Musings of the Past

When The Beatles’ Revolver Turned 50

The other day, fellow blogger Max from PowerPop blog featured I Want to Tell You, a George Harrison tune from Revolver, rightfully noting the great opening riff and calling it very unrated. This reminded me of a post I originally published in August 2016 about the then-50th anniversary of what is widely considered one of the best albums by The Beatles.

I was about six weeks into my blogging journey. The blog was very bare-bones at the time with no embedded images or video clips in the posts. While my writing was also still evolving, I felt the content of this early post deserved to be republished. Unlike previous Musings of the Past installments, which essentially were straight reposts, I decided to enhance the Revolver post with both multi-media and some additional text at the end. I also slightly amended the headline. Here we go.

When The Beatles’ Revolver Turned 50

It was 50 years ago yesterday (Aug 5): The Beatles released Revolver in the UK, an album that is considered a leap from predecessor Rubber Soul, introducing more experimentation and innovative recording techniques.

On Aug 5, 1966, The Beatles released Revolver, their seventh studio album in the UK. Just the other day, a good friend of mine told me many experts consider it the best album of the Fab Four. Yesterday, I noticed a number of related articles from music sources like Rolling Stone and others commemorating the occasion. So I decided to take a closer look on this mold-breaking album.

On RevolverThe Beatles started experimenting with various new recording techniques, including tape loops, backwards recordings and varispeeding. The most significant innovation was Artificial Double Tracking (ADT), which was invented by Ken Townsend, a recording engineer at Abbey Road Studios. The technique essentially combines an original audio signal with a delayed copy of that signal. Previously, the effect could only be accomplished by natural doubling of a voice or instrument, a technique called double-tracking.

The invention of ADT mainly was spurred by a request from John Lennon who during the Revolver sessions asked for a less tedious alternative to double-tracking. ADT was soon adopted throughout the recording industry.

Revolver was also remarkable for other reasons. The title, by the way, had nothing to do with guns but was derived from the verb revolve. One of the album’s highlights is the string arrangement on Eleanor Rigby, which was written by George Martin. Otherwise, the tune was primarily penned by Paul McCartney. Blending classical and pop music broke conventions. It would take another four years before another British band, Electric Light Orchestra, would take this concept to the stratosphere.

Revolver also saw George Harrison take on a bigger role in song-writing and shaping the band’s sound: TaxmanLove You To and I Want to Tell You were all written by him. Love You To featured Indian classical instruments, which George had introduced on Rubber Soul with his use of the sitar on Norwegian Wood. On Revolver, he also introduced the tambura, another instrument used in Indian music, on John’s Tomorrow Never Knows. Another interesting tidbit I read: The guitar solo on Taxman was played by Paul after George had made multiple unsuccessful attempts.

Apart from the above, Revolver included other gems like Here, There and EverywhereGood Day Sunshine and Got to Get You into My Life. The sessions to the album also yielded the non-album single Paperback Writer with Rain as the b-side.

In the U.S., Revolver was released on August 8, 1966. The release coincided with The Beatles’ third and final concert tour in the U.S. and Toronto. Except for Paperback Writer, the band did not perform any of the songs from the Revolver sessions.

Revolver won the 1966 Grammy for Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts. The cover artwork was designed by Klaus Voormann, who had known The Beatles since 1960 when he met them during their time in Hamburg. While Revolver was well received in the UK, the initial reception in the U.S. was less enthusiastic due to John’s controversial statement that The Beatles had become bigger than Jesus. Eventually, the album was certified 5 times platinum in the U.S. and platinum in the UK.

– End –

The original post, first published on August 6, 2016, ended here. Following is some additional content about two songs that are among my favorites on Revolver.

First up: Taxman. According to Songfacts, George was a fan of the 1960s American television series Batman. The music for Taxman was inspired by the Batman Theme, written and first recorded by conductor/trumpeter Neal Hefti. It was subsequently covered in early 1966 by The Marketts, an American surf rock group. “‘Taxman’ was when I first realized that even though we had started earning money, we were actually giving most of it away in taxes,” Harrison said. Subsequently, he changed his stance about money, telling BBC Radio in 1969, “No matter how much money you’ve got, you can’t be happy anyway. So you have to find your happiness with the problems you have and you have to not worry too much about them.”

Let’s wrap up with John Lennon tune And Your Bird Can Sing. From Songfacts: “Bird” is British slang for “Girl.” One theory is that this song is a scolding by John Lennon of his buddy Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, who loved to brag about his bird – Marianne Faithfull – who was great, green (jealous/young) and could sing. John made it clear that Mick and the Stones wear great but could never ever match up to John and the other Beatles...The signature dual-harmony electric lead guitar parts were played live (without overdubbing) by Harrison and McCartney. Lennon played the rhythm in the “D major” position with the capo on the second fret (to account for the song being in the key of E)...John Lennon said this was a throwaway song with random words of psychedelia added in designed to sound like it meant something. He considered it one of his worst songs. Not bad for a “junk tune”!

Last but not least here is a Spotify link to Revolver:

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

Where Stars Are Born And Legends Are Made

It’s already been more than a month since the last installment of this irregular feature, so I thought this would be a good time to unearth another previously published post. This one, about the storied Apollo Theater in New York City, first appeared in November 2017, about one and a half years into my blogging journey. It has been slightly edited.

Where Stars Are Born And Legends Are Made

The history of the Apollo Theater and a list of artists who performed at the legendary venue

The Apollo Theater has fascinated me for a long time. At around 2003 or so, I watched a great show there, featuring Earth, Wind & Fire and The Temptations. According to its website, the storied venue in New York’s Harlem neighborhood  “has played a major role in the emergence of jazz, swing, bebop, R&B, gospel, blues and soul.” When you take a look at the artists who are associated with the performance venue, I guess the claim is not an exaggeration.

To start with, Ella FitzgeraldBillie HolidayCount Basie OrchestraSarah VaughanSammy Davis Jr.James BrownGladys Night and “Little” Stevie Wonder are some of the artists whose journey to stardom began at the Apollo.  Countless other major artists, such as Miles DavisAretha FranklinB.B. King  and Bob Marley, have performed there. Oh, and in February 1964, a 21-year-old guitarist won first place in the Amateur Night contest. His name? Jimi Hendrix.

The long history of the venue starts with the construction of the building in 1913 to 1914, which would later become the Apollo Theater. Designed by architect George Keister, it was first called the Hurtig and Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater after its initial producers  Jules Hurtig and Harry Seamon. As was sadly common during those times, they enforced a strict “Whites Only” policy until the theater closed its doors in 1928. In 1933, the property was purchased by businessman Sidney Cohen and following extensive renovations reopened as the Apollo Theater in January 1934. Cohen and his business partner Morris Susman adopted a variety revue show format and targeted Harlem’s local African-American community. They also introduced Amateur Night, which quickly became one of New York’s most popular entertainment events.

After Cohen’s death, the Apollo merged with the Harlem Opera House in 1935. This transaction also changed its ownership to Frank Schiffman and Leo Brecher whose families operated the theater until the late ’70s. From 1975 to 1982, the Apollo was owned by Guy Fisher, the venue’s first black owner. Unfortunately, Fisher was also part of African-American crime syndicate  The Council that controlled the heroin trade in Harlem during the ’70s. He has been serving a life sentence at a New York federal prison since 1984. Following the death of an 18-year-old due to a shooting, the Apollo was closed in 1976.

The theater reopened under new management in 1978, before shutting down again in November 1979. In 1983, Percy Sutton purchased the venue. Under the ownership of the prominent lawyer, politician and media and technology executive, the Apollo was equipped with a recording and TV studio. It also obtained federal and city landmark status. In 1991, the State of New York purchased the theater and created the non-profit Apollo  Theater Foundation, which runs the venue to this day. The years 2001 and 2005 saw restorations of the building’s interior and exterior, respectively. In celebration of its 75th anniversary, the Apollo established a historical archive during 2009-10 season, and started an oral history project in collaboration with Columbia University.

Now comes the part of the post I enjoy the most: clips capturing performances of some of the artists who have performed at the Apollo Theater. First up: Count Basie Orchestra playing One O’ Clock Jump and He Plays Bass In The Basie Band. Apparently, this footage is from a 1955 show. I just get a kick out of watching these guys and the obvious fun they had on stage.

Sarah Vaughan was one of the many artists who won Amateur Night at the Apollo in 1942. According to Wikipedia, her prize was $10 and a promised engagement at the venue for one week. The latter materialized in the spring of 1943 when she opened for Ella Fitzgerald. Here’s a clip of a tune called You’re Not The Kind Of A Boy, which apparently was captured in 1956.

Perhaps the artist who is best known for his legendary shows at the Apollo  is James Brown. Various of his gigs there were recorded and published as live albums, such as 1963’s Live At The Apollo and 1968’s Live At Apollo, Volume II, both with The Famous Flames, and Revolution Of The Mind: Live At The Apollo, Volume III (1971). Here’s a clip of a medley including It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World and a few other songs. The footage is from James Brown: Man To Man, a concert film recorded live at the Apollo in March 1968 and broadcast as an hour-long TV special. The intensity of Brown is just unreal. No wonder they called him “Mr. Dynamite” and “The Hardest Man Working In Show Business.”

In 1985, the Apollo celebrated a renovation with a 50th-anniversary grand reopening and a TV special called Motown Salutes the Apollo. Very fittingly, one of the performers included Stevie Wonder. While I wish he would have played Sir Duke in its full length, I just find Wonder’s tribute to the great Duke Ellington beautiful and inspirational.

The Apollo is mostly known to focus on African-American acts, but white artists have performed there as well throughout its history. More recent examples include Guns N’ Roses, who were there in July to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their 1987 studio album Appetite For Destruction. In October 2015, Keith Richards played at the Jazz Foundation of America’s  annual benefit concert. Here’s a great clip of Gimme Shelter, which he performed in honor of Merry Clayton. The American soul and gospel singer sang on the original studio version. Richards was backed by Waddy Wachtel (guitar), Ivan Neville  (keyboards), Willie Weeks (bass) and Steve Jordan (drums), his solo band also known as the X-Pensive Winos, as well as Sarah Dash (vocals), and longtime Rolling Stones backup singers Lisa Fischer and Bernard Fowler.

Today, music remains at the core of the Apollo Theater’s offerings. The Amateur Night at the Apollo competition is still part of the theater’s regular schedule. In fact, the current schedule lists Amateur Night at the Apollo Quarterfinal for tomorrow night (May 25), the first time the competition returns after being dark for nearly two years. The organization’s programming also extends to dance, theater, spoken word and more.

– End –

Pre-COVID, the Apollo Theater attracted an estimated 1.3 million visitors annually. I imagine it is going to take some time to restore this kind of visitor traffic. But the level of activity seems to be picking up.

Sources: Wikipedia, Apollo Theater website, Rolling Stone, YouTube

Musings of the Past

The Hardware: Rickenbacker 360/12

Time to take another trip down memory lane. In June 2017, this blog reached its one-year mark. I had recently introduced a new feature titled “The Hardware.” In a nutshell, the idea was to write about iconic music gear in rock, take a look at the technology without going overboard, and feature some of the artists who played the corresponding piece of equipment.

Among my all-time favorite instruments are Rickenbacker guitars, especially 12-string versions, even though I never owned one. I’ve always loved their distinct jangly sound. And, who knows, one of these days I might be crazy enough to get one, even though my guitar skills have become terribly rusty, and the electric guitar and I never became good friends. I suppose it can be tricky when you take classical guitar lessons and then try to apply what you learned to the electric.

Anyway, the following post first appeared on CMM on June 24, 2017. It has been slightly edited for style. I also added a Spotify playlist.

The Hardware: Rickenbacker 360/12

The “jangling” sound of the legendary 12-string guitar had a huge impact on 60s rock

Perhaps no other ’60s band is more closely associated with the chiming sound of the Rickenbacker 360/12 12-string electric guitar than The Byrds. The first time I distinctly noticed its beautiful sound must have been on Mr. Tambourine Man, though the musician who put the 360/12 initially on the map was not Roger McGuinn but George Harrison in early 1964.

Founded in 1931 as Ro-Pat-In Corporation by Swiss immigrant Adolph Rickenbacher and George Beauchamp, later named Electro String and eventually Rickenbacker, the company became a pioneer in electric musical instruments. It was the world’s first manufacturer of electric guitars. Initially, the company made electric Hawaiian guitars before starting to produce a large range of electric and bass guitars.

In 1963, Rickenbacker created the first 12-string electric guitar. In early 1964, Frances C. Hall, who had bought the company in the 1940s, met with The Beatles in New York during their first U.S. tour to show different models to them. John Lennon checked out a 360/12 but thought it would be better suited for Harrison, who was sick and didn’t attend the meeting. When Harrison eventually saw the guitar, he liked it right away. His use of the instrument in the motion picture A Hard Day’s Night would give Rickenbacker electric guitars an enormous boost in popularity.

And then, there was of course McGuinn who introduced The Byrds’ chiming signature guitar sound to the music world on the band’s 1965 debut album Mr. Tambourine Man. Coming from a folk tradition and using a 12-string  Rickenbacker, McGuinn essentially created folk-rock, a new genre at the time.

Asked during an interview with Guitar.com how he came up with the jingle-jangle sound, McGuinn explained, “It was a natural process. It wasn’t like we popped it out of the oven fully grown. I was playing folk music and we played a lot of fingerpicking stuff…And when I heard the Rickenbacker 12-string guitar in the movie A Hard Days Night, that’s where I first got the idea to use that [in my music]. And it made a difference in the sound. It was a much cleaner and bigger and fuller sound.” How about a little demo from the maestro on his Roger McGuinn limited edition Rickenbacker 12-string – isn’t that sound absolutely magical?

As for his preference for the Rickenbacker, McGuinn said, “it sounds different from any other 12-string on the market. I have a Fender 12-string and it sounds completely different even though I put Rickenbacker pickups on it. Maybe it’s the wood or the dimensions of the wood or the semi-hollow-body construction. It could be a lot of different things. But it’s got a distinctive sound. Also they do something different with the stringing. Normal 12-string guitars have an octave string and then the low string. Rickenbacker does it backwards. They have the low string first and then the octave. So the last thing you hear kind of rings out. It’s like you’re picking backwards.”

One of the 360/12’s defining features is the headstock and the way the 12 tuners are grouped in top- and side-mounted pairs. Like on a standard guitar, there are three tuners mounted on each side, with the tuner posts projecting out from the face of the headstock. In addition, three tuners are attached to the side of the headstock, with the tuner knobs pointing toward the rear of the headstock. This design allows the headstock to have the same size as a headstock of a standard six-string, which in turn avoids the head-heavy feel other 12-string guitars tend to have. Are you still with me? 🙂

Another distinct feature of the 360/12 is the string set-up. In a conventional 12-string, the high (octave) string is the first in each pair of strings. On the 360/12, the octave string is the second in each pair. Together with the semi-hollow body design, this string set-up creates the guitar’s signature sound.

“Straight away I liked that you knew exactly which string was which,” Harrison said, according to a recent story in Guitar World, adding with other 12-string guitars, “you spend hours trying to tune it.” I’ve never owned a 12-string, but the idea to tune the string pairs in exact octaves and relative to each other sounds pretty challenging to me, especially without a guitar tuner!

Not surprisingly, the Rickenbacker 360/12 became a very popular guitar. Following are some clips that prominently feature this beautiful instrument:

The Byrds/Mr. Tambourine Man

The Beatles/A Hard Day’s Night

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers/The Waiting

The Byrds/Turn! Turn! Turn!

Okay, this is the second update to this post, so I hope the third version will make a charm! A dear friend brought to my attention this awesome take of If I Needed Someone, one of my all-time favorite Beatles songs, from McGuinn – sounds a bit like So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star meeting Harrison! I have to admit, I almost like it better than the original!

– End –

Following is a Spotify playlist including the above tunes and some others, allegedly featuring a Rickenbacker 360/12. In some cases, it’s definitely more obvious than in others.

Sources: Wikipedia; Guitar World; Guitar.com; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

The Venues: The Old Grey Whistle Test

This Musings of the Past revisits a post about the British television music show The Old Grey Whistle Test. It was originally published in July 2017. In case you haven’t seen any previous installments, Musings of the Past is a recurring feature in which I republish posts that first appeared when the blog got less traffic or content I feel otherwise deserves a second exposure.

A key reason for me to republish this post is what I feel are great clips of artists like Neil Young, David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris. It was fun to revisit this content. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

The Venues: The Old Grey Whistle Test

The British television music show featured an impressive array of artists

This post and the related new category I’m introducing to the blog was inspired by a dear friend from Germany, who earlier today suggested searching YouTube for “Old Grey Whistle Test,” just for fun! Since he shares my passion for music and always gives me great tips, I checked it out right away and instantly liked the clips that came up. This triggered the idea to start writing about places where rock & roll has been performed throughout the decades.

At this time, I envisage The Venues to include famous concert halls and TV shows. Many come to mind: The FillmoreThe Beacon TheaterThe ApolloThe Hollywood BowlCandlestick ParkWinterland BallroomThe Ed Sullivan Show, Rockpalast – the list goes on and on! Given it was my dear friend who inspired me, it feels right to start with The Old Grey Whistle Test.

I admit that until earlier today, I had never heard about The Old Grey Whistle Test. According to Wikipedia, the British television show aired on the BBC between September 1971 and January 1988. The late night rock show was commissioned by British veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and conceived by BBC TV producer Rowan Ayers.

The show aimed to emphasize “serious” rock music, less whether it was chart-topping or not – a deliberate contrast to Top of the Pops, another BBC show that was chart-driven, as the name suggests. Based on the YouTube clips I’ve seen, apparently, this was more the case in the show’s early days than in the ’80s when the music seems to have become more commercial. Unlike other TV music shows, the sets on The Old Grey Whistle lacked showbiz glitter – again, probably more true for the ’70s than the ’80s period.

During the show’s early years, performing bands oftentimes recorded the instrumental tracks the day before the show aired. The vocals were performed live most of the time. After 1973, the show changed to an all-live format. In 1983, the title was abridged to Whistle Test. The last episode was a live 1987/88 New Year’s Eve special, including a 1977 live performance of Hotel California by The Eagles and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell.

So what kind of music did the show feature? Let’s take a look at some of these YouTube clips.

Neil Young/Heart of Gold (1971)

Steppenwolf/Born to Be Wild (1972)

David Bowie/Oh, You Pretty Things (1972; not broadcast until 1982)

Rory Gallagher/Hands Off (1973)

Joni Mitchell/Big Yellow Taxi (1974)

John Lennon/Slippin’ & Slidin’ (1975)

Bonnie Raitt/Angel From Montgomery (1976)

Emmylou Harris/C’est La Vie (1977)

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers/American Girl (1978)

Joe Jackson/Sunday Papers (1979)

Ramones/Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?

Los Lobos/Don’t Worry Baby (1984)

Simply Red/Holding Back the Years (1985)

U2/In God’s Country (1987)

– End-

This post was originally published on July 1, 2017. The original clip of Ooh Las Vegas by Emmylou Harris has been replaced with C’est La View since the original clip was no longer available on YouTube.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Musings of the Past

Tom Dowd, Humble Music Genius Behind The Scenes

Time for another installment of Musings of the Past, a recently introduced feature in which I repost select older content from the blog. These posts may be slightly edited and/or enhanced. The following was based on one of the best music documentaries I’ve watched to date: Tom Dowd And The Language Of Music. Thanks again to Jim at Music Enthusiast who recommended the film to me in early 2018. Now that I’m reposting this, I feel like watching it again!

Tom Dowd, Humble Music Genius Behind The Scenes

Recording engineer and producer shaped sound of some of greatest music recorded during second half of 20th century

This post was inspired by Tom Dowd And The Language Of Music, one of the most fascinating music documentaries I recently watched. Before getting to it, I’d like to give a shout-out to Music Enthusiast who recommended the film to me.

Created by Mark Moormann, the documentary, which premiered at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival and was a 2005 Grammy Award nominee, tells the fascinating story of Tom Dowd, a recording engineer and producer for Atlantic Records. Over a 50-plus-year career that started in the 1940s, this man worked with an amazing array of artists, including John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Bobby Darin, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Booker T. & The M.G.sEric Clapton, Cream, The Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the list goes on and on. During that period, Dowd also advanced studio techniques that would revolutionize recording.

Tom Dowd with Ray Charles

Dowd was born on October 20, 1925 in New York City. From the beginning of his life, he was exposed to music. His mother was an opera singer, while his dad worked as a concertmaster. While growing up, Dowd learned various instruments, including the piano, tuba, violin and string bass. After high school, he continued his musical education at City College of New York. During that time, Dowd also played in a band at Columbia University and became a conductor. Undoubtedly, all of this contributed to his great ear for music, which would come in handy for his later professional work in music.

Interestingly, Dowd’s path could have been very different. At 18, he was drafted into the military and through his work at the physics laboratory at Columbia University became involved in the Manhattan Project – yep that project, which developed the atomic bomb! Dowd planned to become a nuclear physicist after finishing his assignment. There was only one problem: His secret research for the military had been much more advanced than the university’s curriculum. So he decided against pursuing studies in nuclear physics and instead got a job at a classical recording studio in New York, before starting his longtime career with Atlantic Records.

Tom Dowd (left) with Jerry Wexler

In addition to helping shape the sound of some of the most amazing music recorded during the second half of the 20th century, Dowd was instrumental to drive innovation in the studio. He convinced Jerry Wexler, a partner in Atlantic Records, to install an Ampex eight-track recorder, putting the company on the cutting edge in recording technology. Dowd also popularized stereophonic sound and pioneered the use of linear channel faders on audio mixers as opposed to rotary controls. He then became a master in operating the linear channel faders, almost as if he was playing a keyboard!

Initially, various of the musicians were skeptical or even hostile when they saw Dowd. During the documentary, Eric Clapton said, “To be perfectly frank, I wasn’t interested in people like that.” Pretty much along the same lines, Gregg Allman noted, “Suddenly, you get to the studio, and there is a new guy there critiquing all this stuff, and you think, ‘where did he come from?'”

But when they realized what kind of artists Dowd had recorded in the past, how much he knew about music (likely, more than all of them combined!), and what he could do at the mixer, they listened. Heck, Dowd even managed to suggest to Ginger Baker, who undoubtedly is one of the best rock drummers but not exactly a warm fellow, the drum groove for Sunshine Of Your Love! The fact that all these musicians put their big egos aside and listened to this gentle recording engineer is truly remarkable.

Tom Dowd (second from left) and Duane Allman working on final master mix-down of Layla

Dowd passed away from emphysema at the age of 77 on October 27, 2007 in Florida, shortly after the above documentary had been finished. In 2012, he was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – better late than never, I suppose! One can only speculate what would have happened to Layla by Derek and The Dominos, Sunshine Of Your Love by Cream and so many other great recordings Dowd impacted!

Following are two video clips. First up is the trailer to the documentary, which in addition to Dowd includes commentary from Ray Charles, Clapton, Allman and Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun. Listening to the beginning of the clip when Charles is taking about the importance of sound is priceless in and of itself. I also recommend watching the remainder and hear all the other people talk about Dowd. It becomes obvious how much they revered him!

Here is how Dowd summarizes his amazing experience with artists from the ’50’s to the ’80s and the evolution of recording technology. I just find it fascinating and could listen to the man for hours!

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Dowd was his modesty. In the documentary, there is a scene where he notes that while he had worked with all these artists, he wasn’t a millionaire – far from it! Obviously, many albums these artists released became big-time sellers. But apparently, money didn’t matter to Dowd. Instead, it was all about the music. I think his following statement sums it up perfectly: “Music has been very kind to me over the years.” Boy, the music industry could need visionaries like Tom Dowd these days!

– End-

Below is a playlist that captures some of Tom Dowd’s impressive work both as a recording engineer and a producer.

This post was originally published on February 13, 2018. It has been slightly edited. The Spotify list is an addition.

Sources: Wikipedia, Tom Dowd And The Language Of Music (Documentary, Mark Moorman, 2003), YouTube

Musings of the Past

The Hardware: The Hammond B-3

This is the second installment of my new feature introduced last week, where I essentially republish previous content and update where I feel it’s warranted. This post is about the Hammond B-3 and the first installment of an irregular feature titled The Hardware, which I started in June 2017. The idea is to look at prominent instruments and music technology. It’s not as geeky as it sounds! 🙂

The Hardware: The Hammond B-3

The introduction of the Hammond B-3 in 1954 revolutionized music

I’ve decided to introduce a new category on the blog I’m calling The Hardware, where I’m going to take a look at instruments and technology that have had an important impact on rock music. Admittedly, my general understanding of technology is limited, so these posts will definitely be a bit of a lift for me. While I anticipate things may become a bit technical at times, I’m certainly not planning to go overboard.

With that being said, I’d like to get started by taking a look at an instrument I’ve admired from the very first time I heard it, which is probably longer than I want to remember: The legendary Hammond B-3 organ.

The Hammond organ was designed and built by American engineers and inventors Laurens Hammond and John M. Hanert and was first manufactured in 1935 by the Hammond Organ Company in Chicago. Following the original, the Hammond A, numerous other models were introduced, including the legendary B-3 in 1954.

Tonewheels inside the console of a Hammond

The Hammond B-3 is a tonewheel organ. These types of organs generate sound by mechanical toothed wheels, that rotate in front of electromagnetic pickups. The B-3 has 91 tone wheels located inside the console. Together with the so-called drawbars, they give the instrument its incredible sound versatility. According to Glen E. Nelson, a “Hammond B-3 can all at once sound like a carnival, a big band, a horn section, a small jazz combo, a funk group, a percussion section, a flute, and/or countless other things.”

Hammond drawbars

The organ has nine drawbars that represent the nine most important harmonics. “Each drawbar has eight degrees to which it can be literally “drawn” or pulled, out of the console of the organ, the eighth being the loudest, and all the way in being silence,” explains Nelson. The drawbars and the way each can be adjusted individually allow to create an enormous amount of different sounds, such as flute, trumpet or violin-like sounds.

Leslie loudspeaker

In spite of its impressive size, the B-3 does not have a built-in speaker. As such, it needs to be run through a separate speaker, which typically is a Leslie, named after its inventor Donald Leslie. The speaker combines an amplifier and a two-way loudspeaker that does not only project the signal from an electronic instrument but also modifies the sound by rotating the loudspeakers. While the Leslie is most closely associated with the Hammond, it was later also used for electric guitars and other instruments.

Due to its versatility and sound, the B-3 became very popular and has been used in all types of music, whether it’s gospel, jazz, blues, funk or rock. One of the artists who helped popularize the instrument was jazz musician Jimmy Smith. Some of the famous rock and blues musicians who have played this amazing organ include Booker T. Jones, Billy Preston, Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, Gregg Allman, Steve Winwood and Gregg Rolie.

Jazz organist Jimmy Smith

The last original Hammond B-3 organs were manufactured in 1973. The Hammond Organ Company started to struggle financially in the 1970s and went out of business in 1975. The Hammond brand and rights were acquired by Hammond Organ Australia. Eventually, Suzuki Musical Instrument Corporation signed a distribution agreement with the Australian company before purchasing the name outright in 1991 and rebranding it as Hammond-Suzuki.

In 2002, Hammond-Suzuki introduced the New B-3, a re-creation of the original instrument using contemporary electronics and a digital tonewheel simulator. The New B-3 is constructed to appear like the original B-3, and the designers attempted to retain the subtle nuances of the familiar B-3 sound. A review by Hugh Robjohns in the July 2003 issue of Sound on Sound concludes, “the New B3 really does emulate every aspect of the original in sounds, looks and feel.”

Following are a few examples of rock songs that prominently feature a Hammond B-3.

Gimme Some Lovin’/Spencer Davis Group (Steve Winwood)

Jingo/Santana (Gregg Rolie)

Just Another Rider/Gregg Allman

There is perhaps no better way to finish the post than with this amazing demonstration of the Hammond B-3 by Booker T. Jones. Watching his joy while playing the instrument and listening to the anecdotes in-between the songs is priceless.

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This post was originally published on June 5, 2017. It has been slightly edited. The Spotify list is an addition.

Following is a Spotify playlist featuring the above and some additional prominent Hammond B-3 players.

Sources: Wikipedia; History of the Hammond B-3 Organ (Glen E. Nelson); Hammond USA website; Sound on Sound; YouTube; NPR

Introducing: Musings of the Past…

To be or not to Be-atles

After more than five years and more than 1,000 posts, I’ve decided to launch a new feature. Ingeniously titled Musings of the Past, the idea is to repost select older content that was first published when CMM got lower traffic and/or posts I particularly like.

I don’t necessarily envisage straight reposts, at least not in all cases. In fact, when looking at old content, especially from the early days, oftentimes, I cringe at my writing and/or the execution of the post. As such, I will likely tweak some of the written content and accompanying multimedia. Think of it as the equivalent of album reissues that come with some additional bells and whistles!

If you’re a cynic, as I sometimes like to be myself, you may think, ‘oaky, CMM starting to repost previous stuff means he’s running out of ideas.’ While I can’t deny I’ve had phases during which I found it challenging to come up with new content, thus far, knock on wood, I haven’t encountered full-blown writer’s block – hopefully, I just didn’t jinx myself! 🙂

I will say the timing of introducing Musings of the Past isn’t entirely coincidental. My family and I temporarily needed to vacate our house and move to temporary quarters for about a week due to necessary mold inspection and remediation work. I hope it’ll be more of the former and less of the latter! Anyway, this may impact my time for blogging, so republishing previous content is coming in handy.

Without further ado, let’s get to the inaugural post. Of course, as a Beatles nutcase, I have no choice but to start with a post that’s related to The Fab Four. I bring to you the mystery story of Klaatu – again. Or was it The Beatles, after all? Is Paul really still alive or has he been in the twilight zone for the past 55-plus years?

To be or not to Be-atles

This post was originally published on February 19, 2019. It has been slightly edited.

Just before Christmas, I listened to a refreshing new album that sounded incredibly “Beatlish.” I checked the album, entitled Klaatu, for names or pictures of the musicians but there were none. All credits were given to Klaatu. Curious, I called Capitol Records and was told it was a “mystery group.” 

The above is the opening paragraph of a story written by Steve Smith, published on February 17, 1977 in the Providence Journal, a Rhode Island daily newspaper. I was reminded about the album, when it showed up as a listening recommendation in my streaming music service provider this morning. While I first covered the record in May 2017, I felt it was worthwhile revisiting what I would call one of the more intriguing rumors in rock music in an updated post.

In retrospect, it’s easy to dismiss Smith as a writer who seemingly was chasing what would have been a potentially career-defining scoop. British magazine New Music Express, now simply known as NME, was quick to dismiss the piece with a story titled Deaf Idiot Journalist Starts Beatles Rumor. Rolling Stone subsequently called it the “hype of the year.”

I agree while sounding Beatlesque, if you listen closely, it is pretty clear the vocals weren’t performed by The Beatles. Still, Smith made some valid points in his story. For example, I agree with his observation that the tune Sub-Rosa Subway sounds like The Beatles from 1968/69. Plus, something that in my opinion got a bit lost is that Smith didn’t firmly conclude Klaatu were The Beatles. Instead, he identified four possibilities. To quote: 1. The Beatles. 2. A couple of The Beatles with other people. 3. A Beatle-backed band. 4. A completely unknown but ingenious and talented band.

Klaatu (from left): John Woloschuk, Terry Draper and Dee Long

Also, let’s not forget the other actors in this story. The obvious place to start here is Klaatu. Named after the extraterrestrial character in the motion picture The Day The Earth Stood Still, the Canadian trio included John Woloschuk (bass), Terry Draper (drums) and Dee Long (guitar). During a 1980 interview with former Capitol Records editorial manager Stephen Peeples, which is posted on Klaatu’s website, Draper said, “I think we were flattered more than anything. Surprised, though, considering that it was totally regardless of us that it happened. We didn’t perpetrate it. It just sorta came to pass by an article written in Providence [Journal] by Steve Smith. We were surprised as everyone else.”

I’m sorry, but I don’t entirely buy the above. While Klaatu may not have planned the plot, they didn’t do anything while the rumors were unfolding. The band essentially attributed their silence to a desire to remain anonymous musicians, which is why they had not included their names, photos or any biographical information on the album cover. Did they think they would generate “Klaatumania” with fans running after them wherever they would go? I feel the following commentary Woloschuk made during the above interview is more insightful: “We got more hype out of that than you could have manufactured with 15 promo records directors. I mean, it backfired on us. While we were looking for anonymity, we got more exposure than we could have dreamed was possible.”

Then there was Frank Davies, president of Klaatu’s label Daffodil Records, which had a distribution deal with Capitol Records. When Smith called him, Davies reportedly told the writer everything “you’ve summarized is pretty accurately all around” and “everything that is there, can and will be identified even without, perhaps them, the people being seen.” Capitol Records certainly added to the rumor by calling Klaatu a “mystery band.” Meanwhile, they were likely laughing their assess off and watching sales of the album pick up.

Eventually, Dwight Douglas, program director at radio station WWDC in Washington, D.C., put the mystery to an end. He checked the records at the U.S. Copyright Office and uncovered the band members’ real names. As soon as Klaatu’s identity became known, the album’s sales started to tumble and started the band’s slow decline. Time for some music.

Here’s the opener of the record, which in Canada was titled 3:47 EST. When Capitol Records released it in the U.S., they decided to rename it Klaatu.  Co-written by Woloschuk and Draper, Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft is one of tunes that have a very strong Beatlesque vibe. While it’s fairly obvious to me that the voices aren’t The Beatles, the singing style definitely is reminiscent of The Fab Four. Even more so is the instrumentation. It’s actually a great song you could imagine having been written by John Lennon and appearing on an album like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Magical Mystery Tour.

California Jam starts out with a George Harrison-style electric slide guitar. The harmony singing is reminiscent of The Beatles and sometimes also sounds a bit like The Beach Boys. The song was co-written by Woloschuk and Dino Tome, a close friend.

Next up is the above-mentioned Sub-Rosa Subway, also a Woloschuk-Tome co-write. It strikingly sounds like a Paul McCartney style composition, in particular the melody, the piano part and the melodic bassline.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is Doctor Marvello. It has a bit of a George Harrison feel, both in terms of the singing and the sitar. In his story, Smith compared the tune to Blue Jay Way, which I think is a fair comparison.

Here’s a Spotify link to the entire album. If you haven’t listened to it and dig Beatlesque music, I’d encourage you to give it a spin!

After 3:47 EST/Klaatu, Klaatu released four additional studio albums and eventually disbanded in August 1982. They had two brief reunions in 1988 and 2005. In March 2011, Klaatu announced the launch of their own label Klaatunes Records. They reissued a 2009 compilation titled Solology. In addition, Klaatu have released remastered editions of their first three albums 3:47 EST/Klaatu, Hope and Sir Army Suit.

What if anything did the former members of The Beatles have to say about the whole Klaatu saga? A December 2013 story published in music magazine Goldmine quoted Long who recalled an encounter with Paul McCartney in the late ’80s while working as an engineer at George Martin’s Air Studios in London. “Later, when I was working in Studio 5, there was a knock on the door, and in comes Paul,” Long said. “He introduced himself (like he needed any introduction) and said, ‘So you’re the chap from The Beatles clone band.’ He explained that he was on a TV talk show and the host played a bit of ‘Calling Occupants’ and asked Paul if that was him singing! Paul had never heard the song and said so…We talked for at least an hour, and I explained that we were never a clone band but just heavily influenced by The Beatles. We talked about music and life…He came back many times to hang out and jam and talk about writing songs. Again, he was just a wonderful person — easy to talk to, and full of positive energy. An experience I will always treasure.”

During another interview posted on Klaatu’s website, which was conducted by David Bradley in September 1997, Woloschuk was asked whether he would have done the Klaatu album again. ” Yeah, I think I would have done it again,” he answered. “When I was 17, I bought my first copy of “Sgt Pepper’s,” and I was blown away by it…And within 10 years, the whole world was claiming the group that I was in was the Beatles.  And that’s got to be looked at as an achievement, I think, one way or the other.”

I think Woloschuk is partially right. There’s no question that musicians who write music that could have been created by The Beatles are talented. The album is a lot of fun to listen to. But why conceal your identities? It was incredibly naive to think they could get away with it. Plus, including their names on the record would not have taken anything away from the great music. Yes, it’s safe to assume Klaatu wouldn’t have received the publicity they did. And while it helped the band in the short term, unfortunately, it tainted them and eventually led to their demise.

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Update: After Klaatu dissolved, Terry Draper returned to his roofing business, and launched a career as a restaurateur while continuing music on the side. Starting with a 1997 album titled Light Years Later, which featured his former Klaatu bandmates Dee Long and John Woloschuk, Draper has released a series of CDs. His most recent one, The Other Side, appeared on November 5, 2021. You can learn more about what he’s been up to on his website.

Dee Long also stayed in the music business. According to his AllMusic bio, he initially focused on production work, first at his own studio in Canada, and subsequently after his relocation to England as a project sound engineer. As noted above, this included working for George Martin and meeting Paul McCartney. Since 1998, Long has released various solo albums. Other than occasional appearances on Terry Draper albums, I don’t know what John Woloschuk has been doing post-Klaatu. I haven’t found any obvious traces.

Sources: Wikipedia; Could Klaatu be Beatles? Steve Smith. Providence Journal, Feb 17, 1977; Klaatu website; Goldmine; AllMusic; YouTube; Spotify