This feature, created by Nick Zanca, was recently published on Reverb.com – the background story of Doug McKechnie and his Moog synthesizer.
Below you’ll find an excerpt of this article, please note that all (c) are with Reverb.com and its author(s), All pictures are (c) Dough McKechnie.
When a musician is among the first to play a newly innovative instrument, one can only assume the sensation is like setting foot on uncharted sonic territory. Imagine you’re the violinist of an 18th century orchestra picking up a Stradivarius, or better yet, put yourself in the shoes of Charlie Christian the first time he attached a pickup to his guitar. Surely, the element of surprise and curiosity that comes with newfound tonal exploration must be contagious.
When I recently asked 81-year-old longtime Bay Area resident Doug McKechnie what it was like to come into contact with the original Moog synthesizer, he compared his first encounters—in classic Californian parlance—to getting up on a surfboard for the first time.
“You’re finding your balance, finding where the wave is going,” he reflected over the phone. “If you look at time as the wave and the machine as a surfboard, you get on and you do the best you can and you move where fate takes you.”
It was 1968 when the twentysomething army veteran and psychedelic enthusiast crossed paths with the Moog Modular Series III that belonged to his electrical engineer roommate Bruce Hatch. In just a few short weeks, he was performing improvised concerts and lecturing at universities across the Bay Area in the midst of a countercultural moment where synths were still a rare commodity ready for universal exposition. Before it was sold to a member of Tangerine Dream in 1972, McKechnie would take the Moog to recording sessions alongside the Grateful Dead, the San Francisco Opera House with composer Terry Riley, and the now-infamous Altamont Free Concert headlined by the Rolling Stones.
Though recordings of McKechnie’s Moog performances from this era have now been uncovered and assembled by Baltimore-based VG+ Records for a two-part retrospective compilation—San Francisco Moog: 1968-1972—his contributions to the historical narrative of electronic music have largely remained overlooked until very recently. As one of the first performers to realize the potential of the Moog’s step sequencers in a live context, the label is quick to claim him as the “missing link” in the wider story of synthesis.
Speaking from his home in Oakland, McKechnie walked us through his five-year relationship with the Moog Modular, the relationship between synthesis and the human voice, and his staunch belief that “all things manifest in waveforms”. His retrospective compilation, The Complete San Francisco Moog: 1968-1972, is out now via VG+ Records.
Altamont Speedway show (1969).
Doug’s Moog also made an appearance at the the infamous show Altamont Speedway that the Rolling Stones headlined (December 1969). Doug played a set a set at sunrise that morning before being given the boot by the event’s engineer, Owlsley “Bear” Stanley. Doug explains that he was helping out putting up the sound system, under the condition that he could play at sunrise…but he was switched off because the Moog sounds were not understood.
Selling the Moog III to Christopher Franke (1972)
In 1972, the Moog III was sold to Christopher Franke of Tangerine Dream, a transaction that helped birth the Berlin School of synthesis as we know it today. How did he enter your radar? Were there a few different potential buyers before it landed in his hands?
Bernie Krause, who was involved with a bunch of different things with synthesizers, was the one who negotiated the sale. It was first going to go to The Byrds, and for whatever reason, they decided not to do it. Then, it went off to Tangerine Dream. I wasn’t actually part of any of that negotiation—that was pretty much all Bruce Hatch because it was his instrument.
I recently went to Texas to try and recover the rest of any of the archives, and I was able to bring back a half a dozen tapes to find out whether there’s anything on them. I haven’t yet digitized them yet, but when I met with Bruce, he kept apologizing to me for something that I didn’t remember. Apparently our breakup of the scene was pretty rancorous in his memory. I had forgotten about it, but apparently when he came to me and said he was going to sell the Moog, I didn’t react very well.
Read the complete story on reverb.com