My Life in Keyboards, Part 2

Ensoniq KT76

I was playing three or four nights a week, and every once in a while I would hit the accompaniment button on the Yamaha PSR-600 and start a drum beat in the middle of the song. It was never cool. I also suspected that the reason I couldn’t play amazingly well was because I didn’t have a keyboard with weighted keys. That may have been part of it, but the other part was that I really, really wanted a pro keyboard so that I would look like a pro on stage (even if I didn’t sound like one!) The beginning of Gear Acquisition Syndrome. I took some money from my tax return, and some money from my parents, and drove to Ohio to buy this guy. At the time, it was an amazing keyboard. I did break some keys and I wasn’t really happy about that, but I played hard back then. I did feel very pro when I started using it. It was also really, REALLY heavy especially with the wooden case, but I was in my mid 20s, so whatever, right?

Ensoniq KS-32

This is predecessor of the the KT76 above. The KS-32, also weighted, also 76 keys. Here’s where it gets interesting. I knew I needed a backup keyboard, but because the “Syndrome” I was fooling myself. What I really wanted was a practice keyboard already set up at my place, so that I didn’t have to set up and tear down in order to play or just fool around. I was starting to build my studio without even knowing it at this time. I know this now, because I ended up gigging with the older KS-32, and keeping the KT76 in my studio. I think my brother-in-law Danny bought this for me. He liked my music and what I was doing. I have no idea what became of this instrument.

Yamaha DX-100

Kinda like the little brother of the vastly popular DX-7, this was a fun synth to have hanging out around the house. I always played with the presets, but I never got around to learning how to actually use a synthesizer beyond the basics. For me, a keyboard WAS it’s preset sounds. Tiny little thing, with guitar strap pegs on the sides so you could sling it like a keytar. I used this in a parade once, beyond that, it was still a little toy. I sold it to get some money together for a guitar.

Casio DH-100

Another little toy that I found at a local music store, I picked this up because I wanted to learn saxophone. I eventually learned a little bit, but this didn’t help me. Fortunately, it was also playable with recorder fingering. By the time I got a real sax and started working on it, this bugger crashed and burned. I wouldn’t turn on, and when I put new batteries in it made a whistling sound out of the speakers whether I was playing it or not. A neat feature for that time period was that it had a midi port, so I could hook it up to a keyboard and play a decent sax sound. But that just chained me in place, so I may as well have played it on the keyboard.

Roland A-30

My very first controller keyboard. No onboard sounds at all, meant specifically for controlling external MIDI devices, either another keyboard, or a sound module, or a computer. I used this for a while with the QY-100 (below), but I did not like the feel of the keys when I played so I eventually just sold it.

Yamaha QY-100

This thing was an absolute MONSTER! I was in love. I actually wish I still had it. I did my entire Christian album using the styles and arranger features. It had the sounds of my Yamaha arranger keyboards, and it had styles, and a really amazing sound for the time. Drums, bass, even the guitar backing was believable if it was mixed low enough. I could record all my parts on this, get them how I wanted in the mix, and then bounce the entire thing to a single track on my computer. (I know, I know. It’s best to have individual tracks for better mixing/eq/compression/etc, however, it was the year 2001, and I was just beginning to figure things out in the digital world.) I wish I knew what happened to this unit. I really do. I’d get another one, but they are still around $250 used, and I’m just not willing to pay that much for nostalgia.

Yamaha PSR-2000

This is the coolest keyboard I have ever owned. I was missing my arranger keyboards of the past, and my brother made this happen for me. He set me up with his friends who were looking for a web designer. They generously traded a website for this Yamaha. I had the most fun playing it, using for recording, writing songs with it. It was very inspiring. I downloaded thousands of styles online for this thing, and created a few styles of my own. I could put a microphone through this to get the reverb I was looking for when I recorded a part. It had guitar amp modelling and effects, so I could record my guitar through this into the computer. I had built in three part harmony for audio signals. It was a performing machine, and made me so much better a musician for having it. I left it on at church for an entire week and came back and it was not working. The repair shop told me that it would be around $900 for a new motherboard, something I couldn’t afford at the time. I had to say no. It was a sad day.

Yamaha S80

My church at the time bought this for me. I was the worship leader, I led from a keyboard, so after the PSR-2000 died, I needed something. They bought this for me to USE, and when I asked if I could slowly pay for it until it was mine, they decided to give it to me as a gift. It had pretty heavy keys, like playing a grand piano. I had to get used to it, but the sounds were great, and it felt good to be back into a weighted keyboard. This was also my first 88 key instrument (except for my real piano!)

Yamaha PSR-S700

My brother stepped in again and outright bought me this keyboard. I was dying for an arranger keyboard again, to help write and record songs. I love it – great sound, great everything. As a replacement to the PSR-2000, I was a little bit disappointed because this more expensive Yamaha arranger didn’t include the vocal harmonizer. But I got over that pretty quickly. I used this for many, many gigs. I still have it – the back light doesn’t work so I have to shine my phone on the screen to see what I’m doing, but the buttons all work fine, so I can save my presets and access them easily. I don’t use it much anymore, but since it’s still here I play it every now and then for some fun. In my 3-piece band Patio Drive, we named this keyboard Sam, and anytime we needed an excuse for anything on stage, we blamed Sam. Even if it wasn’t his fault. (I will still take donations to help fix Sam’s broken leg though!)

 

Kawaii ES8

This was a heavy beast that I never had a case for. But I used it at a ton of open mic nights when I was socializing as a musician in a new area. I loved the piano sound in this thing. EPs were okay but the piano totally rocked. I started doing my YouTube videos with this keyboard, so it must have been some kind of inspiration.

Casio Privia PX-330

My life as I knew it in Kentucky was over, and I came crawling back to Pennsylvania to start over. I sold some stuff off for funding. As far as instruments go, I only took my PSR-S700 with me. The Casio was the first keyboard I bought here. I loved LOVED the feel of the keys on this thing. It felt more like playing my beloved Baldwin Acrosonic upright piano that I grew up on (I have a 1954 model in my house right now.) Keys were not too heavy, not too light. Piano sound was incredible. Organs were pretty good. Electric pianos were decent too. I had issues playing live – sometimes notes would stick, sometimes I’d get a full-volume note when I was gently playing, and once, I broke two keys in one night. With a really loud band.  I had to move on, so I sold this to my sister to give to my niece for Christmas. I’m happy with the rig I have now, but this Privia was so light and easy to carry around and set up, that I might have gone with this again. I’m already a more tasteful player, and in much quieter bands now. (No quiet bands, were still loud, just not as loud as the band I was in.)

Korg Microstation

As I studied more music, I became aware that with all the focus on piano and electric piano, that I hadn’t devoted any time to figuring out how to actually play a Hammond organ realistically. I assumed that you just played it like a piano, but it was just a different sound. Right? I started really getting into learning about it, and trying to download software to make it work. There will soon be a blog post about my journey into this world, and my search the perfect Hammond clone. This keyboard marked the beginning of the journey. It had some great organ patches, and I bought it from Sweetwater Sound and they had an extra SD card that came with a user patch that was a Hammond sound. I could control drawbars, the rotary speaker speed (Leslie speaker), percussion, overdrive, all on this little 61 micro key instrument that I could throw in the bag like a backpack. My wife bought this for me for my 40th birthday and I love it. I still have this board, although I’ve moved on in the organ world, it still comes in handy for small gigs, or as a backup keyboard that just makes me feel safe. You’d think it would be difficult to play those little keys, but it only takes a few minutes of warm-up, and a full size keyboard seems way to big.

Korg SV-1

Once I had my organ patches that I was happy with, I also became enamored with genuine Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric piano sounds. I wanted to go full-on vintage. This masterpiece of design and sonic beauty I found by accident, and I’m so happy I did. I was at a large music store in Toronto looking at a Hammond SK-1, to replace my Casio Privia which was still broken and barely usable live. I played the SK-1, I knew I had my wife on the hook, she was going to be okay with me buying it. It was $2400. All I had to do was say, “Yes, let’s do it.” But I couldn’t. The Hammond was amazing for the organ, but I played piano on it and it just didn’t feel right, those light organ style keys were too difficult to control the piano strikes. I had to say no. Walking out, I saw the SV-1. I played the piano, and it felt and sounded so real, thick, rich, and beautiful. It soudned like my upright at home. I switched it to the Rhodes. Amazing! Turned up the overdrive. Even better! Tried the Wurli and I almost died from happiness. I looked at the price tag, saw that it was $1595. Almost $1000 cheaper than the keyboard I showed up to look at. I knew that this was my baby. Killer vintage EP sounds and a really good piano sound. This is part of my live rig today. I could only be happier with it if it was lighter. Much lighter.

Novation Impulse 61

I kept up my quest to find the right Hammond clone for me, and I decided that the least expensive way was to use my MacBook, because I already had it. So I researched for a controller keyboard that had 61 keys and nine faders (that could be assigned to the nine drawbars of a real Hammond). This was more expensive than most, but it had the best reviews, so I ordered it. I’m glad I did. I assigned every assignable button, knob, pad, and fader to some aspect of the organ software I was using. This was a part of my live rig for a couple years. It felt great to use for organ, and in a pinch I could also use it for all my piano and EP sounds. Something went haywire, and the pitch bend would randomly send a signal. I opened the board and disconnected the pitch bend. It still sends a pitch bend message when I touch one of the faders. Not a lot of help from Novation on that one since it was out of warranty, so I decided to move on. This board still sits in my studio as the controller for recording. I just have to put a MIDI pitch bend filter on every instrument before I record.

Casio CTK-7200

Short and sweet, this keyboard was pimped out because of the organ drawbars and patches, which were okay except for the Leslie simulator. And the fact that the drawbars were incremental at 16 or less volume levels so you could hear the volume pop up louder as you pulled out the drawbar (instead of having an infinite (or at least 127) array of volume. It’s still fun to play with, and you know I love arrangers boards.

Yamaha MX-49

This thing is great. I got it because I wanted quick and easy access to some sounds – as a backup, or on a night that wasn’t organ-heavy. It has 1000 patches from the Motif, so I knew I’d be getting some great sounds out of this I’m still exploring it. It’s kinda cool also that it is it’s own interface. I just don’t trust it to be my microphone pre-amp for recording, so I don’t use it in that capacity. It’s a great looking keyboard.

Crumar Mojo 61

I’m going to ruin the surprise of my next blog post, but here goes. After the Impulse failed on me, I was going to buy another one, but I got tired of setting up my laptop at every show, and always worried that something would go wrong. Nothing ever did, but I still wanted a dedicated board for organ, and I finally chose this. I am thrilled. It sounds amazing, the drawbars look and feel like real drawbars, the keys feel like the keys on a Hammond. To me this is the perfect “clonewheel” organ, and as a bonus it has a modeled piano, Rhodes, and Wurlitzer. The EPs are great, the piano is okay, but I have played it live with no complaints. This thing is a dream, and it rocks the house. It looks beautiful as well! I love having real wood on stage. (No jokes allowed there, no matter how easy the joke.)

 

So that’s it folks. I have had other keyboard instruments, but this was about electronic keyboards. The others are all pianos and organs which I will get into another time. I hope you enjoyed reading a little about my musical history. Thanks a million!

 

My Life in Keyboards

I have written about My Life in Jobs and My Life in Cars, so I think it’s time to post about my life in keyboards. More than my jobs and cars, I believe that keyboards have been the central assets in my life, and music has taken me to some spectacular places, and into some incredible circumstances.

Yamaha PSS-450

Ahhh, my very first keyboard. It wasn’t velocity sensitive, and the sounds were pretty bad. But I made due. I was probably around 12 years old, and I had a keyboard. I had played only piano until I got this, so having the ability to play along with an arranged section was very new and cool to me. I left this keyboard at a home for troubled girls in Kentucky. They seemed to enjoy it and I didn’t have a use for it at the time.
A relative recently gave my daughter an old keyboard in like-new condition. I picked it up, and was amazed that it was the PSS-450.

Yamaha PSR-47

I was 16 years old, and had been looking at new synths ever since I got a chance to play one (I think it was a Yamaha DX-7, or possibly a Korg DW6000) in a music lab at my high school. I was jealous of the very cool sounds that could be made, and even enamored with just the presets. I found this at my local music store – it had so many patches and rhythms, and drum pads. I fell in love, and it was a lot cheaper than the others. I used this board on my first recordings, and in my first band. I traded it for something even better.

I do remember my 11th grade Honors English class – we had to memorize the prologue to Canterbury Tales and speak it in front of the class. I wrote it as a rap, and recorded it, just for fun. I gave it to my teacher, who listened to it, and gave me an A for the project, and I never had to actually memorize the thing. I still know it, though.

Casio SK-1

My first sampler! I bought this from a friend for $20. I can still remember how powerful it felt to be able to record a voice, or my piano, or the toilet flushing, and play it back in different pitches. This board stopped working for me.

Back then, the speed of the sound was also affected by the pitch, so the lower notes took longer than the higher notes. At the time I didn’t consider this to be problematic – it was cool.

Yamaha PSR-500

This thing was a badass. I was able to record entire chord structures of songs and then play along with them. The memory wasn’t great, so I think I had to erase a song if I wanted to start a new one – but this just made me better at using the board. My first multi-pad loops, intros, endings, registration memory (to access my favorite settings with a single push of a button) all really great stuff. I just turned 18, had no will power, and went to the music store and applied for credit, and I was accepted. I found this to be absolutely amazing. My parents were pissed. I did pay it off though. I traded this later for a Yamaha MT-50 4-track cassette tape recorder, soon after I bought my PSR-600.

Yamaha PSR-600

As soon as the PSR-500 was paid off, I went and got this thing. It was nearly identical, except that it had a floppy disc drive in the front. I could now save my work, and keep working. It was totally worth it. This was also the keyboard I had when I joined my first “real” band, a band with paying gigs. By then, music started making me enough money to start looking at some professional equipment. I traded this keyboard for an alto sax on eBay in the early 2000s.

Next post – the Pro Equipment and more.

Quora: How do I choose chords or scales to make people feel specific emotions ?

clef-799259_960_720There is no mathematic formula for this part of the art of composing music. But it’s also so subjective because different people feel different things. What are some songs that make you feel moved? Study those songs. Which chord changes in those songs felt the most powerful to you? It’s not a crime to write songs with those changes. Nobody has a copyright on any chord structure.

You are asking us to tell you which chord changes make you feel emotion, but we don’t know which changes do that for you. Only you do. Study good songwriting, but also study the songs that move you. Learn them inside and out. Which chord inversions are your favorite songs using? Moving from a Bm to a C might not be powerful to you if both are in root position. But if the Bm is in 2nd inversion and it moves to a C major in 1st inversion, you may feel a burst of emotion. There’s no telling what chords will move which people.

I’m glad you’re searching for an answer. Remember that any art is just a series of corrections. So if you are having a hard time finding the notes or chords, then you are getting closer to an answer, because each time you try something you are eliminating things that don’t work.

You have my best wishes in your journey – find what moves you.

Off to the Rodeo!!!

IMG_1497-ANIMATIONOn July 3rd (2015), my country music band played after the rodeo that took place Hickory Creek Wilderness Ranch & Campground in Tidioute, Pennsylvania. I haven’t played music at a Rodeo since the late 90’s, and back then I didn’t pay attention to things the way I do now.

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 10.02.06 PM

Chris_LeDoux_promo_photoThere is one story that stays with me from the 90’s, though, and it involves Chris LeDoux. Broncos, a bar in Alliance, OH hosted a rodeo every year. We had an in because we played Broncos bar several times a year.

So we were the opening act for LeDoux after the rodeo, and our bass player got word to us that his wife went into labor and he wouldn’t be coming (pre-cell phone days for all of us!). This was a huge show for us, and we were contemplating what to do. The bar was closed, and the crowd was outside, so the only people inside were my band (Coyote Joe) and Chris LeDoux and his crew. His bass player heard us talking, and came over and said he’d be glad to help us out. It was a pretty fun time, and I’ll always remember how cool it felt at that time of my life to be playing with this musician. When I was young I didn’t really pay attention to detail, so I never got his name. Sad.

Moving forward to the July 3rd rodeo:

I was able to learn a lot at this rodeo, much of it was interesting: (All of these names are made up for my benefit. I don’t think the rodeo clowns “clown” anymore, but who has time to do accurate research?)

The Riders: The riders are crazy insane. They have to ride a bull for as long as they can. 8 seconds is the goal, and not too many of them made it. But even if they scored big, they were still going to get thrown. Nobody can ride a bucking bull. 

The Clowns:  The clowns are crazy insane. Their job is to make the bull chase after them after the rider falls, so the rider can get away, off the field. If your job is to make a bull chase you, you are crazy insane. Life is hard enough without getting a job like that. 

The Horseman: The man on the horse is crazy insane. If the clowns can’t get the bull, or the bull runs off in another direction, the horseman chases the bull and ropes him, and pulls him back to where he’s supposed to be. But on Friday night I saw this guy get in some pretty hairy situations being chased by a bull as well. 

The Timer: This guy is just a little bit crazy, because he stands on the field with a timer to time the riders – how long they stay on the bull. He’s not crazy insane – he’s close the fence, he can get away pretty quickly. But his job is still inside the ring with an angry bull. 

All jesting aside, this seems to be difficult job, and these guys were the hardest workers I’ve ever seen in my life. They had to constantly move, they were good at their jobs, and they fearlessly took on dangerous animals.

(My pics were all taken with an iPhone, at night, against bright lights – it was the only place I could see, or I would have looked for better shooting conditions.)

IMG_1508-ANIMATION

 

In the studio with Amelia!

Getting it ready
Getting it ready

Sometimes Amelia is not happy in her Pack ‘n Play. I usually just try to hold her in my lap for a little while, but when I’m busy in the studio, it’s difficult to do because when I’m working on the computer, she wants to play with the computer – and when I’m working on the keyboards, she wants to play the keyboards. I decided to set up a near-identical setup to mine – for her to play with. It worked!!! I set up a non-working computer on her tray, and a working (and active) Korg Microstation keyboard.

She played with this setup for an hour with no complaints. I spent the whole hour taking pictures of her instead of working.

Starting up Logic Pro
Starting up Logic Pro
20150522_141205000_iOS
Playing and singing. Take 23.
Some serious editing going on here.
Some serious editing going on here.
Whew! This is hard work!
Whew! This is hard work!
Taking a break.
Taking a break.
Re-recording a few bad notes. Love the little keys on this Korg Microstation.
Re-recording a few bad notes. Love the little keys on this Korg Microstation.

 

Learning by DOING!

As I look back on all the ways that I have learned, all of the things that I now know, that I have learned it all by doing. When I wanted to paint, I just painted, When I wanted to learn how to play a song, I just listened to it, and attempted to eke it out on the piano or guitar. When I wanted to build something, I just started sawing and nailing.

My stuff is CRAP! Well, it started out crap. The stuff I liked to do, the stuff I stuck with, ended up getting more and more refined. And the more I learned how to do that stuff, I got better at other stuff, stuff I didn’t even know related. The more I learned about music, the better I got at painting. The more I learned about martial arts, the better I got at building, The more I learned about building, the better I got at music. Life is amazing.

—-THE PRECEDING PARAGRAPH WAS BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE WORD “STUFF”—–

I had a friend who had a teacher that told him “There is one art, the Continue reading “Learning by DOING!”

Like a wagon wheel – in Luckenback, TX

We had a pretty musical vacation this year. We started by following the course of the song Wagon Wheel (which is currently the only song in iTunes on my phone) – passing through Johnson City and Cumberland Gap. We stopped in Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans before we landed on a beach in Corpus Christie, TX. On the way from the Gulf to Dallas, I specifically wanted to visit Luckenbach, mostly because of the song that I have known since childhood.

We had a drink at the bar, and heard some live music outside – which turned out to be a “guitar circle”, so anyone could play. Since nobody was playing except for the guys running it, we decided it would be really cool to play there. We stayed a couple hours and had a lot of fun, but I’m mostly excited about having that experience under my belt. I just wish they had a piano!

(not quite) Midnight in Montgomery

By Matthew Bennett IMG_6711

Growing up, I heard more Johnny Cash and Gaither Trio songs than Hank Williams songs, but Hank was a part of my music listening experience from an early age, and I often consider Hank’s life, amazing story, and tragic ending. Perhaps this is why I ended up a country musician even though I it is not my favorite type of music. I will say that it is definitely my favorite type of music to play live.

Neither Hank WIlliams nor The Oakwood Annex Cemetery were running through my mind at all as we drove Interstate 85 into Montgomery, Alabama on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Also absent were any thoughts of Civil Rights, the Civil War, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., segregation, the Confederacy, or any other aspects and events that are part of the eye-opening history of Montgomery. I knew about these events, and even where they took place, but there was a disconnect in my mind between the history and the actual place.

Fortunately, what was running through my mind was Alan Jackson’s song “Midnight in Montgomery”. I was singing the song, and I remembered what it was about. Alan Jackson, in his bus, the Silver Eagle, visiting Hank’s gravesite in Montgomery. I’m not commonly prone to the middle school reaction of OMG!, but that is the moment, on I85, that my mind made the connect. OMG – Hank Williams is buried here! We decided to go visit the site the next day, hopefully get some good pictures, and then figure out what else we could learn about Montgomery as a whole.

I learned how little I knew about what happened with Rosa Parks, and even watched a re-enactment in the Rosa Parks Museum. Now when I hear about the incident, I feel like I was there – understanding the event itself much better, as well as the events leading up to, and where history turned immediately after the incident. All of this was only a tiny portion of the things we did and saw walking the streets of this historic city.

I learned so much, all because of one little spark of history that came to me as a song running through my head. So for these random thoughts that come to me that change my life forever in surprising ways, I have to thank my parents for playing the music, Alan Jackson for writing about the MAN, and last but never least, Hank Williams, for writing the songs that made me want to visit you when I was close.

Another Bullseye

I’m now even more famous!

For those of you who don’t know, I am the spectator in the video. And I am not, as the reviewers claimed, dodging the dart. I am selecting the card, signing it, and getting the hell out of the way of the camera. 

Also, I am impressed that the reviewers mentioned the amazing soundtrack by Shane Ellis. That was awesome. Sadly for me, they didn’t mention my acoustic version that plays with the credits. 

I’m not bitter, dammit!

Kudos to Brent Braun for getting Bullseye reviewed, with an actual bonus quick review of Torched and Restored. No publicity is bad publicity. And kudos to Shane for the glowing review of his music. 

BullsEye Trailer with bonus history and credits

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmRU1OBJwiU