From the first time I heard Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground and Superstition, I’ve always been a huge fan of the clavinet. This electric keyboard manufactured by the Hohner company produces a funky sound that adds plenty of life to any song in which it is used. Since its introduction in the ’60s, the clav has been used in dozens of classic rock, funk, disco and reggae songs. It’s even turned up in the setup of many jamband keyboard players including JoJo Hermann of Widespread Panic and Page McConnell of Phish.
This week’s B List looks at the ten best clav-fueled songs from the ’60s and ’70s. Part two of our look at the clavinet will focus on more modern tracks that use this keyboard, but that’s for a later date.
For now, let’s look at ten classic clavinet-fueled songs…
10. Higher Ground – Stevie Wonder
When most people hear the traditional clavinet sound, they think of Stevie Wonder’s work on both Higher Ground and Superstition. Without a doubt, Stevie put this keyboard on the map. Above, we’ve got a clip of Stevie and Wonder Love tearing it up live in 1973.
READ ON for nine more classic clavinet-fueled songs…
9. Whatever Gets You Through The Night – John Lennon (Ken Ascher)
Most people think Elton John contributed the clav part to John Lennon’s #1 hit, Whatever Gets You Through The Night, but in fact it was Ken Ascher who contributed the song’s signature clav line. Elton John adds piano and vocals to the mix.
8. Life In The Fast Lane – The Eagles (Glenn Frey)
The Eagles’ Glenn Frey was never known for his keyboard skills, but he did contribute the funky clav line in Life In The Fast Lane that gives the tune an edge. This was one of the first tunes that “new” Eagles’ guitarist Joe Walsh shared writing credits on with Frey and Don Henley.
7. Have A Cigar – Pink Floyd (Richard Wright)
Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright was always ahead of his time when it came to the use of synthesizers and electric keyboards including his frenetic clav work on Have a Cigar and Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Part 8).
6. Use Me – Bill Withers
Bill Withers not only had a voice that made females swoon, but he was also a helluva instrumentalist. For the studio version of one of his most famous tunes, Use Me, Withers added guitars, piano and a funky clavinet line. In concert, he generally played guitar for Use Me and let his keyboard player handle the clav.
5. Kid Charlemagne – Steely Dan (Paul Griffin)
The opening track of Steely Dan’s legendary album, The Royal Scam, features biting clav work by Paul Griffin. The band’s Black Cow also features the clavinet.
4. Custard Pie – Led Zeppelin (John Paul Jones)
Led Zep bassist John Paul Jones was a master of many instruments including the mandolin and an assortment of pianos. For Custard Pie, JPJ came up with an inventive clav line that helps power the song. Trampled Underfoot also features JPJ on electric clavinet.
3. Outta Space – Billy Preston
The late Billy Preston made fantastic use of the clav on this instrumental hit from 1972. Preston also rocked a clav for Will It Go Round In Circles and decades later with the Red Hot Chili Peppers for Warlocks.
2. Up On Cripple Creek – The Band (Garth Hudson)
The Band’s Garth Hudson ran his clav through a wah-wah pedal to create the swampy sound that powers Up On Cripple Creek. Supposedly, this was the first use of a wah’d-out clav on record. Many funk and disco artists made use of the wah’d-out clav moving forward.
1. Superstition – Stevie Wonder
The granddaddy of the clav movement, Stevie Wonder used the keyboard extensively to create one of the funkiest songs in the history of music. Our friends at NoiseAddicts dissected Wonder’s clav part from the studio version of Superstition and figured out that the tune contains multiple tracks of clavinet as explained in the video above.
What’s your favorite clavinet-fueled song? Let us know…