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Throwback Thursday – Vinyl Records And Beyond

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Anyone who grew up in the fifties, sixties or seventies probably had a collection of vinyl records, whether 45’s (45 RPM singles) or LP’s (Long Playing 33 1/3 RPM albums). You may not know the history behind their development or the evolution of high fidelity (hi-fi) recording techniques. And you may not be aware of the real reason those 45 RPM records had large holes for the center spindle. But You listened to music recorded on them.

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In the 1930’s recordings were made using vibrating needles to etch shellac discs. Playback was accomplished by spinning the disc at the same 78 RPM at which it was recorded and playing it back with another needed tracing the same analog pattern to reproduce as much of the original sound as had been captured. By today’s standards – and even the standards of 40 years ago – the resulting recording were fairly low fidelity. It was subject to high surface noise produced by the needle’s friction against the disc. The needle’s sharp tip actually dug into the disc’s surface producing clicks, pops and crackles so that the more times it was played the lower the quality of playback.

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By the late 1930’s two recording companies, Capital and Columbia, were experimenting with a new medium for producing recordings called polyvinyl chloride derived from processing the byproducts of making kerosene, gasoline and fuel oil from crude oil. Each company filed for patents on their technologies. Capital which commonly produced popular music established a standard 45 RPM recording standard using a 7 inch diameter list of vinyl. Recording times per side of the disc were limited to about 4 minutes, depending on the dynamic range of the recording. Columbia which dealt more with classical and symphony music established a longer playing 33 1/3 format using a 12 inch diameter disc which allowed for a maximum recording time per side of 23 minutes, again depending on the dynamic range.

Later a third sized disc called an EP or extended play standard was established using a 10 inch disc that also played at 33 1/3 RPM. EP’s were generally used within the recording industry for demos and recordings of less than full album length and could usually capture two or three single-length songs per side. The term EP is still used today though it refers to   two, three and four track CD recordings that are sometimes issued to create interest in a band prior to the release of a debut album.

According to the patented standards both Capital and Columbia released separate playback devices for their recordings. Since the devices were so similar, Capitol was concerned that some competitor would simply adapt a Columbia player to perform spin at 45 RPM. So they included a larger center spindle hole in an effort to prevent this. Of course the strategy was less than successful and it was pretty easy to modify a player to work at both speeds by lengthen or shortening the drive belt.

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Also part of the standard was to use a polished crystal playback stylus. Industrial sapphire or diamond were commonly used. Though people still referred them to as needles they were actually not. The tips were rounded to prevent gouging into the bottom of the vinyl groove. Because of this, the tracking weight of the stylus in the groove would slightly displace the relatively elastic vinyl at two points deep in the groove. The more weight, the greater the displacement and eventual wear. In theory the groove wall would eventually snack back to its original shape but if it were played repeatedly it would wear excessively. In practice some styli used tracking weights that would take a month or longer for the vinyl to fully recover.

In early 1940’s RCA pressed the majority of all 78 RPM discs sold in the US. Seeking to capitalize of the transition to vinyl they produced a playback device that could change speeds. For a time these devices included an even slower 16 1/2 RPM setting though that standard never became popular for anything other than instructional materials used in education and commercial training products. RCA also licensed both 45 RPM and 33 1/3 RPM technologies from both Capital and Columbia and pressed recordings for both companies. However, the larger center hole in the 45 RPM records required a spindle adapter on RCA players, some changers could stack multiple records for playback. By the 1950’s 45 RPM records were ubiquitous and the mass production equipment with the  large central hole was in already place at pressing plants There was no reason to eliminate the larger center hole. Some smaller record presses catering to lesser known artists and actually made 45 RPM records with a small center hole like a LP that could be knocked out to a larger hole if needed for a particular playback device.

For teens in the 50’s and 60’s the larger center hole was a popular convenience for carrying a stack of records to a friend’s house or to a party using one hand, sticking the thumb through the middle and looping the index or middle finger around.

By the 1960’s the recording industry changed on many fronts. The introduction of stereophonic recording in the late fifties had made it way from classical records to the mainstream market for popular music. More popular artists were releasing stereo versions of their songs. The recordings were produced using separate channels for the left and right groove walls. Still albums were released only after a collection of singles existed including both A sides and B sides. By the middle of the decade a few prominent acts like The Beatles began experimenting with the longer playing record format for theme albums purposely written and recorded for the format. By the 1970’s it became increasingly common for recording artists to release an album from which single tracks were elected for release on 45 RPM records. Also by then stereo was the established standard for recording.

In the late sixties and early seventies RCA produced nearly every vinyl record commercially produced in the US including those for other labels under licensing agreements. Also during this period alternative formats using tape became available. Previously recording tape had been used in studios for mastering albums with 1/2 inch 8-track and wider 1 or 2 inches multi-channel tapes the standard. With tape higher recording speeds meant higher fidelity and lower noise during playback. One-quarter inch tape was generally used in four channel decks. But large reels were not commercially viable for sale to anyone except the most extravagant and discerning  audiophiles.

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One-quarter inch Eight-track, single-spool tape loops were marketing for use in private jets and boats where playback of record was impractical due to motion and vibration.The system used four sets of stereo tracks.  These devices made their way into automobiles beginning in the late 60’s. Though the playback quality was inferior to records due to hiss and track crosstalk the tapes were popular for their convenience and portability. Also 8-track recorders were sold that allowed people to make their own recordings of their favorite music for playback in their car.

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The first attempts to release cassette tapes as an alternative to the 8-track were not successful due to higher tape hiss and lower sound quality. However, with the introduction of Dolby processing the hiss was significantly reduced and assets became a popular recording format, though primarily for audio enthusiasts recording their now mix tapes for traveling or playing at parties.

Also n the early 70’s there were experiments with 4-Channel or Quadrophonic playback. There were two competing standards, CD-4 and SQ. The encoding and playback requirements differed even though both standards were backward compatible to serrate and, when played, the records would produce stereo sound without quadrophonic decoding equipment. CD-4 uses four discreet channels in the final remix. The playback of the channels required a special, sharper stylus what receded groove wear even when playing back standard stereo records. A high frequency decoder picked up the encoded signal and demodulated it. SQ mixed back channel information into the existing tracks in a way that an SQ decoder could pick up the information and separate it. It did not require a special stylus but the channels were not discreetly distinct. Neither standard became popular though some electronics companies later in the 70’s experimented with digital time delays to produce the ambiance of a larger room during playback.

By the mid 1970’s record production and engineering techniques pioneered by select audio engineers advanced standards that reached true high-fidelity standards. Some tricks with analog recording devices and recording speeds combined with he quality of the vinyl used produced more expensive, limited edition, half speed masters of commercially successful recordings. Where the dynamic range of most records was 70dB above background surface, some of the special discs boasted 85dB. Other playback devices used as autocorrelation to open harmonic windows for allowing the music to pass through while canceling out random background noise. Decliner compressing and decompression (dBx) was employed to encode a recording with present dynamic range compressions that was decompressed at the time of playback. This was over and above the industry standard RIAA compression that limited the recording bandwidth to 50Hz to 15kMz by compressing signals below and above that dynamic range and using decoding through the pre-amplification of the single prior to it being reproduced. Ostensibly this standard was intended to allow for more music to be included per disc side of an LP record with complete loss of full 20H to 20kHz dynamic range. All stereophonic reproduction equipment used the RIAA standard for playback of records.

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Technologies developed in laboratories in the late 70’s led to digital music sampling and the eventual use of compact discs for commercial sale of music Although purists contend that analog recordings are inherently superior in quality to digitally sampled recordings – due to something being lost in the processing of the signal, CD’s boasted dynamic range upwards of 90 to 95dB over background noise. Much of the gain came from the virtual elimination of noise created in the recording process provided the recording was 100% digital from the studio throughout the process. Of course, CD’s made from master tape recordings have some residual tape hiss as the digital processing does not distinguish hiss from the music unless some form of autocorrelation is used prior to the creation of the digital file.

One school of thought about digital recording is that if the sampling rate is high enough the human ear cannot discern the difference between digital and analog. The point is moot. Some people will say you then can tell and there have been some studies to support their claims. For the purists and demanding audiophiles high quality vinyl records are still produced today using many of the techniques introduced in the 1970’s to ensure the highest quality product.

#VinylRecords #LPs #Albums #45s #Singles #CapitalRecords #ColumbiaRecords #RCARecords

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Another Update On The Wolfcat Chronicles

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(Drawing by Amanda Williams, my daughter, depicting the Wolfcat Ela’na from The Wolfcat Chronicles)

Revisions of manuscripts may start out with lofty ambitions, reducing word count, removing redundancies, and identifying any substantive errors prior to sending it to a publisher. Results vary.

Twenty chapters, roughly 60% of the way  into the current revision of book one of The Wolfcat Chronicles I can promise I have deleted a lot of stuff that wasn’t necessary to the story but I’ve also added in just as much to clarify or enhance what was already there. Overall it is an improvement. The story reads better and the pacing is quicker. I’ve also managed to bring out more details about the principal characters. I’m calling the effort a success…so far.

For the dozens or so people who have read early drafts, the essence of the story line is in tact. Most of what I have removed was material added in to remind me as I wrote about other things. It’s a quirky thing I do in telling a story. You see, since it always takes longer to write something than it does to read it a writer has to put in little mnemonic cues or use some system to refresh details about characters and previous events told in the course of the story. Remember I wrote this with using a word processor program, which honestly is not the best way to compose anything of novel length. Also, since the book begins a series what happens affects everything that follows. So, somehow I had to keep all those little things in mind while I wrote the various manuscripts. There are programs available now that didn’t exist ten to fifteen years ago when I was first drafting this story. It’s easier for a writer to use something like Scrivener to keep things organized as he or she writes.

My present plan is to revise each of the books in the series in order and present them to my publisher so they can be added to the overall production plan that, of course, includes the works of other authors. So I can’t say for certain when the books will appear. I’m hoping that the first couple of books will be out by Summer or Fall of next year. The following year I’d like to see the next five books with the final three coming out in 2017. The last three need more revision than the first seven. For one thing I have to rewrite the last several chapters of the last book. I want to make it clearer what happens and how it connects into the rest of the universe I’ve created in my fiction, including Fried Windows and One Over X.

I expect to finish writing the sequels to Fried Windows and my next book, Becoming Thuperman (due out in January 2015) during the next year. So those books should also appear in the 2015 or 2016 production calendar. That’s up to my publisher and whenever I finish the manuscripts and submit them. Once my books are under contract and through the substantive editing process I should be able to give a better idea of a release date for them.

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#writing #authors #NewReleaseBooks #revisions #ProductionCalendar #TheWolfcatChronicles

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Origins of Ideas

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One of the standard questions writers are asked during interviews is where do the ideas come from? Every time I have been asked that about one of my stories or books I’m reminded of an interview Stephen King gave to a reporter in his study – the actual place he does his writing. He said he has the mind of a child. Then after a pause he reached down to open the bottom desk drawer and hastily added, “I keep it in there.”

Where is the magic place I go for inspiration? I wish there was place or some sort of formula I could use, but there is nothing like that. One of my author friends told me she carries around a note pad with her at all times and her significant other is accustomed to her stopping to jot down things often when she is in a place that one would not expect someone to get an idea for a story. Several people have told me they keep a notebook on the nightstand beside the bed to capture the essence of dreams. Others have quirky rituals as unique as they are. The point is there is no single right way to go about finding an idea. Sometimes it takes years for the kernel of a story to play out and generate the kind of inspiration that creates a book or a series.

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In the case of The Wolfcat Chronicles there were multiple sources of inspiration. There are a couple of sections that appear int hat series that began as stories I wrote in the 9th grade. Other parts, the character descriptions for example, come from a creative writing course I took while studying Mass Communication at Purdue University. Other characters emerged from the back story of One Over X, which was the first novel I published. A lot of that novel was written while I attended the University of Texas at Austin where I studied Marketing. The majority of the story I wrote just after I returned from Korea. A chunk of it I composed while I was recovering from surgery in 1995. And one of the major battle scenes in The Wolfcat Chronicles that appears in Book Seven of the series is based on the hallucinations I had while running a 104 F fever prior to being hospitalized with a bacterial infection in my bloodstream. So, you see there are a number of ways inspiration can come to a writer.

The nucleus of The Wolfcat Chronicles is the middle five books what comprise a volume I called One Pack when I wrote it as a contiguous story. At one point it was a 413 page draft written between May and July 2000. After five or six revisions to the story it continued to grow. It was  clear that it should be broken up into five parts, each between 200 and 250 pages. What was also evident was that issues left unsettled at the conclusion of One Pack  needed to be resolved. So, another story emerged that became The Last Wolfcat, eventually turning into three more books.

Between the writing of the last two books of The Wolfcat Chronicles it occurred to me that I didn’t know enough about the origins of the wolf Pack and the major characters. So I needed to compose a story that would flesh out more details and so I composed a two part prequel to One Pack which I called Spectre of Dammerwald. When I finished writing that draft I needed to revise One Pack again to ensure everything was in concordance between the prequel and the sequel pieces.

As I have mentioned previously in other blog posts the prequel to One Pack started out to be a children’s story. I began it at the suggestion of my publisher. A few chapters into writing it, the story was clearly not intended for children.

A lot of the inspiration for The Wolfcat Chronicles came from a role playing game I participated in with between fifty and a hundred other people in a large IRC chatroom between May and July of 2000. That was concurrent with the composing go One Pack in draft. In subsequent years I continued to be in touch with many of those people throughout revising the book. Some are the inspiration behind certain characters. Monte of my muses inspired the principal character, Ela’na. She is someone with whom I am still in touch all these years later though we do not chat as regularly as we once did.

The Wolfcat Chronicles pretty much wrote itself. There are times when, as a writer, you are in The Zone. You can feel the creativity of the moment flowing through you as if you were a conduit for a story. I’m not sure I care to know where those ideas come from but usually they turn out to be quite spectacular and result in cranking out 1500 to 2000 words or more at one a sitting – spanning several hours.

Some of the things I have written are based on my real life to some degree. Usually I draw upon personal experiences to fill in the details of a story, giving it a more realistic feel. But rapidly fiction goes off on tangents and the story diverges and travels far from reality. I write fantasy and science fiction because there are fewer limits to what can be done.

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Some of the people in my life can probably find characters in my work that are loosely based on them but I really try to use composite characters, people that don’t specifically exist as individuals. So one character might have the attributes of three or four people I know blended with some strangeness that is purely fictional.

There have been occasions when I have begun to write a blog about something going on in my life only to find it inspiring a fictional story as well. I think I understand that process best because it happens fairly regularly. It’s like the simple act of writing anything at all opens a pathway through which other ideas can make it out onto the virtual page of a word processor file. Think of it as turning the knob on a faucet to let the water flow. I believe that one of the best ways to forestall writer’s block is writing something everyday, no matter what it is. To that end you can truly be your own inspiration.

#writing #authors #TheWolfcatChronciles #Inspiration

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Yesterday And Today

There are a lot of things going on in my life but only a few of them are about making money. The majority of my time I spend writing or revising things I wrote years ago but never published. No immediate income in any of that. I work part time as a publicist and also at a retail store to help pay bills. When I am home I use a computer for nearly everything I do. Whether it is writing or publicity related to my writing or the other authors who I work with, the speed of my computer – or lack thereof – influences the amount of time I spend sitting at a desk starting at a screen.

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My computer is a 2007 vintage MacBook Pro. Yes, it still works and I have periodically upgraded it to keep the most current operating system on it, though each upgrade had degraded the overall performance of the computer a bit. I think the upgrade to Mountain Lion a couple of years ago was the first time the computer appeared to struggle. When I did that upgrade I needed to upgrade MS Office as well. Office 2011 for Mac is considerably slower than the 2004 version I had been using but MS had stopped supporting it and MAC OS would no longer support the install. Anyway, the combination of the two program upgrades severely slowed my computer’s performance in doing what I do every day.

The computer has a Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 2GB of RAM and a 120GB Hard Drive. All those design features have become limiting for what I do. There have been times that I sit waiting for the words of two sentences to finish typing on the open Word Document. Despite typing every day I do not type fast (maybe 50 or 60 wpm, tops). Also, whenever I launch MS Word it takes over a minute to load and once loaded it is iffy whether I can run any other program (multitasking) without slowing down the typing and editing. Whenever I upload something to the Internet the computer age, speed and local lag delays things. I’m using a 105+ Mbps Internet Connection (sometimes it reaches 130Mbps) so that is not the bottleneck. I did an unscientific study for the past couple of weeks keeping track of how much time it took for me to do certain things with my computer. The determination was that I needed a beefier computer. The trouble is I have a gross absence of funds in my bank account so getting something new or even newer was out of the question. Some of the slowness could be remedied with upgrading the memory to 4 or 6 GB but that would cost around $100 that I just don’t have a don’t feel like investing into a computer that is going on 8 years old.

Sometime ago my son spilled a drink on his 2011 vintage MacBook Pro. It messed up the interconnect not he logic board between the graphics accelerator and the laptop screen. In other words it became unusable as a laptop. However it would still drive a monitor.

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Around that time my son decided he needed something more portable and he migrated to a MS Surface Pro. So his laptop sat around collecting dust. Yesterday I spent a few hours resurrecting it. Although the repair to it would cost well over $600 it works find with a monitor and it is considerably faster than my laptop. It has a Intel I-7 core at 2.2GHZ with 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. It’s driving a 24 inch Samsung monitor. So, for the present I am migrating my stuff from my old laptop to the new configuration with my son’s old laptop. I figure this runs as well as a new Mac Mini, perhaps better in some ways.

Anyway, until I get MS office up and running not he new machine, I won’t be editing or revising anything. My license on the other machine has to be deactivated before I can install it on the new machine and the download takes some time…etc. So my immediate plans for the day are to take Rocco, my son’s American bulldog,  for a walk down to the dog park so he can play with his friends. And then I will work on migrating the document files I need from my laptop of the external storage device I’ve been using to supplement the small hard drive on the old laptop. I figure it will take most of the rest of the day. I work tomorrow at my outside job so it will be Monday before I return to revising book one of The Wolfcat Chronicles.

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#computers #MacbookPro #Upgrading

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Dying To Write Books

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Okay, it sounds dramatic. But it is pretty much true. For me, the turning point, the moment I seriously refocused my life and decided to pursue writing in a way I never had before happened on May 4, 1995. I was in surgery for a heart valve replacement for 17 hours that day. And in the course of the procedure I died seven times.

May 4th is, coincidentally, my bother Baris’ birthday. I mention that because as a child I was frequently compared to him,  as in “you look so much like Baris when you do that” or even just the causal mention that as my own birthday,May 7th, approached my mother and/or my father would mention how old Baris would have been – always twenty years and three days older than me. So, in a way I always lived int eh shadow of my brother’s ghost.

The day I died seven times was an inflection point. I’m sure of that. The experience of the serious illness that damaged my heart value to the point that I needed the surgery changed the way I looked at the world. Before that I was a dedicated father but almost completely focused on the provider role. Although I had always spent some time with my three kids and their mother I mostly lived at work and for work. I was a true believer that if I worked hard and put in the long hours and showed dedication above and beyond expectations I’d advance through the pecking order of my company the rise to a level of management where I’d not have to worry much about money anymore. By the way, one of the many things I learned from the experiences of my illness was that there is no such point to be attained through working for anyone else.

A couple of things happened while I was ill. There was the three day weekend of a high fever, in excess of 104 at times. I had hallucinations and bizarre dreams but, moreover, I sort of experienced another world. Yeah, you can say it was all the fever, of course, if you need to believe that. But I recall being int he midst of a battle between many different creatures – a scene that ten years later I would write into The Wolfcat Chronicles.

I can say I’ve always been a writer. It is true that those of us who write compulsively are born with the gene. Whether it is a gift or a curse, a mutation or a birth defect, we don’t have much of a choice. But until that fateful period of a month or so int he hospital with the only sources of entertainment being the O.J. Simpson Murder Trial on TV and reading computer magazines, something changed inside of me.

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About two weeks after my surgery I was released from the hospital. I still had an IV attached through which I was receiving a steady dosage of antibiotics. And I had to visit the doctor regularly and frequently to ensure the tissue graft in my heart had taken well. It was three months before I returned to work. And even after I returned I was on sort of restricted duty for a while.

In that time of recuperation I had nothing better to do that to continue my ongoing project of digitizing all my typewritten pages of a manuscript that I had been working on since college – that five years later I would submit to a publisher as Book One of my first science fiction novel One Over X. I also spent a lot more time with my kids and got to know them a lot better. Despite my being gone to work so much of the time they had turned out to be some pretty amazing people.

I’m not sure I would be a writer now – at least not in the same way – had I not died seven times on the operating table and, obviously and ultimately revived. I know my outlook on life shifted dramatically. I spent more time at home with my kids even after returning to work. Climbing the corporate ladder became of secondary importance to my family, as it should have always been. So I think the entire experience made me a better father and a better person. Yet I am certain it also transformed me in a subtle way somewhere deep inside

Maybe I didn’t become a writer that day but I have become the writer that I am because of what happened to me fourteen and a half years or so ago.

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#writing #OneOverX #LIfeExperience #Dying #Surgery

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Throwback Thursday – Deep Purple’s Machine Head

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Really you can’t talk about the 70’s music without mentioning Deep Purple and 1972’s Machine Head, the band’s most iconic and successful LP. It featured the band’s Mark 2 combination of Ian Gillian, Roger Glover on lead vocals and bass guitar, respectively, along with founding members Ian Paice on drums, Jon Lord on keyboards and Ritchie Blackmore on lead guitar.

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Although the group released several albums before and after that produced singles registering on charts, and receiving airplay on FM Radio, it was Machine Head’s Smoke On The Water that became the signature hit, peaking at #4 on Billboard’s Top 40 during the summer of 1973. What is also noteworthy is that the live version of the song that appears on the Made In Japan live double album that was released later that year and also ranked on Billboard’s chart.

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The story told in the song is true. The group was recording the album in Montreux, Switzerland in December 1971 using a rented mobile studio truck that belonged to the Rolling Stones. Frank Zappa and the Mother’s of Invention were performing at the same entertainment complex where Deep Purple was supposed to record the album when someone in the audience fired a flare gun that ignited the venue’s rattan ceiling. The title of the song came from Roger Glover’s dream about the event a few days later.

Ironically, Deep Purple did not think of Smoke On The Water as a hit song at the time of recording and it was almost a year after the release of Machine Head that the song was issued separately and began to receive airplay. The song’s simplistic four note blues progression and Blackmore’s guitar riff at the intro made the song one of the most widely recognized Rock songs of all time.

#DeepPurple #SmokeOnTheWater #MachineHead #MadeInJapan #70sMusic

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A Tree Born Crooked, by Steph Post

Heavy Feather Review

23317952A Tree Born Crooked, by Steph Post. Austin, Texas: Pandamoon Publishing. 232 pages. Paper, forthcoming.

It’s time to crack out the Mountain Dew and have ourselves a party, because a new voice in Florida noir is here and, hopefully, she’s here to stay.

A Tree Born Crooked, Steph Post’s debut novel, sets readers deep in the parts of Florida that tourists don’t often see—the parts where alligators are as common as hunting dogs, where you’re just as likely to have a shotgun as you are a blue collar job (if you have a job at all), where the drink of choice has been illegal for decades and the second choice is known as the “Champagne of Beers.”

After receiving a postcard telling him that his father has died, James Hart travels home to Crystal Springs—a desolate town whose only claim to fame was “that Elvis Presley had once…

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