"These are Roger and Brian's keyboards (mostly Roger's), and we have a lot. The main purpose of our music is to use things, not just collect. We try
to incorporate what is good (or bad) about an individual instrument. It's
amazing to see how often a little, cheapo instrument is more suited to a part
than the more 'classic' or hip keyboards: good and bad is all relative." -Brian Kehew
Monday, 17 November 1997, Boston, MA, USA-- Today The Moog Cookbook came to town. They played across the river in Cambridge at a club called the Middle East. What a show! The band, two spacemen named Meco Eno (Brian Kehew) and Uli Nomi (Roger Manning), came out onto the stage to the sound of Gleeman Pentaphonics rendering a majestic introduction to the Weezer hit single "Buddy Holly". They took their places, each behind his own rack of synthesizers and played a fantastic set of instrumental synthesizer renditions of your favorite modern and classic rock hits.
If you haven't heard both of their CD's, do yourself a favor and get them. Where else can you hear a Moog IIIC modular, ARP 2600, DKS Synergy, Oberheim 8-Voice, Davoli Sint, Minimoog, Mellotron, Steiner Synthacon, and many others on one CD?
The Moog Cookbook (Restless Records, 1996) Their debut self-titled CD contains 10 all-synthesizer renditions of songs such as Weezer's "Buddy Holly", Green Day's "Basket Case", and the not-to-be-missed "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana.
Ye Olde Space Band(Restless Records, 1997). As the title implies, this recording has 10 classic hits including "Born to be Wild", "Cat Scratch Fever", "Hotel California", and even the KISS hit "Rock and Roll All Night".
The next day, Tuesday, 18 November 1997, I got a chance to meet with half of the duo. Brian Kehew graciously brought over a portion of his collection of vintage product literature, spec sheets and advertisements. So we sat and scanned, and talked for an hour or two. The Synthmuseum now has its work cut out for next year and a half! Our conversation meandered back and forth between The Moog Cookbook, and whatever we happened to be scanning at the time. What follows is a portion of that interview:
First a bit of relevant history:
In 1968 Wendy Carlos released her album, Switched-On Bach, which proved that the synthesizer could actually be used to make interesting and complex music. As Bob Moog explains:
"All the record producers had to have their Moog record in 1969. We got orders from CBS, NBC, Electra, a lot of other guys. And these guys didn't want just 'one of this and two of that....' They said, 'Give me your biggest system,' and they expected to make money like Carlos did. I could play you some of these records. A few of them still stand up. But mostly they were cynical, inept, opportunistic things: Throw together a group, lay down some strings and horns and vocals, leave some space for a novelty melody line from the synth. That was the scene in '69,... 'Moog' records."
--Bob Moog [excerpted with permission from the book Vintage Synthesizers by Mark Vail, copyright Miller Freeman, Inc]
These records often featured silly, hasty arrangements of popular records (Beatles, Bacharach, Buck Owens, etc.) This period, from 1968 to the early 1980's, was the "Golden Age" of synthesizers. It was then that synthesizers were constantly being refined and re-configured. Rock bands such as ELP and jazz musicians such as Chick Corea were constantly testing the boundaries of these synths. Everyone was always looking for the "next best thing".
Then came the "dark age" in the late 1980's and early 1990's. All of a sudden keyboards and synthesizers were "out" and guitar rock was "in". Few bands had synthesizers, or at least admitted to it. It was then that people like Brian Kehew and Roger Manning started buying vintage keyboard cast-offs. Suddenly the instruments they always saw in advertisements and dreamed of owning were unwanted and extremely affordable. By now they have quite a collection.
Roger and Brian met through a classified ad in a Los Angelos newspaper. Brian was selling an Optigan, what Brian refers to as an "obsolete, evil instrument". They immediately bonded over their love for vintage synths and The Moog Cookbook was born.
VSM: It says in your bio that the idea for Moog Cookbook was suggested by Roger's girlfriend?
BK: I think that she was one that first had the actual idea. This was strictly for Roger initially that he should use the synths and do a, what we call a Moog album, which is those old '69 records that are so goofy. And they collected those. And they were in their own world doing what I was doing in my place which was buying old keyboard and old albums. We had alot of the same records and quite a few different ones. There's a pile of them out there, of those goofy, you know, just bought a synthesizer and we're learning how to use it by playing cover tunes. There's definitely a certain style of music.
The funny part is, it's an interesting mixture because there's alot of people who didn't know how to work the [synthesizer] very well. It was pretty complicated to pop into a modular and get going with it. So a lot of people had the help of people like Walter Sear on their records... You'd have a programmer in but they'd have some jazz guy playing the keyboard. And people often came up with accidental sounds or even ones that were inappropriate. You know, the glide was too slow to get to the notes it was suppose to or the attack was too slow and it's hilarious to listen to this when you know how to work a synth.
And it's very, very pro synthesizer when you hear those albums. They're [mixed] way up front and they're not covered up. So it's kind of a good period to hear some keyboards from. We love those albums alot. His girlfriend thought about it. But Roger and I, of course, had all these keyboards that people just wouldn't let us use on their records because it was just too goofy of a sound. I mean, that was a few years ago when it was all guitars and no one had a keyboard. There were not even Hammond bands floating around again.
VSM: And you guys bank on that goofyness to carry Moog Cookbook.
BK: Yeah, we're definitely poking fun at the same stuff we love. And I stab my keyboard with a knife in the show [a reference to Keith Emerson], and little jokes like that keyboard people will know. We like that stuff very much, but everytime we hear "From the Begining" by ELP we laugh when we hear the keyboard solo. It's just goofy but yet it's really cool too. We like it a lot, you know, we grew up with it. And even stuff we didn't grow up with, the old Perrey & Kingsley albums and stuff that I've had for about ten years and they were already fifteen years old [when I got them], they're incredible records.
VSM: You are also an avid synth literature collector.
BK: I love the period when you'd see early synth catalogs, probably before '72 or '73, everyone looked like a scientist. Nobody had long hair in those catalogs. They weren't pushing that aspect of it. They had guys in lab coats and glasses working the gear. And then, when Emerson started getting in the Moog catalogs, '74, '75 especially, and then Herbie Hancock, Billy Preston and so forth, they were saying "Let's push these toward musicians because it's cool."
VSM: And they realized how lucrative it was to have Stevie Wonder endorsing your product.
BK: And then it would finally be more imporant for musicians than for scholarly people. But we like the scholarly aspect of all this stuff, and remember the days when evrybody learned about electronic music by going to a little tiny lab room with a four-track Teac and an ARP 2600 and a bunch of acoustic tile on the wall. You know, doing four-track pieces in a room.
VSM: What is your background, professionally?
BK: I come from an engineering, producing, kind of background. Studio work for other people, mostly. Never been in bands too much. Always avoided that because I always treated it as a hobby, but it just turned into a hobby that became bigger. I really enjoy studio work, it's a lot of fun, and I like to work on everything from huge progressive rock albums to cheap punk rock albums with 20 songs cut in an hour and the whole spectrum of that. So I have that studio experience coming to what I do. And I also taught for a while, recording, at a university, Cal State, where I graduated from. It's a really good recording school.
[Note: Brian's partner, Roger Manning, has spent much of his time in bands. Many recognize Manning's name for his former band, Jellyfish (with co-songwriter, Andy Strummer) and, more recently, Imperial Drag.]
VSM: Are you surprised at the amount of attention that the Moog Cookbook CD's are getting?
BK: Yes, very surprised. Although I thought it would get attention... you know, we're getting fan mail from Turkey and places like that.
VSM: The Moog Cookbook has quite a reach.
BK: It's the target audience. Our favorite fans of The Moog Cookbook are people that pretty much grew up in the 70's. They might have even used synths back then or at least they went to music stores, like we did, and looked at them 'cause they couldn't afford them. And alot of [our fans are] people who grew up in classic synthesizer backgrounds, like listening to ELP and Wendy Carlos and people like that. And [there are] people who've even had some [Morton] Subotnick, or [Milton] Babbit kind of backgrounds too, it's kind of cool for us.
"We keep telling people we're just keyboard nuts. Whether they're nice pianos or cool Hammond organs, or Mellotrons, or Minimoogs, or even ARP String Ensembles, we just love that kind of stuff. Even new keyboards..."
We like people that grew up with Billy Preston and all of the '70 stuff. That was such a wide spread field, if you think about it. Roger and I are constantly amazed by old Downbeat magazines and old Keyboard magazines where you have one page is Herbie Hancock, and the next page is Stockhausen, and the next page is Keith Emerson. And it's amazing. Things are a little more controlled now-a-days, where not everyone listens to such a wide range of music. Everybody's got their own field they like to listen to. So that is a good period for what we like.
We keep telling people we're just keyboard nuts. Whether they're nice pianos or cool Hammond organs, or Mellotrons, or Minimoogs, or even ARP String Ensembles, we just love that kind of stuff. Even new keyboards, I mean we love the fact that you can record with bright silver things with touch screens on them. It's such a great idea. They don't sound that good, but it's such an interesting thing to have people do. Ten years ago we were kind of desperate. Ten years ago was the dark period when people weren't making keyboards who cared anything. It was all D-50s and things like that, you know LA Synthesis and so on. And now they're getting some hip ideas, ribbon controllers on synths again, and stone pitchbend wheels and mod things, it's pretty cool.