In the pre-digital era of last century there were very few choices for piano players in portable electronic pianos. In the 1970s the choice boiled down to either a Fender Rhodes or a Wurlitzer. For a Fender Rhodes sound think Shake A Tail Feather by Ray Charles in the Blues Brothers movie. For a Wurlitzer sound, think You’re My Best Friend by Queen. My preference was the Wurlitzer EP 200 and I purchased one second hand in 1979.
The ‘Wurly’ had a punchier and more aggressive tone as compared to the silvery and bell-like tone of the Rhodes. I needed a portable piano for playing in a covers band that would be called Harvest at receptions, Street Talk at pub shows and later The Millionaires at all gigs. I was also playing in a Christian band called Shelter. On some nights I was playing Cold Chisel covers and on others I was playing Keith Green covers.
One of my favorite albums is Supertramp’s Crime Of The Century from 1974.
It’s a favorite for a number of reasons. The predominant piano sound is a Wurlitzer electric piano. I could easily copy Dreamer but Bloody Well Right was a challenge. As I was in my early years of saxophone playing I liked to listen to, and try to copy the riffs and licks from the album, particularly in Bloody Well Right. As a trainee primary school teacher there were some philosophical points to ponder in the songs – particularly Bloody Well Right.
So you think your schooling’s phony
I guess it’s hard not to agree
You say it all depends on money
And who is in your family tree
The song takes me back to the time of still living at home with Mum and Dad and setting up the electric piano in the kitchen/family room, working out how to play that song. I definitely turned the volume down. My parents didn’t swear. Bloody Well Right was just that little bit too vulgar. I always wanted to know how to play the introduction to that song. Keeping the constant two-chord rhythm on the left hand while the right hand rips through runs and melodies is difficult.
Write your problems down in detail
Take them to a higher place
You’ve had your cry, no, I should say wail
In the meantime hush your face
In my early days of teacher training we had to read books such as De-schooling Society and others that would dwell on what is believed to be the ‘hidden curriculum’ in schools. Bloody Well Right was one of those tunes that made me question the role of schools and helped develop my teaching philosophy. Surely the success and achievements of students is not solely reliant upon socio-economic background and school fees?
My Wurlitzer piano had evolved from designs from 1954. It has an interesting system under the plastic lid. The piano keys are connected to felt hammers that hit steel tuned metal tines, or reeds. The vibrating reeds are next to electrostatic pick-ups. From there the signal is amplified and fed to twin speakers on the panel. The Wurlitzer ‘electro-mechanical’ Electronic Pianos ceased production in 1984. However, original instruments are now considered retro and funky. They are highly sought after. One of the first exponents of the Wurlitzer electronic piano was Ray Charles who used one in his original What’d I Say.
The modern digital keyboards manufactured by Nord, Kurzweil, Korg and Roland all imitate the Wurly timbre very well. The only controls on my old keyboard are the rotary volume control and a rotary vibrato control that adjusts the depth of the vibrato, not speed. Some examples of that effect are on Lazy Sunday Afternoon by The Small Faces and Long As I Can See The Light by Creedence Clearwater Revival. To this day my piano playing style has been greatly influenced by the sixty-four-note range of my Wurlitzer electronic piano.
I am truly glad that I still have my old Wurlitzer piano. It has travelled with me to countless gigs around the state – pubs, halls, churches, and parties. It is still in good condition and reasonably well tuned. I must admit that I do use a digital keyboard more often these days. It is way easier to push an on/off button rather than having to assemble the Wurlitzer – screwing on the legs and attaching the mechanical sustain-pedal and power cord. Maybe one day I will finally figure out how to play the intro to Bloody Well Right properly.