and blues piano teacher in London
- Unless you are a keyboard player with some interest
in equipment, please read no further. There is nothing offensive
in what follows. On the contrary, it will be duller than ditchwater!
- I of course started out with an acoustic piano
but in 1967 you needed at least an organ to get into a band.
- For a penniless
keyboard player in the late 60's, there seemed to be a choice
of two organs: the Farfisa or the
Vox Continental . Both were single
manual, had drawbars and sounded absolutely nothing like a Hammond.
You always stood up to play them because it looked cooler and
they didn't come with a stool. Had I been given the choice, I
suppose I would have gone for the Farfisa as it sounded more funky.
But when I turned up for my first ever audition with The Hijackers
(a name they may not have chosen in this Century), the Vox Continental,
with its reverse black and white keys, awaited me. The organ solo
on Telstar by the Tornadoes began playing in my brain and I desperately
tried to replace it with Alan Price's solo in 'House of the Rising
Sun' by the Animals. In the end, I gave them my rendition of Green
Onions and got the job.
- The next
choice to be made: which electric piano? Would it be the Wurlitzer
or the Fender Rhodes ? The 'Wurly'
was considered the more 'Rock and Roll' of the two and was later
to be a trademark of Supertramp's sound. It was also hideous to
tune. The Rhodes was more sophisticated and 'Jazzy'. I went for
'jazzy'. If the likes of Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea were happy
with it, who was I to argue.
- It was time
to move on to a more up-market organ, at least one with two manuals.
Yet again, there was a straight and obvious choice: a Hammond
or a Lowrey .
- Why did I
think twice? All my favourite organ players used a Hammond: Jimmy
McGriff, Jack McDuff and of course Jimmy Smith. But closer to
home, in fact in the London clubs, I was closely watching Stevie
Winwood, then in the Spencer Davies group and the man I idolised:
Graham Bond. You may not have heard of him, but the Graham Bond
Organisation had a residency at the 100 club in Oxford Street
every Thursday night and I often looked on in awe. Jack Bruce
was on bass, Ginger Baker on drums (both later to form Cream with
Eric Clapton) and John McGlaughlin later joined on guitar. In
the midst of this formidable line up sat a large figure with greasy
hair and a pint of beer on his Hammond organ. His raspy voice
was perfect for R&B and the organ sound, propelled by Leslie
speakers, ripped your ears apart. The man was an inspiration.
I once plucked up the courage to sidle up to him and ask, "Who
are your musical influences?" "Nobody", he gruffly
replied, and I slunk back into the crowd. Graham Bond had no real
commercial success, became involved in heroin and black magic
and died in tragic circumstances.
- Then along came psychedelia and overnight all
my favourite bands changed their music and their stage clothes.
A good example was the Zoot Money Big Roll Band. Zoot was (and
still is) another Hammond organist, singer and general nutter,
who thought it a good idea to turn the band into Dantalion's Chariot.
They came on stage wearing caftans and I left the club. Zoot's
(or should I say Dantalion's) guitarist was Andy Summers, who
later ditched the caftan, bleached his hair and joined The Police.
- Let's rewind
and consider my choice of manual organ. Remember, it was to be
either the Hammond or the Lowrey.
No contest? Well, perversely, I chose the much more insipid sounding
Lowrey. In my defence, Garth Hudson of The Band managed to make
it sound amazing. I expect, though, that Garth would have employed
several roadies to lug it in and out of vans and up flights of
stairs. All I had was the drummer.
- I did eventually
come to my senses and swap it for an M100 Hammond organ. I still
made the token effort to be original by using a wah-wah pedal
and fuzz box instead of the conventional Leslie speaker. I thought
I could solve the back-breaking aspect of being an organist by
purchasing a split Hammond. This meant that you could unplug the
top half and carry it separately. Unfortunately the bottom half
weighed more than two Lowreys and my back still hasn't fully recovered.
- I was now
being asked to produce string sounds and, as I couldn't afford
a synthesiser, I opted for the Solina String Machine. Not only
was it made of wood, it also had buttons that said violin, cello,
trumpet and horn. The Solina sounded absolutely nothing like any
of these instruments, so I wired that up to another fuzz box and
succeeded in making it sound like nothing on earth.
- And so we
come to my next choice: which synthesiser? In the early 70's,
analogue mono synthesisers were the latest 'must' for any self-respecting
keyboard player. The obvious choice was the Minimoog
, as used by Kraftwork and Rick Wakeman, and still being dragged
out by bands such as The Orb and The Chemical Brothers to this
day. But did I conform? I bought an ARP
Odyssey , as used by Abba and Gary Numan and wired it up
to my Solina String machine.
- In the late
70's, polyphonic synthesisers were horrendously expensive and
more like switchboards than keyboards. This time, I made a great
choice. Now this is pretty obscure, but I went for this wooden
box with jack-sockets called a Korg PS3200
. Korg had obviously run out of catchy names but I took to my
PS3200 immediately. Despite being faced with an array of oscillators
and filters that needed to be 'patched' with jack leads I was
soon producing whatever sound people required of me. I also had
the luxury of 16 memory presets to save my favourites. Five years
ago I waved it a fond farewell as it was carted off to a synthesiser
- Then along
came digital synthesisers. Actually, there was the one that every
keyboard player would have sold their granny for: the Yamaha
DX7 . Apparently it had frequency modulation, whatever
that meant. But I didn't need to know because it sounded so wonderful
andI couldn't wait to boast to my frequency modulator-less colleagues.
The sound lived up to the rumours and the DX7, which emerged in
1983, had a clear and defined quality that was soon being described
as 'cold'. Although I missed my switchboard and jack leads, I
was immediately entranced by the magical sounds emanating from
32 factory presets. The problems began when I tried programming
it myself and before long I was buying more factory presets rather
than being creative. What's more, everyone was using exactly the
soon began to realise that it made more sense to start building
synth modules, i.e. boxes we could just link together to one master
keyboard. So I started buying boxes, and more boxes. I accumulated
loads of TX7's (keyboardless DX7s),
a Matrix 1000, a Korg
01R, a Roland U220… it goes
on and on.
Just when we thought there was nothing new to buy, we were told
to ditch our synthesisers and move over to real sounds. These,
apparently, were called samplers and could somehow grab an audio
sound and convert it to digital information. Somehow or other,
this concert violinist plays a few octaves, the sampler records
it, translates it and suddenly I'm playing great violin on my
- Well, actually
I'm not. The sound a violinist produces depends on his instrument,
the bowing action, the weight with which he plays it and how one
note connects with the next. So when I pressed that key it sounded
nothing like a violin but of course I went ahead and bought one
anyway. I remember my choice then was between a Mirage,
a Prophet and an Emax.
I went for the Emax and started sampling anything that moved.
- What do I
play now? Well, I have a Kurzweil PC88
master keyboard attached to my Apple Mac
IMac. I ditched all the boxes in favour of plug-ins that
run from my MOTU Digital Performer.
For gigs I take out a Roland FP7.
- So over
the years, although I've played through a truckload of keyboards,
the only instrument I really like playing is my acoustic piano...
which I had in the first place! There's a moral here somewhere.