“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.

* John Sebastian would settle the whole Clavinet vs. electric harpsichord question himself in a follow-up piecePaul Beaver Played Clavinet, Too.”

2 thoughts on ““Six O’Clock”: First Clavinet?

  1. “Six O’Clock” by the Lovin’ Spoonful is one of finest songs John Sebastian ever wrote. While I’m guitarist/bassist I’ve worked with a few keyboard players through the years. To me, “Six O’Clock” sounds like a Hohner Clavinet. As I remember, the instrument used real strings that had to be tuned up occasionally. It also was very dynamic and responded to touch…the harder you played it the louder it would sound (and distort).Stevie Wonder used the Clavinet on a lot of his Motown records, and Booker T. & the MGs used one too.

  2. Did The Lovin’ Spoonful record “Everything Playing” using 8 Track machines (Ampex?) Bell Studio was a technically deficient, dated studio. Using older Ampex machines, 1950s Pultec and Fairchild leveling preamps during mastering and lathing, etc. Worse, they were experimenting with out of phase sound to create a pseudo third channel. John Sebastian loved this, neglecting to notice the significant extra phase distortion.
    Worse, the listener was instructed to connect (carefully) a third speaker wired between the L and R channels from their home stereo amplifier. ALas, I was one listener who did this —back in 1968, but I must adit that it was like listening to the album for the first time! This is the reason why, in stereo, Everything Playing has too much phase distortion, But, if you have a THIRD speaker that matches your stereo speakers reasonably well (it does NOT need to be exact), all you need do, is simply wire the third speaker using the two matched phase wires from the L and R speakers. When I purchased “Everything Playing” special instruction were provided for this hook-up. The 3d speaker was driven by either matched set of wires from between the L & R channels. E.g., You could use the two red wires or the two back wires. As long as you did NOT mix the phase, this THIRD channel would work! Mostly, you hear Jerry Yester’s keyboards in the third channel. However, the overall phase distortion is increased. The album had to be carefully engineered to produce such an effect; but it was remarkable. To this day, I feel it is the only way to listen to “Everything Playing”
    Alas, this was not a practical advance in technology, Surely some serious tricks had to be performed to make this work. I have tested other albums, but only “Everything Playing” and John Sebastian’s “Cheap-Cheapo Productions, “Real Live. John Sebastian” will yield 2 channel results of any worth as both records were recorded to achieve this effect,

    Les Paul had the FIRST true 8-track recording and playback heads machined for his home studio c.1960. Less called the Ampex machine and preamps, “The Octopus”. Les’ discrete recording style lended itself to an early 8 track machine that likely had far greater phase distortion problems if used to record a convention orchestra or ensemble. The tracks likely has much cross talk and could not be machined well enough to eliminate more than 90% phase differential between tracks. Phase distortion begins to become noticeable at around 10% (or less than about 4 degrees, depending upon the sound). Now you know why professional recording engineers are so concerned about microphone phase relationships! E.g., the only reason that “Pets Sounds” in stereo could be mixed is because the Beach Boys recorded quite discreetly, relative to phase relationships. E.g., the music beds were recorded first without any vocals. The vocals were recorded separately from the music. Even headphone bleed had to be avoided while the vocals were being added. The music beds were distilled on to a single four track machine; —often with no overdubs or channel reduction. Channel reduction requires another analogue generation loss, —i.e. twice as much distortion and noise, half as much S/N, etc. Even one reduction mix may be noticeable on the final product. With modern Hi-Fi players, —more so.
    I spoke to the engineer whom created the Stereo version of “Pets Sounds” . Because of electric motor differences, he could only mix 10 – 15 seconds at a time before speed and phase problems became noticeable.
    I asked hi why de did not work from digital sources, which could be controlled better and mixed in a single recording pass,but like many American engineers, he did not fully understand the technology, and thus cost himself a LOT of time! mAlas, in England, a recording engineer must have a solid university engineering background and degree. This is why Geoff Emerick, at 21 years old, was allowed to engineer “Sgt. Peppers”, —and accomplished a major advance in sound recording. I find it odd, —nay incredible, that American recording sound engineers are allowed to begin their working careers before they understand the physics of sound and the electrical technology and theory of analogue, digital recording and ADA conversion. I asked this fellow if he understood exactly how analogue to digital recording was achieved. His answer was hodge-podge of information that was occasional correct, but mostly logical guess work. I further asked if he understood how CD players were finally able to achieve true 16 bit linearity. I.e., until c. 1994 ALL CD players could not achieve better than 14 linearity from a 16 bit CD. He did not understand. Worse; that he even tried to answer, made it sound like he was constructing a valid, yet unsound argument.
    Alas, modern recording gear is far easier to use to create a listable recording than 40 years ago. There are many digital correction algorithms that fix things before the engineer knows that he has done something wrong (e.g. bad mike placement, mis-use of an effects/send channel, panning so that phase distortion occurs, etc.)

    Forgive me, I have DIGRESSED!
    I wanted to know if 4 or 8 track recording machines were used for The Lovin’ Spoonful’s, “Everything Playing”. —Probably recorded at either Bell Studios or Columbia Studios in Manhattan.

    Since Les Paul’s successful 8-track, 1 inch tape tests were done in 1961-’61 it has never made sense to me why 8 track did not come sooner than it did. Alas. Les Paul’s original 8-track Ampex machine had many problems that would not have troubled Les. Les recorded almost 100% discretely and mixed for monaural. Hence, Les would not have been plagued with phase and speed distortions. —E.g., not even the SAME electric motor performs the same way twice!
    Les recorded, mostly, one instrument at a time and these were almost always guitars wired through a DI impedance matching box. When he recorded Mary singing, it was against either a second machine’s pre-recorded bed, or with his 8 track (The Octopus) machine. Further, his recordings were ultimately misec for monaural. This alone , would have eliminated most of his phase problems.
    Les was a man with a science and engineering background. That Les could build an excellent high fidelity lathe from a Cadillac flywheel and end up with one of the best lathes of his era, tells quite a story about this man’s genius.
    Backstage at one of his final comeback dates (amongst the loud background noise), I asked Les what sort of levelling / EQ amps he used on his lathes. After all, I always loved how his 78 RPM standard groove records sounded (the Capitol records with Mary singing). These records sound so bright, punchy, fresh dynamics and with solid, ample bass. The sort of jump out at you; —vertainly the best overall mix sound of any period hit record! Only Hank Williams’ MGM 78 RPM records even came close to Les’ Capitol, 78 RPM, singles.
    Les must have misunderstood me amongst the din of noise, backstage at the club.
    He said it was about 200 watts from a “Cadillac” amp (at least what I THOUGHT I heard). For years, I tried to track down the “Cadillac” levelling amplifier, only to discover that he used a Cadillac FLYWHEEL from an automobile to construct his lathe! Say what you will, but that magical lathe cut no less than 30, Billboard charting, hit records. I suspect he used ordinarly Pultec or Fairchild leveling amplifiers to drive the lathes cutting head.
    I had some great discussions with Les about electronics and his accomplishments (we were neighbours), I can attest to the soundness and deep understanding of his knowledge. It was if Les had a proper university engineering degree! I suspect that Les helped Ampex to perfect 8-track head lathing, along with the electronics! This might explain why 8-track, 1″ tape was not commercially available until early 1965 (to The Beach Boys), and why EMI did not have 8-track machines until 1969!

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