The Mighty Mellotron

Jerry Lucky Commentary March 2009

Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2009 All Rights Reserved


I just finished reading a book entitled The Mellotron Book by Frank Samagaio and it got me thinking. Someone once said that

what the guitar did for rock íní roll, keyboards did for progressive rock. Keyboards like the Hammond organ and various early synthesizers.

But to my mind, one of the keyboards that had the biggest effect would have to be the Mellotron. Notice I capitalize the word, thatís because the instrumentís name is a brand. It actually drives me up a wall when I see it written without capitalization because what that says is that the person

doesnít actually know that itís the brand name of the instrument. But thatís beside the point.


My first recollection of taking particular notice of that eerie string sound was listening to the triple LP set Yessongs in particular the track ďAnd You and I.Ē As it turned out Iíd actually heard it played on various Beatles, Stones and Kinks songs but didnít know it. But on Yessongs, it was there is all its symphonic glory. OK I admit it; Iím a huge fan of this strange and wonderful instrument. So I find it puzzling sometimes when some within the prog community seem to ridicule its use. Who do they think they are? And more to the point whatís the Mellotron ever done to them that they should be so vindictive?


I remember reading one of these critic-types who mocked the idea that some people feel the mere presence of the Mellotron made a song by definition Progressive Rock. I tend to think he really missed the point. My own definition of the elements that go to creating a progressive rock include, ďthe use of a Mellotron or string synthesizer designed to simulate an orchestral backing.Ē And it was that orchestral backing that the Mellotron made possible. The truth is, if that critic was honest with themselves, theyíd admit that virtually anytime a Mellotron was used it was probably producing something that we would all consider symphonic prog. So duh! Yeah, Mellotron equals prog.


The book that I mentioned at the outset is a great read. It goes through the history of the development of the instrument from the original Chamberlin and then details the various versions. There are loads of pictures that opened my eyes to the versions. Most of us are familiar with the white single keyboard version, but that was actually the Mellotron 400 built in the early 70ís. What was eye-opening to me was that much of the early Moody Blues, King Crimson, BJH, Gracious and so many others played the Mellotron Mk II which was a twin keyboard affair. The bulk of the book includes some fascinating first hand articles from various prominent players like Ian MacDonald, Rick Wakeman, Mike Pinder and Woolly Wolstenholme and some from very serious collectors and studio types. The Mellotron book also features an extensive list of artistís whoíve used the instrument and a complete list of the various tape-sets available. As I say itís a fascinating read and full of great information and anecdotes.


My own fascination with the Mellotron goes pretty deep. There was a time back in the early eighties where I made a trip out to Toronto Canada, some 2500 miles, to end up at a warehouse where a guy buy the name of Laurie Currie pulled his bandís Mellotron out of a box and let me actually play it. I think he was hoping Iíd buy it, and I really wanted to, but I had no idea how I was going to get it home for a cost that I could afford. Still I remember those few minutes with that machine, where my hands touched the keys and the flute and string sounds came forth. It still makes me nostalgic.


Sometime when you have nothing else to do, go on line and check out the various websites out there devoted to the Mellotron. In particular check out Planet Mellotron which features all kinds of articles on the instrument, but more importantly listings and reviews of albums using Mellotrons. Its a great place to while-away the hours. Why just this morning I checked out which tracks off the first Angel album had Mellotron and which didnít. On the site he highlights which tracks include it and which donít. Thereís some great reading there as well.


So if you get a chance pick up The Mellotron Book and seek out some of the neat websites devoted to this classic instrument. Mellotron lovers will be glad to know the instrument is alive and well with a special showing of the brand new Mellotron VI at the 2009 NAMM show. You can check out the various videos on YouTube to see how theyíve made improvements to this classic beast and yet managed to retain its classic mournful sound.


Jerry Lucky