnacle-Encrusted Musician


"It's only me, I'm home from the sea, says Barnacle Bill, the sailor."  [A typical Rickerism... is this how Stan became so salty and crusty?]


Dave:    Tell us about your experience in the Navy, Stan.


Stan:    When I graduated from high school I auditioned for the Navy Music Program and was accepted.  So I went to the Navy Music School in Washington, D.C., and that was the first time I ever had any really formal music education at all [1954-1955].  And I had very good musical instructors.  Almost all the instructors I had at the Navy Music School were Eastman graduates.  Really fine.  


I remember being absolutely surprised at having an Army PFC, whose name was Richard Kneiter, who was a graduate of Eastman School of Music, and boy did he know his theory.  He made it so vividly clear to me that I remember saying, "Now I understand why a G7 chord goes to C[or sometimes A minor]!.  Because I had just learned that these things were so [by ear], but didn't know anything about the voice leading or the mechanics of good writing which are guided by good hearing, what one expects to hear from one chord sequence to the other, and what are the rules regarding that.  So I was very excited to finally have all my many scattered-around bits and pieces of music-info finally put in a structured, organizational context where I could really begin to understand it.  It took me years to understand that music really is a language.  You learn music by imitation and it's only later you learn how to read it and how to write it.  But you learn how to speak it first and so I was finally getting to the point where I could read music that way and make harmonic sense out of it.  For me that was a great awakening.


My main duties in the Navy [1954-58] were to play tuba and a string bass and bass drum in marching bands, whether we were aboard ship - we didn't do much marching aboard ship, but when I was stationed in the New York Navy Band we played at least one parade up or down Fifth Avenue every week.  They were usually five mile parades.  So I got lots of practice in being involved with live, loud music.  Record players and loudspeakers sounded pretty dismal and lacking, compared to the real thing, and today they still do sound pretty second rate compared to the real thing.


Aboard the battleship New Jersey,  I was in what's known as the Comm Sixth Fleet Band.  And I was stationed on the French Riviera for a while, with a very good Navy band and that was a good experience, in and of itself.  I was playing a lot of dance band stuff and concert band and parades.  And I played bass drum on those parades 'cause the tuba that I was issued was a nice tuba for a Sousaphone, but the mouthpiece had some of the plating off of it and under the plating is brass and I got brass poisoning on my upper lip.  So I couldn't play the tuba for about my last fifteen months in the service.  So for dance band stuff I, of course, continued to play my string bass.  In the parades I played bass drum, and I really enjoyed it.  Really, really enjoyed it.  There's a real art in playing one of those things so that in tuning it right, and damping the heads right so that when you hit it with a hard beater, you get a real smack, or a crack.


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