remember if I've mentioned this before, but when I was a kid, I was really an
intolerable musical snob. While everyone around me was talking about, dancing
to, and becoming a fan of "Sh'Boom!" or "Little Darlin"
(yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah), or later, The Platters ("My Prayer"), or
even later than that, Elvis, The Beach Boys, the Beatles, and however many
others, I held fast to the belief that the only music that was worth listening
to was the music of the Baroque, and that music had simply stopped being written
in April of 1759, when George Frideric Handel died.
Part of my, certainly extreme, belief was, I'm
sure, simply youthful contrarianism; part of it was, like the carefully
cultivated beatnik/intellectual image that I created for myself, a way to score
points with the ladies and my peers without having to become a "jock";
and part of it was simply the fact that Baroque music was–and still is, even
to this day―truly great stuff.
Weirdly, though, while I was altogether finicky
about what music I was willing to
listen to, there was no sound that
I wouldn't eagerly hunt down and shove into my ears if it was sufficiently
well-recorded and if it was played back on (initially) my hand-me-down
Silvertone radio/phonograph, and then–as my resources and system grew and the,
then still rapidly advancing, technology grew along with it–on (in sequence),
my Garrard record changer; Rek-O- Kut L-34 turntable (with Rek-O-Kut arm and GE
"variable reluctance" cartridge), Rek-O-Kut B12H 'table with ESL arm
and various cartridges, first mono, and then stereo) and (first added around the
time of the B12H) a Viking (mono and then stereo) tape recorder, followed by
other tape recorders from Magnecord, Crown, and, finally, (wonder-of-wonders)
I had become an audiophile (at that time, we
called ourselves "Hi-Fi Crazies) one fateful night in 1954 when I was
twelve years old and had gone with my father to Emmons Audio in Los Angeles' San
Fernando Valley, to accompany my father's friend Milt Rose as he bought his
first "HiFi set". (Yup, that's what they called them back in those
thrilling days of yesteryear when "Mono" was king and the only place
you could actually hear stereo was―occasionally, IF the theater was set-up
for it; IF you got lucky; IF it was a "million dollar" super-feature;
or IF they were showing the umpteenth re-release of Fantasia―in
a movie theater.)
What I heard that night, for the first time ever,
was bass; REAL BASS. From a BIG
pipe organ, played on a Bozak B-310, which was, even back then, capable of
genuine, wall-shaking, head-crushing, world-destroying, 24 Hz bass―a feat
still unmatched by the great majority of modern speakers.
The effect was overwhelming, electrifying, and life-changing, and even today, more than half a century later, it still moves me.
From that point on, like some kind of weird tech
analog for the Der fliegende Holländer―Wagner's
was launched on an apparently lifelong quest to recapture that same kind of
in-some-ways-even-better-than-orgasmic experience that I had (quite literally)
felt at Emmons audio, and that Harry Pearson later described as "the
Although I still wouldn't listen to what most
people thought was great music of any genre, from Pop to Classical, I, like a
goodly number of others who had also been "bitten by the Hi-Fi Bug",
found myself buying and cheerfully listening to, first in mono and then, when I
could, in stereo, what can only be described as "sound effects"
records: recordings of thunderstorms, matches being struck, water going over
Niagara Falls, then, in stereo, the classic ping pong games (yeah!), steam
locomotives crashing through the room, and finally―as the ultimate tour
de force―(yes, there really was one) a recording [WARNING: THIS
RECORDING CONTAINS FREQUENCIES DOWN TO 4HZ AND COULD SERIOUSLY DAMAGE YOUR
SYSTEM!] of one of the atomic bomb tests in the Nevada desert.
It wasn't all just noise, however; I was dragged by my ears to wherever the sound led me, so, when in 1957 stereo records came out and I bought my first [Electro-Voice ceramic] stereo cartridge, I also bought The Dukes of Dixieland Volume II (which was, for some reason, if I remember correctly, Audio Fidelity's first stereo release) and, in 1958, "Port Said: Music of the Middle East", performed by Mohammed El-Bakkar and his Oriental Ensemble.
The truth of it was that, before buying the
record, I wouldn't have known Dixieland jazz if it had bitten me. It was about
as far from the Baroque as you could get, and yet, once I was exposed to it, I
found that I enjoyed it. It was the same thing with Middle Eastern music: Even
though the Port Said album
featured belly dancer Nejla Ates on the cover in pasties, harem pants, and
little else, it was really just the fact that it was in stereo that got me to
buy the album. As with Dixieland, I had never heard that kind of music before,
and, as with Dixieland, I found that, once exposed to it, I liked
The quest for the thrill of
"live-sounding" sound eventually got me to experience real
"live" sound at places other than just the conventional concert hall:
When I was old enough to fake being old-enough-to-get-in, I started going to
live jazz performances at L.A.'s "Cosmo Alley" and then "The
Renaissance", on the Sunset Strip. And even before that, I and friends
started going for live folk music at "The Unicorn" coffee house,
"Caffe Positano", and "The Fifth Estate" (where, at all of
which, I also got my first taste of the Beatnik life style, met some of the
luminaries of the Beatnik movement, including Jack Kerouac and a number of the
Beatnik poets, and established friendships that I still have today.)
My Hi-Fi craziness also, in the late '50s, led me
to approach and to become decades-long friends with Skip Weshner, who had
(sponsored by some of the greatest HiFi manufacturers of the time) a syndicated
nightly radio show (on KRHM in Los Angeles, WBAI in New York, and however many
other stations across the country), and who was certainly one of the most
influential figures in my own musical life and that of probably tens of
thousands of others. It was Skip who gave then-unknown Bob Dylan his first
broadcast air time; who "discovered" Joan Baez, and a great many other
now-well-known performers in any number of musical genres; who led me to meet
Paul Horn and other jazz greats; who introduced me (and, of course, all of his
other listeners) to Mexican music; to the voices of Aksel Schiotz and Mado Robin
(Hunt down recordings of both, and listen to
to the Paraguayan harp; to Theodore Bikel and Russian music; to the Mazowsze
Choral Ensemble of Poland, and to seemingly endless numbers of the world's other
great musical treasures.
It was also Skip who introduced me to Tony
DiChiro (of Kinergetics), who first got me interested in cables and introduced
me to other people (Mike Detmer, for example, then President of Stax-Kogyo USA)
who got me into writing for the audio press, which got me going to CES, which
introduced me to still more great sound (Bachbusters,
Jazz at the Pawnshop, Cantate Domino, Dark
Side of the Moon, and all of the other wonderful
hear-them-in-every-room-at-the-Show classics) which both got me into still more
kinds of (to me) hitherto undiscovered music and, when the time came, gave me
the ability to launch my own Hi-Fi company.
For me, the journey has been from audiophile to music lover, with just the sheer love of great recorded sound (even the recorded banging on a steel garage door on the Hi-Fi News & Record Review "Test Disc" of 1985) being my guide and opening doors for me all along the way. In the process, I've learned many things and become a fan of just about any kind of music anybody could think of–including not just the classical base that I started from, but Heavy Metal, Jazz, Country & Western, Rock and Roll, Rhythm & Blues, every kind of folk and "ethnic" music, electronic music, and, most recently, the Hang drum.
It's all great and it's all fun! In the opinion of this former snob, now turned music sponge, there's nothing better than to just relax, turn down the lights, turn UP the volume, and...
Enjoy the music.