“Six O’Clock”: First Clavinet?

Jim Kimsey – much to my annoyance – would connect the dots first:  John Sebastian‘s opening clavinet chords tick-tick-ticking the seconds of the new dawning day on “6 O’Clock” just might be the earliest recording of a clavinet, having been released April, 1967:

“Six O’Clock”     The Lovin’ Spoonful      1967

I also wholeheartedly share Kimsey’s supposition that “[NRBQ clavinet master] Terry [Adams] heard [‘Six O’Clock’] and that’s when he went after his own clav… I have no corroboration on this though.  He was and remains a big Lovin’ Spoonful/J. Sebastian fan.”

US picture sleeve – front ….                                   ….and rear

Lovin Spoonful 45 US-aLovin Spoonful 45 US-b

That’s right, Sebastian would join the NRBQ on stage (e.g., DC’s Wax Museum in 1982) and in the studio, as on 1983’s Grooves in Orbit (banjo & dobro) and 1989’s Wild Weekend (guitar & autoharp) — while the ‘Q would provide backing for Sebastian on two tracks for 1985’s The Care Bears Movie.  Sebastian would also sit in with the NRBQ in 2004 at their 30th anniversary extravaganza (that was professionally filmed – will it ever see light of day?).

French EP

Lovin Spoonful 45 France-EPSebastian throws a spanner in the works, though, with his choice of words in the blurb for “Six “O’Clock” in his liner notes for Rhino’s Lovin’ Spoonful CD anthology from 1990:

“It was largely built around the instrument of the day, which was the electric harpsichord.  For the first time, I was starting to yearn a little bit for the past.  It’s a song of recollection about early romantic situations.  Very often, in the early years, I’d end up in Washington Square in that early morning after, and ‘Six O’Clock’ is about that.”

Q:  Is it possible that Sebastian’s “electric harpsichord” was, in actual fact, a clavinet?

I very much suspect it is, as the key phrase in the passage above would be “of the day.”  Fascinatingly, in the June 24, 1967 edition of Billboard, immediately below an article entitled “Rock Groups Lead Search for New Instrument Sounds” is this brief related news item “Firms Preview New Products“:

 “NEW YORK—Two instrument manufacturers here will be introducing some musical equipment and amplification innovations at the Music Show in Chicago next week.  Mershon Musical products will exhibit their Hagstrom 8-string bass and four of the largest amplifiers ever made for electric instruments — the Unicord Monster 1, 2, 3 & 4.  Mershon will call their display ‘The Trip Room’ and will show 29 new Hagstrom, Unicord and Inivox products.
      Mershon is also inviting all attending the convention to a party at the Cheetah in Chicago where the equipment will be displayed in the psychedelic background of the teen-age nightclub.
      M. Hohner, Inc., will also have several new items in addition to their harmonica and melodica lines.  They will show their Resonation, a piano accordion which incorporates a new concept of tone chamber construction.
      In the electronic organ department, Hohner will introduce two new sound portables.  The Clavinet, a battery-operated, first-of-its-kind is best described as a cross between a clavichord and an electric guitar.  The Symphonic 35 is a lightweight organ giving sustained sound on treble or bass or both.”

 Norway                                                            Germany

Lovin Spoonful 45 Norway-xLovin Spoonful 45 Germany

Given that the recording of “Six O’Clock” preceded the official launch of Hohner’s “new” keyboard instrument per the Billboard news item above, how likely is it that Sebastian had used a “pre-release” Hohner clavinet vs. an actual “electric harpsichord”?

My web quest would immediately point me to a pair of video clips from the Lawrence Welk Show, of all things – one (identified as ‘Winter 1967’) features an “electronic harpsichord” (designed by Welk’s own conductor), and another clip from ‘1968’ – “Windows of Paris” – introduced by Welk, who identifies Frank Scott as the musician playing the “new” electric harpsichord.  George Martin, according to Walter Everett’s The Beatles As Musicians, would play a Baldwin electric harpsichord on Abbey Road‘s “Because” [Trivia:  Baldwin, a Cincinnati company, would purchase guitar companies Burns (1965) and Gretsch (1967)].

Baldwin electric harpsichord, as shown in the “Because” link above

Baldwin electric harpsichord-xUltimately, the big question for history:  Did Hohner allow access to the “new” Clavinet prior to its official commercial launch per the June 24, 1967 Billboard news item above?  Moreover, whose ears are able to detect the sometimes subtle differences between the Hohner Clavinet and an electric harpsichord?  For the record, I have queried John Sebastian, who I hope can put an end to all this speculation.  Or do I?

Spain

Lovin Spoonful 45 Spain“Six O’Clock” would spend a total of 8 weeks on the charts, peaking at #18 during the week of June 10, 1967.