SOUND PRACTICES - "Mono Mia" - SUMMER 1992, by Vinny Gallo
I was born in the tragic slums of tragic Buffalo NY in 1961. I grew up there in an Italian-Black-Puerto Rican neighborhood. The Disco Superstar Rick James was my neighbor and is still good friends with my Uncle John or John "The Bull" Fantazzo, as he's known on the block. My family moved next door into my Grandmother's house when I was two, one month after my father was sent to jail. Don't ask. Anyway, he got out when I was 15 and threw me out of the house a year later on my 16th birthday. Don't ask.
I remember my Grandma's house. It was small and it had a smell, not a good smell or a bad smell just a certain smell. There was no TV, no radio - just this old wind up 78 machine with this big metal horn that had flowers painted on it. Underneath in a shelf, she had 9 records: three by Domenico Modugno- you know, the guy who wrote Volare, four Caruso records, and her two favorites - one by Dean Martin and one by my father singing "Fools Rush In". Before my Pops went to prison, he was a nite club singer. He got to record one single. If I think back, other than the fact that I hated her records, Grandma's windup machine sounded astoundingly good.
In the neighborhood, my Best Friend was this guy named Butchy, Butchy Megadino. His Pops was the biggest bigshot on the block. He was the biggest in the neighborhood, which to me seemed like the whole world. His name was Stefano Megadino. I say was, cause he was gunned down in front of Ray's Pizza Parlor in 1978 - 13 days after he joined Audiomart. He was the 13th guy to subscribe. Poor guy, he was so excited.
Mr. Megadino was tough and he worked hard to stay on top. But he would also spend a lot of time fooling with Hi-fi Mr. Megadino loved Modernization. He loved being the first to buy a new gadget and he always got his new Caddy first, or else! And he had the first and only Color TV in the neighborhood. I remember me and my Mother going over the Megadino's to watch Super Bowl III on COLOR TV. What a shock, COLOR TV. Everybody loved the Jets and that modern slickster, Broadway Joe. Everybody, except me. My hero was the simple conservative Johnny Unitas and the good-old-fashioned Colts. I cried when the Colts lost.
Mr. Megadino's biggest obsession was his Hi-fi gear or stereo equipment, as it was called. And since I was like a son to him, I got to witness first hand the buying and selling of a lot of gear. I helped unload the first SAE 50 watt amp, the first GAS Ampzilla, the first Mark Levinson preamp. I loaded up Dahiquists, Magneplanars, Quads, KEF 103s, all of it.
Man, it was great - he was on top of the world. He had all the latest technology in the palm of his "black hand". Plus everytime he got something new, I could make a few bucks hooking it up for him. He refused to fix or connect anything. The guy would pay me to change the batteries in a flashlight. I still don't know if he wouldn't or couldn't do things like that. Anyway, his son Butchy was the same way. So they both needed me.
Mr. Megadino would always use one of his four copies of Tony Bennett's Claud 7 on Columbia featuring Chuck Wayne on guitar to show off any new gear. He had good taste. I was Hi-fi HOOKED. Obsessed and in love with the stuff. Also during this time my hippy cousin, Asti Bunza, who was 18, was turning me on to all kinds of music. He had 24 LPs, the most of any kid in the neighborhood. He had every Beatles LP.
I was also spending a lot of time just going to stereo and record stores just staring and dreaming. Buffalo was a tough place for a kid to make a buck, especially in the early 70s. I had to really hustle. I had a bunch of contracts mowing lawns in rich neighborhoods and in the winter I would shovel a lot of driveways for a buck a driveway. I beat up this kid once who was stealing my customers with his gas engine snow plow. I also got 25 cents a day for lunch money, so right there I could save $1.25 a week, even though I was always starving. And I saved ever penny I made.
My friend Botchy was the opposite. He spent but he refused to work. He had a lot of habits to support - pinball, ice cream, candy, comic books, pot, and cigarettes plus a six pack every Saturday night. He was also a King Farouk with the girls. So he needed a lot of money. His father was generous to him but it wasn't enough. So Butchy became a thief, a BIG thief, a big FAT thief. It was OK with me because he stopped trying to borrow money.
One snowy Sunday morning after church, I went to Butchy's house and within 5 minutes he talked me into robbing the comer bar. It was called the Jolly Jug. Five days earlier, the owner bought some hi-fi gear hot, very hot, from a local junkie named Elmo Wright. Our plan was to get the hi-fi stuff and all the liquor we could carry out, so we used Vito Padulla's newspaper wagon for the job. Everything went smooth. The hardest part was divvying up with Butchy. We argued for an hour splitting up the booze. When we got to the hi-fi, neither of us would budge. We cut the stereo system in half. I kept one Dynaco MK IV amp and Butchy got the other one. I got the PAS 2 preamp and Butchy took the FM-1 tuner. We each got one A-25 speaker. The AR turntable fell out of the wagon and broke during our getaway so we left it behind in the snow.
In my Gra'ndma's house, I slept on the couch in the living room. I didn't have my own room, so when I got home with my stuff I set it up in the basement. I already sold my share of the liquor to Frankie Bones at the Social Club at 220 Connecticut Av. He gave me two 20s, 40 Bucks. Forgeta 'bout it, I was rich! So the next morning I skipped school and went straight to my favorite stereo store. I needed a turntable to listen to my new system. I shopped all day checking out the latest and greatest and finally settled on a $75 Technics SL-20 with a $15 Grado P-mount cartridge. Total cost 90 bucks- the guy said if I paid cash no tax.
OK, now I had the 40 from the booze heist but that left me 50 short. I would have to spend 50 from my hard earned lawn mowing & snow shoveling money. Twenty-five lawns and twenty-five driveways - that was a lot of grass and a lot of snow. But I couldn't get that SL-20 out of my mind. Those Japanese were geniuses at selling us pork eating Americans shitty good looking stereo stuff and between beef jerkys and bags of chips we were trading in our great old mono tube stuff to pay for it. Even the Italians did it. I was only 13 years old, how could I know? What's your excuse? The real funny thing is that old Technics and Pioneer stuff doesn't even look good anymore. It didn't hold up.
But that day I was thrilled and I rushed home and hooked up my half stereo system. One problem left- the Technics didn't have 78 speed and I had no records of my own. I had to use a 78 on 45 speed. I chose my fathers single and played it on 45. At 78 RPM, Pops was an OK song stylist, but in 45... MAN, he was singin' the blues! My pops just became a great Black blues legend in 45! But after a couple plays I was bored. Plus the Grado wasn't tracking 78s too good. I needed records.
Suddenly I got a flash, My cousin Asti Bunza the hippy got drafted and was getting ready to go in the Army. I heard he was selling his record, poster, and bong collection so I rushed over to make him a deal on the records. We settled on $11 and two joints that I found at the school playground about two years earlier. Besides, I had no need for that kind of stuff. I got all 24 LPs. He was a hippy and I was a happy. I went home and blasted all four sides of the Beatles' White Album. WOW. It was brilliant, trust me.
That was my first system and it was great and it was only one speaker and one amp. Unfortunately, that would be the last time I would be completely happy with my hi- I system for years to come. What happened was I put the White Album away and ran over to Butchy's to try to try to buy the other amp and speaker from him. Unfortunately, Mr. Megadino wanted to buy my half He was getting hooked on tubes again. Dynaco was his first setup and he was a sentimental guy. And besides his Ampzilia had blown up one too many times. I couldn’t refuse the "Boss of Bosses" so I sold him my share of the stereo. But the guy did pay me very well.
Anyway that started a long period of buying and selling audio gear. I've owned it all- old stuff, new stuff , Levinson to Fairchild to Krell to Audio Research, back to old Marantz, then to Western Electric. Every amp, every speaker. All of it and for what? What did I get? A pain in the AASSSS. That's what. And why? Was it the equipment? My room? My records? Me? Forgeta 'bout it! I was OK, my records were the best, my room was beautiful, and some of the gear was good, especially the old triode amps. So what was the problem? Huh?
Think about it. Are mechanical and electrical reproducers supposed to take the place of live music? NO, they're not. They are what they are. They are their own thing. They have their own place in our lives and they shouldn't even be compared to five music. I really believe that great hi-fi should sound like the best radio you ever heard. Great hi-fi affects your ears and emotions in its own way, reminding you of sounds and sound impressions. For example take a photo of a chick that you love. It is not an actual reproduction - you can't touch or smell her. But you can get a strong emotional reaction from the stimulus of the photo Some chicks even look better in photos and sometimes a simple black and white photo can be the most beautiful. Hi-fi works the same way.
Hi-fi is its own beautiful thing and for me the more simple it is the better. Mono, that's right, MONO. Ya heard me, Monophonic For years people listened to it and loved it. But some hustlers told us stereo was better while they were selling us two of everything. Well, it's not. Trust me. It might be more but it's not better.
Fortunately, one time I was stuck with only one amp and one speaker that I really wanted to wire up and listen to. Happens all the time when you try to put together classic vintage systems. Anyway, I tested them out and I was shocked. It sounded great! The gear was good but I realized that a big part of it was that it was mono. So pure, so simple, so beautiful. I never went back. It was like the first time I saw "Raging Bull", suddenly Black and White was hip again.
No more breaking my back to find two of everything, no more taking the whole room apart to fit in two of everything. Plus systems are half the price. And all the gear and many of the records I like were meant to be listened to in mono. Just try to get those big multicell horns to sound good in an average sized room in stereo, Not a chance. No longer did I have to sit in one narrow spot exactly between two speakers to enjoy the music.
Another great thing about mono is that it sounds right no matter where you are in the room. My system sounds great even from the next room or outside. My neighbors are always yelling up from the street, "Hey Vinny! That sounds Beautiful".
Mono, Mono, that's right, MONO MIA! Thank God. Less gear to fix, less wires. Stereo is a SCAM. How does dividing a recording in two make any sense anyway? What if you have a five piece band? What side does the fifth guy come out of? To me, the mono sound is perfect - coherent and whole. Stereo sounds like a special effect. Listening to stereo is like having to wear 3-D glasses every time you go to see a movie.
Many of the best records are mono anyway. There's so much great music recorded before stereo took over. And there are a lot of BAD stereo records around. Most of the time, they don't even get the special effect right. Good mono beats bad stereo every time - just like good records sound better than bad CDs. I say most of you stereo equipment nuts hardly have time to listen to your gear because you're too busy shopping for special interconnects. Try this instead, set yourself up a simple mono system and listen to the music. Then you can share a pair of those special interconnects with your best friend. Keep it simple and have fun! If you shoot for the simple thing, you got a better chance of success. You might be surprised. Chew the fat, shoot the breeze, mull it over, think about it and give mono a try. Love, Vinny.