Three questions with legendary composer and keyboardist for Yes, Rick Wakeman.
Synth History: What is it that drew you to synthesizers?
Rick: Probably hearing Switched-On Bach in 1968. I finally got to meet Wendy Carlos in 1980 in New York and she was really helpful in explaining which low frequencies worked for transferring onto film as I was recording The Burning soundtrack at the time. There was a modular Moog owned by Mike Vickers which was kept in Air Studios during 1971 and I used this on The Strawbs' From the Witchwood album on a couple of tracks ...And fell in love! I couldn’t afford a Moog and it was only after joining Yes in 1971 that I was able to get one, but even then the price of a new Minimoog was out of my reach.
The Yes management also looked after the actor Jack Wild and I was told that he was getting rid of his Minimoog, as it didn’t work, and I could have it for £30! I bought it and there was nothing wrong with it. I called Jack and told him... He said, “well it only plays one note at a time”. I explained that was exactly what it was meant to do and so I would let him have it back but he refused, said it was no use to him and hope I would enjoy it! Over the years I have had many Minimoogs and currently own 9.
Synth History: What was one of your favorite moments that occurred in the recording studio?
Rick: I have too many to relate if I’m honest. Every hour in a studio is an honour. I would probably give different answers every day so here are today’s! Recording the Moog solo on Merlin the Magician. It had been a long day and I couldn’t get a solo together that excited me and it was starting to get too organized and so I went over the road from Morgan Studios to their bar and one after the other drank 5 double whiskies... Walked back across the road and shouted to the engineer: "You’ll probably just have one chance to get this so good luck." Played the solo and passed out... I only heard it the following morning!
I also have great memories of recording the music for The Burning film where so much was recorded on a Prophet 10. I love that instrument and wish I still had one... I’m very envious of Pete (Townshend) who I know has a mint one.
Synth History: Can you recount another riveting Rick Wakeman instrument-factoid that people don't already know about, that you deem interesting?
Rick: Not a synthesizer I know, but I have owned and destroyed a few Mellotrons in my time and in fact once in Switzerland I was so fed up with one in particular that continually broke down, that I took it into my field and it became part of a giant bonfire! The wood burnt beautifully but the frame only twisted and ended up at the skip... I kept the tape frames though.
I do love the unique sound of the mellotron and I now have a pair of Mellotrons which I love dearly. Very authentic.
(here is an alternative question I threw in, that Rick was kind enough to answer as well!)
Synth History: Do you think it's important to stick with the gear you grow familiar with, or is it better to embrace incorporating new equipment- is there a balance?
Rick: Balance is the optimum word. I select instruments dependent upon what show I’m doing and in general they will range from those made in the early 1970s through to the present day.
References: Synth History Exclusive, Rick Wakeman, Pintrest (photo).