Sunday, February 1, 2015

I'm not an Italian - an interview with Pepe Rush

"I wish people would stop calling me Italian and some call me a Cockney Italian, I am neither I am part Russian, Swedish or Finnish, Belgian, Irish and English." - PR on facebook, 2015.

My first contact with Pepe was in 2008. I started this blog with a piece about his earliest fuzz box, and he commented on the post, we swapped emails, I friended him on Facebook. I interviewed him in June 2011 for my zine Good Fuzzy Sounds, published later that year.

In 1965, when London's guitarists were waking up to fuzz, Rush was 22 years old, and was right in there, coming up with 4 different pedals in the next 18 months, but he soon moved away from pedals and eventually from musical equipment altogether.  Pepe's first pedal was the Fuzzy, based on the origInal American Maestro Fuzz-tone, followed by three iterations of the Rush Pepbox, marketed and then manufactured by WEM.

Along with his daughter Lucy he has now produced a new reissue of the original Pepbox, now available from Macari's in Charing Cross Road, London. To celebrate this event I'm publishing the full interview.

S - how did you get involved in electronics?

P - When I was about 12 or so I came home from school one day and my grandad was building an amplifier, a valve amplifier, and I sort of helped him with it - I didn't know anything about it but I helped him, and it interested me. Then later I worked for a company servicing radios and things, called Ivoff's, a big company in Oxford Street, and then I worked in a recording studio for a while, and then I started my own studio up. My dad was conducting at the Talk Of The Town, and he was earning quite a bit of money from it so we started this small studio in Berwick Street, off Oxford Street around 1959. And then I started building amps.

S- Did you make an amp for Jet Harris? I found a reference to this online somewhere

P - No - I don't think I did, but there's a picture of him using one [of our amps]. I knew Jet Harris because I recorded a demo of Apache, their first single. They were recording something for Jerry Laudon, and they were the backing group for it, and they said 'we're set up, can we record this demo?' So I recorded it and they all said it was better than the one EMI recorded.

Anyway so I got into that then I started building disco equipment, I got a factory round the corner from the studio for the disco gear. I built a mixer for the London Palladium in 1968, and did some stuff for ATV, which is now Central Television. I built the Palladium another mixer, a bigger one in '78.

S - You built some stuff for Pete Townshend too?

P -Yes, I built his home studio, including some limiters that he still uses on all his recordings. I may start to make them again as he keeps telling me I should make them.

S - So in 1965, you were involved in quite a variety of things

P - Yeah - amplifiers, mixers, we used the name Rush Electronics

S- Do you remember hearing fuzz for the first time - the new sound?

P - Yeah - someone brought in a fuzz pedal one day - they were raving about the sound it made - so I just thought 'oh, you overdrive a transistor, and it'll do it, so we just made some circuits up and modified it, tweaked it until it sounded right.
We made some and sold them to a few different groups, and then Charlie Watkins came along and he wanted to do a deal, where he took over production.

S - Where was the Pepbox sold?

P - They were sold by me personally first of all - people would hear about it and come up to the factory in Portland Mews, and we'd sell direct. That's how we sold the amps as well.

S - There's an advert for the pedal that lists some of the bands that used it - was that a kind of sponsorship /endorsement thing?

They either bought them or Watkins gave them to them - he gave the Beatles a couple but they were ones that I had made because they were in my case. A few other groups used them but I don't remember who they were now.

[illustration used in the Good Fuzzy Sounds zine - the ad copy goes: for today's great new "fuzz" sound - FRACTURED SOUND - chosen as the greatest by the Animals, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, Zoot Money and many other top pop groups!]

S- There's a famous photo of John Lennon with one in the studio in 1966 - was that a prototype?

P - No, I built quite a few like that, because Watkins weren't really tooled up to build them themselves first of all. We made them and gave them to him and he sold them on, then after that he took over making them and was giving me a commission on each one he made, and when he stopped giving me the commission we fell out over it. They went over themselves, modified it and starting putting it in their amplifiers, and not giving me my commission and that's when it all went wrong.

My dad wouldn't sue them, my mum and I both wanted to sue them, they were both in the business with me, my dad said 'no, leave it' and Watikins was laughing, he got away with it.

S - So there the red wedge - around 65-66, and two versions in the grey flatter wedge and then the long flat one...

P - Yes - then WEM slowly took my name off it.

S - So which version of the circuit is the new Rush Pepbox reissue? The three transistor Germanium version?

P - Yes - the original germanium.

[note - germanium transistors can be awkward to work with - the existing Pepbox reissues already on the market are the later silicon transistor version.]

S - So the pedals thing was really a side-line to the main amps business?

P - Yeah - well it was quite important - we made money out of it, but it wasn't  the main thing i did.

S - Did you have any contact with other people making effects?

P - No - I always tried to keep away from other music business people, they are all crooks.

S- When the deal with WEM finished you didn't carry on making pedals?

P - No - I was into other things.

S- The main source of info about you in print and on the internet is this interview with Pete Townshend in 2007.

P - I think I've read that - he calls me a cockney Italian, which annoys me as I'm not!

S -He mentions that you were involved with Apple Corps and 'Magic' Alex Mardas

P - I sold the Beatles or Apple Corps the circuitry for the first Palladium mixer, and we made the metalwork for the modules for him, for the Apple studio, but he modified it, and completely ruined it. It was a perfectly good mixer, professional standard, it was passed by the technical department at  ATV, but he just completely messed it up, it was all distortion and noise and everything else. He was a bit of a con-man.

S - What did you do next?

P - By '68 I was building mixers, and I was doing Pete Townshend's stuff so I'd got away from the distortion and the gimmicks into recording equipment, or sound reinforcement stuff. I've built a lot of different things, some limiters, some peak programme meters, a professional type of meter, not like the VU meter, and amplifiers… I built a studio in the Top Ten Club in Hamburg, on the Reeperbahn. There weren't many companies around then making mixers and stuff like that, so it was great.

I moved from the West End up to Southgate in North London - I started doing different jobs and I was doing stuff in America modifying mixers - they were sending the stuff over here and I was modifying them. Then I moved out of music stuff and into bank communications in the City, quite a bit of that, it was really good money, but in 1992 my house and workshop burnt down, so everything finished, it all stopped, and I'm slowly getting it all back together again. It was a bit of a shock losing all your workshop, and all your tools and instruments, test equipment… and that's it really.

S - the new prototype for Macari's, you're working on that at the moment

P - Yeah - I'm waiting for the boards - I thought it would be easier to use a proper pcb rather than doing it hard-wired, so that's done, and my engraving machine got damaged, the chap's got the metalworking gear so he's going to engrave the panels for me too.

I've been in touch with David Toop - he loaned me his flat box Silicon Pepbox for me to trace the circuit, but we're not using that circuit; I said I'd give him one of the new ones, he said I'll write an article on it anyway.

S - You're going to send one to Pete Townshend too…

P - Yeah, I'll let him have one because he's on at me to make this limiter. He's a good guy - I haven't seen him since about 1972, but we speak and exchange emails and stuff. He gave me a guitar to use with it. It's an Ovation - I thought I was just going to borrow it, but when I spoke to his office, they said oh no Pete said you can keep it. It's nice, it's got all gold plated bits on it, quite a good sounding guitar. Someone suggested I could get a few thousand pounds for that, but I'm not selling it, that would be disgusting, it was given to me - I'd give it back to Pete if he wants to sell it . He's always been straight with me, I've always been straight with him.

He was always very serious about things, He lived near me in Soho, a few hundred yards away.

S - So did you just bump into him?

P - No - I put a sound system in a place in Putney High Street, on the corner of the Upper Richmond Road, and The Who played there, when they were really small, and their PA amplifier had gone wrong - it was a Vox, and the chap introduced me to him and he asked me to fix it, so I said 'yeah, I'm in the West End', and he said 'where? I live in Brewer Street' I said 'oh yeah I live in Old Compton Street, we're right on top of each other'. So I took it and fixed it the next morning and he came round. He met my dad, who was a professional session musician, and they talked - my dad knew his dad, Cliff Townshend, another musician, and we chatted and he used to come round.

Later I used to cycle down to near Eel Pie Island in Twickenham [where Townshend moved to after leaving Soho], with a guy who worked for me. We used to get Chinese takeaway and once we were riding up from the Chinese place, from the river and he was at his garden gate. He said 'what are you doing over here?', I said 'Oh, we've just got some food, we're going to go and sit on the river bank and eat it' and he says 'ah - come in - come and sit in here', so we went into the kitchen, he made us tea and ate our takeaway - and that became a regular thing. We'd go up and he'd mess about and I'd tweak a few things on his mixer or his limiters and that's when we used to see him a lot. The last time I saw him was just after my Dad died, in 1972, and then I sort of lost contact with him, and then I got back in contact again. He was really pleased to hear from me and soon we were chatting like old times. He's a nice guy.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

1950s Spanish Electric Guitars - early solidbody electrics

Well... maybe I set my sights a bit high for this blog - I wanted to do really detailed posts including everything I knew about each guitar or pedal or whatever, but that needs time and good photos, and I don't have the motivation for that anymore, so I will not be geeking out quite so much from now on, but I will be doing more blogging more often. You can find more pics of most of what I talk about here on my Flickr page

Ok - here we go with:

Older, more basic guitars

I got interested in old guitars because of their individuality. In the 90s, I basically got anything interesting that came my way that was cheap, mostly '60s guitars - some I've kept, some not. I was very influenced by a book called Bizarre Guitars that a friend loaned me  - it's a Japanese book of photos of weird MIJ guitars from the 60s mostly - Teisco, Kawai, Hummingbird, Guyatone etc. I wanted a Japanese 4-pickup guitar! But as time has gone by I've found myself moving towards older more basic one-pickup guitars.

The oldest guitars (and the most recently acquired ones) I have are also the most basic design, from the early to mid 1950s. Various companies added pickups to archtop guitars from the 1930s onwards, but solid body electric guitars were just being established in the 1950s. Flat top solids are often referred to as Spanish Electric Guitars.The ones I have are made up of three pieces of wood - a long middle piece that forms the neck, and two pieces attached on either side that make up the body. The necks are not adjustable, but they probably have some kind of metal reinforcement.

The Harmony Stratotone(s) 

The single pickup version (H44) was introduced in 1952, and was available until 1957 or '58. It predates the Stratocaster, a totally different instrument with a similar name. The Harmony company already had a long history of making stringed instruments up to this point, but this is their first solid body guitar. The earliest ones don't have the model name on the headstock, just the company name with a kind of 'wave' graphic underneath. In 1953 they switched to a stencilled design, incorporating the 'atomic musical note'. I think mine is a 1953 because soon after the edge of the body became a bit less rounded. I bought this a body only, and collected the rest of the of the parts on ebay. The scratchplate/pickguard and knobs repros. I had a repro bridge too, but decided I liked the sound of a solid metal bridge - the one on there is a modified Hagstrom micro-matic bridge without the saddles. This is what it looks like now:

In 1954 Harmony came up with a 2-pickup solid Stratotone, and called it the H88 'Doublet'. It was only made for 3 or 4 years. It has the same body as H44, but but different pickups, and an 'ebonized' fretboard with block inlays instead of dots. It was promoted as a top-of-the-line professional model, and has a smoother feel and sound to the single pickup mode. l prefer the feel of the H88 over the H44, but like the sound of the pickup on the H44 better. Too bad! The guitar is mostly original. It cane with the original bridge, but again I prefer a solid metal bridge - this one is brass - another modified Hagstrom part, shown here:

Kay K-125, 1952

The other guitar of this early solid 'through neck' design is made by one of Harmony's main competitors, Kay. Both companies were based in Chicago (as was Valco, another company whose guitars I like) and they are generally assumed to be cheap crap by most guitarists, who only remember their entry-level guitars and later import models. Harmony probably had the edge in terms of quality, but Kay guitars can be good too (though my direct experience of them is limited). This is the K-125, Kay's first solid, from 1952. Construction-wise it's pretty similar to the H44, but it has a longer scale length. It's not clear who came first.
1952 catalogue image showing original finish
The Kay also has a slimmer neck (more prone to bowing), and a different pickup. Unlike Harmony, who bought pickups from Gibson and DeArmond-Rowe, Kay made their own pickups - the one on the K-125 is usually referred to as a blade pickup, or as 'Thin Twin' pickup, after the hollow-body model played by Jimmy Reed. The tiger striped plastic pickup mount a control panel are the coolest things about this guitar is purely aesthetic terms, and they are in great condition, along with the original knobs and switch.

Mine has been through the wars a bit, and was the victim of a hippy refinish and headstock repair, probably in the 70s. I stripped it and tried to stain it a chestnut/rust red, with limited success. I think it looks better than it did before at least. I have the original wooden bridge, but put on a modified Bigsby bridge for a brighter sound with more 'attack'. The neck has a bow, which is not too bad, but may have to be addressed in the future.

It originally had a short lead hard-wired to a hole in the edge of the guitar by the tailpiece. If it had been the original lead I would have left it, but it wasn't. I found it irritating so I filled that hole and made a bigger one for a standard jack plug and plate in the side between the knobs. I got some oval-head wood screws and 'aged' them so they wouldn't look too shiny and a repro 1950s Gibson-style jack plate:

Why do I like these guitars? I like idea that they were built before rock'n'roll, that they are the first generation of solid body electric guitars and 60 or so years later they are still going and sounding great. The Harmonys feel very solid, they have huge necks by modern standards, but I learned to play on a big neck, even though my hands are on the small side. It feels comfortable and right. The Kay is lighter, and has a few problems, but it still sounds and feels good. If there were affordable new guitars on the market with something like this vibe, I would be interested, It's fun to tinker and experiment with old guitars, but a new guitar with no issues would also be welcome. I've been keeping tabs on a new UK company called Raw Guitars - they have some interesting ideas, but I suspect they will be pricey when they launch properly next year. In the meantime, check out the designs on their website.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Good Fuzzy Sounds!

Good Fuzzy Sounds

All right - I've done a zine about fuzz - it's called Good Fuzzy Sounds, it's written and illustrated by me, is 28 pages long and costs £2 or €3 or $4 post paid.

It covers my own first experiences of fuzz and diy pedal-building, a detailed two-part history of early fuzzy sounds on records  up to 1961, leading to the Maestro Fuzztone in the US and the Tone Bender in the UK, the growth of internet fuzz geek networks, the mythology of the mojo transistor, and interviews with Pepe Rush, an early fuzz innovator on the London scene, and Devi Ever, graduate of the internet DIY pedal scene and modern fuzz goodess. Plus 'my favourite fuzz', a true life story comic strip, drawings of all 33 of my fuzz pedals, and fuzz luminaries such as Gary Hurst, Vic Flick, Big Joe Sullivan, Lee Hazlewood, Glenn Snoddy, Craig Anderton and many more. It's all fuzz, all the time, printed in red on beautiful pale blue paper. It even explains what fuzz is if you don't happen to know. It's a winner!

Pay by Paypal in the currency of your choice, and don't forget your address. It will probably be in a few shops and distros sometime, but for now it's available direct from me only. Email address for Paypal - - £2 or €3 or $4 postage paid.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Reginald Johnson - Godfather Of Turntablism!

In the summer of 1927 the manager of the Theatre De Luxe cinema in Leeds replaced his orchestra with one man and a Brunswick Panatrope - a dual turntable record player. Rather than just playing records over the films like other Panatrope operators, Reginald Johnson, a skilled musician, recognised the full potential of the machine to develop an entirely new technique of musical presentation.

By October Johnson had a library of 250 records, and was combining sections of 25-40 discs per film, marking the segments with chalk, working from a complex cue sheet, and changing the needle on each deck for every record played. I don’t think he did any intentional scratching, but I think there’s reasonable grounds to name him the Godfather of Turntablism.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

In Defence of Trash

Bubblegum music evolved from the more commercial singles-driven teen side of rock, and the more cynical side of the music business. Bands like Tommy James and the Shondells, Paul Revere and The Raiders, and the Strangeloves - an imaginary band dreamed up by the Feldman, Goldstein + Gottehrer production team, and obviously the Monkees. These pioneers rubbed shoulders with novelty acts like The Royal Guardsmen and in 1967-8 bubblegum was born, through capitalist osmosis. It's key elements were crass commerciality, dumbness and superficiality, with a strong element of producer-manager-record company control, quickly reaching the point where the 'bands' didn't exist at all, and it didn't matter. Arguably it's the beginning of pop as we know it.

At the end of his influential rock'n'roll history book The Sound of the City, Charlie Gillett spares a few moments to sanctimoniously castigate the producers of this new low in rock music as he saw it, describing it as "the blight of the late sixties… music planned entirely as product, not as anybody's art." If he could see and hear what was on the manufactured pop horizon in the '70s and beyond, maybe he wouldn't have been so dismissive.

Sure - bubblegum records were not performed by 'proper' bands or written by serious social commentators or sensitive artists, but they knew what they were doing and they did it right - they had tunes , killer choruses and a good beat - what's the problem? There's good and bad in any genre, but the best bubblegum came out of the Kazenatz-Katz circle - Super K Productions, on Buddha and many other labels, big and small. You might object to the nasal vocal stylings of the ubiquitous Joey Levine, lead singer on hits like Yummy Yummy, Quick Joey Small and many others, but that's a minor issue you just have to come to terms with. If you really can't take it, there's always the super-smooth Archies lead singer Ron Dante to groove to. The Archies were already a successful comic book franchise when Don Kirshner (the man who brought us the Monkees) made them into an animated tv series and pop hit machine, with the help of Brill building king Jeff Barry. They are more bland than the Kasenatz-Katz outfits, but still had some excellent tunes. Plus they aren't even pretending to be real, they are fictional, two dimensional! The Banana Splits had some good songs too - the fact that you had to collect coupons from cereal boxes to get them doesn't detract from this.

Bubblegum was churned out on rockin' poppin' production lines - inane but catchy songs by manufactured groups with silly names. Nobody condemned Berry Gordy for this kind of approach in Detroit 10 years before, so why doesn't bubblegum get any respect? Because rock had apparently 'grown up' during the '60s. Singles were out and albums were in, "real music" was either going down the blind alley of blues rock in the search for authenticity, or disappearing up it's own arse looking for the lost chord, thanks to Sergeant Pepper. The best bubblegum records, on the other hand, were 3 minute pop blasts following to the golden rules of Mark E Smith's three Rs - rock and roll and repetition - dig it! Who would you rather listen to - Eric Clapton or the 1910 Fruitgum Company?

I dream of forming a bubblegum covers band that everyone will love - we would have a wide repertoire of little known gems like Pinch Me and Sweeter Than Sugar and it would be super fun to play! Will my dream ever come true?

While writing this I discovered that Don Kirshner died a few weeks ago in Florida. He prettty much started it all, for better or worse. And after I'd finished it I also found another piece on bubblegum by my old pal Bob Stanley (him again - mentioned in the last post too) from a couple of months ago - never mind, eh?

Sunday, October 3, 2010


A diversion from my usual stuff... 1989 was the year I did my last music fanzine - I did 8 or 9 issues between 1984 and 1989 - most were called Adventure In Bereznik, but the last few had other names, but always with Bereznik in the title. But this isn't really about that so much as it is about a band I haven't thought much about in the last 20 years, but millions of other people have - Manic Street Preachers.

The main source of info on the band's early years seems to be an article in Record Collector, the end of which focuses on the roles of Kevin Pearce and Bob Stanley in getting them their first London gig, and then reviewing it. I was friends with Kevin and Bob, and Kevin had told me about this amazing band who would blow me away, so when they played with the Claim (an excellent but obscure band, one of Kevin's faves) I was there. As the '80s drew to a close, good bands were thin on the ground. 'Independent' music was going corporate and embracing pre-punk 70s rock, which we seriously disapproved of at the time, and of course Kevin always had great taste. Of course there was never a 'fanzine mafia' at all, but this kind of lazy journalistic hindsight would probably have included us.

I was introduced to the band, and probably gave them fanzines. The setting was inauspicious, but typical of the kinds of gigs I had been going to several times a month for years. The lack of a stage wasn't unusual, nor was the damp patch in the corner. I don't remember much else, except that they looked really young and were very nervous; but like a small controlled explosion, they lit up the drab upstairs room of a central London pub for an instant. The set flew by. I remember we laughed (as Bob mentions in the RC article), but it was more like a nervous laugh - they didn't make sense - how could they be so serious, look so silly, but be so amazing?! I didn't talk to them much but they had a friend, like a sort of older brother figure, who wasn't quite their manager, but had something like that role, which included talking to people and being friendly. I think he probably drove the van too, and he gave me a copy of Suicide Alley from it after the next gig in Shepherds Bush soon after. I really don't remember, but for some reason the name Martin came to me as I was writing this.

Anyway, the Record Collector piece also mentions Richey's campaign of writing to fanzine editors to promote the band. So Richey wrote to me too, enclosing a photo. I don't think I have the letter anymore, and I I didn't write back, but I was looking for photos of a band I was in in the '90s when I found the photo. All this time had passed without realising I was in it.

I'm not 100% sure the photo is at the Horse and Groom, it might be from the Shepherd's Bush gig, but it's London, 1989, they are wearing the right stencilled shirts, and they are the support band. I'm there (at the front, in the white t-shirt in front of Richey), as is Kevin. I'm not sure if can recognise Bob from the back of his head, but I think I can see him too. I kind of wish I could say I've been a fan ever since, but I haven't - in my world this was their peak, and I lost interest pretty quickly, but it was a good night.

Monday, September 13, 2010

atypical outstruments

This was published in a zine about the A-Band over the summer, and shows some of the diy instruments that I play. People ask me what I play in the A-Band quite a lot - and this is why my answers are a bit vague. I used to draw comics quite a lot, but slowly gave it up.... There are photos of most things illustrated in this set.