Geddy’s Secret Sauce: Jack Secret’s Jerry-Rigging Prowess
Rush increased its use of synthesizers and other electronics in 1977, starting with its A Farewell to Kings album. Easy enough to do in the studio, perhaps, when you can layer track upon track, but playing all of the synthesizer add-ons live, without adding another musician to the mix, was another trick altogether, particularly given the limits of digital technology back then.
To make it all work, Geddy’s keyboard tech, Tony (“Jack Secret”) Geranios, cobbled together a system that enabled Geddy to switch back and forth between synthesizer or bass on his Taurus pedals, and even to play both at the same time.
The jerry-rigged system managed to do its job well enough until the state of electronics caught up with what they were doing and they could replace it with a more sophisticated system. That was around 1984, when they were moiving into their most keyboard-heavy period.
Tony got the idea for the switching system when he and his brother were working on Blue Oyster Cult tours during the mid-1970s, he said in an audio interview with Midipedals.com.
His brother enabled Blue Oyster Cult drummer Albert Bouchard to make his snare drum sound like it was from another planet during his solo by placing a piezo pickup on the snare and running a line back to a harmonizer keyboard, where he mixed that signal with the regular snare sound. It was “very cool,” Tony said in the interview, which released this week.
“I got to thinking: if he can trigger a snare drum, into a synth module, with just a piezo, there’s got to be a way to trigger another keyboard from a keyboard,” Tony said. “When I joined up with them I explained to Geddy this was something I was very much interested in.”
Tony said his vision was to have a box between the Taurus pedal and the Oberheim synthesizers, so that Geddy could turn off the Taurus and use the pedals to trigger the synthesizer sounds, or keep the Taurus pedals running in combination with the synthesizer.
“I was unsuccessful in ’78 and ’79 finding anything to do what I wanted to do,” said Tony. “So, what I ended up doing, we were in Wales at Rockfield studios, and we had the Oberheim with the four-voice add-on, and the mini Moog, and we had some pedals and some effects, loops, old tape echoes, and we went to this company that was going to combine all of these pieces together in a single console. It turned out to be a nightmare. The people that did it for us weren’t up to the task.”
Tony said he ended up working with a German technician at Rockfield named Otto who helped him devise a work-around by putting a row of contacts between the notes of the key pedal trigger, with diodes, and with a separate output that would drive the Oberheim.
“Otto came up with a brilliant idea of adding the extra contacts that would trigger the Oberheim without having to depend on any control voltage coming off of the Taurus pedals,” said Tony. It was “just an individual, separate control voltage that would trigger in real time at the same tuning that was going on with the Taurus pedals.
“So, in ’79 we had a working prototype that allowed Geddy to bring up these string pads and other types of pads or sounds that he wanted through the Taurus pedals,” he went on, and that could be done separately or in conjunction with the Taurus pedal sounds, too.
“It proved to be pretty versatile,” he said.
Thanks to Rush is a Band for the head’s up on the Midipedals.com interview.
Tony recorded a few songs himself during this period, with Geddy, Alex, and Neil joining in to help out as the back-up band the Fab Pros.