Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sun Records history by Colin Escott and Martin Hawkins

Between 1975 and 1991 there have been three editions published of the history of Sun Records by Colin Escott and Martin Hawkins.  The first edition was published only in the UK.  The 1991 edition might well be the definitive edition as it has remained in print ever since and there has never been word of another revision.  The second edition was like the first book I ever had about Buddy Holly.  Neither left my side upon purchase and I would read a few pages at every opportunity.  These books were really my introduction to rockabilly music beyond the music itself.
I'd seen pictures of the first edition. Since the 1980s it was extremely rare and if I ever saw a copy for sale (maybe twice) it was just too expensive.  Last week I checked Amazon's other sellers and found two copies at very reasonable prices, one for a mere ten bucks.  I suspect these books have become so old that few people know it exists, hence the cheap price possibly due to low demand.  Well, by God it's mine now and I am glad to have it along side the two newer editions.  This is a gem in my music and book collection.

Buddy Holly biography by John Goldrosen

There have been several books written about Buddy Holly since his rescue from obscurity thanks to the 1977 biopic starring Gary Busey.  Fans of Buddy Holly are in pretty solid agreement that John Goldrosen's biography is the best.  It was the second biography of Buddy published.  My entrance to rockabilly fandom was in the late 1970s shortly before the publication of the second edition of Goldrosen's book, entitled "The Buddy Holly Story".  This second edition has a lot more in it than the first.  Nikki Sullivan, rhythm guitarist in the Crickets, had not yet been interviewed when the first edition was published.  He is quoted throughout much of the second edition.  His recollection of those years was very sharp and he was an articulate man.  I've met him personally and found this to be true.  Bill Griggs and the Buddy Holly Memorial Society make up a new chapter.  The aforementioned biopic was out by then and also warranted a chapter.  Since then the book was revised further with the addition of very helpful appendices. And it has been translated into German.

But my interest here is the first edition, entitled "Buddy Holly, His Life and Music" published in 1975 by the Bowling Green (Ohio) University Popular Press.  I never had a copy until a few days before writing this.  An autographed copy came up cheap on Amazon and I now finally have added it to my collection. When we attended the Buddy Holly Memorial Society convention in Lubbock, TX, in 1982, one of the other fans there had a copy of this first edition in hardback.  They said the hard cover edition had a very small print run.  But I am happy to have the paper cover edition.

Pictured here are, left to right, top:
"Buddy Holly, His Life and Music", 1975
same title, British edition, 1975
"The Buddy Holly Story", 1979
"Remembering Buddy, the Definitive Biography of Buddy Holly", 1987, which has remained in print.  This is the one to get if you have none.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

An Appreciation of the Yellow Submarine movie

This Simpsons staffer totally gets Yellow Submarine.  He pours his heart out about it.  Even many Beatle fans, who really ought to have known better, dismissed the Yellow Submarine motion picture as “just a cartoon”, a phrase I’ve always heard and loathed.

New visually brilliant animated cartoons started slipping out of sight as early as the 1950s.  The first (of two) closures of the Warner Brothers cartoon studios in the 1960s marked the end of an era, although Chuck Jones kept his crew together and moved to MGM where they continued to make great cartoons for a decade.  Disney became unexceptional and even more irrelevant.  UPA, Paramount, and Hanna-Barbera had seen their best days come and gone.  Local TV stations were abandoning their after school cartoon shows which limited airtime for syndicated single-episode cartoon series.  Jay Ward–Bill Scott Productions gave up making television series in the late 1960s, although they continued to make cereal commercials for another fifteen years.  It just seems so weird that with their largest potential audience ever, the baby boomers, at its peak in size the animated cartoon industry just seemed to give up.  It’s not that there was no new talent willing to come into the business.  It is because studios chose not to spend money on cartoons anymore.  For the next two decades you had two studios grinding out hours of dull, uninspired cartoons that continued to fill-up five hours on three networks on Saturday morning.  Those were Hanna-Barbera and Filmation. These two studios produced so many series they would have two of their own series on at the same time on competing networks.  They looked liked moving coloring books.

This is why I always felt that Yellow Submarine was a wonderful example of a then-dying art.  It was the death throe of a once vigorous living creature.  It was an inspiration for future generations beyond the coming Dark Age. It was a way to say goodbye. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

2016 Grand Final weekend in Australia

If you know anyone in Australia or know any Australian expats, please don’t ask them to do anything this weekend.  This is Grand Final weekend.  It is their equivalent of the Super Bowl.  It is not just one sporting event but two.  One each for separate sports.  Australian rules football has its Australian Football League Grand Final on Saturdays in Melbourne.  On Sundays, it is the National Rugby League Grand Final in Sydney.  It turned out that this year both Grand Finals will include one team each from Melbourne and Sydney, the two largest cities in Australia.  The opportunity exists for either city to claim supremacy if both hometown teams win their respective sporting championship.  Near 100,000 people will attend each game.

The AFL Grand Final will have the Sydney Swans versus the Western (Melbourne) Bulldogs.  The Bulldogs have only ever won a single Grand Final back in 1954.  The last time they played and lost a Grand Final was 1961.  In two years the Bulldogs have become a winning team and their efforts have taken them this far.  A victory by this team would possibly be greater than if the Sydney Swans win in light of the Swans’ superb performances for many years.

The NRL Grand Final will pit the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks from southern Sydney versus the Melbourne Storm.

The NRL Grand Final will be seen on television in the U. S. on Fox Sports 2 which is now widely available as a basic cable channel.  The AFL’s typical self-destructive decision making has limited the U. S. viewing of their Grand Final to Fox Soccer Plus which costs extra each month to view only on those cable/satellite companies that offer it and online which also has a pay wall.  And on both viewing sources Americans are likely to see the game only and none of the pre- or post-game coverage due to expensive royalties owed if copyrighted background music gets heard, something that has been a problem for years.  Those curious or eager enough to watch the games will penetrate any media barriers.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Popular Mechanics magazine article on Sun Records echo

Who would have ever thought that Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee, would be the subject of an article in Popular Mechanics magazine?  This article explains the decaying reverberation echo heard on most Sun records made in the 1950s.  Sam Phillips transferred the flat recorded sound to a separate tape recorder to add on the electronically created echo, described many times as a “slapback echo”.  Most other recording studios of the era would create a resonance-based echo by feeding the flat studio recording through an actual echo chamber.  Duane Eddy recorded at a studio in Arizona that had a metal water tank obtained cheap at a scrap yard for an echo chamber.  The audio engineer ran cables to the inside of the tank with a speaker and a microphone to capture the sound of the metallic resonance to add to the recordings.  The Chess studio in Chicago had a long piece of sewer drain pipe suspended horizontally from a steel beam in their building, with a speaker and microphone on each end.  The Norman Petty studio in New Mexico had the attic of their building with the walls lined with ceramic tiles, installed professionally by Buddy Holly’s father and his three sons.  In the middle of the attic was and odd-shaped blob made out of a ceramic type material specially designed by a university audio acoustics professor for the purpose of deflecting sound.  Again speakers a microphone were placed inside.  In every case the flat sound of a band and singer recorded in their small studio rooms would be fed through a speaker inside these echo chambers to create more resonance which would then be recorded separately and then added to the original flat recording.  Sam Phillips at Sun Records, on the other hand, used an electronically created echo.  Echo chamber resonance spreads out and diffuses.  Sam Phillips’ echo would repeat rapidly, a staccato, getting quieter with each repetition.  The Phillips echo is a pretty unique sound.  It is describe in a little bit of detail in this article.

During this era there were also much larger studios, usually older, that were built with the intention of recording large orchestras.  These studios often did not need added echo or resonance as the size and designs of the rooms created their own that could be separately mic’d and added to the mix.