Stevie Wonder’s personal synth guru talks about creating T.O.N.T.O., what it means to produce and working with Gil Scott-Heron.
Although he initially made his name in the British jazz scene, Malcolm Cecil was a key figure in the development of the synthesizer, and his best-known work was made in collaboration with soul legends. After playing bass in a series of ’50s and ’60s jazz bands, Cecil was a founding member of Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated. But it was the possibilities provided by synthesizers that really excited him, and with Bob Margouleff he formed T.O.N.T.O.’s Expanding Head Band, releasing two albums of highly original music in 1971 and 1972. The name was an acronym of an analog synth designed and built by Cecil himself – the result was a synth on which each note sounded like a different instrument. A dazzled Stevie Wonder instantly recruited Cecil and Margouleff to his cause, making them co-producers on the series of classic albums Wonder recorded, from Music Of My Mind through Fulfillingness’ First Finale. He also had long-standing relationships with the Isley Brothers and Gil Scott-Heron, as well as with Steve Hillage, Dave Mason, Quincy Jones, and many others. On this episode of Couch Wisdom recorded at the 2013 Red Bull Music Academy, Cecil talks about creating T.O.N.T.O., what it means to produce, working with Gil Scott-Heron and more.