Fitting Tributes

When the Keyboard team was ushered behind a plush trade-show curtain at the Winter NAMM show this past January, we knew we were in for a treat. Moog Music had invited us to an exclusive unveiling of a new synthesizer, an instrument you can read about in detail in Tom Brislin’s excellent profile on page 26. We hastily scribbled our signatures to non-disclosure agreements (at least, I hope those were NDAs) and crowded around a tiny table, upon which sat a draped yet vaguely recognizable form. Several members of the Moog Music staff shared the miniscule space with us, including Mike Adams and Cyril Lance, who you can also read about in Tom’s article. We were cramped, to be sure, but we couldn’t wait to see what was under that blanket.
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After a preliminary talking-up, off came the cover and there in front of us was the latest fruit of Dr. Robert Moog’s ingenuity, a product of his legacy of musical inventiveness: the Little Phatty. We didn’t know its name at the time, several front panel labels were yet to be determined, and it made no sound whatsoever. Yet it was still a thrill just to see a new Moog synth!

As Cyril Lance and Mike Adams continued talking about the synth and its genesis, I found my attention drawn from the beguiling beauty on the table, to be focused instead on the intense excitement of the Moog Men. I wouldn’t say what they projected bordered on religious fervor, but it was at the level of a deep belief. I was absorbed by their tale of working through Bob’s illness and death, overcoming grief and discouragement. In the end, they did much more than breathe life into one of Bob’s last designs: They absorbed his ideals and continued his work as though it was their own. The same can be said of the entire Moog team; they all seem to have internalized part of this great man’s vision, having made it their own work to do so.

More recently, just yesterday in fact, I attended another type of tribute, a concert in memory of Ned Torney, who worked with us here at Keyboard for a number of years. In the 12 years I knew Ned, I thought I had a pretty good handle on how he spent his time, both in the office and with his various musical activities.

Even so, I was unprepared for what I saw when I walked into Moe’s Alley in Santa Cruz, California. The crowd was as large as any I’d seen at this popular spot. But everyone there was more than just a good friend of Ned’s, they were part of his extended musical family. Tune after tune, players would fill the stage, sometimes jamming, sometimes laying down some highly-practiced grooves, always guided along by Dale Ockerman, who organized the event, out of love.

Dale’s Ned tales begin long before Dale himself became a huge icon of the Bay Area music scene, playing keys for bands such as the Doobie Brothers, the White Album Ensemble, Zigaboo, and IAM. “Ned bought me my first Hammond,” Dale said. “He paid for it in full, and said I could pay him back whenever I could, no rush.” Ned’s big-heartedness and warmth seemed to be a common factor for all of the musicians who were there, and it was really a who’s who of the local music pool. Members of Moby Grape (including Jerry Miller, who flew in from the state of Washington to participate), the Doobie Brothers, and the Sons of Champlin jammed in tribute to Ned. Then there were the bands Ned himself had played with: the Sundogs, Syndicate of Sound, Chocolate Watchband, Bogus Thunder, Otherside, Brother Buzz and more. The bands seemed to just keep on coming, the stage always full of musicians upon whom Ned had left his mark, men and women who have so much talent that it was overwhelming. There wasn’t a note played that wasn’t full of love for Ned. A guy can have a lot of friends in life, but the turnout for what was affectionately called NedFest was really something.

I am blessed to count Bob Moog and Ned Torney among the people I have spent some truly enjoyable time with. I am thankful for the artifacts I still have of their legacies: a wonderful synthesizer, fantastic recordings, and indelible memories.

The legacy that will continue growing, however, is the circle of friends, colleagues, and musicians who have internalized the best parts of Bob and Ned, and who will carry on their work, each in their own way. How much more appropriate a tribute could one hope to have?