Soft Machine and their tools

[ Originally posted to What’s Rattlin’? Yahoo! Group on January 6, 2012 ]

This is going to veer very possibly into fetish land but as an American musician growing up ( which allegedly occurred) I have been inordinately interested in the gear that Soft Machine used. Having been lucky enough to have seen them on both Hendrix tours I had the luxury of walking up to the stage before the show and staring at the amps (on the first tour: very beat up Fender amps of all things) and Robert’s black Premier kit. I remember when we first learned the holy grail that was Ratledge’s specific fuzz tone model (Duo Fuzz, unheard of in the U.S.) and that seemed to rank right up there with the uncovering of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Huge. Big mystery solved.

The problem was there was simply no coverage, you had to loot Melody Maker and hope for some shred of mention or article, rare but they were at least occasionally covered. In early 1972, Crawdaddy magazine came out wth an unprecedented long article about the Softs, actual coverage and great pics amazing everyone. But we desparately wanted to know how they made these sounds, sounds that no one else was either capable of or interested in making.

Musicians make music, music is sound, sound comes from instruments, aided and abetted by fuzz tones and wah wah pedals, so it is arguably of some importance.

All a long winded lead in to this: I about fell out of my chair when I read the transcripts of Robert’s postcard and he said for Vol II that he “rented a Rogers kit with a tiny bass drum and huge Avedis Zildjian cymbals”. Hundred of hours spent thinking I was listening to Robert’s Ludwig kit (gifted from Mitch Mitchell) on Vol II, enjoyng the Ludwig nuances that apparently weren’t there. This is hard to accept… Recently calculating while viewing YouTube footage of the Softs at the French TV concert with non-mustached Ratledge and Lyn Dobson; was that the concert that he unveiled his new Gretsch snare that would star on Third and Fourth? The Ludwig acrolite snare drum set up in the wings,was it just in case he hated the new snare drum? On and On… Yes, it borders on fetish, freely admitted.

Lastly, there was a lot of drinking back then and maybe Robert was incorrect in his memory as on a very recent interview again on YouTube when he charmingly spoke of receiving the kit from Mitch and rejecting a guitar lesson from Jimi (something that still makes him shiver with regret) he said he used his Ludwig Custom Maple kit on every recording since he accepted it from Mitch, and chronologically that would include Vol II.

In my life I don’t expect any recordings to affect me the way Vol II and Third have; if you had told me then in 1968 would I still be listening to those same recordings 44 years later I would have been impressed but not shocked. So I guess music and musicians that impactful deserve some detective work. There is probably even a blog right now where a bunch of old guys are arguing about which reeds Charlie Parker used… So it goes.

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