Saturday, July 8, 2017

Musical skills are handy - or, how an optical organ manufacturer got caught up in Watergate

In business, there are many circumstances in which you will make one deal in order to get another deal. And while I was reading about various 1970s organs, I ran across an intriguing story.

Richard Nixon was well-known as a piano player, although as several sources note, Nixon often proclaimed that he could only play in the key of G. But he was clearly interested in the instrument, and although he wasn't going to join the German band Kraftwerk on stage, it would make sense for keyboard manufacturers to court the President.

This explains the series of letters documented here. In brief, Miner Industries offered to give President Nixon an Optigan (optical organ) for his enjoyment, and offered to have musical director Michael LeDoux personally install the Optigan at the Western White House in San Clemente, California.

By PMDrive1061 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Sounds simple, right?

Except for the fact that this series of letters was written on July 24, 1974. (A stamp on one of the letters indicates that it was received in Orange, California on July 29.)

And the fact that LeDoux had extensive experience in audio, having worked on the Talking Barbie, as well as the discs used by the Optigan.

Now what would be the significance of having an audio expert visit the Nixon Administration in July 1974?

According to Pea Hicks' recollection of something that LeDoux said (he has since passed away), the delivery of the Optigan to San Clemente was a pretext for something else.

...apparently Mike was known by someone associated with Nixon as a skilled audio tape editor, and given the Optigan office’s fairly close proximity to the Western White House, he was recruited to consult on a possible editing job of the famous “smoking gun” tapes...

The entire story is here.

Of course, by the time LeDoux received the letters on July 29, the House Judiciary Committee was passing the second of three articles of impeachment. Two days later, on July 31, Alexander Haig and Ron Ziegler privately told President Nixon that the smoking gun tape was "devastating" to Nixon's cause. The next day, August 1, Haig would tell Vice President Gerald Ford about the "smoking gun" tape (and kinda sorta mention various things about pardons).

The time for consulting audio experts had passed.

blog comments powered by Disqus