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Keyboards


Performing SINCE I'VE BEEN LOVIN' YOU with L.A. Zeppelin, 8/13/2016

JPJ is so much more than a bassist. In the early 1960's, besides being a London session bassist, he was also a top arranger and keyboard player. So much of Zeppelin's expanded sound is due to his keyboard playing and arranging of what little real strings and other instruments Jimmy Paged put in the mix (besides his many layers of guitars).

I have been playing piano since age 5 or so, violin in 3rd grade, and only started playing bass in high school. While studying composition and piano at the Hartt School of Music, a classical music college in Hartford, CT, I played bass in a "progressive" rock cover band (which turned into a Rush tribute with me on bass and keys, with a generous helping of Zeppelin and Yes). I played keys professionally for the first half of the 1980's, but got tired of being the keyboardist in the corner of the stage that contributing little more than icing on top of the musical cake, so in around 1985 I sold my keys and concentrated on bass for the next 25 years (and had a blast doing it).

I got back into classical piano around 2002, and got my first digital keyboard in the longest time about 5 years after that - a Casio Previa. Originally purchased just to practice piano while I was between acoustic grand pianos, I started taking it out on gigs with a Who tribute to play keys on "Love Reign O'er Me". When I decided I wanted to make the switch to Zeppelin and JPJ, I realized I would have to dive back into full keyboard gear/programming/practice mode.

JPJ could afford any gear he wanted, and had a truck and rodies to move and setup grand pianos if he wanted them at every gig. I do not. One requirement of this gig is for the keyboard gear to be as light and compact as possible. I manage to get most of this stuff into 2 cases weighing 50lbs each, and check them in when flying to gigs outside of California. I add my own monitors and stands when driving, but this has turned out to be a great sounding and compact set-up, with all of the correct Zep key sounds at my disposal.

The heart of my keyboard rig is a Casio PX-3 Privia. While the other keyboard manufacturers are still trying to sell digital pianos with realistic action and sound for thousands of $$, this top-of-the-line Casio weighted 88-key digital piano with a wealth of other useful keyboard and acoustic instrument and orchestra samples in only $700, and weighs 25lbs! Besides great grand pianos, it has killer Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric pianos, organs, strings, clavichords and harpsichords. It even has the dead-on phased stereo electric piano for "No Quarter" right out of the box. I have been told previous JPJ's in the bands I play with would take only a synth module and have to rely on a provided keyboard controller at each away gig. I am looking into getting everything put of a Macbook, but for me using someone else's keyboard would be like playing someone else's bass - not always a good thing.

The one essential sound that had to be perfect is the Mellotron - for strings (in "Kashmir" and "The Rain Song") and flutes (in "Stairway"). After trying some key modules (including the Roland XV-2020 below), I came to the conclusion that only a computer-based Mellotron sample program would be right. For 4 years I used the G-Force M-Tron program on a tiny HP Mini Netbook, plugged into my mixer. I used to use a tiny USB keyboard for all of the Mellotron parts, but the keyboard so in "All of My Love" is too difficult to play on it, so I now use an Alesis 49-key controller taped to the top of the Casio (it's the smallest and lightest controller with full-sized keys I can find). The patches were fantastic, despite some glitches running this on an underpowered netbook, and I also used an organ patch for "Thank You" and the trumpet patch for the solo in "All of My Love." But now that iPad Apps have gotten better, and incorporated CoreMidi, I have switched to the M3000 HD Mellotron iPad App, and it's been working out great.

JPJ played either a Rhodes Keyboard Bass or Taurus pedals running through a bass guitar rig behind him whenever he played keys. Fortunately MIDI was developed shortly after Zep's demise, and I have a couple of bass patches layered in the left hand of the Casio using a half-rack space Roland XV-2020 synth module. I originally got the Roland after researching for a small rack-mount module that would do both good analog-type bass sounds, PLUS a reasonable Mellotron. Even with the Classic Keys expansion card, the Mellotron on this module falls short, but it has not only great bass sounds, but all of the other 70's-style keyboard patches needed for Zep (and almost anything else, from what I can tell). I split the outputs so that the left channel is only key or Taurus bass, and send that into a volume pedal then straight into the bass guitar rig, so the amount of bass energy coming from the stage is identical whether it's bass guitar or key bass (and makes the sound mixer's job easier as well). The right channel goes into a volume pedal and then my little Behringer mixer for other patches including brass (for layered with Casio string section samples for "Kashmir"), the synth strings in "All of My Love", clavichord for "In The Light" and "Trampled," and extra strings and piano for "The Rain Song."

When I drive to gigs I bring a brand new pair of amazing QSC K10 powered floor monitors. These things are small, compact, powerful and sound fantastic. They cost as much as the entire keyboard rig, but make my keys sound like they are worth so much more. I really believe that you need things to sound as good as possible on stage in order to be comfortable, and perhaps it will even inspire you to play your best every time. It's easy to get lazy, tired of buying and dragging gear around (did I without roadies? yes, I think I did), but all of the practice, resarch, purchases, programming and setup is worth it, because I have the best seat in the house at every performance.

There's a lot of keyboard sounds to cover when playing Zep, and it took about 4 months to dial this rig in. I still need to nail the keyboard solo sound for "All of My Love" better; I can't find something suitable in the Roland, and the iPad Mellotron sax is "close but not quite." I am looking into creating the patch on the Roland, then possibly sampling it for the M-Tron application so I can play it on the Alesis keyboard (or layer it to play at the top of the Casio controller). There's always room for improvement, and I am never 100% satisfied, which keeps me practicing and working on additional keyboard patches. I would love to play the intro to "In The Light" live instead of the band running a CD of it before they go on, and maybe someday I can get a band to perform "I'm Gonna Crawl" at least once...

Close-up videos of the keyboard tunes are posted on the Songs page.

© 2011-16 Joel Pelletier, email: joelp@johnpauljoel.com
Updated 10 August 2016

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