Hailing from Leeds, UK, keyboardist Dan Goldman (aka JD73) is a bit of an unsung hero. Choosing the Rhodes piano as his main instruments, he’s collaborated with countless artists : Morcheeba, Nightmares On Wax, The Brand New Heavies, Kirk Degiorgio, The New Mastersounds as well as members of Incognito and Jamiroquai, etc…He also writes keyboard reviews for Future Music and owns The RhodesWorks, a workshop to preserve and service Rhodes pianos to the highest standard. He’s just released an album with his ElecTrio on Atjazz Records Company. For this new Times & Tunes, Fred Everything met this talented keyboardist.
Fred : Hi Dan, thanks for taking the time to do this interview and congratulations on your new JD73 ElecTrio album on Atjazz Records Company! Would I be wrong to say that I’m hearing some Azymuth and Herbie Hancock influences in there?
Dan : Definitely Azymuth yes, and Herbie Hancock is my biggest influence of all really. His whole approach on the Rhodes piano has always blown my mind and this is something I wanted to pay homage to, on this record in particular, bringing the Rhodes to the forefront. I really wanted to put it under the spotlight again and be brave about it. This is absolutely a Rhodes record in the classic mould! I’m also influenced by Bob James, Patrice Rushen, Brian Auger’s Hammond organ playing, Ramsey Lewis, George Duke, Larry Dunn (Earth Wind & Fire), Joe Sample and many others…
It’s really interesting how Herbie Hancock discovered the Rhodes. He was in a session with Miles Davis in San Francisco and there was no acoustic piano so Miles told him to just use that one in the corner.
He didn’t have any expectations at the time but he made it his own and he has such a distinctive voice on that instrument. If you put Herbie’s Rhodes playing and piano playing side by side, the language that he uses on both is vastly different. Although he doesn’t play the Rhodes anymore (which I think is a shame), he chooses to play it on a modern keyboard (Korg Kronos). The Rhodes is a very versatile instrument and it can wear so many different clothes. Herbie Hancock always referred to the Rhodes as an instrument that can blend but it also can be upfront as well. Not that many instruments have that quality!
Can you tell us more about the other musicians in the trio? Have you played in bands together before?
Dan : There’s Hamlet Luton on bass and Gordon Kilroy on drums. We go back a long way! There’s a really strong, healthy jazz/funk/soul and hip hop scene in Leeds (where we all still live) and a lot of the scene stemmed from the music college itself and we have all played together in lots of different bands over the years : original bands, covers bands, jam bands, etc. So we know each other’s playing intimately through so many different gigs together. There’s definitely a telepathy between us because we understand each other’s playing on a kind of subconscious level. Also they are some of my best friends, which is important! We get on great and always have a great laugh!
What’s the inspiration behind the ElecTrio album? Did it come together from jam sessions or was it planned?
We started the band around 2012. At the time, we were kind of a Headhunters tribute band. We used to play Sly and Chameleon and we started off jamming on those. In the midst of it all, they became something else entirely. Through playing some really nice cover versions of the tunes that we loved, our original tunes actually grew out of that situation. So it definitely came from jamming. The album is essentially our live set of original tunes that we’ve been gigging for a couple of years so we were really comfortable with those tunes. I always wanted to get to a point where we could go to the studio and record it in a very old school way by laying it down in a couple of days completely live. And that’s what we did. But every time we played the tunes, they’re always a little bit different. We recorded the whole album in a day, recording 4 takes of each song and essentially chose the best performance, no editing.
What was the process of the recording? Did you have something in mind sound-wise to keep a “vintage” sound, apart from the instrument used? Did you record to tape?
I love the sound of tape and a lot of classic albums I love, (like Bob James, Herbie’s and Patrice Rushen’s) were recorded to tape so I kinda wanted to get that super tight 70s studio sound. A lot of the sound of a record is defined by the sound of the drums, so we spent a lot of time on those, putting different mics on the kit with Andy Hawkins (who’s the engineer at Nave Studios in Leeds) so we would have a lot of choices when it would be time to mix it in my studio. I did a lot of research on how a lot of Rhodes artists in the 70s recorded, and they mostly went direct. We tried using a valve mic on the cabinet of the Studio’s ’74 Fender Rhodes but it just wasn’t the sound I was after. I ended up going home to get my 1980 MKII Rhodes, plugged it in direct and that was the sound straight away! We did go through a Chandler limiter as we recorded, to bring out the harmonics in the Rhodes. That was something a lot of Rhodes artists used to do back in the day. For the bass, we went through a valve Direct Box and took a separate channel for the mic’d amp. What I found when it was time to mix the record is that I ended up getting rid of most of the room mics we had, but there was no tape involved at all in the end. Because we agonized about getting the sound of the recording right at the source, the majority of the mix only took a couple of days. I mixed it in the box but then I summed it through a Midas desk.
What are your other instruments of choice for this album? I’m definitely hearing some Arp Solina and Odyssey, which I’m a big fan of. Do I hear some Space Echo or Echoplex on some tracks too? It sounds to me like you kept a small palette of sound by choosing only a few keyboards?
I took my 1980s Suitcase Rhodes without the speaker (I have a custom direct box for stereo outputs). I use that as my main instrument. I also used my Solina String Ensemble and my Korg Arp Odyssey. I originally brought my Hohner Clavinet only to realize it was misbehaving so I used my Nord Stage to record as a placeholder and later replaced most of it with my Clavinet using a Fender Fuzz Wah, like Herbie’s original signal chain. For the echo, I used a Boss RE20 Space Echo pedal. I also used a bit of Korg Prologue which is the nearest I’ve found to a polyphonic Arp Odyssey.
One of the ways I became aware of you has been through reading Future Music magazine. Being a fan of vintage keyboards, I always loved your keyboard player perspective on reviewing the new synths and the re-editions, having yourself known the original. How did this collaboration with FM started?
In 2007, I had a manager that got me a producer feature in Future Music. They brought a film crew to my studio and they filmed me producing a track called Distorted Dreams off my first album. One of the guys from the crew told me they were looking for reviewers and that was it! Back then I was doing 2-3 reviews a month. Nowadays, I do a little less but still write for them regularly.
Now let’s talk about your main instrument, the Fender Rhodes. You are apparently a specialist, not only at playing it but also knowing the instrument inside and out and being able to fix them. What prompted your “under the hood” interest in them? Rumour is you have 10 of them now?
When I was touring with Morcheeba, I took my own Rhodes around for 8 or 9 years. Rhodes are very well built instruments, but mine was getting put in back of trucks, flown over the world… Back then,1999-2000, it was really hard to get parts so you had to think on your feet and come up with solutions quickly if something broke. For example, if one of the hammer tips came off, we ended up making them out of bits of rubber matting or pencil erasers. Anything we could find really! So I got the grips with fixing every little problem that came up during the tour. In between tours, I would fix other friend’s Rhodes and people started saying I should do this more. They liked how I got their instruments to sound so I started getting a few customers and it spiraled from there and I set up the RhodesWorks. I’m still doing it today and currently I’ve got 30 people on my waiting list!
How did you meet Martin (Atjazz)? Was it an easy decision to choose his label as a home for your project? I know Martin’s love for all things jazz-funk runs deep but apart from a few projects like The Rah Band re-issue last year, the label is mostly known for House and Techno.
I first met Martin in 2012 when he was doing a gig with Karizma in Leeds. We were on the same bill at The Wardrobe and I’ve always been a big fan of his music. I hear a lot of similar influence in his music and Martin came up to me after my gig with my JD73 band and told me he really enjoyed it. We’ve kept in touch ever since and we have a mutual respect – Martin is such a great guy and an amazing artist. He’s so knowledgeable about everything and I always love talking to him on the phone about life and music! As Martin said he was trying to widen the realm of the kind of music he puts out, when I sent him a copy of the album, he said that, “It’s perfect for what I want to do with the label.” For me, It’s a privilege to be on the label. Martin runs everything very tightly and properly and it’s very refreshing to be in that situation. Ultimately It feels like I’m part of the family there and Martin understands the music deeply; he knows where I’m coming from with the record and It’s a very pleasurable situation to be in.
What’s on the horizon now? Any new collaborations? Remixes?
Myself and Martin have talked about doing a Remix album and with this in mind we actually recorded the whole album to a click track/BPM so it would be easy to remix. At some point I hope that all the stems will be available and I’d love to see what people make with these parts. I’ve also written a follow up set of tunes for the next ElecTrio album, which at some point, I hope we’re going to record too. I want to continue the momentum for this project for sure! Collaboration-wise, I do a lot of remote recording for artists. Currently I’m working on some bits for Mozez (previously of Zero 7) and I continue to work with George Evelyn (Nightmares on Wax) on new music. I’ve played keys and been MD for Nightmares for a good few years now and we had a whole tour planned for the 25th anniversary of Smokers Delight, which was cancelled due to the pandemic. We were going to have a string section, big production etc… When we’re allowed again, it’ll be amazing to go out and do some gigs again – I honestly can’t wait!
Interview by Fred Everything.