Cover Bands: How I Joined One, And Survived To Tell About It

I can't believe I joined a rock cover band

A few months ago I joined a rock cover band. Didn't really mean to, but sometimes I'm clueless. I got a call - did I want to play guitar in a rock and roll band? Sure, why not? It's been awhile since my last really get down and kick it rock gig - hardly anything more fun than having a couple beers, plug some pedals into a loud amp, turn it all up, and groove. Trouble is, I had no idea just how much fun it would turn out to be.

"You can't sing worth a shit!"

At the first couple of rehearsals, Barbara, the keyboard player played and sang well, and got down to business. By the third rehearsal, her behavior became erratic, playing only in a kind of loungey piano style, and sang random harmonies with ever shifting intervals. I should mention here that pot has only recently been legalized here in Oregon, and copious amounts of cannabis were being consumed by some members of the band, Barbara included; I'll get back to that later.

At the fourth weekly practice session, Barbara started going into a no-dead-air mode; between songs, she would keep playing whatever song we had been working on, singing loudly in a Bill Murray kind of voice. After we had run through a song with a lot of harmonies, she started yelling, at high volume over the PA system, "Jim! (that's me, by the way) You can't sing worth a shit! Jack! You're singing way too fucking loud! Don't you know the concept of background vocals?!? Jeez, I can't hear myself think!!"

We took a break, went outside, and a lot more smokey weed was smoked. Barbara also quickly downed a couple bottles of beer out of the studio fridge, and when we went back inside to practice, she stared off into space for awhile, then quietly announced she had an important appointment, and packed up and left. We never saw Barbara again.

The Robot Backup Singer and the Karaoke Cowboy

The band's primary singer, Jack, hasn't had much live music experience; he practices singing along to downloaded karaoke tracks, and I guess that's his comfort zone. Our first couple of rehearsals involved all of us playing along to prerecorded mp3s. Maybe that's how it's done in the 21st century. Jack is currently a member of four different bands; what those groups all have in common are Jack, the karaoke tracks, and his song book. After flipping through that book, I ask - are we doing any original tunes? "Nah, Mark (Jack's best friend, and the bass player in the band) doesn't want to do originals - it's too much like doing real work."

At rehearsal, everyone but me is sitting down. Jack, having memorized no lyrics, intently studies his song book as he sings. Mark is on a low chair close to the floor, his pipe and lighter on a stool close at hand. Ronnie the drummer is of course on his throne. And Barbara is on another stool, a lot higher than Mark. Well, maybe they're equally high. Uh, I ask - when we play out, am I going to be the only one standing? Jack says, "Is that a problem?" Mark and Jack look at each other; "If it makes you feel any better, you can sit down, too." This doesn't quite seem like rock and roll anymore; is this how it feels to get old?

Jack's pedal board includes a digital vocal effects processor; it's got pitch correction, voice altering capabilities, effects, and a harmony generator. Jack affectionately named his digital box "Buffy", and Buffy makes occasional personal appearances during the set, as a robot female backup singer. Very eerie, very strange, especially after feeling second hand effects from the thick clouds of MaryJoWanna smoke drifting through the studio. Suddenly, a disembodied other-worldly alien female voice comes shrieking through the fog! My first instinctive impulse is to run away.

Whoa, that's some powerful weed, man...

I've already mentioned the copious cumulonimbus clouds of mind altering smoke wafting hallucinogenically through the rehearsal studio. Here's a curious thing: after the first initial effects of inhaling all that second-hand smoke - feeling light headed, a bit queasy - I started really getting into playing those boring '80s Top 40 cover songs. Great, feels like I'm floating over the music, and solos are especially intense. Never mind that I feel sluggish and stupid for days after every rehearsal. "Oh, you're back from band practice - how did it go?" "Huh? What? Where?"

On a break, in the "smoking section", a picnic bench outside with a couple ashtrays on it, Mark was having fun messing with me. "Come on, Jim, get in the spirit, have a toke, man!" Okay, okay... I'll accept the peace pipe. First drag, I start coughing, a lot - wasted the hit. I immediately inhale another deep one, and after passing the pipe on, I feel a cough coming on again. Doing a Zen meditation thing, I mentally will myself to stop coughing, and hold the smoke in for as long as I can, to get the max effect. Feeling slightly dizzy, I feel like I want to walk around a bit, enjoy the sunshine among the trees around Ronnie's countryside studio. I stand up, and immediately pass out.

When I come to, I'm flat on my back, looking at the sky, and everyone else is standing around, staring down at me. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, my ears are ringing and my head hurts, my glasses aren't on my head anymore. "Hey, you okay, dude?" Whoa, that's some powerful weed. What was that anyway? "It's called Blue Ruin, man."

The name of the band, by the way, is "The High Guys".

"Just play the gawd dam riff"

After getting over my initial hesitance about doing covers, I learned a couple songs, and brought them to rehearsal. "White Room" came off well - Ronnie, a really great drummer, jumped right in with the 5/4 Ginger Baker drum stuff in the intro, and it was fun for me to do the viola parts on distortion laden guitar, as well as the long wah-wah solo. Good practice for me, as well, to sing and play a fairly complex song, simultaneously, without messing up big time. I can't walk and chew gum at the same time, but luckily, it turned out okay.

"Cinnamon Girl" was another story. Mark actually stopped me in the middle of the song - "You're playing the wrong chords!" Oh, sorry - which chords are wrong? "You're supposed to do the C again before you go back to the D, in the bridge." Maybe I'm doing my own version. "Yeah, but that's not how the song goes, man - do it right!" Well, that's how I play it, and maybe I can give everyone a chord chart. "Either do the song right, or don't bother doing it!" Whoa.

Mark wasn't very happy when I did slide guitar lines in his cover of the Dire Straits tune "Sultans Of Swing" - "There's no slide guitar in that song!" I thought it would sound great with some. "It doesn't matter what you think, that's not how the song goes!" On another one of his songs, there's a tiny lick, a flatted seventh with a quarter tone bend, after a strange 3/16 rest. Mark insisted that he couldn't start his vocal unless that micro-lick was in exactly the right place. After running through that stretch of the song more than twenty times, I said - does it have to be so exact, does it really matter, this is just a cover band. "Just fucking play the gawd dam riff!"

Mark, it turns out, was a Strict Rock Fundamentalist, and his best friend Jack is probably a Middle Aged Musical Role-Player. Some people might say that Mark was also a bitter, curmudgeonly old coot, but hey - nobody's perfect, least of all me. I'm starting to realize I was only looking to have a bit of fun playing music, and sorry, but I just can't get serious about, or be very interested in old top 40 cover tunes.

Do what you like, and like what you do

I know some of the stuff I encountered with the High Guys cover band sounds bizarre or unbelievable, but as Dave Barry likes to say - I swear, I'm not making any of this up, honest. Maybe I should have worn my other, less beat up pair of glasses, or tilted my head sideways - things might have been clearer or made more sense. That seems to work for dogs. The head tilting part, not the glasses. Or maybe, since it's legal now, I should have just gotten high, and stayed high.

A long time ago a college freshman advisor told me that whatever we do, it should either pay a whole lot of money, or be a whole lot of fun. And if it did both, that was the next best thing to paradise. Since I wasn't having a ton of fun with The High Guys, or making any cash, you can guess how this story turned out. Sometimes, though, I kind of miss those guys - high or not, there was never a dull moment hanging around with a bunch of real characters. And their robot backup singers.

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Next time on the Origami Night Lamp blog, "Doing Covers The Right Way, And Having Fun Doing It".

Also, Part 1 of this series, "It's Only Rock And Roll, But Maybe Not".

Cover Bands: It's Only Rock And Roll, But Maybe Not

Recently, I went to an opening exhibition at a local art gallery, featuring the works of a collaborative group of five artists working in oil on canvas and bronze casting.  Ranging in age from their late forties to sixty, they were possibly a bit past their prime, so to speak, but still had a lot to offer the art world: each of them talented, articulate, and focused on bringing their collective artistic vision to life.

What was surprising was the group's decision to forgo any aspirations to originality, and instead to apply their mutual creative energy into recreating works by well known artists from the past.  Elbowing my way through the opening night crowd, I was stunned to see nearly pitch-perfect copies of pieces by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne, Degas, and other famous masters - the exhibition was essentially a greatest hits show, featuring reproductions of paintings and sculptures by the biggest stars in all of 19th and 20th century art history.

A member of the collective summed it up, "We feel that basically, it's all been said before, and let's face it, a lot better than anything being done today. After years of struggling to create original pieces that never sell, it was only logical for us to get together and form what is in essence an art cover band. Audiences in the 21st century don't buy original art anymore, and as working artists trying to make a living, it's a hell of a lot easier to get people to come out to a show like this - I mean, just look at them - swilling down that cheap white wine, and handing over their credit cards like there's no tomorrow!"

If that story above seems a bit far-fetched, well, it's because it didn't really happen.  Not in the art world; not yet at least.  But it's happening with ever increasing frequency in today's music world.

The Long Night Of The Living Cover Bands

Sometimes it feels like we're living in some sort of musical "Groundhog Day" endless loop.  For most of my adult life, what's come out of the radio has been a never ending stream of the same boring confessional singer-songwriters emoting to perfectly crafted pop love ballads, and rock bands influenced by bands that were influenced by bands that were influenced by... on and on seemingly forever.

Listen to any hit pop tune from the mid '90s, and it's no different from anything being produced today.  Walk into a blues bar, and the band will no doubt either be playing an old chestnut from the golden age of Chicago blues, or something really close to it.  And if any kind of music could have escaped spiraling down into self parody, it should have been rap/hip hop, once the most dynamic and fast evolving of any new musical forms - but sadly, no.

Here in Eugene, the biggest musical draws are the two or three Pink Floyd cover groups that come through town on a regular basis; at these shows, mobs of enraptured fans of the moribund British band sway to familiar tunes played with note perfect precision by the well-paid Floydian archivists, flicking and waving their lighters in unison, and, eyes closed, singing along to song lyrics memorized long ago, reliving happy nights spent getting high and spinning Floyd LPs over and over.  But.  It's not really Pink Floyd.  And they may call themselves "tribute" bands, but they're more like opportunist parasites with their hands out, happy to fleece cash from aging hippies pining for their lost youth.

Middle Aged Musical Role-Players and The Strict Rock Fundamentalists

The rise in popularity of the rock cover band has helped create a whole new class of player: those who took a few music lessons when they were younger, maybe joined a band, but then gave up their rock star dreams and went on to careers, success, stability and security, and possibly an almost satisfying family life.  At a certain age, and finding themselves with free time and some extra cash, they may go down to the big box music store, buy a guitar and amp resembling what their childhood idol used, and then get on craigslist, do the hook-up thing, and find other like minded players to act out their rock and roll fantasies with.

Another related musical cultural phenomenon that's developed in the last couple of decades are the Strict Rock Fundamentalists.  Something like a Christian fundamentalist, or an Appalachian snake handler, or a radical Islamist, if you get too close, they're kind of scary.  These wild eyed zealots have an almost religious belief in the sanctity of The Original Version; the Strict Rock Fundamentalists can tolerate no deviation from gospel, no addition or subtraction or variation from the hallowed text, no extended jams, no alternative reading of their revered rock and roll hymns.

If you ever try taking a tune from the holy rock canon off into another direction, or play an instrument that's not in The Original Version, or worst of all, start a Grateful Dead style jam on it, the Strict Rock Fundamentalist will stop the song, glare at you, and solemnly intone the sacred words, "That's not how it goes, man!", or, "Those are the wrong chords!"  So far, no infidel has been beheaded for irreverent rock and roll blasphemy, but don't be surprised when it happens.  Maybe that's what happened to Jerry.

Next time, "How I Joined A Cover Band, And Survived To Tell About It".

Stay tuned!

Also, Part 3 of this series, "Doing A Cover The Right Way, And Having Fun Doing It".

Wednesday Bach Blogging: Catrin Finch, Italian Concerto BWV 971

    Johann Sebastian Bach's Italian Concerto, BWV 971, transcribed for the harp, and performed by Catrin Finch.  This an audio only clip, but nonetheless it's a wonderfully toneful, and masterful, interpretation of one of Bach's most melodic pieces.  When played on a harp, the second, Andante, movement is especially haunting.

Grosbeak Finch In The Rain

    We had one of those days recently - rain all day and night and the next day, too.  No showers, just steady pouring rain, for a long time.  Not complaining, really; I kind of knew what to expect, when we moved out from dry Colorado, here to the Northwest Rain Forest.

Just happened to be looking out the kitchen window, and a colorful bird landed on the back yard fence.  In our south Eugene hills neighborhood, we see a lot of different birds - some here year-round, some seasonal visitors, and a few just passing by, rarely seen.  This particular Evening Grosbeak Finch (Hesperiphona vespertina) probably spends most of its time at higher elevations, in the forested woodlands of the High Cascade Range to the east.  What for us here in the low lands is a long steady rain, accompanied by cooler temperatures, would be a fairly heavy snowfall up in the mountains; and this backyard visitor is most likely on the move from one climate zone to another.

The Grosbeak stuck around for a short while, looked around, went to one of the suet feeders we have set up, and then, after having a few quick bites, took off again through the rain, heading west.

Wednesday Bach Blogging: Lichtenerg and Marshall, Gigue from Partita No.2 in D minor, BWV 1004

    Caterina Lichtenberg on mandolin, and Mike Marshall on mandocello, performing the Gigue movement of Johann Sebastian Bach's Partita No.2 in D minor, BWV 1004.  This performance was part of the Mandolin Magnificat event held at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, in March of 2009.


Spinning Speakers: Taking A Trip With Leslie's Little Sister Laurie

Spinning Speakers: Taking A Trip With Leslie's Little Sister Laurie

    A long time ago, when we were teenagers, and we were so dumb that we thought anything was possible, my friend and musical buddy Tommy and I made a Leslie style rotating speaker, out of mostly junk parts.  And it worked great, and sounded awesome.

Tommy had inherited an old Thomas organ from his grandfather; I remember opening up the back and seeing what looked like a thousand vacuum tubes all lit up, like a picture of an early Eniac or Univac computing machine - wow.  Even though it sounded pretty darn good to begin with, what we really wanted was to have that swirling ethereal slow-speed Leslie spinning speaker chorale sound - like that "Whiter Shade" tone! - on some of our songs, but we were young, and as well as being really dumb, we were also really poor.  After one late night jam, we rolled up a big fat smoke, got some paper and a couple pencils, and made some plans.  By the next weekend we had our raw materials, and got to work.

A gigantic old broken console TV gave us a wooden cabinet, after we pulled out the electronics and threw the guts into a roll-away dumpster at the carpet shop down the street.  The TV's cathode ray tube used to sit on a shelf, and in that we mounted a salvaged record player turntable.  About a foot above that, we installed another shelf, with a circular 12" hole in it, put a Fender speaker on it facing down, and that was now a baffle.  Tommy had found a one foot diameter heavy gauge cardboard tube, out of which we cut a foot-long section, put one large square-ish hole in it, glued it to a 1/4" plywood disk with a hole in the center, and placed that whole assembly on the turntable platter.  Between the top of the now-rotary tube on the record player, and the bottom of the baffle, it was a tight fit, maybe just an 1/8" of clearance.  A couple of big vents in the TV cabinet to let the sound out the sides as well as the open front and back, and two panels of plywood towards the top to isolate the 12" speaker, a long speaker cable hooked up to a Bandmaster head, and it was a done deal.

The turntable had three speeds, and both 33 1/3rpm (33 and 1/3 Revolutions [rotations] Per Minute - for Long-Play "LP" record albums) and 45rpm (7" jukebox sized singles) sounded big and dreamy for soft swirling chorus tones.  The 78rpm speed was a bit like a drunken wobble, kind of strange, and there wasn't a fast jazzy church organ vibrato sound, but that was okay, the slow speeds sounded fantastic, filling the room with psychedelic washes of spinning tone colors.  We put the cabinet on top of a coffee table - high enough off the floor so Tommy could easily reach over and turn the record player (and the effect) on and off while he played his Thomas organ.  Of course, it wasn't a real Leslie, and we couldn't call it that.  We named our creation "Laurie" instead - Leslie's little sister Laurie - and everyone we jammed with was impressed with Laurie, and to tell the truth, so were we.

Just to prove how dumb we really were, Tommy and I thought the Thomas Organ Company would be thrilled to have us visit them and show off our creation - we were sure that after getting a taste of our genius, they would hire us to do product development, and maybe even put Laurie into production.  I borrowed my dad's big Pontiac station wagon, we loaded Laurie into the back, along with a change of clothes and our old beat up Martin guitars - my '47 D-18 had 3 big cracks in the back that was patched up with fiberglass cloth and resin, and Tommy's early '50s OOO-18 was painted in metal flake red - we gassed up, hit the road, and headed out to the Thomas factory in Sepulveda, California.

Besides Hollywood, the Beach Boys, and Richard Nixon, Southern California used to be home to some powerhouse musical manufacturing outfits: JBL and Altec Lansing speakers, Fender amps and guitars, Carvin, Standell, Rickenbacker, Mosrite, UREI, Dobro, and many more.  In fact, besides making tons of organs, the Thomas plant also made Vox amps, fuzztones, and wah-wah pedals.

Early Monday morning, with our hair neatly combed and clean shirts on, we announced ourselves at the receptionist's desk in the main lobby of the giant manufacturing plant, and sat down in the waiting area.  And we waited.  And waited.  It felt like hours, but probably no more than 15 or 20 minutes later someone came down the hall, shook our hands and introduced himself.  His name was Don, and he even looked like a "Don": crew cut, grey tweed slacks, short sleeved button down white shirt and tie, black horn rimmed glasses; the only thing missing was a pipe.  A nice guy, no nonsense, got right down to business - "So what can I do for you boys?"

We told Don about Laurie, and straight away he went and got a big rolling hand cart, and we all went out to the parking lot, unloaded Laurie, and brought her inside, down another hallway, and into an audio testing room.  Tommy's eyes popped out when he saw all the electric organs sitting around, and and when Don suggested hooking Laurie up to a brand new Italian made Vox portable organ, all shiny black and orange plastic with chrome legs, I thought Tommy was going to pass out.  Don flipped some switches, and Tommy ran through a couple Ray Charles blues turn arounds, Laurie sounding great as always.  Don seemed to like it; "Well boys, I gotta say I'm impressed with what you've done here.  Say - you guys hungry?  There's a good Mexican place down the street, and I'm buying!"  Like I said, a real nice guy.

Don told us, over tacos, chile rellenos and no beer (he could see we were underage - oh well), that the rotary speaker concept was a patent protected technology owned by the Leslie Corporation, and that Thomas Organs felt that, being decades old, and a mechanical process, it was an outdated system.  Furthermore, Thomas was "committed to always being at the forefront of new audio innovations, and the future, boys, is in electronic sound enhancement!"  After lunch, we went back to the Thomas plant, and Don took us into yet another testing lab, and showed us a concept project they were working on - a futuristic looking console organ with an entire effects section built in.  Various switches could turn on reverb, delay, volume modulating tremolo, pitch shifting vibrato, some kind of weird spacey out of tune effect like robots talking, and even a fuzz tone; beside the usual volume swell treadle sat another pedal that made a wah-wah sound.  Tommy was captivated by all of that, and Don was all smiles explaining the controls to him.

Later, back in the lobby, with Laurie back on the hand cart, Don gave us his card, said again how impressed he was with our ingenuity and initiative, and that the company could always use more creative thinkers like us.  He suggested taking some electronic engineering classes when we got to college, then get a degree in an associated field, join the Audio Engineering Society, and besides all that, keep playing music.  And when we felt we were ready, to come on back and get in touch, and he would introduce us to some of the people in charge.  Of course, we thought we were ready to get to work right then and there, but it was obviously not so simple.  We thanked Don for his time, trundled Laurie back to my dad's car, and we drove slowly away, down that almost empty palm tree lined street, lit brightly by the Southern California sun.

Taking the long way home, Tommy and I went out of our way, stopped at a beach, and walked out onto the sand.  Lighting up our first doob of the day, we sat there watching the rollers come in, digging on the cool fresh breeze coming off the Pacific Ocean.  We both agreed that maybe Thomas had it all wrong - the new electronic effects were cool and intriguing, sure, but a real old-fashioned spinning speaker sound was still the best.  After all, doing Ray Charles songs on an organ instead of piano was just different enough, but with a fuzz tone and wah-wah?  Waaay too freaky, man.  Whoa, yeah - what'd I say?

We also met some cool and intriguing people at that beach, played our guitars and sang some songs, partied into the night, and ended up staying for a couple of days in that seaside town.  There were a few more adventures on our way back home, but that's another story entirely.

Three Signs And A License Plate

    Doggy Styles.  Yeah, everyone in town agrees that there's more than meets the eye here, but exactly what, we don't know.  Maybe it's my imagination or something, but that hound on the left has a very self-satisfied grin on his face.  And Miss Pink-Hair Pooch isn't just your every day sweet innocent dog-next-door, either.

Eaton Liquor.  Doesn't that just have a certain ring to it?  Say it a couple times over, just to be sure.  It's on the main drag of the little town of Eaton, Colorado, on US Highway 85 north of Greeley, not too far from the state line.  You may not know what you want when you walk in the door, but you will when you leave, especially when it's almost closing time.

Dog Grooming.  Or is it Cow Grooming?  Coming into Reedsport, Oregon, from the east, mid-summer 2002, saw this, stopped and grabbed the company Polaroid, quick.  I figured, if it was a hallucination, I'd better get the shot before they ran away.  Maybe it's the nature of an instant camera print, but this does have a somewhat dreamlike quality to it.

ZMBGSUS.  Bless you, my son.  For getting this past the censors.

Wednesday Bach Blogging: Perahia, French Suite No. 4, BWV 815

    A superbly nuanced and graceful performance of Johann Sebastian Bach's French Suite No. 4 in E flat major, BWV 815, by Murray Perahia.

A testament to the enduring and timeless quality of J.S. Bach's music, it's amazing while listening to this French Suite, to remember that this piece is 300 years old.  It sounds as if it could have been written at any time during the last few centuries, and most of it wouldn't be out of place in any modern performer's set list, no matter what the genre.  In fact, a short article written by pianist Alec Templeton in 1943 for the radio station WQXR's program guide, entitled "Bach Is A Modern",  goes into the similarities between Bach's music and the modern popular music of the 1940s; those parallels are no less true today.

And speaking of modern, here's a truly modernistic, almost industrial, vision of the French Suite No. 4, by Glenn Gould:

Mr. Gould's performances were considered revolutionary in the 1950s, and definitely stretched the boundaries of acceptability in interpretations of Bach's work.  Although more than a few critics of the day were tempted to yell out "Whoa, slow down - where's the fire, anyway, Glenn?", it must be admitted that Gould really had a knack for stripping away the sublime and the beautiful, and even the majesty, from J.S. Bach's music, leaving us to marvel at the bare notes, standing alone.  Looking back, it may be safe to say that Glenn Gould's recordings of Bach compositions compare very favorably with how a sewing machine might play those same pieces.

A really nicely done, warm and tonefully recorded, version on harpsichord by Christophe Rousset:

And finally, the incomparable Andras Schiff, who may be ranked among the premier interpreters of Bach's music, today or in any other time:

Maybe The Coolest Old Amp Knob Ever

General Radio, GenRad, GR, KNB-1

    The latest tube amp project here has been a conversion of a mid 1950s Conn number 56665-2 organ power amplifier - basically completely rewiring it and adding a preamp stage, so it sounds good as an electric guitar amp, plugged into an open back speaker cab or even a Leslie cabinet.  A variation of an early model Fender 5E5 Pro Amp circuit was the starting point: a basic '50s amp design, a couple gain stages, Williamson cathodyne style phase inverter, cathode biased output section, etc, but I kind of went crazy with higher plate voltages throughout.  All new tubes: 6AV6, 12AX7, a pair of Russian military 6P3S-E beam power tetrode outputs, and a GZ-34 rectifier.  It's a work in progress, sounds good so far, but still dialing in circuit voltages, as well as tweaking the tone.  When it's more or less done I'll post about it here on the blog.

Being originally just a tube power amplifier, the Conn amp didn't have volume and tone controls, but it did have an input attenuator pot on top of the chassis, with a screwdriver-slot shaft and lock nut arrangement, no knob.  After dismantling the original wiring, it was easy to simply use the same mounting hole and stick a 1 Meg pot in there, and wire that up between the first two triode stages as a volume/gain control, for testing purposes.  After I knew for sure that the amp was going to work, I planned to drill a couple new holes, and put in the usual "Tweed" style volume and one-knob tone control arrangement, like the 5E3 Deluxes and early Princetons and Pros have.

But.  So far, this amp project is sounding pretty good, as is, may not even need a tone control.  Heck, old Champs don't have a tone pot, and they sound great.  And the few really ancient guitar amps from the 1930s and '40s that I've played through didn't have any tone pots either, and if they were good enough for Charlie Christian and George Barnes and the young Les Paul, then okay, who needs a tone control?

Last week, David sent some old knobs and a switch tip, and when I opened the box, this big little gem was in there:

That's one interesting knob!  It's as if a fluted knob and a Davies style and a chicken-head pointer all got on a three-way love boat, and a few months later a strange and beautiful hybrid baby came along.  I don't have a clue what it is, and right now I'm feeling too lazy to do a web search, or maybe I don't care.  All I know is, that knob looks great on the Conn amp, and plus, it's maybe the coolest old amp knob, ever.

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Update:  For all you die-hard knob heads out there, it turns out that this cool old knob is a General Radio (GenRad) model KNB-1 ("knb" = "knob", get it?).  It may have been standard equipment on some model or other of vintage, fabled, even mythical studio audio gear.  Fairchild, maybe.  Or something.  Hey, it's on the internet, it must be true.

The World's Ugliest Car

Saw a car today that really turned my head. It was so incredible looking that, against all my principles, I had to find out what it was. Luckily it was turning into a shopping center parking lot, so it didn't look like I was obviously following it. Cruised slowly past where it was parked and checked it out - it was a Pontiac Aztek (not Aztec with a "c", but Aztek), and it is quite possibly The World's Ugliest Car.

Seriously. It's homelier than a Subaru Justy. It makes a Citroen 2CV look like a beauty queen. It's more unappealing than a Yugo, but maybe not so bland. Compared to an Aztek, the 1958 Edsel was high art. The Aztek is so mind blowingly unbalanced stylistically and just plain wrong looking, that it makes you question the sanity of the management at General Motors. Wait - they had to be financially bailed out by the government. Now we know why.

Don't know how many of these gargoyles were ever made, but there can't be many around - what sane person would have bought one? I've never seen one before, but I tend to block out unpleasant memories, like trips to the dentist, dropping that piano on my foot, and my first marriage.

The Aztek may be rare here in the US, but looking around on the web, it appears that they were more popular in some other places, like Uraguay and Myanmar. Which leads to some questions about the tastes of those who live under military dictatorships. If it wasn't for trade sanctions, it might have been a huge hit in Albania and North Korea, to name two countries not widely known for their appreciation for the finer things in life.

It isn't often that I'm haunted by a vision of something I've seen, but it's going to be hard getting to sleep tonight. Can't stop thinking about The World's Ugliest Car.