One Day In Loveland, Colorado, 1978

Radio Flyer, Fab, Fabrice Dolegowski, Jeanne Bacon, C.B., Tom Frech, Jimmy Clifford, James Aoyama, Kathe Davis, Loveland, Colorado, Devil's Backbone

Hi Tom -

Here's a couple scans of photos of the original Radio Flyer band, you might remember the photo-shoot that day. Amazing to think that back then you could literally walk out the back door of the communal band house and up towards the Devil's Backbone, and suddenly find yourself in the Old West.

Radio Flyer, Fab, Fabrice Dolegowski, Jeanne Bacon, C.B., Tom Frech, Jimmy Clifford, James Aoyama, Kathe Davis, Loveland, Colorado, Devil's Backbone
Fabrice "Fab" Dolegowski, Jeanne "C.B." Bacon, Tom Frech, Jimmy Aoyama-Clifford, Kathe Davis

Somewhere in some box on some shelf inside some closet, there's a couple more pics of the Patio Fryers from that same day, and maybe some negatives. When I find them, I'll scan and send them too.

I hope you're having a decently good enough day, and maybe even better than that. Don't forget what we talked about - when you're all recovered from the cancer thing, and the current virus crisis passes, you're gonna come on out here and do some drum tracks and harmony vocals when the studio opens back up.

Until next time, brother,


Keep It Rock Steady, Man

It's early March of 1983, a couple days after a late winter storm tore through eastern Montana. Not dumping very much linear inches of snow, but accompanied by forty to fifty mile an hour winds that kicked up what had fallen and blowing it sideways at high velocity, the resulting high plains ground blizzard created a howling and shrieking frozen hell on earth where no beast or sane man would willingly spend more than a few minutes out in a 50 to 70 wind-chilled degrees below zero world where you can't see anything past the end of your outstretched arm, and millions of tiny razor sharp exploding ice bombs try to scour off any exposed flesh from your face.

That's a long sentence, and so are the hours spent in enforced lay-over at a funky motel in west Billings when the Interstate highway gets shut down until it can be plowed open the next morning. Luckily we were able to score some yummy and nutritious take-out road food, and beer, and enjoyed watching any one of three available channels on the tiny TV in the room:

On this particular road trip, "we" is me, your humble blog servant, and Charles "Beaver" Cavanaugh - a more engaging and continually entertaining trip companion you would be hard pressed to find. Never a dull moment with the Beav. Here's a photo from 1983 of both Beaver and I, plus some other denizens of the Colorado music scene in the early 1980s:

From left to right, that's Tom "T-Bone Thomas" Jerkins; me, the author of this blog; Charles "Beaver"  Cavanaugh; Fabrice "Fab" Dolegowski; and Clark Hardin. For more details, see here.

Now back to that road trip. The next morning dawned clear and cold yet sunny, and the Interstate was opened a couple hours before noon; time to hit the road.

That might look like pavement on the highway, but it's all traction-free black glare ice with a thin sheen of sun-melted water on top, so treacherously slimy and devoid of adhesion, that if you pulled over and got out of the car, you'd either immediately start skating or quickly fall flat on your face or butt, your choice. Those 18-wheeler trucks in the right lane are going at a relatively safe, but still insane, 50 to 55mph or so. But our big 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III was sledding down that slippery road a lot faster and insaner than that, easily overtaking and passing everyone else.

I was messing with the camera and taking pictures out of sheer panic, anything to keep my mind off certain death. That massive and heavy rear wheel drive Lincoln, only 12 years old at the time but already seeming like a living fossil from another era, was doing a slow motion controlled fishtail down the highway, the rear end constantly twitching left and right as Beaver made minute corrections of the steering wheel every second or so, and somehow almost miraculously keeping the front wheels in the center of the fast lane at 70+ miles per.

I said, "Whoa Beaver, that is some conscious driving, dude. Can't believe we're still on the road!" He laughed and said "All you got to do is keep it rock steady, man!" and then, "Hey Jimmy, roll us a big fat spliff, it'll help me concentrate!" Well, okay, that would give me something to do besides have a heart attack. And yeah, the smoke did help, and also some zen breathing - letting go and resigning myself to the fates, whatever happens.

As it happened, nothing happened. Somewhere past Big Timber we hit dry pavement and, Montana not having a speed limit, really goosed that big 460ci with a carb the size of a dinner plate, and rolled into Missoula in good time.

The weather stayed mostly sunny and even warmed up, and we had some adventures before heading back to Boulder. Including driving by pure chance into Butte for gas and magically wound up riding in a big green top-down '60s Cadillac convertible in the middle of the St Patrick's Day parade, Beaver Cavanaugh got unofficially crowned the new King of the Irish, and we got free drinks all night long at every bar and saloon downtown until dawn, and then drove out of town, excuse the expression, drunk as a couple of Irishmen.

Truly an unforgettable night. When we woke up in the middle of a sagebrush flat a hundred miles out of town, in a valley surrounded by gigantic snow covered mountains with not another soul or a car or a house or a horse in sight, I asked, "What just happened?" Beaver said, "I don't remember."

You'll have to take my word for that last story; the battery died in my camera, or it ran out of film, I don't remember.

Speaking of photographs, all of the pictures in this blog post are scans of old prints. Some years ago I lost a sizable box of photo prints, negatives and slides; thankfully the box was found. The bad news is many of the pictures were missing, as well as a lot of the negatives; the good news is I still have at least some of them.

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A few months later during the summer, we took another road trip up to Montana, this time with I-Ron, the lead singer of Beaver's reggae and rocker band, Burnt Lips. First, we stopped and visited John, whose family had a farm near Idaho Falls, between Rigby and Ririe. At the time, John was building a sawmill, and doing an amazing thing - kayaking down an irrigation ditch at full flow, the entire length of the farm:

Beaver held the kayak steady while I-Ron got in for his turn down the chute:

After a while we made it to Missoula:

It was a beautiful warm and sunny Montana summer day, perfect for relaxing on the grassy lawn at the homestead of another of Beaver's friends, up on the Potomac River valley east of Missoula:

The Mark III was having starter issues, so it was also great weather for crawling under the car. The problem turned out to be a couple of badly corroded cables:

On this trip we took along my favorite travel guitar, a short scale '57 Duo-Sonic, along with a battery operated Pignose amp. One late night, Beaver driving, I-Ron riding shotgun, and me lounging in the Lincoln's huge leather back seat and noodling on the guitar, we were cruising along Interstate 15 between Dillon and the Idaho state line, just about the only car on the road, the full moon lighting up the shining snow capped peaks of the Bitterroot Range (the next photo shows the Bitterroots in daytime).

Remembering what Beaver had said last road trip, I was chunking the top four strings of alternating Am and G chords in a reggae style backbeat, and singing "You got to keep it rock steady... Keep it rock steady man..." Beaver turned to I-Ron and said "Roll another spliff, mon!" While I-Ron was rolling that spliff, I put what the Beav had just said into the mix; with a couple tokes came inspiration, and I came up with a cool sounding poly-rhythmic riff. After a while that became "Roll another spliff man, I got burnt lips..." And that was a good start on a strange song.

The Burnt Lips band, performing "Burnt Lips" onstage in 2016:

And here's a founding member of the original Burnt Lips group, Jeanne "C.B." Bacon, singing "Burnt Lips" at a house party somewhere in warm and sunny California:

Burnt Lips
Music by James Aoyama-Clifford
Lyrics by James Aoyama-Clifford, Charles Cavanaugh and Fabrice Dolegowski

You got to keep it rock steady, keep it rock steady, man
Keep it rock steady, keep it rock steady, man

Roll another spliff man, I got burnt lips
Put another dub on, we can move hips
Everybody party, doing your own trips
Yeah, yeah, I got burnt lips

There is a conspiracy
It is rules and idiocy
The man with the peaceful herb gets struck down
But the guns and the killing go on and on

Roll another spliff man, I got burnt lips
Put another dub on, we can move hips
Everybody party, doing your own trips
Yeah, yeah, I got burnt lips

The ambassadors from the sky
Have come to get I and I high, yeah
You don't have to ride on no alien spaceships
All you got to do is have burnt lips

Roll another spliff man, I got burnt lips
Put another dub on, we can move hips
Everybody party, doing your own trips
Yeah, yeah, I got burnt lips

Big brother man he say ban the nuclear war
But what you got your hand on that button for?
Keep it rock steady, like a good friend said
We can lose our world, if you lose your head

So, roll another spliff man, I got burnt lips
Put another dub on, we can move hips
Everybody party, doing your own trips
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I got burnt lips

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Here's some more photos from those road trips in 1983. The Salmon River, near Challis Idaho:

The Grand Teton Range in Wyoming:

Elk at sundown and bison after dark in Yellowstone National Park:

Was a crime committed while taking this picture? Just asking for a friend:

Two shots of a really interesting home-made contraption on an irrigation ditch line off of the North Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho, not too far south of Lost Trail Pass. As water flows through the sluice gate, it turns the paddle wheel which, through a crank lever, opens and closes that gate. It might have been made to meter a consistent amount of water flowing from the upper ditch into the lower one, or maybe it was a whimsical device built by an inventive farmer:

We stared at it working for over a half hour and debated just what in the heck it did. To get some scale of the size of this gizmo, the paddle wheel is about 18" in diameter; note the wire mesh critter guards to keep squirrels and raccoons off the machinery. On the back side of the mesh guard on the left, there's a couple small white rectangles attached to it - tiny signs that say, in faded red lettering, "Danger!", and "Keep Out". Maybe squirrels in Idaho know how to read:

On the North Fork of the Big Thompson River in Colorado, near home:

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Click or tap on any photo above to see larger, higher def images.

Stromberg-Carlson ASR-120 Stereo Tube Amplifier, Pt 1

A few months ago I went to an interesting garage sale in neighboring Springfield. Held literally in a garage, which was the workshop and storage area of a recently passed-away tube amp and speaker enthusiast, the sale was for the benefit of his widow, and the sheer number of older vintage pieces was astounding. I left with a few purchases, which did not include the old tube amplifier pictured above. About a week later a friend, who was also at the sale, called and said he'd picked up two Stromberg-Carlson ASR-120 stereo amps that day, and had the idea of having a co-op tube amp re-build / re-store / re-imagine project. Cool! Count me in, sounds like fun. As long as we're going through a worldwide epidemic disaster, we might as well have some fun while self isolating.

Here's a schematic of the Stromberg-Carlson ASR-120:

Three cropped views of the schematic; first, the audio circuit:

The power supply:

And the resistance test chart:

This is a very straightforward circuit, elegant in its simplicity, and like other classic minimalist tube amplifiers such as the 1950s Dynaco designs, it should end up sounding really great when we get it back up and running well. Just as in Dynaco Stereo 70 and the Mark series amps, each channel's input signal first runs through the pentode 1/2 of a dual section pentode+triode 9-pin tube, in this case a 7199. Configured as an input buffer and low-gain current driver stage, the output of the pentode runs straight into the grid of the triode section of the 7199, which is wired up as a cathodyne phase inverter, the cathode and anode (plate) of which connect up to the grids of their respective 7408 output tubes (an industrial version of a 6V6 GT). Basically, this circuit is very much like a lower power Dyna ST-70, with one difference being that the output tubes of the Stromberg are cathode biased, rather than fixed biased, as in the Dynacos.

A couple more notes:
- The ASR-120 is a power amplifier only, with no controls, and no preamplifier stages - the Stromberg-Carlson console stereos had a separate, remote tuner and control section within another chassis.
- The six tubes in the tuner section had enough combined gain to run its output at near line level, as did the powerful ceramic phonograph cartridges used in the late 1950s and '60s - no preamp was needed.
- The amplifier's power transformer has a separate 6.3VAC heater tap, as well as an additional secondary voltage tap; those, along with one leg of the AC wall voltage, were routed through a 7 pin connector and then to the tuner+control section - a rectifier circuit provided DC voltage for the plates and screen grids of the tuner's tubes, the additional heater tap went to the filaments of those tubes, and the AC line was hooked up to an on/off switch on the control panel.

Here's a link for a full size download of the ASR-120 schematic, courtesy of Audiophool's Made In Rochester site:

One of the Stromberg-Carlson console stereos that the ASR-120 amplifiers were used in, an RP-781 "Young American" model:

Obviously designed in the late '50s, back when even common everyday appliances, such as toasters and TVs, had style.

Okay, getting back to the project in hand, both of the ASR-120 chassis we ended up with had been modified by their previous owner, both slightly differently, but judging by the solder work, both done by the same person. Here's another shot of the amp chassis, showing some of the mods done to it:

Two pairs of 3-way binding posts have been added, one on each side of the chassis, connected to the speaker output transformers' secondaries. Ideally, I would have preferred they were both on the same side, to minimize cable clutter, but oh well, the holes have already been drilled, so they'll stay. Originally, the output transformer secondary wires simply hung loose, and ran to the speakers; whoever did this mod routed the secondaries back inside the amp chassis and then soldered them to the back terminals of the binding posts.

Also, RCA type input jacks have been installed in the top corners of the chassis, where there were already holes - one of those holes originally had wires running from the 6.3V filament circuit to a power-on indicator bulb, and the other is a mystery. In the photo above, you can see a smallish brown circular phenolic plug-in thingie - that was the original audio input port from the tuner/control section. Soon, those two added RCA jacks will be removed, and moved together to one of the amp sides; I don't much like the idea of input cables hanging in mid-air. One idea we're considering is to replace the original input jack whatchamacallit thing, with a dual-section 500K audio taper potentiometer wired as an input attenuator, acting as a volume control.

Interestingly, the spell-check in Blogger passed "whatchamacallit", but rejected "potentiometer" and "attenuator".

More photos. Here's a shot of the multi-section capacitor can, zeroing in on the manufacturing date code - this cap can was made in the 39th week of 1961:

In this next pic, note the power transformer date code, the 30th week of '61. Hey, I'm beginning to think this amp was made in 1961! Just a wild guess:

One last picture of a manufacturer's date code, stamped onto an output transformer:

Another view of the outside of the chassis, before we dive into the innards. Note the white nylon 7-pin connector that used to carry the three voltages (described a few paragraphs ago) between the amplifier chassis and the tuner + control section. It's doubtful that this amp will ever go back to the glamorous life it enjoyed in the 1960s; that connector, and its associated wiring, will probably be removed:

Next, a photo of the ASR-120's circuitry. In the following two pictures we'll talk about some of what we see here, both what's original and what's been previously modified. In this shot you can see the four rubber feet that were probably added by a former owner, to enable the amp's use as a stand-alone unit; originally, the amplifier was attached firmly to the console cabinet with wood screws:

This next photo shows the power supply wiring: AC line in, power transformer leads, rectifier tube socket terminals, multi-section capacitor can terminals, and associated wiring and other components. Also note the wiring from the terminal strip to the multi-connector, which originally sent supply voltages to the tuner/control unit. The fuse holder, which appears to be glued onto the chassis, has been added within the past 59 years; the original fuse was a pigtail type, soldered directly onto the terminal strip:

One last picture. We're looking at the terminal sides of six tube sockets, the original audio input connector (between the two 7199 tube sockets), and the novel use of a perf board as a tag strip for most of the resistors and capacitors in the circuit. As for what's been added as mods, note the speaker output binding posts, the RCA type audio input jacks, two .1uF DC-blocking caps inline with those input jacks, and two 470K resistors soldered onto the terminals of the original input connector. These 470K resistors, the same value as used in a Dynaco Stereo 70, were added by the previous owner to set the input impedance of the 7199 tubes' pentode sections; originally, the volume control in a Strombarg-Carlson console stereo's tuner/control panel determined that, as well being an input signal attenuator:

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Eventually, we're going to do some fun stuff, such as rewiring the 7199 tube sockets to accept other, more readily available (as well as cheaper!) pentode+triode 9-pin tubes, and ripping out some wires and tossing them. After that, we'll pop in some tubes, hook up a couple speakers, and test this little beast.

But first, in Part 2, we'll take a look at the Stromberg-Carlson ASR-120 rebuild done by David from Massachusetts, very nice indeed.

Also, please feel free to get in touch. Being merely a hobbyist, holding no advanced degree in Vintage Tube Ampology, I've no doubt made some dumb assumptions about the circuitry of this amp. Having said that, I'm always willing to learn new stuff, and invite your comments and corrections.

In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy, and don't hoard toilet paper!