TONTO synth creator and Stevie Wonder collaborator Malcolm Cecil has died, aged 84

Malcolm Cecil
(Image credit: Daniel Knighton/WireImage)

Synth pioneer Malcolm Cecil, one half of TONTO’s Expanding Head Band, has died at the age of 84. The Bob Moog Foundation shared the news on Twitter, confirming that he had passed away after a long illness.

Despite only releasing two albums, TONTO’s Expanding Head Band became legendary thanks to their work with Stevie Wonder on his golden run of seminal ‘70s albums, which helped to bring synthesizers into mainstream.

The name TONTO is actually an acronym, referring to ‘The Original New Timbral Orchestra’ - a huge Frankenstein’s monster of a synth that started life as a Moog modular but was expanded with hardware from Oberheim, ARP, EMS, Roland and Yamaha (to name but a few).

Cecil and fellow Expanding Head Band member Robert Margouleff were enlisted by Wonder after they met in 1971, working with him on Music Of My Mind, Talking Book, Innervisions and Fulfillingness’ First Finale through to 1974. This astonishing sequence of groundbreaking albums is commonly regarded as the creative high point of Wonder’s career.

Malcolm Cecil acquired Margouleff’s share of TONTO in 1975, relocating it several times before it ended up at the National Music Centre in Calgary, Alberta, where it still resides and is being used today.

TONTO’s Expanding Head Band are acknowledged as synth pioneers, having worked with not only Stevie Wonder, but also Weather Report, Gil Scott-Heron, The Isley Brothers, Quincy Jones and Bobby Womack.

Prior to his synth-based work, Cecil had been a jazz bassist in London during the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Ben Rogerson

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it. 

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