Introduction To The Anjani Chronicles
Anjani is the exquisite, exotically featured singer and keyboardist best known to readers for her Blue Alert CD, a collection of elegantly performed songs suffused with evocative lyrics by Leonard Cohen, and for her professional and romantic relationships with Leonard, who is said to be an accomplished singer-songwriter in his own right. My own connection to Anjani began in July 2006 when I posted Music Recommendation That Will Make You Want To Kiss Me, a review of Blue Alert that reflected my captivation with the music. An online flirtation and email relationship between us ensued.
The Anjani Chronicles is a sequence of posts based on the content of my interviews with Anjani. All published Anjani Chronicles posts can be found by clicking on Anjani Chronicles.
Today’s entry, the first in this series, centers on Anjani’s childhood and adolescence, especially the development of her musical career during this period.
Anjani And The Fender Rhodes Stage 88
The Fender Rhodes Stage 88
Pictured above is the Fender Rhodes1 Electric Piano (circa 1970s), an innovative instrument that featured a new technology for the creation of musical tones,2 offered an alternative channel for the interpretation of music, and dramatically expanded the potential repertoire of live musical entertainment.
More pertinent to our purposes, one specific Fender Rhodes Stage 88, the virtual twin of the Rhodes Stage 73 shown in the graphic on the right but possessing a longer keyboard3 and proportionately larger size, illuminates some easily overlooked facets of Anjani’s life and connects those seemingly unassociated points.
And that Fender Rhodes Stage 88 may even offer a useful perspective on and insight into Anjani’s understated but resolute determination and resilience in the pursuit of her goals.
Finally, this machine is, if nothing else, a serviceable albeit unconventional Sancho Panza4 to Anjani’s Don Quixote in those portions of her adventure-filled quest presented in this and the next episode of The Anjani Chronicles.
To engage this point of view, one needs three points of information:
1. By the mid-1970s, the Fender Rhodes Stage 88 was not a keyboard instrument – it was the keyboard for serious jazz and rock musicians.5 The Fender Rhodes Stage 88 was heir to a stalwart heritage, evolving from a prototype that produced its 2.5 octaves from aluminum pipes salvaged from the hydraulic system in the wings of B-17 Bombers, cut to xylophone length, and installed in a suitcase size package. Employed as a therapeutic tool for wounded World War II soldiers, the piano was a success, thousands were produced, and the inventor, Harold Rhodes, was awarded the Medal of Honor. By the 1960s, manufacturing, musicological, and scientific progress culminated in the four instruments, the Fender Rhodes Stage 88, Suitcase 88, Stage 73, and Suitcase 88, that became the standard keyboard instrument for amateur and professional artists.6
2. The Fender Rhodes Stage 88 of early- to mid-1970s vintage weighed 65 kilos (143 pounds) or more.7 The total heft varied by model and year of manufacture with earlier versions being markedly heavier. In addition, accouterments such as the tour rig8 could significantly increase the total poundage.
3. Anjani Thomas persuaded her ambivalent-leaning-toward-reluctant parents to front her the cash for that mass of wood, plastic, metal, and electronics known as the Fender Rhodes Stage 88 when she was 16 years old and weighed 107 pounds. She then repaid this debt by lugging that instrument to a year’s worth of weekend gigs, playing blue-eyed soul and dance numbers (think Earth, Wind, and Fire) for parties, proms, dances, special occasions, and anyone else willing to hire the band.
There is more about this Fender Rhodes 88, and we’ll come back to it, but first, some background on Anjani …
Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Girl In Hawaii
Born the youngest of five siblings (she has two brothers and two sisters) on July 10, 1959 in Honolulu, Anjani Thomas inherited a blend of German, French, Okinawan, Irish, Welsh, and Dutch bloodlines that manifest in her exotically handsome appearance and are integral to her alluring style and presentation.
Her father, as he describes his job, “oversaw logistics activities for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Hawaii, Japan, and Korea. Such activities included property management, air travel, and ground transportation.” Her mother, he goes on, “was a secretary for the Soil Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.”9
When Anjani mentions her parents, her affection for and appreciation of them is patently displayed. Likewise, she appears genuinely fond of her siblings and proud of their accomplishments.
Nonetheless, Anjani admits to wondering, beginning in childhood, if she were adopted.
How else to explain the differences between her and her brothers and sister. She was, for example, the only family member with Rock Fever, that claustrophobic, trapped feeling, usually ascribed only to mainlanders on extended stays in Hawaii, that one must leave the islands. Although other members of her family would spend time on the mainland (e.g., to attend college or law school), they inevitably returned to live in Hawaii. Anjani has reversed that pattern, frequently returning to the family home in the islands but basing her life elsewhere.
Heck, Anjani even confesses to a longing to live in Midwestern climes when she was an adolescent trapped in paradise.
There’s more. For example, while her brothers and sister excelled in school, she had a more difficult experience as a student:
After multiplication and division, I bluffed and stumbled through fractions, percentages and ratios, until algebra simply led me to copy the papers and tests of whatever smarter person I sat next to. And I was better at math than science. Laws and theorems and figures would shimmy off the page of memory where they were only stored long enough to pass a class. Aside from basic math, calculus and geometry had no bearing on my field of interest.10
The critical distinction between Anjani and those around her, however, was her talent and, even more so, her profound and pervasive predilection for and preoccupation with music.
I started as a very tiny girl singing. [My first instrument was] probably ukulele; and then guitar; and then piano. I started hula dancing when I was about seven years old. … I’d wanted to make a record ever since I was a kid …11
I grew up playing viola, guitar, ukulele, & piano before finally settling on the latter in Jr. high school. So I actually listened to as much Beethoven as I did rock, jazz, R&B, funk, Hawaiian and folk music. In high school, my voice teacher really thought I’d become a mezzo soprano–I LOVED singing arias by Mozart. But the road led elsewhere.12
When I was young, I took classical piano lessons for a while. I studied with Clem Low, who worked with Sonya Mendez as her music director. I then studied pop piano when I was around 14, finding another teacher in Clyde Pound.13
Probably because she has been asked the same question a few hundred times before, Anjani has a respectful, matter of fact response to the query, “When did you decide you wanted to be a professional musician?” She simply explains,
I don’t recall a time when I didn’t want to be a musician.
One has the sense, however, that Anjani politely suppresses an “of course” from the end of that response. Music is so central and so encompassing in her life that her career decisions were limited to determining the instruments she would play, the style in which she would sing and play, and how she could earn her living in the field. Consequently, she seems to have difficulty in empathizing with the notion of someone struggling to make a conscientious decision about career paths.
Her penchant for matters musical was a primary aspect of her family life. Anjani describes her parents as supportive of her musical interests,
My parents were so cool. They supported me when I was young with whatever lessons and education were needed, whether it was guitar, hula, piano or viola. My mother chauffeured me, every weekend, to my lessons.14
She also notes, however, that throughout her adolescence, her mother and dad clung to the tenuous premise that her obsession with becoming a musician was, in her words, “a phase I would grow out of.” That they were able to sustain this conviction in the face of her unswerving aspirations and congruent behavior, identifies their belief as another case, like second marriage in Samuel Johnson’s quip, of the triumph of hope over experience.
Anjani, in fact, attributes the purchase of that iconic Fender Rhodes Stage 88 to “my parents’, especially my mother’s hope [that] playing the Fender Rhodes would get it [the goal of becoming a professional musician] out of my system.”
Like many parental fantasies, that hope was to be unrequited. The Fender Rhodes Piano not only enabled her as a performer but also, because of the need to repay its cost, provided Anjani further motivation and, perhaps more importantly, a rationalization for spending all her weekends with the band wherever there was someone willing to pay to hear them.
Transporting the Fender Rhodes Stage 88 to those jobs was no small matter. Nor is it without a certain entertainment value. Consider Anjani’s own description of loading the instrument (I suggest picturing it as an updated version of the famous Laurel and Hardy piano moving scene):
Often but not always, my brothers would help me load it. I would lift one end onto the back seat of my dad’s Pontiac LeMans and shove it in maybe 3 – 4 inches, then run around to the other side and pull it in, going back and forth pushing and pulling, inch by inch, till the monster was in there. It was a helluva lot easier to pull it out than load it in.
As it turned out, more extensive travels were ahead for both Anjani and her Fender Rhodes Stage 88.
First Calgary, Then Carnegie
At age 17, Anjani was within weeks of graduating from Roosevelt High School in Honolulu when she had the opportunity to sign onto a musical act working in Canada. In short order, she convinced her parents to grant her permission to take the job, closed down her sideline business giving piano lessons to 11 students (Anjani jokes that teaching piano made enough money that accepting the full time job meant taking a pay cut; she also volunteers, more somberly, that she learned that she “wasn’t a teacher.”), arranged to finish her high school course work in order to graduate on time although she would be on another continent when the graduation ceremony took place, and shipped out to entertain the citizens of western Canada.
The Fender Rhodes Stage 88, of course, came with.
It’s instructive to consider the Canadian episode from Anjani’s perspective:
It’s 1977, Jimmy Carter is the President of the United States. The big event on TV is Roots. Fleetwood Mac releases the Rumours album, and Star Wars opens in the cinemas. The electrical blackout leaves New York and much of the East Coast without power for 25 hours. The first oil is transported through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. Reggie Jackson hits 3 home runs to lead the New York Yankees to World Series victory. Elvis Presley dies. Flared pants are fashionable. Saturday Night Fever is a hit and so is disco.
One moment that spring, you’re a musically talented seventeen year old Hawaiian girl who, despite feeling out of place, is part of a caring family, preparing to graduate from high school, and playing in a band on weekends.
The next moment, you, accompanied only by your Fender Rhodes Stage 88 that outweighs you by 40 pounds, are appearing on stage in the western Canadian urban outposts of Edmonton and Calgary as a member of Kimo & The Sands, a full fledged professional musician.
Anjani’s own description of her North American debut, which set the standard for the six months she spent in Edmonton and Calgary, nicely evokes both the shows she, Kimo, and the other Sands put on and the venues in which they played:
The first hour of the show was a Polynesian music and dance revue – in Calgary – at a Chinese restaurant that specialized in greasy fried rice with mystery lumps covered in green goopy sauce. We played island songs and I did a Tahitian dance. After the first hour, we played contemporary dance music.
Ah, the glamor of show biz. And what about the riotous offstage shenanigans legendary among professional musicians?
We shared a car and there wasn’t much to see in those Midwest towns days. you could see the sights in a week. So we slept in, watched TV, did laundry, cooked, hung out.
Bummer. So, what was Anjani’s take in her Canadian sojourn?
I loved every minute. I was sure I was on my way
First Calgary, Then Carnegie
And Anjani was on her way – although she didn’t know at the time that “her way” would entail many flights across the the Pacific, a few missteps along the path to love (missteps that were not without certain benefits), a year spent in school in Boston, several years of playing in New York clubs, the singing of far too many jingles, a move to L.A., a departure from L.A., a return to L.A., visitations to Canada of a significantly different sort than her first trip, a few years of hiatus from music (and life as she knew it) in Austin, a mysterious figure clad entirely in black who isn’t Johnny Cash, and, as I am fond of noting, much, much, more.
Coming Attractions: Stay tuned for the next episode of The Anjani Chronicles, featuring the misadventures of our heroine, the lovely and talented Anjani, and her beefy electromechanical companion, Fender Rhodes, in the lounges of Waikiki and the concrete canyons of The City That Never Sleeps, The Town So Nice They Named It Twice, That Place Where, If One Can Make It, One Can Make It Anywhere, the Big Apple itself – New York, New York.
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I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on AllanShowalter.com (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen). This entry was originally posted Jan 4, 2008 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric.
- The sharp-eyed, detail-minded reader may already have noted that the text on the nameplate of the keyboard is “Rhodes” rather than “Fender Rhodes.” The explanation of this apparent discrepancy lies in a short chapter of corporate history. The company that manufactured these instruments was Fender Rhodes for 15 years of its history. In 1974, the name was changed to simply Rhodes but at that time no changes were made other than the one on the nameplate. The “Fender” referenced, incidentally was Leo Fender, who created, in a five year period during the 1950s, the Telecaster, the Precision Bass the Stratocaster, and a line of amps, all of which have become classics. In any case, for many, the 1974 name change is irrelevant and even now, more than 30 years later, it is common to find “Fender Rhodes” used to reference all Rhodes Electric Pianos. Fender Rhodes Super Site. [↩]
- See discussion at Wikipedia – Electric Piano [↩]
- The “73” in “Rhodes Stage 73” and the “88” in “Rhodes Stage 88” indicate the number of keys in each instrument’s keyboard. Other than the 15 keys difference, the two models are nearly identical [↩]
- I don’t recall, for example. Cervantes describing Sancho’s need for an AC power source [↩]
- More comprehensively, “The Fender Rhodes Stage 88, along with its stablemate, the Fender Rhodes Suitcase 88 and their older siblings, the Suitcase 73 and Stage 73, was the keyboard for serious jazz and rock musicians.” [↩]
- Wikipedia provides a non-exhaustive but rich list of artists and songs linked to the Rhodes piano in one or another of its forms, The first known use of the Rhodes piano on a mainstream recording was by Joe Zawinul with the Cannonball Adderley Quintet in 1967. This inspired Miles Davis to have Herbie Hancock play it too. In fact Herbie had never even heard of the Rhodes piano and thought it was some kind of toy. However he admits to being blown away by the big, rich sound of the instrument, and would go on to be one of its most recognizable exponents. The Rhodes was particularly popular from the early ’70s-mid ’80s, and many of its signature songs date from this period: “I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You by The Alan Parsons Project, “Freeway Jam” by Jeff Beck and the Jan Hammer group, “Just the Way You Are” and “James” by Billy Joel, “Ride Captain,Ride” by Blues Image, “Still Crazy After All These Years” by Paul Simon, “Babe” & “Don’t Let It End” by Styx, “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” by Stevie Wonder, “Peg” by Steely Dan, “Just You ‘N’ Me” & “Call On Me” by Chicago, “Gotta Serve Somebody” by Bob Dylan, the intro to “Sheep” by Pink Floyd, “I Can’t Tell You Why” and “New Kid in Town” by The Eagles and the theme from Taxi by Bob James. Also, Billy Preston played one on the Beatles’ “Get Back”. The Rhodes also features prominently in the song “Incommunicado” by Jimmy Buffett. Michael McDonald of The Doobie Brothers also played a Rhodes on, to name just a couple of hits, “You Belong To Me” and “Minute By Minute.” The instrument was also featured in Peter Frampton’s best-selling Frampton Comes Alive album. Other songs include “Who Will Save Your Soul” by Jewel and “Dig” by the Christian band Adam Again. Ray Charles played “Shake a Tail Feather” on a Rhodes during the music store scene in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers, and was seen playing “What’d I Say” on a Rhodes on a late 1970s Saturday Night Live appearance (although he played a Wurlitzer electric piano on the original 1959 recording). The Rhodes was also used in jazz-fusion throughout the late 1960s and ’70s. Chick Corea’s album Light as a Feather and Miles Davis’s In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew featured the Rhodes throughout the whole album. Joe Zawinul of Weather Report, Jan Hammer of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Herbie Hancock also used the Rhodes. Donald Fagen of Steely Dan uses the Rhodes on many recordings such as “Hey Nineteen”, “Kid Charlemagne”, “My Rival”, with a phaser on “The Fez”, and on most of their newer recordings. On tour he brings five of them, and always has his MXR phaser in reach to add when needed. Bill Evans used the Rhodes (often together with a grand piano) on different recordings (including “The Bill Evans Album” and “From left to right”). [↩]
- I’ve used numbers from several sources such as Selling & Shipping A Fender Rhodes Piano: “I weighed my Mark 1 88 Stage just before taking it on the road with me around 1974 and it was approximately 200 pounds. That was totally packed, with the legs and pedal in the top and the top attached, ready to go.” and “ready to ship my Rhodes Mark II Stage Piano 73 weighed 66 kilograms.” I have, on the other hand, excluded from these calculations the many claims along the lines of “My Fender Rhodes weighed at least 2,000 pounds.” In any case, according to Answers.com, the lightest Rhodes Piano produced in those models was the Mark V, weighing in at 45 kg (100 lbs). The Mark V was not produced until 1984, a decade later. [↩]
- A tour rig typically included a road case for the keyboard, an effects pedals (delay, tremolo, phaser), Quiklok stand, Rhodes sustain pedal and rod, and the road case for holding effects, stand, sustain pedal and cords [↩]
- These job descriptions were provided by Anjani’s father, who responded to my query relayed to him via Anjani. I appreciate his help. [↩]
- From Anjani’s Web Site [↩]
- From Anjani Thomas – Stirring The Heart by Jamie O’Brien, PopMatters. April 15, 2003 [↩]
- From Anjani’s Web Site – News [↩]
- From The Long Way Home By Gary C.W. Chun. Honolulu Star-Bulletin. June 30, 2006 [↩]
- From The Long Way Home By Gary C.W. Chun. Honolulu Star-Bulletin. June 30, 2006 [↩]