Organ trios – no, not a medical term, but a greasy, funk-filled, grits n’ gravy musical time period where soul, funk, blues, and jazz all came together in a glorious cacophony of sweet, honeydew sound…….
Jimmy Smith, Larry Young, Ruben Wilson, Lonnie Smith, Don Patterson, Groove Holmes (name - checked by the Beastie Boys from their mid-1990’s dance hit), Shirley Scott – forgotten giants that got recognition way too late years later thru cult followings and devout ministers of DJ’s and dance grooves. The organ trio (organ, guitar, and drums – an organic a fit if there ever was) began preaching to the choir as early as the mid-1950’s – a motif swiped from the sacred Church Of What’s Happenin’ Now and made secular for the masses who wanted some intellectual thought flowing above their bump-n’-grind, mostly in the jazz and early r n’ b worlds (in rock and roll, and later rock, the organ nestled up quite nicely against such musical instrument luminaries as horns, Marshall stacks, multi-piece percussion kits, Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric pianos, and all manners of synthesizers. The organ embraced rock – rock music embraced the organ –and let no man cast asunder their union-HARRUMPH!!).
For me, the coolness factor of the organ, and organ trios in jazz , rock,blues, and everything in between, came about in my teens – I was just starting to make my way out into the music world in the forms of jam sessions, record buying, the occasional gig, and music lessons. Saturday afternoons were reserved for heading over to Doug Miers’ house in a north Des Moines suburb. I met Doug in 1975 when all of us under - aged lads would sneak into a club called Joe’s Too to watch our buddy, Mike Williams tear it up, via his work permit (being under the age himself), on electric piano and vocals, with a band called Arbor Hill. Doug was the guitarist in that band, and one evening after a set, I gathered up enough nerve to ask him how he played “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by the Rolling Stones. Well, that was the beginning of our professional and personal relationship that continues to this day. And on those Saturday afternoons, after our guitar lesson, we break to the ‘listening room’ with the stereo system – Doug would break out the jazz records. It was always a treat, but the Big Kahuna of revelations came when Doug played me a ‘bootleg tape’ (recorded in Doug’s basement – right in the EXACT SPOT THAT WE HAD OUR WEEKLY GUITAR LESSONS – huzzah!!) of local heroes Sam Salamone, Tommy Gordon on drums, and our eventual, connected local guitar and music hero Don Archer. Well, ol’ Sam was, and still is, a Hammond organ legend around Iowa, and that was one known memorable instance of hearing the Holy Grail of Organ Trio-ism.
There is something musically complimenting about organ trios(and the organ itself), – the organ/guitar/drums set up harmonically compliments itself. The trio is also considered a ‘classic’ jazz set-up, which lends itself from ballads to blues, free – form to funk, sophisticated to soul. The jazz organ instrumentally started in church roots, dating back to the Middle Ages with the introduction of huge, crude, mechanical pipe organs in many European countries (the phrase “pulling out all the stops’ has roots with these ol’ behemoths…). The Hammond organ company is credited with establishing the modernization of the electro/mechanical organ for church and home – I don’t think that they had in mind people like Joey DeFrancesco, Keith Emerson, or Jon Lord taking their creation out to the masses, playing bebop, modal, and souped-up blues/rock solos in anywhere from a small club to a football stadium.
There is an endearing sense of ‘cool’ with the soul-jazz organ trio (and quartet, sextet, and so on…) that I listened to growing – it’s a ‘coolness’ that still hangs to this day. Images of smoky, cramped little bars, clubs, and rehearsal halls – the hum of the gears in the Hammond organ, the swirl of the rotating motor of the Leslie speaker that helps gives the organ that ‘pulse’ sound, small jazz-type drum set with the wood shells that have aged and formed with many a hit, snap, roll, and solo. Lastly, the electric guitar –usually a jazz arch-top type, or something akin to a Gibson ES 335 semi-hollow body – I mean, I know this imagery doesn’t resonate the same with everyone (especially if you’re not familiar with the equipment), but once you listen to the recordings or see a group like this in action, you’ll be boppin’ and noddin’ your head and feet in approval (maybe with a few ‘amens!’ thrown in for good measure…).
On the jazz realm, Jimmy Smith was the unofficial ambassador of the Hammond B-3 – I remember buying his “Got My Mojo Workin’ “LP on import vinyl back in the day. Kenny Burrell on guitar and Grady Tate on drums – mmm, humm, jest don’t git better than that, chillen! The guy that spoke to me, though, was guitarist Grant Green, Mr. Right Note At The Right Time – he got me hip to John Patton on organ, then that flipped me over to Don Patterson, Rueben Wilson, and Groove Holmes. Larry Young came on board via his association with Tony William’s “Lifetime” group – I was a fusionhead back in the ‘70’s – but Larry took a McCoy Tyner approach by playing in a quartal, or fourths, concept on the organ – extended, altered chords that took it beyond the grits-n’-gravy realm of soul-jazz. Larry’s feel was soul with a modal jazz approach – very cool stuff, tweaked my little cornpone ears right up the radar!!
The musical era for the jazz organ trio ran from the mid 1950’s into the early 1970’s – by the end of it’s initial run, these trios, like so many other cats that didn’t step into fusion or pop, were working a blend of funk – fueled workouts followed by the occasional cover of a then-hit pop tune to ‘keep it real’ for the unsuspecting masses: in short, these people were just trying to survive. Somehow, the organ, along with the sounds of Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric pianos (and of course, the acoustic piano), became staples and survivors of musical eras and equipment evolutions. Then comes the late 1980’s, and the underground club/dance scene re-discovers in vinyl form records from the great eras of such labels as Blue Note, Verve, and CTI. Suddenly, Grant Green and Jimmy Smith are hip again – and again, with the ‘jam band’ phenom in the late 1990’s. Somehow, this earth/soul/head music never seems to fade away – seems people can listen, groove, and THINK all at the same time!!!
And, natch, we’ve got ANOTHER little story to illustrate a point!
The music business, especially when you’re playing in bars and clubs such as the jazz organ greats did, has it’s seedy side (some say, it’s ALL seedy…), and this is no better illustrated with another good story (perhaps a cautionary tale on music and race that can be told at, unfortunately, any time in our music and social history) from our old friend Don Archer. Don’s music career in jazz was during the height of the soul-jazz/jazz organ movement – the man has done some gigs, seen some sights, and lived to tell about.
It’s all yours, Don!
“During the fall season of 1966 when I was playing a lot on the road with organist Sam Salamone (Anthony) and drummer Craig Kelly, we took a gig at a well-known ghetto club on the north side of Minneapolis called the Blue Note. It was owned and operated by a guy named Tommy Lewis. Tommy was an ex-bass player who had played with the Fletcher Henderson Big Band in the 1940’s. He was a great guy.”
“On Saturday night at the end of our first week on this gig, we were having a really good night musically, and the crowd seemed to love it. There were many people who were amazed that white boys could play organ jazz as well as we did.”
“There was one dude who apparently didn’t agree with that sentiment and for some reason, he didn’t like me because he started heckling and insulting me very openly and loudly. He was spending a lot of money and was obviously getting quite drunk. This went on for several hours, after which Tommy Lewis came and apologized to me and asked me to just grin and bear it if I could until closing time.”
“For those of you old enough to remember that time, the summer had been filled with race riots in several American cities such as Chicago and Omaha - Minneapolis was no exception. Now, I was not a gun lover, but due to the fact that being white guys playing mostly in black bars and clubs, I had decided that it might be a good idea to protect myself from any possible harm.”
“I had bought a used 1911 issue of the standard Army .45 caliber Colt automatic pistol. Whenever I was on a gig, I kept it in the back of my Fender amp while I was on stage playing. When we finished a set for the night, I would remove it from the amp, and tuck it in my belt in the small of my back – loaded.”
“Finally, the night ended and finally, the guy left without any further insults or harsh words. Tommy and I both breathed a sigh of relief as I joined him behind the bar to chat for a while before we left for our hotel. The .45 was tucked away safely in my belt when suddenly, one of the two front doors of the bar slammed opened, and this guy came back to harass me some more. He actually ran at me, and stopped just across the bar from me as if he intended to jump the bar to get to me.”
“As he did, so I had quickly pulled the .45 from my belt and had it pointed right between his eyes, and cocked. His eyes suddenly got as big as silver dollars, and he backed off, turned, and exited the front door as quickly as he had entered - without a word. I turned and looked at Tommy, and he had his right hand inside a drawer under the bar. When he pulled his hand out, in it was a very nasty looking British Webley .45 revolver, fully loaded and ready. We both laughed, and Tommy told me that he had no intention of letting the guy do me any harm.”
“That was the only time in my life that I ever had to pull a gun on anyone, but if the guy had continued over the bar, I would have use it.”
Never underestimate those white boys who can groove from Iowa, I tell ya – thanks again, Don, for another fascinating and crazy music tale!
I don’t think that my interest for organ trios, or organ based jazz, will ever wane – it’s good music that I keep revisiting time and time again, and that rears it’s head from time to time to generate interest in the general public (witness the ‘ 90’s influx of jambands – many of them centered around a Hammond organ/Fender Rhodes/Wurlitzer electric piano type sound….). The Hammond organ, be in a trio, quartet, or any fashion or music genre, provides a vital, organic role in modern music over the past 60 years. Every time that I hear an organ in music - be it jazz, funk, gospel, blues, country, or rock – I get this natural feeling, a sense of time and groove that everything’s alright, everything’s going to be o.k. with the music.
I want to conclude in an unusual way, with a ‘roll call’, so to speak, of Hammond players, a bio on each, what role they’ve fulfilled in their musical genre, and why you should listen to ‘em. Each one of these players has a distinctive tone and style that sets them apart. For that matter, the Hammond organ, along with other history-making keyboards such as the Wurlitzer electric piano, deserve their own columns on their own days, so we’ll leave that be for now. But back to the players - can’t get everybody on the train, but this is a start, and maybe you can take it from her with your explorations and discoveries!
Jimmy Smith: “The Boss”, the ‘name’ of Hammond based jazz – the go-to guy when people want to put a face on the organ trio concept in jazz. Basically a self-taught player, Jimmy was nothing short of amazing on all those sides that he released on such labels as Blue Note and Verve. Team him with guitarists like Wes Montgomery or Kenny Burrell, and assuredly, it was going to be a soul-drenched funkfest on any record (highly UNDERATED Jimmy album – “Root Down”, a live club date recording from 1972 on Verve – it’s a groove garden that surely won’t disappoint). You want a primer on jazz organ, and jazz in general, then any Jimmy Smith stuff would be a great launch pad….
Jon Lord: In my generation, you either have this sense of elation or dread when “Smoke On The Water” comes up in a commercial, movie or t.v. show, or the budding guitarists that make their way in Guitar Center each Saturday to peel everyone else’s ears back with amazingly diverse ( well, hell, diverse nothin’- very few get past the first RIFF!!) versions of that song on cranked –up Marshall amps with the rock-guitar-of-the month club axes. But along with Keith Emerson and Gary Booker, Jon Lord was the guy that brought the Hammond into rock in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s. Given such songs as “Lazy”, or “Space Truckin’”, or Deep Purple albums as “Burn” and the famous “Machinehead”, Jon is not only a great organist, but a great musician as well ( just ask his current guitarist, luminary axeman Steve Morse).
Larry Young: ”Sir Lawrence Of Newark” remains a perennial favorite of jazz organists – Larry took McCoy Tyner’s method of ‘stacked fourths’ in chords, and melodic, modal soloing to a new level throughout his recording carrier. Albums such as “Unity’ and “Of Love And Peace” give a testament to the genius of Larry’s playing – the man still had the grits-n’-gravy, but applied modern jazz voicings and techniques back in the day. Also, the early Tony William’s Lifetime albums give a glimpse of early jazz / fusion stuff with Larry on organ, and the legend John McLaughlin on electric guitar (pre Mahavishnu Orchestra).
Don Patterson: I found out about Don during our final few weeks in Iowa, before leaving for Columbus, Ohio, with our first UPS transfer. Local jazz legend Sam Salamone hipped me up to Mr. Patterson, and I bought everything I could get my hands on from the Ohio legend since. Don had a certain Midwest – type, push ‘em through groove – chops, cool chord voicings, and tone. Jimmy Smith will always get first - call recognition due to better p.r., but check out Mr. Patterson – he can get IN THERE right upside Mr. Smith, baby….
Sam Salamone: I remember a time where I had the Des Moines Big Band over to our house for some spaghetti after their traditional Monday gig at the downtown Spaghetti Works – Sam was in the kitchen with me, instructing me (like any good Italian cook) on what to add to the sauce (“Yeah, put a little more garlic in there, it’s o.k.…”). Sam Salamone is an Iowa treasure who’s been cooking around the state on his Hammond organ for quite some time. I have some treasured CD’s that ol’ Don Archer had given me after his Iowa Jazz Hall Of Fame induction – one is Sam, Don, and Craig Kelly live at the Gaslight Lounge, 3/9/68, very cool stuff. Sam has a website, which of all things has snippets from his old “Cookin’ With Sam” radio show that was broadcasted from the late, lamented Des Moines/Pella based radio station, KFMG. Check out his website – it’s a testimony to an Iowa jazz/r n’ b legend…..
John Patton: “Big John” Patton was an underground favorite of mine – I could rest assured that any Blue Note CD reissue of John’s could be of the grits – n –gravy, hip-shakin’ groove quality. Sometimes teamed with my all-time favorite jazz guitarist, Grant Green, John’s Blue Note sides were unbeatable – check out Blue Note re-issues like “Along Came John” and “Let ‘Em Roll” for subsistence…
There are many candidates – I could go on, but you all get the picture by now. And, as you could tell, this became a blog more about Hammond players than organ trios, BUT it’s all in the spirit ‘cause it all interconnects!
Jazz organ trios, and the Hammond organ in rock, blues, jazz, gospel, and country is an unmistakable, always – hip sound – how could you ever deny it? So, if you ain’t hip to the groove yet, check out the aforementioned sides and players, and get prepped for a tasty meal – you’ll settle in full and satisfied afterwards, believe me!