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The Other Side of Klaus Wunderlich by Cled Griffin

Klaus Wunderlich
I have just been listening to a voice from the past - Klaus Wunderlich. Not an out of world experience, but simply a recorded interview with my friend, broadcaster and journalist, Alan Ashton. The interview can be heard on-line at anytime by anyone who has access to the Internet. His voice brought back memories of the week I spent with him at the first October Caister Keyboard Cavalcade in 1985 when he was 54 years old. Our conversations were rarely about music, as he preferred to talk about other things. Some of his thoughts were most unusual, including his view that he had been on earth in a previous life when he was a pianist.

Gold Discs
He dismissed his talent as nothing out of the ordinary and when it came to the art of making recordings said that anyone could learn to do what he did, including the multi-tracking. The fact that he had 13 gold discs and a gold cassette to his credit did not reflect in his apparently modest opinion of himself. He regarded his music from his younger years as being in the past, it was the present that only mattered to him.

At Caister he was unaware of the festival format prior to his arrival, inasmuch that he expected a different audience every day. When he realised that it was the same audience for the full week he limited his appearances to several spots of comparatively short duration. The effort not to repeat tunes was a strain and it became evident that he had come unprepared for a residential audience. Klaus with John Mutton, UK Appreciation Society Secretary When the week was over he vowed he would never again do a weeklong stint at a residential organ-keyboard festival. Having said that, he did relent to a certain degree and make a weekend visit to the Pontin’s Weymouth site in 1991, on the understanding that it for the benefit of his UK Appreciation Society run at that time by John Mutton. The festival host was Byron Jones who was then a Wersi organ owner like Klaus himself.

Special Offer Rejected
Going back to the time when I started my keyboard programme on Swansea Sound local radio on 7th July 1977 (all the sevens 7.7.77), I managed to get many celebrities to the studio including players from overseas, such as Max Takano from Japan and Franz Lambert from Germany. All programmes were recorded on the artiste's own instruments at the studio with interviews between tunes. Later I changed the format and managed to arrange a fee for artistes by using their own recordings. I could have used records in the same way as any disc jockey with the payment going to the PRS after the appropriate log sheets were filled in. With my direct fee arrangement, it meant that the artiste would get a bigger fee than the royalties paid by the PRS. When I wrote to Klaus, who was at that time touring the UK., and mentioned the direct fee, his reply, written on what appeared to be the back of an old envelope and attached to my returned letter, was short and to the point and simply said: “I am not interested to your offer” with his signature added. It made no difference to me because, as I just said, I could play his records anyway – it simply meant he was losing out on my direct fee arrangement. It was possible, of course, that with his command of English, as good as it was, he did not understand the workings of the PRS in this country and the comparative benefit of my personal and exclusive payment offer based on MU rates. On the other hand, perhaps Klaus thought that the MU rates were not worth considering compared to the probable four figure fees he was picking up at each of his UK theatre shows.

First UK Tour
For his first British tour in the late 1970’s, Klaus had doubts about his capability of satisfying English audiences with a two-hour show. His agent in the UK., Kennedy Street Enterprises, therefore arranged for a group called Sweet Sensation to appear in the first half of the show. However, he need not have worried about this as his performances were well received, so much so that his subsequent tours, spaced a few years apart, featured him exclusively.

Unlike many artistes, his memory for faces and places did not match his memory for music. Although when playing he nearly always had small and compact hand written notes – so small that probably only he could only read them. Klaus’ tours in the UK were punishing affairs with almost a concert every night for the biggest part of a month. Every theatre in which he appeared was filled to capacity with very enthusiastic audiences, many of whom he would meet in the theatre foyer after his performance to autograph his LP records. He avoided shaking anyone’s hand – either to avoid germs like the famous American Howard Hughes, or perhaps to avoid the crushing handshake that some people have. Care of the hands is always a consideration with musicians’ that some enthusiasts seem to overlook.

Unusual Booklet
Several artistes appearing at Caister were very intrigued with a book, or rather a booklet, Klaus had written. It was basically nothing to do with music but more about life now and beyond. He had the morbid feeling than mankind would destroy the world and this would happen sooner rather than later. Some strange things were mentioned about life after death and were beyond the comprehension of those who read his words. The booklet was not for general sale and, as far as I know, he only sold a few copies to fellow artistes.

Klaus gives a rare smile Number One
Before Ian Griffin and Richard Bower adopted the name of Keyklix, they appeared at Caister as part of Roy Neal’s team. After they jokingly stood behind one artiste and held up score boards, Klaus approached the two lads and asked would they do the same for him – with the instruction that he was to be given the mark of “one.” They did this to the delight of the audience and the figure could, I suppose, be interpreted to mean that he was the world’s number one. A few years later I showed him the photograph I had taken of the incident and was surprised when he looked at it with no light of recognition in his eyes and with no glimmer of a smile, in contrast to the one in the photograph, and said that he could not remember the occasion, unusual although it was. He added that he gets so many photographs taken – but surely not any like that one!   When I mentioned this to Richard he was not the least bit surprised and said that Klaus could not even remember it just weeks later when he met him. It all goes to prove that the man who became a legend was so focused on himself and his music that the present and the future was all that mattered to him.

While at Caister I ventured to ask Klaus who he liked playing there, only one name came to his mind – Brian Sharp. It is not often that Brian listens to other players playing at live performances but he did with Klaus, and as I sat by him he told me, in words that were really a question: “How can a serious looking person make such lovely music?” Brian was particularly intrigued with some of Klaus’ arrangements, especially Strauss’s Roses From The South. On the question of music in general, Klaus said that he liked all types of music as long as it was not aggressive. He said that music should sooth the listener and he always kept this in mind when he played the electronic organ.

Klaus never expected any special attention at Caister and sat in the self-service restaurant just like any guest or artiste. In fact he often looked rather a lonely figure sitting on his own except for the odd occasions when Roy Neal or myself joined him. It was my guess that the average punter looked upon him as a sort of God and allowed him to have his meal alone in peace. He seldom smiled and his facial expressions gave an air of aloofness that was not reflected in his playing. He appeared to be a different Klaus Wunderlich to that seen in photographs taken by others in years gone by. Roy Neal, who asked me to help him to produce and establish the Caister Keyboard Cavalcade festivals after I produced the first one for Pontin’s in 1980, never told me what he paid Klaus for his one and only weeklong festival appearance, except to say that it was telephone figures. Whatever it was, it laid the foundation for future events and helped to put Caister on the organ-keyboard map. In that respect Roy must have thought it was worth the money.

Shopping In The UK
When Klaus wanted to travel into nearby Great Yarmouth to look around the shops, he turned down Roy Neal’s offer of transport, preferring to be independent and make his own way by public transport. On his return I had a chat about his day out and was interested to listen to his comments about newsagents. He was amazed at the number of different magazines on sale dealing with all subjects – apparently far greater than those in Germany. I secretly wondered if his visit included the national newsagent that sold records and if he looked to see if he was included in the selections on view. His early record sleeves were very eye catching with a pretty girl or two on the cover. It was very clever marketing, which he insisted was the idea of the record company.   At the Caister festival Klaus sold all the records he had brought with him. Two lady members of Roy’s team handled the sales on his behalf and when they gave him the money he just gave a nod of approval – possibly unable to find any words in English to say thanks.

"Mr Hammond"
Klaus with his Hammond Organ Klaus told me that back in Germany he owned a VW diesel Golf because it was more environmental friendly and economical. He said he had reduced his travelling by road in 1973, when his annual mileage was around 50,000 miles per year. His considerations for the environment were in keeping with his style of living. Going back to his younger days, Klaus began to learn to play the piano at the age of seven and later went on to play the accordion. It was not until 1955, at the age of 24, that he played the Hammond organ, which later earned him the title of “Mr Hammond.”

Some years afterwards he patriotically changed to the German made Wersi Organ, which enabled him to expand his sounds. These instruments were first made in kit form and he built his own at his home where he had his sound studio. According to publicity hype his first wife, Gisele, a former TV sound technician, supervised his recordings while he played - but a more reliable source said that he actually worked alone. Not satisfied with the rhythm section of the organ, he decided to make the percussion more live and realistic by recording himself playing the drums. He later complimented his studio organ sound with that of a synthesizer, which in those days were monophonic unlike the polyphonic keyboards of today.

Klaus gave me the impression that he was a deep thinker and concentrating on the English language when in Britain may have emphasized this. In Germany he said he was more relaxed and humorous with the audience. However, as everyone knows, that you either have to live or work with a person to really know them, so these words of mine may differ to others who knew him more closely. He kept his personal life to himself, apart from his beliefs and feelings for mankind, and I will certainly respect that, knowing more than what I have written here. On a personal note, we had one particular thing in common - we were both born the same year. When he suddenly died from a heart attack on 28th October 1997 at the age of 66, the electronic organ world lost someone very special – a man that had created his own distinctive sound, selling millions of records - more than anyone else by just using his two hands and two feet.

Associated Links:-
Biography - Klaus Wunderlich
Klaus - Photographs
Klaus' Home Page

Click to hear the voice of Klaus Wunderlich The interview was recorded in Sept 1981 as part of the Pedal, Percussion & Pipes series of weekly programmes for the (then) BBC Radio Manchester station. At the time Klaus was on a private visit to the UK and did not play any at any venue.
The tracks of music in the programme have not been included to conform to copyright laws. wishes to thank Alan Ashton and Ian King at MSS studios for providing the recording of the interview for this exclusive feature.

Direct Links:-
Organ1st Radio
Klaus plays Tico Tico on YOUTUBE
Tico Tico (again)
Live in concert on YOUTUBE

Klaus Wunderlich Discography - Bigger Version
Klaus Wunderlich We can say first hand that this is something that Klaus Wunderlich fans should not be without. It now contains 56 pages of the entire worldwide output of recordings with biographical and discography notes. In our opinion it is sure to become a collectors item, especially as each copy has an unique serial number. Copies are available at £11 (incl.UK p&p) from the author:- Alan Ashton, "Penalador" 2 Brockstone Road, Bethel, St.Austell, Cornwall PL25 3DW. More details can be found on Alan's website:- Click to view

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