New Music for Old People: The Freshman Class of the Hammond Organ Hall of Fame

By , Columnist

To commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Hammond Organ Company, Hammond USA announced the 2014 Hammond Hall of Fame inductees. The Freshman Class recognizes the Pioneers, Innovators, and Trailblazers who all have the “King Of Instruments” in common. The list of the 26 honorees includes: Al Kooper, Shirley Scott, Larry Young, Billy Preston, Booker T, Brian Auger, Milt Herth, Chester Thompson, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Ethel Smith, Thomas “Fats” Waller, Felix Cavaliere, Greg Allman, Gregg Rolie, Jesse Crawford, Jimmy McGriff, Jimmy Smith, Joey DeFrancesco, Jon Lord, Keith Emerson, Barbara Dennerlein, Eddie Layton, Porter Heaps, Richard “Groove” Holmes, Steve Winwood and Twinkie Clark. The Freshman Class contains musicians of many different styles, many different genres, reaching back to the 1940’s and continuing throughout the present day.

Now THIS is an honor. You all know I began playing the Hammond organ professionally on June 16, 1965 on the Bob Dylan “Like A Rolling Stone” session. I was 21 years old and it was a suspicious and audacious debut. I never looked back. Many of my fellow inductees listed above were major influences on me over the years, and so I thought maybe now I SHOULD look back with a column of some of the best of them. I realize this is not for everyone, but I couldn’t resist the chance to present these amazing musicians to those who may not have heard them before. However, I may do this again next year, because at my age, it’s probably okay to take your organists out once a year. This freshman class, from MY point of view, has noticeably left out Rod Argent (!), Barry Beckett, Matthew Fisher, Benmont Tench, and Chris Staines; and by the way, they CAN’T induct Garth Hudson because he never played a HAMMOND organ (usually a Lowery).

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1. "Satin Doll" — Jimmy Smith (4:12)

This is from one of his early albums, a blazing debut by a man who truly became King of The Hammond for the rest of his life. Smith was born in Pennsylvania and a debate continues over whether it was 1925 or 1928. This is fairly common for musicians because, as with Smith, if you get an early professional start, it’s better to be older than you actually are. Sometimes that fabrication sticks, but as one gets older, the truth is more fashionable. Smith studied at the Royal Hamilton College of Music and Leo Ornstein School of Music from 1948-49. From 1951-54 he played piano and organ with local R&B bands in the Philly area, most notably the Don Gardner Trio. He switched to organ entirely in ‘54 after hearing Wild Bill Davis. He played in Philly jazz clubs and got signed to jazzy Blue Note Records in 1956. He took off like a shot and was soon the top of the heap. He remained that monarch until his death on February 8, 2009 at the alleged age of 79. His foremost protege, Joey DeFrancesco, recorded two duet albums with Jimmy shortly before his passing. Joey is easily considered his successor.

2. "Well, You Needn't" — Joey DeFrancesco & Danny Gatton (4:14)

This is from one of my favorite albums called Relentless which joins two of my favorite musicians together to wreak musical havoc in the recording studio. And so they do here on this Thelonious Monk standard recorded in 1994. It’s very exciting to hear two musicians who are on the same wavelength bashing heads. If you liked Super Session, this is like that only turned up to ELEVEN. My favorite part is toward the end when the lads trade four bar improv phrases at the scary tempo they chose. This is one of my favorite organ/guitar jams of all time. When Jimmy Vivino and I play a great show, I usually come home and put on this CD just to ground myself. Gatton sadly killed himself in his garage in 1994, a MAJOR loss to the musical world. But Joey lives on...

3. "Hip Hug Her" — Booker T & The MG’s (2:26)

Booker T and Isaac Hayes were the major keyboard aces at Stax Studios in Memphis, backing everybody who recorded there from Otis Redding to Albert King. Booker played things that sounded deceptively simple but were actually very complex. He was THE major influence on me in the R&B world, as you’ll hear on the next track. I love the way Steve Cropper’s guitar dances along with Booker’s organ part throughout and especially in the fade. These guys were THE BEST in a genre they pretty much created.

4. "Green Onions" (Live) — Al Kooper & The Funky Faculty (4:56)

This was luckily recorded at the Notodden Blues Festival in Notodden, Norway in 2001. I still play with this band today but we regard this show as the best one we ever played despite its age. I edited it a wee bit for this space cause it was waaay too long for this particular column, but the essence is still there. The guitar solo by Bob “Dyno” Dozema is still amazing when you consider he teaches guitar and arranging at Berklee School of Music in his ‘real’ life. All in all, a few magic moments, thankfully saved to tape and available on my album Black Coffee. Where would I be without Booker T? He was 17 (!) when they recorded the original untouchable version in 1962! I was 18 and STILL cannot figure out exactly how he voiced the theme but Lord, I will keep trying to learn til I’ve played my last song! One of the other reasons I included this video is because I am sure the MC had never heard of me or the word 'faculty' before and I enjoy his ad-libbing in retrospect. And most of all, when that jacket I wore was newer, as in this video, it looked MUCH better than it does today.

5. "Hoedown" (Live) — Keith Emerson, Greg Lake & Carl Palmer (3:08)

Keith was an obvious nomination as I believe he was one of the only people who occasionally played upside-down! Instead of the African-American influence, Keith opted for the classical music cache for his career, starting with The Nice in 1966. He IS a one-of-a-kind musician and should be rewarded for that. I also have found him to be a nice, down-to-earth person over the years.

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6. "Cute" (excerpt) feat. Felix Cavaliere — The Rascals (3:09)

From the Freedom Suite album, this is an excerpt from a 15:00 minute blow by the lads which features Felix on his jazzier side. A triple-power threat (playing/singing/writing), he was the core of the band and the most difficult to convince to get back together again. I must say, their reunion shows, produced by Little Steven, were amazing and a lotta fun to watch. Only time will tell if there will be more.

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7. "Instant Blues" — Shirley Scott (4:22)

Shirley did women organists proud. She could play as sweet or nasty as any man and was best known for playing with her husband, jazz saxaphonist Stanley Turrentine. She was born in 1934 in the land of jazz organists, Philadelphia, PA. In the latter part of the '50s she became well known in a band with reedman Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. In the ‘60s she played mostly with Turrentine, and by the ‘70s she played mostly in a trio. In the ‘80s she became a jazz educator in Philly and a respected member of the community. She died of heart failure in 2002 brought on by use of the diet drug fen-phen. By 2000, she won an eight million dollar suit against American Home Products, who manufactured and sold the fen-phen mixture, but unfortunately, money can’t buy you life. It probably made her last two years a lot more comfortable, however. This is a trio track from her album On A Clear Day, circa 1966.

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8. "I Got a Woman" — Jimmy McGriff (2:41)

Jimmy McGriff was born near Philadelphia in Germantown in 1936. All Hammond organists NOT born in the Philly area were immediately at a disadvantage it seems and explains why my Queens upbringing didn’t do much for my later B3 antics. However I grew up on the playing of these Philly Forces and Jimmy Mc Griff got me right off the bat with his first single in 1962. His version of Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman" was even more church-styled than Ray’s original version. Between 1962 and 2001 he made 57 albums, so it shouldn’t be hard to add him to your collection if you like this. He passed away in 2008 in New Jersey, where he had finally settled, of complications from multiple sclerosis. He was, in my opinion, “the fonkiest of the fonky.”

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9. "Shout (A Touch of the B-3)" — Twinkie Clark (2:09)

I first laid eyes on Twinkie on a DVD entitled Gospel that was a recording of an all-gospel concert in Northern California in the late ‘70s. She was appearing with her family in a group called The Clark Sisters and I had to watch it over and over at first. The girls were amazing singers and Twinkie was one of the most original organists I had ever heard, probably because she was born in Detroit and not ... Philadelphia. Below is a video excerpt from that live show.

10. "Squib Cakes" (excerpt) feat. Chester Thompson — Tower of Power (2:46)

I can’t understand why this band never sold mainstream because I thought they delivered the goods far better than BS&T and were way ahead of Earth Wind & Fire chronologically. But time has passed and I ask you to listen how tight and funky they had become in this instrumental from 1974’s Back to Oakland album. Chester Thompson takes over in this excerpt and shows how monstrous his playing was back then. He was always one of my heroes and I’m happy to see him recognized in this freshman induction. Chester, you are STILL a young man!

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