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.
20 June 1969
But wait: NRBQ’s first single, “Stomp” had been released April, 25, 1969 – 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 wrote both sides of NRBQ’s debut 45
But is that really the earliest use of a clavinet on a popular recording? I’m a bit skeptical. Here’s an illuminating quote from the October 5, 2012 edition of The New Statesmen – in a piece entitled “In Praise of the Clavinet: It’s 40 Years Since Stevie Wonder Showed Off the Otherworldly Range of This Keyboard“:
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; and “Attractive Girl” by The Termites, notable for being a rocksteady-era recording out of Jamaica.
By the way, that debut album from The Termites, Do the Rock Steady, (which includes “Attractive Girl”) was issued in 1967 on Studio One, according to Discogs — 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.”
2022 Clavinet Update
- Zero to 180 addressed the Clavinet controversy one year later with this item on Don Sebesky, not to mention four more pieces the following year in which one artist emerged with the earliest known commercial recording to include Hohner’s new electric harpsichord — (1) Danny Faragher and The Peppermint Trolley (2) John Sebastian and The Lovin’ Spoonful (3) Paul Beaver (with Emil Richards), and (4) Michael Brown & The Left Banke.
- ALSO – Did Baldwin beat Hohner to the marketplace with their electrified harpsichord?
- Thanks also to Jim Kimsey, who offered “Six O’Clock” by (NRBQ fan) John Sebastian & The Lovin’ Spoonful – a single that was released April 1967.
April 5, 1969