Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Jay & the Techniques

Jay & the Techniques were a Philadelphia R&B band that was active in the 60’s and 70’s. They were notable at the time to be a mixed race group with lead man Jay Proctor as the only African American in the group (a big feat in 1967).

Band members were: Jay Proctor on vocals; George Lloyd vocals; Dante Dancho lead guitar, Chuck Crowl bass, Karl Landis Lippowitsch drums, Ronnie Goosley saxophone; and Jon Walsh on trumpet.

The two singles I own are from their debut album Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie which was released on Smash Records in 1967. The title track was their biggest hit reaching number 6 on the Billboard top 100, but the follow-up single Keep the Ball Rollin' also fared well landing at number 15.

Sure, the lyrics are not the most complex writing: “Apples peaches pumpkin pie, Who’s afraid to holler I? That’s a game we used to play. Hide and seek was its name”, but it has that 60’s poppy teeny-bopper feel to it that gives it a free pass as far as lyrical content. At the same time, this style can get repetitive in a hurry, making me totally content with just the singles for this genre rather than the full LP’s. In small doses these songs are fun and catchy, but too much can ruin it.

While Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie was the bigger hit, I prefer Keep the Ball Rollin’ more. I love the horns and backup vocals giving it that doo wop feel. The use of stereo recording was still relatively new technology they sure tried to use it at full potential with the drums sitting in the left channel and the backup vocals and horns kept far to the right (Stereo recordings were introduced in the 1920’s, but were only began being mass produced for vinyl in the late 1950’s when stereo cartridges began being affordable). Sometimes this heavy stereo use gets annoying, but it works well here.

There is not a whole lot of material released by Jay and the Techniques, this album as well as their second: Love, Lost & Found were released in 1967, but afterwards they only released a handful of singles until disbanding in 1976.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Classic A Side - Wings - Maybe I'm Amazed!

It seems that lately I have only been pulling obscure new-to-me singles out for a spin. I decided to switch things up today and try an old favorite. A record doesn’t have to be rare to be loved at my home.

This morning’s single was Maybe I’m Amazed by Paul McCartney’s post Beatles band Wings. While it was initially released on his debut solo album ‘McCartney’ (not released as a single in Canada… at least initially), this Wings recording is a live version which appeared on their 1977 live album entitled Wings Over America.

McCartney himself said during a London Q&A that this is the song that he would like to be remembered for.

It`s one of those songs that I always take for granted, appearing on most live recordings I have heard as well as being in constant rotation on Top 40 radio. This morning, when I sat back and actually focused on it rather than just having it in the background, I was quickly reminded of how great this song actually is. Everything from the solo piano intro to Paul hitting his high notes during the chorus, it’s put together like a true masterpiece. Of course my favorite is when the music always stops in the middle of the chorus for Paul to run up a piano scale solo, still gives me chills.

But let’s not forget the most important part of this song. Paul spilled the secret on his appearance on the Simpsons that “if you play Maybe I`m Amazed backwards, you`ll find a recipe for a ripping lentil soup”.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

BSR Turntable Maintenance!

Ahhhh, nothing like a good ole BSR turntable. Pretty much everybody (at least anyone in their 30's or older) can remember at least knowing somebody who had one of these. They were one of the most popular turntables in the 60's and 70's, found in console units, amplifier/turntable combos, or even just on their own to be plugged into an existing system. 

Audiophiles can put the hate on these turntables all they want, they may complain about the "rumble" sounds from the mechanics, or how their needles "eat records", but I buy none of it! When these tables are properly set up and greased and oiled, then they work very well. These things are built like tanks and I have yet to find one that I could not bring back to life. Sure BSR's with the moving magnetic needles are better than the ones with the ceramic needles, but there is something about the 60's sound that the ceramic needles give that is welcoming. I don't believe these ceramic needles are as bad as many think. Sure, they require more tracking pressure than the magnetic needles, but the needles are shaped to handle this pressure without damaging the vinyl. I use these all the time and have yet to have them cause any damage to my records. I guarantee that a large percentage of used vinyl from the 70's have been played on one of these tables at least once.

All this being said, most of these turntables have been sitting in storage for the past 20+ years. This long storage period has caused most tables (I'd say 4 out of every 5 I come across) to become seized and no longer work. 

The good news is that with a little 'know-how' and some patience, you can bring these turntables back to life with ease, and this post is here to guide you through this procedure!

I recommend doing this to any BSR turntable that has been sitting for more than a few years, even if they do still spin. Cleaning and replacing the old grease will have these tables working better than new!

So here we have a BSR turntable that I found at a yard sale this past weekend. This one is part of a Sony turntable/amplifier combo. The turntable does not spin. 

 The first thing required is to remove the metal plate in the middle of the turntable. 

Gently pry this up using a screw driver or butter knife. Take your time with this and try not to bend the thin metal plate. When they are bent they do not look as nice when you have you turntable all cleaned up. 

Now that the plate is removed you can see a large c-clamp around the turntable spindle hole. Use a screw driver to remove this clamp. Be careful not to lose these clamps, when you pry them off they have a tendency to shoot across the room. 

Now the turntable technically can be lifted off of the spindle; however, most times it won't budge. This is because the old grease has turned very sticky and gluey. The easiest way to loosen this grease is to heat it up! I always set my soldering iron in the spindle hole and let it heat up for about 5 minutes. Once warm, the platter will easily lift off. 

Now that the platter is removed you can see the large cycling gear (top right of the above picture). This has a c-clamp which is holding it in place. 

This gear is usually glued in with old grease and will also require heating to loosen it up. This usually takes a bit of time. Be patient with this and DO NOT pry the gear off. By prying it you will bend the shaft that the gear sits on which could ruin your turntable. Let it heat up as long as required (sometimes up to 20 minutes), it WILL come off.

Now that you have the gear off you will see all the dried up grease. You will need to clean all of this grease out and also off of the spindle. Clean it all well with an old rag and some soap, it's steel and you won't damage it.

The dried up grease around the spindle can often be very hard, sometimes you will need to scrape it off with a screwdriver. When you are cleaning be careful not to lose that little steel bead under the triangle shaped metal. If it does fall out, gently lift the metal up and put it back.

Next you will need to remove the bearing assembly around the spindle hole. There are 4 parts to this: metal washer, bearing, metal washer, rubber washer. Clean all 4 of these as well as all of the old grease around the spindle shaft. 

I use a Q-tip to get the grease out of the bearing. Be careful not to lose the metal beads, they can come out!

Once I get most of the old grease out with the Q-tip I cut the end of the Q-tip off to have a smaller end and get the harder to reach areas. 

Clean it well so it looks nice and clean like the picture above. 

it's a good idea to add one small drop of sewing machine oil to the motor when you have the platter removed. Just put the drop (only one) beside the motor spindle which is the part that the rubber idler wheel hits when the unit is turned on. 

Now is a great time to give the top of the turntable a good cleaning. These shine up very nicely with a little elbow grease. 

Now that everything is removed from the top of the turntable it's time to get to the bottom parts. On this turntable there's 4 screws from the top that need to be removed to get access to the underneath, this can vary depending on where the table is installed. 

Once you get access to underneath you will see two metal clips that hold the table in place. These simply flip from horizontal to vertical, allowing the table to be removed from the top of the unit. 

You will see as plastic wire plug that can be unplugged from the bottom of the table. Unplug it!

Unplug the two audio cables. Take note of which color is plugged into which side. I often mark it on the table with a marker so I don't forget (okay, I never do that.... but I should!)

Now your turntable is free! It can now be flipped over to clean the bottom. 

Be sure to never set the turntable on the tonearm. I always lean it over like the photo above to ensure I don't damage anything. 

It may look complicated underneath, but lets keep it very very simple. Just remove any old grease you see and replace with new grease. 

I use wheel bearing grease. There are many different opinions on what should be use but this always works best for me. 

Apply grease to all moving parts that had old grease removed.

Now flip the table back over and reapply grease to all of the parts on the top where you removed it prior. 

Now you are basically finished! All you have to do is re-install the cycling gear and platter. Be sure to re-install all of the c-clips. 

Once I re-install the platter, and before I screw in the top of the unit again, I flick all of the switches a few times and manually rotate the platter. Check underneath to ensure everything is moving freely. If you see any parts jammed up just remove any clips holding it together, clean it up and re-install. Before you take anything apart it is a good idea to snap a photo so you can remember how to re-install. 

So there you have it, your BSR turntable should now rotate freely! With this maintenance guide followed, your table should be ready for many more decades of spinning. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Back From the Dead Turntable: Elac Miracord 650

The latest addition to my vintage audio gear collection is this nice Elac Miracord 650 turntable. I was not familiar with the brand prior to me picking this one up. These turntables would have been the competition for Dual turntables in the 60’s-80’s, and some believe they are a step up. I’m bias, I like both!

It is an Idler wheel turntable which has 4 speeds: 16, 33, 45 and 78 RPM. Some prefer a belt drive turntable over the idler wheel as they say the moving parts cause “rumble”, but I have yet to see/hear this become an issue. My opinion is that if you have these idler wheel tables set up properly, they’re well-oiled and greased so all parts move freely and quietly, they will work great. If there is a “rumble”, it is so low that it is virtually inaudible to the common non-audiophile (some of these audiophiles can hear stuff that I sure can’t… I guess I’m lucky I can’t hear it).

This turntable has a square tube aluminum tone arm, the adjustable counter weight is also rectangular in shape, which gives it a unique look. The head shell accepts a ½” mount cartridge (2-screws on top rather than one through the side). The part of the head shell which holds the cartridge unplugs and pulls right out, which I really like. This makes installing a new cartridge super easy to do. Also, if I can find another one of these head shell parts, I can have another needle already aligned and ready to plug in when I like. This would come in handy if I had a mono or 78rpm needle, I could easily switch them as fast as I can switch records.

The base is made of beautiful wood construction giving it a really nice retro look.

This table can be used as a record changer, meaning that I can stack a number of albums (up to 6 I believe), and it will play one album after another. The spindle holds records above the turntable and after the first record plays through, the next one will drop on top and begin to play. Most record changers have an arm that moves over and holds the records flat on the spindle, this player has a different design. Instead of this arm, the spindle has 3 little shelves on it which holds the records flat.

The only downside I have noticed so far is that the spindle needs to be removed in order to change records unlike most BSR and Dual changers which are made so that you can just lift the record directly off the spindle. Not a very big inconvenience, but just different. At least the spindle does not lock in place and is very easy to remove. Also, they designed the turntable case to have a storage area for the spindle on the side so I won’t lose the spindle (as well it stores the single record spindle that was also included).

This turntable is nice and heavy and really has a nice build quality. There are very limited electrical parts: basically just the motor which turns and the rest is mechanical (I also saw a capacitor or two which is most likely used to keep the motor speed consistent).

I’m very happy with this turntable find and it proudly replaces my other record changers as my primary multi-play unit. It’s nice to be able to stack a bunch of 45’s or albums and let them play through. Of course I also have my manual turntable for normal use as well.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Revisiting a Classic - The Hangmen!

Nineteen eighty nine was a big transition year in rock music: Aerosmith released PumpMötley Crüe was at their height in glam rock releasing Dr. Feelgood, and Skid Row had one of the year’s biggest hits with 18 to Life. Meanwhile, in a grungy apartment in Seattle, a young Kurt Cobain quietly began his destruction of hair metal by preparing for the release of Nirvana's debut album Bleach.

Somewhere stuck in the middle, was the LA based band The Hangmen. They are often labelled as a hair metal band, but that seems far from an accurate description. They would be way closer to punk rock than metal: perhaps a mix of 25% heavier blues with about 75% Stooges era punk rock. Singer Brad Small cites Iggy Pop and Gun Club as influences, and both artists are clearly represented in their style.

Their debut self-titled album was the sole release with Capitol records who quickly dropped the band following mediocre sales. While they never lived up to Capitol’s expectations of the “next big thing” in rock, this is one hell of an album and I feel that it is a must-have for any punk/hard rock collection.

The Hangmen's lineup for this album was: Bryan Small on guitar and vocals; Billy Catterson on guitars and vocals; Johnny Holiday on bass and vocals; and Lenny Montoya on drums and vocals. 

This album was produced by Vic Maile who also produced Motörhead’s Ace of Spades and The Who’s Live at Leeds. While I was scouring the net for interviews with Bryan Small, the same response kept coming up: he was never satisfied with the production and sound of this debut album, although he was happy with the songs. Major label relationships never seemed to work out for The Hangmen and they seemed happier on the independent circuit. 

While never gaining huge recognition, The Hangmen have stuck together and are still performing today (well... kind of... Bryan Small is the only original member). There was an eleven year stretch between this debut and the follow up album Metallic I.O.U., but have since released a total of five albums on indie label Acetate Records.

This album has long been out of print, so you may have to do a bit of hunting to track this one down. It's sure worth the effort. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Revisiting a classic: Joni Mitchell - Clouds

Here is my normal routine when trying a new-to-me Joni Mitchell album:

1) Listen to it through for the first time, quickly decide it's not her best and toss it aside.

2) Two hours later I have some medley or verse in my head, trying to figure out where I heard it before, then remember I heard it on the Joni album earlier. Dig out the album and give it a second spin.

3) Like the album a bit better the second time, but still think it's a bit too 'out there' for me. Put the album in the record shelf and decide that even though it's not her best, I can appreciate it.

4) A few days later I still can't get the songs out of my head, decide to give it one last try before its lost forever in the record library.

5) Fall completely in love with the album, play it continuously for weeks on end, burn every other album in my collection deciding they are no longer needed as nothing could ever compete.

Ok... maybe I exaggerated a little bit on the last one, but I think I've made my point.

Clouds is the latest Joni album to make its way through my ritual. I picked this album up while digging through a thrift store last year and finally got around to giving it a shot.

Released in 1969 on Reprise records, Clouds is Joni Mitchell's second studio album featuring ten beautiful songs often only accompanied by Joni's acoustic guitar (the only other musician who contributed is Stephen Stills who added some bass and guitar). Love songs like Tin Angel "Still I'll take a chance and see, I found someone to love today", and songs about war: The Fiddle and the Drum "Oh, my friend, What time is this, To trade the handshake for the fist" dates this album perfectly in the love/war movement of the late 60's.

Like most of Joni’s albums, the cover featured her own art work and in this case it’s a self-portrait. Unlike Joni's first album, which was produced by David Crosby, she handled the production for all of this album on her own except for the opening track, Tin Angel, which was produced by Paul Rothchild (producer of the first five albums by The Doors).

This album won Joni her first Grammy award for best folk performance in 1969.

It's always difficult for me to choose one Joni album as a favorite, as they all are held in high regard within my collection, but Clouds is definitely one of my deserted island discs.