Zero to 180 isn’t above recycling old tricks, like posting a “vintage” high-resolution image as a shameless distraction ploy to stall for time, while it finishes pulling together over fifty years of history celebrating Gene Rosenthal and his Silver Spring-based independent music operation, Adelphi Records.
Remember last month when I was hot on the trail of identifying the first recording of a clavinet, thanks to a tip from Jim Kimsey: “Six O’Clock” by John Sebastian & The Lovin’ Spoonful? Was John Sebastian‘s “electric harpsichord” (as he referred to the instrument), in fact, a clavinet? Sebastian himself was gracious enough to respond to this historian-in-training:
“It was a Hohner Clavinet. My father [John B. Sebastian] was a concert chromatic harmonica player, so I was way inside when it came to Hohner (I played with Matt Hohner’s kids.) I may have had one of the first, due also to the band’s success.”
I cannot help but imagine the incredible array of harmonicas between the two households. Fun to note how musical advertising from around this time was so refreshingly fun and uncomplicated.
Throwing a musical bone to Paul Guinnessy here
Guess who else was in on the ground floor with the clavinet? If you guessed Paul Beaver, because his name is in the title of this piece, you would be correct! Zero to 180 is eternally thankful to the Bob Moog Foundation for all the fascinating (and free) history on its website. As Thom Holmes writes:
“One can’t help but notice that nine of the first ten Moog albums had one person in common—musician Paul Beaver. By late 1966, he and Bernie Krause had pooled their funds to buy a Moog Modular of their own. Beaver was designated as Moog’s West Coast Representative and together, he and Krause operated a company called Parasound that provided consulting, recording, and production services using the Moog Modular and other instruments. Beginning in April of 1967, he and Bernie were recruited to bring the Moog Synthesizer to a variety of recording sessions. These first Moog productions from the April 1967 time-frame began to appear on vinyl by May and June 1967. Another burst of activity occurred after Beaver and Krause set up a booth to demonstrate the Moog at the Monterey Jazz Festival in June 1967, leading to several sessions with rock groups including the Doors and The Monkees. By January, however, you still only needed ten fingers to count the number of records featuring the Moog.”
Photo of Paul Beaver – courtesy Bob Moog Foundation
Clavinet, what clavinet? And yet it says right there in the musician credits – Paul Beaver, clavinet, as well as Moog. All I hear is the Moog.
“Diamond” Emil Richards 1967
Was New Sound Element, in fact, recorded prior to February, 1967 — the release date of the debut album by The Left Banke, whose “Let Go of You Girl” appears to be the first clavinet on a pop record? Almost certainly not, as recordings with Beaver & Krause’s new Moog only began that April. Nevertheless, Emil Richards’ “Stones” album would be the third recording ever to feature the Moog modular synthesizer, according to Holmes:
“Although Paul Beaver set-up the Moog, Richards was actively engaged in experimenting with the synthesizer for this session. Richards told me that, ‘Beaver assisted as programmer for these sessions. I played the synthesizer and all mallet instruments on all twelve tracks.’
This is the first commercial recording to credit the ‘Moog Synthesizer’ by name.”
In 2011 NPR’s Weekend Edition put together a feature piece on “Tinseltown’s Timekeeper” — Emil Richards — who would perform the finger snaps for The Addams Family TV theme, bongos for Mission Impossible‘s theme song, xylophone on The Simpsons‘ opening theme, and endless other sessions as one of the top percussionists working on the West Coast.
Also worth noting that Richards played on one of my wife’s favorite albums – Queen Latifah’s Dana Owens Album from 2004. The following year, Richards would help Paul Anka recast contemporary rock (e.g., “Smells Like Teen Spirit“) in swing band fashion (á la In a Metal Mood, Pat Boone’s rebranding effort from 1997) via 2005’s Rock Swings.
A big breakthrough in Zero to 180’s lifelong quest to identify the “first clavinet recording“: Michael Brown plays a Hohner clavinet on “Let Go of You Girl” from The Left Banke’s debut album, released February, 1967 (i.e., 2 months before John Sebastian’s “6 O’Clock“):
“Let Go of You Girl” The Left Banke 1967
Steve Martin–Caro: Lead vocal Tom Finn & George Cameron: Harmony vocal Tom Finn: Bass George Cameron: Drums Rick Brand: Guitar Michael Brown: Hohner Clavinet
What’s interesting is that this information would not come to light until 2011, when Sundazed included very detailed credits in its CD ‘gatefold digipak’ reissue. The credits for the original 1967 LP, by comparison, make no mention of the clavinet.
Just for a laugh, go back to those “detailed credits” above and note the choice of keyboard played by Michael Brown on the very next track — that’s right, an electric harpsichord!
But alack and alas, those fine folks at Sundazed confirm that Michael Brown, indeed, was privileged to have had the opportunity to test drive a “pre-release” Clavinet:
“The strain of the road weighed heaviest on the mercurial Michael Brown, who eventually opted out of the Left Banke’s touring lineup; his place was filled by Emmett Lake. ‘Being on the road was hard for Mike,’ says [Tom] Finn. ‘He had the first prototype of the Clavinet on the road, and it sounded great. But it went out of tune very easily, and that became a nightmare for him. We’d throw it in the back of a U-Haul trailer, and by the time we got to the gig it sounded horrible.’”
Left Banke fans are willing to pay more than $200 for the original debut album on vinyl in glorious monophonic sound – with one person in the UK who would dole out £278 ($441).
Is this really the end of Zero to 180’s clavinet history quest?
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.”
Sebastian 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.”
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
Ultimately, 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?
“Six O’Clock” would spend a total of 8 weeks on the charts, peaking at #18 during the week of June 10, 1967.
One thing you will not experience in a Barnes & Noble or Books-a-Million: finding something inside the book you just bought, such as a newspaper clipping that pertains to the book in question (typical) or a press release from the publisher (also common). More unusual would be to find cut-up pages of the liner notes to a Marc Bolan & T. Rex CD anthology, which is what I found inside Marc Bolan: The Legendary Years by John & Shan Bramley this past summer in, of all places, Ocean City, Maryland – one of the least literary places on Earth.
Marc Bolan, according to the authors, would try – and fail – to achieve in the U.S. the level of fame that he enjoyed in the UK, Europe and elsewhere. In 1974, around the peak of his popularity, Bolan’s new album would be attributed (to the horror of EMI) not as Marc Bolan and/or T. Rex but as Zinc Alloy&the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow!
Check out the prominent Clavinet in the opening to “The Avengers (Superbad)” from Zinc Alloy’s A Creamed Cage in August – an obvious nod to The Godfather of Soul:
“The Avengers” Zinc Alloy & the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow 1974
As the authors explain:
“Far removed from white swans, magical moons and metal gurus, the new album was awaited eagerly. The final change was to the band’s title. By Marc’s own admission, T. Rex was no more. What he now had was a solo career with a great bunch of musicians and the official band title became: Marc Bolan and T. Rex as Zinc Alloy & the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow. Supposedly, this was to give Marc the scope to bring in changes, as and when he felt them worthy, without confusing his fans. A rerun of the uncertainty surrounding the band’s survival in 1969 when Tyrannosaurus Rex lost Steve Took was not to be allowed to happen again.
Bramley & Bramley help remind us of the album’s historical context:
“A little-known fact is that, although when released the album was accredited to Marc Bolan and T. Rex, and the title was as given, this was not as Bolan had planned it. When the album artwork was first delivered to EMI, the names of neither Marc Bolan nor T. Rex were anywhere to be seen. The artwork was innovative for its time: a cream-coloured sleeve, with an interwoven photograph of Marc in its centre and the words on the cover, Zinc Alloy & the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow were written in a flowing ink-pen style. The sleeve then opened upwards and to either side, each movement taking a little of the image of Bolan with it finally to reveal an airbrushed portrait of his face. In the bottom right-hand corner, in the same style as the name, was the title: ‘A Creamed Cage in August’.”
Discogs.com reveals that Zinc Alloy would enjoy release in the UK, Yugoslavia, Brazil, Venezuela, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Japan in 1974.
Last November’s tribute to the funkiest musical instrument known to humankind would seem to designate NRBQ‘s “Stomp” (recorded December, 1968) as among the earliest of recordings to feature the clavinet, even though by article’s end I reveal my trump card: “Attractive Girl” by The Termites — an album track on 1967’s Do the Rock Steady, a Studio One LP that was originally released in Jamaica and the UK.
My gratitude to the mysterious Felix, who points out that Don Sebesky‘s “Water Brother” from 1968’s Distant Galaxy album – based on the recording date – undoubtedly precedes NRBQ’s first recordings for Columbia and highlights the clavinet work of Sebesky himself:
“Water Brother” Don Sebesky 1968
Distant Galaxy, Sebesky’s second album for Verve, would find Larry Coryell (again) on guitar (“Lady Madonna”) and sitar (“Guru-Vin”), along with Chuck Rainey, Dick Hyman and Hubert Laws, among others, providing musical support.
Although a solo artist from the late 1960s through the 1990s, Sebesky enjoys much greater renown as an arranger, whose CV includes Jimmy Dean, Astrud Gilberto, Sonny Stitt, Dionne Warwicke, Esther Phillips, Hank Crawford, Leslie Uggams, George Benson, Maynard Ferguson, Gilbert Bécaud, Paul Desmond, Charles Brown, Wes Montgomery, Willie Bobo, Walter Wanderley, Doc Severinson, Carmen McRae, and Roberta Flack.
Sebesky’s earliest recognition, however, was for his jazz trombone work with Kai Winding, Tommy Dorsey, and Stan Kenton, among others.
Check out the assemblage of talent for Don Sebesky’s 1973 2-LP set
Unfortunately, I’m about to pull another trump card of sorts out of my sleeve: Aaron Kipness’s Hohnet Clavinet FAQ from 2007 in which the question of First Clavinet Recordings is addressed on page ten. Stevie Wonder (to no one’s surprise) is identified as a potential clavinet originator; “Shoo–Be–Doo–Be–Doo–Da–Day,” which opens with a funky clavinet riff, was released, according to the FAQ, in 1966! Upon closer inspection, however, credible sources point to March, 1968 as the song’s actual release date.
The FAQ, additionally, offers Sam & Dave’s “I Thank You” (released January, 8, 1968 and recorded, according to Soulful Kinda Music, three days prior) as an early clavinet recording, which it is.
Nevertheless, “Attractive Girl” by The Termites – a track from their 1967 Studio One LP Do the Rock Steady remains, as best as I can determine, the medal bearer for Earliest Clavinet Recording.
Clavinet Update! Special thanks to Jim Kimsey, whose March, 2016 comment ponied up “Six O’Clock” by (NRBQ fan) John Sebastian & The Lovin’ Spoonful – recorded in 1967 – as a new candidate for “Earliest Clavinet Recording” — now tied with “Attractive Girl” by The Termites.
Someone posted a short list of “clavinet-fueled songs” that, of course, included “Up on Cripple Creek” by The Band. One commenter quibbled that the song should have been #1 on the list, “not only because it is better but because it was first” – but was it?
The Clavinet is “an electrically amplified clavichord that was manufactured by the Hohner company of Trossingen, West Germany from 1964 to the early 1980s. Hohner produced seven models over the years, designated I, II, L, C, D6, E7 and Duo. Its distinctive bright staccato sound has appeared particularly in funk, disco, rock, and reggae songs” (Wiki).
Hohner Clavinet D6
Two other clavinet commenters indignantly asked, “No Terry Adams?” My point, exactly. One NRBQ song previously featured on this blog that makes great use of the clavinet – “I Say Gooday Goodnite” – was recorded October 9, 1969 vs. “Up on Cripple Creek,” a Capitol 45 that was released October 17, 1969. Okay, victor goes to The Band.
But wait: NRBQ’s first single, “Stomp” had been released April, 25, 1969 – a whopping six months earlier – while even the second single, “C’mon Everybody” (released July 29th) came out almost three months before “Cripple Creek.” Both songs feature Hohner’s new play toy and had, in fact, been recorded December, 1968. Check out the driving “Stomp” – particularly the ending, with the clavinet’s percussive punch on the final chord:
Steve Ferguson, original guitarist, wrote both sides of NRBQ’s debut 45
“In 1964 the first clavinet was produced, based on the venerable clavichord, an instrument with a 400-year pedigree that used blades called “tangents” to strike the strings. Clavichords were impractically quiet and a clavinet got round this by replacing the tangents with hammers that plunged down on to a string when a key was depressed. That string was pressed into a metal strip, or “anvil”, which made the string vibrate. The vibration reached magnetic pickups for a sound that could be fully amplified.
Not only did it produce a magical percussive twang across five octaves of 60 keys, but it was also dynamic, meaning notes could be sustained and pressed with lesser or greater force to vary volume and attack. The high notes were bright, the middle range punchy yet mellow and low notes had a visceral growl. Following a few false starts Hohner made the clavinet C in 1968, the keyboard Wonder used during his golden years. After a left turn with the L – triangular with reverse-colour keys and now as rare as a mountain leopard – in 1971 they introduced the more durable D6, the keyboard hundreds of bands relied on for the next 10 years.”
Stevie Wonder rightly gets credit for his body of work on the clavinet, yet it’s frustrating that another world-class clavinet innovator – Terry Adams – gets nary a mention. This needs to stop.
That small assemblage of “clavinet-fueled songs” sure could use a companion list of other towering moments in clavinet history — such a list would at least include “Free Ride” by the Edgar Winter Group; “Me and the Boys” by NRBQ: “Attractive Girl” by The Termites (rocksteady-era clavinet!); and “White Rum” by Sly & the Revolutionaries. What other songs merit inclusion on this companion list?
By the way, according to Discogs.com, The Termites’ debut album, Do the Rock Steady, (which includes “Attractive Girl” – see above) was issued in 1967 on Studio One – is this the new record holder for earliest clavinet recording?
Possibly the first clavinet credit on a 45
Funny to note the existence of Clavinet.com, The Hohner Clavinet and Pianet Resource Homepage – “dedicated to the preservation of the funkiest instrument known to man.”
Around the 7:55 mark in this heartfelt video tribute to ‘Q drummer, Tom Ardolino (who passed in 2012), there is powerful testimonial from one of rock & pop’s most storied session drummers, Earl Palmer, remarking on Ardolino’s prodigious wallop [“playing that backbeat!”] and inimitable playing style [“twirling that drumstick, will you look at that guy – how does he do that?!”] as a result of witnessing Tom drive the band from backstage with Max Weinberg at Conan O’Brien’s NBC show, while the ‘Q rocked out “Over Your Head”:
NRBQ Plays The Conan O’Brien Show in 1994 – Check out the drummer’s technique!
This much-beloved band once enjoyed a radio hit in 1980 with “Me and the Boys” – one of three key contributions to rock’s great canon of songs that celebrate the joy and wonder of the automobile (the other two being “Ridin’ in My Car‘ from 1978’s At Yankee Stadium and “Little Floater” from 1989’s Wild Weekend on Virgin).
“People” the B-side was recorded live 9/27/78 at NYC’s Museum of Modern Art
“Me and the Boys” was also released as a 45 by Bonnie Raitt, as well as Dave Edmunds.
1994: The Year of NRBQ
NRBQ would also record a version of “Baby Let’s Play House” with Michael Hutchence of INXS (4 letters, too!) that very same year – 1994 – on an Elvis Presley tribute entitled, It’s Now or Never.
The received wisdom is that The Beatles single-handedly invented ‘power pop’ with “And Your Bird Can Sing,” an album track from 1966’s Revolver. The truth, however, is a little more elusive. One could point out that “Paperback Writer” – a song that very much embodies the power pop sound – predates “And Your Bird Can Sing” by thirteen days. Furthermore, Pete Townshend is often give credit for having coined the term when he was famously quoted in 1967 by Keith Altham in New Music Express as having said, “Power pop is what we play—what the Small Faces used to play, and the kind of pop The Beach Boys played in the days of ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ which I preferred.”
Every Mothers’ Son‘s second and final album for MGM – 1968’s Every Mother Son’s Back – would find the group charging out of the gate with a song very much in the power pop spirit, “Rain Flowers”:
Note the stirring entrance of the clavinet just prior to the vocal — another early appearance for the relatively new electric keyboard in the year 1968.