June 2013 Archives

Hammond Soliloquy

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A few months back I wrote a blog entitled Dave's Faves (Drum Tracks).  This time around I'd like to pay homage to some of my favorite recordings featuring (mostly) the Hammond organ. 

 My affection for this majestic instrument began before any of the tracks I will be mentioning were even recorded.   My Dad's NYC recording studio had a Hammond B3 in the 50's and 60's which I was allowed to play if there were no clients present.  I spent considerable time noodling on it; experimenting with draw bars, bass foot pedals and the Leslie rotating speaker cabinet while running through the modest repertoire of piano pieces I had accumulated as a youngster.   What fun!

A few years later, in the wake of the British Invasion, music to me was all about guitars and drums, the latter of which had displaced piano as my instrument.   Organs were part of the Rock scene, but at this early juncture they tended to be Vox Continentals and Farfisas in bands like, Paul Revere and the Raiders, ? and the Mysterians, the Dave Clark Five and The Animals.  Now, there are people who love the sound of these pretenders to the organ throne but they always sounded reedy and vaguely unpleasant to me.  A favorite epithet applied by rock scribes to the tone of these literal and figurative lightweights is "cheesy".

The first track I'm listing is the antithesis of cheesines due to the  glorious overdriven sound of Stevie Winwood's Hammond on the Spencer Davis Group's  recording of Gimme Some Lovin' COMP DISC 781.66 BOX WINWOOD  The fact that the teenage Winwood also provides one of Rock's iconic vocals on the song doesn't hurt either.


Cover of

Cover of Streetnoise

I think the LP that really brought home to me the expressive power of the Hammond was Streetnoise,
the 1969 release by Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity. The Library no longer owns a copy of the CD but you can get a taste of Brian Auger's mastery of the organ on the ferocious Indian Rope Man, which was originally on Streetnoise and reappears on the compilation album, A Kind of Love In: 1967-1971 COMP DISC 781.77 DRISC.   Another Streetnoise cut, the band's cover of Light My Fire, is also included and illustrates beautifully the subtler side of the Hammonds emotional palette.   Mirroring the superb vocal by Julie Driscoll, Auger's playing moves from wistful, to jaunty, to ardent and back to wistful.   The late Ray Manzarek's solo on the original Light My Fire, by the Doors, pales in comparison.


A salutary effect of my enthusiasm for Brian Auger was my discovery of the great Jimmy Smith,

English: The great Hammond organ player Jimmy ...

who Auger cited as a major influence, as indeed he was for just about any organist with jazz leanings.  Smith's startling virtuosity is always a thrill, but one of my favorite tracks features him in the relatively subdued context of See See Rider on disc #3 of Jimmy Smith Retrospective COMP DISC 781.65 SMITH.  Here, the B-3 maestro's solo is structured around a series of soulful trills interspersed with sporadic but suitably mournful phrases.  Guitar wizard Kenny Burrell's crystalline playing provides perfect accompaniment. 

 Joey DeFrancesco, an acknowledged acolyte of Jimmy Smith, came to the attention of Miles Davis at the age of 16 and subsequently toured with the jazz giant.  If you are a fan of keyboard pyrotechnics, check outboth of Joey D's solos on Billie Jean from the Michael  Jackson tribute, Never Can Say Goodbye  COMP DISC 781.65 DEFRA.  Whew!  He's aided and abetted by Paul Bollenbeck and Byron Landham with terrific solos on guitar and drums respectively.

 Procol Harum's Mattew Fisher, whose churchly tone on Hammond graced the huge hit A Whiter Shade of Pale in 1967, uses the same draw bar settings on Quite Rightly So from the band's second album, Shine on Brightly COMP DISC 781.66 PROCO.   Here, in conjunction with another gorgeous melody and quicker tempo, the effect is stirring and regal.  

To bring things full circle I would like to return to my father, who , never at a loss for an opinion, felt roughly the same way about the Hammond organ as I feel about Voxes and Farfisas.  He believed that the pipe organ was truly the "King of Instruments" and Hammonds were mere toys by comparison.  OF course pipe organs weren't often featured in pop or jazz recordings, so his preference may well reflect  his devotion to classical music to the exclusion of most other forms.   Nevertheless, listening to Arcade Fire's song  Intervention, on Neon Bible  COMP DISC 781.66 ARCAD, it's hard to deny the pipe organ the prize for sheer sonic splendor and impact.

Inevitably, I have only scratched the surface with regard to great organ tracks and I have neglected classical organ masterpieces entirely; a topic for another blog, perhaps.  Should you be interested in pursuing jazz organ playing further, I would suggest exploring the work of some of the other greats of the genre, such as Jimmy McGriff, "Brother" Jack McDuff, Shirley Scott, Fats Waller, Larry Goldings, Larry Young, John Medeski and Richard "Groove" Holmes, all of whom you can find in the Library's collection.  If you don't have an allergic reaction to the sometimes bombastic Prog-Rock of the 70's, you might also check out the work of Keith Emerson, with Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Rick Wakeman of Yes for impressive displays of technique.


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