Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Brick Armadillo, White Light and the President of Bolivia

The Club House needs a bit of cleaning these days, both literally and figuratively. Tropical storm Hermine put 10 inches of rain on my house and 2 or 3 inches managed to make it inside, so life has been a bit complicated lately. But even before that the blog was suffering from projects set aside and articles abandoned. Maybe more details on that later, but for now it's time for a bit of catch up.

If you are an Austinite of a certain age you will know what this picture is:

This is the lead armadillo in the herd that adorned the wall in the late lamented Armadillo World Headquarters. The Armadillo lost the battle with Austin's high tech progress and the property was sold and replaced with a high rise office building. The contents were auctioned off and the building was demolished in early 1981, and my good friend Rob Haeuser grabbed the above in a daring daylight heist. I trust the statute of limitations for brick theft has passed.

An update from Rob, slightly edited... 

"A minor correction:

 The bricks were paid for, albeit reluctantly, by my ex-wife, aka the ***********  from ****. We were in separate cars, and met at the demolition site.  I rooted around for a couple of good bricks, and stumbled across a chunk of about 15, lying face-down.  When I flipped it over I nearly died!  So I hustled the chunk into my trunk, and the  *****  headed to her car.  On the other side of the site a guy in a pickup started yelling “It’s a buck a brick!”  I headed off in one direction, *****  headed off in the opposite direction, and the guy jumped in his pickup and followed her.  She pulled up to a red light, he hopped out of the pickup and ran up to her window, she rolled it down an inch, and handed him a five.  Needless to say, I reimbursed her!  So what a deal: 15 bricks at 33 cents a brick…"

Rob sometimes gives the impression that his divorce was not an amicable one...

This world is full of all sorts of odd connections of the Kevin Bacon sort. One of the occupants of the high rise built on the ashes of the Armadillo was IBM, and at the time they employed the future President of Bolivia, Jorge Quiroga. Jorge was part of a team that sold the state of Texas a large number of first generation PC AT's for a project that employed me then, and somehow employs me now. Jorge was an interesting guy and mad about soccer.

But I digress. Rob was (and will always be) a musician, and like most musicians he has a story about how he came that close to getting the big break. His band was called White Light and the big break that almost happened was a too brief connection with Bill Josey, founder of Sonobeat Records. Bill produced Johnny Winter, a very young Eric Johnson and a host of other Texas musicians. He passed away in 1976 after producing a demo tape for White Light. The tape disappeared for literally 30 years and, well, follow the links above and this one for more of the story.

I have to wrap up this little bit of unfinished business for now, but there are several stories in the above that deserve to be pursued. Austin is like that, lots of old business that needs to see the light of day. With luck I will get to these and a few more, including one very interesting one involving Janis Joplin.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Snap Out of It!

Life has taken a few twists and turns around The Stereo Club and the blog has suffered. The last post was way last February, and blogging was sparse for months before that. That's just pathetic.

Well, today I was moping around the house, thinking about the blog I have neglected, and realized it was time for an intervention. I needed someone to step up, get in my face, and let me know what I needed to do. 

And then it hit me:

Thanks, I needed that.

I confess that Cher has been one of my musical guilty pleasures, and the Moonstruck Cher just looked great. However, like many males in the late 70's, I found this Cher... er, intriguing:

Remarkably, this album is titled 'Take Me Home'. Ahh, sure.

On the other hand, this Cher was just scary:

What was she thinking? If you know, please don't tell me.

Of course, Cher got her start with former Phil Spector go-fer and future Republican Congressman Sonny Bono. Sonny co-wrote 'Needles and Pins' with Jack Nitzsche and I thank the both of them for that.

And he also wrote and produced this classic number, perhaps the first work in the rock genre to feature an oboe hook:

This Shindig clip from 1965 featured a doofy looking Sonny in his caveman outfit, but the song was very catchy, and Cher looked great and could sing.   I was hooked.

Anyway, I hope Cher has snapped me out of it and the blog is back. I have tons of catching up to do...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Motorcycle Girl

Yeah, I have been slackin' on the blog, these days, life has intervened a bit. The posts are stacking up like speakers in my closet...

In the meantime here is a version of Motorcycle Girl by Tito & Tarantula. Tito Larriva was the charismatic front man for the Cruzados, a great L.A. Chicano punk band that fizzled out after a great first record. I couldn't find a copy of the official Cruzados video from '85, but this is a scorchingly good version.

Tito's voice has a bit of road rash, but the band is in fine form. The video is from the German RockPalast and was recorded (very well) in Bonn in '08. I think the line up includes Cruzados ex Steven Hufsteter on lead guitar, Lucy Rippy on bass, and Alfredo Ortiz on drums. (I think... This band has been through some changes.) If Ortiz' drumming on this track doesn't have you bopping in your chair you are without hope.

As a parting shot here is an earlier incarnation of the band sharing the stage with Selma Hayek and a snake.

Yowza. Now that's what I call a show! The band contributed 3 songs to Robert Rodriguez' remake of Desperado in '95, and Tito scored the soundtrack.

Tito Larriva and Steven Hufsteter are currently residents of Austin, no doubt Robert Rodriguez had some influence there. Lucy Rippy is also a Texas resident, maybe even an Austinite as well. Austin will make room for Betty Page playing bass any day. That's a two-fer just made for South Austin. For the link inclined here are a few: Tito, the band, The Cruzados, Rippy on MySpace, and Alfredo Ortiz.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

A simple vacuum tube amp

I've owned and serviced quite a number of pieces of tube audio gear over the years. I've even owned more than a few bits of tube gear in the past that are quite sought after these days. Many were were a mixed bag to own and feed. Especially when the output stage becomes unstable, and eats an expensive set of tubes. My goal was to create something simple and musical. Hopefully, it wouldn't cost an arm and a leg.

Anyone who has built just about anything from scratch will tell you that the cost of materials and labor far outweigh the cost of an assembled product from a store shelf. It certainly turned out to be the case here. A pretty decent power amp could be purchased just for the cost of just the resistors and capacitors in this particular amp. Holco precision resistors, and Sidereal poly capacitors did add up. Throw in teflon coated silver stranded wire, and silver plated ceramic tube sockets, and cost added up even more.

The start of this project began with a set of transformers from an old Sansui unit. They were in great physical condition, and well suited for a project like this one. The output stage takes cues from both the Sansui they originated from, but from some Fisher influence as well. Unlike many common cathode designs of the 60s, I chose a simple self bias approach used in a smaller Fisher 6L6 based amplifier designed many moons ago. No tweaky bias adjustments needed at all.

Looking to cut costs somewhere, I discovered that the Pilot company used a simple 12AX7 tube for each channel of a power amp delivered in the 1960s. Half the dual channel tube used for the input stage, and the second half for the driver/phase splitter. The credit belongs to these trailblazers, and not me. The result is a musical amp that won't cost your entire rent check to feed with tubes. The cathode bias approach definitely squeezes a long lifespan from the power output tubes. Common cathode proponents might claim tighter bass, and a few more watts of power, but I say the trade-off is well worth it.

This amplifier is currently on display at Austin Stereo in Austin Texas.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Audio Research SP3A1

Produced around 1973 to 1974, this vacuum tube preamp definitely raised the bar for the state of audio gear. Many manufacturers had already made the transition to solid state circuitry for their entire model lines. Audio Research (often referred to as ARC) would soon follow with their own solid state audio amplifiers. The basic design of this preamp would continue to evolve for years to come, and carried on in models like the SP6, SP8 and SP10.

Features like a cathode follower buffer stage, a bypassable tone circuit, and a solid state voltage regulator were among the unusual features offered by the SP3. While not new features, few preamps (if any) at the time combined all of them. Add to this a large number of inputs, and a set of AC power outlets on the back that can switch 1200 watts of consumption via a separate power switch. This is great, and even necessary, when using this unit with a solid state power amp. A tube preamp should always be powered on first, and switched off last. Even with modern gear, it's wise to follow this advice.

Of course sound is where the rubber meets the road, and this preamp does not disappoint. Even compared to modern offerings, it can hold it's own. Especially when compared to less sophisticated designs.

This particular example is currently on display at Austin Stereo, in Austin Texas.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dude, yer slackin on the blog!

Ah, yes. True. I am now wrapping up week 4 of respiratory distress. And before that was the food poisoning. Normal blogging activities will resume when I can breathe.

But I care about the Club's entertainment. How about this:

What is it?

Glad you asked. It's a 38 pound, bluish gray, extremely high voltage ceramic insulator. That some idiot was using as a planter. Please, show a little respect for an industrial objet d'art. It comes in maroon as well... but that one needs a bit more cleaning.