The name Roger Linn might not ring a bell for many guitar players but you’ve surely heard him. If not from the hits he wrote for Eric Clapton you know the sound of his Linn drum computer (Prince’s ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’ f.i. or songs from Sting and Peter Gabriel) that defined the 80’s. The newest product from his company is the Adrenalinn whose mind bending tones will surely find its way into rigs and hearts of many guitar players.
A shorter versions of this interview was printed in the Music Maker sept. 2002 issue. Copyright Richard Hallebeek and Music Maker. Copying striclty prohibited. Roger Linn photos copyright Richard Hallebeek
:: Many people might know you from your inventions, but can you tell me something about your guitar playing back ground?
”Yeah, I wasn’t a great musician, but I…this was like mid-seventies..the biggest band I ever played with was with a guy probably nobody remembers now, his name is Leon Rusell. In the 70’s he was very popular. He had a string of hits, one was called ‘Tight Rope’, one was called ‘Song For You’, there was ‘Humming Bird’..what was the one that George Benson did..? ‘Masquerade’ these were all hits at the time. He did a movie called ‘The Concert For Bangladesh’ with Bob Dylan and George Harrison. So I toured with him for a while, but other than that it was more minor stuff and recording. I was a songwriter too, I wrote one of Eric Clapton’s hits in 1980 that was called ‘Promises’ and I wrote a song for a sort of a country folk artist in the united states called Mary Chapin Carpenter, I don’t think she’s very big over here, but I wrote her first hit, that was called ‘Quitting Time’. So this was my first life as a musician. But at the same time I was playing guitar and I was doing some recording engineering and producing some small projects and all that stuff, I always had an interest in technology. And I was always working on little gadgets and such. Most of the things I’d like to have didn’t exist. Didn’t exist at the time. And so, really the genesis of the original Linn drum machines was an idea of having a drum machine that you could program all the parts in, throughout the song and the sounds would be real. It really came out of my own personal desire to have such a piece of equipment. And once I had made a primitive version of that, I could tell that this was something important and so I left my first life behind and started my second life as a maker of music synthesizer products.’
:: When did you start your own company?
‘1979 I started Linn Electronics. I was 24 at the time and it was a daunting task. But it was a lot of fun.’
:: The projects you did with that company were..
‘The first product was called the LM/1 drumcomputer. And that was the first sampled-sound drummachine and the first succesfull programmable drummachine.
:: I heard that was pieced together from a Roland drumcomputer and a primitive PC?
‘No, no, that was earlier. That was around 1976 when I was playing around with early ideas and I had an early computer system and I was learning about programming. And for drum sound generation I had imported a drum sound generator board from an early Roland drummachine. And of course at the time Roland only made those very simple pre set drummachines that had ‘Rock 1’ and ‘Rock 2’ and ‘Samba’ and ‘Tango’ and volume and tempo and that was it. Their sounds were pretty good for the time. And so I hooked it up to the computer and in this early experimental machine on the screen you’d see a grid of stars, from left to right where the steps in the repeating sequence and up and down were different rows for different drums. Then you move the cursor over and plug a star in and that would mean the drum would play them. I remember showing that to Stevie Wonder very early on, who’s of course sightless and all of a sudden it occured to me that what I needed to make was something that was not visually oriented but something that the feedback was something that you would hear as opposed to seeing. And that was when I created the real time system and made a real commercial product which was quite different.’
:: Did Stevie Wonder give you any other ideas?
‘Yeah, he is a great creative guy, obviously. He had ideas. I just watched the way he played, mostly and then how he interacted with it and then try to incorporate that into later designs. The first product was the LM/1 drumcomputer which in The States sold for $5000.- and had no cymbals because the cymbals were too long. But it had otherwise all sampled sounds and it had the real time programming operating system that has now become a standard in all drummachines and then largely in looping sequencers, too. It was the first product to have quantize, it was the first product that had variable swing and it had the loop recording system so it was very innovative at the time. And then two years later, in 1982, the second product came out which was called the Linn drum. This was basically a cheaper, better product. It had cymbals, it had more features, it had.. basically it was the same thing cheaper. Two years later than that, then we came out with the LINN 9000. Which was a very ambigous project, but it had a lot of technical problems even though people liked the concept of it and used it, they use it ’till this day. It was very complex, and so we had software problems, hardware problems and then the company finally closed down in 1986. Largely because there was so much competition and I was the world’s worst manager, so..
:: That must have been weird, after your first invention with the matrix and all to see all the big companies following your ideas.
‘Yeah.. yeah they did. Everybody made programmable sampled-sound drummachines by ’86. It was just very, very common. So it was hard to stay afloat at that point because everybody was making products far cheaper than I could, yeah.’
:: I noticed from your website that you still support the old products from the ’80’s?
‘Oh, no we don’t.’
:: But there’s updates, right?
‘Oh, that’s true that’s for the AKAI machines. For supporting our own products, we basically..there’s a couple of brothers that used to work for me, When the company folded in ’86, Linn electronics, they started a small business for repair of instruments specializing in repair of..and actually they bought a bunch of our LINN electronic instruments. LM/1, LINNdrum and LINN 9000. And they also bought a bunch of the old spare parts of the auction of the company’s asset’s and I helped them with the software, I gave them the rights to the software and help them out as much as I could. So they could support the old customers. But I’d just send people over to them. But for the one minor product I sell at my company now, which is really just a surface for a lot of the old users of the AKAI MPC 60 In 1986 I made an agreement with the Japanese AKAI company to make a series of products. There was the MPC-60, the MPC-60 model II and the MPC 3000.where the major products from that association and the MPC series continues to this day to be the international standard for rythmic based music. But what I sell on my website now is something I have for a few years it’s not really profitable but it’s a software update and the main reason is AKAI, when they switched from their MPC 60’s series to their MPC 3000 series, we brought all this new software and I said ‘can we import this software to the MPC 60′ as much of it as it can be imported just for the old customers and they weren’t to interested in that, so I asked them if I could just do it directly myself and they said yes. But I’m not really making money on it.’
::Very cool that people are still using the MPC after all these years. Just spoke to Marcus Miller and he is still using it, too..
‘Yes, it’s still a very popular machine. It’s quick to use, it gets a good feel very easily and it’s another product that I just wanted to have and nobody made it, so I had to make it.’
:: Let’s get back a bit, you were talking about your guitar playing background.
‘When I was quite young, I started at age 8, I studied classical guitar, my father was a music professor at a university in Los Angeles and my mom was an opera singer so music was a big part of our family. When I was about 12 I really started getting into rock guitar and I was a big Beatles fan and.. was was the sub-question again?
:: You’re on the right track. Your guitar playing background.
‘Oh yeah..yeah. When I was a teenager I liked a lot of the standard guitar stuff everybody else likes, I was a big fan of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Hendrix, who else was hot at the time..all those great blues and rock guitar players that were so influential at the time. And then now things have changed a bit, I still like the affore mentioned players, there was Jimmy Page too, Led Zeppelin and Pete Townshend and all that sort of stuff. I was never the one that listened to the Ozzy Osbourne’s and the sort of future-heavy-metal type guys, it didn’t seem as creative. In more recent years I like Ry Cooder, Mark Knopfler..I was always a fan of J.J. Cale..people who played a little bit softer..I live up in the San Fransico Bay Area in a town called Berklee where there’s a big university and there’s a lot of creative music around there. I have three different ensembles I play with, but only one of ’em is more popular music. I play mandolin, I play old Italian songs on Mandolin at a little café in San Fransisco every saturday morning and I have another ensemble where I play classical guitar and we have an opera singer and a pianist, so. But i’ve never been an opera fan or a fan of Italian songs but I’d just happen to fall into it.’
:: You’ve mentioned designing pieces of equipment in the early days because there was nothing like it on the market at the time. What did you miss that made you want to design the Adrenalinn? Besides the time-based effects?
‘Many years ago, 25 years ago whenI was quite a bit younger and working in the studio, I did a lot of experimentation with analog modular synthesizers and early sequencers and processing of instruments through them and so I used to work with sequenced-controlled filters and I really loved that idea. It really sort of blurs the line between player and processing. Well, that’s the not the way of putting it..I guess it blurs the line between a processor as something that prepares the signal for recording and a processor as a creative tool. And so I always liked that sound, but it was very, very difficult to get. And even today you’d have to have some sort of a midi-controlled filter processor and a sequencer plus your samplers or whatever in the computer, to be able to get the same effect. It’s quite difficult and so I like the idea of bringing this to the average guitar player and many guitar players are not that technical, you know. So with the Adrenalinn you get these incredibly dynamic sequenced filter-tone effects in sync to it’s internal drummachine or to midi. And all you have to do is turn it on and select one of the 100 presets. To me it makes those sorts of things keyboard players have had to themselves for years, very accessible to guitar players. That sort of idea excited me.’
:: Is that why you choose the pedal-route instead of making a rig? Making it accessible to most guitar players who don’t like to use rack-stuff but prefer pedals nowadays?
‘Well, it’s the thing, rack mount products are the sort of products usually that you don’t have to twiddle the knobs very much. But the Adrenalinn, you twiddle the knobs a lot on. And it has two footswitches. Unless your rack is on the floor, you can’t step on the footswitches. A rack is more..you set it and then you leave it.’
:: Do you have any current endorsers for the Adrenalinn?
‘You know, I have really thought of that, yet there’s a lot of people that have bought them.There’s a list back at the company, but.. sometimes I’m bad about that sort of marketing. I tend to..when I see an ad with some sort of a star in it and I assume that they can’t sell the product without the star and they have to.. I guess there’s a part of me that wants to sell it on it’s own merits, but I’ll probably sell out at some point, you know’ (laughs)
:: You recommend the Adrenalinn for other instruments as well, like keyboards, maybe vocals?
‘Yeah, it was actually kind of a surprise, ’cause I made it for guitar players thinking ‘why would a keyboard player want it ’cause you can do that kind of a thing with many keyboard workstations you know, filter-type effects. So I really targeted it for guitar players. And we found that we put it in the stores and then the guys in the keyboard department would come over and wanna use it and I found a number of keyboard players were buying it and then, quite by surprise, the American Keyboard Magazine did a review on it and gave it their highest award, their ‘Key Buy Award’, so. I wouldn’t have guessed they would have that. They would have said it’s not right for keyboard player’s. I guess they find that in the keyboard world if you’d had all those functions a product like that would cost twice as much, or more, so.. they were very pleased.’
:: I guess all the keyboard players are begging for a stereo input.
‘Yes. Keyboard did say that. They said it would be better if it had a stereo input.’
:: Thinking about doing that as an update?
‘There’s a lot of things I’m thinking about and I’m not sure what I’ll do in the next products. It hasn’t quite been been finalized. I’m working on some, you know, common technologys right now.’
:: Any future products that you’re thinking of releasing with your company?
‘Oh yeah, there’ll be tons of ’em.’
:: Any hints?
‘You know, all I can say is that I’ll make creative products. I’m not interested in being a commodoty products company, that’s not fun for me. I’m not the sort that’ll say ‘oh, here’s a product that’s on the market, I can make that cheaper and better.’ Because I probably can’t. To me, the fun part is making things creative and new, something unique. I’ll defenitely have creative products for guitar processing, as I believe the Adrenalinn is. But also not abandon my interest in the rhythmic products area. Not that I’ll make something just like the MPC that I’ve made with AKAI, but something along those lines. I’ve got some ideas for new creative ways to make music in that realm. And then a few other things, but I cannot say it right now.’
:: Let me mention a few machines, I would like to hear your reaction. The line 6 Filter Modeler.
‘I like everything that Marcus and Michel do, those are the founders of Line 6. I know Marcus pretty well and he is an immensely creative guy. I think that everything they do is great and as a guitar player my amplifier is a Line 6 AX2-212 amplifier. It’s very well designed.’
:: The Roland VG virtual guitar system.
‘You know, I haven’t.. the VG series I’ve always wanted to get but I didn’t get one yet. They’re excellent designs. I think Roland has done magnificent things both through their synthesizer guitar and their drum synthesizer, their pad system. And it’s taken them a long time, they’ve really…they’ve made products that sound excellent. I think the other reason I haven’t got the VG-8, or whatever the latest one is, is because I’m a bit of a purist. I’m a Fender Telecaster player. And I guess I like it so much, the sounds that you can get with a Telecaster..and even when I play a Line 6 amp I use a of effects, but only effects that are very subtle. My standard sound is their Vox AC-30 model with a little bit of compression, a very slight amount of vibrato and a little bit of auto-panning. Going back and forth between the two speakers. With a little bit of medium-lenght delay and long reverb. It’s all very, very subtle but it’s alot of stuff to put together. If you’d do that with pedals, there’d be pedals all over the floor.’
:: That’s the convenient thing about those amps, lot of tones and effects in there, all in one box. I liked that Hughes & Kettner alot.
‘Uh-uh. A lot of people are talking about that. The Zentera. Oh, you were asking about the Filter Modeler. I think Line 6 makes excellent products in general. And their Filter Modeler is great. I think what’s great about it is, it gives you the most popular filter effects very easily accessible. By comparison, The Adrenalinn is a little bit of a different design philosophy. It gives you a tremendous amount more flexibility but to create sounds and adjust sounds I think the Line 6 is more accessible. It gives you all the popular sounds people have heard and a few new ones. But The Adrenalinn gives you far, far more depth and it allows you to really create a lot of new sounds and of course to create your own sequences and it has the drum machine built in and the delay built in and the amp modeler built in, you know. So really the filter is just a small part of what the Adrenalinn does.’
:: The thing that’s not so good about the Line 6 FM is the fact that it has a ton of great sounds but only four user memory locations.
‘Yeah, but then again, it’s something that you can..anybody can walk up to you and in short time they can figure it out and make the popular sounds, yeah.’
:: You’ve always seemed to have a visionairy idea of where music equipment would go. From the Linn drum, through the MPC sequencer and undoubtly with the Adrenalinn you’ve managed to build something that became a standard. I would like to hear your opinion where music equipment goes in the future. Will people use software-based products on their computer in favour of stand-alone hardware products? Will midi still be around?
‘Oh no, no, midi won’t be around. It’s too slow by that time. The way things are going is, at least the way I see it now is that..people don’t really play instruments anymore. Guitar is not on the cutting edge. Guitar is usually used for..either old music or music based on older music, retro-music. I noticed that it seems young musicians don’t really play an instrument anymore, they don’t learn an instrument. They play of two instruments; they play the turntable or they play the computer. And if they play computer they’ve got programs like whatever their favorite recording program is, wheter it’s performer or VST or Logic. And use Fruity Loops so they can combine the programs together. I like these real time programs like Fruity Loops or Acid. And then for the turntable, the turntable is kinda like the real time electrified acoustic instrument of today. The way I like to look at it is, if you draw a line and on one end you got listener and on the other end you got creator of music. Turntables is just sort of an inch from listener. It’s a little bit of creativity and a lot of .. listening. And if you go all the way to the other end, you got the violin player, you know. And you’ve got all kinds of instruments allow you to pick your place along the way. You know, in computer software there’s something called ‘Object Oriented Programming’. That basically means is, instead of writing all the software yourself, you are able to buy little software objects from this company, one from that company and so on and so forth. Or this person. Music is being made the same way. Kind of like a visual artistic collage or mixed-media piece. The idea is that there’s hundreds of thousands of recordings made in the past 70 years. So people are saying ‘why should I learn to play the violin or why should I learn to play the guitar’, why don’t I instead just take a little sample of this, a little sample of that and put em together, make loops out of ’em, use the programs that manipulate them, like the artist’s tools, the paintbrush or the types of brushes that an artist would use to make a painting. The same way, in art, you have mixed-media pieces now where people don’t start with oil paints or water collage’s, they take whatever they want and create their own conceptional art. It’s kind of like conceptional music now. And to me, that’s exciting. And.. I probably go way beyond answering your question but this is something I’m excited about.. you can cut it all out, you know and use one quote, but.. If you take where music’s going with turn tables, in real-time play, it’s very repetitive, it’s limitited but I think that’s going to.. that a new music form is gonna grow out of that, maybe more.. less repetitive and more creative. And if you look at what the Adrenalinn does, I realize talking before about that line between listener and a player.. well, it moves a little bit on that line to allow the computer to help you, or in the case of the Adrenalinn, there’s two computers inside, but you don’t know they’re computers. And they’re doing a little bit of playing for you, by imposing these rythmic patterns and filter tones. But I got off.. that’s an interesting subject about future musical instruments. And I’ve actually been lecturing on that in the United States. On where music is going in the future, what’s going to happen in 20/30/50 years from now. There is that thing of object oriented composition, but I think The Adrenalinn takes a step in that direction. One of the biggest comments I get about The Adrenalinn is that it pulls new ideas out of yourself, it leads you to directions you wouldn’t normally go. Which is a great compliment. I think it’s important and it’s sort a of transitional technology for guitar players to take them into new areas. It is very inspiring. People buy em and they stay up all night playing.’
:: Copyright Richard Hallebeek and Music Maker magazine 2001 ::