Greetings From High in the Blue Ridge Mountains Where the Borders of NC/TN/VA Intersect

Welcome

I visit my Brother In Law in Boone quite often where the locals have music in their DNA.

His house was about 5 miles from the Doc Watson festivals (at the old Sugar Grove Elementary School). It was all down hill and an easy coast on bikes (we would drink a beer on the way!). Being under that tent when Doc and Merle took the stage was some of the most exciting live music I've ever witnessed. You could feel the electricity in the air. The attendees were incredibly knowledgeable, respectful and attentive... and they loved Doc. When Doc talked it was quiet as a mouse and when they heard a particularly tasty lick they would simultaneously explode in approval. These aren't people who became Bluegrass fans in college (like me), they learned to pick in their living room from their parents and older siblings. They still make DIY banjos with cat guts! I'm not exargerating, it's actually a thing.

The Golden Hall in Vienna has nothing over this tent when the Watson's were on stage.


Doc Watson.PNG
 
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Welcome

I visit my Brother In Law in Boone quite often where the locals have music in their DNA.

His house was about 5 miles from the Doc Watson festivals (at the old Sugar Grove Elementary School). It was all down hill and an easy coast on bikes (we would drink a beer on the way!). Being under that tent when Doc and Merle took the stage was some of the most exciting live music I've ever witnessed. You could feel the electricity in the air. The attendees were incredibly knowledgeable, respectful and attentive... and they loved Doc. When Doc talked it was quiet as a mouse and when they heard a particularly tasty lick they would simultaneously explode in approval. These aren't people who became Bluegrass fans in college (like me), they learned to pick in their living room from their parents and older siblings. They still make DIY banjos with cat guts! I'm not exargerating, it's actually a thing.

The Golden Hall in Vienna has nothing over this tent when the Watson's were on stage.


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Yes, you’ve accurately summarized the bluegrass music scene here in the area. Here in West Jefferson where my lovely wife and I reside there is a free bluegrass performance every Friday evening outside, across from the county library next to the caboose car the town purchased a while back. If it rains, the players move to the covered Farmer’s Market about 20 yards away. What’s really amazing about these performances is the crowd participation: Every concert I’ve attended has had at least one audience member get called up by the band to either play or sing. Someone in the band will always know two or three people in the audience and ask them to join in. For those born and raised here Bluegrass is literally in their DNA!

We moved here in 1995 (so we’re considered outsiders) and were privileged to see Doc perform many times - He was a true Bluegrass God. We actually have about a 50 minute clip of him performing at a small nameless county venue I recorded on a Canon DSLR in the movie mode. I keep thinking I should post it on YouTube. I’m a huge fan of Celtic music and Bluegrass is what Celtic morphed into by the predominantly Scotch-Irish immigrants who settled here beginning in the early 1700’s. 🪕🪕🪕🪕🪕
 
OK, so where do I begin ? In my case, my audio addiction began when I was a wee lad of about 4 or 5 years. Seriously. My grandfather acquired what was considered a ”high end” audio system prior to the Korean War. It consisted of a large Philco console containing a Garrard turntable, about a 10” coaxial full-range speaker powered by a tube amp of unknown output, and a large AM/SW tuner/preamp that folded out from the console. Most homes at the time only had small tabletop AM radios, and my grandfather’s console was rather unique in the very small rural county where we lived in Eastern NC.

His home was only about 200 yards from the house I grew up in and I was given free access to the AM/SW tuner (but not the turntable - it was only for the adults). Side Note but relevant: My grandfather was a world renowned breeder of Rhode Island Red and Leghorn chickens and sold them to customers in countries in every continent except Antarctica. I was told he shipped chickens and fertilized eggs everywhere. And 99% of these transactions were conducted by mail. And he gave me the envelopes that contained customer’s orders so I could have the stamps. So at a very early age I had access to postmarked stamps from a huge number of countries around the globe.

I was told I would spend hours using the SW tuner in the Philco because I wanted to find and listen to a station from every country for which I had a stamp. I suppose this obsession to capture foreign radio signals is what led to me working for the NSA for a few years. I actually remember my favourite stations were the BBC stations from England because I could understand them.

Anyway, my audio journey graduated to an RCA stereo console with a Garrard turntable purchased by my mother. She was a classical music fan, and the first LP I can literally remember was Morton Gould’s 1812 Overture on a 1960 RCA stereo Shaded Dog! It was her favourite recording out of the other LP’s she added to her small collection. This introduction to classical music on LP’s was the equivalent of giving large quantities of crack to a 12 year old😳. This early addiction has now led me to amass a collection of over 25,000 LP’s🫣.

Later, my audio addiction became much more serious when I was living in Honolulu working for the Naval Security Group/NSA/DIA/NRO/MACV-SOG. I purchased my first system in 1968 and it consisted of AR 3a speakers, a Sansui 5000A receiver, and a Dual 1219 turntable with a Shure V-15 Type II cartridge. What’s surprising is that this would be considered to be a reasonably good system even today, partly because of the interest in vintage.

I was not yet aware of any of the audio magazines at this time so my purchase was based on listening to a variety of speakers and then looking for something with a sufficient, stable power supply for the AR’s.. The really technical and electronics maintenance people I worked with liked the design and build of the Sansui, and the Dual was a better performing turntable than the P/E and Garrard turntables that competed with it. And the consensus of the techies I worked was that the Shure was a slightly better cartridge than the Stantons that were available. I had no awareness at this time of moving coils and other “exotic” cartridges.

For music sources I made heavy use of the truly excellent sounding Sansui 4-gang tuner in the 5000A. Album rock became a big deal in the 1960's. Honolulu was blessed to have KPOI-FM, a truly excellent station that would play both sides of an album before going to break. KPOI was my gateway to 1960’s rock. I was introduced to the Beatles, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Crosby Stills and Nash, Iron Butterfly, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Led Zepplin, Muddy Waters, Quick Silver Messenger Service, John Sebastian, the Rolling Stones, Santana, The Who, and many, many others. And I successfully made this cultural transition, moving to an environment where 60’s rock and 60’s vibes were hot in a place where Caucaisans were a racial minority while coming directly from a chicken farm in rural Eastern NC😮.

While living in Honolulu I attended my first live concert on August 1, 1970. Unfortunately, it was so f…ing good that none of the many concerts (Rock/Classical/Opera/Jazz/Folk/World Music) I’ve attended over the years have ever measured up to this first live concert. OK, so who was it? Guitar riff ……………, It was Jimi Hendrix’s last US concert before he left to tour in Europe. Just seven weeks later, on September 18, 1970, he died in London. This Honolulu gig was unplanned and was a hastily scheduled concert (Jimi Hendrix Setlist at Honolulu International Center, Honolulu). It was one of his rare concerts for which no audio or video recording exists. And it is absent from most internet queries searching for information on his tours.

So how did I get so damn lucky? Hell, I only found out he was playing on the day of the concert. But I took a chance and went to the venue. And I received a HUGE BLESSING from the rock Gods:punkThe concert was sold out, but there was one holdback ticket some VIP hadn’t bothered to pick up, and the BOX office decided to sell it to me. I remember it was less than $20, which was a sizable amount for a rock concert ticket in 1970! (Has anyone purchased Rolling Stones tickets recently?)

And this true tale gets even better: This ticket was front row center seat!!! I was less than five feet from Jimi. I was SO close that I could have leaned over the front of the stage and I could’ve touched him!

Since it was my first live music concert I didn’t quite know what to expect. As soon as the lights were dimmed the place began smelling like burning hemp (the THC levels in 1970’s illegal weed was significantly lower than than the THC levels in 2022’s legal weed). For those of you who can remember, 2022 weed has a much sharper acrid and pungent smell than 1970’s weed, which really smelled like burning rope. FWIW, I’ve never been a user, though I did try it a few times at university.

As for the concert, well, it was like being transported to another dimension - I’ve never seen anyone crush a guitar like Hendrix did. Clapton, Joe Satriani, Van Halen, Jimmy Page, etc. are mere neophytes compared to Hendrix. Jimi played holding his guitar upside down, over his head, behind his back, laying down on the floor of the stage, picked with his teeth, his belt buckle, and even a ball point pen he pulled out of his pants. It was f………ing unbelievable!

I have never, ever seen a guitar artist this talented. No other concert I’ve attended (and there have been many) has ever come close to the music and talent of Hendrix. It’s really rather ironic my very first rock concert spoiled me for life☹️.

I left the Naval Security Group in 1972 to return to university. My audio system at this time comprised the venerable AR 3a’s powered by an AR receiver (a mistake - I should have kept the Sansui even though it was a bit less powerful than the AR) with an AR turntable with the same Shure cartridge, which I upgraded to the V-15 III the next year when it was introduced, Koss Pro 4a headphones (very uncomfortable), and a Sony TC-651 open reel deck. The AR turntable was awkward to use, but LP’s actually sounded better on it compared to my previous Dual.

So, while at university I secured a job with a superb high end store in Chapel Hill NC. We sold many good brands including speakers from B&W, BIC, Dahlquist, Genesis, Infinity, JBL, Klipsch, M&K, Magnaplanar, Marantz, Ortofon, and Quad, electronics from Accuphase, Adcom, Audio Research, Crown, Dahlquist, GAS, Hafler, Harman/Kardon, Kenwood, Kyocera, Marantz, Mark Levinson, Mitsubishi, Ortofon (head amps), PS Audio, Quad, Sequerra, Setton, Soundcraftsman, Sumo, and Tandberg, turntables/tonearms from BIC, FONS, Harman/Kardon, Infinity (Black Widow), Mayware, Rabco, SME, Sony, and Technics, tape decks from Harman/Kardon, Marantz, Revox, Sony, Superscope, Tandberg, and Teac, headphones from Koss and Stax, and cartridges from AKG, GAS (Sleeping Beauty), Grado, Ortofon, Shure, Stanton, and Supex. Our best video product was the 27” Sony Trinitron colour TV

When I finished my MBA I began working in real jobs (though not as enjoyable compared to working a high end store) with different companies in Greensboro, NC, Philadelphia, Buffalo, back to Chapel Hill in NC, then to Arlington TX, and finally back to West Jefferson in NC. My system when I graduated university as a pair of Dahlquist DQ-10a’s, a pair of Hartley Holton A speakers (with the famed 220MSG 10’ driver lusted after by Japanese audiophiles), a Marantz 3300 preamp, Marantz 125 tuner, Mitsubishi DA-15 amp, FONS CQ-30 turntable/SME 3009 S2 improved/Shure V-15vType III with a conical stylus for 78’s, a Sony PS-X7 turntable/Shure V-15 V vMR, two Sony TC-651 open reel decks, a Harman/Kardon HK 2000 (an exact clone of the Nakamichi 500 Dual-Tracer cassette deck), Tandberg TCD-310 MkII cassette deck. and a Tandberg TCD 3014 cassette deck.

You can read about my current system/collection at www.tinyurl.com/mcintoshrules.

So what’s next? My final speakers will be Tannoy Westminster GR-OW (Tannoy | Product | WESTMINSTER ROYAL GR-OW).

Yes, there are speakers that have better specs and that get better reviews: And I’ve listened to almost all of them over the last 5 years. Virtually all of these generally expensive speakers sounded great, but they all imparted their own sonic signature, however slight, on the music they were playing. And to my ears, they just didn’t sound like quite like the live music I listen to. My references are Full Symphony Orchestra, Opera, Piano, Folk, Jazz, Bluegrass, and a few other genres both amplified and unamplified.

I will willingly admit the Westminster’s have their own sonic signature as well, but to my ears they sound more like live music than anything else I’ve listened to. And they do something no other full range speaker I’ve ever listened to does (save the Klipschhorn and the Klipsch Jubilee) and that is they pressurize the room they’re in creating a very real illusion the performers are actually in the room with you. And I don’t mean pressurize a room like a powerful powered H/T sub does - Powerful H/T subs only pressurize a room with low frequencies. Westminster’s pressurize the room with the full spectrum of the sound it’s reproducing. You feel this effect with Westminster’s, and I’ve only ever experienced this effect with Klipschorn’s and Klipsch Jubilee’s. Once you’ve heard and felt this it becomes addictive. And that’s why a pair of Westminster’s are in my future.

Before you sneer at Tannoy’s, consider that Nelson Pass’ reference speakers used to design all of his superb sounding (and expensive) Class A and Class A/B amps are Tannoy 15” coaxial drivers from the 1960's mounted in Jensen Imperial enclosures with a custom crossover that his partner Joe Sammut spent about 10 years on (Exclusive interview with Nelson Pass).

Westminster’s also use 15” coaxial speaker in a similar but more elaborately engineered cabinet. For a peek at what Nelson’s reference speakers look like, click on jensen imperial speaker - Google Search.

Nelson’s reference coaxial Tannoy drivers are older than the 15” coaxial drivers in the Westminster’s, but the crossover is significantly more elaborate in Nelson’s Tannoy’s than the crossover in the Westminster’s. However, this can be remedied if one replaces the factory standard Westminster crossover with a custom Duelund crossover, for about $14,000 (duelund project), which I will do when I purchase my Westminster’s.

Cheers,

Vinyl Rules!
Whoops, missed this. Enjoyed the read. Were you based at Pearl? Lived on Oahu from '59 to '63. Still miss it. In '69 I was at DLIWC and drove up to SF to see either the Dead, Van Morrison and Quicksilver or my other option, Hendrix. I picked the former thinking the Dead must be nearly done by then, that Hendrix was new and so I'd see him some other time. Wrong. Enjoyed your epic adventure. 25K collection i can barely imagine housing and maintaining.
 
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