Inventor, The Lyricon
Bill Bernardi was the inventor of the musical instrument called the Lyricon, an electronic Saxophone that generates sound like an analog synthesizer. I thought it was extremely cool, Bill designed a few different models, and I ended up owning several of them. This was early on – even with Bob Cooper, I was playing the Lyricon and I continued playing it when Don came in to the Stickband after Bob left.
The Lyricon has a wonderful design; it is an extremely precise instrument that responds very well to pitch and breath changes. Throughout the 70’s and 80’s, it was used in a few famous recordings such as Steely Dan’s famous song ‘Peg’. The instrument was picked up by jazz greats Sonny Rollins and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. It was also embraced by iN DEMAND studio musicians and fusion men like Tom Scott. Scott played in the recordings by Steely Dan, the Grateful Dead; he even used it on Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean. If you listen attentively you can hear the bright slight funky horn peppered throughout the song. Unfortunately, by the time Billie Jean came out in 1982, the company had already gone bankrupt.
The way we met Bill BernardiI was that I reached out to him on the telephone and started talking with him about what I was doing in the Stickband. He found it interesting. I invited him out to be part of the Concert of the Inventors concert, and thankfully, he accepted.
Bill’s company was called Computone. In Computone’s early years, the company was based out of a small workspace in the small town of Hanover, but soon they expanded operations, and moved to a big, low slung building in an industrial section of Norwell, Massachusetts.
I think in the beginning, things were going great for Bill and Computone. I know at one point, instrument manufacturer Selmer was also partnering with Computone to make some of its Lyricons. The instrument was wonderful but expensive; Lyricons were handcrafted – even its brass plated keys were all cut at Computone headquarters and it drove pricing up. Retail cost was $3,295 which would be about $10,000 in today’s dollars. That’s a lot of money in anybody’s book, and for musicians back then it was a challenge to have enough money to be able to have the luxury of owning one. Unfortunately, competition also became a factor, as Yamaha released a wind controller called the WX7.
On February 2014, Bill passed away at the age of 79, succumbing to a fight with cancer. He had a very crucial understanding of this early electronic wind instruments, which pre-dated the midi horns common in the market now. The Lyricon is not forgotten even today – there are collectors and players and they chat about it online. There is a business by the name of The Patch Man Music; if you go to Patchman.com you can learn a lot about synthesizer horns. The owner of the company is a gentleman by the name of Matt and he knows more about all of these horns then anybody at the country; he’s definitely the go to guy if you’re interested in this type of instrument.
It was a pleasure meeting Bill. He was a wonderful person, with plenty of energy, and I feel very grateful to have been part of the history of The Lyricon.