My Path to The Audio Attic Vinyl Sundays: Part 2
Updated: Apr 11, 2019
PART II: My obsession builds: From high school to art school
In high school, my music appreciation took its biggest leap with the acquisition of something that had nothing to do with LPs or audio: a driver’s license. I could now get out on my own – albeit in my parent’s car – and go to live concerts: Creedence Clearwater Revival, Johnny Winter, Arlo Guthrie, Joni Mitchell, and of course The Jefferson Airplane. At that show I got turned on to my first experimentations with LSD: all in the service of music appreciation, of course. Later that year, when a close friend was sent to a psychiatric institution after a bad trip and came back in a permanently altered state, I decided that maybe I’d like to hang onto my brain cells for a while: my experimentation ended.
However, damage to my reputation had already been done: by then I had earned my nickname, “Red Leb”, which stayed with me through graduation:
— “Red” for my politics. In Catholic school, insisting that there is no scientific evidence for the existence of God in religion class was enough to get you sent to the principal’s office and labeled a communist. I eventually got tossed from The Honor Society in spite of graduating at the top of my class for refusing to cut my hair.
— “Leb”, an abbreviation of my last name, and
— “Red Leb”, short for Red Lebanese hashish, ‘cause everybody thought I was high all the time and didn’t realize that I came that way naturally.
That Lafayette audio setup kept me going through high school and right through college at The Cooper Union. Which was in New York City: hooray, free at last! Once there, I didn’t need my parent’s car to go to concerts anymore. Everything was no more than a subway ride away: the Blue Note, The Village Vanguard, The Village Gate, Central Park (free :-), The Fillmore East/The Village East, Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Avery Fischer Hall, the Palladium, The Bottom Line, and above all, Max’s Kansas City.
My friend Diane - who was a waitress at the restaurant downstairs – introduced me to Max’s, famous then for where Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, John Chamberlain and other pop and minimalist artists and musicians hung out. Once a week I would head over and sit at the bar. Drinks were always free for artists: Mickey Ruskin would let us run up a tab, and then when you couldn’t pay he’d just ask for an artwork, that’s how he built up his amazing pop and minimalist art collection (I’m afraid he didn’t get his money’s worth out of me) while driving the club slowly into bankruptcy. Then I would head upstairs, where I saw a remarkable variety of musicians.
One March evening in ‘73, I was hanging with Diane in the back room and she told me there was a great country band playing that night. I hated country at the time and she said “Oh you will like this, you should definitely check it out.” I did: it turned out to be Gram Parsons with Emmylou Harris. After the first set was done, I was hooked. I stayed for the second set and came back the next day for two more, when Van Morrison and Linda Ronstadt joined him onstage. It turned out to be one of the 4 or 5 most memorable shows I have ever been to.
In my senior year, I moved into a loft on Cooper Square. The large space was a blessing and a curse: suddenly my stereo had a lot of cubic feet to fill. Yes, it was time for another upgrade. Thankfully, there was a guy named David Hafler, founder of Dynaco, who is best remembered for the Stereo-70. The ST-70 was a masterpiece of efficient circuit design, providing reliable, high-quality audio amplification at a price that working stiffs like me could afford. It is still considered to be one of the most outstanding tube amplifiers ever made. I built a system around that amp, which included the Dyna PAS preamp, a Dual turntable, and a pair of Warfdale book-shelfs.
The sound was significantly improved, but still not quite powerful enough. Then fate intervened: a friend of a friend had a pair of floor-standing speakers that wouldn’t fit into his new studio apartment. His dad had built the cabinets, put the drivers into them and handed them down: that was all he knew about them. Would I like to trade? I opened the cabinets and discovered that they were a pair of Altec Lansing 604C duplexes. Most professional recording studios in America still used them to master recordings. I made the deal.
NEXT WEEK: The Lower Manhattan Loft Party Scene