GEAR TALKIN’™ #3: Maestro Rhythm King
Hey! It seemed like a lot of you enjoyed the last installments of Gear Talkin’ so I’m going to have my right-hand man (and left hand when you get right down to it) tell you about one of our favorite beat-making machines. Take it away Mark…
There’s nothing like an old drum machine to divide a room of friendly music nerds into angry warring tribes.
The Wurlitzer Sideman, the very first production-line drum machine, was released in 1959. So with the relatively short history of these nutty contraptions that spit out beats in tempos of our choosing, there are some specific makes and models that get championed above all by some and winced at by others who stand by their own hero rhythm boxes. There is the TR-808 crowd, the E-Mu Drumulator crew, the Linn Drum club…. and don’t get me started about the Korg Mini Pops gang! If I had to pick a group to align with, I would be hanging with Team Maestro Rhythm King! You’ve heard this late sixties / early 70’s “funk box" in loads of places but it may be most famously leaned upon by Sly Stone while making his There’s a Riot Going On (Epic) and Fresh (Epic) albums where it takes center stage and shows us just how funky a bunch of transistors and capacitors can be in the the right hands. There were two versions of this magnificent meter machine, the MRK-1 and the MRK-2, that were almost identical with a few minor differences. No, you can’t program custom beats and changing tempos like later more advanced machines. No, you can’t exactly choose the BPM… You have to approximate. No, you can’t really pull each beat apart sound by sound. And yeah, when the unit heats up, the tempo has been known to fluctuate freely… but damn, it’s OK to let go of some control every now and again and embrace the impreciseness of life and welcome surprise and learn to not only deal with it but enjoy the dance with the push and pull of the never ending imperfect world! Wait, are we still talking about drum machines?
We have an old MRK-2 here at the Loft which ended up being invaluable to Jeff while creating the recordings for the third album he produced for Mavis Staples, If All I Was Was Black (Anti). Though it’s part of the soup-starter for all the tracks on that record, you can still hear it in the final mixes keeping slippery bad-ass time on songs like “Little Bit” and “Who Told You That” and shining proud on “Build a Bridge”.
In the spirit of the holidays, here’s a track recorded on the Maestro Rhythm King called “Who Told You That”.
Typically I put tunes behind the paywall, and will continue to do so in the future. Substack allows you to gift subscriptions; something to consider for your friends that love to read and listen.