Keytars

I’m late getting to this, but Plagiarist has a fun post with a YouTube video of Howard Jones, Thomas Dolby, Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder showing the wonders of synthesizers (especially, the wonders of sequencers, which allow you to program everything and punch it all up while still maintaining the appearance of “playing” something). It looks a bit like one of those Disney/Epcot views of the future that didn’t quite come true. We don’t fly to the moon on Eastern Airlines, and the synthesizer revolution is long since dead. (Though Howard Jones actually has new stuff out, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Beats the hell out of listening to Kanye West.)

Plagiarist focuses on a particularly amusing relic of the ’80s — the “keytar,” which apparently still has its practicioners. Most keytars aren’t literally combos of keyboards and guitars, but just an excuse for a keyboardist to strap it on, so to speak, and run around the stage like a guitarist.

It’s always been a little difficult for a rock keyboardist to fit in. Rick Wakeman did it by wearing glittering robes and disappearing from the stage whenever he was bored with some long bit of Yes music. The guy from Cinderella tried as hard as he could to contort his face to look like he was putting effort into his key-pushing. Geddy Lee always had a bass with him as well, so he looked cool.

I can remember a few amusing keytar moments. Geoff Downes running around with a bandanna and keytar in Asia was a bit embarrassing, like watching Yo-Yo Ma strap on his cello and play Pete Townshend power chords.

Here’s the strangest. It’s such a bizarre moment from Saturday Night Live that I sometimes wonder if I dreamed it. They introduced George Clinton, who was standing there in all his funkiness. He immediately says, “Hey, I see Thomas Dolby out there. Come on up and play, man.” And so Thomas Dolby (he was everywhere in those days) bounds up with a great deal of enthusiasm, grabs a keytar and plays.

If I ever meet George Clinton, Thomas Dolby or even Lorne Michaels, the first I want to ask is how they just happened to have a keytar sitting around, all set up for someone to grab and jam. Did some guy not show up, and Dolby just happened to be there?

And if I sit in the front row at a Clinton concert, can I just run up and grab a keytar? He’d be cool with that, right?

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One Response to Keytars

  1. Jason says:

    This is just speculation – but based on what I know from Saturday Night Live and its musical moments, rarely anything is truly spontaneous and uplanned. If it is, it’s rehashed over and over again. (i.e. Elvis Costello doing “Radio Radio,” Sinead tearing up the Pope picture) My guess is that the Dolby cameo was a planned event – but I’d have to see it to know for sure.

    Because nobody just has a keytar lying around.

    Thanks for spreading the word of keytar and my blog. 🙂

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