Monday, July 11, 2011

Keynote Musical Instruments Ltd. Scorpion Stage Synthesizer ad, International Musician and Recording World 1978

Keynote Musical Instruments Ltd. Scorpion Stage Synthesizer 1-page advertisement from page 189 in International Musician and Recording World December 1978 (UK).

While I was researching my recent blog post on the the Thunderchild synthesizer, I came across a PDF of a FutureMusic article with photos of a wack of rare synthesizers. My eyes were instantly drawn to the photo of the Scorpion Stage Synthesizer, and I figured that was good ol' Fate telling me it was time to blog about this ad.

So, last weekend, I got down to business in my usual fashion:
  1. get out of bed
  2. make coffee
  3. call up's Underground 80s channel
  4. crawl back into bed with laptop
  5. start Googling
And no, I didn't get paid to drop in somafm's Web site - I just really like all that 80s-channel yummy goodness. But if any company with deep pockets wants to start paying me to slip in links to yummy things ***cough cough KFC Doubledown cough cough*** just let me know :D

But I'm getting off-track.

Almost as soon as I started Googlin', I came across something unexpected.

One of the top search results from Google led me to the Wikipedia discussion page for the Keytar page itself. It seems that in October 2009, one contributing member provided some great historical information both on the Scorpion Stage Synthesizer and KMI, while referencing the fact that KMI had invented the Keytar in the late 1970s.

Wait... what?

I hadn't heard this angle on Keytar development before - and it seems to be a rather current addition to online Keytar history (at least to me), so I thought I would take a bit of a detour and do a bit of investigation before getting back to blogging.

I've pulled a few of the paragraphs from that section of the Wiki page:
"In spite of the various theories being suggested here about the origins of the name Keytar, I was deeply involved in the company (called Keynote Musical Instruments) which invented the Keytar in London, England during the spring of 1977...

...The Keytar concept came about as a consequence of Jeremy including an extra voltage-control jack-socket on the back panel of the Scorpion Stage Synth to enable a remote keyboard to run the synthesizer from elsewhere on stage. This then led to a vigorous discussion within the KMI team about the potential for making this remote keyboard into a self-contained shoulder-hung live performance accessory.... The name ‘Keytar’ took only a few days to materialise after the initial idea had been hammered out within Keynote and substantial funding was then devoted to obtaining international trade-mark protection through registration of the Keytar name."
Unfortunately, we don't really find out how the author is "deeply involved with the company", but another post on provides more information.

That post looks to have appeared two months earlier, and seems to be written by the same author as the Wiki discussion content. Fortunately, this time the author is identified as Lesley Symons, and we also learn that the author's connection to KMI is that CEO Jeremy Symons is Lesley's brother. I've pulled a couple of the paragraphs from that post too:
"It was only one more logical step until I also included the idea of a guitar-type neck in which would house the 'expressive' electronics such as a slide potentiometer for the pitch bender and it became obvious that this was a keyboard worn like a guitar and so should be name The Keytar.

Rick Wakeman was a good friend at the time and helped us with the first test runs of the earliest unit we produced which was, in fact, a floor board with a keyboard unit screwed onto it and a Guitar neck which I purchased from a local company called Chandler Guitars in Kew, West London.

To see if it would work in practice rather than just as an idea we routed out a space in the neck to house the slide potentiometer and added a guitar strap to complete the idea.
According to the post, Rick Wakeman demo'd the unit publicly at the 1978 Frankfurt Trade Fair, but for financial reasons, KMI didn't get a patent, and the idea ended up being copied by other instrument companies. The author does claim that KMI did protect the name "Keytar", but when protection ran out, another company used it for the name of a toy version of the keytar that they developed.

A follow up post challenges the author to prove these claims, but unfortunately there has been no further posts in the discussion.

As tends to happen with the InterWebz, once information is online, it starts to spread. And that seems to be what happened when a February 2010 article on the Keytar showed up on the Guardian's Web site.

Author David McNamee includes a section in the article called "Where'd it come from?", which includes:
"The brainwave for the keytar came to cottage industry entrepreneur Lesley Symons in 1977, after her brother Jeremy – a colleague of Robert Moog – invented a synth with a controller output for external keyboards. Seeing Beatles organist Billy Preston perform with a whole Fender Rhodes around his neck, Lesley figured that a lightweight, strap-mounted keyboard, with a guitar-type neck for pitch-bend functions would be a popular controller."
Plus, under the Five Facts heading, more information on Keynote Musical Instruments pops up:
"Lesley Symons actually patented the keytar name, prior to unsuccessfully pitching the concept to Roland. This means that "Keytar" is like Hoover, Sellotape or Tipp-Ex – a byword for all generic products of that form when it should just be a specific brand name. Although the derivative Roland, Yamaha and Casio designs would out-perform Lesley's own Keynote Musical Instruments products, they were unable to use the description "keytar" until the copyright protection expired in the 1990s."
After reading over this blog post so far - I'm not really sure what the point of all this writing was.

At first its main purpose was to distill out the Scorpion and KMI information from the posts I found online, but at some point it turned into a short Keytar/KMI info-gathering mission. One that just happens to include info about KMI and the Scorpion too. And maybe, on some unconscious level, looking for more evidence about this connection.

But so far, in my research, the whole Keytar/KMI connection really comes down to just a few online posts. I've definitely gotta keep on researching this for a future Keytar post, but for now, I guess I can still filter out the KMI/Scorpion bits:
  • KMI began in 1975 as a small electronic musical instrument design company based in Chiswick, West London
  • The company first marketed a portable organ called The Keynote Consort, and created a line of "Leslie-type" organ tone cabinets to accompany it, called The Vortex.
  • Plans to introduce the Scorpion began in 1977 with a launch date projected to be at the next Frankfurt Music Trade Fair in 1978
  • KMI CEO and main designer was Jeremy Symons
  • Before becoming CEO, Jeremy Symons worked as Product Manager of the keyboard division of the Dallas Arbiter Group of companies
Well... it's a start...

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