Synth and Software polled our contributors to come up with a list of our favorite 21 electric piano performances of all time.
Today we take Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, and other electric pianos for granted. The best sample libraries and even some modeled instruments sound as good as the real thing, and they don’t have all the hassles – squeaks, intonation issues, sluggish keys, bad notes, of course the weight… plus you can edit and double your MIDI parts in a DAW.
While electric piano never went away, for quite a few years it took a back seat to other instruments. Was it overused? Did we just became more interested in the steady diet of amazing hardware and software synths that have come along since the dawn of the digital revolution?
Or perhaps we all got bored with the Yamaha DX-7 “Rhodes” sound that took over the actual hardware in the mid-‘80s?
Who knows, but it’s back. Today the “real” instruments go for a high price on the used market – even as software instruments like Spectrasonics Keyscape and the Orange Tree Famous Model E push the envelope for sampled electric pianos. And that makes us happy, because it’s a wonderful sound.
So we set out to find the best electric performances of all time, which is sort of a fool’s errand since there are so many! Nonetheless, we polled our contributors to come up with a list of our favorite 20 electric piano performances of all time – and OK, we had to add one…
What started out as an exercise turned into a thoroughly enjoyable listening session. We hope you’ll agree because there’s a lot of truly wonderful music on these pages.
Billy Preston “Get Back” (The Beatles Let It Be)
Michael McDonald/Doobie Brothers “Minute By Minute”
We’ve included both East Coast (Stuff) and West Coast (Tom Scott and the LA Express) studio bands. Michael McDonald has done a lot of session playing, including on early Steely Dan records. People tend to associate him with the West Coast laid-back rock sound that was popular in the late ‘70s. But he’s known best as a member of the Doobie Brothers and as a solo artist. This is McDonald with the Doobie Brothers. It’s a catchy song, and it features his great playing on a subtly phased Rhodes.
Jan Hammer Red Baron (Billy Cobham Spectrum)
Jan Hamer plays the heck out of any keyboard he touches. This track isn’t totally representative of his
Lyle Mays “August” Street Dreams
Lyle Mays, who died this year far too young, is probably best known for his collaborations with Pat Metheny. But he also has solo albums, including a solo keyboard one that’s totally improvised with no tunes! – and this one, Street Dreams. As with many choices, we could have picked any number of his electric piano performances, even on the same album. This happens to be a really strong one.