UPDATE: The prototype tape machine was sold at auction on May 20, 2023, for $57,150.
New York, NY (May 3, 2023)—In the annals of classic rock, few 1970s guitar albums are as respected as Derek and the Dominos’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Recorded at Miami’s Criteria Studios in 1970, it is considered one of the career highpoints for Eric Clapton; now the prototype MCI JH-16 tape machine that captured the album is going to auction later this month, along with plenty of other pro-audio gear connected to musical heroes.
The annual Music Icons auction held by Julian’s Auctions may be serving up famed guitars, stage costumes, lyric sheets, awards, autographed items and more from household-name artists, but for the pro-audio crowd, the MCI machine is just one of the more intriguing gear offerings in the auction, which will be held at New York City’s Hard Rock Café and online May 19-20, 2023.
Miami’s Criteria Studios Refreshes Studio D
Throughout the late 1960s and 1970s, Criteria was the beta-test site for many of Fort Lauderdale-based MCI’s latest technological innovations, and the JH-16 was among the products that put the company on the map. MCI founder Jeep Harned designed and constructed the prototype, which became known as “Dumbo,” and the machine was delivered to Criteria’s Studio B in the Summer of 1970, just prior to producer Tom Dowd booking the facility to record Clapton and his new band between August and October that year.
In Mix’s August, 1980 issue, Bee Gees producer Karl Richardson recalled recording the sessions a decade earlier as a Criteria staff engineer, spending days putting Clapton, Duane Allman and the rest on to tape:
“I remember I walked in on Labor Day—I’d been out riding my motorcycle—and I just stopped by to see what was going on. There was nobody there except Tommy and the band. So Tommy says, ‘Ah, just the person I wanted to see. Sit down!’ So he walked out in the studio and said ‘roll it’. Everything was live, and it was all raw energy. They’d worked up all the songs, so they’d play one take, listen to it, then say ‘We can beat that,’ and go out and do it even better.”
The prototype JH-16 quickly became part of the studio’s workflow and captured numerous high-profile recordings in Studio B between 1970 and 1974. With the prototype a success, MCI went on to mass-produce an entire series of JH-16 tape machines between 1971 and 1979 (the JH stood for Harned’s wife, Joyce Harned), in addition to its other studio products, such as the first mass-produced consoles with VCAs. By the late 1970s, the manufacturer had 250 employees and annual revenues estimated at the time to be $20 million; MCI was ultimately acquired by Sony in 1982.
For those who don’t have room for a prototype tape machine, there’s some other pro-audio offerings on the docket for the Music Icons auction, including:
- John Lennon’s JVC RC-M70 Boombox, used to record demos of songs that wound up on 1980’s Double Fantasy.
- Phil Spector’s Sony DAT Player and Tascam DA-88, along with reels, track sheets, cassettes and more from his work with John Lennon, Celine Dion, The Ramones and others.
- Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 Fender Dual Showman 2×15 speaker cabinet with JBL speakers, purchased for and used on his 1968 U.S. tour.
- Bette Midler’s personal gold-plated Shure UHF-R Wireless Mic, used throughout her Las Vegas residency between 2008-2010.
- Guns N’ Roses singer Axl Rose’s Shure Beta 58A / ULX2 wireless mic from the band’s 2006 tour.
- Numerous vintage guitar amps, tape recorders, keyboards and more from King Crimson and Foreigner multi-instrumentalist, Ian McDonald.