Here’s your fact for the day, Enthusiasts: who was the first piano player to amplify his piano with a pickup instead of the old and leaky way, which was to point a bunch of microphones towards the thing?
Was it Elton John, Billy Joel, or Leon Russell: any of those seventies showman? Perhaps a technically minded man, an Emerson or a Wakeman or some other caped gentleman farmer?
Of course not: it was our very own Keith Godchaux, pictured below:
The phase-cancelling microphones necessitated by the Wall of Sound were terrible-sounding on the piano (and the vocals, but that’s a different argument) and required a better and, of course, far more expensive and complicated solution.
As I said: no one had ever built a pickup for a grand piano before, partly because it was unasked for, but mostly because no one had found a sucker to pay for it. You can’t just scale up from a Strat single-coil, apparently. I did the briefest of digging, got to the part about “turning the piano’s string’s into their own capacitors,” and blacked out for twenty minutes.
And the man who built this device? His name was Carl Countryman and before he learned the first thing about microphones, he went from diner to diner in the dusty back roads of the West. He would approach strangers, waitresses, traveling salesmen.
“Hi,” he would say. “My name’s Carl Countryman.” And then Carl Countryman would shake their hand and his handshake was full of America and his eyes were full of America and while everyone was patriotically distracted, Carl’s partner Vic the Saladfucker would break into cars in the parking lot.