03.28.15

Stillson for President!

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, WhiteManistan at 11:49 am by George Smith

Hillary Clinton could make it happen.

I’m more than 90 percent convinced a Hillary Clinton run as the Democratic Party’s nominee could depress base voter turnout so badly a Republican psychopath/theocrat could be elected.

I’m not the only person who thinks it.

Clinton will never be able to shake her imperiousness. She stands for little except being Hillary Clinton, famous, super-wealthy, powerful and ubiquitous.

Surrounded by other millionaire yes-men who only care about money from billionaire donors and, ludicrously, landing heavy blows on their perceived enemies, Clinton will phone it in for her campaign and lose.

Rolling Stone’s political reporter, Matt Taibbi, did a column on Clinton a couple weeks ago, entitled “Hillary Clinton is Turning Into Richard Nixon and Bill Belichick.”

It was an amusing read. Unfortunately, it also seemed an accurate assessment of her character and ways.

There’s little that’s palatable about 2016. On one side, the Queen. On the other, an American mullah.

And maybe we should wake up to a straight-up religious fascist in the White House.

Which brings me to the “Stillson for President!” moment.

Greg Stillson was the presidential candidate in Stephen King’s The Dead Zone. The novel’s protagonist, Johnny Smith, gains the ability to see fragments of people’s futures after being in a coma. He gets interested in seeing the future of various politicians and maneuvers himself into getting a glimpse of Stillson’s.

Smith is horrified to see Stillson responsible for triggering an all-out global thermonuclear war, the event that produces “the dead zone.”

Right now, Ted Cruz is an American Greg Stillson. I’m laughing blackly.

Cruz would possibly use a baby as a human shield. He frightens children.

“Your world is on fire,” he’s notably said.

So let’s get behind it! Stillson for President! Glory, glory, Hallelujah!


In today’s installment of wrestling with the problems of WhiteManistan, Paul Krugman writes:

Most important, people are moving to places with mild winters …

And as I also pointed out, the search for mild winters can lead to a lot of spurious correlations. With the exception of California — which has mild winters but also, now, has very high housing prices — America’s warm states are very conservative. And that’s not an accident: warm states were also slave states and members of the Confederacy, and a glance at any election map will tell you that in US politics the Civil War is far from over.

The point, then, is that these hot red states also tend to be low-minimum-wage, low-taxes-on-the-wealthy jurisdictions.

I’ve argued for awhile now that the South has won the Civil War.

The human stain of Dixie has effectively paralyzed the country. Its culture of cruelty as virtue, of hatred of the poor and the not-white and the gay, its oppressive American Jesus Christianity, and the twin loves of wealth and war are ascendant.

Do you think a shaming campaign and business boycott will reverse the anti-gay bigot’s law in Indiana? Will it stop it in Arkansas?

WhiteManistan will march on. If its leaders are deemed pariahs by those wanting a more humane society, its citizen soldiers for Jesus are affirmed.


Today, from the LA Times, more from the ramparts of the hate-the-gays states:


“I don’t understand why Indiana is getting a bad reputation,” said Krissi Johnson, serving hot dogs at a community gathering inside the firehouse in Austin, southern Indiana. “It would make more sense if we were the only ones.”


Indiana residents note that the same furor could have arisen at any time since similar legislation passed in places including Alabama or Idaho. Bills are also pending in Georgia and South Dakota.

Sarah Winchester, a 32-year-old nurse, isn’t thrilled with the new spotlight on her home state.

“It’s annoying that Indiana is getting the attention,” Winchester said in Austin. “Southern states have done similar things for years.”

Study maps of conservative movements in the U.S., and it’s clear that Indiana’s vote to join the brigade of religious freedom states is of a piece with its larger role as the northernmost conservative vanguard east of the Mississippi.

“For some Hoosiers, it’s all rather upsetting and sad,” adds the paper’s reporters.

Not enough, though.

03.27.15

Machine Head: Repairing an old Hiwatt

Posted in Rock 'n' Roll at 2:35 pm by George Smith

The engineer leading the project that’s restoring the old Rolling Stones Mobile recording truck fixed my 33-year old Hiwatt amplifier!

Absolutely true! DD’s usual bad luck in place of no luck at all went on holiday. Serendipity took a hand and the warm light of good fortune shined down on the studio in Pasadena.

A month ago my Hiwatt Custom 50 suddenly died while I was doing a session with my friend Mark. It was pretty discouraging.

This Hiwatt’s a 33-year old amp, originally made in England, by a company that went out of business in 1984. I thought an appropriate repair, one that restored it to original factory standard sound and capability, would be hard to find in southern California. If not (there are a good number of rock and roll amp repairmen still here as a result of the glory days of the industry in Hollywood), it would be prohibitively expensive.

I assumed the worst case after some reading.

An aged electrolytic capacitor in the power section blows a spoke at then end of its natural life and takes out a few things downstream in the circuit, including the amp’s heavy iron, its output transformer.

Mark was not as downbeat.

His old mates from his decades old cover band were getting together for a yearly week-long session during which they rehearse for an upcoming high school reunion ball.

One of the friends was a fellow by the name of John Leimseider, an engineer employed at the National Music Centre in Calgary, Canada. And Leimseider, as described in the lead-off, is restoring the Rolling Stones Mobile which the center bought in 2001.

Guess the short version. The amplifier was quickly restored.

Pictures were taken to provide a record.


Interior of Hiwatt DR504 OL (1982) during repair. Full size.

Looking into the guts of the Hiwatt, it was immediately seen that one component was gone, burned off the lower circuit board in the upper pic. This was what was assumed to have caused the failure. Since the part was in scorched fragments, it was impossible to tell what it had been on visual inspection.

Using Mark Huss’ Internet Hiwatt resource site, it was found to be a power resistor. (The replacement part is the small white ceramic axially-wired block on the lower PCB in the above photo. You can identify it by the small black lettering codes. It is very obvious and the upper photo shows the chassis after the replacement was installed. But this is not the whole story.)

Upon further checking Leimseider determined one of the Hiwatt’s large power supply regulating electrolytic capacitors had failed upstream from the incinerated part on the PCB board. And this probably resulted in the immediate overload burn that cooked the component into pieces, a secondary effect.

The electrolytic capacitor that failed was the big blue can on the lower left in the above photo.

The parts took a couple days to source and the next picture shows the complete refurbishing.


Refurb/repair: Black cans, one lower left, two on the right.Full size.

The original large blue capacitors (three of them) were rated at 350V. This Hiwatt, I was told, runs at three hundred. Exact replacements could not be found and Leimseider found an electrolytic capacitor rated at 400V, one assumed to furnish more tolerance, a good match in quality.

Three were purchased and replaced the original failed cap as well as two similar ones on the right side of the Hiwatt’s chassis. The photo shows the result. Gone with the blue, in with the new black. The black cans, smaller in diameter than the originals, did not precisely fit the old adjustable mounting clamps on the chassis.

Wrap-around shims were used to help anchor them securely.

And all the potentiometers, the amp’s volume and tone knobs, were cleaned.

The work was fantastic! Even with the exclamation, that doesn’t quite do it justice.

On Wednesday I fired up the thing. The Hiwatt roared into life, its electrified British glory restored. Mark often told me it was the best amp he’d ever heard. Hyperbole, for sure, but it is, again.

It sounded better, in fact, than before it died. The replacement capacitors reduced the noise floor of the Hiwatt at idle.

I can’t reliably say how it was when at rest in 1984 but it was a remarkably quiet heavyweight guitar amp at high power. Over the years, as its electric sinews tired, it lost a little of that. Now it’s back in the neighborhood where it belongs.

Tech specs on the snap in can capacitor replacements: Three L.C.R. 220 microF 350V capacitors came out. The L.C.R’s were made in the UK in 1982, the same year as the amplifier. One, as described, had blown, although there was nothing visible on the exterior . The two others were OK.

They were replaced with three Kemet 220 microF 400V aluminum caps bought from Digikey. Price: $6.12/piece.

Considering the superlative sound of the Hiwatt after repair, I’d be disinclined to spend more for capacitors said to be more higher end than Kemets or anything similar. F&Ts, from Germany, seem to also be a favorite.


Additional notes

My Hiwatt, a DR504OL model, was made in Surbiton, a part of greater London, in 1982. Its badge shows it was made by the Biacrown operation.

The original creator of Hiwatt amplification was Dave Reeves. He fell down a staircase and died in 1981. While he was alive all Hiwatts were badged with his company’s name, Hylight Electronics.

When he died things started to fall apart. The employees of Hiwatt soldiered on as Biacrown and this is when my amplifier was made.

You’ll notice the signature “Harry Joyce” on the chassis.

Harry Joyce was the original expert wirer hired by Dave Reeves. His work was meticulous and virtually bullet-proof. Joyce became semi-famous in later years, specifically for his work wiring Hiwatts.

You can look at the photos and make your own calls. All the wiring connections are at neat and precise right angles. Braided wires are symmetric. There is no more or no less than the best fit wiring needed to make all visible connections.

The amplifier is a a hybrid of craftsman point-to-point wiring and two traced PCBs, populated with parts mounted using some of the same features from old electronic turret boards and strips. All the sockets for the Hiwatt’s pre-amp and output tubes are flush mounted and anchored to the chassis, separate from the PCBs.

Sidebar: Beware of concern trolls in vintage amp forums.

There will be someone who has just bought an old Hiwatt, either a Hylight Electronics or a Biacrown, and been thrilled to discover Harry Joyce’s signature on the internals.

Inevitably, a concern troll shows up to imply that Mr. Joyce maybe didn’t put that there. Another person working in the same room did. Yeah, sure.

Or that it is not a product of the Joyce wiring operation at all, a complete forgery. And that only the concern troll knows the proper parts of a bona fide Hiwatt and how it should be restored.

These people are trying to be f—-. Their opinions are purposely misleading trash.

I bought my Hiwatt in ’83 or ’84 from a small shop called Picker’s Delight in the Pennsy Dutch town of Emmaus. If as late as 1984, it was the year Biacrown Hiwatt was going under.

At the time, nobody wanted Hiwatts. The market was passing the company by. To be fair, market and changes in taste crushed other companies in the guitar amp business during the same period. Orange, another famous British amp company, went under even earlier. And Fender Musical Instruments almost died. (Actually, Fender was considered a clueless joke of a company when I bought the Biacrown Hiwatt.)

Today Orange has risen from the dead in a most remarkable way with a presence in show rooms all across the country. And Fender is once again almost at the very top of heap. But none are the same companies they were. In England, even Hiwatt is reborn.

But the early to mid-Eighties were nothing but a period of decline, especially for Hiwatt, ending in failure during the rise of hair and thrash metal. Everyone in the region was into Marshall JCMs and full stacks modified with extra gain stages and strange warping power tricks in the output section to copy the attack, density and style popularized by Eddie van Halen and his initially unique rig. (Never my thing, obviously, and not uncommon, I’ve found. Ask me about the times I was asked by visiting label guitarists how they regretted their faddy, modified Marshalls.)

Marshalls were higher gained amplifiers than Hiwatts, the latter which supply quite a lot of clean and loud headroom.

Reeves apparently saw the future coming, if imperfectly, and had redesigned his 504 models to have a little more extra saturation in their distortion through utilization of some extra unused capacity in the pre-amp tubes.

This resulted in the 504OL, of which mine was one.

Practically speaking, I didn’t notice and it didn’t matter. Mine was still really loud and clean when compared with any other similar big amps.

And that is the reputation of Hiwatts. Loud and fairly clean until the volume is turned up to scary levels. They force a technique in classic electric guitar rock upon you. A Hiwatt is unforgiving.

Play right or everyone in the room knows it.

But, if you want the big BRA-A-ANG, the element of sound Pete Townshend of the Who made famous on tours of America in the late-Sixties and Seventies, that’s the Hiwatt.

Or maybe you want to sound like Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd, another big and very famous Hiwatt user. Face it, though, even with Hiwatts, you’re not going to sound like Dave Gilmour, ever.

In eastern PA, and as far north as Maine, to NYC, and and well into New Jersey, now in southern California, my Hiwatt went a long time before its seniority caught up with it, slightly.

Who, on hit records, used Hiwatts? Pink Floyd, the ‘Oo, Emerson, Lake & Palmer; Alvin Lee & Ten Years After, Procol Harum, Robin Trower, the Faces, the Rolling Stones at Hyde Park, the mighty Status Quo, Slade, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Jethro Tull, Rush, the Georgia Satellites …


Final notes

Picker’s Delight is long gone from Emmaus. Sadly, its owner died years ago.

I still have one sales slip from the place, the one for my Washburn guitar, written about here.

None of this write-up, indeed even the quick turn-around in the repair, would have been possible without the the web resource that is Mark Huss’ Hiwatt.Org. The picture of the DR504OL head at the top of the post is linked from it.

Wthout who and what not possible: John Leimseider, Mark and the Saturday night rock, roll and movie festival in Pasadena.


We all came out to Montreux
On the Lake Geneva shoreline
To make records with a mobile
We didn’t have much time …

We ended up at the Grand Hotel
It was empty cold and bare
But with the Rolling truck Stones thing just outside
Making our music there

Smoke On the Water from Machine Head, Deep Purple

03.24.15

WishIWasaRichMancore

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle at 11:03 am by George Smith

Last week, the Republic of WhiteManistan’s favorite song, according to Rolling Stone, was “Buy Me a Boat.” In it, a variation on one of the encapsulated delusions of the ruling tribe (paraphrasing Steinbeck): “Socialism never takes root in America because the poor see themselves not as [screwed over] but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” In other words, the opposite of poorcore.

It’s the de rigueur folk art for people who get their highs sniffing the seats of maximum pick-up trucks (or boats) filled with coolers of tasteless light beer.

Like the present day United States, the favorite country music is fossilized. No matter how electric the guitars sound, it’s soft stone with always the same eroded pieties.

Or, as anonymous coward put it in a comment on yesterday’s post:

Perhaps people are so afraid of how close to collapse they are (”one paycheck from disaster”) they can’t stand to look, let alone think about it. Maybe they’re all wrapped up in trying to grab what they can while the getting is good. Maybe they don’t see the difference between one overlord and another. Maybe people would rather believe comforting lies than confront horrible truths.

They need their lullabies.


From Rolling Stone:

For all of Friday and most of Saturday last week, the Number One slot on iTunes’ country songs chart was occupied by a rail-thin singer-harmonica player named Chris Janson and his simple man’s salute to dreaming big, “Buy Me a Boat.” The song, which fantasizes about winning the lottery and purchasing a country boy’s wish list of toys …

Janson, though thrilled, isn’t imagining a millionaire lifestyle like the character in the lyrics.

“All I ever tried to do was keep the bills paid and have a great family life,” Janson tells Rolling Stone Country. He says he and songwriter Chris DuBois (who penned Brad Paisley’s Number Ones “Mud on the Tires” and “Water,” among others) wrote “Boat” during an inspired writing appointment. The finished product included a Warren Buffett name-check, a biblical verse, a shout-out to the popular Yeti coolers …

“It’s the perfect feel-good song,” he adds.

03.23.15

Poorcore

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle at 10:38 am by George Smith

Another blighted week begins in the fossilized superpower of capitalism and casual cruelty we call home.

From the WaPo’s EJ Dionne (no link):

“I’d respect these folks a lot more if they said what they clearly believe: They think more inequality would be good for us. It almost makes you nostalgic for the candor of the Mitt Romney who spoke about the ’47 percent’ and the Paul Ryan who once divided us between ‘makers” and “takers.’”

Three years running and no change. Even sidewalk gets heaved by the roots of trees more quickly.

So I don’t have to write any new songs like this, still strong and of perfect title. Call it “poorcore,” a word I’ve borrowed from author Barbara Ehrenreich, one in my really short list of Facebook friends, who coined it over the weekend for description of daily wardrobe. In this case, used as a catch-all for any music by people who aren’t ever paid, which is to say, almost all of them.

And from a guy named Timothy Egan, at the NY Times, last week:

And you had to catch that bit from Senator Joni Ernst about putting bread bags over her shoes while growing up kind of poor in rural Iowa.

People from humble beginnings often carry an extra load of empathy through the success of their later lives, a sense that, with a few bad breaks, things could have gone the other way …

In the case of the three Republican leaders cited above, and most of those who aspire to be the G.O.P. presidential nominee next year, these Horatio Algerians for the new Gilded Age are working to keep the downtrodden down …

Ernst, the lump-of-coal-hearted new senator from Iowa, and Walker, who always seems to be promoting something that needs actuarial tables to disguise, at times sound as if they actively despise the poor.

Adding, she wants to take health care away from people in her state who already have it. “Their condescension toward the poor springs from their own narratives: They are virtuous because they made it, or vice versa … Those who haven’t made a similar leap are weaklings.”

With only minor variations, it’s the same song every week. Which is why I’ve no problem doing the same thing. You can’t peg the outrage meter any more, it’s busted. Irreparable.

But try the New York Times does, a couple times a week, doing what I call the “What is to be done about WhiteManistan?” beat.

They can’t use the word, of course. And they can’t admit what they know: There isn’t anything you can do except go along for the end-times ride.


More poorcore although not as catchy.


Trivia:

1. Two more songs are called “Rich Man’s Burden” on YouTube. Both by old white guys, like me. Unfortunately, they’re both big helpings of lugubrious suck.

2. Although it’s difficult to see, the last video actually illustrates zero and one-cent jobs on Mechanical Turk from one of my old sessions in the Amazon digital sweatshop. Two are circled.

03.11.15

Living Like Jim Irsay

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, Rock 'n' Roll at 2:16 pm by George Smith

At RockNYC, on what to do with your millions when the pro football team is too boring. Buy up the guitars of rock icons, usually dead:

If only we could all be like rock n roll Jim Irsay. Your dad gives you a pro football team, the Colts. Plus a stadium and the family fortune. But the best professional exhibition of crazed greed is your collection of 90 or 175 famous guitars, depending on who is consulted, and the regular bootlicking that comes your way for it.


It is a great country, indeed. If 48 million people are on food stamps, it’s because they’ve made bad personal choices along the way.

But if you take personal responsibility in life, bulling through the drink driving fusses, there’s no telling how high you might climb, like Jim, who spent $275,000 for “Black Beauty,” Les Paul’s most famous guitar, just a month ago.

Read the entire thing.

Funny! I guarantee it.