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Beat Box: inside Joe Mansfield’s incredible drum machine collection

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  • published
    11 Nov 2013
  • words by
    Tom Lea & Chal Ravens
  • photographed by
    Gary Land
  • tags
    Drum Machines
    Get On Down
    Joe Mansfield
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Beat Box: inside Joe Mansfield's incredible drum machine collection

With nearly 150 drum machines in his collection, Joe Mansfield admits to being a bit of a fanatic.

His collection of beat boxes spans four decades and all levels of professionalism, from single octave toys designed as Bee Gees merchandise to pioneering ’80s machines like Roger Linn’s LM-1 and the Roland TR-808. Now the Boston-based hip-hop producer and music industry veteran has decided to offer a glimpse of his prized archive in a new book, Beat Box: A Drum Machine Obsession.

Focusing on 75 drum machines from his collection, all photographed by Boston’s Gary Land, the book includes detailed information about each machine, archival advertisements and interviews with master drum machine programmers and innovators like Davy DMX, Schoolly D, Marshall Jefferson and Roger Linn. The book also features a foreword by Dave Tompkins, the writer of the fascinating How To Wreck a Nice Beach, a history of the vocoder.

Over the next 13 pages you can see some of the highlights of Mansfield’s vast collection (including the first drum machine ever made), while he answered a few of our own questions below.

If you could pinpoint one moment in particular, when did your drum machine obsession start?

I remember in the early ‘80s wanting to figuring out what instruments were being used on the hip-hop songs I was hearing. For instance, what was being used by Afrika Bambaataa on ‘Planet Rock’? What did the Jonzun Crew use on ‘Pack Jam’? And, most importantly, what was being used to make Run-DMC’s ‘Sucker M.C.’s'? It was around that time I wanted to own my own drum machine.

I’m sure it’s like picking between children, but if you could only keep one of your drum machines, which would it be?

It would come down to my Oberheim DMX or the Roland TR-808. I guess the 808 would win out. This was the first machine I purchased. I picked it up back in 1985. Besides all the sentimental value, it is also a great machine.

What drum machine in your collection cost the most, and are there any particularly exciting stories about how you came across a specific machine?

The most valuable machine in my collection at this point is the Linn LM-1. Depending on its condition, these machines can run as high as $5,000.

How I came across the Wurlitzer Side Man is a pretty cool story. I was on a record digging trip in Detroit back in 1993, and on my way to the first record store, I passed by a thrift shop. In the back of the store mixed in with the old stereo equipment I found the Sideman. It only cost me about $25. The shipping charges back to Boston were probably three times that.

Are you still regularly buying them, and is it mostly online now?

I do still buy drum machines. I never pass up a machine for the right price. Most of the finds I come across these days are online. If anybody comes across an EKO ComputeRhythm, I would love to have it!

Beat Box: A Drum Machine Obsession
will be published by Get On Down on December 3. Turn the page to start browsing Mansfield’s collection.

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