Keith and synthesizers

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Keith and synthesizers

Postby ScubaGeek » Fri Feb 11, 2011 9:07 pm

OK, here's something that's been on my mind for the last couple years. When the Grateful Dead Movie DVD came out, I noticed that if you watch the bonus disc very carefully, you can see that Keith has some kind of synthesizer sitting on top of his Fender Rhodes. I'm not sure what it is, but I think it might be an early Roland SH model.

Now, this struck my interest because I had always heard that Keith basically didn't like to play anything except acoustic and electric piano. And indeed, if you listen to the recordings from the October 74 run, you don't really hear any synth, apart from what it is obviously Ned Lagin during the Seastones bits.

What really got me though was noticing that in other photos, Keith has other synths. In one of the Dick's Picks releases from 76, there's a photo of him an ARP String Ensemble sitting on top of the Fender Rhodes. That strikes me as an unlikely instrument for this particular band, but hey there it is. And then in one of the Road Trips discs from 77, he's ditched the Rhodes altogether and replaced it with a Polymoog. But once again, I'm not sure I'm actually hearing any synth anywhere on any live recording during the 76-79 period.

I guess what I'm wondering is, did Keith ever actually play these synths onstage? I notice in a lot of photos and the 12/31/78 footage, he's back to using just a piano (albeit one of those tacky Yamaha CP-70 "electric grand" pianos, which don't sound as good as a conventional grand piano), no Rhodes, no synths. So was it a point where the synths were sort of forced on Keith, but he never played them, and then it just go to the point where it was decided "why bother putting them onstage" or what?

And since I'm bringing the whole issue of synths during the Keith era up, who is playing the synthesizer on 6/16/74 and 6/18/74. Is that Keith or Ned Lagin or perhaps someone else?
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Re: Keith and synthesizers

Postby JonnyBoy » Mon Feb 14, 2011 7:08 am

I am speculating a bit here since I have no first hand visual knowledge of the answer, but from listening to the mid 70's a lot, I think he may not have preferred them, he must have use them from time to time, unless they had a player come in to do it, which is unlikely. With the instruments propped in front of him, I am sure they didn't have another guy sitting on top of him while he was playing piano too.

Bringing that up and FWIW, as much as I like Brent's playing and voice, I think the Dead's music sounded better with Keith's piano tone/sound, including the small amt of synth. It was more elegant and balanced, for a lack of a better words.
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Re: Keith and synthesizers

Postby Rusty the Scoob » Mon Feb 14, 2011 8:37 am

The most significant example of Keith on a synth that comes to my mind is the sound on Estimated in 77, reportedly a Moog, definitely one of the polyphonic models. I just ordered the Synthesizer's Cookbook, hoping to figure out how to recreate it on my GF's Nord, which has the same basic controls as an analog synth in it's synth section... wave shapes, filters, oscillators, etc.

As far as dropping the synths in 1978, there was barely a point to having Keith himself on stage by then... which is sad because I agree that they had a better musical balance in that era than any other.
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Re: Keith and synthesizers

Postby ScubaGeek » Mon Feb 14, 2011 2:51 pm

Rusty the Scoob wrote:The most significant example of Keith on a synth that comes to my mind is the sound on Estimated in 77, reportedly a Moog, definitely one of the polyphonic models. I just ordered the Synthesizer's Cookbook, hoping to figure out how to recreate it on my GF's Nord, which has the same basic controls as an analog synth in it's synth section... wave shapes, filters, oscillators, etc.

As far as dropping the synths in 1978, there was barely a point to having Keith himself on stage by then... which is sad because I agree that they had a better musical balance in that era than any other.


Well, in 1977, Moog only made one polyphonic synth, the Polymoog, and as I said before, there's pictures of Keith with one in place of his Fender Rhodes. Actually, it's more of a souped combo organ than a proper polyphonic synthesizer. I'll have to take a listen to some of the shows I have from 77, as I've never noticed him playing synth on anything, but I'll keep my ears open the next time Estimated Prophet comes up.
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Re: Keith and synthesizers

Postby ScubaGeek » Tue Mar 13, 2012 8:14 pm

So this topic came to mind again tonight, as I'm listening to 9/16/73, which gives us another rare example of a synth appearing in The Grateful Dead's music during this period. Specifically, during Looks Like Rain, one appears. The info file says it's a theremin (actually, the guy spelled it as "theremine", but anyway...), but I find that highly doubtful. If Keith didn't like playing synths or organ, I find unlikely he'd have played a theremin. Also the intonation, mechanical nature of the vibrato, and the occasional timbral tweak suggests to me that it's some sort of keyboard synth.

As usual, who knows if it's actually Keith or not, but given that there's no piano heard when the synth is heard, I kinda have to suspect it is Keith.
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Re: Keith and synthesizers

Postby NSP » Wed Mar 14, 2012 11:37 am

ScubaGeek wrote:So this topic came to mind again tonight, as I'm listening to 9/16/73, which gives us another rare example of a synth appearing in The Grateful Dead's music during this period. Specifically, during Looks Like Rain, one appears. The info file says it's a theremin (actually, the guy spelled it as "theremine", but anyway...), but I find that highly doubtful. If Keith didn't like playing synths or organ, I find unlikely he'd have played a theremin. Also the intonation, mechanical nature of the vibrato, and the occasional timbral tweak suggests to me that it's some sort of keyboard synth.

As usual, who knows if it's actually Keith or not, but given that there's no piano heard when the synth is heard, I kinda have to suspect it is Keith.


Not sure if this is relevant to what you're hearing, but Keith was known to have his piano go through a wah for spacey segments most notably in Playin' during the 72-73 era. Very cool stuff.
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Re: Keith and synthesizers

Postby ScubaGeek » Thu Apr 05, 2012 11:24 am

NSP wrote:
ScubaGeek wrote:So this topic came to mind again tonight, as I'm listening to 9/16/73, which gives us another rare example of a synth appearing in The Grateful Dead's music during this period. Specifically, during Looks Like Rain, one appears. The info file says it's a theremin (actually, the guy spelled it as "theremine", but anyway...), but I find that highly doubtful. If Keith didn't like playing synths or organ, I find unlikely he'd have played a theremin. Also the intonation, mechanical nature of the vibrato, and the occasional timbral tweak suggests to me that it's some sort of keyboard synth.

As usual, who knows if it's actually Keith or not, but given that there's no piano heard when the synth is heard, I kinda have to suspect it is Keith.


Not sure if this is relevant to what you're hearing, but Keith was known to have his piano go through a wah for spacey segments most notably in Playin' during the 72-73 era. Very cool stuff.


Yeah, I've heard him playing the Rhodes through the wah wah in a number of shows, but that's pretty easy to identify. The sounds we hear on shows like 9/16/73, 6/16/74, and 6/18/74 are definitely coming from a synthesizer, not an electric piano.
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Re: Keith and synthesizers

Postby tigerstrat » Thu Apr 05, 2012 11:39 am

I'm hearing it on the 9/17/73 show http://archive.org/details/gd1973-09-17.sbd.jensen.10082.sbeok.shnf

Not a theremin, definitely a very cheesy early keyboard synth... apparently an attempt to duplicate Garcia's pedal-steel parts from the previous year.
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