Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Hammond Organ: Refugee

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Refugee


I didn’t really think I would be posting this song. Here it is, the end of the week. Surely someone would have mentioned Benmont Tench by now. But, they left it for me, so here goes.

Benmont Tench may be the best known Hammond organ player active in the music business today. I considered adding to this post work that he has done with Elvis Costello and Jackson Browne, just to name a couple, but I decided to keep it simple. Tench was a founding member of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, and the group doesn’t sound the same without him. Usually, he works as part of the ensemble, and he is a master of blending in and contributing to the overall sound. But Refugee features the organ a bit more than Tench’s other work, so I thought it was a good choice. The Hammond organ can make just as big a difference in the background as it does as the featured instrument, and you can here it both ways here.

The Hammond Organ: Yesterday

Una Valli with The Peanut Butter Conspiracy: Yesterday

[Out of print]

I have been reluctant to post this song, mainly because I am usually rather rubbish at identifying the instruments used in songs. When I like a sound, I spend little thought on whether it was made by a customised 4072 Hammond, somebody doing clever things involving a glass filled with pink sludge and a rare reed handpicked by naked maidens in the jungles of unexplored Indonesia, or on a computer. So, I at least think this splendid soul version of Yesterday from 1968 by South African soul singer Una Valli qualifies. It certainly features some sort of organ-like instrument. Possibly even a Hammond.

Had Valli not been from the pop backwaters of South Africa, from which only a few of many very talented artists have escaped, she would be highly regarded among soul fans. She might even have been a star, marketed as a white woman with as much soul as Aretha (and the hype would not have been easily dismissed).

Yesterday appeared on her LP Soul Meeting!!, on which she roped in the services of fellow South African soulsters The Flames and the Peanut Butter Conspiracy. It’s the latter that back Una on Yesterday, the unjustly reviled McCartney composition which has spawned thousands of risible covers. This is one of the few versions that show what a fine song Yesterday actually is.

Also check out Valli’s great version of Satisfaction, from the same album.

The Hammond Organ: King Kong

Odin - Swf Session 1973

Odin: King Kong


When I saw the weekly theme I immediately presumed we'd get Jimmy Smith and 70's progressive rock. Well, I was half right! I sorted through my own collection of Yes and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, but to be honest, I have a hard time telling where the organ leaves off and the synthesizers begin in most of those songs. I didn't want to embarrass myself by discovering that there was no organ whatsoever in my choice.

And then, just a few hours before the theme was announced, I came across a group and a song I'd never heard of before, and it fits the bill perfectly. Cool! So now we can learn about it together.

Odin was a European prog rock band formed in Germany in 1971. The Hammond organ player is German Jeff Beer, with Dutch guitarist Rob Terstall trading off the solos. They cut one album in 1972, and on the strength of it were invited by German radio station SWF to perform a live set. This song, a Frank Zappa cover, comes from that release. Have a listen to its glorious prog rock-ness.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Hammond Organ: The Sky Is Crying / Tell Me Why

Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble: The Sky Is Crying


Los Lonely Boys: Tell Me Why


This fave SRV tune, recorded in the Soul To Soul sessions and released posthumously, is a repost, originally brought to the fore for our Cry Cry Cry theme way back in the summer of '09. But since it's the organists' turn to shine, I've revived it, and coupled the song with this subtle summery B-side from Los Lonely Boys' self-titled 2004 album, which has subtle organ flourishes under almost every track.

The common element? The hands of the inimitable Reese Wynans, a legendary Hammond B3 player who got his start playing in a band alongside Dickie Betts and Berry Oakley before the latter artists joined The Allman Brothers, and who deserves his props for subsequent decades of solid studio and touring work in the blues and country worlds - as a member of Double Trouble and, more recently, with the likes of Buddy Guy, John Mayall, Ted Nugent, Brooks & Dunn, Joe Ely, Trisha Yearwood, Hank, Jr., and many more.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Hammond Organ: Triplets

Hansson & Karlsson: Triplets


In 1966 twenty-three year old Bo Hansson played guitar with Stockholm blues rockers The Merrymen. He quit when the band was on the verge of a big break, and after seeing organist "Brother" Jack McDuff play the legendary jazz club Gyllene Cirkeln, he decided the Hammond was the only way to go. He got himself an organ and started playing solo gigs before he'd even learned how to play it. He soon teamed up with jazz drummer Jan Carlsson (yes, it's spelled with a C; the K in the bandname was a misprint) and the duo started playing wild, largely improvised gigs regularly at Gyllene Cirkeln, as well as other clubs around Scandinavia.

Their first and best album, Monument, came out in 1967 and made quite an impression. Jimi Hendrix jammed with the duo when he visited in Stockholm in the late 60's, a jam that was recorded but has never been released. There were plans for Hansson & Karlsson to join Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsys, making it a two drummer band, but Hendrix died before anything came of it. But Hendrix did record a Hansson & Karlsson song, Tax Free, which he also played live occasionally. He wanted to record Triplets as well, but again that death thing got in the way.

After two more albums H&K went their seperate ways. Hansson made a few solo records (including his famed Lord of the Rings album) before leaving the music business entirely. Carlsson meanwhile, moved on to acting. In Sweden everyone knows him as "Loffe", which was the name of the womanizing character he played in the hugely popular mini-series Någonstans i Sverige. Following a one-off reunion tour in 1998 Hansson would occasionally do gigs with his protégé and fellow organist Eric Malmberg.

Bo Hansson died in 2010 at the age 67.

The Hammond Organ: Sophisticated Cissy

The Meters: Sophisticated Cissy


When I think of the sound of New Orleans, I think of great piano players long before I think of the organ. But one of the greatest bands the city has produced featured the organ on many of its songs, including hits like Sophisticated Cissy. That band was the Meters. In 1969, following a tour as a supporting player for his brother Aaron, Art Neville returned to New Orleans to form the Meters. Art was the organ and piano player, and the group was dedicated to instrumental funk. Sophisticated Cissy was the answer song to their big hit Cissy Strut. Presumably, the addition of the organ is what made her sophisticated.

Now maybe you know this history, or maybe you picked up on my clue, when I mentioned Art Neville and his brother Aaron. In time, the Meters would have shifts in their line-up, and they would add vocals. This laid the foundation for the Neville Brothers. But, if you want to hear New Orleans organ, those early Meters albums are the best place to look.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Hammond Organ: Messy Bessie

Jimmy Smith: Messy Bessie


If you could only buy one organ-led jazz album, you'd be in quite a bind. For starters, there were two absolute masters of the genre: Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff. Smith started earlier and really made the organ a serious jazz instrument, so we'll give him the nod. But Smith recorded two stone-cold classics, Back at the Chicken Shack and Midnight Special (just two of the five albums he released for Blue Note in 1960), so which one to pick?

As it turns out, both albums were recorded at the same session, so you can't go wrong with either one. So with the flip of a digital coin, I've chosen Back at the Chicken Shack, represented here by the Smith original "Messy Bessie". It starts right off the the Hammond, which makes it perfect for this week's theme. Drummer Don Bailey, guitarist Kenny Burrell, and sax man Stanley Turrentine back him up with some of the down-home funkiness soul-jazz was known for, and everyone gets to stretch out on this 12-minute groove.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Hammond Organ: Hope In A Hopeless World

Widespread Panic: Hope In A Hopeless World


Pops Staples: Hope In A Hopeless World


I went through a jamband phase the first time I went to college, and though my tastes tended to run towards less rock-oriented, more jazz and bluegrass-flavored jams such as those of Leftover Salmon, String Cheese Incident, and Phish, it was hard not to notice and respect the fervent, Allman Brothers influenced sound of Widespread Panic in the smoke-filled air. Their 1997 version of this pseudo-seventies anthem is rich with funk, and the distinctive sound of the Hammond organ features prominently.

Some sort of electric organ also features in Pops Staples' original, cowritten with Philly-based songwriter Phil Roy, coproduced with daughter Mavis Staples, performed with Mavis and a rich layered set of studio musicians, and released on the Grammy-winning album Father, Father when Pops was a still-spry 78 years old - it certainly could be a Hammond, as there's a Hammond player listed in the album credits, but the pinched and clearly electronic "pop gospel" sound which kicks everything off makes me less confident about make or model.

There's also a somewhat cheesy version out there from Britpop musician Paul Young, which hit the streets almost simultaneous with the Pops Staples original - it, too, features the Hammond, but it's so overproduced I decided to skip it. Still, completists can check it out on YouTube.

Oh, and TOTAL bonus points: Here's Widespread Panic live with Hammond and with Mavis on vocals, covering the song again live and unpurchaseable, from a 2002 show in Memphis, TN:

Widespread Panic ft. Mavis Staples: Hope In A Hopeless World [live]

The Hammond Organ: I Shot the Sheriff

Bob Marley and the Wailers: I Shot the Sherriff


Eric Clapton: I Shot the Sherriff


Eric Clapton established himself as a, perhaps the, guitar god with his work in Cream, Derek and the Dominos, and Blind Faith. So when he went solo, expectations were high. That’s why his version of I Shot the Sherriff was greeted with such derision and contempt by long-time fans. But was the song really such a departure? Consider: Clapton made his name with covers of classic blues songs, and part of his mission was always to encourage his fans to seek out the original versions and artists. With Sherriff, Clapton was asking his fans to do the same thing with Bob Marley and reggae. I would argue that reggae is a musical spiritual cousin to the blues. Both take a people’s grievances and provide a forum where they become a shared experience. Blues is more personal, while reggae is more political, but the communal experience is essential to both.

As for Clapton’s fans, there is no guitar solo in Sherriff. In fact, the only solo in either version is a brief organ solo at the end of the Marley. But, having said that, Clapton’s Sherriff sounds pretty good to me now. And, to the extent that it helped the world discover Bob Marley and reggae, I am grateful.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Songs From Poems -> The Hammond Organ: Tavern

Kris Delmhorst: Tavern


Kris Delmhorst's 2006 album Strange Conversation is an especially literary one, comprised entirely of songs based around or adapted from poems. The set includes a full range of performances, from full-on electrified folkpop to sultry singer-songwriter narratives, from dustbowl americana confessionals to soft, almost jazz-folk mood pieces, all of which hew close to the poetic moods established by the like of cummings, Byron, Browning, Whitman, Rumi, George Eliot, and other names generally less well known outside of the world of English Lit, making the album one of the true gems of any well-read audiophile's collection.

Like the album itself, this song - which varies not a whit from the original poem of the same name by American poet and feminist Edna St. Vincent Millay - is both ambitious and beautiful, made all the more so by the bluesy bass, brush drums, and organ which accompany Delmhort's whispered alto and deliberate guitarwork. It is also one of the few uses of the Hammond Organ I know which appear in the world of folk music. Expect plenty of Jazz, Blues, and Rock, especially from the 60's and 70's, and perhaps a few surprises to boot, as we feature songs which use the unique instrument in the week-to-come.