The Hammond B3 Legacy

by
Kyran de Keijzer
-
July 10, 2017

HAMMOND B3

The Hammond B3 organ is an electric organ, invented by Laurens Hammond and John M. Hanert and first manufactured in 1935. Various models have been produced, most of which use sliding drawbars to create a variety of sounds. Until 1975, Hammond organs generated sound by creating an electric current from rotating a metal tonewheel near an electromagnetic pickup and then strengthening the signal with an amplifier so that it can drive a speaker cabinet. Around two million Hammond B3 organs have been manufactured.

The organ was originally marketed and sold by the Hammond B3 Organ Company to churches as a lower-cost alternative to the wind-driven pipe organ, or instead of a piano. It quickly became popular with professional jazz musicians in organ trios. Organ trios were hired by jazz club owners, who found that organ trios were a much cheaper alternative to hiring a big band. Jimmy Smith’s use of the Hammond B-3, with its additional harmonic percussion feature, inspired a generation of organ players, and its use became more widespread in the 1960s and 1970s in rhythm and blues, rock and reggae, as well as being an important instrument in progressive rock. The organ is commonly used with, and associated with, the Leslie speaker.

The Leslie speaker is a combined amplifier and two-way loudspeaker that modifies the sound by rotating its loudspeakers. It is most commonly associated with the Hammond B3 organ, though it was later also used for the guitar and other instruments. A typical Leslie speaker contains an amplifier, a treble horn, and a bass speaker—though specific components depend upon the model. The musician controls the Leslie speaker by either an external switch or pedal that alternates between a slow and fast speed setting, known as “chorale” and “tremolo”.

The speaker is named after its inventor, Donald Leslie. Leslie began working in the late 1930s to get a speaker for a Hammond B3 organ that had a closer emulation of a pipe or theater organ, and discovered that rotating the speaker gave the best sound effect. Hammond was not interested in marketing or selling the speakers, so Leslie sold them himself as an add-on, targeting other organs as well as Hammond. Leslie made the first speaker in 1941. The sound of the organ being played through his speakers received national radio exposure across the US, and it became a commercial and critical success. It soon became an essential tool for most jazz organists.

NOTABLE B3 HAMMOND PLAYERS

Jimmy Smith – King of Jazz Organ

Hammond B3

The undisputed “King Of Jazz Organ,” Jimmy Smith defines Jazz Organ for many. Although his technique and arrangements were cutting edge, his music was embraced by the public in ways Jazz had not been previously, resulting in many best-selling albums. Even though Jimmy was a huge commercial success, he never compromised his art. There are few Jazz greats that Jimmy did not record or perform with. You will not find many Organists who do not cite his influence on their playing, regardless of genre. He is perhaps the greatest of all Hammond Organists.

He purchased his first Hammond organ, rented a warehouse to practice in and emerged after little more than a year. Upon hearing him playing in a Philadelphia club, Blue Note’s Alfred Lion immediately signed him to the label and his second album, “The Champ”, quickly established Jimmy Smith as a new star on the jazz scene. He was a prolific recording artist and recorded around forty sessions for Blue Note in just eight years. Albums from this period include “The Sermon!”, “House Party”, “Home Cookin'”, “Midnight Special”, “Back at the Chicken Shack” and “Prayer Meetin'”.

 

Billy Preston – The Fifth Beatle

Hammond B3

His roots in Gospel music brought a boundless joy as he crossed over to Soul and R&B. Already a star from his turns with Sam Cooke and Little Richard, he became the only legitimate “Fifth Beatle,” and went on to play Hammond Organ with The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, The Jackson Five, Sly and the Family Stone and Barbara Streisand.

Billy Preston is one of the several people referred to as the “Fifth Beatle”. At one point during the Get Back sessions, John Lennon proposed the idea of having him join the band. Preston played with the Beatles for several of the Get Back sessions, some of the material from which would later be culled to make the film Let it Be and its companion album. Preston also accompanied the band for its rooftop concert; the group’s final public appearance. In April 1969, their single “Get Back” was credited to “The Beatles with Billy Preston”, the only time such a joint credit had been given on an official Beatles-sanctioned release. The credit was bestowed by the Beatles to reflect the extent of Preston’s presence on the track; his electric piano is prominent throughout and he plays an extended solo. Preston also worked, in a more limited role, on the Abbey Road album, contributing to the tracks “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and “Something”.

Booker T Jones – Father of Soul

Hammond B3

He’s been called the Father of Modern Soul Music and did it all at the console of his Hammond Organ. If a non-keyboard player knows one Hammond riff, it’s probably Booker T.’s “Green Onions.” His Hammond sound is unmistakable, whether in his own recordings or the countless hits by other Stax artists.

Jones was musically a child prodigy, playing the oboe, saxophone, trombone, bass, and piano at school and organ at church. While hanging around the Satellite Record Shop run by Estelle Axton, co-owner of Satellite Records with her brother Jim Stewart, Jones met record clerk Steve Cropper, who would become one of the MGs when the group formed in 1962. Besides Jones on organ and Cropper on guitar, Booker T. and the MGs featured Lewie Steinberg on bass guitar and Al Jackson, Jr. on drums. While still in high school, Jones co-wrote the group’s classic instrumental “Green Onions,” which was a massive hit in 1962

Al Kooper – Combining Gospel, Jazz, and Rock

Hammond B3

His stirring solos on Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” are, for some, the quintessential Hammond Rock riffs. From founding Blood, Sweat, and Tears and discovering Lynyrd Skynyrd, to his own classic recordings like “Super Session,” Al forged a Hammond style that combined Gospel, Jazz and Rock and made it a keystone in all his productions.

Kooper’s first musical success was as a 14-year-old guitarist in the Royal Teens, best known for their 1958 ABC Records novelty 12-bar blues riff, “Short Shorts”. In 1960, he joined the songwriting team of Bob Brass and Irwin Levine and with them wrote “This Diamond Ring”, which became a hit for Gary Lewis and the Playboys, and “I Must Be Seeing Things”, a hit for Gene Pitney (both 1965). When he was 21, Kooper moved to Greenwich Village.

He performed with Bob Dylan in concert in 1965, including playing Hammond organ with Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival, and in the recording studio in 1965 and 1966. Kooper also played the Hammond organ riffs on Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”. It was in those recording sessions that Kooper met and befriended Mike Bloomfield, whose guitar playing he admired. He worked extensively with Bloomfield for several years. Kooper played organ once again with Dylan during his 1981 world tour.

Jon Lord – Classic Rock Fusion

Hammond B3

In a genre defined by hyper-amplified Guitars, Jon Lord led his Hammond into battle and triumphed. His band Deep Purple was built around a Hammond sound heretofore unheard. Overdriven and huge in texture, Jon’s baroque-tinted and gothic playing established a brand new style, legitimizing Hammond Organ in Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. Drawing as much from Bach, Franck, and Widor as from the Blues, Jon Lord’s contribution to the Hammond legacy is considerable.

Douglas was an English composer, pianist, and Hammond organ player known for his pioneering work in fusing rock with classical or baroque forms, especially with Deep Purple, as well as Whitesnake, Paice Ashton Lord, The Artwoods, and The Flower Pot Men. In 1968, Lord co-founded Deep Purple, a hard rock band of which he was regarded as the leader until 1970. On 11 November 2010, he was inducted as an Honorary Fellow of Stevenson College in Edinburgh, Scotland. On 15 July 2011, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music degree at De Montfort Hall by the University of Leicester. Lord was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on 8 April 2016 as a member of Deep Purple

Conclusion

The Hammond B3 is an essential instrument in various music genres. From being a church instrument to a requirement in 80’s rock bands, it has seen more and lived longer than most people alive today. We at NRG love recording projects with a Hammond B3, there’s nothing quite like it. Nothing beats an amazing B3 player and an amazing room to record him in.

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