The Mountain Times

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Leone’s Legends: Magic from a Hammond Organ

Hello, friends. For this installment of my "Legends" column I will forego the usual list of suspects and we'll talk about a legend not made of flesh and blood but of wood, electrical workings and a little bit of magic. This week's column is about the legendary Hammond organ, and it's associated brethren- the models B3, C3 and A100.

The Hammond organ was invented by Laurens Hammond in the early 1930s as an alternative to the pipe organs used in churches and concert halls. He even considered it a "portable" organ, but anyone who has played in a band with someone who had one of these majestic giants might argue differently.

Yes, the Hammond organ is considered the "chiropractors best friend" for sure.

But onto the impact that the Hammond organ has made on music and on our ears and souls.

The Hammond organ can be recognized most by popular music fans by its undeniable presence in Procol Harums "Whiter Shade of Pale," "Gimme Some Lovin" by Spencer Davis Group, and "That's Life" by Frank Sinatra.

In the world of jazz, the Hammond organ and its associated players created a genre within itself. The "organ trio" defined by keyboard master Jimmy Smith has made an impact on jazz music from the 50s, with cats like Charles Earland and Jimmy McGriff, who made some amazing jazz instrumental records enlisting artists like guitarists George Benson, Melvin Sparks and saxophonist Lou Donaldson. The music in this genre is usually bluesy with a mellow groove and is probably more accessible to jazz neophytes than most post war jazz music.

The Hammond organ is usually paired with a Leslie speaker system. The Leslie speaker is a rotating speaker that utilizes the "Doppler effect," meaning when the speaker rotates, it creates a modulated sound. This is a washy kind of chorused effect that, combined with the Hammond's voice is a sound many times copied, but never replicated. There are also models that have foot pedals, which create bass notes. This option makes it possible for the organ player to cover the bass parts, and why organ trios have such a full sound without the benefits of a bass player. The bass pedals are laid out just as they are on the keyboard with black and white keys.

In the 1980s the "Hammond Sound" was somewhat reproduced by synthesizers like the venerable Yamaha DX7 and many others, but they were only "a picture of a glass of milk," if you catch my drift.

In the 1990s, the B3 had a big comeback with retro sounding bands like Soulive bringing the sound of the organ trio days to a new generation of music lovers. This style of music was a natural fit into the "jam band" circuit, and this also thankfully brought monster old school artists like Booker T and Melvin Sparks to a whole new audience.

So, again, to flip the script instead of giving all you nice music lovers a list of records to check out, I will give you a list of great artists from rock, blues and jazz who played the Hammond organ to its maximum sonic possibilities.

In rock and roll check out Stevie Winwood, playing with Traffic as well as the aforementioned Spencer Davis Group. Also, check out the late great Jon Lord from Deep Purple, Rick Wakeman from Yes, and of course keyboard madman Keith Emerson.

In jazz, you can't miss with Jimmy Smith, Charles Earland and Jimmy McGriff, but there are some really great records with song writer, singer and jazz pioneer Fats Waller whose organ records predate the organ trio records by the aforementioned artists.

Let's all get down with some great Hammond B3 records. And if you wanna see some sick B3ing live check out my man Beau Sasser, he played with Sparkplug at Solarfest, Sunday July 14, perhaps some of you were lucky enough to see him (joined by a special guest guitarist who you might have heard of…)

Peace and love, Joey