KR HOME-STUDIO MAGAZINE REVIEW (FRANCE)
INTERVIEW with GERALD McCAULEY of DOWN THE RHODES: THE FENDER RHODES STORY
Corry Banks: A little while back someone put me up on a documentary entitled DOWN THE RHODES: THE FENDER RHODES STORY. If anyone knows me they may very well know how my interest peaks with the mention of certain people places or things. That list for me includes but is not limited to Hip-Hop, MPCs and drum machines, Moog Synths, Apple products, J Dilla, Run DMC, and Fender Rhodes. So it goes without saying, I was totally into THE FENDER RHODES STORY documentary. That said, I was delighted at the idea of sharing bonus material from the DVD here on BBoyTechReport. Even more-so at the opportunity to interview one of the men behind the project, GERALD McCAULEY.
Gerald McCauley and Benjamin (Ben) Bove seem to have been divinely drawn together by electro-mechanical gods in the name of preserving the history of a true American classic, the Fender Rhodes Electric piano. Although, Ben was not able to join us for this particular interview, his presence is felt as Ben and Gerald have covered tons of ground in preserving the Rhodes history in this most entertaining documentary film, Book and DVD. Both Ben and Gerald are accomplished musicians in their own right who happen to share a love for Fender Rhodes.
DOWN THE RHODES: THE FENDER RHODES STORY is now available as 288 page book with blu-ray DVD included. According to the book’s publisher, Hal Leonard Publishing “Down the Rhodes: The Fender Rhodes Story is the first and only book documenting how the Rhodes changed the sound of music and was part of the greatest hits and most influential music ever recorded. Invented by Harold Rhodes as a rehabilitation tool for soldiers in World War II, the Fender Rhodes piano both revolutionized and empowered musicians to explore a new, electric frontier of music.”
Let’s get to the interview…
BTR: Thanks for joining us Gerald. Be sure to tell your partner in crime Benjamin (Ben) Bove that there is an open invitation to join us for an interview at some point since he wasn’t able to join us today.
The first thing I’d like to mention is that Beat makers and producers of hip-hop music, we kind of start off sampling old records and sampling obscure records and classic records. And as time goes on a lot of beat makers and hip-hop producers become enamored with classic instruments like the Rhodes and Moog synths, etc. Why do you think the Rhodes has that sort of appeal after all this time?
Gerald: Thank you for having us, and I’m honored to do the interview with you. I’d like to first point out that I have removed certain concepts, like labeling music by genre, from my vocabulary; this is hip-hop and that is rock, or this is jazz and that is whatever … It’s ALL MUSIC! However, many are domesticated to think a certain way and what many tend to do, is identify a genre of music with what color you are. And… music isn’t about that. So let’s, get that part out of the conversation. Music is the Universal language for humanity. “Music connects us all.”
I hear a lot of veteran musicians use the term “real music” because I think they feel the younger generations are not enlightened. But, it’s not true and I disagree with that way of thinking. You said something very important Corry…DJs, programmers and beat makers creative process utilizes the technique of sampling from obscure and classic records. Therefore, what’s evident is they have a wealth of education in terms of knowing what music to pull from. That’s because most everyone who hears music for the first time, is being exposed to older music, by older people than themselves; their parents, uncle, aunt, older siblings collection of music. So, I strongly disagree with many who say, “Oh, the younger generations don’t know what the real stuff is about, because in fact, they do. And their approach reinvigorates the music industry, because they create new ways to present music to the public. I think all music is relevant. “Variety is the spice of life.” “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” or in this case, “The Ear of the beholder.” It all sounds good to someone. It’s all ‘art imitates life’.
But, to answer your question … I think the Rhodes has a lasting appeal because everything in progressive technology is emulating something vintage or classic.
BTR: The interesting thing is that sometimes even guys that make hip-hop may kind of trivialize or even stress over the idea, well, I’m not classically trained, so maybe it’s not really music. So what do you say to a beat maker, DJ or programmer that stresses over the idea that he is not a musician because he doesn’t play a traditional instrument and is not classically trained?
Gerald: I believe we all are born with musical sensibilities. It’s innate. However, not everyone will become a musician if they do not desire to be. But, of course, that doesn’t mean that you can’t create music. Being a musician and creating music are different things.
I say to that individual, do the best you can with what you have. Formalized musicians deal with certain prejudice too. For instance, I’ve heard many, who I deem great players that do not read music, say that because a musician is formally trained and does read sheet music, that they can’t play by ear and have “no soul.” I know that to be untrue.
Example: Before a child learns to read, the child can speak. Children imitate their atmosphere. We learn and form words by hearing. It’s the same with music. Once you’re taught to read, it doesn’t mean that you lose your innate ability to hear and emulate what you hear.
Makin’ noise is part of the experiment (laughs).
BTR: So do you consider the Rhodes to be a Jazz instrument?
Gerald: No. I don’t consider the Rhodes to be a Jazz instrument? I consider it an experiment. I won’t put anybody on the spot or anything, but we did a screening, and the guy that hosted the screening, advertised the Rhodes as the “Jazz piano.” The fact is… the Rhodes is used in many forms and cultures of music. Because the documentary has musicians like, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Bob James and others, who are affiliated with the jazz idiom, some limit their thinking. All the musicians in the film have participated in a wide range and variety of music, and worked with everybody –
When learning to play a keyboard instrument, or any instrument – it’s important to know its origin and how it was originally applied in music. As a starting point, to learn, it’s good that you adapt to your instrument of choice by hearing it and playing it in music it was traditionally designed for and used in.
BTR: How did the project come about?
Gerald: I was introduced to Benjamin Bove by singer, Terry Dexter. They were working together on a session. Afterwards, he told her about his passion for the Rhodes piano, and she said, “Hey, you have to call my brother. You have to call Gerald.”
So, it all started from there …
BTR: So it sounds like you and Ben have a mutual love for the Rhodes and the music. Did that make it easy to commit to such a huge project?
Gerald: Yes… we have a mutual love for the Rhodes piano. Upon meeting Ben and talking with him, he had about 25 Rhodes pianos in his personal collection. He’s an aficionado. He repairs ‘em, builds ‘em from-the-ground-up. He’s a good player, too. I mean, he can get down.
I’ve used the Rhodes on many of the recordings I’ve produced and in live shows for a long time. Plus, many of the musicians who influenced me play Rhodes. So, yea …
At first, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do the project during this crux in my life. It’s a BIG undertaking and requires a real commitment and dedication. It was my daughter who convinced me to do it.
BTR: You guys really landed some huge guests to speak with for this project. Was it difficult to get them to commit to interviews?
Gerald: Some were difficult and some were not. Most everyone we called expressed they wanted to do it. It was just a matter of timing and schedules. The first to respond was George Duke.
BTR: That’s huge. The Duke himself?
Gerald: Yes. He was our first interview.
BTR: And so it all began…
Gerald: Yeah. Our very next interview was Patrice Rushen.
BTR: So the first two interviews were George Duke and Patrice Rushen. Was that a sign of good things to come and a sign of the type of support that you all undoubtedly had in creating this project?
Gerald: Oh Yes, Absolutely! And what ended up happening, Corry, was that there was an overwhelming support all throughout the project.
BTR: So what would you say is most memorable or most special about this Down The Rhodes project?
Gerald: What’s most memorable to me is seeing GOD at work; experiencing the ever-growing relationship with people through this project. I can’t help but appreciate being a part of this even more now because Ray Manzarek and George Duke passed away and it wasn’t so long ago we were sitting in their homes, filming, and talking.
BTR: Very Cool. I have to ask, being that every time I mention this documentary the response is something like… “That movie is criminally slept on!” Has “Down The Rhodes” ever been considered for any film festivals where it may become more widely known?
Gerald: I’m not sure if it’s been considered for film festivals or not. Our concern was to make the best film we could.
BTR: What has been the result of making Down the Rhodes available online via various channels thus far?
Gerald: We were rewarded, just by the fact that people in 27 countries have found Down The Rhodes online. People started ordering DVDs from the website. Early on, Ben and I hadn’t thought of this…But, my daughter (who is one of the smartest people I know), suggested we make an MP4 download of the film available on the website. Once we did, it really caught on. She reminds me all the time; she goes, “Dad, it’s the 21st century. Keep up with me. Are you on Tumblr? Are you on Instagram? Are you on Pinterest? Are you on this…?”
And this project would not be made without the help of soc. nets. So we’ve just been going with it and it’s growing organically.
There are many amazing stories of how this project really got done:
I remember out-of-nowhere, someone in Italy contacted us on Facebook, and she said, “Hey, you’re my hero. You’re doing a project about the Rhodes.” She asked if I knew Gerald McCauley, and I said, “Oh yeah, that’s me.” She shared an interesting story about how she was onboard a ship which caught on fire. She’s a small person and hid under a Mark II Rhodes piano, and it kept her from getting hurt. She ended-up contributing the remaining funds we needed for the audio mix; just because… I had never met her at the time.
BTR: Have you found that the world wide Rhodes family is more like a close knit community in a sense?
Gerald: Yes! Corry, there are so many fellow Rhodes players, Rhodes techs, collectors, and aficionados from all over the world that reached out to us. I was unaware until recently, that Benjamin Bove is very well-known in the Rhodes community because of his affiliation with the electric piano forum.
BTR: That’s the magic of music, like you were saying in the beginning, that music is a language that crosses all barriers, whether it’s language barriers, or race barriers. And that’s proven in that very statement that you just made.
Gerald: Well, there’s only one race: The HUMAN Race. What differentiates us is ethnicity. And I remember talking with Paul McCartney – during the sessions for the George Benson/Al Jarreau project, (I was on the A&R side of that) – and I told Paul how my mom would sing, “Hey Jude” to me when I was a little boy, and he said, “Gerald, it’s great how music connects us all.” That resonated with me. Now, it’s just part of what I deliver whenever talking about this project – “Music connects us all.”
We wouldn’t have this great part of American history and an instrument that revolutionized music, if not for a musician; Harold Rhodes, who was in the US Air Corps (before it was officially called the Air Force), see the need to help people. He wanted to find a way to use music as a form of therapy for wounded soldiers that would come back injured during WWII. Through the program formed in Air Force hospitals across the country, he exposed a quarter of a million soldiers to music.
BTR: Beautiful. I’m glad you mentioned that. That’s actually one of my questions, too, about how Harold Rhodes came to create the Rhodes? Because I’m not sure a lot of people know that story; it’s such a dope story in itself.
Gerald: Well, I didn’t know, even. When we started this I had no idea that there was this back-story with the instrument. Harold Rhodes was a piano teacher. And, as indicated in the film, to whittle his time away he would teach soldiers to convert their codes and telephone numbers into melodies.
I believe Harold Rhodes knew that music is a mathematical, language / art / science. He proved that through how he would teach guys that weren’t aware of their innate musical abilities –
We all are born with these abilities; it’s in our DNA. However, if you’re not exposed to music from the beginning, you can lose touch with that.
Our education early in life is based on what others that are teaching us happen to know. We can be limited to information because of that. Therefore, as I live and throughout my travels, experiencing and observing the variant in human nature, my greatest education is just how little we do know.
BTR: So first there was the movie, released online which garnered strong grass roots, but widespread attention. And now you have the book. What made it necessary to do a book as well?
Gerald: The seed was planted early to create a book long-before the film was completed. Someone told me to immortalize the subject matter. But, you’ll have to read the book (Laughs). What made doing the book necessary was … once the film was completed and after some effort was made to get the film aired on tv, having the book-version became the obvious means for us to distribute the film.
BTR: Right Right… I see where you’re coming from. Yet and still you and Ben somehow made it all come together. How though?
Gerald: A long-time buddy of mine, Brian Peters (nephew of Jerry Peters), suggested I check out Hal Leonard because a mutual friend, Gorden Campbell, has an instructional DVD with one of their companies and he thought it would be a good fit for “Down The Rhodes.” I reached out to Gorden and he emailed info about the project to one of the guys at the company. However, I didn’t hear from them or get a response. Then, I remembered that Hal Leonard has a booth each year at NAMM. So, Ben and I attended NAMM and went straight to the Hal Leonard booth, met Brad Smith in person and gave him the DVD. Fortunately, he loved the film and recommended the project to the group publisher. Now here we are!
BTR: So how does it feel to have come this far now that the film is done, has been well received and there is a book and an extended Blu-Ray DVD?
Gerald: I’m grateful … And very excited about the book / Blu Ray combo! In working with Hal Leonard, we’re able to deliver the book and film with the high-quality standard and integrity we wanted! Lots of hard work went into this project and we’re thankful it’s being well-received!!
BTR: Well, I am glad that you and Ben got this project done. This is history well worth preserving in such a cool way. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me Gerald. It’s been a pleasure.