Rock Stars of the Hammond B3 Organ
You Say You Want a Revolution
Hammond B3 -- Four syllables that have revolutionized the sound of popular music. Since the first Hammond B3 organ burst onto the musical scene in the mid-1950s, keyboardists and fans alike relished the instrument's power and dexterity. From gospel and rhythm-and-blues, to jazz and progressive rock, the Hammond B3 reigned.
Often combined with Leslie speakers, the Hammond B3 emits a sound that is easily recognized. Jazz artist Jimmy Smith remains the "founding father" the B3. Let's take a look -- and a listen -- to Jimmy Smith. But first, the table of contents.
(photo courtesy of shoulder-synth at wikipedia commons)
Jazz Great Jimmy Smith - The first rock star of the Hammond B3
Jimmy Smith went from church organist to jazz king. Listen to his stylings on the Hammond B3.
Hammond Organ on Amazon
A Love Affair Begins
Why I Can't Get Enough of the Hammond B3
I grew up in a household of musicians. My dad played the accordion -- my big brother the piano and later the Hammond B3. I began playing the piano by ear at age four. As a teenager coming of age in the 1960s, I was drawn to the hard-driving rhythms of rock n' roll. The sound of the B3 mesmerized me. The electric guitar may have been the lead instrument of choice among rock artists and fans, but for me the Hammond B3 was the true powerhouse of rock and my other love, the blues. And for someone like me, a teenage girl who loved to dance, music featuring the Hammond B3 was all the invitation to the dance floor I needed.
Photo courtesy of salli wikimedia commons
Green Onions by Booker T and the MGs - Booker T. Jones
In the mid-1960s an era-changing instrumental piece hit the charts. It was Green Onions. R&B organist Booker T. Jones and his group, Booker T. and the M.G.s, heralded the age of the Hammond B3 as a rock star among instruments. I imagine a woman in "high-heel shoes and low-neck sweater" to quote Paul McCartnery. She's seated at the bar of a smokey lounge. As she fingers her pearls, her eyes lock with those of a man across the room. Listen to the exchange between the Hammond B3 and the electric guitar. The instruments woo each other.
Hush, Hush...I thought I heard her callin' my name - Deep Purple
Jon Lord was the original organist for the British rock group, Deep Purple. His is a name well known among performers of the Hammond B3. "Hush" starts out with the distant howl of a wolf. What follows is some of the most hard-driving music in rock history. Early in the song, Lord's stylings resemble the low growls of an angry cat. Later he unleashes the full power of the Hammond B3 in his solo. I still dance to this every chance I get.
My favorite Brit of the B3, the late Jon Lord. RIP, my man.
May I have your attention, class? - Hammond B3 organ lesson
After listening to Deep Purple, let's slow down the pace a bit. Here is a Hammond organ tutorial I found online. It's from some website called eHow.
Keith Emerson - Master Technician
By the early ' 70s I was midway through college. Music was changing as were my tastes. One progressive rock group I loved was Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Keith Emerson was their man on the Hammond B3. Of the B3 rock stars, Emerson was the most technically proficient. Here Emerson, Lake and Palmer take on Aaron Copland's "Hoedown" from the ballet "Rodeo." Watching Emerson's fingers dance will make you dizzy, guaranteed.
Green Eyed Lady - Sugarloaf
A popular song to hit the charts in the early '70s was Green Eyed Lady by Sugarloaf. What makes this song stand out is, in my opinion, the originality of the walking bassline. Organist Jerry Corbetta, a founding member of the group, takes great advantage of the bass pedals of the Hammond B3 in creating this bass line. His right-handed staccato is distinctive.
Lee Michaels - Saving the best for last
Lee Michaels. My hero of the Hammond B3. Singer, songwriter and master of the Hammond B3, there wasn't anything Lee Michaels could not do. His music epitomizes the phrase blue-eyed-soul. Unfortunately Michaels is often considered a one-hit wonder. His song "Do You Know What I Mean" was a top-ten hit in 1971. This Youtube video is a bit deceiving -- in that Michaels is seated at a piano -- but I chose it so that you can see what Michaels looked like. In the recording studio, Michaels played both the piano and the B3. (Don't go away! My very favorite Lee Michaels is yet to come!)
Lee Michaels -- The King of the B3 - An entire album side of amazing music
On June 2, 1969, Lee Michaels and his drummer, known simply as Frosty, walked into a recording studio and within hours had a complete album recorded. It was the self-titled "Lee Michaels." As you listen, keep in mind there are only two musicians -- Michaels playing the B3 while singing his own lyrics, and drummer Frosty. "Tell Me How do You Feel" takes you on an emotional journey -- a little rock, a lot of soul. A gem.
Paul D. Mann
My Big Brother
A driving force behind the writing of "Rock Stars of the Hammond B3 Organ" is the memory of my brother, Paul. An amazing musician, my brother never quite made the big time. In the early 1960s, the Hammond B3 Organ became his instrument of choice. Nightly he drove from our home in Pennsylvania to Manhattan where he played keyboards for the house band at the Peppermint Lounge, THE club during the swinging sixties. On a separate occasion, he was asked to be the opening act for Sammy Davis, Jr. at the Valley Forge Music Fair in suburban Philadelphia. The scheduled act had canceled and my brother was asked to fill in -- just Paul D. Mann on the Hammond B3 Organ.
My brother was greatly influenced by the music of Jimmy Smith. And my brother's fluid and effortless use of the right hand reminds me of Lee Michaels'.
My brother passed away suddenly of a heart attack just a few weeks after his 42nd birthday, in June 1982. I have no idea if any professional recordings of his music exist. I will continue researching, and I hope to someday soon add music and photos of my big brother and my first music teacher, Paul.