Interview: Rock Wehrmann reflects on the Moog Liberation

Liberation Manual Cover
Actual cover of our Moog Liberation offered in our spring 2015 raffle

As we continue our spring 2015 raffle of a vintage, analog Moog Liberation, we turn to the people close to the instruments’ earliest roots, like Rock Wehrmann, a working musician, music educator, and the lucky guy who wrote the owner’s manual.

Celebrating the History of the Moog Liberation

BMF: What years did you work for Moog Music, Inc. and what was your background that lead you to work for the company?

RW: From mid-1977 until about summer of ’83. I was a session keyboard/synthesizer player in the Cleveland area. The Norlin rep heard me demo a Polymoog and suggested they hire me as a clinician.

BMF: What was your position there?

RW: I started as a clinician, and eventually ended up managing the advertising and marketing departments.

BMF: Who did you work most closely with during your time at Moog Music, Inc.?

RW: Obviously, the other guys in my departments – Herb Deutsch, Val Podlasinski and Robbie Konikoff. I was sort of the front-panel ergonomics guy, so I worked a lot with Rich Walborn, Tony Marchese, and Chris Percival in the engineering department.

BMF: What instruments were you involved in while at Moog Music, Inc., and in what capacity?

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RW: I was involved in the design of the Source, the Rogue, the Opus 3, the Taurus II, the Concertmate (for Radio Shack) and the Memorymoog. Oh, yeah – and Liberation!

BMF: What do you remember about the Liberation project?

RW: The instrument almost designed itself. If I remember correctly, the [Realistic] Concertmate [MG-1] came first. Liberation is basically the guts of the Radio Shack Concertmate in a performance body.

Usually, the biggest battles on a project were involved with hitting price points. Oh, we had those – but we had fun being quasi guitar designers. I remember having decidedly unofficial conversations with friends and former business associates from Gibson Guitars about what to do and what to avoid.

BMF: Were you involved in the design of Liberation?

RW: Oh, a lot. We put a concerted effort into making this a performance instrument. The layout of the left-hand controls went through many versions. And I admit to taking a degree of satisfaction in seeing that a MIDI controller currently on the market, from a wonderful company I won’t mention (but whose name rhymes with “hysteresis”), has a left-hand layout that’s remarkably similar.

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Our vintage, analog Moog Liberation synthesizer, in the original case–complete with Rock’s owner’s manual. Enter to win it here: https://bobmoogfoundation.myshopify.com/products/liberation-raffle-2015-tickets

 

The target of the engineering department was “it can’t weigh more than a Les Paul.” Moog had (and has) a long association with wood cabinets, but this was the first time we worked with anything like a wood body. The engineering guys did some brilliant things with “poured wood,” which at the time was a brand-new technology. We had some concerns going up against those super light first-generation Yamaha products (which were really quite good), but the marketing feedback was overwhelmingly in support of the wood body.

BMF: As the author of the manual, you must have been very well acquainted with the instrument. Aside from it being one of the first strap-on keytars, what functionality really do you think set this synthesizer apart from others?

RW: Apart from the obvious !!CLICHE ALERT!! Moog sound, I do think it was the layout of the performance controls. As we know, the instrument predated any type of practical memory technology, so the importance of quick, reliable sound change was paramount. In particular, the pitch ribbon was a natural on this instrument. Keyboardists with guitar chops loved how they could think in terms of hammer-ons and note bends on Liberation. And, yes, I played one on a lot of gigs.

By the way, the name of the instrument was an ongoing challenge. It was really the only instrument that we didn’t want people to call “THE So-and-So”. It was always just “Liberation”. Just one word. Like Cher.

No, not like Cher…

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BMF: How long did it take you to write the owner’s manual?

RW: The general vibe of the manual was in my head way before we had a finished prototype. On the opening page, I refer to “a sense of instrument.” That was the guiding concept for everything in the manual. As I recall, the actual copy took almost no time at all; I spent more time waiting for a cosmetically correct mockup. I had no budget for models, so that’s me in the pictures about how to strap on the instrument. About three years ago, I found an eBay site that was selling T-shirts with a silhouette of one of the shots, and a white cable coming off the instrument. The caption was “iLiberation”. How cool is that?

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BMF: What musicians were some of the superstars of the Liberation?

RW: Here my two favorites: Tom Coster, a wonderful player with Santana and many others. He’d run the output of Liberation through a cranked-up guitar stack and play the baddest guitar lines you ever heard. He had total control over all that guitar-specific technique. And my other superstar? Craig Ferguson. He played a red Liberation in one of the “Tweets and E-mails” bits. I was sure the interwebs would just light up about that, but – nothing. Go figure.

Ivory Expedition

BMF: As a clinician, did you travel to demonstrate the instrument? What were some of your go-to demonstration techniques for the instrument?

In the first few years, I was on the road over 20 days a month, in the U.S. and Canada. Val Podlasinski and I would play for presentations at NAMM – including a memorable one with Val, myself, the aforementioned Tom Coster on his Liberation rig, and Steve Smith, the drummer from Journey. The high point of the concert was us playing the theme music from “Magnum, P.I.” (This is where Tower of Power should be playing in the background. You know – “what is hip today will soon become passé”.)

When I demonstrated Liberation, I’d try to subtly make the association with guitar techniques. For example, I’d mix the poly signal (which didn’t respond to pitch bend) in with the synth signal, and use the pitch ribbon for that double-string whammy sound. I never did jump around much – too massively dignified, don’t you know.

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BMF: Did you replace Herb Deutsch as marketing director? Why did you leave Moog Music in 1983?

Herb continued for a while as marketing director after I left. I believe Tom Rhea came in for a brief period. Mine was among the first positions eliminated when the company started losing money hand over fist, and I was not replaced. There were no products introduced after I left.

BMF: What do you do now?

This is lifted directly from my website (rockwehrmann.com):

I live in Hudson, Ohio, a bucolic little suburb nestled between the hulking metropolis of Cleveland and Akron. I have a company, Sudden Realizations, that produces music for broadcast. I’m the first-call keyboardist for Northeast Ohio organizations such as Playhouse Square, Cleveland Jazz Orchestra and Cleveland Pops. I’m on faculty at Oberlin College, the University of Akron, and at Cleveland State University. My previous jobs include Artist-in-Residence, Advertising Manager and Marketing Manager for Moog Music Inc., and Advertising Manager at Audio-Technica U.S., Inc. To paraphrase from my official bio, I’m in demand across the Midwest as a performer, producer, musical director and accompanist. I also fiddle around with classic Mercedes-Benz automobiles.


Bonus! Original circa 1980 Moog Liberation poster from Rock, scanned and shared here. Click to see a larger image:

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The Bob Moog Foundation’s spring 2015 raffle for a vintage Moog Liberation analog synth continues through April 20 at 11:59 p.m. ET. Enter to win it here.

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