December 23, 2015

From the Vaults: Keyboard Players Part 2

I started on the topic of keyboard players a while back and began making a mental note of the ones who stood out in my mind.  Never try and make a mental list that encompasses nearly 50 years of concert and album memories.  I am probably going to have to get one of those ‘on-board memory chips’ to do this kind of mental gymnastics in the future.  Until that technology arrives, I decided to go old school and just make a list.   It is more or less chronological (past to present) and it certainly won’t contain all the great keyboard players in the world, but it will have some back stories included to put some context as to why they are on my list to begin with.

    There was a period in the early 1970s when just about every rock band had a keyboard player. Before the sampling technology arrived that allowed keyboards to mimic just about any organ sound, they almost all played Hammond B-3s.  This was a big step up from the Farfisa compact organs that were in vogue during the 1960s.  Think 96 Tears (? and the Mysterians) or any song done by the Sir Douglas Quintet featuring Augie Meyers (Mendocino or She’s About a Mover are good examples) and you get the idea – the Farfisa had a kind of reedy ‘deep deep deep deep’ chirpy sound when compared to the Hammond B-3 that more or less roared.  

    My first rock band experience with the Hammond sound goes back to the late 1960s and the second major touring act I ever saw:   Mark Stein’s excellent organ work with Vanilla Fudge.  It was held in the old double gym next to Hedgecock Fieldhouse (I never did learn why it wasn’t in the Fieldhouse) and it was wall to wall people and hot (the band, the show and the atmosphere in the gym)!  Stein bolted from the stage about halfway through the set but was ‘convinced’ to finish the show despite the sauna-like conditions.  I may have been in awe of drummer Carmine Appice, but I also paid close attention to Stein.  Their version of You Keep Me Hanging On still sits on my list of “Top Ten Best Rock Songs Ever”.

    I got a second, yet very different, dose of extraordinary Hammond playing from the three piece backing band for Little Anthony and the Imperials.  From orchestral sounding ballads to funk, this guy could do it all.  My apologies for not being able to find his name, but he was just terrific.

    Kristine Perfect had recently joined Fleetwood Mac when I saw them on a twin bill with Savoy Brown.  She eventually became Kristine McVey and a pop song writing machine when the band morphed by adding Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks to the mix.  With the guitar happy version of Fleetwood Mac, she really didn’t stand out other than a short solo or two.

    A couple of Ann Arbor bands that made their way through Marquette the early 1970s were organ / drum duos.  The first band was billed as The Whiz Kids and it took a little doing to find any information on them.  The Robots for Ronnie site did provide the following:   “This Ann Arbor based duo’s back story is a pretty mysterious one.  Based on what I could gather, the band was formed sometime in the late 60s by multi-instrumentalist Pat McCaffrey and percussionist Ken Michalik.  The band’s sound was distinct in that no guitars or bassess were present.  McCaffrey often would play organ pedals and analog synths in their place.  By 1970, they were supporting the likes of Alice Cooper, Brownsville Station, Savage Grace, J, Geils Band, and Spirit in and around southeast Michigan”.   They played serviceable rock with some extended solos to go with their songs.  At one point McCaffrey got down on his hands and knees and played a solo on the bass pedals with his hands – that was something I haven’t seen since.  The web reference I found mentioned McCaffrey continuing the band in a larger format up to the present while Michalik became a music teacher in the Ann Arbor area.

    The other keyboard/drum duo was Teagarden and Van Winkle.  Again, they played solid music, but when I saw them, they came as a package deal with Bob Seger.  Seger started the show playing acoustic music with T&VW doing the second set as a duo.  The third set had Seger join them on electric guitar and they formed a rocking trio.  Teagarden went on to play drums with Seger’s Silver Bullet Band.  As an interesting side note, Seger was writing much of the music that he would record  for his Beautiful Loser LP while touring with Teagarden and Van Winkle.   Turn the Page was written about an incident in small town Wisconsin that very well may have happened around  the same time that their midwest touring brought them to Marquette.

    Chicago’s Robert Lamm proved to be a good keyboard player but the full horn section tended to play a lot of the stuff most bands would have the organist cover.  Seth Justman from J. Geils Band was a blur of motion and certainly one of the most animated keyboard players I have seen.  He and drummer Stephen Jo Bladd also stepped up to the front of the stage and traded drum licks on toms and timbales that was both well rehearsed and a lot of fun to watch.

    Michael Quatro (yes, brother of pre-Joan Jett era female rocker Suzie Quatro) was somewhere between ‘different’ and ‘strange’.  He could certainly play and sing.  He had a bank of amps and speakers behind him that made the Great Wall of China look tiny by comparison.  I wondered how many days it took the drummer to get his hearing back after a gig.  Perhaps it was the silver jumpsuit, cape and 1950s sci-fi movie ‘man from Mars’ collar he employed to give himself an aura of ‘mystery’ that made him seem a little surreal.  After a mind bending version of King Crimson’s Court of the Crimson King, he blew up all that ‘mystery’  by directing a mini-tantrum at his roady when one of the ‘bricks’ in the Great Wall of Amps started buzzing uncontrollably (something along the lines of, “Russell, do you think you could PLEASE find the one that is making all that racket?”)

    The late Alan Lanier from Blue Oyster Cult always added the right amount of keys to their arrangements.  In their live shows, he also proved to be a formidable guitarist in his own right.

    The most recent keyboard wizard I have seen  live was Robert Manzitti from the Rusty Wright Band.  He had joined the band not too long before they appeared at the Ontonagon Theater in the spring of 2014 but he made a big impression.  He too, proved to be an animated player, but antics aside, he also played some terrific solos.  His call and answer solos with Rusty Wright sounded great and it looked like they were having a lot of fun bouncing things off of each other.  Unfortunately, Manzitti was no longer with the band on their next trip to town.

    Before this article itself becomes as long as the Great Wall of China, I should add honorable mentions to some of the giants who pushed the bounds of rock music by adding the golden sounds of the Hammond Organ to the mix:  Mark Farner and Craig Frost (Grand Funk Railroad), Jon Lord (Deep Purple), Keith Emerson (Emerson, Lake and Palmer), Rick Wakeman (Yes), Ken Hensley (Uriah Heep), Greg Allman (Allman Brothers), Rod Argent (Zombies, Argent), Brian Auger (Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express), Felix Cavaliere (Rascals), Bruce McCabe (Lamont Cranston, Hoopsnakes, Johnny Lang),  and as of the last Porcupine Mountain Music Festival, Scottie Miller from the Scottie Miller Band out of Minneapolis. . . and the list could go on and on.

    With the Doley brothers from Australia (Lachy and Clayton) now on our play list, I am getting a little antsy to hear some live Hammond B-3.  It would be great to have a chance to see the likes of them now that we have had a chance to hear some of their music.  If we can’t find a way to see them here, I guess a little musical vacation to Australia wouldn’t be totally out of the question!

Top Video – That is ? and the Mysterians doing the Farfisa organ sound on a rather strange video for 96 Tears