Roland history documented

I’ve seen my name in print thousands of times, but for some reason, it was a thrill to see it in a hard-cover book marking Roland’s 50th anniversary – even though I had to look very hard.

The book, Inspire The Music: 50 Years of Roland History, includes my 2021 article about the use of electronic percussion in Drummer Queens which made its world debut in Melbourne, Australia. In case you missed it, the theatrical presentation is the creation of Australian drummer Joe Accaria and features eight multifaceted female musicians and heaps of Roland e-drum gear.

But this is not an article about me, it’s about the anniversary book.

How do you cover 50 years of history about a leader in the electronic instrument space? It would be tempting to just catalogue the products, many of which are nothing short of iconic. But the authors and editors opted for a more holistic approach, seeking to “balance the broader picture of music technology, the story of Roland’s development, the instruments themselves, and the stories surrounding the people who build and play them’.

My article fits into that last category, but there is some fascinating insight into product development and the people behind the instruments.

While Roland today is synonymous with keyboards and its Boss brand dominates the guitar effects market, the empire began with a drum machine – the Rhythm Ace R-1 which debuted at the Summer NAMM show in 1964.

The Roland name itself first appeared around 1972, when the TR-77 was launched. The instrument had previously been sold as the Rhythm ACE FR-8L. It’s not clear why Ikutaro Kakehashi (Mr. K) settled on the Roland name, but the drums we know today could well have ended up being called ‘Bentley’ as that brand name was also briefly used for the drum machine.

For drum synth fans, there is a detailed explanation of the CR-78 and its high-profile use by Phil Collins (In the Air Tonight), Hall & Oats (I Can’t Go for That), Blondie (Heart of Glass) and Tears For Fears (Mad World).

An in-depth interview with Tadao Kikumota, a former lead developer, charts the history of the Mid-O range, including the legendary 808 with its distinctive handclap that was created by passing white noise through a bandpass filter. The team was totally happy with the result and continued to improve the clap sounds after the 808 started shipping, but by the time they ‘perfected it’, the original had already become the de facto standard in the market, so the ‘good’ clap never made it out of the lab.

Most digitalDrummer readers will probably have their interest piqued by the chapter entitled “Triangles and Circles”, where the V-Drums story unfolds, starting with the Alpha Drum System, Roland’s first electronic kit launched in 1985.

In 1992, V-Drums, as we know them today, kicked off with the TD-7 Compact Drum System. It had all the elements of a modern e-drum solution – a drum module with 32 patches, circular pads (PD-9), the KD-7 reverse-beater kick drum and the FD-7 hi-hat controller. It was probably this kit that Omar Hakim used on Michael Jackson’s HIStory album. “I remember actually taking it in the studio with Michael Jackson. We did a bunch of sessions in New York at the Hit Factory and I took the TD to the studio with me,” he recalls in an interview.

Hakim is credited as “the very first artist to take V-Drums out on tour” – a TD-10 kit he got just a week before rehearsals for a Madonna tour.

The book contains a useful summary of all the drum brains from the TD-10 to the current TD-50 and also charts the development of the company’s triggering technology.

If you don’t know an Octapad from an SPD, a detailed history of Roland’s multipads charts the journey from the 1985 PAD-8 to the current crop of SPD-SX sampling pads (the book was completed just before the launch of SPD-SX PRO, so that misses out) and the range of compact SPD::ONE pads.

As I mentioned, it’s not just gear – there’s plenty of human interest in the book including interviews with a number or artists who have been featured in digitalDrummer magazine over the years. These include the recently mentioned Hakim, and Super Bowl star Brian Frasier-Moore. Also featured are the likes of Deep Purple’s Ian Paice, Duran Duran’s Roger Taylor and some well-known percussionists.

The book ends, strangely, where the Roland story began – with a detailed history of the company, snapshots of some former executives and a timeline of its products.

Yes, it’s too late for a stocking-filler for Christmas, but Inspire the Music would make a great gift for the e-drummer in your life – even if that’s yourself.

Ordering it may be a bit of a challenge, but you can contact the publisher, Bjooks. The hefty volume sells for US$75/ €65/ £65. And no, none of that comes to me as a contributor, as far as I am aware.