The organ is one of those instruments that always sounds great when played well in just the right band, often – but not always – blues. Here’s a few tunes that feature the organ, not always exclusively but definitely prominently.
Before he became a founding member of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, Keith Emerson (in 1967) co-founded the prog-rock band The Nice. According to Wikipedia, “the group was formed in by Emerson, Lee Jackson, David O’List, and Ian Hague to back soul singer P. P. Arnold.
After replacing Hague with Brian Davison, the group set out on their own, quickly developing a strong live following. The group’s stage performances featured Emerson’s Hammond organ showmanship and abuse of the instrument, such as playing rhythms while switching the reverb on and off while the spring unit was crashing about. Their compositions included radical rearrangements of classical music themes and Bob Dylan songs.”
A friend of mine – who has gone on to become a professional bassist – was insanely in love with this band. I never saw them but we must have seen ELP a half-dozen times.
From their 1968 debut album, The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack, comes “Rondo.” Dave Brubeck gets a writing credit here as the tune is based on his “Blue Rondo a la Turk:”
Does everybody know the name, Jimmy Smith? (Pictured on top of post). Well, you should. He’s about as synonymous with the Hammond B-3 organ as Jimi Hendrix is with the guitar.
Allmusic: “Jimmy Smith wasn’t the first organ player in jazz, but no one had a greater influence with the instrument than he did; Smith coaxed a rich, grooving tone from the Hammond B-3, and his sound and style made him a top instrumentalist in the 1950s and ’60s, while a number of rock and R&B keyboardists would learn valuable lessons from Smith’s example.”
Smith has tons of albums in his discography and has played with everybody from George Benson to Michael Jackson to Frank Sinatra to .. the Beastie Boys?
From his 1961 album Midnight Special, this is the title tune.. It is smoky, bluesy, jazzy, slow-dance-with-your-partner music. That is Stanley Turrentine on sax, Kenny Burrell on guitar and Donald Bailey on drums:
Billy Preston became quite famous due to his association with The Beatles. The Fab Four had met Preston several years before when he was touring with Little Richard’s band. You can hear Billy on the organ on “Get Back,” “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” “Something,” “Dig It,” “Let It Be,” and “Don’t Let Me Down.” (I heard an alternate track of “I Want You” the other day that had him loud and wailing. This was, I think before they just decided to randomly cut the tape.)
Billy also had his own successful solo career, In fact his first album – Grezee Soul – was released in 1963 when he was 16. In fact, it was originally called 16 Year Old Soul. This is the tune “Greazee” from that album.
Totally coincidentally, they apparently used this tune in the soundtrack of a new Amazon flick called One Night in Miami. The movie details the fictional meeting of Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke, and football guy Jim Brown. Now THAT sounds interesting:
It looks like they released this initially as Part One and Part Two. It’s broken up on YouTube and so let’s go with Spotify:
I got another Smith for ya, this time Lonnie Smith or as he likes to call himself, Dr. Lonnie Smith. Wikipedia: “Smith’s affinity for R&B melded with his own personal style as he became active in the local music scene. He moved to New York City, where he met George Benson, Benson and Smith connected on a personal level, and the two formed the George Benson Quartet, featuring Lonnie Smith, in 1966.”
Smith recorded his first solo album Finger LIckin’ Good in 1967. The band included Benson and Melvin Sparks on guitar, Ronnie Cuber on baritone sax, and Marion Booker on drums.
From Finger Lickin’ comes the tasty, soulful “Jeannine.” Dig it:
Last but not least I leave you with Rick Wakeman who, I believe, needs no introduction. (But that won’t stop me anyway). Wakeman comes from that incredible generation of British musicians who reinvigorated and remade rock and roll. Wakeman did the usual bit of kicking around blues bands and dropping in and out of school.
He got a gig a session organist for Ike and Tina Turner’s band and met producers Tony Visconti (Bowie) and Gus Dudgeon (Elton John). One thing led to another and the wham/bam thank you mam and next thing you know, our kid winds up in Yes’ Fragile album. And then some.
He released some well-received albums, one of which – The Six Wives of Henry VIII – I reviewed a while back. Guess what? Wakeman released an album in the year of mid-COVID called The Red Planet. (Dedicated to Mars because, well, it is). He performs this with his backing band The English Ensemble.
He kinda jumps back and forth here between organ and synths but that’s ok because he’s Rick Wakeman, he’s one of a kind and hell, he’s a progger who’s still kicking. (We lost Emerson a few years back.)
From The Red Planet comes the decidedly organ-ic but not bluesy “Olympus Mons.”