Old heroes never die

The analog character of the keyboard sounds from the 80's is definitely back again. Most of the famous keyboards from that period now have a 'remake' version, often with new digital control, but still with an old analog heart. Robert Moog started out redoing the Minimoog with the Minimoog Voyager, Dave Smith introduced the Prophet 08, a modern version of the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, and Tom Oberheim introduced the SEM, the basic building block of the earlier Oberheim synths.  One of the latest additions in a row is the Rhodes Mark 7, a remake of the original Fender Rhodes. Read more...



This is of course one of the classic keyboards that is still being used frequently in specifically blues/rock/soul/jazz music. Some history: before the introduction of electric piano's like the Fender Rhodes, pianists had to be remaining in the background of jazz and rock ensembles. They simply could not compete with the volume put out by a screaming rhythm section of drums, bass, horns, and electric guitars. Rhodes's elegant solution was to not only amplify the piano, but to completely revolutionize the piano action itself. The result was a totally unique instrument, which, as Ray Charles testified, had the effect of "an atom bomb on the musical landscape. Everything was changed forever".  Perhaps the first great musician to recognize the instrument's potential was Miles Davis. It was Davis, always searching for hip new sounds, who insisted his keyboardists play the Rhodes instead of the traditional piano. In doing so, the coolest man in jazz made the Rhodes the coolest keyboard instrument in the world. By 1967, the new sound was lighting up the airwaves. Joseph Zawinul's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" became a huge instrumental hit, and soon legendary jazz musicians like Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock were using the electric keyboard to bring the piano into the foreground of their arrangements. The whole world heard the Rhodes on records like The Beatles's "Let It Be," Marvin Gaye's "Heard It Through the Grapevine," Stevie Wonder's "You Are The Sunshine of My Life," and Billy Joel's "Just The Way You Are."

Soon, legions of jazz, rock, and pop musicians were hurrying to get the Rhodes sound into their own music. Practically every hit record of the 70's featured a Rhodes piano. The Rhodes piano was endorsed by almost every significant keyboardist, and became the biggest selling professional electric piano of all time.

In the late 80s the Fender Rhodes was being pushed from the stage by the introduction of new digital recreations of the Rhodes sound, starting off with Yamaha's DX7. Today, most modern keyboards have good Fender Rhodes sounds on board, often in an enclosure with much less weight than it's original.

Now the real Rhodes is back! Must be a joy to play, given the real mechanics inside. I still wonder how many keyboard players do want to return to the real legend given it's weight, price as well as the fact that there are many good emulations around. Hmm, red color Rhodes, looks familiar?

About me

I like music, especially making music. I listen to a lot of different stuff, but I like soul, jazz and fusion music most. I like to develop and experiment with tools to make music performance and improvisation on the spot more exciting. It is fun when unexpected musical things happen during a performance!

In recent years I developed the MIDI real-time Harmonizer, a tool for generating harmonized chords when playing a solo line. Inspired by the work of saxophonist Michael Brecker, I started to develop this tool to run on Mac and PC. Brecker played the Electronic Wind Instrument and used the Oberheim Xpander synth to generate random chords from an EWI solo line. Now you can accomplish the same thing with the MIDI real-time Harmonizer driving your own favourite (plugin) synths.

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