Monday, December 14, 2015

And Now for Something Completely Different: Vinyl

Slowhand at 70I'm listening to Eric Clapton's recent Royal Albert Hall performance, Slowhand at 70, on 180gram vinyl, a 3 LP set, in fact, plus a bonus DVD.[1]

It's an early Christmas gift from my wife because she wanted one of her gifts early: a book entitled Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day -- so that she has some new bread recipes for the holidays. And I'm not one to argue -- I get new tunes and fresh-baked bread for the holidays!

Apparently my wife had shopped for some new vinyl for me during a recent visit to Barnes & Noble's.[2] After the fact she told me that every album she looked at seemed familiar; she was worried that I already had the album on vinyl (the original vinyl release) or on CD. I told her that I had been eyeing the new Eric Clapton album, Slowhand at 70. She said that she saw it at B&N but didn't want to buy it because she thought I would feel bad, being reminded that EC was 70 years old. I had to laugh at that, even though I understood what she was saying; as for me, I told her that it doesn't matter how old he is if he can make music like this (I had already heard the song "Cocaine" online from the concert). So, we ordered the album, and here we are....

Why vinyl? I have a classic Concept 2QD turntable[3] that had been in storage (in its original box!) for a dozen or so years, along with a couple hundred vinyl LPs. Recently I pulled everything out of storage, but discovered that the turntable's tone arm was frozen and wouldn't move (over time the lubricant had dried and hardened). Say hello to SerTech Electronics of San Jose, one of only three audio repair services in the entire Bay Area. They have a three-week backlog of work, but be patient as they do good work at a reasonable rate. So about four weeks after leaving my 2QD with them, I had a working turntable. I also installed a new Shure M97xE Cartridge; a new diamond stylus on a turntable that's been in storage is a must.

My next step was to catalog my vinyl collection, so I set up an account on Once my collection was keyed in I was able to sort by date: the last album I purchased was Bruce Springsteen and The E-Street Band's Live/1975-85 5-LP box set, which was released in 1986. Nearly thirty years since I last bought an LP![4] Time to update my collection.

Freedom - Atlanta Pop FestivalThe first album (read: LP) I purchased was Freedom: Live at the Atlanta Pop Festival -- The Jimi Hendrix Experience's July 4, 1970, performance; his final U.S. performance as it turned out -- a 2-LP, 200gram vinyl, set. It's one of many albums I play when the wife is out of the house as, sadly, she's not too fond of Hendrix (or Frank Zappa/Mothers of Invention, or anything loud & noisy; but then again, maybe it's not the music, per se, but rather the volume I play it at...ya think?).

Kind of BlueAnd, finally, just one more new LP that I bought myself for Christmas: Miles Davis's classic Kind of Blue on 180gram vinyl.

An interesting story about this album, if you'll bear with me: Growing up I idolized my uncle, my father's youngest brother. He drove a 1957 Black T-bird convertible with a red interior; traveled around the world (literally: Africa, Antigua, Europe, Bermuda, Australia, working for the NASA space program), and owned the apartment building in which he lived (though he told me to never tell any of the tenants that he was the owner!), walking distance from Santa Monica beach. As I got older I would hang at his apartment building on occasion, and when he went out of town in the summertime he would let me stay there, and I would walk to the beach every day. But no matter when I visited, he was always playing Miles Davis on the turntable. I believe his favorite title was Bitches Brew, but I was partial to Kind of Blue. So in memory of my Uncle Herb....


[1] I've also converted the concert DVD to an audio mp3 file, which I can play on my tablet or phone, or via wireless to my surround system. To convert a DVD to mp3 the disc must first be converted to an mp4 video file, and then from mp4 to mp3. And the bonus, of course, is the mp4 vid file, which can also be played anywhere as well. To do this conversion, you'll need to install three free software apps (I'm talking Windows; Mac people are on their own): DVD Encrypter and Handbrake (for DVD to mp4), and VLC Media Player (for mp4 to mp3). And if you want to modify the mp3 file in any way, you'll need to add a fourth free application: Audacity.

[2] B&N has vinyl? Who woulda guessed? I haven't been to a B&N store in ages. So I checked out their website, searched for vinyl, and was impressed -- I mean impressed -- as there were dozens of titles.

[3] The 2QD photos are courtesy of These photos are much better than any I could have taken of my own identical 2QD. In fact, in addition to these two photos, someone has posted a complete teardown of the 2QD.

[4] As I said, my last LP was purchased in 1986. At this point in time, LPs were hard to come by as the recording industry was moving exclusively to the compact disc. As a vinyl freak, I fought the good fight against CDs, but finally, on July 13, 1990, I broke down and purchased a Denon 6-disc changer at The Good Guys in San Jose. Unfortunately, The Good Guys (the great store that it was) has long since left this mortal earth, as has that Denon player. How do I remember the date, you may wonder? Because right after purchasing that CD player, I also purchased my first 6 CDs -- and I still have the receipt as proof:

Remember the Wherehouse stores? Remember Tower Records? Sigh.... Anyhow, in case these six CD titles are unknown to you -- and also because there are albums by other artists with the same title -- here's the performers of these 6 CDs, in order: David Baerwald, Bruce Hornsby & The Range, Santana, Phil Collins, Neil Young, and John Cougar Mellancamp. Why these titles? Had you asked me twenty-five years ago, maybe then I could have told you! But I do love Santana....

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