Keyboard sounds that launched rock music
By Alan S. Lenhoff and David E. Robertson
A book as beautifully presented, meticulously researched and lovingly written as Classic Keys, can only come about due to an inordinate amount of passion for the subject by its creators. In the words of the two authors, Alan S Lenhoff and David E. Robertson, “This book is about a brief moment in human history, following the Second World War, when technology and social conditions combined to bring about significant changes in the music people listened to, the way they make music, and how they heard it. It celebrates the keyboard instruments that resulted from that period and tells the story of how they were born and the music they inspired.”
Lenhoff is a successful Michigan-based journalist and publisher, who realised in his teens that his keyboard talents alone were never going to win him notoriety. Robertson is an award-winning industrial designer, photographer and design historian from Adelaide, who also played in bands via the Australian Music Association’s Weekend Warriors program. Obviously both are fervent vintage keyboard aficionados, who spent the best part of seven years producing this significant tome.
Although exploring the origins of the keyboard, going back hundred of years and following the instrument from its acoustic beginnings to the electric era, the book essentially concentrates on the period between the 1950s and 1980s, looking at the instruments that gave those decades such distinctive keyboard sounds. We’re talking Hammond B-3, Wurlitzer, Vox Continental, Farfisa Compact, Rhodes Piano, Mellotron, RMI Electra-piano, Yamaha CP-70B, Mini Moog and more. Not only does the book investigate the genesis of the instruments, it also examines which artists made them popular, what was in vogue musically at the time and what was going on from a marketing point of view by the manufacturers, giving each keyboard real context.
While undoubtedly a great read, the other attraction of Classic Keys is the wonderful photography. David Robertson has painstakingly prepared the keyboards for each photo shoot and many of the pictures are presented magnificently in double page spreads in the book, allowing us to view the fine detail of these legendary vintage instruments.
Classic Keys also comes with some heavyweight endorsements. As well as being mentioned in the book for their keyboard preferences and achievements, iconic players such as Rick Wakeman, Donald Fagen, Chuck Leavell and Steve Nieve were kind enough to heap praise on the project. Australian Musician knows well from our own interviews with Wakeman, Leavell and Nieve, that there are many great stories behind their keyboards. “A ‘dream book’ for us keyboard players”, offered Chuck Leavell of Classic Keys. “This book is a must for all who love keyboards and their history and indeed, music in general. It should be on every music lover’s bookshelf,” added Wakeman. “It’s not for squares,” stated Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen.
Guitar enthusiasts have long enjoyed exquisitely shot and informative coffee table books extolling the virtues of their stringed instruments, now it’s the turn of the keyboard fan to enjoy a high quality record of their instrument of choice.
Australian Musician editor Greg Phillips caught up with Classic Keys authors Alan Lenhoff and David Robertson via Zoom to discuss the creation of the book