Ever wondered about the charming dog gazing curiously into the horn of a gramophone while listening to “His Master’s Voice”? Meet Nipper: RCA’s trademark dog who became one of the most recognizable commercial images in the world.

In 1987, Robert J. Campbell, Vice President of Human Resources for Thomson Electronics in the Americas, distributed a letter to employees who until recently had worked for RCA. That year, Thomson, a French firm, had acquired RCA’s consumer electronics business from General Electric, marking another milestone in the slow demise of American-based corporations’ leadership in this ever-changing industry.

Campbell’s letter, unsurprisingly, sought to strike an optimistic note. Of the new employee handbook Campbell said: “I consider it an important expression of who we are—not RCA, not GE…but Thomson Consumer Electronics: a young, fresh enterprise in this country that isn’t afraid to pursue ideals as it strives for competitive excellence.” Key words highlighted on the cover of the new handbook included “leadership,” “quality,” and “vision.” “These words represent what we believe in and where we must focus our daily activities to be a progressive, successful and attractive company in a dynamic marketplace,” Campbell asserted.

RCA (and future Thomson) plant on New Holland Avenue
in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, ca. 1952.

The vice president’s comments hint at the uncertain situation in which the former RCA found itself upon acquisition by Thomson. RCA was once a paragon of American technological innovation, industrial savvy, and corporate success. From its headquarters at Rockefeller Center in New York, it oversaw some of the most important innovations in media communication of the twentieth century: radio, black and white television, and finally color TV, which was perfected at the company’s Lancaster facility in 1954. RCA’s trademark, a charming dog named Nipper gazing curiously into the horn of a gramophone while listening to “His Master’s Voice,” was one of the most recognizable commercial images in the world.

In a changing corporate landscape, however, RCA slowly lost its leadership position in research, development, and consumer product marketing to international firms such as Sony, Toshiba, and Mitsubishi. Thomson, a company subsidized by the French government, became one of the largest consumer electronics manufacturers in the world with its new acquisition, but profitability in the industry proved elusive. What Campbell called a “dynamic” marketplace was, in truth, viciously competitive and increasingly crowded. RCA struggled to find a niche in such an environment.

Trademark of RCA Victor and disc-playing phonograph, from 33 Years of Pioneering and
Progress (New York: RCA, 1953), p. 24.
RCA logo and “Nipper”/”His Master’s Voice” trademark, ca. 1970’s/1980’s.

Nipper enjoyed a long association with consumer electronics companies, stretching back to the nineteenth century. In 1898, the dog’s owner, Englishman Francis Barraud, painted Nipper listening to a wind-up phonograph. By a series of twists and turns, a modified version of the painting became the trademark of the Camden, New Jersey-based Victor Talking Machine Company. Its use by RCA dated to 1929, when that company acquired Victor. By 1990, however, future use of the iconic image was in question. Would Thomson embrace a trademark so famously associated with a financially struggling American corporation? In a September, 1990 article in Thomson’s employee newsletter Consumer Electronics News, the company announced a new ad campaign centered on the famous fox terrier. “Nipper is one of the best known corporate symbols in the world,” said Thomson advertising manager Bruce Hutchison. “But bringing Nipper back hasn’t been an easy decision. Every year we’ve wrestled with Nipper’s strengths and weaknesses relative to the RCA brand.”

Marty Holleran, Thomson Americas Sales and Marketing Executive Vice President, with “Nipper” and “Little Nipper”/”Chipper”, Consumer Electronics News (Indianapolis, IN), September 10, 1990

In a sense, the “strengths and weaknesses” to which Hutchison referred were one in the same: Nipper’s old age. By the end of the twentieth century, gramophones and a dog born in England in 1884 did not say “high-tech” to the American public. To some, the dog symbolized “trust, quality, reliability, warmth, and friendliness,” but he also seemed “old-fashioned, conservative, and out-of-date.” To solve the problem, Thomson modified the brand image to include Nipper as well as a puppy—“Little Nipper”—in advertisements, staring not at gramophones but instead enjoying new, high-tech electronics. “Little Nipper represents the new breed of high-technology, design and innovation inherent in RCA products,” Thomson proclaimed. The pup embodied youth and vigor: TV advertisements featured Little Nipper (later renamed “Chipper”) skydiving and skateboarding. Ads featuring the dynamic duo ran in the fall of 1990 during one of the year’s most popular television shows: America’s Funniest Home Videos.

“Nipper” and “Chipper” RCA/Thomson advertisement, ca. 1990’s.
“Nipper” and “Chipper” RCA/Thomson advertisement, ca. 1990’s.

Unfortunately for Thomson, the canine celebrities did not secure the company’s long-term financial fortunes. In the face of revenue shortfalls and stiff competition from overseas, Thomson closed its consumer electronics division in 2005. The reign of RCA consumer electronics had effectively ended.

Thomson Consumer Electronics Family Tree,” in “Thomson Consumer Electronics: First in Digital Innovation,” December, 1997

Today, some companies capitalize on the vintage appeal of their corporate symbols. Budweiser’s Clydesdale horses, for example, conjure up an aura of tradition that befits the brand identity of the historic beer brewer. Coca Cola’s polar bear have symbolized the refreshing beverage since 1922. Even industrial giants Ford and GE use logos that speak to longstanding trust and old-fashioned reliability. In the case of Thomson, however, Nipper proved emblematic of RCA’s glorious past, not the French firm’s viable future. Volatility and change are inherent in the technology industry. The fate of RCA and Nipper—once so ubiquitous in the American technology landscape but now subjects of the historian’s gaze—should help us keep the technology giants of our own era in perspective. Will Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook have the staying-power that RCA lacked? Only time will tell.

QAlexander Lawrence Ames is the summer 2015 David Sarnoff Library collection processing intern in the Manuscripts and Archives Department of the Hagley Library. He holds an M.A. in public history from St. Cloud State University and an M.A. in American material culture from the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture at the University of Delaware. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in history of American civilization and museum studies at the University of Delaware.

WHERE’S NIPPER THE ICONIC RCA DOG?

Vinyl Lair has been in the works for 3 years now and its been a pleasure providing you all with music content. The VL staff is a family that shares the same passion for all things music and our work is a labor of love.

We will continue to work diligently to provide you all with cool and interesting music content in the future as well.

From all of us to all of you, happy holidays!

Vinyl Lair is:

Christy Lee, writer, networking, photographer, content developer, filming, social media content, interviews and blogger.

Braddon S. Williams, music journalist, networking, writer and blogger.

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Hendrix, mascot & muse.

Dusty, mascot.

Happy Holidays From All Of Us At Vinyl Lair

Written By Braddon S. Williams

Braddon S. Williams

It recently occurred to me that as a rock ‘n roll journalist, I now have the privilege and the obligation to do an overview of my year in concerts and what a year it was! Not only did I attend more shows in 2019 than in any other, I also got to see the biggest band on my bucket list.

That’s right, I finally saw The Rolling Stones, and they proved that not only do they still have it, they also still rightfully lay claim to their longstanding title of The World’s Greatest Rock ‘n Roll Band. I saw the Stones at Soldier’s Field in Chicago, IL.

Later in the summer I would attend the 15th annual Riot Fest in Douglas Park (also in Chicago), and then made a 3rd trip to the Windy City to witness John 5 And The Creatures, Jared James Nichols, and Reverend Jack at Reggie’s Rock Club.

2019 was definitely a year for new venues and travels to nearby states. During a 5 day stretch in November, my girlfriend and I made two separate trips to Louisville, KY to take in a pair of amazing shows. First up was our final Slayer concert (with Primus, Ministry, and Philip H. Anselmo And The Illegals performing a set of PanterA classics) at the KFC Yum! Center, followed by an amazing King Diamond show at The Louisville Palace Theatre (supported by Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats and Idle Hands).

Speaking of Slayer, I saw them in 3 different states this year (front row at Riot Fest!) and counting the show in Ohio last year, I wound up seeing them 4 times on their final world tour in 4 separate states.

My roommate and I caught the up and coming sensation Jinjer (with The Browning and Sumo Cyco) at a cool venue in Cincinnati, OH called Riverfront Live.

One of my favorite discovery artists was Baroness (with Torche) at Old National Centre’s Deluxe, completing the Triple Crown of stages at the Old National.

Later in the year my girl and I saw Alice Cooper at the Murat Theatre and Steel Panther at the Egyptian Room. Alice Cooper also played a great show earlier in the summer at the beautiful Honeywell Center in Wabash, IN.

I also saw UFO and Last In Line at the Honeywell in another outstanding night of old school hard rock.

Piere’s in Ft. Wayne is now out of business, but the Clyde Theater has taken up the slack, and I made my first visit to this outstanding venue to see Static-X, DevilDriver, Dope, Wednesday 13, and Raven Black. Although I hadn’t been there since 1982, Memorial Coliseum in Ft. Wayne brought back fond memories as I saw Rob Zombie & Marilyn Manson for the second consecutive year as their Twins Of Evil hit the concert trail once again.

My beloved Deer Creek (or Ruoff blah blah blah) received a number of visits from me this year; Slayer, Lamb Of God, Amon Amarth, Beck, Cage The Elephant, Spoon, Wild Belle, Heart, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Elle King, Slipknot, Volbeat, Gojira, Behemoth, Iron Maiden, The Raven Age, Kiss, David Garibaldi (the prancing painter…”I’m painting!”) all performed sets in the warmer months.

The final Deer Creek show was another special bucket list treasure, as Willie Nelson brought his Outlaw Music Festival with featured performances by Robert Plant And The Sensational Space Shifters and Allison Krauss.

I almost forgot another first time experience (and this one is super important!). My first concert date with my new girlfriend (who coincidentally loves going to shows possibly even more than I do!) was at the Lawn at Whitewater State Park to see REO Speedwagon and Sister Hazel. I broke a self-imposed 40 year ban on REO, so that should prove how special this woman is to me.

In addition to the festivals, regular concerts, and traveling to neighboring states and exploration of new venues, we also caught quite a few club shows. Two venues in particular that I fell in love with were the venerable Melody Inn and the Rathskeller. As a matter of fact, we will be seeing the wildly amazing Rods and Cones tomorrow night at the Rathskeller for the second reunion show this year.

I feel like I should spotlight some of the bands we saw at the 3 day Riot Fest, but I already wrote a super long feature on that one. Just rest assured, we will be attending again in 2020! Well, that about wraps up 2019….it was EPIC in every sense of the word. Looking forward to another remarkable year of music beginning soon.

As always, thanks for reading and commenting on my reports from the musical field!

2019: The Year That Rocked

Written By Braddon S. Williams aka “The Concert Critic”

On this date in history, 11/29/2019, I saw Steel Panther for the 4th consecutive year.

The spandex clad comedic rockers brought their Heavy Metal Rules Tour to Indy’s Old National Centre’s Egyptian Room for an evening of fun and debauchery.

Opening the show was Snakeskin Cowboy, a local band who played a set of original material that was well received by the audience.

Next up was Stitched Up Heart, a Los Angeles band who used too much in the way of artificial ingredients, i.e. backing tracks, for my taste. Their singer was pretty and sparkly, and I guess their music was, too. They weren’t terrible, but they certainly didn’t do much to make me want to listen to them again, either. Coincidentally, the Indianapolis Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker was going on at the same time as Steel Panther’s performance in the adjacent Murat Theatre, and the boys wasted no time (and no opportunities) to make hilarious comments about the ballet.

I have noticed that every Steel Panther show follows a basic blueprint. The band comes out with a couple of songs, then go into about 10 minutes of their decidedly raunchy standup routine, followed by more tunes, more comedy, and eventually a bunch of happy women from the audience conducting an on stage dance party with the band.

Oh yes, and a lot of throwing and catching (and sometimes dropping) of singer Michael Starr’s various hats!

Somewhere in the middle of the show, guitarist Satchel provides a face melting display of guitar wizardry during his obligatory center stage guitar solo.

Bassist (and resident sex symbol) Lexxi Foxx got to do a Hair solo when Satchel and Starr brought out leaf blowers to send his outrageous locks into dramatic propulsion. And don’t forget the power ballads (usually at least one of which is sung directly to a hot babe from the audience).

On this night we were lucky to hear both Weenie Ride and Community Property, both played to perfection with the entire crowd joyously singing every word.

Steel Panther dropped 3 songs from their latest album, Heavy Metal Rules, the irresistibly catchy All I Wanna Do Is Fuck (Myself Tonight), I Ain’t Buying What You’re Selling, and Fuck Everybody.

The opener, Eyes Of A Panther was a fantastic way to start the show, and crowd favorites Asian Hooker, Let Me Cum In, Poontang Boomerang, and 17 Girls In A Row were all high energy explosions of fun.

The show ended with the headbanging, name dropping Death To All But Metal and then encored with Glory Hole.

Even though there is definitely a pattern to all this entertainment, no two Steel Panther shows are ever the same, and that is precisely why I will keep coming back for more.

On This Date in History

Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series, where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore psychedelic tunes from the 60’s and 70’s. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!

Eric Clapton, Cocaine

This was written and originally recorded by the Oklahoma blues guitarist J.J. Cale. Clapton gave Cale a huge boost he recorded Cale’s song “After Midnight” in 1970 and released it as his first solo single. This helped earn Cale a record deal and enough money to make music on his terms, which he did.

Cale recorded “Cocaine” on his fourth album, Troubadour, which was released in 1976, and issued the song as the B-side of his single “Hey Baby,” which was his last charting song as an artist, making #96 US.

When Clapton was looking for songs for his Slowhand album, he once again looked to Cale, and chose “Cocaine,” which became the first song on the set. Clapton would later cover Cale’s song “Travelin’ Light,” and in 2006, the pair teamed up to record an album together called The Road To Escondido.

The lyrics are about drug addiction, something Clapton knew quite well. As he explained in his autobiography Clapton, when he recorded this song, he had kicked a serious heroin habit but was filling his body with cocaine and alcohol. His attitude at the time was that he could manage his addiction and quit at any time – he just didn’t want to; that’s why he could sing so objectively about a drug that was consuming him. When he finally did get off drugs and alcohol, he had to learn how to make music while sober, which was a big transition as everything sounded very rough to him. He also realized how damaging his addiction was to himself and others on a personal level, and became active in helping others get through their addictions; in 1998 he opened the Crossroads rehab center in Antigua, where clients go through a 29 day wellness-centered approach to treatment.

During the Slowhand sessions, Clapton and his band got to see a J.J. Cale concert, and Cale brought Clapton on stage to duet on this song.

This is one of Clapton’s most famous songs, but the studio version was never released as a single. Clapton included the song on his 1980 live album Just One Night (Live At Budokhan), and the version from this show was released as the B-side of “Tulsa Time,” which was also taken from the concert. This single charted at #30 in the US.

When J.J. Cale wrote this song, he envisioned it as a jazz number. His producer, Audie Ashworth, convinced him to make it a rocker, which required some overdubbing by Cale, since he played very simple guitar parts. Cale did three single-string overdubs of the riff. He played the bass himself, but had session pro Reggie Young play the guitar solo. Clapton’s version has a much more complex guitar line and vocals that are more prominent in the mix.Bob Rivers released a parody of this song called “Cobain,” making fun of Kurt Cobain’s drug use. Cobain killed himself shortly after it was released.

Glyn Johns produced this song. He had previously worked with Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones.

At one point, Clapton removed this song from his set list because he thought it gave the wrong message about cocaine use. He started playing it again after he rearranged the song to include the line, “That dirty cocaine” into the choruses.

In 1988, Elton John and Mark Knopfler joined Clapton on stage to perform this at the 6th annual Prince’s Trust Rock Gala. Proceeds from the show went to charity.

After Clapton recorded this song, J.J. Cale saw many new faces at his concerts, but many of them expected him to sound like Clapton. Cale didn’t conform, and took a more laid-back approach to his next album, 5, which was released in 1979. There were no hits on that one, although a Santana cover of one of the cuts, “The Sensitive Kind,” made #56 in 1981.

Psychedelic Lunch

Written By Braddon S. Williams aka “The Concert Critic”

On this date in history, 11/25/2019, I attended my second Alice Cooper show of the year, titled “An Evening With Alice Cooper”, at the prestigious Old National Centre’s Murat Theatre. In a weird way this concert felt extremely reassuring and satisfying. This requires a bit of explanation, because I have never seen a bad Alice Cooper show. However, some have been more awesome and awe-inspiring than others, and the previous show (July 11 at the Honeywell Center in Wabash, IN) just seemed to be lacking that extra spark. As a matter of fact, the show I caught at the Murat Theatre last year was similar, in that I felt like Alice might have been either a little tired or possibly not feeling 100%.

Whatever the case may be, Alice was totally in command on this night, fully energized and singing like a much younger version of himself. Of course, the band have all become rock stars in their own right, and the entire production is seamless and dazzling in every possible way.

Song wise, the show was virtually identical to the Honeywell performance with the one change being the addition of He’s Back (The Man Behind The Mask), complete with Jason Voorhees murdering a pair of young people trying to take an onstage selfie. When Jason made a menacing move on Nita Strauss, Alice stepped in and stopped the horror icon from claiming another victim!

Strauss, Ryan Roxie, and Tommy Henriksen all shared lead guitar duties and executed all facets of Cooper’s historic catalog with gusto. The phenomenal Glen Sobel once again dropped an incredible drum solo, and Chuck Garric held down the bottom end in style (and bared his impressive abs…who could blame him?).

I don’t even need to re-state my love of Alice’s music, but Roses On White Lace, Escape, Steven, Muscle Of Love, Devil’s Food, and the band showcase on The Black Widow were all insanely fun for this lifelong Alice Cooper fanatic. Now I need to find a way to see a Hollywood Vampires show to make my Alice experience complete.

On This Date in History

Written By Braddon S. Williams aka “The Concert Critic”

Cathy Flynn, WickedGoddessPhotography.Com

On this date in history, 11/16/2019, King Diamond brought The Institute North American Tour to the exquisite Palace Theatre in Louisville, KY. Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats and Idle Hands were the support bands for this incredible evening of diverse styles of heavy music and dramatic visuals.

Both opening bands were handpicked by the King and they brought headliner worthy performances to prime the capacity crowd for the main attraction.

Idle Hands started the night with a great set of goth tinged melodic hard rock. Their singer, clad all in black, resembled a spookier Joey Ramone, and impressed me with his voice and his stage presence. Of course, the stage itself is marvelous, as is the elegant theater that hosted this collection of thrilling artists.

The Louisville Palace opened in 1928 and seats a capacity of 2800, making this an intimate experience for everyone in the theater. I don’t know how many metal acts have played there, but this place was tailor made for the King Diamond experience. Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats took advantage of the high ceiling by use of a large screen hanging above them on which they projected an ever-changing barrage of trippy imagery to accompany their sludgy brand of doom metal. The four piece band from Britain were energetic and resembled classic ’70’s hard rock bands with their long hair flying and their twin guitar attack set to take no prisoners.

As good as the warmup bands were (and they were both great!), there was no confusion about who the crowd was there to see, and King Diamond’s arrival was greeted with a thunderous ovation as he was wheeled out of a door in the center of the gigantic stage set which was designed as a multiple leveled interior of a mental institution. Songs from a number of Diamond’s best albums provided a loose thread of continuity for the visual dynamics that King Diamond excels at, and favorites included Funeral, Arrival, Halloween, A Mansion In Darkness, Out From The Asylum, Welcome Home, and The Lake. One new song, Masquerade Of Madness, held its own among the classics, and an encore of Burn and Black Horsemen (dedicated to the recently departed Timi Hansen) brought the night to a thoughtful and deeply satisfying close.

Diamond’s band was phenomenal throughout, with guitarists Andy LaRocque and Mike Wead delivering consistently jaw dropping playing. Diamond’s eerie falsetto (ably assisted by Livia Vita) sounded glorious in the flawless acoustics of the venerable Palace Theatre. The entire set built up a palpable anticipation of the upcoming double album, which is certain to add to King Diamond’s already supreme arsenal of music, both as a solo artist and as the singer of Mercyful Fate.

On This Date in History