–We'd all still be in the dark without James Garfield and Frederick Adlers passion and commitment to Fender Rhodes history.
I first became aware of The Fender Rhodes super-site (or Badrat.com at the time) around 1997 when I got my first computer. I remember downloading manuals at the time thinking what a jewel I had found. Back then I was repairing Fender Rhodes pianos with only the guidance of my eyes and ears without a clue of proper dimensional standards. Because of James Garfield and Frederik Alders having the passion and commitment to bringing lost information to the public we finally had a collective resource. I can’t tell you how many times in the early days I referenced their work. To this day, their spirit of sharing has inspired me to share my knowledge of vintage keyboard repair. I present this interview to honor my friends James Garfield and Frederik "Freddan" Adlers.
By Chris Carroll
VV: How did the idea of FenderRhodes.com originally come about?
James Garfield: This has a sort of long and winding answer from my side. In high school I had become a Fender Rhodes lover thanks to Marcus Goldberg’s Friday Night Fusion program on WRTI Jazz 90 FM (the Temple University public radio station), though I don’t think I knew exactly what a Rhodes piano was. His show introduced me to Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul & of course the infamous early electric years of Miles Davis, and I ended up getting tapes of albums like Thrust, Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy, Black Market/Heavy Weather (a 2-for-1 tape, big score) and In A Silent Way (one of my first CDs). Herbie’s “Butterfly” is and always will be my favorite Rhodes track.
I would say it all started when I found the abandoned early 70’s Mark I in the tuba closet of my high school, during a break from jazz band one night. I saw the “Fender Rhodes” badge on the road case and said “holy $#!T, it’s a Fender Rhodes!!!” My dad helped me get it in the back of our Crown Vic wagon and hauled it upstairs to my bedroom, where I plugged it into my bass amp. It didn’t actually make any sound until I had been pounding on it for a few minutes, playing the opening bass line from “Space Circus Part 2". At that point I felt like I had resurrected it. That’s what I consider to be the original philosophy of the Super Site: resurrecting an instrument that seemed to have been long abandoned in the 80’s thanks to the DX7. Ironically, instead of buying the Mark I off of the school for $50, my dad bought me a Roland Rhodes MK-60 for a graduation gift. As Harold Rhodes attested, that thing did not sound like at all like a Rhodes. But it was a really cool gift at the time, and it came with me to college where it served as my digital piano.
So by my senior year at Oberlin, I decided I was done with the MK-60. I found a guy on the rec/music/makers/ marketplace Usenet group selling a 1978 Suitcase 73 for $300. It was beat to hell on the outside (a previous owner had duct taped his name on the case) but played and sounded fantastic. I took it upon myself to rip off the old tolex and cover it with blue upholstery scraps.
At some point I noticed an ad in the back of Keyboard magazine for a company called Smart Parts (which I later discovered was run by Harold Jr.) selling NOS parts and copies of the Rhodes factory service manual. I bought the manual out of fascination with the instrument, around the same time that I decided to teach myself HTML and start BadRat.com. Plus my ex-wife had bought herself a scanner with OCR software, so I decided to scan the whole manual to put up on my website to share with other Rhodes owners out there in Cyberspace. That may have been the one Rhodes-related feature on BadRat.com at the time.
VV: How did you and Freddan meet and then come to collaborate on this important venture?
JG: There was another college-aged guy in Sweden named Andreas who had created “The Rhodes Information Site” from Freddan’s article that was published in MM magazine, which resulted in Freddan threatening him with legal action. That site was taken down and rebuilt with contributions from other sources, and Freddan approached me with the proposal that I use the material from the article to build out the Rhodes section of BadRat.com. This was ultimately the genesis of what was originally titled the Rhodes Help Desk, founded in February 1996.
The Rest is Just History..
VV: The Internet was basically new when you were compiling information for the site, was it hard to find factual information? It's not like there are text books around. Tell us how you interviewed people, found and collected info etc.
JG: I really do not know where I got my original information aside from the Rhodes Service Manual and Freddan’s article. Freddan is the one who did all of the research. It wasn’t until John McLaren of Major Key found me that I got a real influx of truly awesome material that nobody had seen before, and he connected me with Steve Woodyard, master Rhodes engineer and designer of the Mark V. Steve wrote some invaluable tech notes that make up a significant piece of the site. The Super Site’s discussion forum also attracted a lot of people who were able to contribute.
Freddan Adlers: I contacted all the pianists I could find from that time, both here in Europe and the US. I called Zawinul and Harold Rhodes on the phone and mailed some former top executives at Fender. I collected all memorabilia, catalogues, magazines and books I could find. Got lots of great stuff from Mark Vail at Keyboard Magazine and also got hold of a big pile of parts and documentation from the European distributor here in Gothenburg. Also me myself has been an active player/tech since around 1972.
Public Forum for Rhodes Seekers
VV: The famous Rhodes Forum was started by the Super Site, today it is a separate venture called the EP Forum, run by Cormac Long. You have nurtured and watched the comeback of the beloved Rhodes piano spread now to a whole new generation from when you started it. You must have a sense of pride knowing you helped a generation of newbies become acquainted with the Rhodes. Do you feel any responsibility to the community at this point for any further education or do you feel your laurels are worth resting on? Better yet, is there anything more at this point you can add to the subject?
FA: Mainly the site contains all the essential and complete facts there is, so I feel it’s doing the job. There are way too many personal opinions and made-up facts circling around to handle, and that’s why we don’t want to have a forum to moderate. We hope users all over the world rely on the correctness of the site, so they know they can find relevant answers to all their questions without having to discuss them.
JG: Cormac Long volunteered to migrate the Super Site’s forum to his own website, mostly because trying to moderate the discussion board was making me crazy and I wanted to be done with it. Another issue had to do with Joe Brandstetter, who was in the process of buying out the Rhodes family in order to get total control of the brand name and manufacture the “New Rhodes”. He didn’t want to tell us anything about what he was up to, and I think he felt threatened by us. Turning the forum into a 3rd party site meant people could say whatever they wanted to about the New Rhodes, without Brandstetter breathing down our necks and trying to shut us down. But that’s a whole other story. The Super Site is approaching its 20th anniversary, and I feel like we’ve done our job in creating a place on the Internet that takes care of most of the Rhodes player’s needs. A lot has changed since 1996, and our Facebook page is one important way of keeping things going. For me the next step is creating a mobile-friendly design, which is no small task. I am a professional Web Developer, and I would say it’s more like a small nightmare for the entire industry. But it’s necessary for us to do this in order to keep the site alive and relevant.
VV: What has been your greatest experience thus far in regards to running the SS and educating?
FA: The greatest experience is to have been a part of keeping the legacy alive, sharing everything related to Rhodes, and to connect with so many great people all over the world. Getting to connect with Harold and Zawinul was a big thrill, as well as the fantastic parallel history the Rhodes shares with the development of the great musical developments of late-60’s early -70’s music. Especially Miles Davis’ fusion experiments culminating around 1969 with the Rhodes as catalyst and major ingredient.
JG: It has all been one great big experience.
VV: Knowing how the site has single handily built a worldwide community of friends must be an awesome feeling. Tell me about it. I personally have 3 great friends because of the site. Freddan Adlers, James Garfield and Fred Dileone. That to me is a wonderful accomplishment and something to be very proud of. I wonder how many other stories there are?
JG: The love of the instrument really seems to connect people. I have many virtual friends out there who I have never met in person or even talked with on the phone. And in the past 20 years, Freddan & I have only met in person once!!!
FA: Hundreds. I’ve travelled to Denmark, Norway, Iceland and the US, as well as building a long list of friends and customers all over Europe. Hanging with you, Chris, and James back in 2006, was a peak in my life, a great US-trip that also led to meetings with Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, Dave Sanborn, Yellowjackets, and visiting the Fullerton plant ( Major key ), Blue Note, 55 bar, Birdland and many other clubs.
VV: Tell me about any struggles you have had along the way.
JG: The Brandstetter debacle had to be the biggest, and now that the Mark 7 has come and gone, so has he. We’re back to being free to do what we want without threats of being sued.
FA: Brandstetter made it all black for many years. Before that it was all love and inspiration.
VV: When you started the site, what were your goals and have you met or exceeded them?
JG: I had no real expectations personally. It was all an experiment that evolved into something much bigger than I ever imagined.
FA: When invited by James, who really should answer that, my aim has always been to keep feeding the site with new and interesting facts and pictures. Being able to locate the ‘E’-Rhodes and getting to know its current owner was one of the great mysteries revealed recently. It sparked an update, since there always have been such an iconic instrument with an unknown fate.
Leeds Rentals "E" Rhodes
The Piano that Inspired a Million Conversations
VV: Do you feel the younger generation that are being brought up on digital emulators are missing the experience of being involved in the Rhodes community? The idea of playing an instrument that has an actual soul, an instrument that is worthy of detailed in depth discussions such as with the EP Forum. This is an interesting discussion, forget playing it for a moment, the conversations this instrument has spawned across cultural musical and educational platforms is staggering. There will never be a digital conversation like that of the Rhodes.
FA: I don’t think the younger generation of pianists and producers really are forced to use digital emulators. Many of my customers are young and they get their hands on a real Rhodes even before they get a grand and a Hammond, since there are so many fairly available. I guess if you’re young and create music and find you tend to rely on a digital version of the Rhodes sound, you will try to get a real one a.s.a.p. However many concentrate on making music and they rely on me to help them maintaining their instrument, which is a big reward for me!
JG: If you know what it's like to play the real thing, the feel of the keys, the hammers hitting the tines under the hood, the vibration in your fingers, you can’t accept a digital simulation. You can say the same for the B3, Wurli, Clav and other electromechanical keyboards. What you hear and what you feel are two totally different experiences.
Pictured left to right: Stage 73 and Suitcase 88 Piano
Here to stay or had its day?
VV: The question is relevant to both the Rhodes piano or any electro mechanical piano like the Vintage Vibe and the Super Site. Will the pool deepen or shrink? Are we on the decline of interest or is the movement gaining traction?
JG: One word: vinyl. It’s making a comeback in spite of digital audio’s cleaner sound and prevalence. A friend pointed out that younger people today don’t have a sense of something tangible when it comes to recorded music, so picking up a 12” LP and putting it on a turntable is a huge mental shift. But with something like the Rhodes, you have to wonder if it’s just novelty that keeps people interested. It’s a specialized sound, one that doesn’t work as universally as an acoustic piano or tonewheel organ.
FA: Here to stay. 50 years ago the Rhodes became the main tool for composing and arranging for so many people around the world, completing the same area of the frequency spectrum as a Hammond or a brass section and such in a sound picture. Its timbre and feel inspiring to create. It still does, and it came back very strongly after the attack of the digitals back in the -80’s. It’ll stay forever, maybe a little back and forth……..
VV: The Rhodes community owes Freddan Alders and James Garfield gratitude for their vision and endurance to education and enlightenment. What are you two grateful for?
FA: Being graced with the opportunity to share and spread and keeping the Rhodes alive is a great gift. It is a central part of my life and all the great music that I love. Also it’s the best hobby you could ever have. Making people happy, contributing to helping new music to be made and making the occasional buck…………….
JG: I am extremely grateful for the success of Vintage Vibe. I’m not just saying this because you’re the ones interviewing me here. You have rebuilt the Rhodes in the most authentic way possible, in spite of the fact that it doesn’t bear the Rhodes logo. Not to mention the restoration work you do and the parts kits that come out of it. The felt hammer tips are insanely cool. I’m also grateful for Major Key and everything they did 10 or 15 years ago when the Super Site was really in its prime. John, Julie & Gary supported us all in immeasurable ways.