6/27/2006

Tetsuji Hit Me W/ That Fender etc. etc.


I try to not be to slavish or too techlike on th' Orchestra as regards the Rhodes piano which I clearly love more than any instrument I've ever played.

The history of the thing is amazing, though. This guy Harold Rhodes came up with the thing as a teaching tool initially. He came back from th' Big War and thought it would be therapeutic for wounded GIs to have a small, inexpensive keyboard to work th' itch out of their trigger fingers in the hospital.

The whole story is so much more gim-crackey and more interesting than the boring shit we have today like Microsoft. Clearly, inventions that involve moving parts and real engineering are just infinitely more compelling. There is so much trial-and-error and so much hackery to get to the final blueprint.

Anyway, it's an utterly fascinating story to me. Another reason is that the engineering on these things started in many cases when they found their way to the Keith Jarretts and Herbie Hancocks. These guys and their roadies would do things to their Rhodes that Harold would tsk with great vehemence, not aware that most prominent guys would be playing them through huge PA systems and would mod them to work in that context as opposed to soundin' mellow in the drawing room. Drummers are familiar with this dichotomy; Stewart Copeland is rumored to have had some of the nastiest, crappiest sounding Tama kits but you'd put them through 50,000 Watts and they'd sound like god, whereas if one mic'd a well-tuned, well-maintained kit that sounded great in a room, it would sound like ass.

I say all that to say this: there are some fucking insane stories regarding the history of the Rhodes. Here is my favorite regarding the development of one the final models from the Fenderrhodes.com website:

"The EK-10 did not sell well in the US, but CBS saw a potentially bigger market in Japan. When the first shipment of pianos arrived there, a demonstration of the new Rhodes was broadcast on national television. What the American Rhodes engineers did not realize was that the output of the EK-10's electronics interfered with PAL video transmissions, causing some viewers' TV sets to explode. Consequently, the EK-10 was not very popular in Japan: all of the imported pianos were quickly dumped in the Tokyo Bay, forming a sort of artificial reef. But Jon Furulund assures us that playing an EK-10 in your home is safe: "We have PAL systems over here in Norway and I've set my Mark III EK-10 next to my TV and played and I'm still here :-)...."

"Forming a sort of artificial reef"!!!!!! Woah!!!

9 Comments:

Blogger fgfdsg said...

Back in my high school music class, the piano was always unavailable. It was the music teacher's domain. The other two keyboard players would fight over the class' two hideous Yamaha DX7s. When we were in the classroom with it, I'd end up stuck on the Fender Rhodes - the keyboard nobody wanted.

Grew to love both the feel and the sound. Makes me wonder if they still have it and how cheap i could pick it up for now, since they're unloved and unnecessary in your average country rock band.

The last 10 years ago has seen a bit of a revival in the instrument in independent circles, or more left of centre bands like the Negro Problem, Divine Comedy and Eels. Still a beautiful sound.

I wish i had the money to collect archaic / obsolete keyboard instruments. The local restoration shop has this minature bellows pump organ that I'm completely in love with.

Great post Bobby, and you certainly know how to put the instrument to great use.

10:15 PM  
Blogger Bobby Lightfoot said...

Thanks laddie- I hear you about wishing one could collect these beautiful old keyboards. I scoured eBay for literally months, and got very, very lucky when I found this one pretty damn cherry for 500 bucks. I always hated playing keyboards live until I found one that pushes air instead of being a glorified computer. Those fucking things are so awful to play live.

One day I'll have a Wurlitzer 200a. That would kick a lot of ass. It would be fucking awesome to have a Yamaha CP series like th' dude in Keane. A lot of th' 80's piano guys like Joe Jackson would tour with those in lieu of an acoustic piano. Yamaha made some fantastic electric pianos, tine-based and string-based.

Some of those old keyboards make me salivate. The Clavinova I played with King Radio, those wonderfully awful Hohner Pianets, and of course th' mighty Hammond.

I remember trying to use a DX7 and not being able to find a tone I hadn't heard in some TV ad or another.

10:26 PM  
Blogger Kevin Wolf said...

Aside from the musical stuff, what I learned from this post is that we need many more exploding TV sets.

8:59 AM  
Blogger corndog said...

I just saw Stewart Copeland and Les Claypool gloriously wasting their formidable talents with Trey Anastasio at Bonnaroo. Stewart was banging on some horridly bright green Tamas that you'd probably have a problem selling to a high school band director, even at a steep discount, and they sounded tits. He's so good, I think I'd listen to him play the entire Grand Funk Railroad catalog. That's it Bobby; you, me and Stewart Copeland in a Grand Funk tribute band. We'll call ourselves An American Bikmklpn.

9:58 AM  
Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

Found your blog through a million other blogs that link here...

The Rhodes was the next best thing to an actual piano, in my opinion. But, I sold out early... got myself a Korg back when I was 16 in the 80s. The playability sucked, but at least we could cover Van Halen's 1984 (the spacey intro to "Jump"). There's like four chords in that song, but the crowd always loved it. (I mean, they weren't tossing panties on stage or anything, but they did oooh and ahhhh over it.)

Now that I'm an old fucker, I went and did something completely crazy -- bought myself a NICE piano. This has been great for home playing, but now every other junky piano I play sounds like shit.

Oh well... Enjoyed yr blog. -PH

1:45 PM  
Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

Found your blog through a million other blogs that link here...

The Rhodes was the next best thing to an actual piano, in my opinion. But, I sold out early... got myself a Korg back when I was 16 in the 80s. The playability sucked, but at least we could cover Van Halen's 1984 (the spacey intro to "Jump"). There's like four chords in that song, but the crowd always loved it. (I mean, they weren't tossing panties on stage or anything, but they did oooh and ahhhh over it.)

Now that I'm an old fucker, I went and did something completely crazy -- bought myself a NICE piano. This has been great for home playing, but now every other junky piano I play sounds like shit.

Oh well... Enjoyed yr blog. -PH

1:45 PM  
Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

ps Sorry for commenting twice (now 3 times). Blogger was acting all screwy.

1:46 PM  
Anonymous Playboy Millionaire said...

Do you play through a Fender Twin?

10:14 PM  
Blogger Bobby Lightfoot said...

Nah, I actually play through a custom Walter Woods 400 Watt bass head into a Yamaha wedge with a 15 'n' a horn right now. Plenty of bass. Pre'd with a Dynacomp or a Micro amp.

11:38 AM  

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