Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Rockin' with the Hammond Organ

Deep Purple "Smoke on the Water"
When most of us think of a rock band, we envision a drummer, bass guitarist, lead guitarist and a rhythm guitarist.  One of the musicians may also be the lead singer, and sometimes the band or singer uses a piano, as with Queen, Elton John, or Billy Joel.

Booker T. "Green Onions"

Most of us don’t think of the organ. The organ’s long history in church music makes it seem like the least likely instrument for a rock band, but the Hammond B3 portable organ became the signature sound for psychedelic rock of the 1960s and continued to be popular into the 1970s.  It was often in the background, and sometimes played without the pedals, but it was indelibly there in sound.

Zombies "Time of the Season"
Because of its small size and amplified sound, it was a great "gig" instrument for traveling musicians.  In addition, unlike the piano or traditional organ, the Hammond organ could swell (increase in loudness), do a vibrato sound, and eventually also incorporate automated percussion sounds, so it became a staple of recording studios too.  Musicians as diverse as Billy Preston, Bob Dylan and Steve Winwood added the Hammond's classic sound to their songs.

Today, electronic keyboards are smaller and even more versatile, but the Hammond organ lives on in memory and is still played today.   Even when a portable "modern" synthesizer keyboard is on stage, it often imitates the sound of the Hammond, especially the iconic B3 model.

The history of the Hammond organ in the 1960s is the history of rock music.  These songs would not sound the same without the Hammond organ, especially the famous B3:

• The Kingsmen: Louie Louie  (1959)

• Booker T & the MG’s: Green Onions (1962)

• The Rascals: Good Lovin (1966)

• The Doors: Light My Fire (1967)

• Procol Harum: A Whiter Shade of Pale (1967)

• Steppenwolf: Born to be Wild (1968)

• Iron Butterfly: In-a-gadda-da-vida (1968)

• The Zombies: Time of the Season (1969)

• Sugarloaf: Green-Eyed Lady (1970)

• Deep Purple: Smoke on the Water (1972)

Three Dog Night (1970s):
  • Just an Old Fashioned Love Song 
  • Family of Man
  • Joy to the World
  • Mama Told me Not to Come
  • Try a Little Tenderness
  • Liar

ML 597 .F19 2011
Dozens of other artists made careers as soloists on the organ, in jazz, popular and other idioms.  Current rockers who favor it include the Decemberists.  For more information on the Hammon organ, its history, specs, and artists, check out The Hammond Organ: An Introduction to the Instrument and the Players who Made it Famous, by Scott Faracher (ML 597 .F19 2011)

Three Dog Night

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