30-YEARS ON TOUR – IAN LITTLE Electronic Keyboard “HACK MASTER”

LEARN FROM THE BEST  ————– BY  Marck C.B.  — NEWSzines Contributing Writer

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Steve “IAN” Little was born in the United States … in the Eastern part of the American Midwest, Dayton, OH. He has been a professional musician and composer for over forty years. He has played thousands of live musical performances, from stages inside intimate nightclubs, to large, rip-roaring bar haunts, to prestigious concert halls, theaters, auditoriums, arenas and convention centers. Ian having performed with the likes of such nineteen seventies rock and roll icons as guitarist Pat Traverse and “Flashdance” composer Michael Sembello, and many others; Ian’s musical specialties being rock-n-roll and jazz/rock and pure jazz styling.

 

He grew up on gospel and top-40, pop-rock radio and the kind of discipline to one’s musical instrument often seen within musical performers whose roots are steeped in Baptist sentiments. It worked out well for IAN, he being motivated to push past gospel music into blues first, then rock-n-roll. And as his performance skills gained confidence, the challenges of learning jazz and classical techniques, and training one’s fingers and hands to the physical aspects of the speed and articulation required to perform such musical pieces, led to more frequent offers to perform with various popular bands whose days were spent mostly traveling from city to city, from gig to gig. It was a lifestyle IAN favored, and pursued with gusto.

 

 

EARLY BEGINNINGS TO …………… DECADES OF EXPERIENCE
IAN LITTLEIAN LITTLE

 

 

 

 

 

As his music career advanced IAN began to accept composing assignments, for films and industrial videos and most recently accepting a Music Director position with NEWSzines Radio Network, where he composes, arranges, and often records performances of radio program themes and incidental music. IAN creates theme-songs for audio-books and audio-drama series. Most recently completing a suite of music for a new radio production of The Modern Prometheus: FRANKENSTEIN.”

The Modern Prometheus: FRANKENSTEIN
The Modern Prometheus: FRANKENSTEIN

We met with IAN down on the Eastern Coast of Florida, near Miami, to chat with him about his career history, and musical motivations, and what’s up next for his career, and more.

 

IAN LITTLE

IAN LITTLE
IAN LITTLE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

QUESTIONS / ANSWERS

 

 

IAN, you are usually in near constant motion, but you have settled recently here in Florida, and it seems you are preparing to adjust your career course; or is this just you taking a rest from your normal hectic pace?

Answer:   Well, as far as long term touring, I’ve decided to limit that to just 30 days at a time (at most). I love to play out in front of a live audience, but I’m not as spry as I used to be, so as a result I’m still doing shows and club events, but I’m concentrating more on writing arranging and producing music for a variety of commercial uses.
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Please tell us how and why you got started into a career in music?

Answer: I started playing when I was about 9 years old. I got the opportunity to play in a few different bands before I turned 18. As a result, we played in a lot of different venues, including television three times. The Phil Donahue Show was one of them. I guess I was just lucky at the time to be asked to play with so many bands. Back to the question, I would watch my cousins play and sing music while in church, and a light just came on in my head one day. I thought “That’s what I want to do.” So I did.
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How did your parents influence your interest in music?

Answer:  Mornings in our house, my Dad would almost always play the kitchen radio on a top forty station before he went to work. My parents only owned about 5 record albums; like “Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass,” Al Hirt, the trumpet player, and some country-western music, mostly about the Alamo. I remember those albums to this day, because I listened to them over and over on the floor as I lay by the speaker. I guess it’s true that Herb Albert’s keyboard player was probably my very first influence to want to be a professional musician … and that came directly from my parents. In fact, my Mom bought me a piano when I was nine-years-old. Out of the blue one day, she asks if I’d be willing to take lessons if she bought me a piano. I think she knew I wanted one. So I ended up taking piano lessons for four years, even though I could already play better by ear because of church.
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IAN LITTLE

When did you first start touring, and how did that come about?

     Answer:  I think it was about nineteen sixty nine, when I was about fourteen years old. I was with a gospel quartet and they actually went from state to state. Somehow they had heard of me so I ended up playing bass and piano for them, altering between the two.  Nineteen sixty nine, was the first time I actually spent a long time on the road. About 6 months at a time. A drummer that I knew was going to an audition and he said they needed a keyboard player, too, so we went together. Sadly, they didn’t hire him, but hired me instead. I felt so bad. He was a great drummer but I ended up with the job.
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Who are some of the bands and artists whom you toured with or performed with over the years?

Answer:  I’ve played on stage with members of quite a few bands, rock, blues, and jazz alike, for instance, Dokken, Loverboy, Molly Hatchet, guitarist Pat Traverse, the band Manowar, The Outfield, Kix, with Jeff Fenholt from Jesus Christ Superstar, Darby Darl who is the songwriter and bass player in the band Ram from Dallas, and Black Sabbath, guitarist Lita Ford, film composer Michael Sembello; and I play shows 2 or 3 times a year with the guys from Steelheart, Burning Star, and quite a few others.

IAN LITTLE

MANOWAR

How has such ongoing touring improved the way you play now?

Answer:  It definitely teaches discipline and patience. I had a lot of free time so I spent a lot of time practicing and coming up with new programs on my keyboards. My investment was time and concentration, writing songs and rehearsing parts with bands, and playing out constantly; that really helped with my getting a feel for arranging music. It forced me to learn more about keyboard-sequencer programming and midi setups on keyboards, because every keyboard is different, so you have to make your own sounds to fit the songs.
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Share a couple ‘road stories’ with us, odd-ball circumstances that you ran into over the years.

Answer: Well, There are quite a few of those, too. Once … our bus driver tried to turn around on the highway and the bus got stuck with all the wheels lifted off the ground. We were a spectacle for all the passersby. Ended up we spent the whole day in the middle of the highway sideways against the traffic.
Another time, I lost all the programs in one of my main keyboards, so we had to take a day off. The keyboard computer programming file was damaged with no way to restore it. So, in order to play another show the next day, I had to manually create over one hundred programs from scratch, there in the hotel room. The other musicians all said I couldn’t do it – all of them – but I did it. Back to normal, but it took me more than ten hours of non-stop work to do it. From then on, they all thought I was a keyboard God or something. Little did they know, it was not difficult to do, but it was time consuming.

IAN LITTLE

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Let’s talk about your familiarity with modern electronic keyboards. When and how did you get introduced to those?

Answer: About nineteen-seventy-eight or seventy-nine. We were using analog keyboards, along with a real piano and organ, clavinet, things like that, and then out came the digital keyboards. I actually had some of the first units after they came out commercially. We went out and bought a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 right off the assembly line, and at the time not a lot of people had much knowledge of digital keyboards. The Prophet was analog and digital. We also got a couple other keyboards that were completely digital; they used FM generators. I had to teach myself for the most part, and I’m glad I did, because I learned mistake-by-mistake that the fundamentals of electronic keyboards are very much the same with most manufacturers, just with variations.
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What is your preferred keyboard instrument and why?

Answer:  One of the keyboards I presently use and own is the Korg Oasys, which I love. I prefer it over Motif, which is kind of hard to operate and lacks versatility. The Oasys is like having 16 different keyboards layered one atop the other with all programming capabilities separated for each. In other words, you can use different pitch bend, tremolo, or other effects, on each channel of the 16 layered-keyboards simultaneously, giving you thick and versatile sound output, whether in the studio or a live performance.

 

Basically, with it you can mold any sound that any other keyboardist can do, if you need to match a particular voice or instrument or musical line accurately. The Oasys is comparable to the Fairlight from past years, which few could afford at about seventy five thousand dollars. The Oasys is about ten thousand dollars new, but that’s way better for the money. The Midi control keyboard splitter can layer up to 16 times and never lose quality. I could go on and on, but it is the best choice. Korg has been a leader for quite a few years.

 

My 2nd favorite is Kurzweil; had to mention that, because I’ve had about 6 or 7 of them.

IAN LITTLE

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Tell us a little about the types of keyboard settings, internal configurations and services (recording, synthesizing, etc.) that highlight the various voices, instrumentations and aural signatures that can be created upon an electronic keyboard.

Answer: All keyboards have multiple and varying internal musical voices that the operator can pop on or off with a touch. The problem is, out of the box, most of the voices are at a default setting, so usually will not fit a particular song style you may need to play. The most common problem is usually one or another musical setting is misadjusted, for either a keyboard’s release effect, or its attack, or possibly the delay effect; any such setting being easily remedied by adjusting the system’s waveform generator. And while all electronic keyboards are different, it’s the keyboard operator’s job to attain the specific musical sound you want. By using basic manipulations of waveform or algorithm, while adding various accent effects used in combination; the operator adjusting output of the sound, for instance, by adding an edge to a musical tone. Doing that by activating the keyboard’s attack mode, or the release effect, or delay, or sustain, or other effects.

 

The “four common elements” that make up most sounds, are human voice, strings, percussion and timbre; and the depth and combining, or lack of one musical sound over another, those combinations can duplicate almost any sound possible. And while it is true that each keyboard manufacturer creates its own musical computer language, they all say the same things. And in the confusion, some people begin to think each generation of keyboard has something new to offer, when in reality – for today – they are all created basically the same, as either digital-FM or analog.
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Heard you have a concert coming up soon. Can you tell us about that?

Answer: I almost always have something coming up, but I suppose you’re referring to the King Center show in Florida.  An agency in West Palm Beach puts on “live events,” nineteen eighties style stage shows, with album-rock bands. One of the fellows playing with us is from the nineteen seventies and eighties rock band Whitesnake. The agency invites performers who played in those eras, to perform whole albums at a time, sometimes two full albums worth of music. Actually a very fun gig; it’s amazing to me how many keyboards the different bands put to use there. That represents an incredible amount of keyboard programming to make that show come of the way fans hope.

IAN LITTLE LIVE

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I understand you are about to offer a series of lectures and advanced keyboard training sessions here in Florida. In those training sessions, will you share details of how to manipulate ‘samplings’ of sounds to make music, and advanced setting that seem to work well in most keyboard models – things like that – keyboard player “hacks,” so to speak. Is that the sort of thing you’ll cover?

Answer: I love teaching. If I weren’t a musician, most likely I would have been a teacher, because, once started up, I am usually hard to get to stop talking, depending on the subject.  Yes, I will be lecturing at facilities down along the coast of Florida; and holding ‘live jam’ training seminars in the Melbourne, Orlando and Vero Beach areas. Will cover subjects from entry-level electronic keyboard techniques, to advanced strategies professional keyboard players need to survive years of performing on the road. In fact, that’s in the title of the seminars:

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Basic to Advanced —   “Electronic Keyboard HACKS”

OR —    How To Survive Years On-The-Road With Musicians;

Live PerformanceTraining Seminars – reserved seating, confirm early

   Melbourne – Orlando – Vero Beach    FLORIDA

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I’ve been reading over some of the write-in questions that students are allowed to submit for discussion when they sign up for a seminar; and some of the questions seem to be basic, but basic or not, people want to know, so I will be covering basic to advanced studies, including things mentioned in the write-in questions. Most people really want to know all about their keyboards, including what you can do with foot-pedals, how to program your midi to use multiple keyboards or rack mountable brains, an array of topics. I’ll be covering a lot in order to not leave anyone out.

 

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