Organ Grinder Swing
by Tom Vickers
In the Sixties, the Beatles, Velvets, Dyl and other rockers
were stuffing pop's new bag by wording up: defining cool with
all sorts of lyrical landmarks. Across town, on the jazz side
of the tracks, it was another story. There, the Hammond B3 organ
(and its amplified antecedent the Leslie speaker) was staking
out a whole new groovespace, one soulful and intimate enough to
accomodate but three players: the organ trio (gtr/org/drms).
Let's go back to a time when the Moog, the Arp, and the DX7
didn't exist. The technological advance that the Hammond Organ
Company out on West Diversey Avenue in Chicago came up with was
awesome for its time: a self-contained keyboard instrument that
put the power of a full-sized big band in the hands of one musician.
Add the whirling Leslie speaker (kind of like what the wah-wah
pedal did for the guitar only infinitely hipper), and you had
a king-sized sound at your fingertips.
Sure, there were respected keyboardists who had worked with
organ sounds. Fats Waller utilized a Wurlitzer for some Twenties
and Thirties sides, as did Count Basie. But up until the late
Forties, the organ was relegated to the squarest cribs of the
L7 world: churches and roller rinks.
As the big bands faded after the Big Deuce, piano players switched
over to the then-burgeoning Hammond sphere. The drag was that
most of them approached the instrument as a mere piano extension,
and that early Hamms didn't have the range of sound that came
about when the first B3's hit the production line.
Things changed fast. Suddenly, guys like Wild Bill Davis and
Milt Buckner were cutting sides that not only swung but had this
big fat funky sound that pulled both listeners and musicians into
the B3 swirl. And, in the most 'down' jazz clubs and lounges,
customers were crawlin' en masse, martinis in hand, to hear such
cats as Brother Jack McDuff, Richard "Groove" Holmes,
Jimmy Smith, and other practitioners of this (now) lost art, wailing
like few have wailed before or since.
Mr. Smith Goes To Town
The most famous of the early grinders was Philadelphia's Bill
Doggett, who recorded instrumentals for King Records in the early
Fifties. Lesser known but equally cool: Hank Marr, another King
find. Dave "Baby" Cortez opened it up on the rock 'n'
roll front with "The Happy Organ" (1959), and then came
Jimmy McGriff, and then the bossest organ swinger yet, Jimmy Smith.
Smith had done some Fifties sides for Blue Note ("The
Sermon" is probably the best known), but he really hit his
stride in the early Sixties with his Verve records. On "Hobo
Flats," "The Cat," and "Walk On The Wild Side,"
he truly cool-fused jazz and blues. ("Walk" was one
of several Smith collabs with arranger Oliver Nelson; almost as
killer is the team's "Slaughter On Tenth Avenue," available
on Verve's budget disk Compact Jazz: Jimmy Smith.) While
the other Jimmy (McGriff, ex-cop and Big Maybelle bassist who
hit with a version of Ray Charles' "I've Got A Woman"
'62) was more soulful and churchy, Smith took jazz and blues,
put a pop thang on it, and rocked righteously on his rendition
of Muddy Waters' "I've Got My Mojo Workin.'"
Southpaw Soul & "Misty" Grease
Behind Smith came a flood of former piano jazzbos who thought
that getting organ-ized would be a snap. Wrong. The B3 required
not only a strong left hand, but killer coordination on those
foot pedals to really get the bass groove percolating. Most pianists
couldn't cut it, but those who could became legends on the jazz
club/lounge circuit. The simmering "gutbucket" style
of Brother Jack
McDuff achieved the greasi-est of Hammond sounds while the jazzier
Shirley Scott (for a while Mrs. Stanley Turrentine) made some
boss organ/tenor noise with Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. Richard
"Groove" Holmes, bass pedals to the floor, combined
McDuff's grit with Jimmy Smith's pop leanings, and flipped Errol
Garner's "Misty" (1969) into B3 godhead.
None of this was being lost on rock 'n' roll hipsters. After
Cortez's "Happy" discovery, the Sixties enjoyed a bumper
crop of organic material. 1960: James Booker's air-conditioned
"Gonzo" (and its flip "Cool Turkey"). 1961:
Ray Charles' bacon-fat noodling on "One Mint Julep."
'62: Booker T & the MGs' "Green Onions," and Joey
Dee & the Starliters' "Peppermint Twist" (with future
Rascal Felix Cavaliere on B3). '66-'67: Stevie Winwood, just 16,
hammered Hammond and vocals on the Spencer Davis Group hits "Gimme
Some Lovin'" and "I'm A Man." The Godfather himself
even got in on the act; James Brown cut several organ instrumentals
for King, and often solo'ed on organ when he wanted to get off
the good foot during live shows.
The Hammond even became a staple for hippie bands in the late
Sixties-- the best work including Gregg Allman's dixie-rock, Mark
Naftalin's jazzy outings with the Butterfield Blues Band ("Thank
You Mr. Poobah"), and the speedy psyching of Linn County's
Stephen Miller (their 1968 Mercury album Proud Flesh Soothseer).
That taffy-thick B3 sound was great for ballroom lightshows or
shadowy jazz dives, and for a brief moment in time, whether your
drug of choice was Swiss-bred psychotropic or domestic gin-and-
vermouth (stirred, not shaken), the warm rush of the Hamm 3 rocked
Unfortunately, the moment came and went. As technology moved
forward into the world of synthesizers (Switched-On Bach, anyone?),
the juicy sound of the B3 was replaced by cold slabs of Arps and
Moogs. Today, the organ grinders' swing is a tragically underpracticed
art. Most young keyboard cats are more adept at pushing computer
buttons than working the pedals, but there are still a few 'kids'
coming on. On a neighborhood level, there's Lady Margaret, working
her B3 weekly at Esther's Orbit Lounge in East Oakland. And Philly's
Joey DiFrancesco has put out some boss jams on (four) Columbia
cd's, though none as wild-sided as those hip purrs that J. Smith
could coax out of his B3. But Smith and McGriff are still recording,
and gigging live, and that's a groove.
To transport you instantly into that latenight, forever hip
world of organ jazz, here's a guide to some prime grinders:
Jimmy Smith : Compact Jazz: Jimmy Smith, The Cat, and I've
Got My Mojo Workin' (all Verve); The Sermon and House Party,
Richard "Groove" Holmes: Soul
Message (Prestige, feat. "Misty"), and Groovin'
With Jug (Capitol/Pacific Jazz).
Don Patterson: Hip Cake Walk (Prestige)
...And virtually any recording by Bill Doggett, Shirley Scott,
Hank Marr, and Brother Jack McDuff (Tough Duff or Legends
of Acid Jazz). Prestige reissues: Tough 'Duff, Brother
Jack Meets the Boss (McDuff and Gene Ammons), Blue Flames:
Shirley Scott and Stanley Turrentine. Recent decent: Jimmy
McGriff's Countdown, and Soul Survivors (w/ Hank
Crawford; both Milestone).
Latest, hottest platters: Brother Jack McDuff Greatest
Hits; Jimmy McGriff I
Got A Woman and Topkapi;
Joey DeFrancesco All
of Me or Joey
DeFrancesco's GoodFellas; James Booker on Duke-Peacock's
Greatest Hits; Hank Marr It's
'Bout Time; Richard "Groove" Holmes Best
of the Pacific Jazz Years; Shirley Scott Soul
Sister and Queen
of the Organ.