Friday, 23 April 2010

Requiem For A Hammond Organ

I suppose age has a lot to do with it but as I have droned on about a million times before, when it comes down to brass tacks, I am a guitar man at heart. I’ve also said that I still cannot quite understand why today’s guitarists still carry the late 1970s stigma that soloing is a bad thing. The guitar is still the heart of Rock ‘n’ Roll so for God’s sake just get out there and make a racket. I won’t mind, honest.

But having said all that, why is it that when I hear a certain sound, my senses pick up and transport me to a time when I was just beginning to appreciate what popular music was really all about? Why is it that this particular sound is more evocative than my beloved guitars? The sound I am talking about is the immediately recognisable grinding swell of the Hammond Organ. During its heyday in the late sixties and early seventies it rivalled the guitar for the sound most associated with rock. From Procul Harem’s ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ through Stevie Winwood and Keith Emerson to Jon Lord and the progressive bands like Genesis and Yes, the Hammond reigned supreme.

Given the plethora of electronics we have today when no two bands have the same kit, it is almost laughable to remember that once upon a time the definitive rock band seemed to sport nothing more than a Fender Stratocaster, a Rickenbacker bass and a Hammond Organ (plus perhaps a Pearl drum kit and a trusty non-wireless Shure mic) – who needed anything else?

I was reminded about all this the last time I played ‘Woodstock’ by Crosby Stills Nash and Young when I was rather taken by surprise by the low level drone of a Hammond cutting through all those duelling Stills and Young guitars. I’d never really thought about CSN&Y being a keyboards band and of course, they’re not but anything recorded around about 1970 is almost bound to have one and there it is.

Since the seventies, the Synthesiser has made obsolete all the early keyboards and possibly the last post for the Hammond appears to have been during the mid-1990s when Brit-poppers, The Charlatans, built their brave new sound around the ancient instrument.  Since then I’ve not really heard its croaking drone too often so perhaps it has finally expired and been replaced by a microchip and some preset on a multi-functional synth.

What a way to go.

10 comments:

Adrian said...

The Hammond, in its various models, is a much-cherished component still of roots-rock bands. Not really the music you hear much on commercial radio. But the players are still into the instrument, and afficionados such as your self can likely find some satisfaction online. The primo Hammond player in this part of the world, Darryl Havers, tells me that the sheer weight/solidity of the instrument helps discourage a lot of up and coming bands that must haul their own gear up and down stairs. You can tell a veteran Hammond player by their hunched posture ( :

musicobsessive said...

Adrian - delighted to hear that the old war horse is still in circulation despite the obvious transport difficulties. I remember old Mellotron players saying how moving their instrument usually meant all the tape loops going out of tune!

Does a new Hammond come with a free chiropractor allowance?

Dan said...

We have a touring band in the area known as the Groove Hogs and they still haul the Hammond around. They made a sort of dolly to lug it around but its still a bitch to get it up on stage. The guy who plays is very "old school" and I dont think I have ever heard it out of tune. This band has a cool horn section as well. Check em out at www.groovehogs.com

musicobsessive said...

Thanks Dan - good to hear there's life in the old dog yet and even better that new generations are getting to hear it. There's a bit of an 'electro-pop' revival here in the UK whereby old analogue syths are being dredged up for use again. Perhaps the Hammond will have its time again?

Perplexio said...

If you dig the Hammond might I recommend Bill Champlin's (ex-Chicago) No Place Left to Fall album? Champlin was brought in to Chicago initially as a guest and inevitably as a full member of the band by then drummer Danny Seraphine in 1981. Keyboardist/vocalist, Robert Lamm was having "personal issues" and was largely a no-show for Chicago 16. They needed a baritone voice and a keyboardist to give the band a bit more balance. There was even contemplation that Robert might get the axe.

During his 28 years in Chicago (Champlin was let go from the band via-email in August 2009) he was grossly under-utilized. His solo albums and his material with his other band, The Sons of Champlin, really show his chops on the Hammond. Heck I even shared a brief email correspondence with him in the late 90s... his email moniker was "B3pio" (if that doesn't give away his love for the Hammond I don't know what does).

musicobsessive said...

Thanks for the info, Perplexio. I may well check that out. Amazing how all this Hammond stuff comes out of the woodwork when you give it a good shake!

Seems like it never went away, after all.

Perplexio said...

If you're interested I did a review on Champlin's No Place Left to Fall album not too long ago.

musicobsessive said...

Thanks Perplexio, I'll check that out.

YourZenMine said...

A favourite band of mine, Clutch, who started as a 4 piece - 2 guitars, bass and drums - had a Hammond player for a few albums, which only added to their appeal, as far as I'm concerned.

And to see Jon Lord pushing his Hammond around like he was forcing the sound from it was one of my favourite live music memories.

YourZ

musicobsessive said...

Hi YourZ. Jon Lord is also one of my favourite players - the intro to 'Lazy' crops up quite a lot as does his work on the 'Made in Japan' album.

But quite why the instrument lends itself to having knives stuck in it only Keith Emmerson knows...