Namm Jam (1974) by ARP InstrumentsThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation
The Music and the Machines that Made It
The 1970s was a time of rapid changes, not only in music but in the technology used to make music. ARP synthesizers were at the center of this revolution, and the success stories of the era's greatest musicians – and their successors in the 1980s and beyond – were written with the sounds of ARP.
Jamming at NAMM
The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) holds a trade show each year to demonstrate new musical instruments and studio gear for an audience of music industry buyers, artists, and journalists. In this photo from the 1974 NAMM Jamm, a wide array of ARP instruments has a crowd's attention riveted.
"The Stars Shine on ARP"
Advertisements for ARP synthesizers often featured popular players of the day – in this one (clockwise from the top): Stevie Wonder, Jimmy Page, Edgar Winter, and Pete Townshend.
ARP Ad Artist List (1977) by ARP InstrumentsThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation
An Impressive Roster of Players
This particular ARP ad captured the essence of ARP at the height of its fame. Few if any synthesizer makers could claim a list of artists as extensive and widespread as ARP proudly displayed here.
ARP 2600 Ad Joe Zawinul (1976) by ARP InstrumentsThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation
Josef "Joe" Zawinul was a keyboard luminary of the 1970s, his playing and songwriting with the jazz fusion group Weather Report earning him three Grammy awards. The spirit of experimentation was a keystone of Weather Report's sound, with Zawinul's keyboards a central element.
The Two-Fisted Player
A common element of Zawinul's playing was to have an ARP 2600 for each hand, playing different timbres. Sometimes they were placed side by side, as shown here, but much of the time the cabinets were set to the side and the two keyboards stacked in front of him.
This is Weather Report's "The Pursuit of the Woman with the Feathered Hat" from their concert in Offenbach, Germany, in September 1978. It gives a great look at how Zawinul guided the music with his two ARP 2600s. The cabinets are to his left, with the two keyboards above his electric piano. Everything other than the piano and deep bass notes is created from the 2600s, with counterpoint and melodies being reprogrammed on the fly.
ARP Ad 2600 Pete Townhsend (1975) by ARP InstrumentsThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation
Pete Townshend and The Who
Pete Townshend is best known for his guitar work with The Who, but also played keyboards and synthesizers extensively with the band, pioneering amazing techniques and creating new sounds. ARP synths were heavily featured on albums such as Who's Next and in the rock opera Tommy.
At the time of its release in 1969, the rock opera Tommy was acclaimed for its bold innovation. Pete Townshend composed much of the music for Tommy with his ARPs nearby, and ARP was quick to take note of this.
And here's the track itself, from the album Who's Next (1971). Documents of the sessions reveal that a Lowrey organ was processed through the 2500 to get the sound used on the record, originally created as a demo by Townshend. Note how the rhythmic pulse forms the backbone of nearly the entire song, preceding the same technique in disco music by several years.
"Going Mobile" from the same album features a more subtle use of the ARP as a signal processor. Pete plays his guitar through an envelope follower to get the "wow" effect; it listens to the loudness of the notes and opens and closes a filter. This was a fairly new concept in 1971, but later was made common with "auto-wah" pedals.
In this early take/promo video for the title track from the Who's massive 1978 album Who Are You, the 2600 can be heard carrying the song's rhythm throughout. It's even more prominent in the final release version of the song.
ARP Ad 2600 Herbie Hancock (1972) by ARP InstrumentsThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation
Herbie Hancock is one of the most famous jazz keyboardists alive. In the 1970s his exploration of new sounds for groundbreaking albums like the million-selling Head Hunters led him to add synthesizers to his arsenal – and for years, every one was an ARP.
Herbie played the ARP 2600 on many of his albums and tours from the 1970s, as well as the Soloist, Pro Soloist, Odyssey, and String Ensemble.
In this live performance of "Chameleon" from 1975, Herbie lets his Odyssey cut loose with everything from a funky solo to waves of noise that he seemingly controls with his hands – it's hard to tell from the film, but it looks like he might be doing it with a foot pedal, out of sight of the camera.
ARP Ad 2600 Edgar Winter (1973) by ARP InstrumentsThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation
Edgar Winter stunned audiences with rock hits that placed the otherworldly sound of ARP front and center. On hits like "Free Ride" and "Frankenstein," he fronted the Edgar Winter Group with his 2600's keyboard over his shoulder like an electric guitar.
"Free Ride" was the inspiration for many aspiring keyboardists' interest in synthesizers, featuring a distinctive instrumental break drenched in the 2600's sound effects.
"Frankenstein," from They Only Come Out At Night, is performed live here in 1973. With a solid backing from his rhythm section, guitarist Ronnie Montrose, and a kid's bicycle horn, Edgar Winter blows the audience away with a performance incorporating sax, drums, and his ever-present 2600 stealing the show.
ARP Ad 2600 Stevie Wonder (1973) by ARP InstrumentsThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation
A Who's Who Of ARP Artists
The 1970s music scene was packed with artists whose music showcased ARP's sound. Even as the world of synthesizer manufacturers grew more crowded and alternatives sprang up everywhere, ARP remained the synthesizer of choice for many artists throughout the decade and beyond. Shown here: Stevie Wonder in an ad for the 2600, which he found intuitive to use by touch.
Synthesizer ads in professional music magazines were often full of information and mini-interviews, and their cost encouraged many manufacturers to pack as much information as possible onto a single-page ad. This ad for the ARP Omni 2, featuring multiple quotes from Kansas keyboardist Kerry Livgren, is an excellent example.
Billy Preston was famous for his use of ARP gear, as heard on this song "Space Race" from the album Everybody Likes Some Kind Of Music. Check out the Odyssey lead!
In this concert from 1975, the funk band Ohio Players gets the audience dancing with the hits "Love Rollercoaster" and "Fire". Keyboardist/vocalist Billy Beck can be seen playing a String Ensemble on the first track and a Soloist on the second.
Frank Zappa's hard-hitting band was the crucible in which many musicians were forged – but there was a lot of fun and madness along the way. In this concert from 1974 released as the record A Token Of His Extreme. George Duke does a "solo" involving Tibetan finger cymbal, a story that never gets finished, terrifying sound effects, and a shredding Odyssey solo... that turns into the Odyssey taking a solo of its own while George accompanies it on tambourine. Hang on tight, folks!
The Rolling Stones' blues stylings always needed keyboards behind them, and in this live concert from the LA Forum in 1975, an ARP Pro Soloist makes an appearance here and there as a solo instrument joining the guitars.
Elton John's massive double LP Goodbye Yellow Brick Road from 1973 opened with the instrumental "Funeral for a Friend" segueing into the FM hit "Love Lies Bleeding." The cinematic atmosphere of the track is underlaid by the sound of the ARP 2500.
This beautiful rendition of the song "Mirage" by Jean-Luc Ponty at the 1982 Montreal Jazz Festival features Allan Zavod on an amazing ARP 2600 solo. As is common for the 2600 on stage, the cabinet is set behind him while the keyboard lies in easy reach above Zavod's other instruments.
Finally, as an example of how ARP helped carry popular music out of the funk and rock of the 1970s into the synth-heavy New Wave of the 1980s, here's Ultravox playing "Reap The Wild Wind" and "The Voice" from their Monument live tour. Lead vocalist Midge Ure uses a String Ensemble, and keyboardist Billy Currie takes solos on his Odyssey with a distinct sound and playing style heard across all the band's albums.
ARP Ad Omni-2 Allan Zavod/JEAN-LUC PONTY (1978) by ARP InstrumentsThe Alan R. Pearlman Foundation
These ads and videos offer a tiny glimpse into the musical world of the 1970s, a world where ARP synthesizers brought their power to genres ranging from jazz and rock to soul, funk, and beyond. Their influence continues to resonate today in the music they helped create.
Story by Mike Metlay; editorial contributions by Dina Pearlman and Mary Lock; The Alan R. Pearlman Foundation