Let Us Now Listen to Some Organ Music

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:”

Spotify link

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:

Spotify link

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:

Spotify link

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:

Spotify link

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.”

Spotify link

 

 

36 thoughts on “Let Us Now Listen to Some Organ Music

  1. Love the picks & the differences in styles! Yeah, choosing a few organ dudes is like picking a few guitarists; there are a lot of great ones out there. For me, Jon Lord, Ken Hensley & Vincent Crane top my faves. Lee Michaels live album seemed to be an omnipresent album at house parties back in the day. And the interplay between Jimi Hendrix & Stevie Winwood on Voodoo Chile off Electric Ladyland always grabs me.

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  2. Brian Auger should definitely be mentioned here. He is one of the most influential organ players, his technique is extraordinary and energy he releases is without parallels.

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    1. Yes, and still doing it. He played in the Boston area at a theater a few years back but I was unable to attend. Not as much a household name as some of the other Brits but quite well-known in the rock and blues world.

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  3. Garth Hudson and Rick Wakeman are the first two guys I think of – I like the story of how Rick Wakeman’s organ part on Yes’ ‘Awaken’ was recorded via a telephone. Apparently Swiss telephones have high fidelity.

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    1. That’s a good Wakeman story. I like how he was on Ike and Tina Turner number. I can only think of him in terms of massive sound. And yeah, Garth Hudson. That intro to ‘Chest Fever’ is epic.

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  4. So many good ones Doc and you gave us a good mix. The only one I’m not familiar with is Prestons early stuff. I wont comment on all but I bust out Nice’s cover of ‘She Belongs To Me’ often. Emerson and Wakeman put organ on the map when I was a kid. Loved all music they were involved with. Out of all these guys you feature I listen to Jimmie the most, I mean a lot. That cut you featured of his is music to my ears. My neighbor (Don Shirley guy) dropped me an album a while back of Smith and Wes Montgomery eating sandwiches on the font cover. I throw Shirley Scott at you not because of the female angle but because she’s good.
    Just listened to Winwood and Santana cook on the Timmy Thomas ‘Why Cant We Live Together’. Now that’s CB’s kind of groove.

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    1. Figures you would dig Jimmy Smith. Kind of a hard guy to miss. That tune of his I posted? If my stepmother heard that she’d go nuts. That shit’s her meat and potatoes. I think Shirley came up as I was doing some research. I will definitely check out your recommendations on the morrow.

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        1. Side note – In reading up on Billy Preston – who it turns out had a REAL hard knock life, I stumbled on this quote involving two of our guys: “Rick Wakeman said of Preston: ‘Every keyboard player I know loves Billy Preston. You can spot his playing a mile off, whether it’s the Hammond organ, the Fender Rhodes or the piano. He had such a spiritual touch to his technique, it made him completely unique.’

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  5. Great stuff, Jim! As you know, I’m a huge organ fan and think it can be a really cool instrument, especially in rock – nothing like a roaring B-3 or a cool Vox Continental.

    Jon Lord is one of my all-time B-3 favorites. He really made the Hammond cool in hard rock! Deep Purple wouldn’t have been the same without him!

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    1. Yes, I recall your Hammond tribute and other posts. Such a warm instrument. Lord is great. Don’t know how familiar you are with Jimmy Smith but he might be the one to push you over the edge to jazz. 😄

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        1. Heard this on the radio the other day. Not sure if he plays it that often. The video is that part of the show where Bruce gathers requests from the audience. When I last saw him his drummer played a solo the whole time. And that was halfway through a 4-hour show! Anyway, they don’t do much with this it’s just filler .But nice organ by (I’m assuming) Roy Bittan.

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  6. “sounds great when played well in just the right band” but can sound like a dog getting its paw caught in a door when played badly. All great picks again here, sir. It’s always Steve Winwood that comes to mind for me – aside from Voodoo Chile, I love his playing on Gimme Some Lovin’ and now – thanks to your recommendation – the playing on Live at Filmore east also gets my engine going

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    1. Winwood came to mind but I decided to keep it to five. He’s a hell of a guitar player too BTW. As to Gregg Allman, another excellent, underrated player. I never did check back in with you on At Fillmore East. What’s your overall appraisal of that album? You know I’m a big ABB fan but don’t factor that in if you think it’s too long or bloated or something.

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        1. Very glad to hear that. If you pick up any British classic rock mag, especially guitar-oriented ones, the Allmans are in there. But for a reason that escapes me, they never seem to have had the impact in Old Blighty as they did here or in other parts of the world. This puzzles me as long-form blues-rock was practically invented there. And everybody knows ‘Layla!’

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    1. Are you kidding? This is fucking great. It starts off one way and then goes in a completely different direction. Gloria Coleman? Hate to say it but if she were a guy she would have gotten the proper notice. Good find.

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        1. It’s like a very good radio station with no commercials or bullshit. I do the label thing a lot. Some are solid and some lose me. Case in point , Island Records.. It’s starts out strong and then loses me. You’re the one that pointed me to Spotify so I’m digging these kinds of listens,

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        2. I was just going over to your site. I think I missed Sunday’s post. I came up with an idea. You could do a ‘Favorite Horror Movie’ post and call it Movies that Give CB the Heebie-Jeebies.

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