Atomic Rooster: More Respect For The Rock Organ

VINCENT CRANE, ambitious leader of Atomic Rooster, firmly believes that the full potential of the organ has yet to be exploited within a rock concept.

Vincent is forever experimenting with new ideas and new group line-ups, but although he is the man in charge, the emphasis is strictly on a group sound of which the organ is an integral part. As a result Vincent is rather more subdued than most, avoiding the visual dynamics usually associated with pop organs; but maybe it’s this that helps him to take a more objective view when it comes to songwriting.

For Vince’s compositions clearly aren’t “selfish songs”, designed to send the organ racing away with bass and drums frantically trying to knock out an even tempo. Vince is also a bit of a guitarist and is sympathetic towards the demands of the group.

“I play a the bass line on the organ, because with an organ/guitar line up, it’s much better than having a bass player. Although I’ve used bass players in the past, people have been coming up and saying they thought the organ sounded better than bass; in this way there’s room for two lead instruments in a three piece group. I’ve had bass players in and out of the group all the time, but I’ve always ended up playing the bass lines myself.”

The current Rooster line up includes lead guitarist John Cann and drummer Ric Parnell who have replaced Nick Graham and Carl Palmer.

“When John joined the group I had a couple of numbers which just weren’t suitable for guitar, so obviously we had to drop them. Likewise John wrote one number which didn’t fit organ, but this doesn’t happen very often.

“I think the organ’s been used wrongly all the time. It’s come to prominence through jazz, and I don’t really think it’s suitable for that style of music. The Jimmy Smith sound is the only real sound you can get out of the organ on the jazz scene, and I personally feel it’s about time the organ got the prominence the guitar has. They are capable of having the same excitement as guitar, but because it can sustain people think it’s just a filler – it’s been in the shadows for too long.

“As far as rock goes, it’s always been organ/bass/drums or guitar/bass/drums line up, but seldom guitar/drums/organ. The old Jody Grind were doing it, and Deep Purple are on the same sort of scene, but they don’t really push each other along as we do.

“I don’t really approve of classical infiltration of the organ, although I enjoy playing classical music on piano, and use piano with the group. It was used on the first LP and will also be featured quite a lot on the second, but there are technical problems in using the piano on stage.

“If I can find an electric piano that really sounds like a piano, particularly in the bass register, then that’s the answer. But I’m not really satisfied with the electric piano scene at present.”

When I spoke to Vincent, Rooster had just achieved a major break-through in Germany, and were hoping for a bit of luck in this country which has erstwhile eluded them.

“We’re concentrating more on the continent at the moment, and in less than a month we have made the impact in Germany it took us a year to do here, and we still haven’t had any real luck here; it’s a pity that word of our Munich Festival appearance didn’t filter back to England.”

Vincent first took up playing organ about five years ago, but was playing piano before that. “I think practically everyone does that, because who can afford an organ to start off with? I didn’t start playing piano until I was 15 when I realised I had a certain talent for it; so I thought I ought to concentrate on it, particularly as I didn’t have any other talents.

“It’s obviously not a good idea having bass coming through two cabinets so I’ve split bass and treble to go through two speakers. I use all stereo pre-amps, and thus cancel out the amp in the organ. In this way you can adjust the sound to suit the acoustics of where you are playing.

“As far as the Atomic Rooster sound is concerned, it’s taken a long time to get the sound I want; I shall probably try further experiments to get different effects, but the basic sound is now OK.

“I started using a wah wah on one number, ‘Before Tomorrow’, which is our last number on stage, but I don’t like bringing it in too much

The top or Vincent’s organ tends to look extremely “cluttered” as a result of his modifications and this necessarily reduces his stage antics to a minimum. This doesn’t mean shot he is ignoring a good visual presentation. His organ has got so battered during transportation to and from gigs, that he now aims to give it a silver finish.

“A lot of people still don’t realise that the organ is the only instrument with no acoustic properties at all. It’s totally electronic, and that is why it’s so different; in fact it’s the nearest thing to s computer there is. There’s hardly a good organ sound on record, even if the stage sound is good, and I think the Leslie is to blame for this. It’s OK for something like a Procol Harum introduction, but it gets swamped in the ensemble. I think you’ve got to remember that you can never approach an organ thinking of it as an electric piano, because quite honestly the only similarity is that they both have keyboards.”

Similarly, Vincent is very dogmatic about piano styles. “Your playing style comes purely from what you write, and I like to think that I’m not influenced by anyone, although in point of fact I’m influenced by everyone. Also, I went to music college, and this must have an influence on what I do. Apart from using special effects I think it’s impossible to get a unique organ sound; it’s the way you play which gives the uniqueness of sound. In building up a solo, I play in a way as if I’d written it. Too many people concentrate on playing incredibly fast without actually stopping to think what they are playing incredibly fast, the proof being that every successful group makes it on their writing ability.”

© Jerry GilbertSounds, 10 October 1970

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