Okay, here's the problema: Noticed today that I had a conflict when trying to utilize more than one audio source at the same time, no biggie because I had previously solved this issue by installing libalsa-plugins-pulseaudio, and I had never gotten around to enabling Pulse Audio in the control center. So I did so and re-booted, but something must have changed in the kernel or other newer packages, because the Pulse sound is now choppy and somewhat distorted, whereas it had worked fine previously on this machine with older versions.
Again, not a huge deal, I can try and figure that out later. So I opened control center again, and disabled Pulseaudio and re-booted. And promptly lost my volume control icon in the notification area of the panel, attempting to open the sound settings in system>preferences>sound , fails as well.
Now I still have sound, and actually it's good and clear again, AND there is no more conflict when attempting to use multiple sources simultaneously, so somehow that issue is currently fixed in alsa, I did have to open terminal and use alsamixer to raise volume as it had defaulted back to zero.
So now all I need is my volume control applet back on in the notification area. Looking at the gnome system monitor, it shows that gnome-volume-control-applet is there and currently "sleeping", but no icon to use and sound won't open from menu.
Any ideas? Re-enabling Pulseaudio makes the icon come back, but sound is still screwy.