Don Leslie: an in memoriam (english version)

Bob Scarborough schrijft, net na diens overlijden, een stukje uit het leven van Don Leslie

Subject: Don Leslie passes
From: "Bob Scarborough"
Date: Sat, 04 Sep 2004 13:37:05

0700- Word has come down the line that the inventor of the Doppler Effect organ speaker, Don Leslie, quietly died in his sleep Thursday night, Sept. 2nd, about 9:00 PM at his home in Altadena, CA with his wife, sons and daughter by his side.
Leslie was 93 and had been experiencing heart problems for a number of years, but was alert and active right up to the very end.
He requested a direct cremation, so there is no wake, but there is a private memorial service for personal friends at the family home.

Leslie's tinkering with rotating speaker baffles and horns in the 1930s led to the introduction of the first Leslie Vibratone speaker, the Model 30, in December, 1940.
After an unsuccessful bid to try to promote the Vibratone to the tone deaf and iconoclastic Laurens Hammond and his lackey engineer, John Hanert, Leslie set out on his own to create probably the most successful company in electric organ history.
It was in no small part due to Leslie's various models that the electric organ market blossomed into what it became, despite Hammond and Hanert's efforts to deride them.
Indeed, many Hammond buyers would have to go to the retailer of other organ makes in order to obtain "Hammond Leslies," the 21- and 22-types, for their home Hammonds, as Leslie sales by franchised Hammond dealers were strictly forbidden, a policy the Hammond Company didn't officially rescind until they had started to precipitously lose market share
to competitors in the 1960s.
Almost all other organ manufacturers entered into joint sales and marketing deals with Leslie and their success was obvious.
The notable exception to this was Jerry Markowitz' Allen, which had devised its own rotating Gyrophonic Projectors, which Markowitz felt were more suitable for classical and liturgical use.
Don Leslie will most probably be remembered as a so-so engineer, but an adventurous inventor and truly a shrewd businessman.
The invention of the Vibratone wasn't done strictly for the garnering of huge profit as was  the Hammond Organ, but rather was due to Leslie's love of the theater organ.
He knew that the Hammond was a tonal failure from its earliest days and knowing enough about Dr. Doppler's theories on frequency shift and knowing how a pipe organ's tremulant worked, devised the Vibratone on his own, markedly improving the sterile, steely Hammond tone into something that more resembled the prototype.

He continued development in the '40s, adding the horn baffles to provide a better frequency modulated tremolo, with the 31-A.
Electric improvements were simple, yet effective and his amplifiers were hardly elegant,
but were durable and well designed for what they did.

Leslie sold his Electro-Music Corporation to the ever-growing CBS music conglomerate being formed by William Paley in the 1960s, which also bought Rodgers from its founders around the same time, as well as Fender and other musical instrument and high fidelity concerns. Despite common thought to the contrary, Don Leslie never thought too much of his original Vibratone and its successors.
He felt his crowning organ speaker achievement was the "Isomonic System" engineered with Dick Peterson, designer of the fabled Gulbransen Rialto K, that partially solved the problem of single channel intermodulation distortion in electronic organs of the era.

This was a "C-C#" setup, somewhat mimicking the diachromatic positioning of organ pipes on a chest, done for somewhat the same reason ... to prevent adjacent notes from influencing each other.
In the pipe example, sequentially placed pipes will tend to "draw" each other off tune, while in the electric organ, closely spaced frequencies would cause irritating IM distortion.

Leslie and Peterson's system neatly fixed the latter.
Later Gulbransen/Leslie innovations included the "space generator", an early electro-mechanical phase shifting device.
Leslie's personal friendship with Dick Peterson also resulted in Leslie's own home organ,
hardly a Hammond at all, but rather a Rodgers Trio which was gutted for the console shell 
and a completely custom analog organ designed and built by Peterson himself.
This organ also contains three ranks of pipes and is quite something to hear from all accounts.
The only "rotating speaker" in the whole installation is a Rotosonic derivation, used in the string channel.

Leslie himself knew that the state of the art had moved far beyond twirling horns and "suger scoops" and this organ was verification of that.
Leslie will also be remembered for his support of George Wright after Wright's deal with Richard Vaughn and his HIFI Record label expired and the Vaughn organ sold to Bill Brown of later pizza restaurant fame.

Leslie bankrolled the studio organ in South Pasadena in Leslie's own building which was, at the time, the dream of any professional theater organist and contained a good many rare and excellent ranks of Wurlitzer pipework.
This organ is what is heard on Wright's Dot releases and provided him with a "comeback" vehicle which was quite successful into the late 1960s, where upon Wright's Dot contract expired without renewal. The organ was mostly destroyed in a notorious arson fire
for which Wright has long been blamed, but never conclusively.
What was odd was that the whole rank of brass saxes and other pipework simply "evaporated" in the fire, not leaving a trace of molten pipe metal anywhere to be seen.
Odd, too, that ranks of VERY similar brass saxes and posthorns should appear in Wright's later "Hollywood Philharmonic" organ, on which he recorded, through use of an edit-capable multiplex system, many Banda LPs and CDs up until his own demise in the '90s.

Up until the end, Leslie would never speak ill of George, although George's behavior, arguably, certainly deserved more than just some nasty talk.
Although one would of course expect that someone at 93 years of age would soon leave us, it's still sad to see that pioneer of an entire era pass away.

However, he left us with his incredible legacy of the transformation of the organ from being a piped instrument in a large building to one that could be plugged into a living room wall socket giving reasonably decent sound quality.
Without Leslie's inventiveness and drive to make his Vibratone a success, it is doubtful that the Hammond would have continued its sales superiority as long as it did and electronic competitors probably would not have been as appealing to potential buyers.
All of us involved with any pipeless organs owe him much and those who make their living at them owe him even more.