The appearance of sophisticated drum machines in the early 80s had a profound affect on the direction of music. NPR has this history of how these boxes changed the world.
Here’s the thing: The earliest drum machines were never intended to be studio recording devices. Take Wurlitzer’s 1959 Sideman, one of the first commercially available drum machines. It used vacuum tubes to create its percussive sound and was intended for organ players who perhaps didn’t want to pay a drummer to join their lounge act.
“It’s about 2 feet and some change tall,” says Joe Mansfield, author of the new book Beat Box: A Drum Machine Obsession. “It’s maybe a foot and a half wide, and it looks like something that would belong in an old, wood-paneled library to me. It’s a distinctive-looking thing; at first look, you wouldn’t think it would be a drum machine.”
Drum machines were still largely novelties throughout the ’60s and ’70s, but musicians slowly began to play around with them, says Dante Carfagna. He’s the producer behind the recent compilation album Personal Space, which examines early pop experiments with drum machines and other electronics.