I want to talk about the possibility that the
synthesizer has opened up for music and where do you think it’s going from
Well, the only thing that's really
constant in music, uh, is change. And I mean, even if you look back, if you
look at the history of music, even relatively recently history of music,
just look at the trap drums for example. If you look at the trap drums in
1950 and you look at the drums in 1994, uh, they're very different
instruments and they're heard very, very differently in the context of
rhythm. Music reflects its times. As I think Gertrude Stein said or was it
Marshall McLuhan, I don't know which, remember which, but uh, you are what
you eat. And the musicians reflect their time and so do the instruments. Uh,
you know, when we started and we built TONTO, it was a pretty unusual
instrument, and it was pretty expensive. It took us years to build this
instrument and a lot of time in trying to figure out exactly how to put it
together and how it was going to affect the music and how really it was
going to fit in. And now, and the folk instrument of our time was not the
synthesizer, people thought we were mad, you boat captains when we came out
with this thing. But today, young kids can go into the store and instead of
the folk instrument being the acoustic guitar as it was when I was a kid,
the folk instrument is the sampler, and you can buy one at Sears for $99.95
and play it on your bicycle, okay? We tried to lick a lot of the problems of
live performance with the synthesizer and in many cases we succeeded in
doing that. Our first album, "Zero Time", which is on Atlantic Records, um,
sort of reflected the attitude of trying to get this instrument to be all
instruments. That's why it was called TONTO, The Original Neo-Timbreal
Orchestra. It was all instruments played at the same time. And one of the
interesting concepts of this instrument was that Malcolm and I played the
instrument at the same time, so it was two musicians playing one instrument.
I mean it's very rare in the music world where you get two musicians playing
It happens on piano of course
with four hands on the piano. But I came from really, uh, the bass, acoustic
bass, and as a professional musician in England, I had heard "Sgt. Pepper".
I used to ban my wife from listening to "Sgt. Pepper" because -- not to
"Sgt. Pepper", excuse me, to listen to the Beatles, because I didn't like
the, you know, "She loves you, yeah, yeah" -- I said, oh, that's not music.
I was a purist, I was a jazz player, very, very serious. And uh, in those
It's called longhair I think.
Very, very much so. And um, in those days, it was
terrible, and when I heard the, um, the music, "Sgt. Pepper" playing at
home, I said, what, what's that? She said, that's the Beatles. And I said,
what? And it turned me around and it opened my head up and I began to
realize that there was a lot of music out there that was important music for
me to listen to and that I was pretty narrow minded. So I started listening
to those types of sounds that they were playing, and they were the first
people that used the Moog synthesizer and I'm listening to these sounds and
I’m thinking, hmm, there's some strange sounds on this album. I don't
recognize the instrument that they're played by. I've studied arranging,
I've studied composition, I've studied under Bill Russo and some of the
finest British arrangers and composers, and uh, I didn't recognition the
combination of tone colors as any live instruments. And I said this is
interesting, I wonder what this is. I found out that it was a Moog
synthesizer and I resolved that if ever I could I would get my hands on one
of these things and start to utilize the sounds because they really
attracted me. And as bass player I find that the richness of the low sounds
that we get out of TONTO and that we get out of the synthesizer, when I
finally got my hands on it. I met Bob in New York.
That was momentous, I'll tell ya.
And we, we
started to play with, uh, Bob had the beginnings of TONTO, about half of one
of these sections on the left.
I, I went to, I,
I was in the motion picture business. And I was a producing a film called
"Ciao, Manhattan." And I was running around with all these underground
people and making movies and television to me was sort of like painting a
picture with mice dipped in paint. You'd get about 20 of them, you try to
tell them which way to run on the canvas. And it was fine, I was enjoying
making underground movies and running around, you know, at Max's Kansas City
with Andy and all those people. But then I heard, I went to a place called
the Electric Circus, and they had a synthesizer there, a piece of one, a
small sort of bench model of a Moog. And I heard it, and it changed my life
instantly. I said I have to have this instrument, I have to play it, I want
to use it to score my movies. Well, in the end I ditched the movies and
ended up with a synthesizer. And Walter Sears, a fine gentleman on the East
Coast, a former tuba player was selling Moog synthesizers and Moog's first
thing, which was a Theremin. Everyone had to have a Theremin. And I got in
touch with Bob Moog and actually ended up with a synthesizer, I think serial
number three or serial number four.
part of TONTO.
Which is now part of TONTO. And
uh, he came to our studio a couple of times and helped us. And I, the first
band I ever worked with and I kind of threw away everything else in my life,
nothing made any difference after that because I knew I'd finally come home
to something that was truly different and truly something I could express
myself artistically with. And uh, we put that instrument together and I got
a contract from, God bless him, John Hammond, who was probably one of the
greatest A and R men alive, at that time to do a record with a group called
Lothar and the Hand People. And that was truly one of the first sort of
applications of electronic music in, uh, in rock 'n' roll. Lothar of course
was not a person, but a Theremin. So it was, it was the beginning. But then
when Malcolm and I met at Media Sound, uh, I had, I had become, I had lost
everything. I had gone broke doing this "Ciao Manhattan" movie, and the only
thing I had left was my, synthesizer and a little tiny office over a
delicatessen. And my parents of course had completely gone bananas behind
what I was doing originally and threw me out, lock, stock and barrel. And I
had the synthesizer and I was working at media, being sort of the Media
Moogist in residence.
Moogist in residence, and Media Sound's bad boy
basically. And we got together at night, and I played him some of the
original stuff that I'd been working on, where I'd throw away every sort of
convention in music. And we came together and I said, I don't even know if
what I'm doing is musical.
He played me 27
minutes of this, um, sounds and stuff and everything, and he said, I don't
even know if this is music, exactly what he just said. And uh, I said to
him, well, of course, it's music, it just needs a little judicious editing.
And we brought it down to seven minutes, and it's "Aurora" on the first
album. And uh, it sounds like the birth of the world. And that was the first
piece that we worked on.
But we threw away all
of the conventions. The idea of the 12-note tone row, the idea of 8-bar
patterns, uh, all those things we threw away, and we sort of started from
scratch in a lot of ways and composed what really has become the first true
alternative music album, which was that first TONTO album, "Zero Time." And
it flowed from there, and it sort of expanded. And in the meantime we were
doing Crazy Daisy toilet paper commercials in the afternoon.
That was the last commercial.
Yeah, that was the last thing we did.
Bob spent a half an hour in the room, and he said to me, he, he, he spent
half an hour, I'm like, what is he doing, what is he doing. And finally he
says, okay, it's ready, it's ready. And he pressed the button on the
sequencer, and this constant sound of a flushing toilet.
I mean I finally, I finally had enough of it. But during
that time too, uh, we had worked with many other artists in the studio. We
worked with, uh, especially my, myself, I spent a lot of time with Richie
Havens and a group of his people, and he too was very taken with the
synthesizer, and we were doing reggae music back in 1968 with Richie. And it
just turned into a whole kind of a thing. But when Steve came on the scene,
everything else didn't make any difference anymore. It was sort of like we
lost our minds in some way. We lost touch with the real world, and we lived
in Stevie's world. And it was a beautiful thing. I think we really did reach
up and touch the sun, it was a great blessing for us and I think we did
change the world through what we did with the synthesizer. But what it's
brought us is another kind of subjectivity. Like I said earlier, we are what
we eat. And we are affected by our music and our music affects us. It's sort
of the greatest export America has is its pop music.
Um, a synthesizer, you know people today think the
synthesizer is some sort of keyboard pianistic kind of an instrument. And
truly it is a kind of a synthesizer, the ones that we have today the Korg,
the D-7, etc., etc. We have hundreds of them with the preprogrammed samples
and sounds and so forth. They're not true synthesizers. They're more the
children of the B-3 organ, they're more pianistic in their approach,
keyboardistic. You do things at a keyboard, I think the interface of an
instrument, where you play it like the violin or the guitar or the drums,
the way you play, affects the kind of sound and the kind of technique that
you have. With synthesizers, the keyboard synthesizers came on the scene,
like in the early '80s, what happened is we got a pianistic technique with
instruments of other sounds that people, and everything kind of became very
pianistic and we became enamored with discovering MIDI and discovering and
spending a lot of time, anytime you start to learn a new technology, you get
into a place that I call monkey work, where you learn the instruments not so
much for the importance of the content, it's more important, oh, can I do
this? Oh, can I do that? Well, that's very nice, and you make a lot of
records that are basically rubbish, okay, but they have this high degree of
facility. Do you know, do you know what I'm saying? And we had a lot, we
went through a lot of that kind of music, especially with dance music where
everyone got into the sequence, into the cakewalk programs and sort of left
music behind for the sake of exercising this great technology. Now, things
are beginning to settle back. This synthesizer now is 20 years old. And now
people are asking us, can we come and make some great bass sounds on TONTO?
Because a lot of the new FM modulated sounds, a lot of the digital sounds
are always the same. They're always the same. Every time you play it the
note is exactly the same.
What amazes me, uh,
is both Malcolm and I have gotten calls in the last year or so. Uh, can we
come and work on TONTO and get some of your great bass sounds and your
soulistic sounds. And we are now here back at the Record Plant after I guess
what 15 years, here we are in the Record Plant record studios talking to you
folks from where we really started when we came to California with Steve.
And yes we are going to start playing TONTO again, because it's not a
pianistic synthesizer. It is a true synthesizer, not like the DX-7s or the
later synthesizers that brought this pianistic sense to the music.
Playing multiple sounds with one keyboard is what Bob is
referring to here. He's saying playing chords. You see, this has a keyboard,
but the keyboard doesn't play chords. It plays one note at a time just like
Or one event.
Just like a saxophone. So that, but with a saxophone for
example, it takes two hands, a mouth and whole person's body and embouchure
to be able to play just one note at a time, and so you get all the focus
goes into a certain way of playing. Not this chordal…
All the envelopes in the same place.
And, and so we get, with this, with TONTO, we're
full-circle back again. And that's why my attraction to it came not as a
pianistic instrument. The keyboard was the only interface we had besides the
And the drums.
We have many different
interfaces which we developed, like the joystick, we invented the joystick
on a synthesizer, because we wanted to have other ways of affecting
filtration and pitch simultaneously.
we wanted to have also, we were the ones that started off with the concept
of velocity sensitive, touch sensitivity. We put together, strangely enough,
the first digital polyphonic keyboard. It took two years and 27,000 dollars
of our money.
Everything, everything we made we
put into this.
Did we hear this on any, let’s say…
Oh yeah. You heard this on, on numerous albums, um, on
albums by the Isley Brothers…
On albums by the Doobie Brothers, on
albums by Joan Baez, by Stephen Stills
The, we could go on for many, many
people -- there was T. Rex as well, uh, uh
Yeah, we, we had, people were coming
to us in droves. It, it was like flies to the honeypot and it was just, they
were attracted by the fact that we had the unique sounds and we had the
capability of not only having the unique sounds but understanding what it
was that they were communicating. Can we have a little more green on that
sound? Yeah, sure. No problem.
We were having a
ball. And we have had a ball.
We had a
wonderful time. And it was a really good time for both of us. And what
happened I think was that we got, um, when you play the synthesizer for a
long time, you start playing the same thing. And when you're working on it,
for you, you're listening to nuances of the sound, but for everybody else in
the room, they get very bored, and they get what we called being boinged
out. And I think after a while we got boinged out on the whole situation.
And it just got to be…
It, it was time to move
thing I do want to say also is, you know, pop music is really sort of the
pagan ritual of our culture. The church has its priests. Pop music has its
priests. The church has its stained glass windows, we have our light shows.
The church has its synthesizer, which was really the first great
synthesizer, the pipe organ, okay. We have this, okay? Because we do, they
have their congregations, we have our congregations. We have a lot of power
because of that and that's something we have to be very responsible about.
Because a lot of people believe in artists and follow their careers. You can
look at Springsteen, you can look at Stevie, you can look at Elton John. You
can look at, I don't know, any number of really great performers who have
lasted. And they have followings who have followed their careers for 20
years. And you as an artist have a responsibility because of the power that
you have to bring goodness and to bring honesty and to bring real art to
them. And that's what they look toward. It can be a very destructive thing
or a very positive thing.
A lot of artists get
destroyed by it, by either person problems, they get into drugs, they get
into money, they get into the idea of pure power and nothing corrupts so
absolutely as absolute power.