Check out the Clavinet-like sounds coming from Jerry Whitehurst‘s electric harpsichord on “Wild Blue Yonder,” side one’s closing track from Lloyd Green‘s third solo LP Day of Decision, an album that was recorded (like Stones Jazz) in one day — in this case, on June 18, 1966 at RCA Studios in Nashville:
“Wild Blue Yonder” Lloyd Green 1966
Lloyd Green: Steel Guitar
Billy Sanford: Lead Guitar
Jerry Reed: Lead Guitar
Jerry Shook: Guitar
Roy Huskey, Jr.: Bass
Glen Davis: Drum[s]
Jerry Whitehurst: Electric Harpsichord
Somehow I failed to notice the significance of this announcement on the album’s back cover until now:
“The Baldwin Piano and Organ Company of Cincinnati, Ohio recently invented and began manufacture of a completely new electric Harpsichord.
This instrument is being used for the first time in the ‘Day of Decision’ album. You will notice the various unusual sounds on the different bands; these are just a few of the sound combinations possible on this instrument.
A number of musicians, who have played the Harpsichord, feel that it is the most original and versatile new instrument to be devised in yours.”
Rear cover – 1966 LP Day for Decision
Fascinating to encounter this information now in light of 2015-2016’s big horse race to determine the earliest recording of a Hohner Clavinet — and funny, too, since Zero to 180 had already celebrated a song from this same album back in 2014! The date of the recording confirms that Baldwin had, in fact, beat Hohner to the “electric harpsichord” marketplace.
Cash Box‘s Tom McIntee would talk up the exciting array of sounds made possible by Baldwin’s new electric harpsichord in the patriotic liner notes that accompany this album:
“Something new has been added to America in this performance. That something new is Lloyd on the steel and Billy Sanford and Jerry Reed on guitars. That something new is an acoustical electric harpsichord. An amazing instrument that sometimes sounds like a kazoo, sometimes like an organ, sometimes like a tuba. The great majority of tracks in this album are old, but the sound is something new. It’s a breath of new life into an America that sometimes grows weary beneath its burdens.
“Lloyd Green plays a Sho-Bud steel guitar” – back cover
The Baldwin electric harpsichord would be used most notably on “Because” from 1969’s Abbey Road by [K-Tel artists] The Beatles, as well as the opening theme to TV’s “The Odd Couple,” according to Spectrasonics (who states that the keyboard was “developed in the early 1960s by the Cannon Guild and marketed by Baldwin from 1966 into the early 1970s.”)
Vintage Keyboard Studio marvels at the instrument’s design:
“Each note has its own string and jack, which employs a pick and a damper felt. When the key is depressed, it raises the jack which causes the pick to pluck the string, then come back down and pass over the string and come to rest on the damper. It’s a pretty neat design, but somewhat flawed in that the picks can and will break, and the jacks themselves become brittle. On this one in particular, we had all the jacks replaced with brand new ones. It takes a lot of adjustment to get it right, but once it’s right it sounds awesome.”
This design includes a “very unique pickup system,” in which, as Baldwin’s own literature explains —
“Each pickup can be activated by two switches, one for the treble half of the keyboard and one for the bass. Individually, the treble and bass switches for each pickup can be set for either the left or right volume pedal. All of these tonal combinations can be doubled with a foot control that [indecipherable] the overall tone of the keyboard. The Baldwin two-channel amplifier with tremolo, reverberation, and its exclusive Supersound tone controls bring the tonal possibles to a phenomenal total.”
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Despite the ingenuity of design (did I mention that the CW-9 model includes an “amplifier housed in the same compact floor unit as the two volume pedals”?), Vintage Keyboard Studio affirms that Baldwin electric harpsichords are, indeed, “pretty rare,” most likely due to the challenge of maintaining the instrument’s integrity over time. The relative durability of the Clavinet would account for Hohner’s dominance of the electric harpsichord market by the early-to-mid 1970s, the funky new keyboard’s Golden Age.
Postscript: Jimmy Webb mentions the Baldwin electric harpsichord in his 2017 memoir, The Cake and the Rain, within the context of his work as a songwriter for Johnny Rivers’ new record label, Soul City in 1966-67:
That was the spirit of the time … innovation and the exploitation of new technology. Al Casey played a Japanese guitar called a biwa on [The Fifth Dimension’s version of] “Go Where You Wanna Go.” The Baldwin Electric Harpsichord was a new invention. We procured a prototype, and [Larry] Knechtel and I sat side by side combining a plethora of keyboards and organs. We visited the ubiquitous electric sitar, a fad that started with Joe South‘s “The Games People Play” and ended a month or so later. The studio had been full of gourds, castanets, congas, jawbones, tin cans full of popcorn, Styrofoam cups full of BBs, wind chimes, and thumb harps. Hal Blaine developed a set of tuned tom-toms of different sizes, flared around his perch like a keyboard. Ringo Starr heard about these and asked Hal to come to London to bring a set.
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