It’s the Big Lie
Jerry Lucky Commentary May 2016
Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2016 All Rights Reserved
For the past decade or more there has been a strange and mysterious move by far too many bands to lie to us! I realize this is a bold and provocative statement, but their subterfuge seems to know no bounds. They create, they execute and yet they lie to us and the strange thing is the general public seems not to care about being hood-winked. In fact they seem oblivious to this deception. They almost seem ok with it. What is this big lie? What is this sin of commission?
It’s the hidden keyboard player. Yes, that’s right…you read that right. We hear the keyboards in the music and yet there is no one apparently admitting to playing them. Or in some cases no one person dedicated to playing them. The first time I started to muse on this rather odd state of affairs was the first time I saw the band British band Muse live. Having listened to their music it was obvious they used keyboards and yet they were a trio that repeatedly identified themselves as performing on Drums, Bass and Guitar. I wondered how they were going to pull it off live. Watching the band I was able to figure it out…they in fact did have someone playing keyboards throughout virtually the whole concert, on almost every song…it was a guy stuck half-way below the stage isolated behind the drummer…out of the way and out of sight. Perish the thought the fans would catch a glimpse on an ACTAUAL keyboard player or that, that keyboard player might detract from the visual presence of the trio of musicians. To the best of my recollection he was not introduced during the show.
So it got me thinking…what’s with this move of recent years to downplay or hide the keyboard player? More to the point why were bands who were clearly using keyboards denying their presence? Why does this happen…are keyboards seen as not “manly” enough? It’s true that often keyboards will be listed as part of the existing player’s arsenal; sort of one member playing keyboards part-time. I always get the feeling that there seems to be a little bit of embarrassment going on when this happens…sort of like: “I’m really the guitar player, but I do play some keyboards a bit…but I’m really the guitar player.” In far too many bands, even in some Prog genres, playing the keyboards seems to have become like a grudging necessity that is best kept as quiet as possible.
Having written about the rise of Heavy Metal in The Progressive Rock Files, we know from history that much that passes for today’s popular Prog-Metal genre sprang from the roots of Heavy Metal of the late seventies and eighties where the image of the band and the performers is all important…it is after all a very testosterone driven genre…in fact the guitar players stance seemed to be the epitome of what it meant to be in a heavy metal band. Get the stance right and you were well on the way to making it boy. I’m quite sure that the music was not made better by this.
Thinking back to the early days of Led Zeppelin I remember it was a surprise for me to hear the Mellotron in some of their early music and then to discover it was bass player John Paul Jones who was responsible. It not only sounded good but at the time I thought it was clever. Then around the same time I started hearing some interesting keyboard work in Black Sabbath that I soon discovered was, in some cases performed by Rick Wakeman. Once again I thought that added a dramatic dimension to their essentially monochromatic sound. Truth be told I put together a “mix-Tape” of all the Black Sabbath songs that used Mellotrons and keyboards and when you listen to it you come away with a very different impression of the band.
One of the other things I’ve written extensively about is how the keyboard is to Progressive Rock what the guitar is to heavy metal. In my mind this goes without saying and makes the case for the disappearing keyboard player in Prog bands all the more astonishing. It’s like trying to hide your heritage. What is most troubling here is how easily or casually bands can demote the status of keyboards in their sound to one of being simply an add-on instrument rather than incorporating a full-fledged keyboard player who contributes separately to the whole creative process.
It does seem that being in a band these days is all about the “look” and it would appear that many have decided that standing with leg’s apart and hands on a guitar sends a more macho image than standing with legs apart behind a bank of keyboards. I surmise there are a good number of keyboard players who would disagree with this notion but what can you do.
So back to my point why do bands feel the desire or the need to either not have a dedicated keyboard player or to hide the guy who’s playing them? Perhaps the advent of technology has allowed for this to happen where now any member of the band can simply trigger a pre-set keyboard appearance from a rack of gizmos. If that’s the case, once again we see the danger of technology leading the creative process rather than the other way around. Perhaps there is simply a shortage of skilled keyboard players on the market? I actually find that a little hard to believe. Perhaps it’s just easier to do it all yourself? After all not every band is thinking about going on stage to reproduce their music. Truth is there’s probably a different reason for every band and we may never know all of them. I do feel this is an odd situation that we’ve created though. I can only say this concept of deception puzzles and saddens me and I hope it’s something we will soon move past. Then perhaps we will see a major resurgence of bands where the keyboard player is at least on equal footing to the guitar player. I might just be dreaming though. Then again, this could also be me making a mountain out of a molehill. At least that’s what I think.