Richard Carabine interviewed the “Queen of Blues Rock Guitar” Joanna Connor to discuss her new album called 4801 South Indiana Avenue.
Jeffrey Lee Puckett posted March 15, 2021
Lou Ottens enjoyed a life that saw him turn a short temper into a major cultural milestone.
Ottens was the Dutch engineer who spearheaded the 1963 invention of the cassette tape and the introduction of a portable cassette recorder/player. The moment of creation came when he got angry at his reel-to-reel recorder for shooting tape everywhere. He wanted to give tape a roof over its head, and since he was head of new product development at Phillips, he and his staff made it happen, giving us a way to finally make our music collections truly portable. Ottens — the Father of the Mixtape — passed away in early March at age 94.
Cassettes were a game-changer from an audio engineering standpoint, but the cultural impact was even more mind-blowing. We could slip entire albums into our back pockets.
Reel-to-reel had a lot going for it but it was cumbersome and not portable in any useful sense. Sure, you could make a compilation tape but then it had to wind up with someone who also had a reel-to-reel player.
Early cassette technology was lo-fi and no one cared, because suddenly we could sit a tape recorder in front of a speaker and record our 45s and LPs — and then take the music with us anywhere! We could tape 60 minutes of prime radio — and then take the music with us! It didn’t matter a bit that it sounded like Marc Bolan was yelling from the basement next door because we finally had a personal, portable soundtrack, and that was empowering.
Cassettes were a revolution and they only got better.
Quality grew rapidly and tape decks quickly got more sophisticated and then more affordable. Bootlegging grew into a subculture. Musicians were reveling in the freedom of recording spontaneously to cassette, often capturing something they could never completely reproduce (see: Bruce Springsteen’s straight-to-cassette Nebraska and subsequent band versions of the same songs).
Photo by Idin Ebrahimi
More importantly for us normal people, as the technology evolved, we could make excellent recordings directly from our turntables, with perfectly-matched levels and Dolby noise reduction. The only thing missing was hormones and then — BOOM! — there they were, boy, and that meant kissing and kissing begat mixtapes and mixtapes begat more kissing, because there was no better way to start a make-out session than giving someone a personalized mixtape of very, very, very special songs.
And that is also how a bunch of kids invented the modern digital playlist, which has far exceeded the analog mixtape in popularity. Hell, we don’t even have to make our own playlists anymore because the algorithms do it for us. Ottens retired in 1986 and the things he made possible continued to impact the world for many years to come.
Granted, a playlist is extremely handy but nothing can beat an old-school mixtape, and that’s not blind nostalgia talking. Mixtapes aren’t easy to make and a truly good one can take hours. You know what else isn’t easy? Love, and that’s why a playlist doesn’t stand a chance against a mixtape, because the more you love someone, the harder you’ll work on that mixtape. It’s the perfect blend of technology and humanity.
That’s why mixtapes became a symbol of love and friendship, and remain so. When Ottens gave us his compact cassette, he was also opening a door that often led to romance, heartache, healing, friendship, and keggers.
I have very specific memories of certain mixtapes, made for myself and others. There was the one made for the wedding of friends, which traced the paths of two friendships. Or the one after I discovered what was then called alternative rock; it was 90 minutes of R.E.M., Big Star, and various Mitch Easter projects. The one I made for my second girlfriend, so desperate to please and impress her, actually worked.
These weren’t cassettes. They were my life.
According to his New York Times obituary, Ottens was a pragmatist who saw the cassette primarily as a problem successfully solved. There was no romance. This was irrevocably proven when he instigated the development of the compact disc, which subsequently nearly wiped out both the cassette and the LP.
While you eventually could make a CD version of a mixtape, it was never the same. Scrolling through iTunes, making a list of songs, and then clicking on “Burn Disc” doesn’t remotely compare to the ritual of recording vinyl to cassette. The selection, the cleaning, the juggling of tracks based on impact and time remaining, the endless math, that feeling of elation when the last track fades and only seconds later the tape runs out.
Nearly three hours of work, 90 minutes of tape, and a piece of your heart. That’s Ottens’ ultimate legacy and it’ll never go away. Somewhere, someone has just now figured out what to call the latest mix for their crush and are meticulously writing it on the tape’s impossibly small insert. Or they’ve perfected a Maiden mix for their vintage Walkmen.
Some heroes don’t wear capes but do magical things with capstans, and that was Ottens. He leaves the world better off than when he arrived.
Original feature image by Gregory Wong Woong Ming.
Jazz London Radio played some fantastic music from 4 to 8pm on 8th March 2021 to celebrate music by women for International Women’s Day. Here’s the playlist.
Jazz London Radio will celebrate International Women’s Day on Monday 8th March with four hours of music by women from 4pm to 8pm. Tune in and enjoy 🙂
Richard Carabine interviewed stellar slide guitarist, singer and composer Joanna Connor to discuss her new album called 4801 South Indiana Avenue. You can hear the interview at these times:
Wednesday 3rd March: 8pm
Thursday 4th March: 7pm
Friday 5th March: 8pm
Laurie Burnette interviewed virtuoso guitarist and composer Børge Olsen to discuss his new CD entitled Music In The Dark. January 2021
For those who prefer to listen to Jazz London Radio through your router or stream player or through your local player such as VLC, please access the stream link below:
Laurie Burnette interviewed virtuoso guitarist and composer Børge Olsen to discuss his new CD entitled Music In The Dark. You can listen to the interview at these times:
Wednesday 10th February: 8pm
Thursday 11th February: 7pm
Friday 12th February: 7pm
Andrea Vicari interviewed British pianist and composer Django Bates to discuss Django’s recent CD called Tenacity and his career to date. November 2020
Interesting article on Euronews website, how Brexit has affected adversely all musicians in Britain and EU
After Brexit, musicians fear that it is not just live shows – but a way of life – that is over
By Orlando Crowcroft 15/01/2021
On one tour that Leeds-native and musician Luke Antonik-Yates organised to Europe in 2016, one of the artists liked the continent so much he never came home.
After reaching Europe via the Channel Tunnel, the convoy of four solo artists played a run of European dates before eventually winding up in Vienna, Austria. From there, three of them headed back north, but Michael Dey, a singer song-writer from Bradford, stayed on.
The move was not completely unplanned, Dey had wanted to move to Vienna for some time and the tour was partly designed to get him there as cheaply as possible. As their convoy moved across northern Europe, microphones, guitars and amps sat alongside bags stuffed with Dey’s clothes. He didn’t have a visa and, as a European citizen, he didn’t need one.
Dey’s odyssey is a storied one. Long before David Bowie tore up 1970s Berlin, musicians from the UK were crossing the English Channel, guitars slung over their shoulders, to ply their trade and often start a new life in Europe.
European musicians have gone the other way, treading the boards of Britain’s vibrant festival circuit, relocating to London, and winning friends and fans along the way.
Many, if not most, do it for hardly any money. Antonik-Yates estimates that his band, the Human Project, made “a few hundred euros” last time they toured the continent. Yet he speaks of playing in Europe with an almost spiritual reverence, as a rite of passage, a pilgrimage.
“Touring Europe is one of the best and most enriching things you can do as a band, and just as human beings. No other place on earth gives you so many clashing cultures, languages, landscapes, climates, in such a compact area,” Antonik-Yates told Euronews.
“We have made lifelong friends in just about every corner of northern mainland Europe.”
It is little surprise that Britain’s exit from the European Union on January 31, 2020 — and now the true separation post-transition period — has made life more difficult for itinerant musicians on both sides of the Channel, as it has for everyone from hauliers, tourists and even truckers trying to enjoy an innocent ham sandwich.
You ask yourself: ‘Is everything that I have built my life around about to suddenly become unviable?’”
Ren Aldridge Petrol Girls
Reports emerged this week that the British government turned down an EU offer to grant musicians visa-free travel in Europe after Brexit, fearing that the reciprocal arrangement would mean the UK would have to allow freedom of movement to European nationals.
The British government has denied the reports, arguing that the EU spurned its own conditions for visa-free travel for musicians. But whoever is to blame for the absence of a deal, it is a lack of clarity that is proving the biggest challenge for bands and solo artists at the start of 2021.
Britain’s Musicians Union has warned that the cost of visas and the process of applying for them could make touring Europe for British bands, and the UK for Europeans, financially out of reach for all but the wealthiest and best-known artists.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns in most European states, few musicians are on the road right now anyway, but as the vaccination drive across the continent picks up pace many artists are starting to look ahead to European shows in 2021. And it doesn’t look good.
Antonik-Yates was forced to cancel his band’s 2020 European tour due to COVID-19, but if he were to book it again now they would face costs of around £1,200 just for documents needed to enter each European state. That includes £300 just to drive through France with their gear from the EuroTunnel disembarkation point on the French coast to the first show in Belgium.
For those British bands living in Europe, things are equally unclear. Ren Aldridge is a singer with punk band the Petrol Girls, originally from the UK but now based in Austria. Two of the band are British, one is Austrian, and since their Lithuanian bass player left a year ago they have played with various fill-in bassists, some from the UK and some from elsewhere.
It is not clear to anyone where the band collectively stands when it comes to their immigration status and ability to play in other European states.
“As a band with a mix of EU and UK members are we going to need different bureaucracy for different members everywhere we go? It’s unclear for now,” Aldridge told Euronews.
“I think that uncertainty is what is difficult because on a personal level you are asking yourself: ‘Is everything that I have built my life around about to suddenly become unviable?’”
As for many of those amongst the 48% of Britons that did not vote for Brexit – and the overwhelming number of Europeans who see Britain’s decision to leave the bloc as an act of collective madness – musicians view their current situation as the thin end of the wedge.
Those in punk bands are unlikely to be Brexit voters, and for members of the Petrol Girls and the Human Project, the idea of stronger borders or an end to freedom of movement is antithetical.
“I believe in freedom of movement for all,” says Aldridge, “not just for musicians. I see this curtailing of musicians’ movement as just another step in the wrong direction.”
Even if Brussels and London are able to hammer out a deal that makes life easier for musicians travelling between Britain and Europe, at the level of punk bands and solo artists like Dey, the margins in touring are so slim that multi-country European tours may not make financial sense.
“It is certainly going to be problematic being on the road as a musician. We cross the border into Switzerland, Germany, etc, every weekend in the summer,” Dey said.
But more important than that is that the very exchange that led to his move to Europe may not be possible today. Dey met his current bandmates in Vienna after they toured in the UK and slept at his flat in London. After Brexit, visa costs alone would likely have kept them at home.
“I fear that the number of bands willing to deal with visas and bureaucracy is going to put them off. That’s how I met my current bandmates and friends, and the idea of future generations not having that world open for them is really heartbreaking.”